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Nothing to Lose but Your Brains

The State of the Media Union

by NORMAN SOLOMON

My fellow American media consumers:

At a time when news cycles bring us such portentous events
as the remarkable wedding of Britney Spears, the advent of
Michael Jackson’s actual trial proceedings and the start of
the Democratic presidential primaries, it is time to reflect
upon the state of the media union.

The achievements are everywhere to be seen and heard.

On more than a thousand radio stations owned by the Clear
Channel conglomerate, the programming quality is as reliable
as a Big Mac.

In cities and towns across the nation, an array of outspoken
radio talk-show hosts can be depended on to run the gamut
from the mushy center to the far right.

Television provides a wide variety of homogenized offerings.
With truly impressive (production) values, the major
networks embody a consummate multiplicity of sameness, with
truncated imagination and consolidated ownership. These
days, there’s a captivatingly unadventurous cable channel
for virtually every niche market.

A few naysayers like to disparage our system of mass
communications. Yet overall, modern free-enterprise media
outlets are the best that money can buy.

In 2004, those who scoff at the transcendent future of new
media technologies are like those who greeted television
several decades ago with cries of "idiot box" and "vast
wasteland." The cynics failed to trust those who would be
enriched by the emerging medium.

Today, let us not be bound by old concepts of national
boundaries. The global village is being wired with fiber
optics; the power to consume is now in the hands of
billions.

In an era of international understanding — when everyone
from Peoria to Belgrade to Beijing knows the meaning of
golden arches or a Nike-brand swoosh — commercial
expression has become a kind of global lexicon in a language
gradually redefining what it means to be human. For the 21st
century, from one shining sea to another, a manifest
corporate destiny is upon us.

Leaving no pixel unturned, entrepreneurial genius has found
endless ways to innovate on behalf of the eternal quest for
more capital. Just as the highest monetary achievers among
us have learned to seem to do good while doing
extraordinarily well for themselves, the TV networks teach
us that the most pristine values are to be achieved by, not
coincidentally, spending money. Every priceless moment, as
MasterCard commercials have often reminded us, somehow seems to coincide with financial expenditures.

To better live in a society that treasures individuality,
you can learn how to be more in step with everyone else who
matters. Glancing at a TV screen for scarcely more than a
second, you have the potential to absorb the latest data
from key stock-market indicators as well as glimpse snippets
of headlines crawling across the bottom of the screen,
absorb computer-generated graphics, listen to voices, hear
background music — and, of course, keep an eye on the big
picture.

But with all media privileges, my fellow American consumers,
come responsibilities. Some technologies are being abused to
bypass commercials on television, suppress pop-up ads on
line and resist legitimate efforts by sponsors to replace
your unduly iconoclastic sense of reality with lucrative
facades.

Yet let us be candid. The legends of corporate-driven
community, laid down by conventions of commerce and
politics, are suitable for compliance with never-never lands
of public pretense. Contrived narratives that provide
maximum profits can have little to do with authentic
experience. To guide the expenditures of time and resources
for enhancement of cash flow, our powerful institutions must
function as arbiters of social meaning.

First among equals of those institutions are the powerhouses
of mass media. As Marshall McLuhan observed, "All media
exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and
arbitrary values."

These are revolutionary times, media outlets often remind
us. All over the planet, mass marketing boosts cultural
products to digitize the future. In the binary mode, you’re
either with it or you’re not. Media consumers of the world,
unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains.

NORMAN SOLOMON is co-author, with Reese Erlich, of "Target
Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You."