Be. Leadership 2018: Session 6 - Media, Big Brother, and a Change of Heart

by Min Khanthee

Be Leaders 2018Firstly, I would like to thank my 6th form English teacher for instilling in me a very bleak view of the media. I had the privilege of reading, then re-reading, then critiquing nearly every page of George Orwell’s classic 1984. The novel depicts a dystopian society in which the world is in perpetual war, everyone is under omnipresent surveillance, and the media promotes hostility through propaganda (you have to admit, it does sound vaguely familiar). I was quite an impressionable adolescent, and my understanding at this point was that the media is a source of fear, and cannot be trusted.

Fast forward to where we are now, and we’re undergoing some massive changes. Thanks to rapid advancements in technology, the media is literally everywhere… Trump makes yet another absurd claim, bloodbath in Syria, #ToBrexitOrNotToBrexit, and this just in - Beyoncé has been accused of witchcraft and cat murder. It’s all a bit much really (and I haven’t even touched on social media). To conflate this - storytelling has become so accessible that everyone and her aunt can share their two cents! Long story short, my approach to the media, up until now had been with the question – what’s the point?

The topic for the sixth Be. Leadership session was (drum roll please…) the media. There was no running from this one. I realised that if I was ever going to overcome my aversion to the media, then now would be the time. Hence, I made a personal commitment to go into the session with an open mind. And you know what? I was pleasantly surprised…

Day 1 was a springy Friday morning, and our venue for the weekend was a lovely sunlit room with panoramic windows. I could see trees and mountains in the distance, and flowers that were blooming into season. On top of this, I was greeted by the warm and reassuring smiles of my Be. Whanau. So far, so good!

Our guest speakers for the weekend were cartoonist Toby Morris, and AUT lecturer Richard Pamatautau. Toby was relaxed and authentic, and illustrated the importance of art as a form of story-telling. It left me pondering the idea of innocent storytelling, and how art may be used as an antidote to digesting heavy topics. Our second speaker was refreshingly frank, and somewhat satirical in his manner of speech. I was a little hesitant to ask a man that explores media for a living, the question of what’s the point? However, Richard answered my question in an open, non-judging, and inquisitive manner. He helped me realise that staying informed was a choice. I could choose to be indifferent, or I could choose to be an active and informed member of society. I was also advised not to take things too seriously, and to surf the media in a way that works for me.

This moment triggered a shift in my thinking. I understood then, that I had built up a prejudice against the media. I had equated 'tuning in' with a loss of humanity, and I was opposed to the idea of being a consumer of information – someone who is plugged in to ‘Big Brother’, and constantly preoccupied with what's "out there" (Big Brother = omnipresent surveillance system in Orwell's 1984). Because of this, I failed to give attention to the media's possibilities.

Yes, the media can be a daunting place, and yes there's fear, propaganda, and a whole lot of white noise. Unlike the brainwashed Proles in 1984 however (Proles = everyday people), we have the option of 'tuning in' or 'tuning out', and we also have the option of being ‘conscious consumers’ of information.

So, what is the point? Alas, I have finally come to a conclusion. Well, not so much a conclusion actually. If anything I’m tossing a dozen new questions. Such as, how can we schedule media time? How can the media be used to promote compassion as opposed to fear? And how do we encourage critical thinking?

What else happened over the weekend? I'm well over my word count, and won't go into too much detail, but there was Ukulele, singalongs, pizza, bubbles, laughter, compassionate meditation, Bounty Bars, gummi bears, Reggae music, and last but not least, there were dogs!

I’m a sucker for quotes, so I'll end on this one:

“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting”

– Edmund Burke.