Commercialism or a cult of brutality and power?

April 04, 2012

The amount of negative information, brutal images, and violence in the Lithuanian media raises the issue of whether the reasons behind publicizing this sort of information lie in extreme commercialism or in a disguised power cult? Many of us have noticed the inexplicable amount of negative information, brutal images, and detailed scenes and reports of violent acts in the Lithuanian media. The first pages of self-proclaimed “serious” newspapers flash information about violent and brutal clashes in a local drinking hole between partners and couples who abuse alcohol. Criminality chronicles in Lithuania are so inflated and emphasized that it is becoming hard to believe that we live in a country that is not in the throes of war and still manages to uphold its internal social peace. It is close to impossible to find another country that features so many reports on violence and negative information in its media.

Attempts were made to explain this trend by blaming the growth of the tabloid press and the commercialization of journalism as a whole. Whatever the case may be, this argument is not completely convincing. The press and television in many countries is undergoing rapid commercialization. But neither in England, whose press and television is just as affected by rapid and uncontrollable commercialization, nor in the Benelux or Scandinavian countries can such an abundance of violent scenes be seen. Not to mention that even their tabloid press would hesitate to feature the type of information that Lithuanians are “fed.”

So how can the outbreak of this brutality and power cult in Lithuania be explained, openly identifying the causes? Is outright commercialism simply encouraged by the lack of quality journalism or any valid alternative media, or do the reasons lie elsewhere? Are we lagging behind the West, or conversely, are we free from high culture and thus left in the middle of the modern barbarian avant-garde, far ahead of the West where a rich heritage of civilization still manages to stop and restrain this outburst of brutality and vulgarity?

Perhaps we are somewhere in-between the new barbarianism, which is still on its way in the West, pioneer barbarianism – capitalism without democracy (so far this is the Chinese or present-day Russian model, but its spread throughout the world cannot be dismissed), a free market without personal freedom, the strengthening of the economic dictatorship and the accompanying disappearance of political thinking, and the final transformation of politics into a part of mass culture and show business, with the real power and governance falling into the hands of not a publicly elected representative, but someone chosen by the most powerful and non-publicly controlled segment of society – the heads of the central bureaucracy, business, and the media?

Even if there is but a small grain of truth in these gloomy assumptions, they still fail to explain our extraordinary ability of creating an emotional hell and presenting our country as if it were catastrophe-stricken or had become the most terrible place on Earth. It is strange that this internal hell is created by Lithuania itself. I have socialized with my students, who are from Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia, countries that have had and continue to experience real problems. Complaints or talk of Lithuania’s problems appeared over-inflated and even improper, compared with countries with a truly oppressive and tragic present-day situation.

The key to solving this problem may be a simple detail: We do not relate (and entirely without reason) two mutually related and determining factors – the overabundance of reports on violence and brutality and their portrayal in our media, and the psychoanalytical implications of our undoubtedly sadistic and masochistic political commentary, where the predominant goal is to belittle others and oneself. Our brutal and degrading manner of speaking about others or ourselves, that is, social and political commentary as a slow process of self-negation and destruction, has in fact nothing to do with being critical.

Healthy criticism is the construction of alternatives and the trial of thoughts or actions from logical perspectives or other knowledge or known ways of thinking. Spoken and mental cannibalism or the moral destruction of one another can mean only one thing – the rejection of free and open discussions and their murder before they can even start. Sadistic language is commonly used to control, to torment, and in so doing, to overthrow the object under discussion, while masochistic language is typified by the type of self-commentary that not even the fiercest enemy of an individual or country would imagine making.

As Erich Fromm noticed, only those who have not taken an interest in such topics may think that sadism and masochism are aspects of the structure of a character or personality that are in opposition to one another. They are in fact closely related and often become entangled into the one sadomasochistic knot, precisely because they come from one source – the fear of loneliness, rejection by the world, and isolation. As freedom is usually understood by weaker individuals as standing naked and defenseless in front of a dark and hostile world, the only way to save oneself is to break a stranger’s spirit, or one’s own personality.

Do not read into my comments that I have in mind the authoritarian servitude of those that do no more than read and watch the violent media – I am not speaking about the victims. The authoritarian personality creates this type of media. It is its revenge on the world, and the dialectics of obedience and power, and the joy of demeaning oneself and others.



Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.,  is a Lithuanian Member  of the European Parliament.

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