The Intelligent Man’s Guide to: Mainstream Media And Mass Culture

The intelligent man's guide to: mainstream media, news, and mass culture“No. . . I don’t like this! Why can’t there be any happy news? This is no fun.”

So said: (a) Britney Spears or (b) Robin Williams or (c) Nelson Mandela.

The correct answer is none of the above.

It was said by. . .

. . . a girl that lived in my corridor when I studied at university.

Right after she said it she changed the channel to watch some show about rich housewives that lived in New Jersey. That made her happy again.

I considered whether I should explain to her in detail why there can’t be any happy news. But I quickly realized that her (very limited) attention span would be an insurmountable obstacle. I decided it wasn’t worth the effort and said: “I don’t know”. Then I went back to my room, where I could avoid exposing myself to the gossip of the “glamorous” housewives.

A couple of days later I found the same girl in the kitchen again.

This time she was hanging out with a friend. They were watching some reality show. Their conversation went something like this:

Girl 1: “I’ve been to work today, now I deserve to relax. I don’t want to think anymore. This show is really good for that!”

Girl 2: “Yes totally. I have studied biology all day, can’t I get a break?”

Girl 1: “Yeah exactly. I know I shouldn’t be watching this show, it’s kind of stupid, right? But I  like it — I think it’s fun.”

Girl 2: “Yeah, sometimes you just don’t want to do anything. What’s wrong with that?

Girl 1: “There’s nothing wrong with that, I think that. . .”

And then they started talking about the characters on the TV show. First they mocked them and laughed at their shallowness then, subtly, their conversation shifted into petty gossip, just like those housewives they were watching.

They did not see the irony in this.

Nor did they realize that they were rationalizing and defending their “right” not to think and to act akratic — against their own interest and better knowing — by choosing to watch the show.

The funny thing is that those girls believed they were (intellectually) superior to other people because they attended university.

I’m not saying they were particularly stupid or anything, actually. . .

They are just average; average in terms of intelligence and average in terms of the ideas, stereotypes and beliefs they have.

They Are Products of Mass Culture

Products of the mass media.

And maybe you will be too, unless you take drastic actions to prevent it from happening.

When you have the same inputs for information as everyone else, you become like everyone else: A mass-produced average.

And when you watch a lot of TV you become stupid.

I’m not kidding.

Let me explain.

I haven’t had a TV since I lived at home and was 18 (I’m now 23) and whenever I watch TV nowadays it sends shivers down my spine, in an uncomfortable way. Because I know what TV does to people.

When I was younger I had no idea because:

But I know now — and I’m going to tell you what I decided NOT to tell that girl in my corridor when she asked me “why there can’t be any happy news”.

Let’s start with. . .

The Nature of News

What is “news”?

News is stories told to a group of people. Hopefully the people listening haven’t heard the stories before.

Maybe, at some point in history, news used to be just that — news.

But for a very long time “news” has been nothing but entertainment, propaganda, or marketing and sales messages. Let me define each one for you:

Entertainment is. . .

Anything to keep your attention. To keep you stimulated enough to continue reading, watching or listening.

Propaganda is. . .

Anything to shape your opinion on a certain topic. News disguised as propaganda is commonplace in countries like the U.S, China, and particularly in North Korea.

[15:41 –17:10]

Marketing & sales message are. . .

Anything you’re shown that exposes you to a company in a positive way to increase the likelihood that you’ll like, or want to buy, a product or service. In the US there is a fine line between standard commercials and marketing or sales messages disguised as “news” or TV shows. Other countries, like Sweden, have stricter rules.

Who tells you the “news”?

An anchorman or anchorwoman dressed in a good suit so that you will listen (respectfully) to what he or she has to say. Even if that person is Ron Burgundy.

These people don’t get their jobs because they’re smart. They get their job based on the following qualities:

  • Good looks
  • Pleasant voice (woman) or authoritarian voice (man)
  • Ability to read text on a teleprompter and repeat the words they read with conviction, as if they had thought it up themselves

Why do they tell you the “news”?

Because “news” makes for good TV. And because they were hired to do that by the people who own the networks.

Why do the owners hire (famous) news anchors?

