Many of you may have noticed this little gem floating around on the Internet over the last few days:
I've got to hand it to whomever put this meme together. You're one clever bastard, sir. It's a well-deserved cheap shot to not only our nation's obsession with celebrity culture, but those responsible for enabling it: the corporate media establishment. You might as well have inscribed panem et circenses on the damned thing while they were at it; this meme is positively dripping with indignation and outrage, and of course, it went viral almost immediately, spawning a host of variations on the theme, 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 not only of their own innate goodness, but also the righteousness of their cause. Our anonymous meme architect is one such villain. His creation - however well intended it may be – is drenched in hubris, and not only employs falsified information (perhaps even deliberately), but draws a number of false equivalences who's unintended consequences actually do more harm than good in terms of public discourse.
But first, let's talk about the evidence: the bottom image, courtesy of the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is 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 implied in the meme. “Wave amplitudes,” eh? Sounds suspicious, doesn't it? Don't worry; it only refers to the height of the waves the tsunami created, nothing more.
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 this is where the real intellectual dishonesty comes in), any indicators of what the map represents have been removed, and a quote preaching our impending doom has been put in its place. The actual map looks a little something like this:
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 and 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.Yes, this is an absolute disaster, but let's not prepare for Armageddon just yet, shall we? National Geographic just released a great report on the situation, and while it is indeed dire, we're hardly at the brink of apocalypse. Once people realized that they've been hoodwinked by false hysteria, that sense of betrayal will often backfires upon the messenger and the cause, dissuading individuals from engaging in the issue further through a combination of relief (after all, nobody's gunning for a nuclear disaster out of boredom) and 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 it has been debunked, the townspeople are heading back into their homes to ignore the petulant cries of the hysterics. How is that helping?
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.”
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 indeed allegations of malfeasance against Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) for downplaying the issue to the Japanese Nuclear Authority, a thing difficult to cover up despite their public efforts at contriteness. 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, not to mention compelling bait for a low-information public.
But this begs a very important question: why would the American corporate media establishment want to cover this up? What would they stand to gain by doing so? Very little, as far as I can tell. While there is an undeniable sense of urgency surrounding events in Fukushima, it is 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 significance to the American public, while the Fukushima incident, despite its gravitas, is still very much a Japanese problem, at least for the time being.
False allegations of media blackouts actually work to excuse people's intellectual laziness and/or apathy, by insinuating that there's a history of media 'conditioning' that somehow prevents individuals from being able to discover information about things like Fukushima for themselves. The argument from brainwashing 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 this issue, and dozens of global media establishments have devoted a great degree of coverage to it. It's easy enough to claim that there's a “media blackout” when the ones making that claim weren't curious enough to go find (and subsequently verify) that information for themselves in the first place. Must we always be told what to think, and when?
Again, I'm not trying to downplay the disaster and its ramifications, or excuse those who may actually be doing so. But let's face it: we're not about to go to war with a nuclear power plant, so let's apply the righteous indignation where it belongs: to our imperialist legislators who appear more than willing to drag us into yet another costly, quasi-legal war in the Middle East, and the corporate media establishment that defends and supports their agenda. That's a legitimate, visible conspiracy, low-hanging fruit for those looking to engage in political discourse that doesn't involve imaginary media blackouts, as our meme architect would have you believe about events in Fukushima.
Cultivating faux outrage over imaginary conspiracies and pointing a guilty finger at a celebrity-obsessed proletariat is a great way to encourage people to engage in the issues of the day from a place of cynical superiority, while in actuality doing little to encourage those same 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 change the world. 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."
Who the hell wants to advance the desires of the powerful, anyway?