I'm sure most of you realize that most of the cartoons that are shown on the Saturday morning ghetto are cartoons that were produced for adults to be shown in movie theaters way back in the thirties and forties and fifties. They've been copied now with things like The Ninja Turtles and then the Power Morphin, Morphin whatevers. And I think that it is imortant for us to realize that Peggy Charin for example worked for twenty years to create an Act for children's television and she finally got a bill through congress after twenty years of just heroic labor and it's been completely ignored. Absolutely completely ignored. It's not enforced at all, whereby local TV channel are supposed to put on at least an hour or two of quality children's programming.
When we recently interviewed Diana Sauceda, channel 13 news anchor, I was absolutely amazed when she said for national consumption a PBS national special that's coming out, she said, "What is on television at 3 o'clock til 6 o'clock when kids come home from school and parents aren't home yet, is a national disgrace."
Ted Koppel recently did a spectacular Nightline, it was one of the best news programs I've ever seen in my life. On this whole notion of those afternoon talk shows which feature really nothing but perverted sexual relationships between family members and all this other stuff. He refused to show examples from those shows. He just had a quick verbal description of them and he said, "If we showed you a lot of these examples, we would be pandering to the exact same thing that they are doing." Now, one of the things that non-media literate people don't realize is that this happens all the time under the guise of satire, okay? Oliver Stone I think is one of the most odious examples of this. He produces a movie, Natural Born Killers and then he calls it satire. Well, we did a survey in our school amongst all the kids that saw that movie and almost every single kid said that they thought that the whole notion of mass murder had just been made so attractive and so glamorous and that Mickey and Mallory were the heros of that movie. Now, be that as it may, those are the areas that I'm kinda' worried about.
And I want to throw in a plug for what Bob DiNozzi is doing down there because we use Dream Worlds and we use Pack of Lies and use The Killing Screens. These are excellent products and when we use them with our senior high school classes, they are very very powerful presentations of an idea that removes from the media-- takes out of context certain ideas. Dream Worlds for example, takes two hundred MTV rap, country, music videos and takes just the pieces out that deal with women. And then you don't hear the music, you hear a very calm psychological, sociological interpretation of what you're seeing.
Our kids who have grown up on MTV our juniors and seniors in our school are absolutely floored. They are just floored. The girls say, "I can't believe it. I've never thought of any of this before." The boys, once they get over all this guilt that they feel because they've loved this for so many years, they say, "I can't believe it."
We've got to find more and more powerful weapons like the Media Education Foundation is offering, to cut through the conditioning. And we've got to get it out there to our kids, present it in appropriate ways and, but I think we really do have to be concerned about our children.
Now I know that a lot of us have lauded and applauded the movie stars and made them bigger than life and I think that it's time that we begin to co-create stories from a different perspective including spirit and heart. We are a very intellectual country and yet I feel that we are moving into now a unifying concept because that is the name of our country. It is the United States of America and I think it's time that we began to think of ways to unify each other. A lot of us have had a lot of conflict going on and I think that there are answers through the heart. And I feel that it's time that we began to--like for instance the way that I would redesign this panel is that all of us would be in a circle together, co-creating concepts from our hearts, from our spirits, and including the mind and the body so that we could rise right here with that alignment. And resolve a lot of things. Come up with answers. And maybe even create stories that could be filmed.
I want to just give a brief example. I've done thirteen years extensive research on corruption in the BIA and federal government. How I got involved in this was I was a student center president at Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas in 1982.
The President at that time, Gerald Gip, was on a mission to eliminate the college by way of legislation. During the 80's the Reagan and Bush era eliminated 64 Indian schools. At that time I didn't know it, but this was a violation of federal law. I mean in the past thirteen years I've become educated to what's really going on in Indian Country. This gentleman talks about the film Surviving Columbus. I agree, it's an excellent film, but the thing our people in Indian Country are facing now is selfgovernance. It's a political coup in the long run.
See, I'm Blackfeet and Klammuth. In 1953 the Klammuths were terminated because my mother had the largest stand of ponderosa pine in the state of Oregon. This selfgovernance, they're gonna turn this money over to a lot of the tribes. Well, a lot of the tribes either don't have the management skills or they got corrupt tribal leaders. So, when the federal government sees them mismanage this money they're gonna pull the purse strings, come back and wave a dollar amount for the land base and then it's history.
