The Politics of News Media
from the book
by Norman Solomon, 1994
In 1984 George Orwell wrote about the conditioned reflex of
"stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold
of any dangerous thought It includes the power of not grasping
analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding
the simplest arguments if they are inimical" to the prevailing
ideology, "and of being bored or repelled by any train of
thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction."
Today's dominant news media are good at repeatedly covering
the same ground, carefully avoiding much exploration beyond the
sanctioned boundaries. A narrow band of terrain is trod as if
it were the universe of ideas. We may get used to equating what
is familiar with what is objective; what is usual with what is
balanced; what is repeatedly asserted with what is true. All the
while, enthroned pundits fill the airwaves with nonstop droning
that offers little diversity. As with broadcasts, so with print:
Newsstands display dozens of papers and magazines, endlessly repetitious
Words, language, dialogue and debate are potential tools for
breaking out of small conceptual cages. But after the thousands
of times that Americans have heard the word "freedom"
in speeches and sound-bites and TV commercials, for instance,
how much meaning can the word hold? In a hollow din, when the
mouthing of words has become a self-referencing closed loop of
verbiage, words commonly precede-and pre-empt-thought. When words
supplant meaning, clichés become its impersonator and its
frequent enemy. In 1984, Orwell explained that "the special
function of certain Newspeak words...was not so much to express
meanings as to destroy them." Repetition of such words and
phrases can be much like water on stone-constant media drips presenting
self-evident truths-courtesy of government officials and the journalists,
commentators, academics and assorted other experts who seem to
have tenure on the networks.
Serving as a centralized nervous system of the country's body
politic, U.S. mass media have paralyzing effects. The more ubiquitous
that media power becomes, the more anonymous and natural it is
likely to seem. Common preconceptions are mistaken for common
sense. Even "controversial" news stories are respectful
of limitations; the standard paradigm is to bemoan various ills
while omitting specifics about causality.
Countless stories describe homelessness but not the real-estate
maneuvers connected to it; daily newspapers don't print photos
of the profiteers next to the pictures of their victims. Even
when journalists focus sharply on the effects of pollution, the
extent of the profitable corporate arrogance involved rarely gets
into the media frame. And discussions of alternatives stay quite
limited: Don't hold your breath for the day when the op-ed page
of the New York Times or Washington Post hosts a vigorous debate
about the merits of cutting the Pentagon budget in half next year,
or putting a legal cap on the profits of corporations and the
assets of millionaires, or holding free elections in each workplace
to select supervisors and CEOs. Many democratic possibilities
are automatically beyond the pale of mass-media discussion.
Fortunately, even the most powerful manipulators can't be
sure of controlling minds. Yet powers-that-be are much more concerned
with actions and utterances than with thoughts or feelings per
se. And expression of stray dissenting opinions can be tolerated,
perhaps even encouraged-letting off steam while the pressure-cooker
remains sealed fairly tight. Successful manipulation plays the
percentages among the populace, and commands majorities.
The process is even more powerful than the content. Mass media
cajole people to keep buying products as if they could substitute
for-or even be-meaning. "There is, of course, no reason why
the new totalitarianisms should resemble the old," Aldous
Huxley foresaw in his postwar introduction to Brave New World.
He added: "A really efficient totalitarian state would be
one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and
their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not
have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make
them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian
states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers.
But their methods are still crude and unscientific."
That was in 1946 Methods are quite a bit less crude now.
More and more, a brazen new world blends pacification and
repression in a warlock's brew stirred with both carrot and stick.
Mass-produced seductions combine with mass-imposed intimidations.
But whatever the mix of caressing or bludgeoning people into submission
any effective system of control must go a long way toward obscuring
key methods of that control. A society's vaunted "stability"
(amid chronic and extreme inequities) may be an index of just
how numbed people have become; in this, the most scientific of
ages, people are beset by social engineering that has come to
seem normal, even natural. This is not a drum-tight Big Brother
society (although U.S. elites have helped to sustain regimes in
quite a few Third World countries as brutal as anything described
in 1984). Some Americans are apt to feel as carefree as any soma-swallower.
