Sex, Lies, Radiation, and Miley Cyrus
Many of you may have noticed this meme floating around on the Internet over the last few days:
Charming, isn’t it? I’ve got to hand it to whomever put this meme together; it’s a well-deserved cheap shot not only at our nation’s obsession with celebrity culture, but those responsible for enabling it: the corporate media establishment. Its creator might as well have inscribed panem et circenses on the damned thing while they were at it; it’s a heavy-handed dose of indignation and outrage, one that went viral almost immediately, spawning a host of variations and making the rounds in all the usual spots.
It’s often said that in cinema and literature, the best portrayals of villainy are the ones where the antagonist is utterly convinced of their own innate goodness and the righteousness of their cause. Our anonymous meme architect is one such villain. The creation — despite its good intentions — not only draws a number of false equivalences to provoke a guilty response, but uses falsified information to do so.
First, the evidence: the bottom image on the meme, courtesy of the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is actually a chart showing the wave amplitudes of the Pacific Ocean during the 2011 tsunami, not the spread of radiation across those same waters as is clearly implied. “Wave amplitudes,” you say? “They sound suspicious!” Don’t worry, the term refers to the height of the waves created by the tsunami, nothing more.
Also, you might notice that the spectrum of colors presented on the map does not spread onto any land mass. If radiation knows no land boundaries, how is this even possible? Oh, wait . . . it’s not.
Lastly (and most importantly), any indicators of what the map actually represents have been removed and substituted with a quote preaching our impending doom. The actual map looks a little something like this:
Robert Heinlein once said that “the slickest way in the world to lie is to tell the right amount of truth at the right time, and then shut up.” By that standard, this meme is awesome. It’s terrifying to behold, triggering an immediate desire to call up one’s grandparents and see if they still have that Cold War-era bomb shelter they used to talk about. Thankfully, it’s completely bogus.
Now, for those among you who believe that I’m attempting to downplay the Fukushima incident as somehow inconsequential or undeserving of attention, I need you to all to stop typing right now. There is absolutely no denying what an ecological nightmare this is shaping up to be. Russia Today reports:
“Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has raised the rating of the radioactive water leak at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant to Level 3 – a “serious incident” on an international scale of radioactivity.
Level 3 indicates a serious threat on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), which goes from Level 0 (no threat) – to the highest level, 7, which was assigned to the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns following the March 2011 tsunami, and also to the Chernobyl catastrophe, which happened 25 years before the Japan disaster.”
Yes, this is an absolute disaster. But let’s not prepare for Armageddon just yet, shall we? National Geographic (among others) has compiled an extensive report on the situation, and while it is indeed dire, we’re hardly at the brink of apocalypse. Good news, right? Well, there’s one problem: once people realized that they’ve been hoodwinked by false hysteria, the backlash will dissuade individuals from engaging in the issue further, not only out of relief (after all, who wants a nuclear disaster?), but also out of the realization that others are failing to argue the matter in good faith. The creator of this meme is the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and now that the lie has been debunked, the townspeople are heading back into their homes, shaking their heads, and ignoring the petulant cries of the hysterics. How is that helping?
* * *
Speaking of engaging the issue in good faith, there’s no denying the weight of the allegations that our corporate media is engaged in a coordinated lie of omission over Fukushima. Mainstream American media outlets have devoted little time or space to the issue, and there are allegations of malfeasance against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) for downplaying the issue to the Japanese Nuclear Authority. Then along comes Miley’s Traveling Circus, prancing and culturally appropriating its way across MTV’s Video Music Awards, giving the public yet another outrageous celebrity spectacle to gawk at. Again, panem et circenses; give the masses a series of buffoons like Miley Cyrus and Ben Affleck to point and laugh at, they’ll forget all about how utterly horrible things are in Syria and Japan. It’s a searing indictment, and a compelling one.
But this begs a very important question: what would the American corporate media establishment stand to gain by a Fukushima media blackout? Very little, as far as I can tell. It would be more accurate to say that the disaster has been all but completely overshadowed in the American media by other issues, namely the fiftieth anniversary of MLK’s March On Washington and our mounting involvement with Syria. These are issues of great and immediate significance to a broad cross-section of the American public. The Fukushima incident, despite its gravitas, is still very much a Japanese problem, at least for the time being.
Insinuating that there’s a history of media “conditioning” and suppression that somehow prevents individuals from being able to discover information for themselves actually works to excuse people’s intellectual laziness and/or apathy. These arguments might have held water before the rise of the Internet, but in the Digital Age, ignorance is no longer an excuse for stupidity. There’s an incredibly vast body of information available on Fukushima at the click of a mouse button and dozens of global media establishments have devoted a great degree of coverage to it. When discovering this, it appears it’s easier to claim that there’s a “media blackout” rather than admit ignorance, or a lack of curiosity. Must we always be told what to think, and when?
Cultivating faux outrage over imaginary conspiracies and pointing a guilty finger at a celebrity-obsessed proletariat is a great way to encourage a sense of cynical superiority, while in actuality doing little to encourage people to effect any actual change. Cynicism is often seen as an end unto itself, as if to merely experience the feeling is sufficient enough to effect change. But to quote Alex Steffan, writer, journalist, and founder of Worldchanging.org, “Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in western popular culture, but in reality, our cynicism advances the desires of the powerful: cynicism is obedience.”
And here I thought that’s what we were fighting against.
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