Swiss novelist Max Frisch described technology as “the knack of so arranging a world that we need not experience it.” Since Frisch died in 1991, just before the “information age” reached its commercial maturity, he missed some zany interpretations of his wisdom. Greg Collins, a senior vice president of Reynolds and Reynolds Company, offers his understanding of Frisch in Ward’s Dealer Business,Feb 1, 2003.
“Unfortunately,” Collins laments, “many businesses still approach technology from the `Industrial Age’ mentality of days past.” Collins’ future orientation refers to businessmen using technology to improve business processes, not just to reduce their labor force. “Once the truth is known, it’s remarkable how effective people, processes and technology can be” at enhancing corporate profits. Frisch turns uneasily in his grave. Truth and corporate profits go together like Tabasco sauce on vanilla ice cream. Indeed, modern corporations profit from massive fabrication about the products they peddle just as media giants make money from lying in the hourly “news” reports they scream at us. Indeed, we have become accustomed to listening to lies masquerading as truth. Each day we receive thousands of commercial, political and religious “messages” designed to make us do or buy something we don’t need to do or buy.
I shake my head in confusion just from living in this Mother of all Information ages. If I turn my radio dial from classical music to “all news when it happens,” I receive machine gun blasts of mis and dis-information. From the TV, radio, newspapers, billboards and computer emerge manipulative words, pictures, (spam) sounds and symbols aimed at converting my organism into an advanced purchasing instrument. No one has yet invented the equivalent of the bullet proof vest for the brain, to protect against the cartridges of blather fired at our cerebral cortex.
I assume advertisers and news fabricators (those who invent the lies and those who report them) count on rapid temporal atrophy among the receivers of false information. While the US military still zealously searches Iraq for even a faint trace of a weapon of mass destruction or the scantiest Al Qaeda connection to Saddam Hussein, I can actually feel my brain filter growing overtaxed with bullpucky. Terrorism, orange alerts, snipers, SARS! Who said what, when, where? Huh? How much of my pension did I lose in the market today? Will I still have my job when I get to work? The messages of anxiety penetrate beyond any “facts.”
The pushers of commodities, services and ideology have certainly used technology to arrange the world — not satisfactorily mind you — into commercially designed messages. Digital media beams them by radio and TV waves to your living room, bedroom, bathroom, as well as to your favorite restaurant, bar and car.
The highway designers must factor billboards into their master environmental plans. Who notices if the messages clash violently with the trees and sky? Gaudy poster art, duplicated by advanced modern copying techniques, distracts the driver with prurient sales offers of products ranging from “gentlemen’s clubs” to lite beer. These unsightly sights merge with the car radio reverberations of ultra right wing political and religious patter.
A man with a baritone voice claims to know Jesus Christ personally. “Give Jesus Christ a chance,” he exhorts his listeners. He wants all of us to experience the born-again Christian rapture like the Republican who occupies the White House. The radio missionary sounds serious. The radio station owners are very serious — about undertaking the Lord’s work and seeking ever greater profits (market shares). Take the Clear Channel radio stations. On the air, they offer super dumbed-down religiously tinged versions of reality. Off the air, in their corporate boardrooms, the media executives engage in very sophisticated business practices. The hard-rock material foundations for broadcasting church sermons come replete with off-the-air business conspiracies. On the air: Simplify life for the listeners. Turn to Jesus! Vote Republican! Wave the flag!
Clear Channel literally fogs the airwaves with ultra right slogans that appeal to the fundamentalist white, Christian soldiers of God. Now, shudder, Clear Channel plans to capture the Spanish speaking radio audience as well. They await only a tiny change of rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Clear Channel expects the FCC to approve its nearly $2.5 billion deal that would, according to Eric Boehlert in the April 24, 2003Salon, “link the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, the leader in Spanish-language radio stations in the U.S., and Univision Communications — already the market leader in Spanish-language TV, cable and music.” This new entity “would create a new company that controls nearly 70 percent of Spanish-language advertising revenue in the United States.” Currently, Clear Channel owns 26 percent of Hispanic Broadcasting.
Univision uses formula programming, flag-waving news and public affairs shows, stale music templates remixed with electronic technology and very loud commercials. Put together two financial powerhouses in their world of programming mediocrity and you have an ideal vehicle for Messianic Republican propaganda.
