We don’t see them as much anymore, but over the years cheerleaders have often used megaphones to amplify their voices for cheering on the home team. Megaphones are still employed today for various purposes, including crowd control and mass communication. Most are now portable and electronic to enhance vocal amplification, but their purpose remains the same – to ensure the message can be heard, loud and clear, for the desired effect.
There’s another kind of “megaphone effect” going on today, although it has nothing to do with hand-held, cone-shaped voice magnifiers. It’s the megaphone of mass media.
Recent weeks have provided a good example. As cold weather swept across most of the country, especially the Midwest and Northeast, phrases like “Polar Vortex” and “Arctic Express” echoed from every news source. We heard from nearly everyone, except maybe Chicken Little proclaiming the sky is falling. A visitor from another planet could easily have concluded it’s never snowed before.
Of course it has, and extreme low temperatures have been recorded before, but not trumpeted to the tune of today’s mass media megaphone. For instance, some of us can remember winter 1979, when multiple blizzards afflicted many Northern states and much of the nation was in deep freeze. Living in Ohio, I recall the temperature remained far below the freezing mark for at least 30 days straight. Heating our homes became a concern. Natural gas shortages were predicted, causing parents of young families – as were my wife and I at the time – to fret over how to keep our children warm.
That was the year – coincidentally also in January – when the acclaimed mini-series “Roots” was aired over eight successive evenings. One reason that excellent show had such high viewership, ranked for many years at the top all-time for a mini-series, was it was so cold in much of the United States millions of people had nothing else to do but watch it.
The difference between that winter 35 years ago and today? We didn’t have incessant, 24/7 news media coverage and the Internet. All we knew was it was very cold, very snowy, and someday – as always – it would start getting warmer again as spring followed winter. We didn’t have CNN, Al Roker and the Weather Channel to make us worry about surviving to see the thaw.
This mass media megaphone isn’t confined only to weather reporting. If there’s ever a scandal, whether it be the politically motivated closing of a major commuter bridge; a professional athlete making ill-advised, outlandish comments immediately after a game; or some pseudo-celebrity offering personal opinions that grate against sensibilities of the self-appointed thought police, we never hear the end of it.
News is shouted, reiterated, shouted again, repeated and rehashed until the intended message reverberates in our sleep. Even if what’s said isn’t true, we hear it so much it starts sounding that way. And, I believe, that’s not by accident. Megaphones cut through the noise with volume and clarity. They’re used for a reason.
So what do we do, shout back? Do we use bigger, more sophisticated megaphones? I think just the opposite. The book of Proverbs has much to say about how we communicate, and advises being careful and economical with the words we express:
“Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” (Proverbs 4:24).
“When there are many words, transgression is not avoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
“A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly” (Proverbs 12:23).
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:28).
“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2).
There are many other examples, but you get the idea. It’s good advice, well worth following, whether you’re in the media or not.