POSTCARD #198: THAILAND: Arrived in Bangkok, then a small propeller plane to Hua Hin, 41 mins flight, ninety miles down the coast. Unaware of the Brussels bombings we walked on the beach, no people anywhere, where’d everybody go? Came upstairs to our room on 6th floor, switch on TV and there it was; the Brussels Bombings filling our hotel room from nearly ten thousand miles away. We were stunned by the coverage; BREAKING NEWS, coming to you live from CNN Center in Atlanta. CNN reaches the whole of the US, and as far West as Pacific Islands and Japan. Then the other way from Atlanta, all countries in South America broadcast in Spanish and Portuguese, East through Europe in all languages including Arabic and the whole continent of Africa. On through Asia to Australia who are so far down-under, the rest of the world is up-over to them. CNN facilitates this news and within minutes, the bombs in Brussels are exploding all over the world.
We wake up the next day and it’s the same thing, the assumption is that many people in the world haven’t heard the news yet. At breakfast there are developments that seemingly, we need to hear about, also in-depth analyses of what happened and why, with experts discussing it – showing the same footage with voice-over and the production beginning to take a particular form. But we can’t pay much attention to it, busy with getting ready for our walk along the beach. Understandable really, I think, being the only white guy here. Brown people over here and everywhere with black hair and dark eyes, who are not Americans but the majority of the world’s population, puzzled and a bit embarrassed by the CNN presentation. Inclined to ask what caused the extremists to do such a thing? Sorry but that’s the wrong question… CNN is broadcasting its opinion in all countries of the world, stepping into everyone’s lives and figuratively speaking blasting everyone with the aftermath of the bombings using the dismay, distress, and consternation as a vehicle to convey the consensus point of view.
My niece M who is 12, asks me ‘Why?” I have to provide a satisfactory answer, but the same ‘why?’ follows me and my explanation. Then the extended form: ‘but why?’ all the way through my reasoning as we get into the elevator and she stops asking only when we reach the bottom, running out and down to the sea. Our early morning walk along the sand, and again we are the only people there, leaving a trail of footprints and the only others are those of the birds, M running ahead stopping to take close-up photos with my phone and her ‘why?’ more concerned with why do the footprints look as if they’re embossed on the surface, relief sculptures, rather than hollowed in the sand, strange – once you see it that way it’s difficult to see it the other way.
Back up to the hotel room and the show must go on. Intense music, bright red colors and talking heads appear. They seem to ask and answer questions but the dialogue has been scripted. Frightening scenes of devastation from an on-the-spot location in the danger zone while we are in a safe place at home, made to feel like voyeurs at the battle scene: ‘This is coming to you live’ yes but it’s an act, rehearsed, decided on by an editorial team who take advice from those obscure unseen advisors making decisions, about how the facts should be portrayed.
The dialogue looks spontaneous, and informative (I’d like to be a fly on the wall of these studios and see how much of an act this really is), welcoming the invisible third party, that’s us, the part we play as passive listeners mesmerised by the act, struggling in a bewilderment of feelings, holding on to this induced attachment to TV that we’re kinda comfortable with anyway and only later realise that by passively acknowledging this version of events, we are committed to seeing it that way.
CNN is now established ‘in the danger zone’, with easy-to-understand explanations and we allow the hypnosis to deepen by passive acceptance of it entering our living rooms – George Orwell’s 1984 propaganda TV reassures the population it’s all being taken care of by those who know what to do, although the threat of it continues. We know there’s something happening, it’s as if it were orchestrated, quite obvious really, but somehow hidden. Curious why we allow it to be there, but we feel we’re already committed to the CNN point of view, and that rewarding, induced, comforting mind-state takes over as we fall into our places in front of TV.
The next day I go into Google and find it has a Wikipedia entry already. Still there’s the question: why are these Islamic extremists targeting us? Could it be that it’s the result of something we did to them? Sorry but there’s something wrong with that question. History is made by those who won the war.
I’d like to explain to M how this illusion is constructed but cannot. So I’ll just have to hope she’s has a good enough grasp of English soon so she can read this post sometime and understand it after I’m not around any more.