Yet others-such as many inner-city residents overwhelmed by the
system-are as desperate as Winston contemplating the grip of Big
In the United States, centralization of mass media is so intrinsic
and so crucial that it is not- must not be-discussed in any discerning
way via the main media channels that empty into our lives like
so much tap water. How many corporations are reaping most of the
revenue from U.S. newspapers, magazines, TV, books and movies?
In the early 1980s the answer was fifty; by the early 1990s the
number had dropped to twenty. All the pretensions aside, we will
not hear Dan Rather or Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw elucidate
how the corporations that pay their salaries are wielding power
in pursuit of the bottom line, close to home and around the world.
On millions of TV screens at any one moment, CNN Headline
News keeps splattering the country- and the planet-with its jejune
ejaculations. Welcome to the global pillage. The technology is
awesome, and so is its proven capacity to entrance while conflating
actual events with fabricated images, the most pseudo of "realities."
During the Gulf War, the media acclaim was widespread when CNN
aired live video of U.S. cruise missiles reaching Baghdad; yet
what we saw on television was little more than a light show-spectacular
pyrotechnics in the sky while the carnage below got short shrift.
In the closing decade of the 20th century, the media powers have
Meanwhile: Criticism is surrounded and absorbed, amoeba-like,
by the circuitous mainstreams of what we could call "skipthought"-
repeating and recycling endlessly. Skipthought habitually jumps
over ideas and perspectives that reject the legitimacy of corporate
rule. Elsewhere, in places as far away as East Timor or Turkey
or China, rank lies and flagrant violence may hammer human beings
from dawn to dawn, but here and now in the United States the lies
and violence are apt to be combined with soothing velvet that
adorns the dominant scenery. The biggest hoaxes depend on the
biggest illusions. Wholesale, they make the reigning "freedom"
The USA's major news media pose no threat to what the late
writer Walter Karp called the fact of oligarchy. In the United
States, he pointed out, "the fact of oligarchy is the most
dreaded knowledge of all, and our news keeps that knowledge from
us. By their subjugation of the press, the political powers in
America have conferred on themselves the greatest of political
blessings-Gyges' ring of invisibility. And they have left the
American people more deeply baffled by their own country's politics
than any people on earth. Our public realm lies steeped in twilight,
and we call that twilight news."
Journalists are neither more nor less courageous than people
in other professions; we can hardly expect corporate-paid reporters
and pundits to make careers out of biting the hands that sign
their paychecks. Those who pay the piper, as the saying goes,
call the tune-not every note, but the overarching score-orchestration
that may seem to be nowhere in particular because it is now almost
everywhere, with an insistent drumbeat that after a while gets
confused with the human heart. The political muzak keeps functioning
as white noise, constant and familiar, with little variation,
and loud enough to prevent us from hearing much of other sounds.
To question the divine right of large corporations to occupy America's
political throne is a lack of fealty that demands exclusion from
the roundtables of mega-media discourse, where political "realities"
are framed and re-framed every day.
For people on corporate payrolls, more than a little parental
company discretion is advised. Mainstream journalists are cases
in point: Criticisms of government-and disparagements of the public
sector overall-are far more acceptable than condemnations of corporate
power. Yet the facts are cold and hard. "It is beyond doubt
that the -) large corporation has always governed, most importantly
by deciding whether untold numbers of people will live or die,
will be injured, or will sicken," _ comments Morton Mintz,
who left the Washington Post in 1988 after twenty-nine years as
a reporter there; his attitude was rare in the newsroom. Media
professionals are almost uniformly unwilling to voice anything
that smacks of a systemic critique of the private-industry juggernaut.
