A Sociological Framework Around US Media
So I have been talking about social forces and implicit bias, describing how culture has the ability to impact our lives and points of views – often times more than we would like or be aware of. Now, if you are up on your social justice game and are culturally aware.. you are also going to see how easily this analysis holds when we analyze things like, US Foreign Policy and Corporate Media. Meaning, you are going to have a really good ability to spot BS – or as intellectuals like to call it, the ability to spot “modern propaganda” directed at you.
Now, modern propaganda is a term that is really mis-understood. When people see this term, they usually role their eyes and think that anyone who says it, must be a cooky conspiracy theorist. The reality is though, that modern propaganda is real – read Noam Chomsky’s Manufactured Consent if you want your mind blown. It does not take the form of shadowy figures controlling the world through subliminal messages.. that is just Hollywood donkey piss. (subliminal messages actually do not have a strong scientific bases, and their effects, when measured, are actually pretty trivial. Of the studies that measure an effect, a lot of them have technical issues such as sample size or selection bias)
The reality is that supraliminal messages, live advertising or movies or news, has a much larger impact radius which can be, and often is used (see the success of american anti-cigarette campaigns), to change cultural pressures. Modern propaganda is not some fool-proof way to actually brainwash someone… what is instead, is the outcome of various social pressures. It is a naturally occurring phenomenon due to social structures built around US media. The various social pressures we have already explored through racism, sexism, homophobia.. etc… Those same social pressures that we accept can have impact on us… are the same social forces that can be used to shape what we call “modern propaganda.”
Now, I have linked below, a video of Julian Assange, an activist that is well know for leaking US intelligence with his online group called “wikileaks.” I have linked it because Assange is actually giving a quick crash course on how modern propaganda is used effectively to start false wars. Americans should be well acquainted with this by now, because as a nation were already tricked into a false war by modern propaganda. (Where are those WMD’s Iraq was supposed to have?)
It is a twenty minute video, but I highly recommend you give it a listen when you have time. It is pretty informative. I will, however, give a a deeper background, below the video, to give you a hint about what he is talking about.
Assange makes the points that everything we consume, in books, movies and news are produced with sociological forces acting upon them. Those forces are inevitably going to shape the products we consume. Those same forces that impact our views on women, homosexuals, and black and brown folk are also working on us with our views on the way governments make decisions and the way corporations view the world.
Let me illustrate two major social forces.
The first, in corporate media, is that many times reporters face various pressures from government officials threatening to deny future access. This “appetite for access” produces social pressures that make journalist. They are less likely to publish things that will upset key government officials whom have the ability to limit journalistic access. It will result in a media culture that produces information filtered through a government lens. Needless to say, most governments works to minimize and deflect responsibility to any wrongdoing they have done. If this is the case, we would expect the media, if they are easily influenced by such social pressures, to produce journalism that also minimizes government wrongdoing. This is, in fact we get in the media.
The second example, is the fact that most of the income for massive media outlets come in from advertisers or investors – not from viewers or readers. Solely, relying on viewership or readership for income is an unsustainable economic model for the modern media. If the money they get to stay alive is coming from major cooperate advertisers and investors, that gives the advertisers and investors direct social pull – not the consumers. Think about that… If a corporation does not like what this media outlet is producing, it is less likely to invest in the media outlet. Therefore, there is a direct conflict of interest when you let corporate sponsors fund reporting. In that, if there is ever a news story that will make sponsors or investors, paying for that reporters salary look bad, then reporting such things, might threaten the reporters economic livelihood. AS such, there will be a built in social incentive to not report such news. This means that the media, therefore will also operate through a corporate lens, and less likely to report negative aspects of the various investors supporting them. This is, again, in fact what we get in the modern media.
This is just straight up analysis of social power structures, and a look into how that dynamic is likely to play out. The above analysis, is in fact, a fairly simplistic but pretty accurate, account on what modern news propaganda is. You see, there are no shadowy figures that know everything, no intricate planning, it is plain old social forces.
Then think about this, if the news media constantly produces news that is first filtered through a government, then a corporate lens… what will happen to the people who view such media?
Well, previously we explored how cultural images of black men being criminals can influence the way we perceive black men – in that we tend to stereotype them as criminals! Then it is fairly obvious, that this means we are going to see similar results to consumers of corporate media. Well it turns out, that such information starts to change their perspectives, just like racist culture can change ours. What we see is that anyone who consumes a lot of mass media will start to have very similar perspectives to that of the government and major corporations. This is not a coincidence. What this produces, is a corrupt culture where we get a very skewed perspective on things – a perspective that justsohappens to promote widely accepted government and corporate views.
That right there is how modern propaganda, or if you want to call it, the social structure of the cooperate media, can in fact influence culture and ourselves.
What Assange then points out is that the antidote, he believes, is in the internet. In that because government regulatory agencies have not strangled it – but they are coming for it, check out the international copyright treaties the Obama administration is pushing. He says that, at this day and age, because the internet is so accessible…. it gives a platform to anyone willing to engage on it. We therefore, can get views out there, that are contradictory to the current cultural climate.
Think about it this way, if traditionally ideas only spread through corporate media circles then we only get exposed to one view.. but if everyone gets to have their views exposed, the corporate views will be the less dominating ones. Thus, fail to be the default position. This is well known in activists circles.. merely speaking up and offering different perspectives can in fact change peoples minds. This, to me seems plausible.. but I am not sure this is the real antidote. Assange does make a good case though if you watch the video.
Next Assange points out that everything in media can have in impact. In that various cultural biases are not just espoused by the corporate media, but also things like books, movies, art .. etc.. These things can propagate certain cultural biases. Anti-racism activists should be well aware of this phenomenon as well. He goes on to point to a specific example.. the new movie that is going to be released about wikileaks.
Within that movie, there are scenes that strongly hint that Iran, later edited to be libya, has nuclear weapons and is a huge threat to the US. He then asks the question… what is a scene like that doing in a wikileaks movie? What does this imagery, that promotes the idea that Iran has nuclear weapons and is a threat – something that Assange points out is not based on any facts whatsoever – have to do with wikileaks? The idea is, as he points out, that Hollywood thinks it is perfectly OK to slander another country. With that perspective, they feed into this US illusion that Iran is a giant threat with nuclear weapons.
See, it is not just news media, it is all forms of culture that promote certain ideas that lead to us having cognitive biases. I bet if we did an implicit association test on american’s with the word “Iran” we will most likely associate Iran with danger.. This would not be a coincidence either.
Anyway, take a look at the video it is pretty informative.