Tag Archives: media

The people who sneak into your home

Modern technology means we’re letting a lot of people into our homes, into intimate spaces where they can talk to us without interruption and we can’t question them or answer back.

If you give a poem, one person to another, on a card, in an email, it becomes personal. It hardly matters what the poem says it will seem like there must be some kind of personal message in it. At the same time you can put a more personal poem in a public space and unless you’ve made some unmistakable references, most readers will not assume it’s about them. People don’t tend to take it personally if you give them poetry collections, also, unless perhaps it’s all handwritten and manifestly about them.

Poetry itself is a delivery method which suggests the personal – something I’ve blogged about before.

It’s worth thinking about the things that we allow into our homes to speak to us personally and directly. Who gets to stand in your living room (on a screen) of an evening and tell you how it all works? Who is on your phone, in your hands, talking directly to you? Do you feel like their message is for you? One of the things many broadcasters seem to do on radio (I don’t watch TV, I can only speculate) is create a sense of intimacy, it’s just you and them in a small, dark cupboard (maybe that’s just me!). Having dabbled in making youtube videos myself, I know how to do it, how you talk to the camera as though it was a good friend. It’s also how I write the blog, aiming for a specific kind of tone, a feeling of closeness and complicity…

Now, if a person presses a handwritten poem into your hand, that’s a rare event and it stands out. The people who come to whisper to us in our own homes are there more days than not, and familiarity can have us paying less attention. It’s worth paying attention to how these curious guests make you feel, and if they make you feel uncomfortable, turfing them out and not inviting them back is always an option. I don’t have a television because there are too many people I don’t want to invite round of an evening.

Every book imagines its reader. Every speech imagines its audience. In part because it is hard to communicate well without imagining you are talking to someone. It helps to know your audience and to pitch the language accordingly. But at the same time, anyone who has studied writing, or speech making or any other kind of presentation soon learns things about how to make the recipient complicit. How to make them feel involved, and like this is very much for them and about them. This blog, it’s just between you and me, dear reader. When you read it, you read it alone, and sometimes I strike a chord and you may feel I wrote it just for you, and maybe… I did.

Like any tool set, these skills can be used well or badly. Communicating in a way that develops insight and understanding has to be a good thing, but I don’t think that’s what mostly happens at the moment. If the glimpses I get of mainstream media are indicative, then the intimacy of the voices we let into our homes is not doing us much good, collectively. It’s discouraging empathy, feeding feelings of powerlessness, making us wary of each other, and inclined to blame each other and not looking for who or what is moving on the other side of the curtain. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…


Most human interaction has an element of interpretation to it. What we means to express, and what other people make of it, are often very different. As a fiction author it’s something I can exploit. Slightly ambiguous writing gives people room to bring their own stories and ideas to mine, and that can make for a richer reading experience. It’s not all good fun though.

History is full of interpretations, as we ascribe meanings and lines of causality to the past. The culture and assumptions of the interpreter will colour what they see. Across Pagan traditions we are still dealing with the legacy of Frazer, who considered traditional people around the world a viable model for the ‘primitive’ European. His prejudice, assumption and colonial attitude narrowed down Paganism to an idea about fertility and very little more. We also have the legacy of Gimbutas, whose feminist ideas encouraged her to see an organised, matriarchal, Goddess worshipping society, and again to miss the complexities and reduce the history down to something restricted and misleading.

When it comes to religion, all we can do is interpret the past. We are never going to dig up a belief. We can find writing about what people said they believed, but you only have to look at modern newspapers to know that what people proclaim in public is not always what they practice in private. We can’t dig up feelings in the graves of our ancestors, at least, not in any way we can substantiate and agree upon.

Interpretation is not just an academic issue though. We might want to consider how we interpret the causalities in our own history. Where do we apportion blame, or credit? We can read in lines of connection that have nothing to do with what was happening. Coincidence can be highly misleading, and the desire to find ourselves innocent of all offence can incline us to skew the evidence in our favour.

