I didn’t realize I lived under layers of insulating comfort and illusion in New Mexico. I didn’t foresee that moving to Costa Rica in December 2008 would start a process of layer removal much like a snake wriggling out of its old, no longer useful skin. I just kept peeling down. Clothing. Weight – with a new diet of unprocessed and fresh food. Pharmaceuticals – I just decided to give them up. Then the more subtle internal layers began to slough exposing feelings and fears I’d hidden away. A new, raw clarity emerged. Looking north from my vantage point of Costa Rica I began seeing from a fresh perspective. Just a couple thousand miles in distance and a paradigm shift in understanding.

As my country plunged into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, I gasped in shock to see so many other ordinary Americans losing their jobs, health, security, employment, homes – just as I had. Surrounded by fellow Ex-Pats from all over the world and the Costa Rican Ticos, I watched, empathized and my political education exploded. I couldn’t paint. Resisting my familiar watercolor brush, my fingers reached instead for the computer keyboard. Unable to accept the awful silence, I write.

Remove the Packaging, Please!

I was 12. Along with the goats I raised for my 4-H project, there was a calf named ‘Chaco’ that we were raising for meat. I understood that Chaco would be killed for meat for the family. But one morning I awoke to radio music turned up loud and my mother in the kitchen with all the curtains pulled closed. Nothing was said but the unfamiliarity of the scene alerted me. I got it. I was being sheltered from Chaco being butchered outside. A flood of contradictory emotions swept over me ranging from sadness through nausea to gratefulness in some curious twist of relief that I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. But also in that mix of emotions was recognition of my parents’ complicity in hiding the truth. The actual event was being covered up presumably to spare me pain. It was being packaged. The meat later served for dinner would be carefully presented without any reference to a death of an animal I knew and cared about. Chaco’s life would not be remembered or spoken about. The event of the butchering would fall into a collection of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ subjects we just didn’t talk about in 1954. And the meat on my plate would simply masquerade as having come from a plastic covered package purchased from the grocery store. While many would argue that what my parents did was kind, it became for me an early example of deliberate deception that can be used by those ‘in charge’ for their own purposes. I was lied to. The event was packaged.

Packaging has become an integral part of our consumer lives. We don’t even think about it. We are purposefully kept detached from the full story about what we buy to eat or to wear or to use. Of course a purchase of a hamburger does not include seeing the butchering and most of us are grateful. But what about the similar dissociation with other things we purchase? When I buy a pair of tennis shoes or the latest electronics I see only what the manufacturer intends. My purchase comes in a box with nice graphics and enticing words. I seldom consider the process of its manufacture because I have been trained not to wonder. I would have to really search for the true story behind either the tennis shoes or the newest electronic gadget. How could I know about exploited workers in the third world country who sewed the shoes? How would I ever find out about the mostly women and children that suffer at the hands of armed militants who are trying to make a profit from mining the so called ‘conflict minerals’ essential to my new electronic purchase? Do I want to know?

It gets worse with the particular packaging of media. In 1983 there were 50 corporations that owned most of the mass media. Now 90% of what we hear, see and read as news is owned by just 6 huge corporations that can cherry pick the content and control the points of view. The pro-business viewpoints held by these owners can even convince a bewildered public into voting against its own interests.

The powerful sway of these business interests was harshly revealed in the statement of John Swainton, Chief of Staff of the New York Times at his retirement party in September 2000.

“The business of a journalist now is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, fall at the feet of Mammon and sell himself for his daily bread. We are tools, vessels of rich men behind the scenes, we are jumping jacks. They pull the strings; we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are the properties of these men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”(1)

Cited in INDEX on Censorship, Vol. 30, No. 1, January 2001, p. 10.

Americans are being presented with media views as news. Instead of hearing each other, we hear what the media tells us. The recent health care debate was co-opted by powerful corporate interests that actively campaigned against the public option, which would have offered much needed competition and alternatives. 77% of American favored the public option(2) but discussion and action was effectively skewered by mass media. If one is listening to current news it sounds like Americans are pushing for war with Iran. But a very recent poll shows that 71% of Americans are decidedly not interested in an Iran war – even to support Israel in an Iran-Israel conflict(3). Concerning the issues of energy and economy, we hear mostly about oil and tax cuts. Our pro-oil corporate media does not tell us what Americans are really thinking. We do not hear that 78% of the American public favors tax incentives to encourage the development and use of alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power(4) And the same media does not report a recent CNN poll that finds 69% of Americans want the Bush tax cuts to the rich to end(5).

Televised news, combining both sight and sound in its broadcasts holds a special position at the table of packaged news media. The networks, already winnowed down to a handful of corporate viewpoints, compete for public attention. And is it no wonder that Fox News has become the main course of the American news diet? It offers a platter of juicy appetizers, with nuggets of news strongly spiced with controversial but highly entertaining personalities. It has become evening entertainment! In America and all over the world, the unwary public flips on the evening news after a hard day and laughs at the outrageous opinions presented as news. Even when caught in outright lies, Fox News often acknowledges the lie and pleads ‘honest mistake’. But the passionate utterances have already been seen, heard and quietly digested. I once read that it only takes hearing something seven times before the idea is incorporated as one’s own. Does anyone care that Fox News viewers have finished the full meal and been found to be the most misinformed of the American public?(6) Blindsided by packaged ‘entertainment news’, is it no wonder that we dutifully vote the corporate agenda? With our country riding high on corporate control, how do we, the people get back in charge?

We must first remove the packaging in order to see clearly. How?

  • Diversify news sources. Those that watch only one news source are not really independent thinkers. Variety is better in the area of information gathering.
  • Be suspicious. Be suspicious of all news. It doesn’t take much to investigate the source through the internet.
  • Get a different perspective. Watch a television news source from outside America once in awhile to get a different perspective. BBC, CBC are good places to start.
  • Avoid buzzword labels. Realize that just because a program calls itself ‘fair and balanced’ it may not be and ‘liberal media’ may not be either.
  • Check out alternative news. Alternative news like NPR, PBS, Real News.com and others offer new views.
  • Avoid passing on Disinformation. Don’t blindly pass on what you get from either mainstream or alternative news without checking it out first.
  • Consider joining a Discussion Forum. Discussion forums enable discussions with others on topics you find of interest. Sometimes you really gain from the give and take of conversation as opposed to the passive activity of merely watching news.

We Americans are closer in our views and values than we are led to believe by the corporate media. We share responsibility for helping each other to be better informed in order to break the control of the corporate elite. It is going to take all of us to remove the packaging.

My view from front row seats