Because they realized that people prefer listening to, and trust, the people they’re familiar with.

If there’s a new person telling the “news” every single time there will be no familiarity. People would pay less attention — which equates to less profits and influence for the owners. It would be bad business.

Why does “news” make for good TV?

Because it appeals to a large and diverse target group of people.

And because “news” fills two basic needs for these viewers:

  1. The need to feel and believe that they’re doing something meaningful
  2. The need to indulge their curiosity for learning new things

But it does this in a negative way by tricking them that they’re doing something useful, when — in reality — they’re only being entertained, influenced, or sold on something. Ayn Rand describes this in Fountainhead when she has her media mogul character Gail Wynand say:

“If you make people perform a noble duty, it bores them,” said Wynand. “If you make them indulge themselves, it shames them. But combine the two — and you’ve got them.”

The “noble duty” is for the average person to feel like he is being a good citizen by watching the news to keep himself informed on worldly events.

The “indulgence” is what I call entertainment news.

Entertainment news is like yogurt. Who buys yogurt? Fat people who want to lose weight but don’t know much about nutrition. They think yogurt is healthy because a lot of people told them so.

"Yay! Frozen yogurt is the best. I get to have dessert AND feel like I'm being healthy."

“Yay! Frozen yogurt is the best. I get to have dessert AND feel like I’m being healthy.”

But yogurt contains mostly sugar. It is marketed as healthy, but it’s really just a sugary indulgence — you might as well eat candy.

Entertainment news is the same. It comes in bite-sized servings, goes down easily, you can consume a lot of it without becoming full, and it has a harmful effect on your life.

But most people don’t see it that way.

They’re too busy feeling like “good citizens” to notice it.

What are some good examples of entertainment news?

It might be — and often is — some shocking or unlikely story, like:

  • How a big shark ate an innocent baby or;
  • How a gang of young vandals have committed a series of grave robberies or,
  • How a celebrity did something slightly out of the ordinary. . .

. . . Something that would be utterly unremarkable, and would go unnoticed, if it were a normal person who did it. But since it’s a celebrity it gets remarked on.

I know very little about Kim Kardashian. But I know that she is a “celebrity”, and that she gets a lot of attention by the media for acting like a prostitute.

Just the fact that someone like her — a person who hasn’t accomplished anything worthwhile — is given so much attention, leads a lot of people to believe that if they act like that too, then they’ll also be famous and rich. Monkey see monkey do. They think that if only they could get on TV and do something scandalous they’d become successful:

It came as a shock to me to read in The Week that 20 percent of British teenagers in school claim they would abandon their education if they could just get themselves on television. In any capacity whatever. Just to be a “celebrity”. Which probably explains the queues clamoring to be humiliated on “reality TV,” a modern equivalent to ancient Rome’s gladiator circuses.

–Felix Dennis, How to Get Rich

I know a couple of people who have been on TV. None of them became rich or famous as a direct result of it. Two were skillful enough to leverage the media attention to build their brands, generate speaking requests and sell products.

I wouldn’t mind getting on TV myself, as long as it helped me somehow, but watching TV?

No.

When you expose yourself to mainstream media and popular culture for any extended period of time — for most people this is their entire lives — you start suffering from media bias.

What is Media Bias?

More than 100 years ago Jesse Lynch Williams wrote a play about a newspaper called The Stolen Story. In it, there’s a great scene that illustrates what media bias is and how it comes into existence:

(Enter Very Young Reporter; comes down to city desk with air of excitement.)

VERY YOUNG REPORTER (considerably impressed) : ‘Big story. Three dagoes killed by that boiler explosion!’

THE CITY EDITOR (reading copy. Doesn’t look up): ‘Ten lines.’ (Continues reading copy.)

VERY YOUNG REPORTER (looks surprised and hurt. Crosses over to reporter’s table. Then turns back to city desk. Casual conversational tone); ‘By the way. Funny thing. There was a baby carriage within fifty feet of the explosion, but it wasn’t upset.’

THE CITY EDITOR (looks up with professional interest): ‘That’s worth a dozen dead dagoes. Write a half column.’

