Regarding the letters from Judy Broderson and M. Cardwell in the March 1999 Correspondence section: I agree that The Sun should stop printing stories involving booze, drugs, and sex — just as soon as they stop being a part of everyone’s reality.
I can understand Judy Broderson’s “disappointment” with the November 1998 issue and its apparent devotion to the themes of alcohol and drug abuse. We often want to view the dark aspects of our culture as “very poor ideas.”
The reality is, however, that alcoholism and drug addiction — as well as eating disorders, consumerism, racial hatred, and any number of other conditions — are more than just ideas for many of us. These destructive strategies for getting through each day sap the precious energies that we need to live sane and productive lives. It is to eveyone’s benefit to recognize these afflictions and try to lessen their devastating effects on our country; intentionally disregarding them or pretending they don’t exist does not help those who are suffering. We ignore their pain at our own peril.
It is with some regret that I’m letting my subscription to The Sun lapse after more than twelve years. Recently, I have found myself feeling depressed for days after reading an issue. It got to the point where I dreaded finding the magazine in my mailbox. Admittedly, I’ve been going through a difficult period in my life, but instead of being inspired, I would come dangerously close to having my small sparks of hope extinguished by reading The Sun.
I know The Sun is committed to telling the truth and exposing our human difficulties, and I appreciate that, but so often the stories have left me feeling hopeless. Though I don’t believe in false optimism or using positive thinking to gloss over the struggles of our lives, I do think the point of life is to grow, not to wallow in the mire.
Helen Luke, in the introduction to her book Dark Wood to White Rose: Journey and Transformation in Dante’s Divine Comedy, says: “In a great comedy we are always made aware of the darkness in life, but the ending must be happy or it is not a comedy. A man’s journey to wholeness is therefore most rightly named The Comedy, for the end is the final awareness of that love which is the joy of the universe. . . . The man who finally refuses validity to the ‘happy ending’ is outside the human community and has chosen to live in the monotony and meaninglessness of Hell.”
For a couple of years now, I’ve rarely felt the ray of hope and beauty that I expect from The Sun. Though I know I’m going to miss some really good essays and inspiring interviews, I think I’ll take a break.
Derrick Jensen’s interview with John Stauber [“War on Truth,” March 1999] shed light for me on the power that public-relations firms hold over all the information coming down to us through the media, most disturbingly through the news. I try to pay close attention to what I watch on TV and read in newspapers and magazines, but I never considered the source of all that information. I was raised to believe that our country didn’t control news and information the way Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did. This interview helped me to be more aware of the gears that are turning the wheels of the media.
Thomas Frank’s essay in the same issue, “Liberation Marketing and the Culture Trust,” was the most insightful commentary I have read yet on that disturbing marketing phenomenon in which products promise to make us more authentic, and to keep us in touch with who we really are, our true selves. This incorporation of all that is radical and individual into a fleeting style that can be bought is silencing the unique voices of a generation of kids who came of age in the 1990s. Most of us are still reeling from waking up one day and realizing that we lost our voices. Being able to identify the mechanism behind our collective manipulation is the first step in trying to find ways to fight against it.
I am a new subscriber to The Sun and enjoy the magazine very much, but I object to a comment John Stauber made in his interview “War on Truth.” While I am aware of the less-than-ethical methods some public-relations firms use to serve their clients, I take offense at his including my company among them. For one thing, Video Monitoring Services is not and never has been a “public-relations company.” Neither are we the sinister provider of special information that Stauber claims. VMS is a retrieval service that tapes television and radio news segments and provides copies to PR firms and media companies. We don’t evaluate stories to determine what is “favorable to corporate interests,” nor do we know the names of reporters’ bosses. This last bit is as ridiculous as it sounds. Stauber may be rightfully concerned about the manipulation of public opinion by PR firms, but Video Monitoring Services is not one of them.
John Stauber responds:
I’ve given dozens of print, radio, and TV interviews, but none has elicited as many thoughtful responses as I’ve personally received from Sun subscribers. I’m grateful for the opportunity to reach such remarkable readers.
In response to Stephanie Carroll: I stated that firms such as hers and Carma International “specialize in monitoring news stories and journalists.” She herself describes how Video Monitoring Services tapes TV and radio news segments and sells the information to PR firms. While VMS does not conduct public-relations campaigns itself, it is a critical provider of the information that PR firms utilize to manage news coverage.
Regarding the monitoring of individual journalists, I was referring not to Carroll’s firm but to Carma International and others that couple media monitoring with sophisticated computer analyses of issues, reporters, and people in the news. Carma International, for instance, evaluates news coverage on behalf of corporate and government clients ranging from biotechnology and food conglomerates (on the issue of bovine-growth hormone) to the U.S. Department of Energy (on the proposed Nevada nuclear dump). Such firms help their clients to develop “issue management” strategies that reward “good” reporting and isolate or change “bad” reporting. Sheldon Rampton and I describe this process in detail on pages 186–188 of our book Toxic Sludge Is Good for You (Common Courage Press), available free through your favorite library.
What is it about The Sun that gets my complete attention the moment it arrives? I read it from cover to cover, even when I think some parts are a bit graphic.
I especially appreciated Sybil Smith’s story “Fritz’s Heart” [March 1999]. It expressed so well my own feelings about being kept alive by machines. I volunteer in a nursing home that ranks high in the level of care it can give its residents. But here and there I see families who have made the decision not to pull any plugs, but rather to attach as many as possible to keep loved ones “alive.”
As I began reading Mark O’Brien’s interview with Wesley J. Smith [“In the Name of Compassion,” February 1999], I mounted my arguments against Smith’s opposition to assisted suicide. I have had firsthand, intimate experience with helping friends die. It is a profoundly moving, life-changing, affirmative, and reassuring experience. So I thought, How dare Smith show up here in one of my favorite journals to peddle his fears?
But then Smith caught me off guard. Like him, I have repeatedly seen our corporate culture co-opt the language of hope. And, as he observes, it will likely do so with “death with dignity” — offering a plausible, acceptable (and cost-efficient) alternative to the heroic extension of life. Already I have seen HMOs repeatedly choose cost efficiency over decent medical practice. I have known people who have looked to suicide as a way out of depression or ill-managed pain. And I’ve witnessed the increasing failure of our communities to affirm life, let alone deal with such “nonproductive” matters as thrown-away people or the dignified end of life.
As I grudgingly reread the interview, I began shamefully to recognize myself in Smith’s fretting. You see, I am recently divorced and have lost a great deal — land, home, an entire way of life. It’s costly to rebuild. Not long ago, my mother died of heart failure, leaving me a small amount of money. Her husband, in his mideighties with Alzheimer’s, is frail and quite unable to care for himself. One of his children now cares for him. Recently, he has suffered an array of health problems, any one of which could end his life. When he dies, another tidy sum will come my way.
A voice arises within me unbidden: He is mostly deranged, with little quality of life left. Let’s see, how much would the money add up to? I can barely stand these thoughts, common as they must be to many of us as we begin to think about a retirement for which we are mostly ill-prepared.
These thoughts go away, temporarily. As they scuttle off, they leave me sadder, but with a broader understanding of who I am — and of the complexity of the issues Smith addresses.
Two photo credits were inadvertently dropped from recent issues. The photograph on page 22 of the February 1999 issue is by Robyn McDaniels, and the photograph on page 41 of the April 1999 issue is by Clemens Kalischer. The Sun regrets the errors.