Friday, August 14, 2009

What do you see?

This week’s breaking-news story of a Brazilian TV host who allegedly ordered the murders that his show reported on should get us thinking. Wallace Souza denies claims that he ordered hits on drug lords to spike ratings for his TV programme, which was always first to cover those grim stories.

Souza is likely a thug, but it’s our addiction to sensationalism that oils the media’s 24/7 mission to dig up smut, scandal and violence. An average American watches some 4½ hours of TV and by age 18 has seen over 200 000 acts of violence, 16 000 of them murders. As the Internet speeds up and becomes more pervasive, we access increasingly vivid live coverage of bombings, bloody protests, natural disasters and the requisite celebrity scandals. Our grandparents would only witness violence or indecency when it invaded their lives; we watch it unfold across the globe- in real time.

Technological advancement is a good thing. Thanks to the Web we can disseminate useful information and express our opinions (as any Blogger would know) way beyond the circle of our immediate community. Educational TV programmes benefit people who have no access to formal scholling and we all appreciate good, clean entertainment delivered right into our living rooms. We are fortunate to live in an Age where we can observe more than just what is in our line of sight.

TV and the Internet are not inherently bad media. Depending on how we use them, they could enhance life or spurn rogues like Wallace Souza.

Our Torah portion this week is called “Re’eh”, meaning “see”. It’s opening line states: “See (says G-d), I place before you today blessing...” Towards the end of the portion, we read the list of non-Kosher birds, one of which is called the “Ra’ah”. This bird (some believe it’s the Peregrine Falcon) has amazing eyesight and can spot its prey from high altitudes and over great distances.

Kosher animals display characteristics that we should emulate and non-kosher animals represent traits we need to avoid. Surprisingly, in the section named for sight, we read of a bird that has exceptional sight but is treif. Sight is G-d's gift and should be used to look out for goodness and blessing. Sight becomes treif when you use it to see “prey”, someone else’s weakness.

TV and the Internet can educate and inspire us. Or, they could highlight people’s vulnerabilities and society’s dark side. We choose what we want to see and we ought to choose wisely.

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