“So many people in this world are slaves, and the one holding the whip is the media.” These were the words that the old man had spoken late the night before. He and the old man met together occasionally to discuss the world and how things had changed over the years. Something about the conversation had put a desire in his heart. How can people be free if they don’t know they are slaves? He had to do something.
The sun still hid behind the tallest buildings. The man dragged a stand across the street. It was becoming more congested each minute. People on their way to work, school, the store. Any of a hundred places. It was always this way. Places to go and lives to live, or pretend to live. An open section of courtyard lined with white-washed brick was the man’s destination. He placed the stand down, little more than a reinforced box, and climbed up.
At first, he was nervous, his voice barely louder than it had been the night before when talking with the old man. No one paid him much attention. It was a common enough sight for someone to stand and shout, claiming this view or that. But for someone to stand there and talk quietly, well, that wasn’t even worth a glance.
An hour passed and the crowd grew. Each person walking by, face down, eyes enthralled with the screen before them. Their gods. The man’s frustration built and more people joined the mulling mass wandering idly by, ignorant to the world around them. Something in the man broke. They needed to know. The meekness in his voice faded, resolve took its place. Those passing by began to notice. Some stopped to listen, others jeered as they rushed past. He spilled out their blindness, their willingness to follow the little people on the screen. The man showed them how they neglected their reason. Into the ground the trampled news for the sake of news. Scattered to the wind were the baseless arguments and accusations. Driven to the heart was the appeal for self-reflection, questioning, and conversation. Pleaded with tears the dying art of making a friend and defending a person because they are a person and not an ideology.
Late in the afternoon, he saw it. What the old man had referred to as the eye of the beast. A large camera pointed straight at him, studying him and sending what it learned back to the mind of the beast for processing, dissection, and stitching back together. The mind of the beast excelled at twisting the world around it and never failed to deliver the choicest bits of emotionally charged language to its body.
He waited, expecting something to happen, but the people only flowed by. They headed home to look up from their little screens at their larger ones. They needed to know what to think. The camera had vanished. A scout fled home to report all it learned. Night fell, the crowds thinned, and the man went home.
The next day, the man was back, vigor bolstering his words. The crowds once again milled by, but this time something was different. There was a buzz, the people murmured amongst themselves. Low at first, but the noise grew. A voice somewhere in the crowd shouted something, and all heads shot toward their screens. In unison, the eyes tilted up and watched the man. The beast had arrived.
Its voice tore the morning air and engulfed the man. In unison, the mob, the beast, cried out accusations and threats. The camera scout had relayed its message. The beast’s mind had twisted what it saw. The words the man had spoken attacked the beast, and now the beast shouted back through the crowd. With hundreds of feet, the beast stalked around the man on his box. Hands clenched into fists and then relaxed, convulsing between hate and peace. The beast pushed onward. Each of the screens flashed again with a new report, new orders. The crowd, its body surged forward, tearing the man from his perch.
His words caught in his throat. The force of the beast was undeniable as it dragged him down the street. The building tops drift in and out of view and the multiple heads of the beast looked over him. Minutes passed, the beast’s body shrank until only a handful of people remained. The beast’s body delivered the man to an alley. The beast’s toxins, a man and woman in suits, waited.
He didn’t know how long he was in the building. Time passed at a crawl. He heard the lies of the beast from the time he woke in the morning until he passed out at night. In his dreams, more lies were fed to him. The cycle of waking nightmares stretched out for days. The man’s mind was resilient, but time and the toxins did their work. Finally, the man’s mind broke, leaving him numb and uncaring.
For another week, the toxin’s did their work, until one day a voice cut into the madness. It told the man he had been cleansed. His feelings would come to him through the screen now. His thoughts would be guided by the voices in the boxes. A small flat screen was placed in his hand.
It truly was a wondrous device. It went with the man everywhere. Every minute of every day he would know what evils were in the world and what good deeds flowered. He never had to worry now. The screen told him what was true in life. It told him what was really true. The man was numb. The man was happy.
A week later, an alert popped up on the man’s phone. The numbness fell away. It was replaced with a burning passion, which compelled him to follow the crowd. The body of the beast once again formed and from the man’s mouth the beast shouted, “Everything that doesn’t come from the news is ignorance and lies!”