SOLOMON: Image Distortion Disorder

Are we suffering from Image Distortion Disorder?It's not listed in medical dictionaries. But physician Michael LeNoir is urging our society to treat Image Distortion Disorder as a very real -- and very unhealthy -- condition.Possible remedies aren't discussed on television. Instead of helping to alleviate Image Distortion Disorder, prime time is ablaze with programming that inflames it.This is a pervasive ailment that has no obvious physical symptoms. It stokes fears and antagonisms so familiar that they're apt to seem natural."Most of the images that one ethnic group has of another are developed by the media," Dr. LeNoir has observed. And media images have a way of feeding on themselves. "The incessant portrayal of African Americans as criminals and buffoons has been responsible for the success of many police programs and sitcoms."The white majority remains ill-informed. "Most people in America get their information about people of color from radio, movies, print and especially television," LeNoir notes. "In most instances, people of color are depicted as drug-addicted, homeless, child-abusing, welfare criminals."LeNoir, an African American who practices medicine in Oakland, Calif., is calling for "more realistic images of our young people." He adds: "Most of them graduate from high school, do not go to prison and enter the work force in significant numbers."A new study confirms that media outlets keep applying blackface to this nation's afflictions. Only 29 percent of poor Americans are black -- but when Yale University scholar Martin Gilens examined coverage of poverty in national news magazines like Time and Newsweek, he found that 62 percent of the pictures were of blacks. On network TV evening newscasts, the figure was 65 percent."Part of the problem is news professionals to some degree share the same misperceptions that the public does," Gilens commented. "The people who are choosing the photographs sort of misunderstand the social realities."Whether the issue is poverty, crime or drugs, the tilt of the media mirror often makes racial minorities look bad. In Dr. LeNoir's words, "the perception painted by television of people of color becomes the reality, and it creates a background of anxiety and fear in America that is dangerous."Writing in a fine new anthology titled "Multi-America," LeNoir asserts that media distortions of African Americans, Latinos and Asians "have a devastating effect on every person in this country and undermine any attempt to bring us together as a people."He emphasizes the importance of speaking up: "Those of us in America who are concerned about race relations must react to obvious distortions in the media by raising our voices in protest over the never-ending attempt to portray people of color in these caricatured, fragmented and distorted images."It's symbolic that the book containing LeNoir's essay on Image Distortion Disorder has gotten the cold shoulder from mass media -- despite the fact that it is a landmark volume put out by a major publisher (Viking) and edited by a prominent author (Ishmael Reed).Published four months ago, "Multi-America" is a collection of pieces by ethnic Americans whose ancestors came from Asia, Africa and Latin America in addition to European countries such as Italy and Ireland. The book demolishes stereotypes while challenging the traditional, monocultural view of what it means to be "an American."Key media outlets, ranging from Publishers Weekly to The New York Times, have refused to review "Multi-America." Perhaps the 465-page hardcover book -- featuring eloquent essays by more than 50 American writers from a wide array of ethnic and racial backgrounds -- would have seemed more valuable if those writers had been at each other's throats.Meanwhile, the Little, Brown publishing house, owned by Time Warner, has shelled out a $3 million advance for yet another book about O.J. Simpson, this one by former girlfriend Paula Barbieri. Her book, of course, will get massive media attention.Sounds like another victory for Image Distortion Disorder.

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