Howls of outrage have been blowing fiercely on cable news networks in recent days as anchors and pundits condemn a Palestinian TV show putting violent words into the mouth of a Mickey Mouse clone. The sacred Disney icon has been turned on its gentle head, and leading lights of American television-land are aghast.
On CNN, a prime-time show I watched gave short shrift to indications that the false Mickey’s words had been mistranslated by a pro-Israel group to make them seem worse than they really were. But, as usual, the problem was not so much the U.S. media’s condemnation of foes’ violence as the refusal to acknowledge the realities of American violence.
The U.S. media culture includes countless insidiously violent toys for American kids – including bloodthirsty video games that designate Arabs and Muslims as appropriate targets for deadly attacks. Countless movies and TV programs convey similar messages. Overall, “entertainment” often lets kids know who should be killed by the USA’s individual heroes and armed forces.
Highbrow media outlets are also quite willing to get in on the propaganda act for young people. Consider a discussion that aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition” several years ago.
Just before Thanksgiving in 2001, the program’s host at the time, Bob Edwards, interviewed a 12-year-old boy about a new line of trading cards marketed “to teach children about the war on terrorism” by “featuring photographs and information about the war effort.” Notably, as they compared cards, Edwards sounded much more enthusiastic than the child he was interviewing.
“I’ve got an air force F-16,” Edwards said. “The picture’s taken from the bottom so you can see the whole payload there, all the bombs lined up.” The elder sounded very cranked up.
The youngster responded with a lukewarm “yeah.”
But in his role as the program’s anchor, Edwards felt the need to make clear his glee at seeing bombs lined up underneath the jet. “That’s pretty cool,” the newsman said.
The F-16 and similar American planes, dropping bombs on Afghanistan that fall, were killing innocent civilians at a fast rate; those deaths numbered more than 3,000 before the end of the year. But mainline U.S. media outlets – launching into a protracted “war on terrorism” frenzy in the wake of 9/11 – had no words of criticism for Edwards’ comments, which reached millions of listeners.
Meanwhile, of course, those media outlets were busy putting favorable spins on the massive use of Pentagon violence. Today, the realities of American firepower in Iraq, including hightech airborne weaponry, are abstracted into U.S. media euphemisms about air strikes that pound targets presumed to be havens for “terrorists.” The inevitable deadly consequences for civilians are, with rare exceptions, scarcely reported by the American press.
In the hellish conditions of Gaza imposed by the Israeli government with U.S. support, perhaps some Palestinians wish that they could get access to an F-16 or two. But they can’t.
Officials in Washington are dependable as they condemn violence that they deplore and laud violence that they support. We can talk all we want about the differences between a suicide bomber killing civilians with a vest of explosives and an F-16 predictably killing civilians with the kind of “payloads” that sent liberal journalist Bob Edwards into a spiral of praise. But for people who die in orgies of militarized violence, and for people left to mourn their passing, the distinctions are apt to be thin to the point of transparent.
We have ourselves thoroughly convinced. How dare a Palestinian TV show tell children that violence might be the way to respond to an occupation that has lasted 40 years! How wonderful and noble the U.S. troops are as they use the best technology!
Journalists are good at indicating how we should think about world events. Fortunately, we still have the option of thinking for ourselves.
©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.