The resistance has largely been, I have to say, on the Republican side against the Motor Voter bill. I once voted in Wisconsin. I'd just moved into the area. They have--you look at Wisconsin and Minnesota, they have 70 to 80 percent voter turnout. One of the reasons for that is that you can do on site registration. I didn't even have to show any ID when I was in Wisconsin. I said, Hey, I'd like to vote. They said, sure, fine, vote. And I did. Other countries have much higher voter turnout because they lengthen the amount of time that people can vote. Also, people are pretty worn out after a two year Presidential election campaign.
The final thing I wanted to just turn my comment to, was this gentleman's comment that we weren't getting down to the bottom line of capitalism and so on. I've been trying to do it in my comments and I'll say this: across all these issues, the problem of unbridled capitalism is the problem. I think the two biggest problems in this country, because all other issues get filtered through them, is how our government operates and the fact is that our government--we have a form of legalized bribery in terms of campaign funding. There's no question. The average senator is spending half of his or her time raising money. Raising the equivalent to 10,000 dollars a week. You go raise 10,000 a week for six years and see who you're beholden to, right?
And the other one, is the fact that everything that gets into the public domain through the media has to go through a commercial filter. I mean, Marx and the Frankfurt School of theorists and following that, I suppose even Kruschev when he said, "We will bury you." I used to think as a kid growing up in the '50s that "We will bury you." meant that we were going to get killed by nuclear weapons. I think what he meant--since I've read a tiny bit of Marx since I was five years old--was that the communist system, ultimately was a better system, more humane. And, it's clear that communism doesn't deliver products very well at least in--and there's many great things to say about capitalism in terms of quality control, product delivery, all the rest of it. Most of us don't want to live in the Eastern Block countries and so on. But, absolutely unbridled capitalism will spell the demise, in my opinion, of this country.
And we're seeing it unwind at a rapid rate, right now. The dominance of the OJ case, the attack on media, on books, on the NEA. The NEA's budget is 160 million dollars roughly a year. We spend 192 million dollars on U.S. military bands a year. No one's attacking that--presumably, military bands are more important than what the NEA does.
The nationalist Right Wing approach is always to attack the intelligencia, people of letters and literature. And you know, if you want to you start burning that stuff. So, I would say, watch out. And watch out, the iron law of the oligarchy applies. The people in power tend to stay in power, they accrue more power and how you address that is through the government and through information and when those systems are controlled commercially, we have a big problem.
There was injustice before mass media. There's injustice now. To blame all of the injustice on the mass media is a little nuts. It sounds like many of you are saying, the masses are asses. I don't think that's necessarily true, although sometimes I strongly disagree with the masses. I'd like to point out that I've traveled all over the world, and although we do have a lot of problems with our media, I don't know of a freer media. I'm reminded of what Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst of government, except for all the others."
I'd like to comment on the notion that there aren't documentaries on television as there used to be. I disagree. I think programs like the ones that Mr. Downs is on and others present--we can call them minidocumentaries--but there is an awful lot of goring of the oxen of major corporations and businesses on those shows. More than I have ever seen in the forty years that I've been in media. We seem to recall "golden ages" that really didn't exist.
I worked on a newspaper that was a liberal newspaper, and it sold a lot of space for cigarette advertising because that's where the bucks were, and they didn't ever tell any of us not to point out that smoking was dangerous for you. And in fact, I doubt that there are any more powerful businesses in the country than the cigarette industry and yet here we are, fifteen or twenty years on, and through the media, the use of cigarettes has declined. Because on so many occasions we've pointed out the dangers of smoking.
So, I would just like to point out that there is another side of the story and that if this was the year 1550, roughly fifty years after the invention of moveable type; as this is roughly fifty years after television, we would all be here at a conference telling ourselves how dangerous the publication of books are. Thank you.
Many of the things that we are most upset about used to be considered norms. I've heard people, in dealing with TV violence for instance, try to justify the cowboy shows that we grew up on, that violence was okay, but now the violence is terrible. Well, in fact, we grew up with the kind of thing you mentioned, where it was fine to kill Hispanics and Indians and all that and that was all considered a wonderful thing. And now we're kind of shocked by that and that in fact we've moved forward in our awareness. Nowadays we're shocked at all the child abuse, but it used to be, "spare the rod and spoil the child," and now things that were thought of norms are shocking to us. The same things with women: ways inwhich women were treated that were norms, are now shocking behaviors. So I think the media has in fact, done a lot to help move us forward in all those areas.
Whatever questions we're raising about the problems of the media I think are very real. I think we do, all of us, I think are in these fields because we appreciate that media does have a powerful influence and is in many ways helping move our society and our world forward.
I'd say a couple of things. You know, Socrates was against writing, because he though people's memories would decay, and no doubt they have. So, it is true that every new media system that has come along: comic books, radio, film, there were commissions, the Hayes commission of film and the Werdheim studies on comic books. I absolutely agree, and this is a conference on media so we're focusing on it. If you want to focus on housing, no really, there are huge problems in education, housing discrimination and so on, we could talk about that.
It is a mistake to scapegoat the media as the sole or only or even the primary source of our problems. I agree with Larry Merchant absolutely on that. But at the same time, I don't think you have seen it in this century the kinds of concentration of ownership, the huge amounts of money that are paid to celebrity news people, entertainers, the fascination with celebrity and so on-- which grows out of the public in part but also grows out of the huge amounts of money that are involved here. So, I don't want to scapegoat the media utterly either; I don't think we're paranoid, I think we recognize that we live increasingly in a dense media culture. But, I'm not criticizing the media so much as I'm criticizing the nature of the economic underpinning of the media. But perhaps because Mr. Merchant works for a private concern, he has his own view.
As to our specific question: who is responsible and how do you enter the circle? It seems to me now that there is a very strong case to be made for the fact that media literacy is the answer to a lot of these social problems. The media themselves, are media. I don't quite agree with McCluen that that's the message. The problems with media are problems with our culture, embedded in our culture. If media literacy continues to rise, a lot of these problems are going to be solved without then going after network executives or film makers and so forth. There will be the demand for it publicly and to me, it's basically, I'm optimistic about it. I think media literacy is going to be on the increase and I don't feel so doom laden about it as I once did. One last comment from Bob McCannon.
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