Media Lit. Conference Day 1
A false dichotomy

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Steve Nicolaides:
Well, they don't but I think Jonathan makes a really good point, in that we need to go back into our schools, go back into the lives of our kids and help them figure this world out, not saying that we can figure this world out or have figured this world out, but the kids; all mass entertainment is directed toward the kids. I think target audiences for television are like fourteen year olds and for features, seventeen year olds, eighteen year olds. And, they're the ones that drive the media in our country, at least in my perception of it and they're lost.

You know, my son who is graduating from high school this year, just this year has finally started to like realize that I have you know a bookcase with maybe 2000 books in it and starts to say, "Well, what's that one about?" And he is a great student.

The television is like a narcotic and I really believe that it is killing the souls and certainly the minds of our children. And, if they are the ones who are going to drive the culture, then the television is the cancer that we ought to get at. And even if it's just turn the TV off or throw it away or an hour of TV for an hour of, "let's talk about what it is in our culture that's being portrayed on that screen."

Fay Kanin:
May I just make a defense of Steven Spielberg here?
Bob Kubey:
...Only an example of a powerful mogul.
Fay Kanin:
I know, but let me just say, we keep saying Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones--I see Arnold Schwarzenager, Steven Segal, what's his name Van Damm. I see those movies with guns, guns killing, all these killing movies. That's worse than Indiana Jones to me. And Steven Spielberg's career has been mostly making very positive films that young people can really enjoy.
Bob Kubey:
Clearly in his best film, the bad guy was a shark.
Fay Kanin:
So, I think I just want to raise a little defense for--there are fellows out there much worse than Steven Spielberg.
Bob Kubey:
I just want to make it clear that Steven's very powerful. When I was saying, I just used him as the example of a very powerful person in Hollywood who I would argue has more power to decide things that go on in this society generally speaking than any likely individual sitting in this room. Leslie has been eager to make a comment.

Leslie Savan:
Yeah, I just wanted to say that, from some of the comments, it never ceases to amaze me that in all areas of life, so much discussion falls into what I really think is a false dichotomy. And I think it is a real false dichotomy to say it's up to the consumer and the reader and the TV watcher to figure it out and do it for themselves. Or, it's up to the media producer to be more responsible. I think it's both. It's always both. And yes, media producers are people too and they are also media consumers as well. But it's always up to both. It should neither be solely an individual, personal responsibility to set things right and only for yourself. Nor should it be only looking up at the big guys and seeing what they're doing.

This comes down to the old schism between the personal versus the political. I think if you're solely focused on the personal you will have no political clout. You can't change society. We'll be as stuck as we ever are and although I believe media literacy and all of that is great, I mean I like to think of myself as participating in that by what I write, and trying to encourage to dissect commercials and interpret them and criticize them. But I also constantly want to remind myself and my readers too, of the link to the powers that be, and power is always a political issue and yes, sometimes it's a matter of taking, lobbying or being an activist and making the phone calls and all that. But I can't stand when it is always posited as one or the other. I don't understand why people want to do that except, well sometimes their interests is why they want to do that.

I just want to also say one other thing about being politically correct versus politically incorrect. I think that's also a false dichotomy and I believe that being politically correct is you know, the worst thing you can say. It's always used toward the Left these days, although there's all sorts of political correctness on the right as I think should become evident to people now with the new congress.

So that when we say, oh how? Nobody--I agree, I would not want to see a filmmaker or any other creative person have to do only positive images of anything and not speak from their own personal experience and express themselves as artists. That would be, that's another kind of sort of an artistic censorship that I think would be awful. But I think it is a false dichotomy saying negative images or positive images. I think if you start to produce more intelligent images and you deal with criticism of media more intelligently, you're going to tend to have what are going to be more positive images anyway.

When you present somebody or a class or a group or a race more complexly, then you don't have to worry so much if it's negative or positive, it's just sort of going to shake out.

Victor Masayesva:
I wanted to say, I don't know how many of you live under a patron system. We are, in this country, nations within nations and rarely are we permitted to make decisions that stand. We're always overruled by the Federal Government. And in many cases on the reservations it is the infrastructure which has already made the decisions for us. In our case--I come from a village which doesn't allow electricity in the village--it is one of those situations where people have their television hooked up to batteries. It is a village where we only get one channel and we are way out there, we're an insignificant population so that's what's served to us. We don't have choices.
Deirdre Downs:
I do believe that the ultimate responsibility does lie with the consumer. I do not believe that the majority of consumers in this country have the skills to know how to consume media. And as part of my personal responsibility, I've founded the Downs Media Education Center and have dedicated, now several years of my life to educating not only teachers who can teach this in the classroom, but educating mass media people. Educating civic and church groups and educating business people as well as government.