Our lives are full of interpreted data, often thrown at us by politicians. The media is often full of ‘facts’ that turn out, on closer inspection, to be highly suspect. The current education minister here in the UK seems to think that all children should be able to get above average results, for example. A brief foray into the meaning of ‘average’ should ring some alarm bells here. We’re killing badgers based on research that suggests it could make a 16% difference to TB in cattle. Turn that on its head and what you see is more like 84% worth of no difference at all. It’s all in the interpretation and the presentation. 50% of all children are doomed to be below average, no matter how well we teach them. That’s what a mean average is all about.

In our own lives and interactions, how much interpretation do we bring into play? If someone makes an absolute statement ‘never do this’ for example, do we quietly shuffle that round to imagine it means ‘sometimes’ and carry on as we please? Do we hear ‘no’ as ‘maybe’? That’s one of the quick routes to raping a person. Do we say ‘never’ when we mean ‘maybe later’ encouraging the people around us not to hear ‘no’ as an absolute? Do we interpret other people’s words and then hold them accountable, based only on what we think they said? Do we keep doing that even when they try to explain what they meant was something else entirely? All too often, the answer is ‘yes’. It makes for exhausting, impossible attempts at communication, largely doomed to failure and frustration. If we neither speak clearly nor listen clearly, but keep reading in our own agenda, the one thing we cannot have, is truth. Neither our own, nor anyone else’s. Language is an imprecise tool and mistakes are inevitable, but it helps if we’re more interested in communicating than in trying to score points.

I’ve developed a personal preference for people who try to communicate well, who are willing to listen, and are not so caught up in their own story that they cannot consider an alternative. I’ve seen too much of the other thing. I have come to the conclusion that faced with people who are determined to interpret my words to fit their agenda, such that firm statements are bent out of recognition, and vaguer ones pinned down with meanings they didn’t even imply, I shall quit. I’m not on a personal mission to try and save everyone from the consequences of their own actions. I have a finite amount of time and am not going to squander it arguing with people who are always right, no matter what.

And who are no doubt quite capable of hearing that as “of course in your special case I can be persuaded” because that is the nature of the beast.

The other sort

You know who they are. The ones who don’t contribute anything. The ones who take up space and no one would miss if we culled them. The ones who are a veritable misuse of carbon atoms, and whose demise would improve the overall state of the planet. Who you are will determine who you define as being the other sort. And somewhere, there will be someone who would be very glad to put you on the ‘cut’ list.

Wouldn’t it be better if we got rid of the (insert name of hate object here)?

My prejudices include those who are wilfully stupid (not biologically disadvantaged) abusers, those parasites who make fortunes that cripple nations, and the politicians who let them get away with it and keep bleeding the poor. And there are days when, if someone suggested we line them up against a wall and shot the lot of them, or course I’d be tempted. I have the distinct impression this whole ‘them and us’ mentality is pretty much hardwired into how a lot of us think. It’s easy to play on and manipulate, as well.

It is the sure and certain knowledge that plenty of people would put me on their extermination list, that keeps me on my toes with this issue. It’s when you start getting smug and comfortable in your superiority, along with other people who support that sense of betterness, that the trouble starts. The people I hate most, do this. They sit around in their very plush ivory towers and condemn others by the thousands for being poor, under-educated, desperate. I will not get rid of them by emulating their methods. Even if there are days when I think that a hungry crocodile roaming the corridors of power might be a good thing.

What makes me endlessly frustrated is the people who participate in their own oppression. The whole system depends so heavily on this. The folks who get into debt buying overpriced Christmas presents. The folks who have so bought into the myth of consumption that they barely see their own offspring. The people who do not realise that identifying when you have enough is the most liberating thing. We do it to ourselves, aided and abetted by media, government and advertising. Not that there’s always much difference between the three.

The question that plagues me, has this sort of shape. How to reach out to the people who are, from my perspective, blithely oppressing themselves, damaging the planet and facilitating the crap? How to lure them over to this side of the fence. I know, when I blog here I’m mostly talking to people who think in the same way. Short of standing on street corners with placards, how do I reach out? Has anyone else had any luck trying to do outreach work?