(Very Young Reporter looks still more surprised, perplexed. Suddenly the idea dawns upon him. He crosses over to table, sits down, writes.)

It was the same piece of news, but the editor saw it differently than the reporter. The editor knew from experience that a sensational angle on the story — one that is strays as far as possible from what is considered normal — gets more attention and sells more newspapers.

People dying in an explosion is to be expected. A baby surviving the explosion unharmed is not.

A hard-working entrepreneur becoming a millionaire by his 40s or 50s is to be expected. Mark Zuckerberg becoming a billionaire at age 23 is not.

Now take this times a thousand and you get the effect of media bias caused by the modern mainstream media.

Say there’s an old couple that watches the news and see that story about the teenage grave robbers. In a state of shock they exclaim: “What is the world coming to? We must make sure our teenage grandchildren don’t start robbing graves!”

Media Bias Makes People Stupid. . .

. . . Because it gives them a heavily distorted view of how the world works:

Why does this make you stupid?

Because it conditions you into thinking that things are simpler than they are.

How does this happen?

By refusing to acknowledge that there may be multiple explanations for how something happened.

This is especially true when it comes to success stories. It leads people to believe that “overnight success” is possible if you’re just “passionate” about something.

Fact:

In reality, things are nearly always more complex than the stories presented by mainstream media. It’s hard to fit the truth into a 1-page article or a 5-minute news report. And the media people don’t care. They’re not paid to investigate and analyze. They’re paid to entertain and add opinionated commentary or comic relief. . .

. . . Because this produces a larger quantity of content.

As long as people are watching, the quality doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that they can jam in as much advertising as possible. That’s how media companies make their money, whether it’s newspapers, tabloids, radio, TV or online news sites.

Are TV Series and Movies Dangerous too?

Yes they are — for a number of reasons.

For starters, the lives of TV characters are cooler and more eventful than your own life. When TV characters do things, even on reality shows, dramatic music plays in the background. This adds a depth to everything that happens and all actions seem filled with finality and meaning.

Most people don’t have very eventful, dramatic, or meaningful lives. But they sure try to act like it. I wonder why?

Maybe because it’s easier to mimic someone who seems successful than it is figuring out what “success” actually means to you.

Ayn Rand writes the following about Peter Keating from Fountainhead:

He stared into the fire. That was what made a man happy–to sit looking dreamily into a fire, at his own hearth, in his own home; that’s what he had always heard and read. He stared at the flames, unblinking, to force himself into a complete obedience to an established truth. Just one more minute of it and I will feel happy, he thought, concentrating. Nothing happened.

He thought of how convincingly he could describe this scene to friends and make them envy the fullness of his contentment. Why couldn’t he convince himself?

This is what most young people’s lives are like today — artificial. The only difference is that they don’t even have to go through the mental effort to “describe the scene to friends,” they can just post it on social media immediately.

Their lives are fake and they are actors — acting out a script written by the director: Mass culture.

Happiness -- as good as it gets!

This is the the highest form of meaning and happiness you can hope to achieve

They will show up to the pub and sit in their favorite booth drinking with their friends every Friday. That’s what friends do to have fun. They know it because they saw it on How I Met Your Mother.

They will spend waste time in hipster coffee shops. That’s what friends do on weekdays. They know it because they saw it on Friends.

Men believe that the “good guy” or “the geek” always gets the girl without stepping up his life. They know it because they watched romantic movies.

Women think they’ll meet Mr Right if they wait long enough. In the meantime they’ll go out and have drunken sex.

Just the fact that you are shown something on TV lends credence to its existence. What you are not shown does not exist. Perception is reality.

Are TV series and movies dangerous?

They can be.

But most people don’t understand why. And, unfortunately, many who do understand why, think they’re special and different.

No way that stuff works on me. I’m not so easily tricked!

That’s what they all say.

But guess what?

You’re not special and you’re not different.

You are affected — you just don’t notice it because it happens incrementally, at a rate of change below your sensory threshold.

“Relax, it’s just entertainment!”

No.

It’s not ‘just’ entertainment.

It’s subconscious influencing and, just like you should be mindful of what you put into your body, you should also be mindful of what you put into your head.