One afternoon in late 1990, I appeared on a radio program
with a national reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Bob Scheer,
who'd been working for Southern California's dominant news outlet
since the mid-1970s. On the air he acknowledged that "largely
a lot of what we do is to be a conveyor belt of news from powerful
government officials and so forth, they basically define what
the news is." But Scheer framed his criticisms of the news
industry to exclude the massive corporations with media companies
among their many business holdings. "The issue is,"
he said, "is there pressure within any of these news organizations
to gather news in a certain way? I don't think it comes from what
In fact, much evidence to the contrary had long been available.
Ben Bagdikian's classic book The Media Monopoly, first published
in 1983 and later updated, provides a lot of specific examples
showing that many news outlets-including the L.A. Times- skew
what they publish and broadcast to serve the economic interests
of owners. (Advertisers also have plenty of clout.) But to hear
Scheer tell it, corporate power presented no problem: "As
a working journalist-and I've been at the L.A. Times for fifteen
years-I never felt any influence.... No one ever suggested that
I go easy on anything that they happen to own.... I don't know
that there's any connection between what the company owns and
the way the news is reported."
The Times Mirror Company, parent corporation of the Los Angeles
Times, is an economic powerhouse. As Bagdikian mentions in his
book, the conglomerate "also owns other newspapers, cable
systems, book publishing houses, agricultural land, urban real
estate, commercial printing plants, and other non-journalistic
operations." But on the radio show, Scheer made a point of
saying: "I don't even know what the parent company owns,
and I've been there fifteen years."
A former editor of the left-wing Ramparts magazine during
the Vietnam War, Bob Scheer went on to become one of the most
independent-minded and enterprising reporters at the Los Angeles
Times. That makes his expressed attitudes all the more significant-indicating
the limits of acceptable analysis within mega-media journalism.
Let's take Scheer at his word: "I don't even know what
the parent company owns, and I've been there fifteen years."
Such an absence of curiosity is remarkable, especially for an
investigative reporter. But in an odd way it dovetails neatly
with the claim that media ownership doesn't really affect content.
The most basic goal of owners-maximizing profits-usually eludes
scrutiny, even though the pursuit of that goal restricts journalists
every day. The boundaries may be invisible (though, we have reason
to suspect, well understood), and all the more effective as constraints
because they need not be imposed in any heavy-handed or "unprofessional"
manner. In fact, the internalized constraints, with all their
unspoken taboos, have come to seem integral to professionalism.
Corporate control is not interference in the newsroom-if you
own an institution you aren't interfering in it, you're running
it. Orwell anyone? The conditioned reflex of "stopping short,
as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought."
The doublethink process "has to be conscious, or it would
not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has
to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity
and hence of guilt. "
The debilitating obstacles that face journalists-and the rest
of us-are primarily institutional. If we push hard to challenge
the institutions around us, the struggle can change us for the
better in the process. Rather than succumbing to the media manipulation
that continues to foreclose better options, we can tune up our
personal and collective "radar screens" to track unidentified
flying propaganda. Determination to battle for more autonomy over
our own possibilities-as individuals, as people communicating
with each other, and as a society- opens up new and vital horizons.
In contrast, evading the truth of corporate power over news
media is a disorienting mental traffic pattern that keeps tromping
a path of political confusion. False mappings of society immobilize
us to the great extent that we trust public mythologies more than
firsthand realities. Imagine if Rand McNally and its competitors
issued maps that had little resemblance to actual streets and
highways and terrain. To the extent that we believed those maps,
we'd be unable to go much of anywhere; we wouldn't be able to
plan our journeys, or meet up with other people; for that matter
we wouldn't even really know where we were.
"The news" and punditry provide orientation- guiding
the public's perception and navigation of the world. At various
times, on various subjects, the media compass needle may actually
be pointing south, north, east or west; it's no accident that
conventional accounts of politics are disorienting, since they
take citizens on detours every day-away from clarity about power:
who wields it, how, and why. (Astute investors would never make
the mistake of trying to get their bearings from the "A"
sections of daily newspapers.) As informative compasses, the mass
media indicate much more about how those in power want us to perceive
and navigate the world than about how the world really is.