I think that if anyone does want to start taking responsibility for what they consume and what they support, especially in this state, it is extremely simple because training is free and it's accessible to anybody. I don't disagree with what Leslie said. I think that's absolutely true and I certainly have no quarrel with what Victor said. There are groups--and I happen to fall into, you know overlapping several groups in this country: I'm a woman, I'm of color, I'm whatever--who do not have the power. We do not hold the purse strings. But the main reason that I dedicate my life to media education is because as information increasingly becomes the coin of the realm, only media literate people will share in those riches. And, I really want to see the power turned back to the people, back to the people--I'm not saying there are no victims in this country. But I'm saying once you recognize that you don't have to stay a victim and you can get out of that through education.

Bob Kubey:
Okay, I want to open it to the audience in just a second but as a moderator and pedantic professor I wanted to just link a couple of things together. Going in, I know it's a false dichotomy and I said as much to a couple of people. I was asked to do it that way and I also thought it was a way to get some issues into the fore.

Clearly, everything is interrelated. I don't think there can be any question of that. But at the same time, I still want to hold to a position of--of course it's critical that everyone be involved and activists and so on, but I'm not sure that people always know--this is a very elitist position, but I don't think people always--in our culture or some cultures--know precisely what they want from the media because I believe there has been a long term conditioning process which was alluded to by a couple of people before.

You look at the political realm for instance, I mean when I was younger we had political debates say even in 1976, we had three or four of them, one or two hours dedicated to a particular topic: Domestic issues, then foreign affairs, then social issues at home and so on. We don't do it that way anymore. Now you have a young group of my undergraduates coming up or new journalists coming up. They don't even know what happened twenty years ago and it's harder for them to envision how our political system could be run differently just from the point of view how debates are mediated.

What people know, I want to come back to what Fay was talking about. I think she is taking in my view the dominant news media take on what happened in November of 1994 which was that this was some sort of Republican revolution. If you actually look at the votes that were cast there were roughly the same number of votes cast for Democrat congress people as Republican congress people. Only 40% roughly of registered voters turned out and in these elections where people won that means roughly 20-21 percent of the vote went to the winner which means that about one fifth of the people who might have voted even voted for the person who won which means that four fifths of the people somehow weren't turned on enough to that person who won. So, the media cast this as a-- you watch how the news media cover an election in Tennessee where two new senators, Republican or something, are elected and the say, "Well clearly the people of Tennessee have decided that they want Republican representation." Meanwhile, the votes were 51 to 49 percent. That's complete crap. There was a close election there.

Moreover, I would say in terms of audience conditioning, what do the public know--I don't want to be too biased here, but if you ask most people in this country right now whether Clinton raised their taxes or not they would say yes and they would be wrong. And when they go to the polling booth they may vote on that understanding that their taxes were raised, but they were not. So, I argue that the news media particularly have a higher calling.

I'm not an advocate of censorship. In fact the primary reason I think that D D and I come from similar motives as to why I got involved with media education is that I recognized some time ago that the government of this country is unlikely to do much. Nor perhaps should it. Nor do I want when a Republican administration is in, since I'm a Democrat I'm not going to be thrilled with whose on the FCC and who's going to make education policy in this country, or regulate the networks or whatever. So, I'm not real keen on the government doing it, I'm not real keen or do I expect Hollywood to do it and it's almost impossible for Hollywood to do it now because their market going in, particularly in theatrical features, is understood to be global. They're pitching to a global market, particularly with highly violent films because that stuff translates across borders real easily.

So, it's very hard to reform the government, very hard to reform Hollywood. That doesn't mean we can't still try and influence these people. But fundamentally here's where D D and I absolutely agree is that one thing you can do something about is what people know and understand about the media systems that send all this material out and for me the biggest problem in this country outside of the funding of our politicians is precisely that most things people see have to go through a commercial filter.

I just want to point out too in going to bat for the PBS corporation for Public Broadcasting and NEA, I want to point two things out to you. And this shows you how culturally imbedded and economic and societal these things are. The per capita expenditure in the United States--tax dollars--for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a $1.09 a year on average. That's 260 million dollars. In the United Kingdom it's $36 a year. It's almost 36 times higher. In Japan I think it's something like $18 per capita per year. Most countries in Europe it's 18 to 35 dollars a year.

