Remembering Reality: A Moment of Silence for the Master Chief, Please

What a remarkable collision of events this week.

On Tuesday, the launch of the most expensive video game ever produced, Halo 4, competed for attention with the most expensive US presidential election campaign ever run. This occurred just as Media Literacy Week began. And it all leads up to Remembrance Day this Sunday.

Wow. If Canadians were ever challenged to separate wheat from the never ending chaff of information that we must constantly process, this was the week.

We had to assess reality itself, in a way.

Is the US Commander in Chief any more real than Halo’s main character, the Master Chief?

Most of us would vote for Obama in that contest.

How would we prove it, though?

After all, most Canadians have only ever seen both of these individuals on television screens.

Then as we approach Remembrance Day there’s the question of the reality of war itself.

To many of us, gunning down Covenant Grunts is more real than the battle against Nazism or even peacekeeping in Afghanistan.

Was World War II even real? Did it happen? Or is it just another dramatic chapter in a video game franchise?

I’m being rhetorical, of course.

I just want to draw attention to the terrible irony that millions of brave men and women may have sacrificed their lives just so we could kill our freedom-fueled hours with video games.

Maybe, though – to be rhetorical again – that’s a good thing. Maybe supplanting real war with a digital derivative is a fitting homage to that sacrifice.

History demonstrates that we are warmongers, so perhaps it’s best we keep it on the XBox.

That’s a cruel example of a reality that’s been bought and paid for in the media marketplace.

$40 million dollars was spent producing the video game Halo 4.

It’s estimated that $6 billion was spent this year to try and brainwash Americans to vote one way or another.

The Government of Canada is spending $28 million on commemorating the War of 1812.

This is money spent to affect our perception of reality.

It’s money used to manufacture ads, posters, Facebook pages, tweets, articles, shows, books, movies, games, apps and all other form of information product, aka “media”.

Then the task of receiving and deciphering this deluge falls to us.

Not many of us, particularly not children, have the skills for this, however. To a large degree, we’re technically illiterate when it comes to media.

Enter Media Literacy Week, which was established in recognition of that collective defficiency.

Media Literacy Week is targeted at young people, but we all can benefit from its message. It’s about empowering us to recognize both the meaning and intent of media.

Media is not only about the transfer of information. The government of Canada didn’t produce ads about the War of 1812 just to provide us with a history lesson.

Media is about changing our view of reality. Ottawa wants to make sure we perceive that ancient conflict from a certain viewpoint: we kicked America’s butt — rah, rah Canada!

Media Literacy Week importantly impresses upon us the fact that it’s our children, however, who are most susceptible to media.

They experience vastly more of the stuff than we adults ever did at their age. And the manufacturers of that media – the video game designers, the television show producers, the marketers, the product designers – craft it with ever more guile.

It could even be said that media is the primary way we communicate with kids. We use video games, movies, and television shows more and more as educational tools, effectively condoning media as an approved source of truth and reality, marginalizing reality itself.

This makes it even more difficult for kids to decipher media messaging, to differentiate artifice from artifact.

If there’s one piece of media you should check out this week, I’d urge you to make it the Media Literacy Week web site at http://www.medialiteracyweek.ca/.

The web site offer tools to improve our media comprehension and consumption abilities. Learn from the site yourself. If you have kids, share your learning with them.

Its funny though.

Despite the explosive flash of Halo 4 and the persuasive tone of political advertising, the humble poppy might just be the most effective media messenger.

Every year around this time I accidentally prick myself with that felt poppy’s pin as I poke it through my shirt.

It hurts. And I stop for a moment to watch a drop of blood soak into the fabric, staining it.

And that pinprick, more than any commercial or speech or advertisement, reminds me of the sacrifices that have been made on my behalf. For it’s in that instant that I recognize any pain I’ve ever felt pales in comparison to that experienced by the more than 100,00 soldiers who died in the various wars Canada has fought.

Perhaps even more effective than the poppy, however, is those two minutes of silence that will be observed this Sunday morning at 11 am.

In a sense, that is anti-media. It’s a time that we are left with nothing more than our thoughts and remembrances and the absolute quiet of humanity itself.

How ironic then that, for more and more of us — again, children in particular — those thoughts and remembrances have been crafted by media.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, November 9, 2012.