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How communities can regain control of the media

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
                                                             - H. L. Mencken

Prospects for a relevant news media were looking pretty bleak just a few short years ago. With each passing year as media ownership became more concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer large corporations, the media's relevancy to our lives diminished.

However, every cloud has its own silver lining. Over the past five years, or so, there has been an explosion of alternative media made possible by the Internet. Growing numbers of people shun bland, irrelevant, and irritatingly repetitive mainstream television and radio in favor of alternative news media and blogs which dare to cover in-depth the issues that are important to us instead of providing mere sound-bites between ever longer advertising breaks.

In this section, we'll explore emerging trends in news and communications media.

Have you ever been amazed by how a television set--even one with the sound off--can turn almost any group of people into zombie-like creatures seemingly only capable of staring at the flickering screen?

Gain the magical power to turn off any lobotomy box in the room and bring people back to life.

Kill Your TV

One of my favorite writers these days is Jeff Vail, the author of A Theory of Power. Here's Jeff reviewing Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander:

TV encourages mass passivity, burns images permanently into our brain that are chosen by an elite few and trains people to accept authority. Television limits and confines human knowledge. It accelerates our alienation from nature and leads to its destruction. Television homogenizes those who watch it, making the population more efficient cogs in the economic system, making the population easier to control. Television is inherently antidemocratic--furthermore it aids the creation of societal conditions which produce autocracy, and it dulls our awareness that this is happening. Television, as a technology, is inherently biased towards these effects--they cannot be eliminated by better management or better programing. Oh, and it causes cancer too.

This would all sound like a crazy conspiracy theory yarn to me, too, if I hadn't read the book. Mander makes logical and cogent arguments, but most of all, he points out things that we can all see for ourselves. Don't believe that TV burns images into your mind that you can't ever get rid of? That an elite few select what is to be emblazoned into the memory of entire populations? Try this: The Energizer Bunny. Can you picture it in your head? OK, now erase it. As with everyone else, you can't--it has been placed involuntarily, and permanently into your being. Try another experiment...think of one of your favorite sports stars or entertainer (i.e. Merle Haggard) that you have seen in person. Visualize an image in your head... Was that image one that you saw in 'real life' or one that you saw on TV? Having a difficult time recalling reality from TV reality? Most people do--and that's the scary part. The elite few who control TV content involuntarily place permanent images in your head that you are unable (without careful attention) to distinguish from reality. Suppose, hypothetically, that there was someone out there who would stand to gain from altering your image of the 'perfect family' to one that owns a nice suburban home, drives two cars, goes to church, works hard until retirement in a 'good' job, supports the government in times of crisis, etc. Fortunately for us, that kind of thing only happens in George Orwell books...

We all already know that TV, or at least too much TV is bad, but what are we really supposed to do about it? Is this guy actually suggesting that we eliminate TV entirely? Yes, he is, and his message goes far deeper than just Television. In an economy and society committed to newer, faster, more and never-ending growth, Jerry Mander makes the argument that we must at some point develop the ability to achieve balance, to pick and choose which technologies we want, or can afford, to use. The elimination of television would be difficult...we may even have to occasionally talk to people, but to pass on an "advance" is a step that we must realize is more than necessary--it is possible.

Back in my second year of college a philosophy professor told the class, "If you watch a lot of television, Madison Avenue has your mind colonized." It rang true for me and I canceled the cable shortly afterwards. Actually, I did so for two reasons: to avoid having my mind controlled by advertisers and to put an end to wasting two to three hours per evening of my life on an activity offering so little benefit.

There's nothing wrong with having your TV connected to the DVD player so that you can rent movies and even the better TV shows from a source such as Netflix. The goal is to eliminate exposure to advertising and the waste of two to four hours of your precious life per evening watching crap. I'm on Netflix's two DVD per week plan which limits my couch potato activities to about four hours per week.

If you stop for a moment and think about it, you realize that there's a very good reason why the state used television as the main tool for controlling the populace in George Orwell's dystopian nightmare 1984.


From the article No Dictator in History Has Ever Wielded Such a Powerful Tool as a TV Set:

Today it's nearly impossible to not watch television. It's everywhere - the home, bars and nightclubs, even restaurants. It pervades our lives; we can't imagine ourselves without it. People will watch it simply for the sake of watching. They may not even like the program that's on but their eyes are attracted to the movement and their ears to the sound.

The next time you're in a restaurant or bar that has television, look at the people around you. Their eyes instinctively seek out the flickering screen. Even if the sound is turned completely off, they still watch. Browse an electronics store and observe how many people are drawn to the televisions on display.

In George Orwell's novel 1984, a totalitarian government utilizes devices called telescreens to both dispense propaganda and misinformation to the citizenry and to spy on them. They hang on the wall of every home and every business. It amazes me how Orwell, with a novel released in 1949, conceived a contraption that so closely resembles modern television.

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