Book challenges, media independence, and profits, oh my

Tara over at We Read Banned Books blogged about a conversation she & I had about media interests in publicizing book censorship here. I wanted to expand on a few points back here.

This summer, I had a reference question about anaesthesia awareness. The question came from a very well educated woman who had recently been scheduled for surgery. And she was terrified that she would be awake during the procedure, feeling pain and unable to communicate. Terrified to the point she was considering not going through with the surgery, even though it would probably improve her quality of life to a great degree. She wanted to know what I could find for her on waking during surgery.

I did a nice little lit search for her, hitting the usual suspects among consumer health websites and medical databases, and came out with some statistical information on risks of anaesthesia awareness, along with information on what exactly anaesthesia awareness means (hint: it doesn’t necessarily mean you are actually awake and feeling pain). When we next talked, she expressed that she knew she *should* feel reassured by the information and statistics, but still felt this semi-irrational, disabling fear about waking during surgery.

So I did another search for her. This time, on the open web. Just to see what was going on in the non-specialist world related to anaesthesia awareness. To my surprise (considering the relative rarity of the phenomenon), I found a number of recent news articles about anaesthesia awareness. Then I found this: Awake, a thriller released Friday and distributed in North America by MGM. Hmm…

According to MGM’s website, the 6 strategic partners who comprise their ownership include Sony and Comcast. And, according to Film Industry News last year, “MGM has ownership interests in international TV channels reaching nearly 110 countries.” Not to mention the other media outlets related to MGM through owners such as Comcast.

But the point of this story is not to laboriously connect all the dots from MGM to Canadian news outlets. It’s to help our patron who feels anxious about her upcoming surgery, is it not? Why are we mucking about on media corporation websites, rather than scouring for clinical guidelines to minimize anaesthesia awareness?

Why? Because no matter how educated we are, we are all influenced by our popular culture surroundings. That is why even those of us who think we are so hip and independent all like the same baby names at the same time. That is why doctors who are trained clinical experts still prescribe advertised drugs more frequently than others.

When I was able to let this woman know that the media actively *wants* her to be terrified of anaesthesia awareness this year, that such terror on the part of the population could mean big bucks this year, it added a sense of perspective. When we could have a decent, respectful conversation about the actual risks versus the sudden media hype about anaesthesia awareness, she was able to temper her fear with acknowledgement that the high profile of the phenomenon likely had more to do with media connections than frequency of occurrence, the fear took on a different shade. Thinking of her risks along evidence-based lines rather than media-encouraged fear became an active stance for her to take.

Health information is not just about clinical information. It is also about information about your information. Very meta, I know, but in this age of ubiquitous advertising, it is as important to let our patrons know what we can find out *about* the information as it is to convey the content.

And you know I’m not just talking about health.

When I talked Pullman over coffee with Tara the other day, I had this reference question in mind. I have no way of knowing whether media outlets are getting explicit orders to cover controversy surrounding banned books that are being made into movies by related media companies, or whether the increased media hype over the movie just makes the book banning seem a more interesting and attractive topic for coverage. But I do know that excitement, taboo, and intrigue surrounding The Golden Compass can only improve box office revenues for the movie. I adore the His Dark Materials trilogy and personally hope they outgross Harry Potter bigtime. But that doesn’t mean I shut down the part of my mind that critically questions they way the media covers each story.

When it comes to YA fantasy novels, speculation around media hype connections is interesting and intellectually useful. When it comes to health information – life or death, or even “just” quality of life issues – it is critical.



1 Comment

Filed under censorship, media democracy

One response to “Book challenges, media independence, and profits, oh my

  1. Katie

    This is such an interesting post. I have been thinking about the same thing wrt His Dark Materials – wondering why all of the fervor over books that came out a decade ago. But the example of Awake and hyped anaesthesia awareness – wow.

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