feeding my own misguided insanity

Media Metaphor in Plato's Republic

August 20, 2011 Shem Radzikowski 3 Comments

I was recently working on another project where I needed to read Plato’s Republic and his Allegory of the Cave. Part of the project required me to explore how Plato’s Allegory of the Cave could be considered a metaphor for the Media and how we perceive news and current affairs; my exploration of the topic follows.

If we try to distill that which constitutes reality, our perception of the world is drawn from the experiences, the people we’ve encountered and even the countries we’ve travelled to. Simply put, all the stimuli we’ve ever come in contact with have imprinted upon us our own version of reality.

Taking into consideration the Allegory of the Cave, the perception of the world as experienced by the prisoners is much different to that experienced by those on the surface.

The Power of Perception

We could argue that the prisoners — having been exposed to mere shadows and sounds — have formed their own version of reality. That’s not to say that their version is untrue or erroneous, they are forming their reality based on the stimuli available to them. Of course, being exposed to a fuller spectrum of stimuli, the people on the surface see the world through untarnished and truer eyes.

The simile of the fire and the sun can be seen as a difference in perception, enlightenment and understanding of the two realities, one burning much more brightly than the other. The acquisition of knowledge is an illuminating experience, where misconceived ideas are thrown aside like the shackles.

Plato painted a distinct difference between appearance and reality, at least from the prisoner’s perspective. The Media portrays events and even ideas in various colors, depending on the intended outcome or influence. If the role of the Media was to merely present facts and figures, it would need to present these with scientific precision and without any deviation from the original ideas surrounding them.

Diamond Trade in Zimbabwe

Let’s now draw from current events, and in particular, the diamond trade in Africa. Over the years, the media has been reporting on human rights abuse, violence and murder in relation to the extraction of diamonds. The term Blood Diamond[1] has become synonymous with tactics employed by warlords and corrupt governments to obtain them.

Zimbabwe’s western region bordering Mozambique is home to the Marange diamond field. It has recently been labeled as a ‘death camp’ by a BBC investigative team.[2] The global outcry to stop the trade of diamonds obtained from this region has largely gone unheard, due in large part, to a spate of contradicting reports.

The audience, or the reader, is now faced with distilling information from various sources — some credible, some not — in order to form an opinion. If we compare Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the appearance of reality — presented by credible sources — is warped by various other pro-mining groups and morally irresponsible (or coerced) reporters. Some reports paint almost war-like conditions with piles of bodies rotting in the open air, whilst others profess strict adherence to human rights charters.

It would be too easy to assume that all readers can tell the difference between a genuine and a fake report, on which to form a true and enlightened opinion. The reality is far more complicated, mainly due to the fact that not everyone has access to these remote African regions, are unable to speak to witnesses, or experience the events through their own eyes. A skillful wordsmith can swing the audience in either direction.

Having two points of view, one based on reality and the other on mere shadows of reality, does nothing to help society form a true understanding of the issues. Conflicting reports will serve only to fragment and keep large groups of people in support of the shadows.

Blood Diamonds

Many people are familiar with the film “Blood Diamond” — set during the Sierra Leone civil war in 1996-1999 — the film shows a country torn apart by the struggle between government soldiers and rebel forces. It brought more awareness of the atrocities committed during war and diamond extraction to the general public than any other medium before it.

Although the film was effective in conveying the message, it was only partially based on factual events: the civil war did take place in Sierra Leone, as did the meeting which led to the creation of Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (Wikipedia.org, 2011).

Nevertheless, it won numerous awards, stirred up the diamond industry and delivered a powerful message to the masses in the form of a good story.

The Medium is the Message

“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan “meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived” (Wikipedia.org, 2011).

In other words, “This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium — that is, of any extension of ourselves — result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (McLuhan, 1964)

“The medium is the message” tells us that noticing change in our societal or cultural ground conditions indicates the presence of a new message, that is, the effects of a new medium. Simply put, the message of a newscast are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear. (Federman, 2004).

In effect, we are trying to understand how the presentation of the content as well as its delivery is shaping changes in public perception; indicating that we should not only concern ourselves with the content but also its method of delivery.

While television, and other new media, may seem useful, interesting, and worthwhile, at the same time it further boxes people into a physical and mental condition appropriate for the emergence of autocratic control (Mander, 1978). One of the main points that Mander stresses is that “you really can’t summarize complex information” and that the television is viewed as a medium of “reductionism”.

In order to present the story in the correct light, journalists may sometimes need to choose one medium over another so as to avoid “unanticipated consequences”[3] (Federman, 2004).

Why Spoil a Good Story

The Media in general, as does the film, raises the question of whether we should care about the truthfulness and integrity of the content. In other words, should we allow truth to spoil a good story?

Personally, I think there are instances where truth can be brushed aside in favor of a good story — but only if the overall message doesn’t negatively distort the original. Furthermore, if we are looking at entertainment value alone, events depicted in films (or stories) which are not historically accurate, should be clearly labeled as such. There is enough misinformation floating around that even the most discerning of readers need to touch various independent sources before being satisfied with the stories’ authenticity and accuracy.

Within journalism however, there is an element of honesty and factual delivery that is demanded by the public. People turn to the press because they believe that news will be presented in an unbiased and factual manner. These days however, we are too frequently presented with skewed reporting styles with omissions to critical pieces of information.

[And if you’re a CSU student, plagiarism is a punishable offence ;P ]

  1. Diamonds mined in African war zones and sold to finance conflicts, and thereby profit warlords and diamond companies across the world. ^
  2. BBC Panorama: http://www.bbc.co.uk/panorama ^
  3. Many of the unanticipated consequences stem from the fact that there are conditions in our society and culture that we just don’t take into consideration in our planning. ^


Andersson, H. (2011, August 8). Marange diamond field: Zimbabwe torture camp discovered. Retrieved August 13, 2011, from BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14377215

Andersson, H. (2011, August 8). Soldiers tell of Zimbabwe diamond field massacre . (BBC) Retrieved August 13, 2011, from BBC Panorama: http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_9556000/9556242.stm

BBC. (2011, August 9). Marange diamonds: Zimbabwe denies ‘torture camp’. Retrieved August 12, 2011, from BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14468116

Federman, M. (2004). What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message? Retrieved August 13, 2011, from University of Toronto: http://individual.utoronto.ca/markfederman/MeaningTheMediumistheMessage.pdf

Gonda, V. (2008, December 12). Government looking for land for mass burial, after killing 78 miners. Retrieved August 14, 2011, from ZWNews.com: http://zwnews.com/issuefull.cfm?ArticleID=19853

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill.

Plato. (1955). The Allegory of the Cave, in Book VII. In The Republic (pp. 316-325). Penguin Classics.

Wikipedia.org. (2011, August 1). Blood Diamond. Retrieved August 2, 2011, from Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Diamond_%28film%29

Wikipedia.org. (2011, August 9). Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Arguments_for_the_Elimination_of_Television

Wikipedia.org. (2011, July 6). Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. Retrieved August 8, 2011, from Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberley_Process_Certification_Scheme

Wikipedia.org. (2011, July 22). The medium is the message. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message

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3 Comments → “Media Metaphor in Plato’s Republic”

  1. Ina A 12 years ago   Reply

    can i just like it instead of reading it…it’s so long…

  2. Tomek O 12 years ago   Reply

    Ina … You should read – something I was also thinking about but put in a nice way in single text. Nicely done Shem.

  3. Dr.Shem 12 years ago   Reply

    Thanks Tomek :)

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