When middle-aged women watch Oprah and see “EVERYBODY GET A FREE CAR,” it impacts them.

 

Like this. . .

oprah mainstream media brainwashing news tv

This is the description of another YouTube video about Oprah and her gift-giving.

The person who created that video ACTUALLY believes that Oprah bought cars for the members of the audience (it’s all sponsored by big business). Is it possible to be this stupid? Yes it is — people who watch a lot of TV will believe anything.

[Note: Funny side story. Oprah decided those cars should not be gifts, but prizes. This means that each person who got one had to pay the IRS a mandatory tax for 25% of the car’s value, which equated to $7000. Many of the women in the audience could not afford this and wound up in trouble. For some strange reason this was not reported on by mainstream media.]

They’ll even believe that rich and successful people are supposed to “share their wealth” and hand out money to anyone who might need it for any arbitrary reason. Why do they believe this, you ask?

It’s because they’ve watched TV shows that have reinforced the notion that this is how it’s “supposed” to be.

They’ve watched shows like The Secret Millionaire, where millionaires go undercover to work amongst the ranks of poorly paid and downtrodden workers. After a week, while bonding with one particularly troubled worker who shares his or her sob story and justifications for why he or she isn’t successful, the millionaires reveal their true identity and give out large sums of money — out of pity.

And most people who watch the show get a kick out of it and think to themselves:

Yes, we DO live in a just and fair world, where the underdog ALWAYS gets what he DESERVES, if he just WAITS long enough!

Yes.

Downtrodden people of the world — just you wait!

Things will turn around for you!

One day a secret millionaire will show up on your doorstep, fix your problems, and give you a fortune. No action is required on your part.

And if that doesn’t happen you can expect Oprah to give you a car.

Yes.

You deserve it.

. . . Not.

You think this is a new phenomenon?

It’s not.

In the 40s there was a popular game show called Queen for a Day based on same premise as Oprah and The Secret Millionaire put together — giving women free stuff (and no prize taxes had to be paid!).

That show was like a game show — without a game. Female participants would compete on the basis of who could come up with the biggest sob story and make the audience feel the most sorry for them. The winner — the “queen” — was selected based on which female participant got the most applause from the audience. This was measured by a clap-o-meter.

What do these shows teach us?

–That the world rewards people who beg, complain, and wait for things to change. . .

As opposed to taking constructive action and learning from mistakes.

If You’re Watching “News”, Mainstream Media or TV Series — Don’t Get Any Illusions

You’re not educating yourself. You’re entertaining yourself.

You’re indulging.

And no — it’s not “just a little entertainment”.

Mainstream media has no upside — but it has a lot of downside:

  • News” has little practical value — most of it is entertainment news. People watch it because it indulges them AND makes them feel like they’re performing a noble duty (by being a good citizen).
  • Entertainment news lowers the perceived standards of success by making people think that it’s possible to become an overnight success by getting on TV and acting like an idiot.
  • Media bias makes people dumb by screwing up their frame of reference and their expectations of what life is supposed to be like.
  • Mass culture writes the script that most people follow.
  • TV shows and movies make people believe the stupidest things; that they are entitled, that pity will bring prosperity, that waiting will produce change, and that rich and successful people have an obligation to “share their wealth” with poor people because they “deserve it.”

Throw your TV out the window.

You’re Either Expanding or You’re Decaying

Ayn Rand said that:

Wealth is a product of man’s capacity to think.

. . . And contrary to popular belief, thoughts don’t just come out of nowhere.

The thoughts you have are a RESULT of the life you lead, the stimuli you’re exposed to and the information you consume.

If you tune into mainstream media and spend your time gossiping with average people, then guess what?

You become average and have average ideas.

If you read quality books and associate with intelligent and ambitious people, then guess what?

You become successful and have intelligent ideas.

If you don’t have any boundaries for what sort of external influences you let into your life. . . What allow yourself to be exposed to. . . You will NOT expand.

Exposing yourself to mainstream media for any prolonged period of time is like exposing yourself to radiation.

You decay.


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Comments

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe this site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be back again to see more, thans for the information!

