The cult of banality in media?
Bishop Adam Lepa
Banality has become all-present. It can be seen in common and public language, in life style, in art, politics and entertainment. Advertisements are full of banality. Banality is effectively pushed in thinking and emotions. It has become part of human environment and culture. It has won the imagination of artists and ordinary men in the street. The entertainment industry is fed with banality. Not a long time ago people were ashamed of banality and they despised it. Now they turn a blind eye on the triumph of banality and do not notice its influence. One can easily get used to banality and accept it.
Such terms as ‘networkoholic’, ‘telemaniac’ (or television addict) or ‘radioholic’ are known. The language of scientists and feature writers generally speak of the cult of the media and more precisely, of the cult of the Internet or television. At the same time one can read about ‘tyranny of the media’, ‘orgy of images’ or ‘violence of television.’ The phenomena are closely connected. They show that the influence of the media on man is accelerated. In what sense can one speak today of ‘the cult of banality’? The theme is not new to those who deal with the subject of media and art. The word ‘banality’ (cliché) is used in film and drama reviews, in statements of observers of the media and political scene and of people who are sensitive to the beauty of language and culture. Recently, the book entitled ‘Le culte du banal’ [The Cult of Banality] has been published in France. Its author Prof. François Jost, specialist in media, connects the phenomenon of spreading banality with the functioning of social communications, and especially with television. In this context he shows banality as a substantial problem of contemporary man who is a faithful client of the culture of images and more and more easily is its fanatical promoter. Basically, the dictionaries refer the term ‘banality’ to language: written and spoken. Then it means some saying that is without any deeper content, a cliché, an empty platitude. Similar content is included in the words ‘banal’ as ‘common’ and ‘trite’. Currently, another phenomenon evokes anxiety. It is a conscious trivialization of values, ideals, the noblest objectives and generous aspirations. The process is more dangerous when you consider that ‘to trivialize’ means ‘to make something (e.g. man’s faith) banal or to treat it as some banality. In the epoch of the cult of banality any form of trivialization is appropriate since clients of the media have ceased to be sensitive enough to this kind of influence to notice it and to react properly. That’s why banality is sold better and better in the media. The subject of trivialization can also be a man, an institution, a concrete historic fact. One can give numerous examples. Certain media in Poland specialise in the art of trivialisation of, for example, history, real achievements of Poles or current events in order to undermine their merits or to show that people can only quarrel and argue. Trivialisation itself is most frequently disguised. It is done in the name of ‘telling the whole truth’, demythologisation of some person or debunking of some historic person. In order to do that one uses rather refined methods. One of them is using clichés speaking about some person. One never speaks about such a person seriously but finds only negatives in his/her attitudes and activities. Irony, sarcasm and ridiculing are highly effective. These methods are also used to speak of the listeners of Radio Maryja. But the most dangerous method of trivialisation of values is information poisoning, i.e. to speak about the most important matters in the media as if they mean nothing and the other way round, to expose the matters that have no values besides their sensational element (for example, in news programmes). For instance, the main celebration at Jasna Gora on 26 August 2008 was not noticed on Polish Television. The news editor omitted the fact that ‘only’ 100,000 pilgrims gathered there and their prayer meeting was very important to millions of Catholics in Poland. The programmes ‘Teleexpress’ and ‘’Wiadomosci’ [News] did not mention even a word about this event. But every incident that could have happened among the pilgrims would have been eagerly reported. Banality and commercialisation like to go hand in hand. Today one can clearly see that the victims of trivialisation in the Polish media are such matters as the image of contemporary Poles, their social and political lives, such institutions as the Parliament or the Institute of National Remembrance; such events as the Miracle at the Vistula or the Warsaw Uprising. One should stress that numerous euphemisms that accompany the practice of trivialisation carefully blur its negative face and lull the public opinion. One cannot eliminate harmful banality from language and culture since it has a powerful ally in the media. In this situation Catholics are helpless. But they should react in a decisive way to the phenomena of trivialisation of values, important institutions, important anniversaries, and outstanding personalities. This is their obligation of conscience. Since falsification of reality and acting against common good is an immoral action. The Sunday of Social Communications is a proper occasion to realise about certain principles that should be referred to the issue raised in this reflection.
Trivialisation of reality means falsifying the truth and misleading society. One should distance oneself from such an action and oppose it properly.
One should emphasize the need to deepen the historical knowledge and to understand current events in order to discern manipulation in this area. The custom of using various sources of information is helpful.
The magic of banality shows a big power of influence. That’s why one should pay more attention to it. At the same time one should get to know the functioning of the world of illusion, which contributes to the acceptance of trivialisation and its spreading.
Let us leave open the question whether the cult of banality occurs in the Polish media. Our critical evaluation of the media should help formulate a true and sufficient answer.
Banality covers the reality of grace. May the prayer to the Holy Spirit bring a gift of penetrating look at the world to see it in its authentic beauty and proper proportions.