But we need to cut PBS supposedly and I'd also point out to you that with regard to the NEA, whose budget is something on the order of $160 million, the annual funding for U.S. military bands is $192 million. So apparently, this is an art form that needs and deserves more funding than the Nation Endowment for the Arts. And the other thing I point out about NEA if you thing that that's just a federal gig, you're wrong because an awful lot of state art agencies and local art agencies get money that trickles down out of NEA. So if you are concerned about the arts, if NEA is substantially cut in the years ahead it will affect things on a very local level.

Adam Clayton Powell, III:
Can I jump in here please? Does it at all trouble you that PBS is the only national television network with a totally white group of hosts and news anchors?
Bob Kubey:
Well, I can respond to that--
Adam Clayton Powell, III:
Does it trouble you that NPR is the only national radio network with no minority news anchors?
Bob Kubey:
I'm not aware of that with NPR, so that's news to me.
Adam Clayton Powell, III:
I can list them for you if you want. When I left five years ago that was not the case. Every hire they have made in five years has been a white male. They have a totally white on air staff in terms of anchors and program hosts. Does that trouble you?
Bob Kubey:
Of course it does, but let me say that what's interesting is that the dominant take in the culture is that PBS is to the Left. And I could add other things that would argue to it's to the Right. Look at the four business programs that are on. They're all framed toward stockmarket kind of mentality, nothing about labor, nothing about consumers. Although, isn't the chief of PBS an African American female?
Adam Clayton Powell, III:
She just left a couple of months ago.
Bob Kubey:
Alright, well, I'm not up to speed. Of course that would trouble me. But at the same time, I said yesterday in a talk I gave, we desperately need in this country, although ideally the people involved would be more diverse ethnically, racially and so on. I think we need a whole PBS station totally dedicated at least during certain hours to children, because increasingly we touched briefly here today about the information gap where it came up--actually, someone didn't touch on it, they assumed that gee, you know you can bring down all this stuff if you have a PC you can get your video.

I mean, we are living increasingly in a society where people of some affluence have cable, have VCRs, have PCs at home for their children. And increasingly, the kids in the barrio and reservations and ghettos and other places have none of these things, or very few of them. And, so, increasingly, the only television they're going to get is from the broadcast networks and that material is going to increasingly be designed for a particular audience. And for what the Pentagon spends in four or five hours we could have a whole nother PBS dedicated entirely to the interests of children. I happen to think that's kind of important.

Maybe that's not the way we do it and it needs to be broadcast and not cable-ized, because the very people I would want to reach in part don't have cable. But there are other thoughts in the audience and I've gone on too long--who haven't we heard from? This gentleman here?

Audience Member:
My name is James Sanderville, I'm a Native American producer. I'm going to be showing a documentary tomorrow on corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs and it's in regards to everything you are talking about here.

For the past thirteen years I've seen how the media has silenced this national scandal. And one of the key people who covered this up was senator Bob Dole. I was a past student senate president at Haskell Indian Junior College. I blew the whistle on the administration there and through the past thirteen years I've seen how the BIA and federal government was systematically sabotaging Indian education during the Reagan and Bush era.

They eliminated 64 Indian schools. And when we protested this movement, it hit a peak. It was a front page article in The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times was running with this. The Baltimore Sun, The Kansas City Times and right when this investigative reporter from The Kansas City Times was ready to break it wide open the media was silenced. I've gone throughout Indian Country and what I faced was internalized depression.

I hear everything you're talking about. I presently work at KOAT TV as an engineer and in production and it really saddens me because I've gone to everyone, 20/20, 60 Minutes, you name it, I've gone to them. But I've been blackballed.

But it concerns me what you're talking about because it is this political atmosphere. And it's suffocating this nation. And I really see how it's suffocating Indian Country, because I put this documentary I did in every Native American film festival in the last year and a half, it's never gone out. And it's internalized depression because the man I blew the whistle on, Gerald Gip, a Standing Rock Sioux, is one of the most powerful men in Washington, D.C. now. He is the executive director for the administration of Native Americans.

And the reason I bring this point up is that organization got 8 million dollars to do a feasibility study on nuclear waste. What's happening to the Mescalero Apache right now? I mean I've taken on something that I guess it was just destined to happen. But I'm just concerned about what's happening here and this is why I came up. I want to thank the people that gave me the opportunity to show this documentary tomorrow. It's entitled Trick or Treaty it's at 3:30 tomorrow, but I want to just end it on this note.

