“Better to Be Not a Tourist But a Traveller”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Graphic designer, director of PrintInfo book publishing house Aram Mehrabyan tries to counterbalance the consumer psychology of tourism with the life of a free traveller full of discoveries and adventures. In the first instance, you’re only a consumer; in the second, you’re an explorer.

Mehrabyan characterizes modern media as a service offered to tourists where noise and propaganda are often heard more intensely than words that are able to touch the human soul. 

And when a person’s internal stirring, the ability to sympathize, to analyze, to set the future path and see the horizon, is silent, there is ubiquitous deafness — we reach so-called “point zero,” which Mehrabyan considers a very dangerous place to be.

Discussions and debates have intensified in public spaces (including social networks). What might this intensification lead to? Is it possible for it to have the opposite effect and turn into passive curiosity?

We have several news outlets where people constantly gather, discuss, debate. A question arises: who are the speakers? You sense that their words weren’t earned, that they didn’t sweat to say them. There are collections of words that are articulated without contemplating their meaning.

And in this extreme, professionally constructed “word clamor” you can’t understand what they want to say. Only see what type of elaborate political texts are written to secure the noise, which can contain a thousand words but mean absolutely nothing. Words have no value and influence. They don’t hold true. 

There’s a saying: “Say it, I’ll see.” That is, speak so what you’ve done can be visible. Today, many are speaking, but there’s nothing to see.

Recently, I was seriously considering publishing a new dictionary, where frequently used words would be redefined. Say, “homeland,” “motherland,” “intelligentsia,” “freedom,” “authority,” and many other words. Words and their meanings have gotten so far apart that it’s now easy to prowl other meanings in the space between them. And discourse is no longer possible, since someone says one thing but the person she’s speaking to understands or pictures something completely different.

Television shows and televised debates are more akin to scandalous self-expressionism than debates. Is that a specially developed and designed model?

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but I see that there’s a tendency in Armenian news outlets, especially in television, to reduce everything to zero. This is a very serious matter.

Often, the value of speech is affected by continuous socialization, to which compromises and reverences are integral. Before saying anything, always considered id not offending, not suddenly insulting or not harming relations. And in this context, nothing is left in that which is said. 

There’s the impression that any conversation taking place in the media leads to nothing. That is, those discussions aren’t constructive; not appearing in the discourse are those elements that in the future, as a reader or viewer, you can to some effectiveness analyze, ask yourself, what did I get from this TV program or news article, what conclusions did I make?

How does the nullifying of meaning happen in the media?

If, say, someone says something is white, the media does everything to make it black. A situation is created whereby to maintain balance, people’s ideas are neutralized, which results in the issues raised also being nullified. 

A good example to illustrate my point is Kentron TV’s Haykakan Urbat program, which divides speakers into two sides and attempts at all costs to place the thoughts of those two camps on an equal platform (even when those thoughts have no value). 

“Words and their meanings have gotten so far apart that it’s now easy to prowl other meanings in the space between them, and discourse is no longer possible”

Of course, to a great extent, there are no longer serious topics on television; the real discourse is now happening elsewhere (this is the case all over the world), but Armenian media is also extremely uncivilized. 

Generally, the reason for all ills is ignorance, lack of education. I think, in Armenia, not only journalists, but also architects and other professionals lack education.

Our entire journalism community is limited to the statement “Did you see how I was able to humiliate some person or another?” This creates a closed, nullifying situation, where constructive elements simply don’t exist. 

I think, one of the reasons is that the journalist, as a citizen, doesn’t have a utopia[n vision], doesn’t understand what she actually wants to do with her work. They tell her, go and “destroy” that person, since that’s our media’s line. Of course, a strong journalist initially resists but finally goes and “destroys” the person in question. This work can sometimes even be done quite easily and calmly.

Don’t you think that “destroying” is also done through ridicule? Ridiculed are those who deviate from the main line, oppositionists from different areas.

Of course, some shades of irony appear in the media that finally lead to widespread cynicism. You want to ask, ok, this person said this, the other responded; the topic was ridiculed, minimized, dissipated, got lost, became nullified, and then?

This ridicule that exists in our media is not actually Marcel Duchamp’s provocative irony (which was often the most important ingredient in his work) or the irony of the Soviet period. Under the conditions of Soviet lies, irony was a self-defense instrument, and a means, which helped in not going mad. This instrument is usually applied in prison-like situations or in systems governed by the principle of prisons. 

In no way are we able to free ourselves from this Soviet irony. Perhaps the reason is that the same lies continue? I don’t know…

But I see that when a healthy thought arises on different platforms, it is immediately ridiculed and stops being influential. And the first and professional ridiculers are the media and journalists. I feel that the need to work on ourselves has become exacerbated more than ever. Let us ridicule neither the person beside us nor the villager, the street sweeper, the person who disagrees with us. After all, let us ask ourselves why are we ridiculing? Or, we’re ridiculing to do what after?

Even when you come across emotional content, you see that it’s not even sentimental — the piece contains hidden irony (or sarcasm) within it. It seems, an opportunity is being created to influence the situation in some way, but because of that hidden sarcasm everything remains purely on the superficial surface level, in a null state. 

How can we change this situation, even slightly?

