The Power of Media

In the current information age there is a constant stream of requests to support a cause and, with the advent of e-mail and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the invitations to sign petitions or join groups has become a near barrage of requests.

Although all worthy causes, I tend to ignore many of these requests. Recently there was a call to action that finally incited me to write a letter. The e-mail described a local AM radio show and its popular morning talk show host, Bill. The shock jock, on one of his shows last month, had suggested reducing the U.S. population to save the government money. As one solution he offered to begin the depopulation efforts with the Armenians and sell off Glendale. The next day, the co-host continued the dialogue with the statement “What the Turks started, Bill with finish.”

As shocking as the statements are, my initial thought was to ignore the entire incident as trivial and unimportant. Over the course of the next few days the episode kept nagging at the back of my mind and I decided to take action. I believe in the power of the media. It has an important role in creating dialogue, shaping our perceptions and communicating to the masses. Media practitioners are in positions of authority and act as the gatekeepers of information. As a result, we consider them to be well-informed and educated. Clearly the host of this program has that power since he has been on the air for many years and has a large number of listeners. The repercussions of the offhanded remarks made on the show went far beyond the initial moments in which they were spoken; they reverberate in people’s minds and were passed on to others beyond his immediate audience.

“Dear Ms. X****,” began the letter to the station manager which I also copied to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Although the comments were tasteless, they are in line with the general content of the show which attempts to incite a reaction from its audience with the use of shocking statements. But then came the statement referring to the Armenian Genocide of 1915 at the hands of the Turks where 1.5 million Armenian were slaughtered. “I cannot imagine a similar comment being made about Jews or African-Americans or even Latinos. I am truly offended by this statement and find it unacceptable content for a broadcast heard on public airwaves.”

“I am truly sorry you were offended,” began the response from the radio station a mere five days later. There was no personal salutation and I assume it was a generic response. “While I understand your concerns, Bill was clearly engaging in parody and hyperbole to point out the absurdity of genocide as a solution.” The letter insisted that no one was actually advocating hatred against Armenians. “Trust me, I understand that some things are just so painful and hurtful that no one finds them funny and of course you are entitled to be offended, however, I’m confident the majority of our listeners understood that this was parody and that neither Bill nor his crew was actually trying to attack the Armenian members of our community.”

The letter then went on to justify the comments made on the following day by Lara, “… she was clearly taking a shot at Bill and the idea that genocide was a solution to anything. … It was an absurd statement mocking an absurd solution to a real problem.”

A few days later Bill responded on the air with the same sentiments as the letter. “… it was clearly a joking comment,” he said and went on to say that he is one of the few talk-show hosts who has been “complaining very loudly that the Armenian Genocide hasn’t been talked about enough and that history cannot forget what happened.” He believes “that act” should not be forgotten because his family was a victim of the Holocaust and finds it ironic that the Armenian community is now focusing its attention on him. He goes on to chastise the community for not speaking up to support him when, during his trip to Turkey, he almost came to blows with the Turkish tour guide who insisted that the Genocide never took place. Nowhere in his statement does he apologize or take responsibility for the insensitivity of his initial statements that incited the strong response from his Armenian listeners.

Eventually both Bill and Lara, the co-host, issued a videotaped response (posted on this newspaper’s website). “I regret it took so long to apologize for this,” said Lara, “It was meant to be satirical. It came off as hurtful and I really regret this comment.” In his statement Bill insists, with an indignant tone, that he’s “always been fanatic about not forgetting the Armenian Genocide.” He is “particularly sensitive to this issue since his father is a Holocaust survivor.” Unfortunately, he does not apologize.

These statements are a sign that the more than three hundred thousand Armenians in Southern California are no longer silent members of this metropolis but a large, active and vibrant community that affects the city. That is a good thing to be but now its time for us to take charge of our image and step out of our insular existence.

Media, in all its incarnation, is a powerful tool to reach and affect the masses. It is a tool used to sell products, sports teams, movies, opinions, politicians, etc. With that power comes the duty to act in a responsible manner. When television shows such The Shield (on the FX network) or Weeds (on Showtime) portray Armenians as Mafioso or drug dealers, they influence the general population’s impressions of Armenians overall. Consider this: why should a U.S. politician support Armenia or its Diasporan community if his/her constituents believe that we are undesirable elements in the United States.

It’s time to take control of our portrayal in the media of our adopted country, just like the Latino community did in the 1990s and the African-American community did a few decades before that. We must write letters, protest, demand the removal of negative stereotypes and have them be replaced with positive role models, and if they have positive role models (like Dr. Camille Saroyan on Bones on the Fox network), demand that their ethnic roots be further developed. Petition your local television channels and radio stations to hire Armenians and include more content to more accurately reflect the ethnic make-up of their community. But most importantly, encourage and support the new generation to enter the communications field in all its facets. We have enough doctors and lawyers. Now it’s time for journalists, actors, producers, directors, filmmakers and writers. They must join the mainstream media where their ethnic perspective will influence the content depicted in the media. There must be Armenian media associations that actually help its members get jobs in their field and provide them with a myriad of benefits. There is no need for another gala banquet or “star” studded red carpet event. We must develop and support our own quality media outlets to control our self image. It’s time to stop being passive consumers and be proactive.

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