Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Beef with NPR

In North Texas where I live, the only radio station with serious news coverage is National Public Radio. But I have long harbored a love-hate relationship with that station, even though I have no other real listening options in my area.  So, what's the problem?  In a word, it is the degree to which "exoticism" defines far too much of its foreign coverage.  It occurred to me several years ago, that the more I listen to NPR, and read American newspapers and news blogs for foreign coverage, the more ignorant I become of what motivates the rest of the world.
So, what does “exoticism” mean in this context?  "Otherness."  African soldiers "hack" their victims to death, while the American military generates "casualties" in Afghanistan.  A recent NPR headline read:  "Iran Will Arrest Women with Suntans."  Surely, that should get a radio listener spike (and donation increase for the station) from the American sisterhood, who cares most of all about helping foreign women become more like us, so that they too can lead perfect lives.   This style of accentuating cultural differences to the point of making the behavior of others seem weird and incomprehensible, sells foreign news.  But it makes us less rather than more informed about what goes on in the rest of the world.  What if rather than offer news reports about the strangeness, cruelty, primitiveness and ignorance of people in other cultures, NPR actually tried to bridge the gap between cultures.  What an enormous boon it would be to world peace, if the progressive media helped us to understand what aspects of our universal human nature is being touched, massaged, protected or punished by a particular society's behavior?   Cultures are different, fascinatingly so.  But human nature is not. 

NPR, is not more blameworthy than Fox News.  But if the most sophisticated news gathering organizations cannot escape a tone of sneering, cultural arrogance, what hope is there for the rest of the media world?   When human beings in Iran, Israel, Bangladesh, China, Rwanda or wherever do ugly, incomprehensible things, there is a pure and simple way to understand their motivations.  Or maybe my approach is too pure and simple.  Maybe it is anxiety-provoking for the user, unbalancing one's well-anchored sense of self.  I merely ask myself: "under what circumstances, would I as a fellow human being, in a rational state of mind, do whatever?"   All of us are capable of understanding the behavior of others, however different their languages and cultures.  Some in fact do it so well, that they become famous novelists.

Stay tuned for more on this subject.
Post a Comment