I am in support of quietly working on yourself — there probably isn’t a more effective approach. I think, the most fit (and for some, the most dangerous) person for society today is the centered person, who has a stirring in his heart. I consider that internal vibration to be very valuable, and that is what they’re trying to destroy in any way. 

If you’ve noticed, television does this the best, by turning citizens into consumers. You’re told from all sides, don’t worry, we’ll think about you, we’ll entertain you, and you have no need to read poetry, since poetry might throw off your internal balance. What if you suddenly feel anxious and begin to think…?

“Often, the value of speech is affected by continuous socialization, to which compromises and reverences are integral”

Once you begin to think, you will immediately become dangerous. And so, don’t think — we’ll think for you.

This approach existed in the Soviet Union and it exists now. This is a global tendency. This is what postmodernist theorist Joseph Beuys meant when he said that he sees no difference between the worlds of communism and capitalism.

Neither ideology creates an internal excitement and is based exclusively on the idea of comfort. Whatever happens happens; the important thing is that I feel comfortable, that I have my invariable schedule — eat at the right time; be entertained at the right time.

The ancient Greeks would go to the theater to be entertained and survive a catharsis. After watching a tragedy and being cleansed, they watched a comedy, so that they returned home cleansed and liberated. 

The theatre of our day is television, where there are passions, accidents, songs, and soap operas…

Yes, but there’s a huge difference: we don’t have the opportunity to be cleansed. Where can we be cleansed and get rid of the burden of issues tormenting us, when thrown on us from every side is only filth? Internal cleansing is a personal choice (you want, you can be cleansed; you don’t want, you don’t get cleansed). But if you don’t get cleansed, you can no longer say, Mr. So-and-So, you’re wrong. 

Drop by drop they fill us with the idea that cleansing is impossible, and one day you suddenly realize that you’re bent over double from the unbearable burden of pleasure and comfort. You become deaf; your eyesight deteriorates… 

There’s a war in Syria; children are slaughtered; nations are destroyed — but you’re sitting on the couch in a state of ubiquitous deafness and drinking beer, watching the news on TV. Where’s your discomfort, your sense of tragedy? It’s gone…

That’s how the world is and how the media is, which is constantly whispering in your ear, don’t worry, sit in the comfort of your home, we’ll do our job. And some people surrender…

Not surrendering is probably not watching, is that right?

You shouldn’t surrender; you can create a personal myth, which gives rise to the desire to create. The existence of a myth (many also call this Utopia), after all, helps you to find your place. Having a myth is important also for a country.

Don’t search only for a geographical meaning in the word “place”; we, Armenians, have always thought spatially; we’ve said, from land to land, from river to river, from sea to sea. Time, it seems, didn’t exist for us. Perhaps, we’re not really a “time” people, and many of the plans we put forward are yesterday’s plans. Not tomorrow’s or even today’s but yesterday’s. 

Of course, my remarks are subjective internal analyses, but I have the impression that we don’t feel and don’t take into account the rhythm, tempo, or acceleration of time.

Ok, but for how long are we going to live like tourists and consume those services that are being offered to us (especially by the media)? After all, it’s preferable and more enjoyable not to be a tourist but to become a traveller and independently look for, search, analyze that which is prepared and offered. Who said that we’re obliged to accept a priori that this is black and that is white? Allow us to decide that for ourselves.

“Television turns citizens into consumers, telling us from all sides don’t worry, we’ll think about you, we’ll entertain you, so you don’t feel anxious suddenly and don’t think”

Of course, it’s complicated; the whole world is faced with the same problem. When I talk to different people, I get the sense that once a person reaches a point of anxiety he instantly extinguishes the fire within him. 

Man doesn’t want to experience anxiousness; he defends his internal comfort at any cost. Comfort, in general, is the greatest evil. 

It’s also about an internal desire (you say, since you can’t be silent). Perhaps the media industry is running on empty because those that have something to say avoid being interviewed?

They always avoid journalists. When they ask me for an interview, I think, I’m going to spend about an hour at that interview — better that I spend my time reading a book!

Journalists usually ask rhetorical questions, such as “Why don’t people in Armenia read books?”, then they add: “Especially the youth don’t read books.” I answer: “But why don’t you ask yourself that question? After all, you’re a youth and you don’t read books.”

And so, my patience with journalists begins and ends with that first nickel-and-dime question “Why don’t they read?”

I’m convinced, by promoting, moreover obliging, and, say, printing posters with the inscription “Read,” you won’t motivate a person to read. That time has passed. Reading has to be an internal need. It’s the same as telling a person eat.  

But that too is consumer psychology: if we consume information and ideas, why not also books?

If that’s how you’re going to read a book, then you don’t need it. And you don’t need what you’re eating either. After all, if you don’t make a spiritual contribution to your food and don’t prepare it with love or with prayer, your food turns into poison. I’m sure of that. We don’t eat because we’re driven by advertising, right? We eat when we’re hungry. It’s the same for reading.

When you consider yourself not a tourist but a traveller, you also accept that you’re going to be confronted with many difficult questions on this long and interesting path of life. And it is in order to clarify these questions for yourself that you begin to read.

Interview conducted by Nune Hakhverdyan

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