Friday, November 26, 2010

The Media Gaslighting Of America

The slang term “gaslighting,” from the movie “Gaslight,” refers to a form of psychological abuse where you try driving a sane person crazy by denying changes in reality. In the movie, the evil husband tormented his wife by dimming their home’s gaslights a little each night, then insisting he didn’t: “No, dear, if you think the lights are getting dimmer, you must be losing your mind.”

Poor woman. Yet she’s better off than I am; she had only to worry about that one abusive guy, and once she escaped him the entire rest of her country was grounded in sane reality. I’m in the opposite boat: a happy, healthy home life too boring to write about, but the rest of America’s been gaslighting me ever since the World Trade Center went down. Never has the insanity been greater than with the recent inexplicable controversy surrounding the TSA nude scans and grope-downs.

Is the light of freedom dimming in America, or am I imagining things? Among my journalism colleagues, a large contingent swears it’s just me. Like many of my fellow Americans, I’m outraged by the notion of government sexual assault masquerading as security. Yet when we say “My freely chosen bedmates and doctors are the only ones allowed to see my naked body or touch my genitalia,”there’s no shortage of respectable mainstream pundits telling us we’re selfish at best and crazy at worst.

Shut up and be scanned – The airport security devices may be intrusive, but they're also a necessary evil,” said some nameless editorial writer in the Los Angeles Times. The Today show ran a sympathetic feature about TSA agents who spend their workdays fondling people’s genitalia, and think it’s unfair when flyers get all rude and cranky rather than passively adopt submissive-criminal poses while the fondling takes place: Being a TSO means often being verbally abused. You let the comments roll off and check the next person; however, when a woman refuses the scanner then comes to me and tells me that she feels like I am molesting her; that is beyond verbal abuse.”

In Politico, Michael Kinsley urged compliance in a long screed which boiled down to “I’ve never had problems with the TSA, so why should anyone else?” William Saletan of Slate called the Opt-Out Day protest “idiocy” and told travelers, “Ignore these imbeciles. Their plan would clog security lines and ruin your holiday for no good reason.”

Even my Guardian colleague (and former editor) Richard Adams disagrees with my opposition to the new TSA procedures, but – well, he’s British. I don’t know how things work in the UK, what lofty national principles make idealistic Britons proud of their country, but “American constitutional freedoms” surely aren’t it.

My fellow American journalists are different. We all grew up hearing about the importance of first amendment guarantees, especially free speech and a free press, and every newsroom in America has at least one employee with Thomas Jefferson’s quote tacked above his desk: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

The “opinion of the people” doesn’t matter to TSA authorities. And Jefferson wasn’t promoting the Fourth Estate so it could make the other three look good. Even in the most oppressive totalitarian societies, there’s perfect freedom to write paeans to the glory of the state. The first amendment isn’t about journalists urging our fellow citizens to suck up any misgivings about government misbehavior and go along to get along; it’s about shining a light on government power, not denying when the lights go dim.

Mass gaslighting isn’t the only way American journalism’s changed these past few years. The internet vastly altered the media landscape, and our legal system thus far seems reluctant to grant mere “bloggers” the same first amendment protections as official “journalists.” If the government believes journalists enjoy constitutional protections other writers don’t, sooner or later it’ll establish a bureaucracy to set officially sanctioned journalists apart from the rest. The Department of Journalism Licensure will naturally need a proper logo, and I know just what’ll work: a picture of a vacuum cleaner and a rooster – whose lovely multicolored tailfeathers reflect America’s rich tradition of Diversity – with both items paired over the motto “Government’s cock will not suck itself. That’s what a free and independent media is for.”

The lights are getting dimmer here, no matter who denies it. I won’t shut up and meekly submit to TSA tyranny, and I won’t wear any rooster badges either.


Anonymous Judy Aron said...

My sentiments exactly, and if the journalists of the America do not understand that if one of our basic rights (the 4th amendment) "falls" that the others (like the 1st amendment that they hold so dear) will soon follow, then they have very little understanding of history or of the nature of government tyranny. These so-called "journalists" ought to be ashamed of themselves for promoting "sheepism".

1:23 PM  
Blogger Chuck Pergiel said...

I don't like traveling by air, and it's not just the TSA. I didn't like it before there even was a TSA. So I am enjoying this tempest knowing I am not going to participate.

But what if I was making $100K a year and flying half-way around the world once a month? I wonder how much effort I would put into getting the policy changed?

I've put up a couple of posts on my blog, but I haven't written my congressman.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Ken said...

Well said.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Charles, if this is allowed to stand at airports, it won't stay there.

Ken -- thanks. I doubt it'll do my journalism career any favors should hiring editors come across it, but I'm miles beyond caring at this point. When I said I won't wear any rooster badges, I meant it.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

There is a good reason that TSA agents are not required to be High School graduates. Under educated people are less likely to know that "I'm just following orders" is not a valid excuse for violating another person's rights. They are also less likely to know what those rights are or even care. They don't wear brown shirts, but they do carry out the leader's bidding without question.

8:07 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

Journalist is anybody who writes on the day, or writes daily.

It has the same root as diurnal.

Gaslight is a "women's film," with the same audience that the media targets.

They target women because nobody else can be made to watch regularly, and the journalist's business is attracting eyeballs to sell to advertisers, not producing news.

Figure out a different business model, in other words. The business model drives the content.

I favor ridicule of women as the counter political strategy, the idea being to make it shameful to watch that news.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Ron, if time travel is ever invented, I'll find the girl who broke your heart in sixth grade and beg her to reconsider. "You'll fuck him up for life," I'll say. "He'll be so warped, when I write a column criticizing multiple male journalists for caving in to authority, he'll say ridiculing women will solve the problem!"

6:05 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

The craven male journalists are writing for women.

But for those women, they'd be doing something else for a living.

6:36 PM  
Blogger James Hanley said...

"Is the light of freedom dimming in America, or am I imagining things?"

I keep asking myself this. On the one hand, in many ways we are more free, due to Supreme Court rulings on the First, 4th, and 14th Amendments that put our constitutionally secured freedoms far ahead of where they were a half century ago.

On the other hand, it sometimes seems as though all we have gained is more freedom to complain about our ongoing loss of freedom in the face of a government determined to protect us through perpetual observation and control of our movements.

I don't know how to add it all up, but I'm just goddamed outraged at this security theater that tells us we'll be free if we submit to porno scans and gate rape. And I'm no less outraged at the journalists--especially the alleged liberals--who are telling us to shut up and take it. What's that old slap at women? "You can't do anything about rape, so you might as well lay back and enjoy it?" That's what we're being told now.

Don't quit bitching, Jennifer. We've got to make people wake up and realize that our government has gone too far.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Russ 2000 said...

Jen, the gaslighting started 100 years ago. The Federal Reserve Bank, Prohibition, wartime rationing, etc.

Liberty is not for cowards.

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Lisa Simeone said...

Jennifer, I've been reading your columns at The Guardian and am grateful you keep shining a light on TSA abuses. I've been trying for a couple of years at Cogitamus (link at my name), but have given up at that venue, where the denial is so strong it takes your breath away. Now I'm just trying to get the word out at other blogs, newspapers, sites, such as this one. (And yes, I've written -- repeatedly -- to my federal, state, and local politicians.)

Anyway, keep it up. There are still some of us out here who value our rights.

11:10 AM  

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