I chose journalism as a major because I had experience working in a newsroom and I wanted to make that resume of mine looked as strong as possible. I also chose journalism because I love to write. A blank page is refreshing to me. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t always write enough or about the things that I should write about. While I’ll always believe in the power of the written word, that power is diminished and if we aren’t careful, we could lose it altogether. I’m discouraged as I prepare to graduate.
As we’ve learned, Guttenberg’s printing press has physically long been obsolete but the spirit of its innovation continued to ripple across society forever changing the trajectory of the human race, for good or ill. Literacy rose as society came out of the Dark Ages and change ripped through the landscape. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses sparked the Protestant Reformation. The Declaration of Independence created a nation that still reveres the document even if it doesn’t fully understand it. Actual books were a luxury of the wealthy though and there were many who had little or no access to books. It was the Industrial Revolution that brought the cost of book production down to levels that all classes were able to afford.
Today, society has seemed to move on from the written word. Instead, we are dominated by images that show a given situation but more often than not they don’t fully explain what is really happening. Look at the news these past few weeks.
With ‘literate’ being defined as over the age of 15 and able to read and write words, America is a nation that has a literacy rate of 99 percent. (CIA World Fact Book, 2003) The functional illiterate number in the tens of millions though. The National Center for Education Stats puts this number at 22% of the American population with minimal literacy skills. That is over 40 million people of the 191 million over the age of 16. Locally in this area, there are seven cities in this state that top the list of most illiterate cities. Newark is number 5. (Illiterate Digest Index) These are people that can maybe read instructions but they are not spending a lot of time thinking. This is the segment of the society that is just reacting in order to survive.
“A student I teach will come in to kindergarten and already have a serious vocabulary deficiency,” says Heather Pichler, a 4th grade reading teacher with over 10 years of experience working in Newark, NJ. “These kids are just not reading and no one is reading to them at home.”
If knowledge is the key to power, what chance do these people have when they can’t even understand a job application, let alone fill one out.
In light of the growth of the image and spectacle in society, the best defense is to reinforce literacy but unfortunately, literacy is under attack. The National Institute for Literacy was formed in 1991 and closed on September, 2010. Programming that found a home on PBS type stations like Reading Rainbow and Electric Company, a phonetically based show has been cut as funding continues to get cut. And it is treated almost as a joke. The 2012 Republican candidate, Mitt Romney gave Big Bird notice that he was going to get fired if elected President with an off- hand comment in a debate. Nothing is coming to fill the void left behind. For all our talk, these results point out not a failure of a system but an active creation and maintenance of a second-class.
This is an article by Brendan Prunty that ran on December 13, 2012 in The Star-Ledger following the suspension of Rutgers-New Brunswick’s basketball head coach Mike Rice when it was revealed he was treating his players in an abusive manner. Mr. Prunty did not respond to repeated replies
The story died right then and there. Mike Rice returned to the bench, finished the season and was actively preparing for next year. Behind the scenes, controversy was brewing and on April 2, 2013, this video was released to the public.
A story that sat dormant for months turned into a national firestorn and embarrassment for the school. By 10 am the next morning, Rice was fired as Rutgers dealt with the crisis. It is also a shining example of the lack of impact the written word really has in this world.
Where did society go wrong? Do we blame Thomas Edison, the first filmmaker? Has the video image minimized our imaginations, and relegated them to become regurgitations of images we’ve seen a million times the world over?
The rise of the greatest evil was spurred on by a propaganda machine that was ahead of its time in Nazi Germany. After World War I, Germany was a country that was breaking under the strain of war reparations. The Treaty of Versailles was intentionally designed to accept full responsibility for the war and to severely limit Germany’s ability to financially recover.
The amount they were required to pay back would amount to 440 billion current American dollars. War is a little different now but don’t forget that back in the day, when you lost the war, you also got the bill for it. Europe wanted to make sure that Germany did not recover.
That was the stage that Hitler rose to the front of by 1932 with a vision that restored German national pride which is something we can all understand as something to desire. Through its use of still images and sloganeering, the films of Leni Reifenstahl did just that. Of course, the fear that the Gestapo and SS kept everyone in line but it was those posters and films that encouraged military life. When you’re hungry and barely have any clothes, how sharp are you going to feel wearing one of these outfits?
Don’t look now but what was one of Hitler’s favorite activities? Well yea, a good old book burning. Here’s a clip of a famous book burning that occurred on May 10, 1933.
Hitler knew that the written word was something for him to fear and he did all that he could to tell his country that words on a page were worthless.
Chris Hedges is one of those career geniuses that has lived his life out on the front line of everything. He covered wars in Central America and spent time in Jerusalem, Cairo, Europe and the Middle East before ending up at The New York Times. This is really a man of the world. When the New York Times was acting as the George Bush’s lapdog, Chris Hedges spoke out against Bush and the war, resulting in a reprimand which ended with him leaving the paper. This is a guy who studied Arabic, divinity at Harvard. He spends a lot of time thinking and clearly explaining what he sees through the veil of the spectacle
This is Carlos Arredondo in the cowboy hat. Hedges is the type of journalist that is so far ahead of the curve that in 2010, he wrote about Carlos Arredondo, an early hero from the Boston bombing, and his tragic story that put The Man in the Cowby Hat in Boston that day.
Hedges has a has a negative outlook on what the future holds for this society as we get away from the written word, combined with the major media’s efforts to stop selling products as the people become the actual commodity. Combined with America’s penchant for violence, Hedges believes society is on a path for breakdown. He’s seen it before.
What can you do?
Get out and volunteer. Go teach someone how to read. http://lvnj.org/
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html
CIA World Fact Book. (2003). Retrieved April 4, 2013, from CIA.gov: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html
Federal Register-The Daily Journal of the US Government. (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://www.federalregister.gov: http://www.federalregister.gov/agencies/national-institute-for-literacy
Prunty, B. (2012, December 13). Mike Rice Suspended by Rutgers. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from NJ.com: http://www.nj.com/rutgersbasketball/2012/12/mike_rice_suspended_by_rutgers
United States Holocaust Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013, from http://www.ushmm.org: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007428