Popularized renderings of reality, however phony, supply us
with shared illusions, suitable for complying with authorized
itineraries, the requisite trips through never-never lands of
public pretense. Privately, we struggle to make sense of our experiences;
perhaps we can create some personal space so that our own perceptions
and emotions have room to stretch. But the limits of privatized
solutions are severe. Public spheres determine the very air we
breathe and the social environments of our lives. The standard
detours meander through imposing landscapes. Beyond the outer
limits of customary responses, uncharted territory is "weird"-certainly
not familiar from watching TV or reading daily papers. Following
in the usual footsteps seems to be safer.
Confusion about politics and power denies us clues as to where
to go from here. Anne Wilson Schaef has identified pivotal results
of such confusion:
" First, it keeps us powerless and controllable. No one
is more controllable than a confused person; no society is more
controllable than a confused society. Politicians know this better
than anyone, and that is why they use innuendos, veiled references,
and out-and-out lies instead of speaking clearly and truthfully.
Second, it keeps us ignorant. Professionals give their clients
confusing information cloaked in intimidating language that lay-people
cannot understand. They preserve their "one-up" status
while preventing us from learning about our own bodies, our legal
rights, and our psychology.
Third, it keeps us from taking responsibility for our own
lives. No one expects confused people to own up to the things
they think, say, or do, or face the truth about who they are.
Fourth, it keeps us busy. When we must spend all our time
and energy trying to figure out what is going on, we have none
left over for reflecting on the system, challenging it, or exploring
alternatives to it.
These have the combined effect of keeping us stuck within
the system. And this, I believe, is the primary purpose of confusion.
A confused person will stay within the system because the thought
of moving out of it is too frightening. It takes a certain amount
of clarity to try new things, walk new roads, and cross new bridges,
~ and confusion makes clarity and risk taking impossible."
Mass media encourage us-viewers, listeners, readers-to suspend
disbelief, willingly or otherwise. Stalked by propaganda wolves
in chic clothing, we are the intended sheep. Conformity is disguised
with appearances of diversity-just as silence about what matters
most is in no way inconsistent with constant verbiage. The great
triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something,
but by refraining from doing, Aldous Huxley observed. "Great
is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is
silence about truth.... But silence is not enough. If persecution,
liquidation and the other symptoms of social friction are to be
avoided, the positive sides of propaganda must be made as effective
as the negative. The most important Manhattan Projects of the
future will be vast government-sponsored enquiries into what the
politicians and the participating scientists will call 'the problem
of happiness'-in other words, the problem of making people love
their servitude ~l
Getting people to "love their servitude" is a tall
order, but in America more modest conditioning has proved sufficient
to make quiescence a common way of life. Within a pseudo-security
state, the constant rush to desensitize has become a generic fix.
To lives of quiet desperation, and to an ailing body politic,
mass media are among the key institutions that administer anesthesia
"Public" TV and radio are supposed to be different-an
alternative. Over the years, the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,"
"All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition"
have gained credibility and trust among millions of college-educated
people, an audience heavily concentrated in professional circles
(including many liberals and more than a few leftists), where
restive responses could be especially troublesome to upper-echelon
managers and policy elites.
When push comes to shove, for instance when the American Flag
goes up and the troops go out, the news operations of PBS and
NPR are among the country's most regimented; during the Gulf War
in early 1991, they shamelessly served the war-makers (a role
briefly reprised in summer 1993 when U.S. missiles struck an Iraqi
office complex and a number of nearby civilians in Baghdad). The
manipulation- usually a bit more subtle than at times of U.S.
military attack-is a year-round reality, as the media watch group
FAIR has documented with studies of the guest lists and sources
of "MacNeil/Lehrer" and NPR's daily news programs. A
narrow range-of voices, sound-bites, commentators and analysis-comes
to seem normal, even exemplary. After all, the news is in-depth,
with many sentences in a row; our intelligence does not seem to
Bogus alternatives of the NPR/PBS variety are part of a mass
media bandwagon pulling news consumers along on a short conceptual
leash. The absence of critical imagination has been normalized.
