Today’s global culture expresses its broad identity with the inexhaustible use of images, print media and a virtual connection to its citizens, spun country by country. Un-spinning spin is a citizen’s route to truth. But it takes uncommon energy and the will to know. The spinmeisters depend on that very human tendency, effectively demonstrating that the spin on the printed word can and does form cultural definition, opinions and boundaries. Textual Imagery at its most powerful.
We form personal opinions and prejudices based on what we hear, see and read. It affects us consciously and unconsciously, and has the capacity to last forever. This Textual Imagery, information and communication filtered to us second by second, has a major influence on the American public. Millions have grown up believing that they know different cultures based entirely on what they have read, heard or seen.
As the world prepares to possibly enter one of its most serious wars in history, the media is crucial to obtaining information and understanding issues. But, what should have been the age of information has, instead, morphed into a golden season of propaganda, enhanced truths and hyped realities, as mainstream news is manipulated by the masters of the political spin.
In the past, the information we received was typically above-board. It was generally clear where the news stopped and sensationalism began. But today’s political spinmeisters seem to prefer to work unseen by the public, while a few of them arrogantly flaunt their influence (if not outright power) over select, well-placed journalists. As their insidious influence on newsrooms grows, so does the amount of disinformation given out to a largely unsuspecting public. It is hard to measure how much of the information supplied to us is being spun, when journalists themselves sometimes don’t even realize it.
The cultural interpretation of these images plays a vital role in the formation of stereotypes, thus inciting deep-rooted, unfounded prejudice among entire cultures. We fail to acknowledge a heartbeat within different races and cultures identifying them as human beings. Let’s face it, different really is not good. But who is at the top determining “different”? Who is leading us? Where can we find the true solidarity of mankind?
CBS evening anchorman Dan Rather demonstrated a glaring example of Textual Imagery on his September 19, 2005 news segment. He stated, “Ordinary Iraqis are faced with an extraordinary surge of crime, banditry and thuggery from carjacking and robbery to kidnapping and murder.” Then as an aside he concluded, “A reminder that television sometimes has trouble with perspective. So you may want to note that in some areas of Iraq things are peaceful.” Textual Imagery gone awry.
Hussein Ibish, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee says: “These negative stereotypes are rooted in the very aggressive role that the US plays in the Middle East. The stereotypes emerge from the popular culture then inform government policy, and that reinforces the willingness…to promote the stereotypes, and so on. It’s a spiral.”
September 11, 2001 set the final stage for the entire Middle Eastern culture to be viewed as terrorists who harbor weapons of mass destruction, and as rogues desperately in need of liberation and democratization. The Textual Imagery we witnessed spawned an even deeper fear and prejudice against a nation that we really don’t know, and who doesn’t really know us.
September 11, 2001 will endure, established in the hearts of most as the darkest day in history–personally life–changing, and globally world-changing. As a New Yorker, I still struggle with the memory of what was done to my beloved city. To our beloved country. But there inevitably comes a time for healing on some level, a time for the truth and for reasoning. A civilized human society can not afford to think in tribal terms.
In the Spring of 2005, I was approached by Dr. Amaal V.E. Tokars to design and work with her on her book, Textual Imagery: Beaconing Organic Citizenry.
I remembered initially asking Dr. Tokars what her book was about, as the title spoke nothing to me. She began by explaining her concept of Textual Imagery to me (a combination of words and pictures intended to convey information). Later I agreed to review her manuscript before I committed to work on it. I recall picking up one of her chapters and pondering why I was hesitant to delve into her writing. I instantly realized that my personal ‘inner demons’ were intervening. Without consciously knowing it, I had stereotyped Dr. Tokars as ‘the enemy’ and although I wanted to approach her as a professional, I could not. Why? I had always considered myself open-minded, fair and non-judgmental. While soul searching, I discovered that I did not trust her or her people, and I was certainly not interested in pursuing anything about this topic. Reflexively I felt that SHE, too, was to blame for the horrendous attack of September 11, 2001, along with all her people regardless if they were American Iraqis or not. Trust played no part in my relationship with Dr. Tokars at that time.
I began reading Dr. Tokars’ book, (title now changed to: America & Iraq: Seduced by Fear). I groaned inwardly as I thought, “Here I am, as woefully misinformed about the true heart of the Middle Eastern people as most Americans, and vise versa.” Soon her work absorbed me and I could clearly understand that Dr. Tokars’ mission was not to divide and conquer but, rather, to inform, educate and promote peace and true freedom within different cultures. Because of her heritage, obviously America and Iraq are the central protagonists in her work, but it applies to any culture: White, Black, Jewish, Hispanic, Oriental, etc.
Throughout the last year, Dr. Tokars and I have had many conversations and we have bonded as two women who think similarly with regard to family, life and society as a whole. Through our connection, I have discovered that the average Iraqi DOES NOT have “links” to Osama bin Laden, IS NOT a prospective suicide bomber, nor would they defend such indefensible actions. Through her work she and I have connected and mutually agree that both Americans and the Iraqi people should strive to refute the myth that “we” are somehow essentially different from “them.”