You know we're talking about stories. I'm seeing it happen, I mean I went through Inspector General audits, General Accounting audits. When this issue hit the peak, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Wall Street Journal, The Kansas City Times was all running with this. Then they were silenced. And the reason why: one of the key players was going to be running for President this next term was instrumental in covering up the scandal. Senator Bob Dole, Senator Nancy Kasabaum and Congressman Jim Slatery. What I urge you people to do and people here is contact your congressmen and prompt an independent council investigation into this matter, because I've just touched the tip of the iceberg. Thank you.
I described the newspaper editor who said the international news hole is shrinking because in surveys people think that that's not important to their lives. And I would go back to Bob who would say, Well, sometimes people don't know what's good--maybe people have to be shown what's good for them. Maybe people--maybe there's a higher journalistic standard that people have to maintain which says this is something that people should know.
But the corporate interests, that is very very tough. That is a very very tough nut to crack. I don't know if Mr. Downs wants to comment at all on how difficult that is, but the venues are no longer there and it's just a very competitive world especially with the new media offering additional competition.
So what you see is a centralization of information. Now the thing which I think we haven't addressed with specific reference to journalism is I don't think you can pin everything on the--I don't think we can understand journalism looking through the individual journalist. Only by looking at the style of an individual journalist or the responsibility of individual journalists.
To me, being media literate implies having a critical distance from say an advertisement or piece of journalism by understanding its institutional context. Now what that means is that means if you open up Redbook and there's an article which says How to Cut Your Cancer Risk by 50 Percent and it omits the single most important thing you can do to cut your cancer risk, which is to stop smoking and there is an advertisement for Benson & Hedges on the back.
See, that institutional sense of advertising revenue being critical within journalism, ownership being critical within journalism and one other thing which is central, not so much with journalism, but with issues around violence--and also, new sources in journalism. One of the things we have to be savvy of, when an issue is in the forefront of public attention: who are the sources which get to journalists?
We have to understand: news is now more of a business than its ever been. So that means that those people which can provide news cheaply to journalists, which tend to be powerful interests for the government with press conferences, are going to have access to journalists much more readily than say you or I would. That's an important thing.
So you have ownership, you have advertising revenue. One of the other things when addressing issues of this notion, of what the public wants; its a tricky issue because we find paradoxes such as people saying that well, if you look at ratings--the most highly rated shows in the United States are nonviolent. Right? Now why is that? Well, we have to understand television and television programming and even movie making within a global context. These things are produced not for a domestic market, but for a global market and violence, for example, travels well. It's not culturally specific. Which means that it can be dumped on nations around the world and that's why even though it may not be very popular in the United States, it's still very profitable. So that's where that contradiction lies, but I think we really need to address some of the institutional things, and introduce and address some of those questions.
In other words, well delivered media education does not involve a teacher showing some kids a part of a video or an ad and telling them how to interpret it, and telling them what's good or bad or telling them this is the worst mistake you can make probably in media education is to tell them that the very programs and films or video games that they love best are trash and escapist junk. You're gonna lose your students very rapidly if you do that and one thing--not to criticize this panel, but one thing we did in yesterday's panel was to show a video and to start with the audience responses rather than this hierarchical thing with us up here and you folks over there. And again, in educational reform, certainly what Ted Size is trying to do in the Coalition for Essential Schools is to breakdown that kind of teacher knows everything the students don't. And if we're going to increase autonomy in citizens and students, critical autonomy, critical thinking skills, we can't expect that we're gonna tell them well, this is what Citizen Kane means. They have to develop in time, the skills and intelligence and sophistication to be able to unpack these meanings on their own and autonomously.
The other thing, real quickly, I was going to say about organizational stuff, one simple kind of take--of a lot of this, and it's not a happy comment--is that generally the forces that have the greatest power in this country are terribly well organized and terribly well financed, and they can hire tons of attorneys and PR people and advertising people and its the people, except through our government which is not the best Republican and representational form of government I suppose that we might have.
