Sunday, January 11, 2009
Freedom to speak our minds.
Having a lot of time to spend reading online articles and their accompanying reader comments over the past few weeks has made me think a lot about personal freedom and the media.
Freedom is, of course, something that most Americans (myself included) take for granted. Bryn and I have been talking about it a lot lately, and often the discussions have become more heated than either he or I would like as we tackle the subject. No matter how free one is to express his or her viewpoint, there is always the freedom of a person at the opposite end of the spectrum, as well as those in between, to express their thoughts too.
This increase in the accesibility that people have to share their thoughts with the world has put us under heightened scrutiny. The importance of mass-media has emphasized the importance of mass-appeal to consumers of products and information. Information is a product nowadays in a way it never has been before.
I suppose my thoughts boiled down to wondering why we, as a society, are so focused in on defining character flaws in other people? There are the obvious examples such as tabloids that pick apart choices made by celebrities, from what they wear, to who they sleep with, to what they eat. Nothing they do is seen as too insignificant to report on. There are also examples like Alexandra Penney, an author who lost her life-savings recently with the arrest of Bernie Maddoff. She isn't exactly a non-public figure, but her series of articles for The Daily Beast titled The Bag Lady Papers sparked a frenzy of comments that offered messages of support or, more often, anger at the fact that she is so publicly lamenting her descent into a middle-class existence. She has every right to be afraid of what is happening in her life just as I have every right to feel jealous of the circumstances that previously allowed her to live a privileged lifestyle. But I see no need to let my jealousy eclipse my compassion as so many others do.
This freedom of being able to access or disseminate information has had some amazing results for humanity. It has allowed, among other things, for discussions to take place across time, distance, and social classes, such as a fascinating group of posts where Slate women were blogging about "sugar daddies" which I was reading this morning; but, it has also given us new forums in which to wallow in negativity and obsess over details that may have no direct impact on our lives. What I find most disturbing about these dissections is the vitriol that seems to be so common.
The saying that "we are our own worst critics" seems to ring true on a collective as well as personal level.