Big-name journalists, affecting sharp-eyed realism and attention
to realpolitik, preen their credentials of discernment and independence.
In news media, as in politics, only your essential passivity is
sought. (All that advertisers and "underwriters" want
are your purchases; all that politicians want are your votes.)
It's called programming.
The puffed-up men and occasional women on network political
shows are there to convey normalcy, providing the erudite ambience
of in-control continuity from those who know best. They are On
The Case. Anointed, seemingly confident, practiced and glib, functioning
as if professional choruses in some upside down Greek play. They
serve as inverted Cassandras: The real tragedy is that they are
so widely believed.
Political battles are largely struggles over perception; how
we see the world has everything to do with how we will live in
dominant assumptions- like familiar gases-are seldom noted, but
they keep entering bloodstreams, flooding brains and hearts.
Mainstream media are busily focusing views away from possibilities
that could undermine management. The mold of prevailing thought
is not to be broken: "Real" politics is presented as
the art of the possible, not a battleground for human imperatives.
And, the bottom line ultimately being the bottom line, the system's
loyalty is always to itself, never to any individual. So, at the
top of government, Bill Clinton the man may outlive his usefulness,
as Bush and Carter and Nixon did before him. The president is
a CEO of sorts, and those who have made the "hiring"
possible are certain to want acceptable returns on their investments.
Of course big business is always looking for new products
to put on the market, and major presidential contenders are no
exception. A quarter-century ago, when The Selling of the President,
1968 came out, the book's cover featured a photo of Nixon on a
cigarette pack-and the imagery caused an uproar; now we take it
for granted that candidates will be sold like automobiles or deodorant.
But the creation of politician-products runs parallel with broader
inventions: a power elite that can heavily edit the past and distort
the present also reserves the right to concoct scenarios for the
Television lights up homes everywhere with its narcotic glow;
stupefication par excellence, now enhanced with numerous cable
channels and, we are told, the advent of interactive TV technology.
The pretense is that You Are There, or you have choices; the
reality, much more likely, is that you aren't anywhere, and/you
can choose from the choices that have already been made for you.
The delusion of "choice" from an array of televised
(and corporately backed) programs is parallel to the delusion
of choice from an array of pre-screened (and corporately backed)
What shines through the screens makes a show of any and all
matters, from the situation comedy to the latest war. Yet there
is much self-congratulation and hype about how TV has brought
war into our living rooms-a claim so ludicrous that one might
think it's sometimes necessary to dig shrapnel out of the sofa
after watching the news on television, as Mark Crispin Miller
has commented: "What do we see when we sit at home and watch
a war? Do we experience an actual event? In fact, that 'experience'
is fundamentally absurd. Most obviously, there is the incongruity
of scale, the radical disjunction of locations. While a war is
among the biggest things that can ever happen to a nation or people,
devastating families, blasting away the roofs and walls, we see
it compressed and miniaturized on a sturdy little piece of furniture,
which stands and shines at the very center of our household. And
TV contains warfare in subtler ways. While it may confront us
with the facts of death, bereavement, mutilation, it immediately
cancels out the memory of that suffering, replacing its own pictures
of despair with a commercial, upbeat and inexhaustibly bright."
In effect, "The TV newsman comforts us as John Wayne
comforted our grandparents, by seeming to have the whole affair
in hand.... Since no one seems to live on television, no one seems
to die there. And the medium's temporal facility deprives all
terminal moments of their weight."
Being numb to untoward events is in sync with being passive.
For mass media, this is a perfect fit. Television, a powerful
number, asks that we do nothing-"don't touch that dial"-except
go out and buy things. Everything is well-produced, including
I the latest war; especially one made in the USA.
