Volume 12, Number 15
31 January 2006

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This Week

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The Masses As a Serial Killer

How should I start the first article of the semester? "Welcome back to Bilkent"? No... sounds like I've waited for you at Bilkent since final exams. "Here we go again"? Too ordinary. Maybe I should follow one of Hıncal Uluç's rituals and re-publish the article I wrote at the beginning of the first semester? No, I'm too young for this. I can use such shortcuts when I'm 60 and become an indispensable guest at beauty contests.

No matter what I say, we all came back to Bilkent (in spite of the snowstorms trying to sabotage our return) after a month free from attendance sheets, ring buses and infinite queues of students craving lunch. All
the news broadcasts had a very busy month, with the natural gas crisis between Russia and the European Union, the nuclear energy crisis between the US and Iran, the standard discussions about kurban rituals, and M. Ali Ağca's mysterious blue sweater.

However, I guess the most interesting part of the agenda would be the bird flu epidemic threat, which started with a calm declaration about the medical details, continued with a series of dark-comedy scenes (such as people trying to hide their children from doctors) and ended up in an interesting way: with lots of people (most of whom did not appear on TV screens) starting to ask if this was a conspiracy planned by "external powers" aiming to destroy the Turkish poultry industry.

You see the problem? Whenever a serious event is discussed too much, the masses lose their trust and sense of reality. Who can blame them? One day, people listen to a doctor on a serious TV channel saying that eggs shouldn't be washed before they are eaten. He says washing eggs causes them to be less resistant to the virus. The TV viewers go to bed, and then get up the next day and eat their unwashed eggs while they watch the Minister of Health declare that it's not safe to consume eggs without washing them.

Once we have unlimited access to information, it becomes disinformation. Most people prefer to listen to one authority and ignore others, but this won't change the reality: we know too much to trust anyone. The more we talk about things, the more we distort and destroy them. Like we "kill" events, we kill people by discussing them too much.

This doesn't have to happen in the form of a media tragedy like the one we had involving a contestant from one of the marriage shows. When millions of people have an image of a singer, a writer, an actor or an actress, he/she gets murdered as a person by the masses, and his/her image replaces the corpse. Real deaths become unbelievable. You look around and see people claiming that Elvis and John Lennon are alive.

The same thing is happening in the case of the bird flu epidemic these days. It's being destroyed by the unnecessary information concerning it. It's changing from a medical threat to an economic event, and it's not as hard to believe in a connection between an economic event and political power relations.

A long time ago Bacon claimed that "knowledge is strength," but I guess the idea needs to be updated by a recent advertising slogan: "strength is not strength when it's not under control.”


İsmail O. Postalcıoğlu (POLS/III)

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