In my freshman year at the University of Texas I was to learn that people have an unbelievably strong tendency to compartmentalize. They can listen to a preacher decrying materialism and then go out and work themselves to the bone to achieve ridiculously materialistic goals. They hear sermons on altruism and go out and join in the pursuit of the profit motive that is almost always diametrically opposite from altruism. The upward mobile, money, status and appearance obsessions of our culture trumps the altruism and simple Christian teachings of non-ostentatious living on any and every of the other six days of the week. No one has time to contemplate what underlies the wheels of industry and commerce that propel this materialistic culture.
They do not have the luxury to wonder what keeps themselves and all of rest of the people hoping and striving to get ahead and yet finding themselves just trying to keep up and avoiding being trampled under while just staying in place and seeing their bodies wearing down as though they were ancient slaves struggling for long hours on a tread wheel grinding grain for their masters. At the end of long and stressful days, the populace winds down by sitting on their couches with beer or wine in hand while they watch and listen to the issues being debated on the nightly news and bellow out their ‘yeahs’ and ‘boos’; releasing their emotions of desperation and frustration which are the remains of the day. They watch the ads tempting them to buy superfluous products that will enhance their status and attractiveness or rather their marketability. They see no connections between the media razzle-dazzle and their need to recover from an unfulfilling, life-depleting, scamper down a rat race with no finish line.
This tendency to compartmentalize their television, electronic gadgetry, trance-induced spectator minds from their Christian values and needs for genuine emotional, physical, and social health is ubiquitous in our culture. They cannot make connections between their emotional states of angst, stress, pill-popping, and escapist life style and how these are caused by the broader free enterprise, capitalistic ideological culture. They cannot see how the latter drives them toward a conspicuous consumption, materialistic, status maniac orientation to life. All of these ills are perpetuated by vast, integrated, capitalistic systems that have systematically suppressed or eliminated their most basic human needs from childhood on.
These stand in an undetected but extreme contrast to one another. The haranguing and beguiling media drowns out the human side of humans with their made-to-seem-urgent public debates. Topics such as how much regulation of financial institutions is too much or too little, how much the rich should be taxed, whether future-of-the-globe-threatening climate change even exists, whether some ‘rogue’ nation must be attacked, whether the president can wage war without congressional approval, or whether corporations are persons and can give unlimited amounts to campaigns are all framed as though they were essentials determinative of the very well-being of the nation and therefore each individual’s own existence. It never occurs to the couple watching the tube in their living room that these may not be the crucial, underlying issues.
They will never have the opportunity to suspect as much since the flaws in our culture, with its vast and integrated egoistic, chauvinistic, imperialistic systems, will never be addressed as the underlying causes of both the individual’s and nation’s ominous symptoms. Well, some intellectual activists may suspect or sense as much.
In order to zero in on one pop-issue as a symptom and some of its possible underlying causes, let us do a thought experiment and try reframing the debate about campaign finance, for example, in terms of who benefited the most when Citizens United convinced the Supreme Court to approve a laissez faire approach to campaign finance. Consider the following as one possible answer to the question of who benefits. The big media channels are making huge profits as a result of the new campaign finance law. Why? Since the 2000 election cycle, media coverage of campaigns increasingly has been almost around the clock for the years running up to each next election. How can the financially struggling voters among the ninety-nine percent compete with the deep pockets of corporations and multi-billionaires?
Financing expensive campaigns is no serious problem for big, multi-billion dollar corporations. Furthermore, they either own the media corporations or they are the ones paying for most of the advertising that sustains big media. Add to that the huge sums they are now paying for unlimited campaign ads. In other words they own the media and can do with it as they please. Media corporations thrive on conflict and, therefore, the more down and dirty campaigns are, the more viewers they garner who will purchase products advertised, and, therefore, the more profit for both the big corporations and the media corporations.
These mega-monster corporations are very comfortable with liberal positions being broadcast. After all, the media content producers ultimately are able to shape what gets aired and especially how it is presented. Not only so, but also they know quite well that the least educated and poorest in the population will not pose serious opposition if they vote at all and the middle to upper middle classes are demonstrably gullible. These segments of the population listen and absorb like sponges. If anything is going to motivate them to vote the way the corporations want them to, it is these lowbrow, inflammatory, and bizarre politically oriented TV Sound-Bytes. Each of these target audiences will be drawn to the Sound-Bytes using their own vernacular and to the political topics that are basically human interest stories regardless of how devoid of genuine informative, relevant, significant reasoning and analysis they are.
I suspect many in these audiences will become drowsy when presented with explanations of what is going on in the stratospheric world of political leaders and elites or when droning, deeper analysis of the underlying causes of what is propelling national and global politics and economics is the focus. How many within these groups, for instance, watch PBS or CSPAN; not that these will get to the dirty roots of the political-economic world?
The elites who are ultimately in control of the media know that both the well-informed intellectuals and student would-be intellectuals have little time or money with which to delve deeper when doing so may involve paying for expensive online subscriptions such as Encyclopedia Britannica, HighBeam, The Economist, or professional and scientific journals. They know that the faculties who may grasp the deeper issues also have little spare time and, even if they did, in their small numbers, they can protest all they want but to no avail. Besides the few fully engaged activists and the rest of this small class of liberal, politically engaged people may want to but they neither have the power nor the understanding of how the complex systems of our nation’s government and economy work and, therefore, when all is said and done, they can do no more than just make mostly, poorly informed noise.