I went back to school at Montana State: I am Blackfeet and Klammuth. I finished my bachelor's in film and television and I was the first Native American picked up by CNN to work on this 20 part series, this documentary series, CNN Special Reports. When the producer, Joe Lagood saw this documentary I did, they systematically got rid of me and I had to file an EEOC claim against them. So you talk about purse strings, ma'me, I can't get anywhere as a Native American producer, but I'm not going to give up. And I honor every one of you for bringing this issue out. Thank you.

Bob Kubey:
To expand on James Sanderville's comment, to show you how interwoven all of this, and I'm sure you understand this. One of the reasons you're having trouble getting your program, particularly on PBS where it would be the most likely place maybe before 20/20 or 60 Minutes is because how commercially dependent PBS has become. You know it's not some accident that Adam Smith's Money World and William Buckley and these people have all this time on PBS. It's because they're underwrit by corporations and local PBS stations around the country get that product free. And when they don't have enough product, they run it, it doesn't cost them a dime.

Where are you going to get corporate funding for what you want to do? Where is stuff that's highly critical--the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry, the AMA. Where is that money going to come from to put stuff on PBS that is against the medical establishment? If you don't think there's a chilling affect within CPB and PBS after all the Right Wing attacks that they've taken over the last few years, to make sure they fund certain things more or perhaps marginalize you, you'd be wrong. Money talks and my critique is that I think capitalism is okay up to a point, but unbridled capitalism with no regulation, particularly as it pertains to a media system is, I would argue, potentially lethal, off of Steve's comments.

Audience Member:
Whose responsibility is it to be educated to actually do the education? I was wondering if the panel could just talk about that for a minute, because we can point fingers and say well, the businessmen should do it, institutions, universities, schools should do it--and it's always very easy to say schools should do it.

But it's incredibly expensive to do media education well, rather than a one hour lecture or a newsletter. And granted, that's a start. I'm director of an organization in New York, The Media Workshop and we're funded by a media conglomerate which is a very strange bedfellow, and adds all sorts of complications, but then where else do you find funding?

Deirdre Downs:
I don't think it has to be very expensive. We didn't have any money when we started in New Mexico and of course we have no shame when it comes to begging and borrowing and cajoling and threatening--but for example, most of the way that I teach media literacy is extremely low tech, even production. There are several teachers in the audience now who teach, let's say video production with just in camera edits. Because it's the principles you're trying to teach and in fact I have found that in certain school where let's say what I would call over funded, I take that back educators, you can't be over funded.

But the very wealthy schools with all of the state of the art equipment and everything, if the teacher is not incredibly wise, what often happens in that case is that it is all style and no substance. So, I've found that the best media education goes on often with just a blackboard and a classroom. So, I don't think it has to be very expensive.

I do think that it is very difficult to find funding for this. Because the media so far has not helped us at all. They are not helping fund any media education which I think is unfortunate, except in your case Melissa. And, the schools, although they want it with all the fundamentally mismanagement of educational budgets going on in Washington and stuff, they can't really support us either, so. But, I do think that if you're a social activist, you can learn these principles. We will teach them to you for free and we have teachers throughout the state who will teach it for free, and we're just going to have a little movement.

Bob Kubey:
To add to this for those of you who don't know, one of DD's aims here is to get New Mexico up as the first media literate state to make it a model for the rest of the country. But again, to try and argue for how interwoven everything is, D D makes a good case for how you can do things on the cheap or less expensively.

I've been engaged in a two or three year formal research project looking at why media education is blocked in this country. We're further behind any other major English speaking country. And part of it is the educational funding picture. And part of it is in who's in power in government in states and so on and what's considered of value and import--what gets cut first in educational budget? Foreign languages, arts, physical education and if you thing after those things are cut you can easily go into some school systems and say, "Yeah, well let's start doing this media education thing." But someone else comes in and says, "Yeah, but we need computer literacy." If you don't think that parents generally first want their kids computer literate and they think they know what that means, but they don't really know generally what media literacy means, you'd be wrong, it's all part again of what we value in the culture and how money gets distributed.

We should take just a couple more questions. We're technically overtime. This woman here please.

Audience Member:
I have a question about what films are being produced by the major studios right now. I took a screen writing seminar recently and one of the speakers was Pamela Wallace, who won an Academy Award for being one of the writers on Witness. Basically what they were telling us, and they said, "We don't like this." But basically what producers are taking right now are action films, sci-fi and erotic thrillers and I described a screenplay that I had written to them and they said, "Sorry, but it's way too soft, it's a soft concept, you'll never sell it and we hate to say that."

And then I see films, something like Boys On The Side and I think, how do those things get through? I wonder how that decision process is made and exactly what kind of leeway there is for those kind of "softer" concept films?