Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Subverting the Mass Media
by Marlene Nadle
Writing is my most effective political action. When I first began, I believed if I found the right words and could make people understand, I could change the world. I am no longer that naive. However, a part of me still believes it. At least, I have to try. I hope others will as well.
I almost always write for the people who don't agree with me, and I would like to see more writer-activists reach out. For me, that practice began at the old Village Voice when my editor became increasingly conservative. In discussions with him I tried to understand his objections and fears. My story was then shaped to answer his concerns.
Now, instead of writing mainly for leftie magazines, I write for mainstream publications from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times. I never change what I have to say, but I gray down my language. It is then possible sometimes to do what Norman Mailer suggested and "subvert the mass media."
Language is important in writing or organizing. I remember some "outside agitators" who started creating a garden in New York City's Hell's Kitchen, but didn't bother to talk to anyone in the neighborhood about it. I was there as a reporter, but the line between my writing and organizing is always thin. I sat on the stoop of the home of a dock worker who lived there and finally persuaded him to go meet the people making the garden. As soon as he did, they started dropping Marxist jargon on him and lost him as he scurried back across the street.
Language is especially important if you want to be heard when writing or talking about Israel. There are buzzwords, like "apartheid," that shut down any discussion. The approach to the subject also matters. The place to start is with the other person's fears and needs and speak to those emotions. Cold facts don't do it when you are dealing with a historically traumatized people. Nor does demonizing them instead of offering compassion.
Part of my or anyone's role is making the invisible visible. A photographer I know does the same thing and had a tough job in former Yugoslavia. She used her camera to create images of the people who had been ethnically cleansed from their villages, and did it with haunting shots of the empty rooms they left behind.
I am always looking for tales about the people who are erased by the mainstream media and then maneuvering my articles into those publications. Recently, I've tried to make visible the vets with PTSD who can't come home to their essential selves or to a country that is able to see them. Even the antiwar movement doesn't see or do much for them.
A psychologist who has worked with PTSD for thirty years, Dr. Edward Tick, has said these soldiers need a communal cure, not just individual therapy. He urges activists to gather with vets to listen to their horror stories and to share responsibility for the battle behavior that has filled them with shame. He wants activists to help lift the blood guilt off the soldiers alone and show them it also belongs on the society that sent them to kill or didn't do enough to stop the war. I want that too.
So, even in this article, I'm using my writing for political organizing to heal the world.
Marlene Nadle, who writes about politics, has reported extensively from Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Source Citation: Nadle, Marlene. 2011. Subverting the Mass Media. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.