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The unbearable weight of being: Media and Politics as Usual in the US and Mexico

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I have tried. Really I have. But I seem constitutionally incapable of reaching that state of Zen in which one just simply lets go. The Pope, for instance, has recently warned us of the danger of words, and recommends silent meditation as a way of escaping their pernicious influence. But I just don't seem to be able to empty my mind. In fact, I actually rather like having one, and find the idea that it is our enemy itself somehow suspect. Many of course would see this as a failure. A lack of concentration. A lack of will. A lack of character. Too much character. Too much will. Others, undoubtedly, would see my inability to let go as a good thing, as evidence of a social conscience. Personally, I think I was just born this way. I don't take any credit or blame for it.

I do have to say that not being able to tune out is not always pleasant. In fact I am even envious of those who cope better than I do. For that is what I think the process of letting go is-coping. There are, of course, several popular methods of achieving detachment from the harsh realities of the world. Religion, the opium of the masses, is certainly behind door number one, with sports, and Hollywood/television behind the other two. Choose anyone of them, really, and you've made a good deal. They all offer a way to remain cool and untouched by the horrendous state of affairs that we as human beings have gotten ourselves into. You know, Justice comes in the next life. Don't expect it now. That sort of thing. Don't get me wrong. That might be right. How I feel about it depends on the day you ask me.

And I am certainly not condemning anyone for feeling that they need to get away from it all. Of course, I'm not talking here about the weirdos and whackos and hatemongers who might go out and do something like, say, hunt an illegal immigrant trying to enter the US (we have our share of those, too, unfortunately). That's a horse of a different color, and one which I will not go into here. No. I am talking instead about ordinary people. The kind of people who would never do anything forthrightly evil, but might well take the family on vacation to see the new billion and a half dollar National Monument to Racism that is planned for the border with Mexico and not know that it is about racism because they have zenned out. (Maybe, if they're lucky, the National Park Service will offer one of those interactive learning situations, and the kids will actually be able to look through some night goggles and track down illegals as they enter the country. They can report on the experience afterwards in their Social Studies class. Good clean American family values.) No, these people will probably just see the trip as one option among many for a summer vacation. Seeing the string of guard towers fading into the distance will not invoke cries of "tear down this wall". No. Instead, they will tell their kids how lucky they are to be on this side of the wall and that's why everyone wants to come here. They won't mention anything about the vicious monetary policies of the World Bank that destroy economies and force people to migrate to find work, or about the many Mexicans who return home because they can't stand the racism in the US or don't even like the American way of life. The experience of seeing the hi-tech barrier won't haunt their dreams in the weeks afterwards or flood them with doubts about everyone's future. Not because our vacationers are bad people, but because they have zoned out.


Again, these people are not really bad bad. Overwhelmed? Yes. On top of everything else they have to deal with, they simply don't want to come home after work and think about racism. Or poverty. Or injustice. Or the military industrial complex and its subsidiary, the US government. Or perhaps it is more than just that. Perhaps they are actually people who just cannot bring themselves to believe in the failure of their government and the institutions and laws that buttress them. Who simply could not live without the illusion of democracy in the US and elsewhere because it is too painful for them. Who still believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or, at the least, that we had to go there to be sure because otherwise our president would be a liar. And the 655,000 dead Iraqis to date? Well, the truth is, I don't honestly know how they manage to justify that, and couldn't bring myself to write it if I could.

But I understand, more or less, how and why individuals cope. What I cannot quite figure out is what institutions like the BBC and the New York Times REALLY believe about it all. Do they both genuinely believe, for instance, that elections today, let's say in Mexico or in the US, are above board? Or are they, too, just coping? People who work for such enterprises are often idealistic, after all. Reporters, or at least pre-Fox news reporters, naturally believe in what they are doing. (The idologues believe in what they are doing too, of course, but it would be a long stretch to say they believe in journalism.) Certainly the press thinks it is defending something or other. By my reckoning, and that of many others, it is getting harder to say exactly what that something is. Now that the US government in its great wisdom and overwhelming desire "to protect" us has legalized torture, those of us who find it hard to cope end up wondering what's left to protect.

