Sunday, April 5, 2009

Political economy

The Herman and Chomsky piece was amazingly entertaining and, to an apocalyptic, a delicious morsel of truth. Coming from such a classic book, I had my doubts about how a portion of it would hold up on its own; it worked. All of the issues discussed are just as vital to us as they were to them in 1988, some of them, even more. I’ll discuss each of the 5 points separately.
1-Size, ownership, and profit orientation of the mass media. We have to keep in mind that the book was published in 1988; the numbers here no longer apply because it has gotten worse. Today, entities like the Walt Disney Company and Viacom are the owners of almost everything out there. It’s funny that even when they provide all the numerical data, some people still say this work is a “conspiracy theory”. In any case, why isn’t the sick relationship between media companies and banks, amongst other non-media corporations, studied more in academia?
2- The advertising license to do business. I’m tired of people frowning whenever the subject of media being a business comes up. Face it: whatever high-standard ideal of journalism you have in your head, this is a business. Money drives media as we strive for objectivity and defend media as a potential agent of change. Interesting to see how thousands of people die each day all over the world from hunger, diseases and war, yet our powerful first-world media insists on the importance of Britney’s latest antic or Angelina’s new rescued baby. Can we seriously expect anything that resembles objectivity from companies that rely on advertisement?
Again, I believe that time has changed this: Disney advertises on its own channels and programs.
3- Sourcing mass-media news: Money and power make the news, thus, news serve money and power: “In effect, the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring the raw material of, and producing, the news” (p. 272).
The “experts” (p. 273) issue has also been dealt with by Bourdieu with his concept of “fast thinkers”, although I like to call them for-sale intellectuals because they always “echo the official view” (p. 274).
4- Flak and the enforcers: Aren’t almost all of these gigantic groups a sort of power structure themselves? Are we saying that they are the representatives of the public sphere?
5- Anticommunism as a control mechanism: What percentage of young people care about what's happening in Cuba or China right now? Once again, I think time has made that point a little less powerful than it was before, although some Red alerts went up when Obama came to power and now (I saw this on Fox while renewing my laptop, thus the frame) the idea of opening Cuba to tourists via scratching the embargo has citizens seriously concerned for the safety of their organs.
The Schiller piece was also very interesting. The idea that we could’ve be witnessing the decline of the cultural imperialism in 1991 makes me think about the impact of the current crisis; how is the rest of the world looking at the U.S. now? How can we explain to them that the capitalist model is not all it was promised to be? Why isn’t anyone using the term fictitious yet?
Coming from a colony, I was surprised Puerto Rico was totally missing from the discussion, what better example for imperialism than a colony?
“There is much to be said for the idea that people don’t mindlessly absorb everything that passes before their eyes. Yet much of the current work on audience reception comes uncomfortably close to being apologetics for present-day structures of cultural control” (p. 307)…beautiful. Aren’t international companies guilty of this because they copy the U.S. products?
The Meehan piece starts out with an ironic flare: it’s written by a woman… nobody else noticed the lack of feminist studies in those two journals? Also, when she talks about patriarchy and capitalism being “historically intertwined” (p. 312), she somehow forgot to include color.
I accept the fact that the idea of media manufactures audiences (p. 313) has a few holes, but it sounds great and solves a lot of issues (ever heard “don’t touch that dial!” or “don’t go anywhere, we’ll be right back”… get my point?).
On page 316, the easy equation of ratings = success = repeat what you did is discussed, why hasn’t this changed even a bit if people can go to the Internet and get whatever they want? How come TV has managed to remain almost the same?
Meehan makes a strong point that becomes so strong it’s almost a punch by the end of the piece: “television is an instrument of oppression” (p. 320). Also, a line stuck in my head: “The overvaluing of a male audience reflects the sexism of patriarchy as surely as the overvaluing of an upscale audience reflects the classism of capitalism” (p. 320). I know she was only going to discuss the gender aspect here, but I think she hints at something very important when she talks about capitalism that makes sense: what percentage of the nation is “white, 18 to 34-year-old, heterosexual, English-speaking, upscale men” (p. 320)? Wouldn’t it make more sense from a capitalist perspective to appeal to women, homosexuals and latinos, to name just a few “minorities”?
In my humble opinion, Bourdieu is a genius. The first piece is from 1984, but in 2009 it would take some guts to say that “cultural practices…and preferences in literature, painting or music, are closely linked to educational level…and secondly to social origin” (p.323). How politically incorrect is that truth? Anyway, whenever that’s said, everyone starts bringing out exceptions, which utterly destroy the generalizing purpose of any theory.
“The “eye” is a product of history reproduced by education” (p. 324). What has happened to the “eye” with the downfall of education?
I do have an issue with the “neutrality of science” (p. 326) behind which intellectuals dress themselves… science is only what we call the dominating ideology…are they, in a sense, naked to the critical eye?
“On Television” is a short, powerful book that everyone should read at least twice. In fact, that’s where the “fast thinkers” concept I mentioned earlier comes from. The idea that homogenization smoothes everything is one I agree with (p. 328). If we create texts that keep everyone happy while we stay out of trouble, everything runs smoothly. When homogenization works, there’s no need for revolution.
On page 332, Bourdieu finally gets to the question of just “what the specific competence required of a journalist might be.” I never thought too much about it, but when I decided to teach, I started asking myself the same question. With all my time spent in academia, I now know a tad more about this: for undergrads that want to be sports journalists, the competence is knowing sports and stats; for women in the broadcast sequence, looking good doing your standup and having a good reading voice; and for print people, being able to write in a way that easily complies with any major newspaper (the idealistic part is always a variable, but it’s not too enough to be a problem).
Finally, if the rating system “can and should be contested in the name of democracy” (p. 335), who should do it? Ratings mean money for the media, what would they do if we decided to not only contest but destroy the rating system?

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