When such noise surfaces, it is, of course, easily covered by the major media. The media, then, turns them into a rather impotent, side attraction that makes excellent but harmless fodder for the media’s nightly news. Yet, these few brilliant experts and commentators do draw some audiences and, therefore, helps bring good ratings and much money to big media. Furthermore, and much to the disadvantage of activists, the media’s coverage of the ‘noise’ of protests, riots, strikes, and polarized panel discussions acts like the catharsis of an ancient Greek tragedy. Such catharsis relieves the non-participating, indignant and somewhat mobilized couch-potato-public from a sense of obligation for they themselves to become actively involved. Ironically, this media to audience configuration is certainly a win-win situation for corporations and the corporate owned media. In the end, the élites know that, if things should really get out of hand, if couch potatoes do rise up and join activists and protesting students, then, since they virtually own the urban police and the National Guard, they can command them to do almost anything to quell the populace beast.
Another way to re-frame such debates concerning the effectiveness of the major media and ineffectiveness of the dedicated activists is to simply spread the word that the major media cannot be trusted and the populace must turn to alternative media that are not corporate owned. Recently, there has arisen a ground swell of ‘Bradley Mannings’ and Wikileaks types like Julian Assange who are using hacking for cyber spying and who use cryptic alternative means of communication with each other and with related revolution oriented organizations. These types and groups are virtually uncontrollable by the FBI, NSA, Homeland Security, and even the CIA when foreign collaboration is involved. Since right-wing politicians have learned that these groups can easily circumvent detection by the various internet policing agencies, they have proposed legislation to curtail their renegade influence. Such legislation has been very marginally successful so far and none has been enacted. If only there was a way to get the broader public tuned in to these alternative media, the reports from these renegade groups could, or should, prove highly effective at debunking the major media. At the same time, this could help the populace to see our economy/government in its proper ‘Machiavellian’, corrupt, anti-populace light.
I feel sure, well really I would hope that, that would cause a tsunami-like re-framing of the way the major issues in the nightly news are viewed, interpreted, and reacted to. Hopefully, this would cause profound questioning of the major media’s routine obfuscating debates between faux polarized panels. This media to audience configuration is a quite different proposition for those who really are more accurately informed. The couch-potatoes who have and know of no other source of information than the nightly news and daily newspapers cannot possibly make the leap from them to the underlying causes of what is happening in their national or the wider world communities. Yet, it is still a problem for the well-informed and for those who do see the documentaries and movies that expose the deeper, more authentic levels of causal explanations for what is wrong with our and the global culture. This problem extends to those who do read alternative media, who follow the raw exposés of investigative reporters, whistle blowers, and who tap into the little publicized gleanings from hackers like Julian Assange.
The problem is that most of these bright and curious people will think about what they are learning from these sources and some will even write about and share their thoughts with other like-minded intellectuals. Nevertheless, there is serious disconnection between that and devising and executing plans to do something about it. The OWS people are doing something. They are protesting in large groups and feel responsible and proud for doing so. Yet, they cannot reflect upon and grasp how ineffectual such protests actually are. To re-frame the problem, they do not grasp that they are protesting symptoms and not basic underlying causes. Of course, the elites who are in control do know this and know it better than anyone.
In summary, it is difficult for those who are devoted to nightly news to comprehend that even nationally broadcast opinions that appeal to them are rigged to divert them from the real issues. Therefore the issue now becomes how well-informed news junkies can be convinced that they are being duped. The issue becomes how to get them to be proselytized into switching to alternative media as a first step toward real change in their mindset so that they can begin to figure out how to begin to make real changes in the broader culture. So far attempts to achieve these goals have been pitiful.
I view protest documentaries, like those by Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Brasscheck TV, Global Research TV, TopDocumentaries.com, KeenTalks.com, RT.com, and Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films. I also watch exposé-like independent films from the likes of Robert Redford who has put out some rather telling films like “Lions for Lambs”, “The Milagro Beanfield War”, and “The Spy Game”; and contrarian Oliver Stone’s “South of the Border”, the corporate indicting movie “Conspiracy” (2008), and many others of that type of genre. As I view these documentaries and films, I check the number of viewers and their comments. The number of viewers of the most informative and reliable of these documentaries is about 100 to a few thousand. Some shorter ones, like on YouTube, have been seen by up to one hundred thousand or more, even many of whom are outside the US. What is needed is for such documentaries to be seen by a large percentage of college students, especially graduate students, and even larger percentage of the millions of true liberals and activists. The vast majority of people go to see thrilling blockbuster films and fantasy films and they have no idea that these exposé and counter-culture documentaries and films even exist. Change in viewing habits is what is needed in order to re-frame these debates in the minds of a large portion of the populace.
The liberal activists must come to understand that the worst and most influential media in the US are the small town, far right, radio talk shows that run almost continuously. These use the language and emotion common to the undereducated lower class, especially those in small towns and rural areas. These people listen more and trust more when speakers use vernacular common to their neighborhoods. Of course there are many of these talking heads, like Rush Limbaugh in Miami, in metropolitan areas all around the nation and they command huge audiences. Their audiences may not be large enough to win an election by themselves. However small a percentage of the voting public they are, they, nevertheless, sometimes are enough to sway elections. True liberals also make up a small percentage of the voting public but their language is so typically correct and high-falutin that their range of influence is severely restricted. All of the liberal groups must tune in to a literature that has deeper levels of explanations. Above all, they must re-frame their approach, language, and the audiences they target.