For months, the BBC and the Times, for instance, told the center-left candidate for the presidency of Mexico and ex-mayor of one of the world's largest cities, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, that he was being irresponsible questioning Mexico's institutions by challenging election results in which his conservative opponent supposedly won by just over one half of one percentage point. And all he was doing was asking for a recount! Recently, however, neither the Times nor the BBC put up any particular fuss about the military coup in Thailand. What happened to respect for the Thai institutions? Well, it seems that the overriding factor is not really the institutions after all, but rather, sad to say it, whether one likes the person ending up in power. And the US-led drive to unseat popularly elected officials in Venezuela or Bolivia seems to fall into the same category. Are reporters even still allowed to report bad things about the US government? Apparently not, judging by all of the articles flowing these days about opposition movements to Chávez and Morales.

In Mexico, meanwhile, they said that López Obrador was self serving. They coldly dismissed the hopes and aspirations of the millions who supported him, writing the resistance off to being nothing more than the aspirations of one politician. (Of course, people like López Obrador-Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, for instance-hear and heard the same sort of nonsense all the time, and likely from the same institutions or from ones just like them.) Now that López Obrador is in the Mexican State of Tabasco trying to defend the elections there-elections in which he is not running-our revered institutions will not so easily be able to accuse him of self interest. Well, they can always try to discredit him with the claim of party politics. (But will the BBC stop drinking tea long enough to even make it to Tabasco to check out the eight opposition politicians falsely arrested so that they would not be available to help their party during the last days of the election?)

And it's funny that neither the BBC nor the Times has paid much attention to the situation in the Mexican State of Oaxaca, where politics as usual has worked to defend a governor, who according to numerous international human rights groups, has used paramilitary thugs to intimidate, "disappear", shoot, and kill his opponents who are demanding his resignation. Just let night someone was shot to death trying to protect their barrio from government hooligans. Perhaps the media thinks it is not news worthy. They're right in one sense, of course, because it is business as usual for Mexico's governors, who act more like feudal despots or mafiosi than elected officials, only I think the mafia is probably made up of nicer people than the Mexican state governments. But this does not do much for the argument that politics are on the level in Mexico, or that its institutions should be respected.
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Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of public school children in Oaxaca go without classes. I emphasize "public" school children, because of course the children of the politicians and of the business class would never set foot in a public school, so what does a missed year of public schooling really matter to them (except as something to cynically blame on the striking teachers)? In Mexico, as elsewhere, the conservative agenda is to undo government, and public education in particular-replacing it with private schooling-preferably of the religious sort, but, failing that, anything that can be sold to people will do. (Anytime anyone says something derogatory about public education to you, make sure you question them on it.)

And now the Federal Electoral Tribunal of Mexico, having waited patiently for things to cool down from the ruckus aroused by the fraudulent national elections on July 2 and by their own role in "legalizing" the results, is now moving to undo a victory by an opposition party in the State of Chiapas. Again, silence from the BBC and the New York Times. The tribunal, they tell us, is widely respected! (Who exactly it is that respects the Tribunal, other than the special interests-including the US government-which the tribunal serves, neither institution really tells us.) Yes, Mexico suffered 70 years of fraudulent elections, they say. But now, in a miracle befitting the Virgin of Guadalupe, nothing significantly illegal happens in Mexican elections.

So which coping mechanism is it exactly that is kicking in here? Do the editors sit around, like Dorothy, clicking their red shoes and imagining themselves back in Kansas where everything (used to, maybe) make sense? Or, like the little train that could, do they, hoping to reach some state of journalistic Zen, repeat over and over again, Surely the Mexican institutions are now honest. Surely the Mexican institutions are now honest. Surely the Mexican institutions are now honest.

Coping at an individual level is perhaps understandable. But, we need to ask ourselves, is it really acceptable in the institutions that we rely on to monitor the world for us?

The alternative, of course, is something that I personally am loathe to believe (although I know that many others have happily already given in to the suspicion)-that the Times and the BBC actually do fall into the category of ideological state apparatuses identified by Althuser so many years ago. Oh Joe, say it ain´t so. Do they, like the Mexican Federal Election Institution, simply serve the interests of the powers that be? Is Mexico, like Thailand, on some sort of official "Do not offend" list issued by the British government to the BBC? Are they prohibited from calling the Mexican governors murderers? Call me naive, but I am still unwilling to completely believe that.
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But, heh, maybe that's just a coping mechanism.

And, having said that, it seems that perhaps there's hope for me, after all.

 

Edgar Pope is an artist, musician, writer who is old enough to remember when the world really was, or at least seemed, a kinder and gentler place.

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