The slaughter of approximately 200,000 Iraqis in a six-week
period drew on the accumulated capital of America's numbing, as
crucial to the Gulf War's success as the monetary resources of
the United States, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait's rich families. Day
after day, with talking heads galore and not a talking heart to
be found on the networks, the anchors filled the media frames
with their euphemistic jargon about "air strikes," "collateral
damage" and "pounding enemy targets." Draining
life from discussions of life-and-death subjects, what those who
dominated the airwaves and print media kept conveying with their
flat tones was that the wholesale destruction of human life could
be discussed with pride; the effect was to fog up the horrors
that the war entailed at every moment. Correspondents mouthed
the language of the military, with human realities rarely even
mentioned. Air Force officers, shown in pool video interviews,
described the bombing runs in computer terms. "I just see
blips on the screen," said one. And we saw the war's human
devastation reported as blips on our TV screens.
Television powerfully normalizes duplicity; winks and nods
become unnecessary. Advertising can have tremendous impact on
people even if they "understand" cerebrally that the
ads are untruthful and manipulative; the same goes for news reporting.
Cognitive skepticism is a flimsy barrier when hard-driving media
falsehoods constantly batter against it.
Anne Wilson Schaef describes television as one of the habitual
commodities that "make us numb to our own reality-to seeing
what we see and knowing what we know." But behind the madness
of TV is an exceedingly lucrative method. Informing, entertaining
and selling become interchangeable. Replete with technical virtuosity,
ads on television have become "art forms"; small wonder
that Star Wars movie-maker Lucas Films got into producing TV commercials
in a big way. Sales pitches should be entertaining, and entertainment
should be pitching for consumption. And when people are reticent
to share unscreened aspects of who they are and how they feel,
life is stunting itself-imitating the constraints of the tube,
absorbing television's complementary messages that keep hectoring
for supine quietude among the population.
The anesthetic effect renders us comfortably numb yet uncomfortably
on edge, swaddled in media insulation. The passivity of the TV
experience is good training for watching history go by. History-even
when it's in the process of occurring-comes across as some kind
of gaseous time in a shattered bottle. A long dead letter. Here
in the USA, the announced "end of history" is more akin
to the end of open feeling and the substitution of the facade
for the authentic in public matters. Immersed in such a synthetic
meta-world, "history" can only be disconnected from
the moment-eviscerated, both privatized and falsified, part mystery
and part dusty facts, like a phone book filled with information
and drained of truth.
For several decades we've been undergoing the refinement of
multimedia inculcation-evermore overbearing and veiled-like pollution
that becomes less obvious the more it is added to what is already
widespread. Yet many of the purveyed hypocrisies are hardly subtle.
Orwell wrote in 1984 about a process that "in short,
means protective stupidity." The approach involves "holding
two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting
both of them." Today, for politicians and their aides, Orwellian
maneuvers become second nature: "To tell deliberate lies
while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has
become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again,
to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed,
to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to
take account of the reality which one denies-all this is indispensably
Basic hypocrisy is apt to seem obscure when grim ironies go
unremarked and glaring contradictions are not illuminated by mass
media. Big-budget PR operations function with the assumption that
people can't think of everything; their thoughts have to be guided
in certain directions and away from others. "We know that
crimes against humanity have occurred, and we know when and where
they occurred," U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger
declared in a December 1992 speech. "We know, moreover, which
forces committed those crimes and under whose command they operated.
And we know, finally, who the political leaders are to whom these
military commanders were-and still are-responsible. "
The brazenness of doublethink is enough to take your breath
away; in fact, it takes away many people's breath, quite literally.
The secretary of state was speaking about political leaders and
military commanders of Serbia. But it was, as well, a perfect
description of Eagleburger and those he had worked closely with
during the Gulf War a couple of years earlier. That Eagleburger
was in a Republican administration is beside the point; if doublethink
is anything, it is bipartisan. As he campaigned for the 1992 Democratic
presidential nomination, Bill Clinton repeatedly spoke of the
necessity that the United States "be leading the Desert Storms
in the 21st century." Five months into his presidency, Clinton
ordered a missile attack on Iraq and then backed it up with rhetoric
from the same lexicon used by President Bush.
