Every day, all day, advertisers are doing their best to manipulate you. It’s all about control – And it’s not just products they’re selling. Mainstream media is also constantly reinforcing the predatory capitalist system, supporting a religious mindset, and fetishizing war. Noam Chomsky discusses the propaganda model of media filters in his excellent book “Manufacturing Consent“. Are your opinions really your own?
We buy products that suck – inferior processed foods and cheap Chinese made junk – not because we woke up one day and decided to do so…but because we’ve been programmed. We support morally and intellectually inferior pundits and politicians because we’ve been programmed. And the sad truth is that we can be made to accept an artificial version of reality if enough voices and images are shown to us enough times. There’s a reason it’s called “programming”.
For example: Do you remember the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq? Every US television channel was showing members of the Cheney/Bush administration darkly warning us about non-existent Iraq “threats”, reading skillfully written scripts about “mushroom clouds” and “yellow cake” bla bla bla. It was nauseating, but effective. And the majority of people swallowed it whole, without even questioning anything. ( How effective was the brainwashing? At the time of this writing in 2012, over 60% of republicans actually still believe that WMDs were found in Iraq, even after Bush admitted they were not! )
Tragically, many young people volunteered to go to Iraq believing the lie that that country had something to do with 911. That was no accident. The scripts were carefully crafted to manipulate public opinion. The successful goal was to make people believe there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and 911, without actually saying there was a connection – which was legally helpful for later deniability. (Little comfort to those who lost loved ones in the fighting, but, hey, it kept the members of the Cheney/Bush administration out of jail. )
Remember when Phil Donahue was fired for daring to feature a couple of guests that opposed the invasion of Iraq? Donahue was a beloved television icon, the first to pioneer the now popular ‘talk show format” and had been on the air for 26 years – until he was abruptly canceled for speaking out to oppose the invasion of Iraq. At the time of his firing his show was was “actually attracting more viewers than any other show on MSNBC.” Yes, Donahue was fired by the same MSNBC that conservatives are always calling “liberal” — Funny, isn’t it? An internal memo at the time worried that his show would be “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” If there had actually been a “liberal media” Phil would still be on the air.
Donahue was fired because war was even more profitable than a successful television show. MSNBC is 49% owned by General Electric, one of the world’s top three producers of military jet engines, supplying Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other military aircraft makers. GE is a war profiteering corporation. The “war on terrorism” has seen GE’s military contracts and profits rise substantially. They are as far from being ‘liberal” as Dick Cheney’s Halliburtan, another war profiteering corporation. Comcast owns the other 51% and its administrators are overwhelmingly republican, many are former conservative lobbyists and Bush appointees. They’ve simply realized that there is money to be made by offering a tame, slightly “liberal” station – which they keep under a rather strict thumb. the commentators who are considered “liberal” still support the mainstream, corporately funded Democratic Party – not the Greens, or the Socialists, or Independents. And let’s not forget that Republican Joe Scarboro has a 3 hour show on that station. Essentially, MSNBC is a token “left” station and only exists because half the country is liberal, and the corporation figures, hey, these people buy stuff, too. Might as well give them a reason to watch commercials! Democratic supporting maybe, but liberal? As in compassionate, radical, pro-peace, anti-war, anti-corporatist, free-thinking truly progressive? That’s hilarious.
Instead of offering us a variety of opinions, investigative reporting, and critical thinking on the invasion of Iraq, the media worked in lockstep with the war hawks, and went along with the deception as the Cheney/Bush administration lied us into a war that resulted in thousands of American deaths, and millions of Iraqi civilian deaths. Instead of seeing the results of our bombing, we had “embedded” reporters who acted as cheerleaders without actually showing the carnage. Because war is very profitable for lots of corporations.
The media was also a willing participant in the Cheney/Bush team’s scare tactics. Remember all those ridiculous color-coded “made-for-TV” terror warnings that would suddenly be broadcase as RED – SEVERE whenever it was politically convenient? And remember how politically useful “Bin Laden videos” were – helpfully released just before elections?
The biggest world-wide demonstration against war happened during the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq; millions upon millions of people demonstrated worldwide, including in the US – however, if you lived in this country, you did not see it in our media.
My point is, that media consolidation (monopolies) has resulted in too few viewpoints, crappy journalism, and an avoidance of true investigative journalism that could inform the citizenry. Instead, we have one watered-down supposedly “liberal” cable station, one powerful cult like ultra far-right station, and a plethora of toe-the-corporate-line television and radio stations, none of which find it in their best interest to inform people or challenge the prevailing mindset.
In the United States, the media is wholly owned by just 5 corporations with a predatory capitalist/consumerist agenda. Therefore, the most honest mass media today comes from comedians like Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. In fact, people who watch these shows on Comedy Central are routinely far more educated in current events that those watching the other programs. How sad is that?
Today, a show that criticizes war, like “Mash”, could never get on the air in mainstream television. Even Star Trek, which addressed issues of morality and conscience, would not have a chance today. Instead, the most insipid, uneducated, and dysfunctional personalities are paraded before us on “reality” shows. Dumbness sells – and makes people easier to control.
What about good, positive or educational media? Just as corporate media is used to advertise and reinforce conformity to mainstream ideas, independent media can be used to stimulate creative thinking and curiosity, provide insight, and educate as well as entertain. Since it takes money to product a media product, there are varying degrees of “independence” in media. Let’s take a look at a few.
PBS, although partially dependent upon corporate donations, does a good job of showcasing programs that stimulate thought and open minds, with Bill Moyers and Frontline being good examples. Rick Steeves travel shows carry his theme of open-mindedness and international understanding along with the traditional travel dialog.
Sci-Fi Fantasy. We could have a lot more mystical stories that provide archetypical stories, (for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and much of the Star Trek franchise) fantasy that stretches our imaginations and gives us examples of selfless working together for a cause bigger than ourselves.
Independent documentaries that give us new information and expand and challenge our world-view. And lots of filmmakers and viewers are stepping up to the challenge. Look for independent films, and hard-hitting documentaries – many of these can be accessed streaming on Netflix. Spiritual Cinema showcases a lot of insightful films.
The only drawback is that those of us who seek these films out are already intellectually engaged. What we need is to raise the quality of mass media into something that stimulates intelligence and creativity in the average viewer.
For example, when the first “mission impossible” movie was released, thousands of people rushed out to purchase the sunglasses worn by Tom Cruise in the film. Sad? Yes, but this demonstrates how easily we are influenced by what we see on the screen. What if being intelligent were “cool”? What if compassion actions were showcased and praised?