I stopped watching television about 8 months ago, partly because the bill was so high but mostly because I could not bear to watch the corporate news a second longer. The evening line up on MSNBC (Maddow, Olbermann etc) were really the only remotely intelligent shows around, while the rest focused on the political horse race rather than serious analysis and a conceptual understanding of current events. Even worse were the business shows that flashed relentless stock market tickers across the screen while over caffeinated frat boys like Jim Cramer yelled about turning his viewers into millionaires. I had time for Maddow and Olbermann, but I have gladly traded them in for internet based news analysis. Online, I can delve far deeper into subjects I do not understand well, and engage in discussions with authors and other readers. It is a far richer and more valuable source of information, and thankfully, it is mostly free.
Having switched off from mainstream media culture, I have found it difficult to converse about politics with people still wedded to the corporate news. The scope of debate is so narrow that I almost find myself speaking a different language, and I often fear the worse when it comes to the prospect of serious progressive change. If people do not accurately understand what is happening to them, how on earth will the be able to change it? As Chris Hedges writes:
The propagandists for globalism are the natural outgrowth of this image-based and culturally illiterate world. They speak about economic and political theory in empty clichés. They cater to our subliminal and irrational desires. They select a few facts and isolated data and use them to dismiss historical, economic, political and cultural realities. They tell us what we want to believe about ourselves. They assure us that we are exceptional as individuals and as a nation. They champion our ignorance as knowledge. They tell us that there is no reason to investigate other ways of organizing and governing our society. Our way of life is the best. Capitalism has made us great. They peddle the self-delusional dream of inevitable human progress. They assure us we will be saved by science, technology and rationality and that humanity is moving inexorably forward.
The recent labor protest in Wisconsin and Los Angeles have given me some hope for the future - they represent the possible awakening of working America to the reality of our market based economy, and they are becoming angry at the right people. But grass roots movements are facing a monumental propaganda system in the form of the corporate news, a structure set up and funded to discredit alternative views and propel the interests of their monied owners.
Profit based news works by selling to its consumers, and consumers buy more when they feel powerless, isolated and incapable of joining the political process. Old white men with center to right leanings make up the majority of newscasters in America and they speak in a language far removed from regular people. It is an insiders game not because it is special, but because it works in the interests of the players. If only they understand what they are talking about, how could the average man on the street hope to play a part in it? And while the viewers feel disconnected to the topics being discussed, they are simultaneously being sold expensive cars and perfumes they cannot afford. It is a vicious cycle that perpetuates a system that does not work for the majority of the population.
What can we do about it?
Firstly, we must stop taking part in it. Turn off your television and cancel your cable bill. Go online for your news sources and do your own fact checking. It is as simple as clicking a button, and you might be surprised at what you find out. Then, seek to discuss current events with friends and family and try to talk to people more educated than yourself. Real discussions with real people are empowering as you will find many are in similar situations to yourself. They worry about money, the environment, and the state of the economy, and as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. The free market system would like you to feel alone and confused - you are easier to sell to and easier to control. But non-compliance and active resistance erodes that power and can lay the foundations for a more sane and compassionate society.
So switch off your TV and start chatting to your neighbors.