Tuesday
Nov162010

The Journalist and the Fool Archetypes - what do they have in common?

The Fool Archetype - not so foolish?

Now before I go too far into this post, I need to clarify what I mean when I use the term 'Fool'.  Today we tend to think of the term 'Fool' as derogatory - but throughout history, the highest archetypal role of the Fool has actually been a kind of fail-safe truth mechanism, the one who tells what's really going on when all others are caught up in their own personal agendas.  Only the Fool says what they have to say in a comedic or entertaining way, which often softens the blow of what would otherwise be a harsh truth with laughter.  And yet, if the Fool is doing their job well, the truth still hits home. 

In days gone by, in the courts of Kings, the Fool (or Court Jester) was normally kept around for entertainment purposes.  But he had another important role to play, that of the person who was always able to speak the truth to the King by couching it in humorous or entertaining terms.  When the King's court became particularly political - which often meant that truth was correspondingly hard to find -  the role of the Fool became particularly important in painting a true picture of the way things were.  In many ways, the archetypal Fool was a 'fail-safe' truth mechanism.  For that reason, he was often belittled by those around him, and his jokes and jibes treated as trivia - which is part of the reason that the use of the term 'fool' today typically suggests a person who has little understanding of events.  But in fact, in its highest archetypal form, the Fool archetype is someone who reports a truthful version of events that are happening around them whilst at the same time providing entertainment. 

But in case you think that I am saying that all modern-day Fools (or Comedians) are harbingers of wisdom, as with all Archetypal patterns, the Fool has both a shadow and a light side to it.  And when operating in the shadow, the Fool archetype focuses purely on humour for entertainment's sake, with little respect for the truth.  When this happens, the Fool can be hurtful biting and focused on celebrating misfortune or lies rather than truth.  This too has contributed to the use of the term 'Fool' as representing someone who doesn't know what they are talking about.  

Jon Stewart, creator and commentator of the American TV program - the Daily Show - is a perfect example of the Fool archetype, expressed in its highest form.   

The Journalist Archetype


Traditionally, when we think of the Journalist archetype, in its highest form, we think of someone honorable who goes to great lengths to ensure that the public know the truth about critical events.  In its highest form, it is an honorable calling - as the way that news is reported potentially has a huge impact on the way that events unfold.  But too often today, it seems that Journalism has become more about entertainment and less about the truth and honor.  It seems that in order to 'sell' news (and thus advertising), much of the news is presented in a sensationalist fashion, focused less on telling the truth, and more on evoking a reaction in people (which has traditionally been the goal of entertainment).  And hence the creation of a sub-archetypal pattern connected to the Journalist archetype - the Paparazzi.

In one 15 second advertisement for a news program that I saw the other day, I heard the phrase "innocent lives at risk" used three times.  I didn't watch the actual news program advertised, so I can't tell you what deadly terrors they were actually reporting on - and the reason I didn't watch the show is that I - and many people like me - have become so jaded by the overuse of phrases like this one, that we no longer react to them.  News programs have become like the boy who cried wolf.  They keep asking us to believe that the world is about to end one way or another, or that so-called 'innocent' people are yet again being made victims of, and in so doing, they sacrifice the truth for entertainment.  And what is worse - we stop trusting them, we stop believing that they are providing us with a valuable source of information. 

A few years ago, when I was in quite a different job to the one I'm in now, I underwent Media Training - or training in how to deal with or speak to Journalists.  And one of the first things we were told was that the news isn't about the truth, it's about what sells papers, or what drives up television ratings.  In other words, as plain as day, we were told that the news is about entertainment.  We were advised that Journalists were more interested in getting a 'sensationalist' aspect on a story rather than necessarily reporting what we had to say and so we were coached in methods desgined firstly to get our message across, and secondly to evade any unwanted or difficult questions.  If you watch Politicians being interviewed carefully, many of them will use these techniques - in particular, instead of answering the question they have been asked, they respond with whatever message they want to get across with little or no regard to the actual question.  And so the news arena has moved out of the realm of the Journalist archetype and into the realm of the Fool - into the entertainment industry.   

And how to tell the difference

Well it's not that easy.  The lines have been blurred.  I mentioned comedian (and archetypal Fool) Jon Stewart's program 'The Daily Show' above.  Stewart's show is meant to be a parody or satiric look at the news, and yet last year he was voted the most trusted name in news in the US  by Time magazine readers.  This was a role previously held by Journalist Water Kronkite.  And then last month Jon Stewart was voted the most influential man in America - above President Barack Obama - by the 500,000 readers of Askmen.com.  The line between the Journalist and the Fool archetype has become blurred.  And so in a world where Journalists have moved into the Entertainment field, we now turn to our 'fail-safe' mechanism - the Fool, to do what we no longer trust Journalists to do - to tell us the truth about what is really going on.

And that appears to have been the point of a recent rally that Jon Stewart held in the US - a rally which he referred to as a "Rally to Restore Sanity".  In keeping with the fact that the rally was run by comedians, and not politicians or journalists, the bulk of the 3 hours appears to have been entertainment.  But at the end of the rally, Jon Stewart gave a serious speech, essentially appealing to Journalists to get off his turf (entertainment) and get back to the news telling business.  Ok - he didn't use those words - but archetypally that's what he was saying.  Here's a brief excerpt:

"we live now in hard times, not end times.....The press can hold its magnifying up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected flaming ant epidemic.  If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."


And in a recent interview Jon Stewart had with Rachel Maddow - a Journalist and Commentator in the US - Stewart commented on the fact that Journalists have been moving closer into his space.  I've included some excerpts below (with comments from me in square brackets):

"I have existed....... there has been a form of me around forever.  A comedian with political and social concepts criticizes them from a haughty and feckless perch, throwing things – the box that I’m in has always existed.......[ie the Fool archetype has always been around].....I feel like I do have liberties that you [Rachel Maddow - the Journalist] don’t have, and I could lose them by stepping into that [the Journalists's space], and what I would gain from that is a little bit more dignity, I’d have a little more skin in the game, and there’s something about that that is a little more courageous than what we [those with the Fool archetype] do.  So that, I very much admire, but I also think though that these rules have existed for people such as me forever, and we’re not the ones bending them."


To which Rachel Maddow responded: 

"Hmmm.  We [Journalists]'re getting to be more like you [Fools], you’re not getting to be more like us."


Now, it's a little unfair to blame Journalists completely for this shift - they, after all, are driven to provide to us (the consumers), with information in a way that will mean that we want to view it. After all, similar to a tree falling in a forrest, if a Journalist writes an article and nobody reads it, does it really exist?   And it's a simple fact that we are far more likely to view and/or read something which has a more sensationalist aspect to it, than something that doesn't - and a lot of the reason for this is because we do want to be entertained. But nevertheless, when truth-telling in a society is left to the domain of the Fool archetype, we need to take a good long hard look at why this is, and what this says about us as a society. 

For those of you who are interested, here is the YouTube video containing part of the Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart interview.  It's a wonderful example of the true nature of these two archetypes - the Fool (Jon Stewart) and the Journalist (Rachel Maddow):

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