Ask Auntie Pinko
Dear Auntie Pinko,
I live in a "swing state" with a lot of electoral votes (Ohio)
so I am deluged with advertising and campaign events from both sides.
I have noticed that the Bush campaign events are hard to get into
or even near to but John Kerry rallies welcome anyone, even if they're
wearing a Bush t-shirt. But to go to an event Bush was scheduled
to be at, I had to request a ticket. They would only give out tickets
if I signed a "pledge of support" for Bush.
I am honestly undecided, or at least I was, but that creeped
me out. And it really made me notice the whole issue of how scripted
everything is and how the mainstream media is still playing from
the corporate playbook. My parents are Hungarian, and they say that
the media in America is starting to look a lot like the state-controlled
media they left behind when they fled to America. Is the press really
turning into a branch of government? Is there anything we can do
"Mainstream" media in America is rapidly consolidating into a
few mega-corporations, and they are owned and controlled by people
who greatly benefit from unfettered capitalist exploitation. So
it should not surprise us that they are becoming increasingly cozy
with the government forces that ensure them the operating conditions
they need to make money.
There are still a great many people in mainstream media companies
who are genuinely concerned with real journalism, creative entertainment,
and responsible corporate citizenship. But I think they tend to
be at the lower and middle levels, and it must be very frustrating
for them to be unable to really use all their talents, skills, and
creativity. Many seem to be branching out from the ranks of "mainstream"
media into the less-controlled medium of the Internet. While that
allows them the freedom to really use their gifts, the audiences
are smaller, it's easy to get lost in the "noise," and you can't
make a living here.
The main problem with the world of media as we in America experience
it today is not that any segment of it, even the "mainstream," is
too controlled - though it is - rather, it's that we have far too
many choices and far too much available to us to be able to reliably
sort out the worthwhile stuff from the dreck and the pablum. It
requires actual effort to identify sources of information and entertainment
that are consistently reliable, not just switching on the TV or
radio, or opening the local daily paper.
In the not-so-distant past, Americans could rely upon a well-established
system of print, television, and radio to provide them with a limited
range of choices. Most people had access to half a dozen or so television
channels, a couple of dozen radio stations, and perhaps two or three
daily/weekly newspapers. The small number of sources meant that
we didn't have to spend much time making our choices, but regulations
ensured that those choices represented private enterprises controlled
by a genuine range of different national, regional, and local owners.
They also ensured that certain considerations of fairness and objectivity
would be applied in news reporting, and community benefit would
be considered in the allocation of airtime and advertising resources.
Now the average television can receive hundreds of channels by
satellite, cable, and broadcast, there are hundreds of radio options
available, you can get major national and regional newspapers delivered
even in small rural towns, and all of these "traditional" media
are being increasingly supplemented by millions of websites offering
news, commentary, analysis, and entertainment.
So if all you want is a reasonably unbiased, well-selected summary
of what happened in the world yesterday, you have thousands of places
to look, rather than a couple of dozen. By default, this helps the
"mainstream" media keep a pretty strong hold on the public. And
that "mainstream" media is tightly-controlled, not by the government
directly, but by corporate hegemons who are concerned with quarterly
earnings reports - first, last, and only.
I'm not surprised that your parents get that familiar feeling
of being manipulated. It takes a lot of effort to look past what's
being shoved in our faces, and find really informative and entertaining
material. But it is out there.
The key to breaking the stranglehold of the corporate "mainstream"
is twofold: First, we need to "vote with our feet" (or
fingers on keyboards) and show that creativity and quality matters
to us, even if it takes extra time to seek out. Second, we must
restore the regulations that keep monopolistic mega-corporations
from controlling too much market share, and ignoring community benefit
in favor of profits.
Neither of these options will really work alone. In a capitalist
economy we must rely on the market to truly reward effort, and too
much regulation can have a damaging effect. By focusing too much
on regulation, we generate the kind of opposition that has so effectively
mobilized to let the genie of unchecked monopoly out of the bottle
already. So we must provide the incentive of market rewards by paying
the "price" of making extra effort to find what we really like,
rather than just what happens to be convenient.
It's not going to happen overnight, Paul, but there is still hope.
Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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