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Death of a Salesman

by Marina Michaels

In the summer of 1995 I heard on National Public Radio (NPR) that the first news anchorman had died. He was a well-known and trusted man in his day, with a voice that assured everyone that, no matter how bad the news sounded, everything would be all right. As a result, when he went to work as a spokesman for Timex watches, the public's trust in him was so great that Timex sales jumped.

This was interesting, but when I heard the closing music for this segment of the radio program I was listening to, I wondered at it. This was the sum total of a man's life? That he was able to convince strangers to buy watches? What about his family and friends (for surely he had them)? How did he touch their lives? In what way did he contribute to the betterment of the world? Did he espouse any causes beyond those of corporate America's interest in consumerism? Did he champion any underdogs? Did he, for heaven's sake, even pick up one piece of litter? Somehow, you feel he did. But we aren't told any of this, so we don't know for sure.

Who was this man, as a man, a spirit, a being? The media apparently don't think you want to know this kind of thing. When even National Public Radio, which we should be able to trust to delve where others didn't, doesn't concern itself with the soul and spiritual life of a man, what have we, as participants in creating this nation, become? What have we made most important to ourselves?

Of course, the piece could simply reflect the author's personal focus and interests. Clearly, he didn't think that the man's life had much meaning beyond the two items of distinction: (A) That he was the first news anchorman, and (B) that he helped sell an awful lot of Timex watches.

However, even if you say that it was more his (the author's) narrow interests that were being documented than another man's life, there were more people involved. Someone had to approve the show, and someone had to edit it, and someone had to produce it. Didn't any of the people along the line notice how sparse the content of this piece was? Didn't anyone stop to reflect upon this man's life and what its greater meanings might be? Didn't anyone ask, "Hey, wait a minute! What else can we say about this man?"?

This kind of programming shows clearly that all of us introduce our biases into everything we do, consciously or unconsciously, even if it is supposed to be unbiased and objective. For example, the author of this broadcast, and everyone involved with approving and funding it, were all saying that material items are all that there is or ever will be, and that we only exist as bodies, not spirits, and therefore only what we do in the material world is important—and darned little of that matters, either.

Here's another example: In February, 1999, I was watching a movie about vampires, in which one (evil) vampire is talking about how humans (non-vampires) are just cattle for the vampires to feed upon, use, and kill as desired. The setting is New York city, and as the vampire is talking, we are shown cuts of "everyday" humanity—men, women, children—going about their business. These scenes are supposed to be a representative slice of humanity (at least in New York city). But I was brought up short by realizing that the people shown in these scenes of "common" humanity were all Asians. What was that about? It certainly wasn't an accident. Someone had to hire the extras for those scenes, or at the very least choose where to film them. Why are they all Asian? Why are they all Asian with a voiceover saying how they are worthless, cattle, only fit to be fed upon and extinguished? What kind of agenda was being played out there? And how many people bought into it because they didn't notice? How many people found themselves just a little more inclined to disregard the human rights of Asians, specifically?

The next time you listen to a radio brodcast or watch television, or a video or a movie, listen between the lines to hear what isn't being said, and to find out what is being said with what associations. What is the focus of the piece? What is considered important enough to mention, and what isn't? Don't allow yourself to dream along with whoever it is without making sure that you are in agreement with their views; otherwise, you might find yourself having fears and prejudices and beliefs that truly aren't your own, but that you picked up by not listening consciously.

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