Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Brian Williams and Me... Myth-Weaving In Our Time

Brian Williams, the quintessential media persona of NBC Nightly News, has temporarily removed himself from his duties at that desk. This as he faced daunting questions over differing versions of a story he repeatedly told about coming under rocket fire while riding in an Israeli Defense Force helicopter in 2006. In various reports Williams made it seem as if he were in imminent danger as rockets passed " just beneath the helicopter" he was riding in. Stuff like this tends to lend "street cred" to what is without doubt a sometimes dangerous profession. Eye witness accounts of the incident have since contradicted the story repeated by the erstwhile anchor; and now, with his credibility being eroded, there are calls for him to resign from his post which he has held since December 2002.

 In the super-hyped dog eat dog world of today's Media the line between truth and fiction is more of  blur than reality. To maintain one's edge in such an environment, embellishment becomes something of a norm rather than an assumed exception. The selling of information is in large measure a function of the hype surrounding the personality of the salesperson. Brian Williams' persona is thus a vehicle of his professional function. We deem the information that he presents to be credible based on our perception of him as a credible source. In this environment myth weaving is an essential piece of the whole presentation. And thus the narrative about the presenter is essentially woven into the myth, in this case the "news", that is being created... I mean reported. And so the consumer is left with a dilemma... We must always consider the source... We must learn to undress the hype; to sort fact from the fiction in which it is woven for effective presentation. This takes me back to something I wrote about myth-weaving in my book "Of Scattered Seed And Broken Souls":

"The uninitiated mind often becomes confused in its consideration of what truth is. This confusion is a state of being that proceeds from a mind preoccupied with faulty assumptions about reality. If we begin with the wrong assumptions, we ask the wrong questions, and logically arrive at answers informed by our assumptions.

Such a mind approaches an event and begins its evaluation by asking, “Did it happen?”. The assumption being, if we cannot place that event in specific time and a specific place, then its truthfulness is to be challenged. When we equate truth to facts, not only do we overburden the facts; we shortchange the truth.

Wisdom teaches us that the truth is often larger and more encompassing than a particular set of facts. When we limit truth to the boundaries of our particular experience, we end up with dogma. Historically, dogma has been used to serve the purposes of those who would negate the validity of those positions that derive from the experience of others. Herein is to be found the raison d’etre of so many tragic conflicts.

Instead of beginning our quest for truth by asking whether or not an event actually occurred, perhaps we consider the accuracy of its depiction of the human condition. As an example, when we analyze the Biblical account of what we term “ original sin,” instead of preoccupying ourselves with questions about the “apple” or “the “serpent,” we may more usefully contemplate the reality of temptation and beguilement in our experience. Is the story true? Yes. Is it factual? I do not care.

Seriously considered, myth serves us more completely than fact. This is so because myth takes the truth out of the rut of a particular life experience and re- presents it as a universal reality. A contentious point, I will admit, to those who would rule the world with the prescriptions of their dogma. But “truth” was always “offensive.”

Myth is truth that is larger than fact, and story telling is still a safe craft. Well, that is what the ancients keep telling me."

Maybe the "truth" that this News Anchor was trying to tell was something that was much larger than his own real experience would or could bear out. To be sure, the helicopter he was riding in did not get shot down. He obviously did not get maimed or killed in this ongoing crisis. This, however, is not the reality of many who lost life and limb in the unfortunate drama which is the Middle East Crisis. As I write this the death of Kayla Mueller and the grief of those who were close to her is being reported on all major news outlets. Kayla was a young American who from all reports believed that Peace must be a function of Justice. She went to Syria as a volunteer for that justice which she hoped will bring peace. She went to live and work among the displaced victims of an ongoing conflict. Over 200, 000 have died as a result of the conflict consuming the people of Syria. Kayla became a victim of the incessant bombing that the people of Syria now suffer through. 

This unfortunately sad episode continues even as we focus on the factual aberrations in Brian Williams' account of his experience there. No amount of discounting his narrative is going to diminish the danger that many, including news personalities, face in this continuing tragedy. We can make this storyteller feel bad, but we cannot diminish the real suffering of those who face the real threat of death and dismemberment daily in war zones; some of which are created through the execution of the economic and political desires of powerful interests among us. 

This piece cannot end until we note the sad irony in the fact that certain media outlets that are reporting the assumed fall from grace of Brian Williams because of the inconsistencies in his reporting are the very ones still giving a platform to the shameless cast of characters who lied us into the Iraq War. Maybe that is attributable to the existential partnership between predators and scavengers... Foxes and crows for example? Incongruous bastards!

The line between fact and fiction often becomes a casualty of the compelling force of a storyteller's narrative. The innate impetus of a powerful narrative casts aside superfluous and sometimes inconsequential "facts" that would stand in the way of effective narration, and replaces those facts with a vicarious accounting of the overwhelming reality of the storyteller's vision of the story to be told. 

The inconvenient issue that Williams and others like himself faces is founded in the fact that "storytelling" may not be as safe a craft as he has been led to believe.

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