Boehlart recalls that “President Bush even gave Univision his first national television interview following his inauguration. More recently, congressional Democrats have grumbled over Univision’s fawning coverage of Miguel Estrada, the conservative — and controversial — judge recently nominated by Bush to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals.” Clear Channel stations openly advocate for Republican causes. Indeed, one Democratic member of Congress recently accused Clear Channel of blatantly skewing its war coverage to favor the administration. Like the bombastic Rush Limbaugh of the EIB media conglomerate, Clear Channel has no apologies. Its executives proudly stand for the values of George W. Bush.
But while Clear Channel talk show hosts and preachers pound away at “family values,” the corporate executives practice their shark-like business plans. Family values in business means that they expect FCC chair Michael Powell will behave with the same servile values as his father, the servile Secretary of State. They observed how the once dignified Colin Powell bowed and scraped before the calumnies of his imperial masters in foreign policy; so they expect his son to cater to the needs of the right wing media oligopoly who helped finance Bush’s campaigns. Under Michael Powell’s tutelage, the FCC has already proposed new rules to “deregulate” the dangerous near monopoly of TV and radio ownership. If adopted, the new rules would tighten the already strong hold that the five monster conglomerates have over TV and radio networks.
Clear Channel executives expect the FCC to reinterpret the “public interest” to mean a near monopoly over TV and radio for their stations along with their ideological pal Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network, the electronic and defense titan General Electric and the CNN patriots. Imagine these sources as the “information” providers for the majority of Americans. According to Boehlart, Clear Channel “took advantage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996” to grow from “40 stations then to approximately 1,200 stations today, or roughly 970 more than its closest competitor.”
If you’re frightened by these figures, you’ve reacted correctly. While liberals and progressives debate morality and justice, the extreme right wing media moguls muscularly push their simplistic nativism on the TV and radio waves and seek ever more space to reach out with their revealed word sandwiched of course between commercial messages so that ever more Americans will get the messianic virus. Politically, Clear Channel and Univision represent the neo-conservative-fundamentalist Christian world view in both the ideological and business sense.
Their power extends beyond politics, however. In Latin music, Univision or Clear Channel can promote “their hits”on “their stations.” According to Boehlart, Clear Channel also owns “37 television stations, 770,000 billboards and unmatched lists of venues, promoters and tours to exert control over the concert industry. Last year the company sold 30 million concert tickets, or 26 million more than its closest competitor.”
With this kind of material power, Clear Channel can unleash its ideological pit bulls on the air. Talk show host Glenn Beck sponsored “Rallies for America” as Bush sought signs of public backing for his impending war to counter antiwar rallies that had successfully received some news coverage. Clear Channel not only acted as impresario for the pro war demonstrations, but heavily promoted these boring events on its radio stations.
Boehlart reports that with Clear Channel approval one Denver disc jockey “suggested that then antiwar Vermont Governor Dean should be shot. Musicians got the political message Clear Channel was sending. During a speech at the National Press Club last week, actor and outspoken antiwar activist Tim Robbins told reporters, `A famous middle-aged rock-and-roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the war, only to go on to tell me that he could not speak himself because he fears repercussions from Clear Channel.’ ‘They promote our concert appearances,’ he said. ‘They own most of the stations that play our music. I can’t come out against this war.'”
Can watching TV produced by such intimidators lead to creativity? Watching for a few hours, I concluded that my undergraduate students make more interesting telenovelas than the Spanish language soaps on Univision. The programming that Latinos receive and what they will get in the near future as Clear Channel and Univision perform their kinky business marriage may make the “Jerry Springer Show” and “Cheaters” seem highly intellectual.
Highbrows may sneer at TV in general or claim that they watch only PBS yawn but this will not defeat the tasteless and “friendly fascism” (as Bertram Gross called it in his 1982 book by that name) of our age. Media moguls have used technology to arrange values to suit their commercial proclivities: want what you don’t need; need what you don’t want; salute and wave the flag and give what’s left of your mind to Jesus and George W. Bush. Yes, Max Frisch died before technology had rearranged the media world so as to completely vitiate experience.
SAUL LANDAU’s film IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS is distributed by Cinema Guild, 800-723-5522. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org