We're disorganized. In fact people call me all the time and say, "Well gee, is there a media organization I can join that could do this?" And I say yeah, you could and there are lots of them and that's great, but we don't have the strength of the large numbers that we might have. I suppose the PTA could be one of the most effective groups because it has a huge membership, but what I'm trying to say, it's like the old saying, a few years ago you heard people say, someday the day might come when the Pentagon had to hold a bake sale. We're the people generally having to hold the bake sales to try and get organized. And I don't think we can escape the fact that it's a struggle and it's an uphill struggle, but I think we all have to fight it.
That's the goal that we're moving toward. I think there's a group we're working with called Edutainment, trying to tie those together. Very often the entertainment media has been moving at odds with education; so teachers have to compete with Teenage Mutant Turtles and the Power Rangers and so on, and they have to try to teach in an environment where kids, as has been mentioned, overstimulated by media and their heroes do all the wrong things.
A friend of mine--a screen writer's son kept getting in trouble in school and he's six years old and came home confused. He said, "Well, why is it good when my heroes, the Turtles do all these kicks and punches but when I do it I'm in trouble." And so I think that what we need to begin to do is move toward finding ways that the entertainment industry can work in concert with schools in a positive direction. There are already a number of programs where, for instance around the movie Fern Gully that was very ecologically sound and so on, there was poster in Teacher's Kid and things teachers could do in school so that the program worked in concert with, instead of entertainment working at odds with education, they began to work together. And I think that should be our goal.
We recently had a conference at our school in which we had some of the best representatives, most well known representatives of the fields of Pediatric Neurology and Psychology and Psychiatry at our school. And, I think we need to be aware of some of the things that they have to say, too. I think that there are wonderful opportunities for doing what Bob said in terms of working with entertainment and working with schools. But, we also need parents to understand that if they sit their children down in front of a television from the time that child is born, until that child is about eight years old, that there is mounting evidence that they are actually limiting the growth of the number of neurons and the number of dendrites on the neurons, the thickness of the myelin sheathes on those dendrites, the actual mass in the linguistic center of the brain.
There is other very compelling evidence that indicates that if a child gains its value system from any kind of a source which is disorganized, inconsistent, which can't explain the value system and can't enforce the value system, that the child has got a good chance of winding up being pathological. And that's not just television, obviously there would be parents that fit that description as well. So I think that kind of information is really pretty new information that's coming to the fore in the fields of pediatrics and psychology that parents need to have.
In this country, currently, the illiteracy rate is something around 18 percent, more or less, I forget what the most current figures are. In New Zealand, which is not as highly sophisticated a media country, their illiteracy rate is around 3 percent and that 3 percent have so many other problems that they're dealing with that they're not going to learn to read anyway. And yet we know how to use media effectively in teaching children how to read. But we're not using it that way.
And so, for that reason the focus on individuals, and--a trick we learned really from the Wall Street Journal, which has a middle column story, which if it's on the price of milk, it doesn't start out by saying the price of milk, because eyes glaze over right away. It'll say, Mrs. Rodney Jones stepped on her back porch and noticed that the milk that had been delivered to her was--and now suddenly you're engaged, you know. Then they can go on into the price of milk. This is what we try to do and I think some programs do make the mistake of confusing entertainment with information. And then they're lost. You can make use of it, but you shouldn't confuse it. If you're trying to inform people with integrity, you can't make it an entertainment program.
The down side, and I want to make Hugh more aware of this, if he isn't, and the audience. Is, there is a problem with the overpersonalization of news and information in this country, so that when you have an issue like the savings and loan scandal, which wasn't sometimes so easily reduced to this poor old woman who lost her fortune. These larger macrosocial, complicated issues need to be addressed to some degree at a more mature complicated and sophisticated level. And in our culture everything has to be told now through this personal story about the old woman who this, or the little man who that, or the big guy who did something. And I have to say I agree, this is the way we've learned to drag audiences or attract audiences and bring them in on this personalized level. And it's a very American thing to do, of course, to focus on the individual and to not focus on the macrosocial or the societal.
I think if you looked at discourse in political material in Europe, still during prime time you'll see intelligent talking heads talking intelligently about complicated issues. And to some degree the way you redress grievances in a culture, that are complex, about taxes and welfare reform and so on, is to address these things at a mature level. The personal is fine, but we've overpersonalized everything in this culture it seems to me.