Art in all its forms is an important entity in human speech and free thought. Many amazing ideas and new ways of understanding our world and ourselves have been expanded upon, re-contextualised and reimagined through the words of writers, the brushstrokes of painters, or in the medium of song or film.
How, for instance, could we expand and examine the universal suffering war provides the same way Pablo Picasso did with Guernica? Or how else can we shed new light on our own understanding of racism the same way Kendrick Lamar can with his thought-provoking, but down-to-earth rap music? Every artist has their own trademark, and in doing so, a new point of view. This is the heart of the discovery of new ideas, but also, is a grey area where free thought and creativity flourish together.
No art form in recent months has become such a place of debate around free speech than within the medium of writing and online journalism. The internet was created with the intention of improving connectivity and accelerating human progress. Yet, in the last few years, both social media and mainstream media seem more focused on pushing agendas: looking at information that only suits one point of view without taking the time to look at the bigger picture, and ask questions. Instead, us the consumer are made to believe only one viewpoint, when in fact it is more complex.
And what happens if you don’t agree? You get criticised, shot down, and ridiculed. For having a point of view. Yeah, there is so many views out there and not everyone will agree with you, but the line now is blurred between disagreement and full-fledged offensive criticism. Criticism these days has gone from defending a point of view to full out threatening and abusing people online for even having a view at all that differs. Now, criticism is dealt out by people in the safety of their own homes through their computer keyboards. The only problem is, those people don’t see that their words hurt people. Badly.
When did the idea of analysing, independent, critical journalism fall out of style? An independent, principled free style of journalism, writing and satire is vital for keeping those in power who need to be held accountable in check. I’m talking about journalists who were not afraid to ask the tough questions, and dared to challenge, as the media should. Kerry O’ Brian and Leigh Sales are two great examples, grilling various people from Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull to corporate executives on 7:30. Or Sarah Ferguson on Four Corners reporting on issues many politicians and corporate bodies would prefer to keep under wraps. Those are the right topics. They are asking the right questions.
Turnbull has tried to fight back, labelling people (like Leigh Sales), and independent media sources as ‘elitist media.’ Is it really? You’re labelling them as ‘elitist’ because they are asking questions about the ugly side of your prime ministership that you don’t want people to know about. That’s not elitist. That’s being a critical, freethinking, fearless media that’s pulling you up. It is a pillar in societal free speech and democracy.
But the Leigh Sales and Sarah Fergusons seem somewhat fleeting nowadays. Instead we have what many call a clickbait culture. Maybe this culture has come as a result of our increasingly online-based world. We process and read more, but does what we read have substance? Does looking at articles like ‘38 Pictures From The Most Bizarre Hotels Around The World’ mean you are reading something with substance? Does it make us question and challenge? Asking the same questions as every other person, that don’t dig into and examine a topic properly, to me, is not real news with real substance. Life is not black and white.
To me, it says a lot that most people these days get their news from social media, and other similar news sources. But anything can be posted there. Nothing is fact checked. And of course, social media is far from the most reliable source of news. Facts are contradicting, which blurs the line even more as to what is true or not. Suddenly, it much harder to constitute what a fact is. People don’t stop to consider the broader picture. And those people in power, who must be held accountable for their actions now live a life left off the leash, and seem to be able to get away with nearly ANYTHING.
Enter Meryl Streep.
On January 8th this year at the 74th Golden Globes, she received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. However, Streep took the opportunity to call out President-Elect Donald Trump (whom she eloquently never named), a man not shy of controversy in the media, and a man who has been quick to call out the media for being dishonest. This is a topic close to my heart; on one side, there are many aspects of mainstream media that are dishonest, and often push an agenda (case in point, Andrew Bolt). However, in this speech, Streep brilliantly took down Trump’s imitation of Serge Kovaleski, a journalist who suffers from arthrogryposis, a condition causing joint contracture in his right arm and hand. Most of the speech is located here:
Obviously, it is speech that is told within the context of an award ceremony and setting, but to me there is a lot more to it. It is a speech that has been the subject of much praise (and also criticism). But there is one quote that is important to remember from this speech: “disrespect incites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” It calls out the actions of Trump, showing his actions in that situation presented as it was, not edited or changed. I’m not going to lie that his actions hurt my feelings personally. My father is a journalist. He is also a paraplegic. Disabled people having fought for acceptance for hundreds of years, and make valuable contributions to society. They certainly can look after themselves, and I know from personal experience that they scrap for acceptance, and scrap hard. But to mock someone BECAUSE OF their disability is disrespectful. Disrespect incites disrespect.
Streep also used this speech to ask for compassion, but also as a call-to-arms, highlighting the many diverse peoples that reside within Hollywood. However, what she called for most was an independent, principled press, and for the protection of free thinking journalists. Journalists who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, and not be afraid to ask the questions that are right, not easy.
However, this speech highlights a broader issue. It puts an obligation on everyone, whether they be journalists, people of influence, actors or the average person in the street, to seek out news of substance that makes them question, not just read without processing. Journalists must make sure they ask the right questions, instead of focusing on creating substance-less news that fits into the status quo, and that doesn’t dare to challenge.
Whether we like it or not, being educated and informed on situations is a lot more difficult considering the many viewpoints circling around out there, but it is important for us to know everything we can about a situation before coming to our own conclusion. This is the world we live in now. Maybe we have all become complacent because we grew up in a time when free-thinking journalists and satirists like The Chaser called out people in power, or maybe because social media when we were younger was not the dominant force it is today. But if we want to ensure we have a free, independent press, it is time for us more than ever to fight for it!
Trump reacted the same way he always does to criticism, by brushing it off, and calling out the ‘dishonest media.’ It almost felt like a more low brow mirror of Turnbull calling out ‘elitist media.’ I for one find it ironic. Trump calls the media dishonest, when all they are doing is finding things HE HAS SAID AND DONE HIMSELF and put them on television.
As for us, what we must do is be more critical when it comes to our media. We must not fall into the habits of taking all we know from clickbait websites and saying we know everything. Nor must we take differing viewpoints and turn it into personal attacks. Instead, seek out knowledge that makes you ask questions. Find news sources that fact check and analyse before they publish. Find news sources that ask tough questions and go beyond the norm. Ask questions yourself. Ruffle feathers. Poke bears. Engage in debates and discover new points of view. Have an open mind. Be a critical thinker, and try to pass judgement only when you know the full story. This is the standard we must set ourselves at.