Mass media, predisposed to impute the noblest of motives to
presidents when the U.S. military swings into lethal action, puffed
up Clinton after he gave the order to launch two-dozen missiles
that hit an Iraqi intelligence building and residential homes
in Baghdad. Time Magazine dubbed Clinton's televised announcement
from the Oval Office "one of his finest moments; he struck
the right tone, reasoned but forceful." The next day, the
New York Times reported, "a near-defiant sense of pride was
tangible at the White House." The Times went on: "While
it was clearly not a motivation for the strike, the likelihood
that Mr. Clinton's standing in public-opinion polls would rise,
as support for most presidents has after military actions, appeared
to have contributed to the buoyant mood."
To the standard buzzwords and catch-phrases of American newspeak,
television reports add a narcissistic patina, a translucent glaze
over "reality," repeating particular words and carefully
selected visuals with logarithmic intensity. The repetition is
key. Exceptional articles and broadcasts do run counter to the
norm once in a while, but the essence of propaganda is repetition-the
daily dollops of news and views dominating the nation, steering
most people away from unapproved avenues of thinking. The "skipthought"
process is so widespread that it melts into the air, everywhere
and unremarkable, like an odor so constant that it seems to have
Impressions of politicians, seen through media lenses, often
amount to not much more than assessments of production values.
It's largely on that basis that some people "like" Clinton
despite his betrayal of many principles important to them. Media
appearances are inevitably deceiving; they invite us to react
with a passive sense of aesthetics. From corporate boardrooms
to Capitol Hill cloakrooms, from the Executive Mansion to the
Pentagon, our torpor is much sought after, and appreciated. More
than our favor, it is our prior restraint that is curried.
Huge fortunes keep being made on the prudent bet that we will
remain anesthetized. The more that human imagination can be curtailed,
the more it can be profitably sublimated and channeled. There
is no devious master plot-only the steady workings of a system
masterfully encouraging acceptance, while transforming concepts
of what has to be and what cannot be.
Preoccupied with revved-up mass media offerings, we're on
treadmills of variegated conformity. Only authentic imagination
can lead us elsewhere. But it is not imagination to picture ourselves
as characters in a popular TV adventure show, or to identify with
one side in a "debate" on the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,"
or to prefer one of the budget versions in a House-Senate conference
committee; when we select from the options already handed down
from on high, we can only imagine what has already been imagined
for us. When thought processes are corralled by received notions
of realism, then possibilities for independent actions are fenced
In contrast, as cultural critic Joyce Nelson says, imagination
"is a truly revolutionary force, allowing us to conceive
of alternatives. It is 'radical' in the deepest sense of that
word: transforming things at their root, opening up new possibilities,
challenging and suspending (for the moment, or longer) the status
quo." What we are able to think prefigures what we might
be able to do.
"Political thought, no less than any other kind, takes
place in imagination," Rose Goldsen wrote. "In imagination
we move around the social system so that we can peer at social
reality first from this vantage point, then from that one, each
time taking our bearings from the different slant.... Social meanings
emerge as we imagine the situation as it could otherwise have
been (or be). The otherwise...can exist only in imagination."
Today, looking out at the USA's gritty and perfumed landscape,
we may feel that we're growing old in a bleak civilization, an
era mundane and terrible. The fact that wonderful people are capable
of magnificent creations makes our socialized dead-ends all the
more difficult to bear, and all the more urgent to confront.
Precious threads of human continuity and vibrant culture persist.
But in contrast to George Orwell's nightmare, there is no need
for complete uniformity here; domination will suffice, as social
machinery mass-produces and homogenizes human awareness to an
immense and accelerating degree. The ability to numb and delude
is the ability to control. And the propaganda of anesthesia seems
to be nearly everywhere; the hollowing out of words is an enterprise
parallel with the hollowing out of lives.
A haze surrounds us; mass-media fog banks sweep in front of
vision, clouding imagination, allowing only glimpses of better
possibilities. Under conditions of low visibility, the present
moves like the horizon along a centrist road: attentive to the
synthetic mist, and missing the outlines of humanity unseen.
and Media Control