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'Let us reclaim our mental environment and our humanity,' writes Weschler, 'the same way as we are reclaiming our physical environment.' (Image: Collage courtesy of the author)

Mass Media, the Wetiko Virus and the Future of Humanity

Tanja Andrejasic Wechsler

The Cree Indians of North America, and many First Nations, have a concept called wetiko, a cannibalistic mind-virus that creates an unnatural desire to continually consume human flesh and gives its host an 'icy heart.' Martin Kirk and Alnoor Ladha describe the wetiko nature of modern capitalism:

Its insatiable hunger for finite resources; its disregard for the pain of the groups and cultures it consumes; its belief in consumption as savior; its overriding obsession with its own material growth; and its viral spread across the surface of the planet. It is wholly accurate to describe neoliberal capitalism as cannibalizing life on this planet. It is not the only truth—capitalism has also facilitated an explosion of human life and ingenuity—but when taken as a whole, capitalism is certainly eating through the life-force of this planet in service of its own growth.

Since our modern media machinery, and indeed, technology itself, are derivative sectors of our economic operating system, we must ask, in what way is mass media being driven by the wetiko meme? In which ways is it invading our unconscious and subconscious minds, transforming us into a non-human state?

The Roots of Media

"The deepest cause of the present [human] devastation [of the Earth] is found in a mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being and the bestowal of all right on the humans." —Thomas Berry

With the beginning of the Enlightenment and Cartesian dualism, which split mind and body and embraced a rigid form of rationalism with religious fervor, we began to believe that our human intelligence made us superior beings and granted us the innate right to use "cheap nature" to our own advantage so that we can accumulate material goods, wealth and power. The world was reduced to a picture—an early precursor to today’s mass media which channels and supports the masculine life-destroying cannibalistic behavior that is both the driver and by-product of patterns in human history, including colonialism, the exploitation of nature, and the extreme subjugation of the Other.

"We have become so desensitized and hypnotized that we fail to notice the mutation and have become confused by what it means to be human and what is beautiful."

Media has become part of our nervous system, framing and manipulating our thoughts, desires, feelings and the way we see reality — hijacking our spirituality, emotions and value systems. It promotes modern culture’s hypnosis through disassociation, consumerism and propaganda. With the support of commercial speech—and its excessive use of pornography, vanity and subliminal messages—our sense of community, interdependence and symbiosis with the natural world is eradicated.

Through mass media, the Other can now be produced, replicated and stripped of human dignity in a most perverted way so that it can be devoured. We are fed the image of a crying woman holding her dying child, portraying her as a different race or poor so that we can consume her suffering, while at the same time soothing ourselves with the Rolex watch advertised next to her image. Media presents us with superficial ideas of fulfillment, while stifling our true emotions, which are reframed, watered down and relabeled. Our lives and events are turned into narratives for consumption, while simultaneously we are becoming the very emotionless and artificial characters we see portrayed through movies and commercials.

Hyper-masculine Hollywood characters, including most superheroes, villains, robots, and other weaponry, are personifications of the vampiristic spirit of wetiko that is manifested through media—the very medium of memes. We have become so desensitized and hypnotized that we fail to notice the mutation and have become confused by what it means to be human and what is beautiful.

Restoring the Matriarchy

The patriarchy of capitalism found one of its greatest messengers in the modern media apparatus. One of the key avenues mass media employs to distort reality is the ongoing war with the feminine psyche. From the early days of Hollywood, the male and female archetypes were contorted to fit a hetero-normative perspective of masculine power and feminine passivity. The brave warrior and provider always rescued the damsel in distress.

Commercials continue the onslaught of distortion through the promotion of skinny unfeminine bodies. We are shown anorexic teenage girls as representations of the ideal woman’s body and faces that are cold and manipulative. Deep sensuality is taboo because it is too real and dangerous to the neurotic and perverted consumption of a culture that thrives on unattainable pleasures lacking in intimacy, authenticity and connection.

"The empowerment and freedom of woman and motherhood became synonymous with full-time careers, and the ability to maintain success in a patriarchic society."

Since many cultures see nature as feminine (e.g. Mother Earth), our disconnection to nature required us to re-conceptualize woman altogether. The natural feminine form became too powerful and overwhelming to be admissible, and femininity needed to be conquered—re-framed, dissected, explored and subjugated.

In media, women are often depicted as "neurotic"—see-sawing from possessing an unnatural masculinity in her striving to be an ‘alpha male’ to being reduced to the sum of her exaggerated body parts. The lionization and exploitation of plastic surgery has reshaped our understanding of feminine proportions and desirability. We have lost touch with true femininity and nature, leaving both in a state of unreconstructed despair. The empowerment and freedom of woman and motherhood became synonymous with full-time careers, and the ability to maintain success in a patriarchic society.

The prevalence of C-sections, formula feedings (sometimes due to insufficient maternity leave, especially in the USA), synthetic enhancements, birth control pills and the availability of plastic bottles filled with synthetic toxic milk for newborns have in many ways served as ammunition in the war against the feminine. Infants are being born into the world lacking the touch of their mother’s body or hearing her natural heart beat as mammals do.

At the same time, breasts are enlarged with implanted silicone to assimilate the size and shape of milk-filled breasts meant for nurturing and nursing, but nipples remain strictly covered as they connote sensuality.

Nature has also become a commodity — framed in manmade parks so we can no longer interact with it directly and our freedom to play in it is restricted. We are now encouraged to observe it remotely on the TV screen, without getting dirty and without the risk of "hurting" ourselves. Nature is now mediated by toll-booth capitalism – renting a chair and umbrella on a crowded beach or a lift ticket on a ski slope.

Repelling Wetiko and Reclaiming Our Humanity

The darker forces of wetiko that access our minds and spirits through the mask of media and media technology, impact the future of our humanity by separating us from the rest of nature, each other and our direct life experience replacing it with a subversive 'reality' that is anti-life. As Jean Baudrillard says in The Perfect Crime, "in this grim record of the disappearance of the real, it has not been possible to pin down either the motives or the perpetrators, and the corpse of the real itself has never been found."

Those forces are now being revealed and their faces and motives are being unmasked, showing us what we are to become if we don’t find our way back to our true essence as stewards of life.

We have forgotten humanity is defined through our interaction with each other and our non-human world. It is only when we understand and continuously find ourselves in an unsuspended flux of connectivity and relationship with the Cosmos and the rest of nature that we can be freed from the simulacrum world, the matrix of commodification, patriarchy and consumption that is projected by modern media.

In Culture Jam, AdBusters founder Kalle Lasn provides a beautiful provocation and call-to-arms:

We will strike by smashing the postmodern hall mirrors and redefining what it means to be alive.

Let us reclaim our mental environment and our humanity the same way as we are reclaiming our physical environment. Let us bring back the matriarchal values of interdependence, community and symbiosis with nature, and start to bring into being the better world our hearts know is possible.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Tanja Andrejasic Wechsler

Tanja Andrejasic Wechsler is the founder of Our Humanity Matters, created to further the understanding of humanity and the spiritual and ecological challenges of mass media culture. Born in Slovenia, she completed a rigid study in Philosophy with world-renowned philosophers at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. She moved to New York and has since dedicated her studies to the field of media. She received an MA in Media from the New School University in New York City.

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