Friday, December 14, 2012

How TV Distorts Reality. Example: Mayan calendar.

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books, available at bookstores, or  He can also be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

This week, I got a call from a popular TV “news magazine” show.  I was told that they were planning to air a program the following day about the December 21, 2012 end date of the Mayan calendar cycle.  They were aware that I teach survival skills and they saw my name associated with the Mayan date.

“We’d like to talk to you about the Mayan prophecies,” I was informed.

“Which Mayan prophecies are you referring to?” I asked.

“You know, the end of the world prophecies,” she casually responded.

“I’d be happy to talk to your viewers about the Mayan calendar,” I said, “and I’d let them know that there are no Mayan prophecies of doom-and-gloom that anyone knowledgeable is aware of.”  I explained that I studied in Mexico and Guatemala with Mayans.  “Are you aware of specific prophecies?” I asked.

"No, just in general that the world is going to end.

I explained that all the Mayan end-of-the-world hype was media fabrication.  What would be happening on December 21, according to most scholars, is that a large cycle of the Mayan calendar – 13 Baktuns lasting 5,125 years – will end, and another cycle will begin the next day. I told her that I’d be happy to ease her viewers’ fears, and explain that zealous media pundits somehow confused “end of a calendar cycle” with “end of the world.”

The TV show representative explained that she’d seen me on the National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers” show, and said she’d really like to see me with my survival gear.  (I was offered no compensation for the time I expected to give.) I explained that I was driving to work (yes, I do work!) and that I only had the minimal gear that I always carry, but not my full wilderness pack.    

“I’d still be happy to share with your viewers how knowing survival skills is a good thing all the time,” I continued, “considering all the very real problems that we all have to contend with, such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, economic disasters, terrorists, diseases, and so on.”

“Actually, we’re really looking for someone who is seriously preparing for the December 21st date.  We really want something more dramatic and sensational,” I was told.

It was becoming clear that I would not be on their show.

“Well, if you’re looking for a nut who’s frightened about the Mayan calendar and who is taking radical action based on panic and fear, then I’m not your man,” I told her.  “Still, I’d be happy to talk to you to give your show some balance.”  I continued, telling her that there is no special planetary alignment associated with December 21, no comet that we know of that’s about to hit the earth, no mysterious planet about to show up, and no heightened sun spot activity.  I again explained that we never really know what might happen, but we shouldn’t listen to the fear stories about things that have no relation to the Mayan calendar.  She politely listened.

“I tell people that whenever you act out of fear or panic that you nearly always make bad choices,” I added.

“Yes, well, we really want something more dramatic.  We want to show people who are very concerned about this December 21 date and who are doing something about it.”  She told me she would talk to her producers and might call me back for a taping later in the day for a show that was already planned for the following day. 

To no surprise, I never got a return call.

This taught me a lesson I’d experienced many times.  The modern media are all too often so focused on ratings and sensationalism that they will twist and distort (or ignore) the facts if this helps maintain viewers.  Though many of us might view the “quest for truth” to be a high ideal, not everyone does.  In this case, it was clear that the producers of this TV program were not concerned about whether or not there were in fact any Mayan “prophecies” at all. 

It is not just distortion and lies that we should protect ourselves against.  We also need to be equally concerned about that the reporters and journalists do not tell us. 

Sadly, TV, despite its vast potential, has increasingly become a wasteland.


John D. Wheeler said...

Since you talk about the "vast potential" of television, I take it you haven't read "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television" by Jerry Mander. It is from 1978, and one argument, the technical one, is not really valid anymore with HDTV. Some parts only apply to mass media, but the rest of it is timeless. I found it quite convincing that many of the problems with television are absolutely inherent and cannot be otherwise.

christopher Nyerges said...

I read the book. My response, in a nutshell, is that though he generally made good points, he didn't really seem to present a balanced viewpoint. that is, TV WILL NOT be eliminated, any more than cars, guns, or money will be (and there is plenty of "bad" in all those, but good potential too, obviously). So I have toyed with the idea of writing all the ways that tv can enrich our lives educationally (learn languages, take classes, empathically live situations and learn lessons, etc.) IF we discipline ourselves to use the TV thusly.