  2. I couldn’t agree more with some of the ideas you put forth here. Well put Ludvig.

    Btw how important do you believe philosophy is? In general and for financial success. Also do you have any advice for how one might start to “practice” it?

  3. hej ludvig! Is there any chance you could write deeper about how you got rid of candida albicans than just your steps you wrote in that email. Id love just to have a to do list and a what not to do list. did you go to a doctor or did you just figure out you had one. Also how did you know you were cured. Tack på förhand!

    • Hey Leon,

      It took me forever to figure out. First I thought I suffered low testosterone, bipolar disorder, and lack of various vitamins and minerals (despite having an on-point diet).

      I worked it out through a process of elimination, basically. It was not until I had exhausted lots of other alternatives that I found out I had candida–and yes, I went to the doctor to do a candida test (in Canada).

      I figured out I was cured when I realized I could drink alcohol, binge in desserts, eat gluten, and drink milk without feeling like I had to collapse from fatigue and brain fog. Also, I did not get “high” and euphoric from eating those things anymore, which I got when I had candida. That took me somewhere between 6-12 months of serious dieting and frequent fasting.

      I am not planning to write a candida article anytime soon.

      • Thanks for your reply. Im most cuttain I am suffering from one aswell and want to handle it properly.Im just scared Ill mess it up. Being a poor student aswell its really hard to follow a diet. Agian thanks for your reply

  4. Thank you for the recommendation Micah. I will read it–sounds like it’s right up my alley!

  5. Hey, Ludvig. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of an American writer by the name of David Foster Wallace. But he wrote an essay that is just about the most comprehensive deconstruction of TV, the media and how both simultaneously enchant and denature our thinking, that I’ve ever read. In fact it’s probably the best essay I’ve ever read full stop. Anyway, in case you’re interested, the essay is called E Unibus Pluram: Television & U.S. Fiction. It’s very insightful. Great post as always. I don’t have a TV either, ain’t had one for around 5 years and don’t think I’ll ever have one again for the rest of my life for many of the reasons you outline here.

  6. In short, see real people, friends and family, to fill your quota of 200 VIPs, and do real stuff, instead of living the life of a second-hander, watching and envying others and trying to make others envious of you.

  7. How do you think is the best way to study & learn history? What are 3 really good books?

  8. I quit mindless media consumption four years ago after implementing the “Low Information Diet” presented in the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.

    Lately, I’ve been cheating a bit and watching more movies than I should be with the rationalization that it’s “just entertainment”.

    This is an excellent reminder of why I got rid of my TV – thanks Ludvig, brilliant article!

  9. Hey Ludvig, excellent article, my TV gathers dust on my locker for 5 years now and counting. I’m also interested if you have heard about the book Trust me, I’m Lying, by Ryan Holiday.

  10. Yoghurt is not healthy?! *heartbroken*

    I have no TV since September. We had no funds to buy a new one after purchasing a house. The bliss won’t last forever, but I’m still happy ;)
    My family is a bit healthier mentally because of that ;)

    What keeps me away from TV is the awareness that I have a monkey brain. Whenever I see the pictures moving, my thinking process freezes.
    I totally don’t get the idea of educational videos. I learn 100 times more via reading.

    I don’t think TV is so bad, because it brainwashes us. It’s so bad, because it sucks our time (=life). This time in which I could read or do anything else more constructive.

  11. Fantastic post here,

    I’ve found what we consume comes out in our actions and attitudes. Always watching the news or TV shows can negatively impact our life. Besides the time waited watching them it also greatly impacts our inner life. Keep writing great content!

  12. Excellent post,

    I think you bring up a great point about reading. The average person doesn’t read at all, this person is an extremely easy target for media mindfucking because they haven’t looked at our society as a whole in a historical context. They just want to get home from wage slavery in enough time to watch dancing with the stars.

  13. I remember reading an earlier no-media blog post of yours about 3 months ago, and I haven’t watched a single youtube video or accessed facebook more than once every 2 weeks. In fact I don’t let any useless information in whatsoever. I have been quite effective at this. So thanks. Looks like its a habit for a lifetime.

    I have only watched 2 movies, i.e. godfather and watchmen, and only because I wanted to generate a greater interest in the book versions of the same which you recommended

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