Today there is no question of media having too much power,
but the startling reality of the power having too much media.
“Media” is the plural form of the Latin word “medium,” meaning in its relevant usage, “an intervening substance, as air, through which a force acts or an effect is produced.” We came to refer to the newspapers by this definition, and called them the media. We recognized that those materials are indeed a substance through which forces act. Social, political and economic forces. Later radio and television, the internet, facebook, magazines, Hollywood; all media.
We began to say that the media has too much power, meaning that we came to rely more on information carried by those intervening substances, information produced by others, far away, with interests in forming our opinions on the things that affect our lives and our worlds, than we did on each other or our own experience. We discovered that elections, national attitudes toward relevant issues, child raising and all things could be influenced by the media.
Today there is no question of media having too much power, but the startling reality of the power having too much media. For every subtle human preference, for every sensitively guarded avenue of thought, there is a form of media which lulls it and enters and allows power to act through its presence, to be noisily represented. All manner of media has evolved to reach through every demographic and get right in people’s faces; in their ears and eyes and through to their hearts and minds.
Advertisers with products to sell are very interested in reaching these semi-conscious places. They pay well to be carried in by media.
This has the combined effect of turning us, the subscribers to media, into a product: the consumer of the manufactures on view in the ads that media sponsors itself with. The media competes for us, to show the purchaser of the ad content that they have a large and diverse product to offer – a large circulation among potential consumers. The media will do anything to achieve us: lie, strip, twerk, stir violence. Perhaps we feel special. So today, powerful forces act through ubiquitous, scintillating forms of media and we are no longer one of the deciding forces but the object of their actions.
There is no question that the many forms of media which reach most people, the mass media which the masses access for news of the world, is backed by power.
Power has Hollywood: product placement in blockbuster movies is prime real estate, and that placement is one of the diminishing sources of revenue a producer has in the age of digital piracy – so they want to make movies that advertisers agree to on a philosophical level.
Minutes after the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in UN General Assembly, a movie called “Peeples” opened. It was condescending in its representations of what were clearly land-based, spiritual people who would be labelled “aboriginal.” The power has Dances With Wolves, Legends of the Fall, The Lone Ranger. Looking a little more closely, the power has the celebrities who produced those movies. On a more sinister and global scale, it has The Devil’s Double, spy movies, “documentaries.” It has Downton Abbey, glorifying a completely white cast and purring for a “simpler time,” when poor people knew their place and elegance was undiminished by their presence. It has Django Unchained, where the black man’s only tool is violent vengeance. It has pop music, where the height of aspiration is one night with a beautiful girl, and white Disney teenagers spank mature black women in live performances broadcast around the world. The power has the History Channel.
But the power has much more media than that. It has ads on all the alternative online news sites, which rely on ads for revenue to keep operating. It has quite alternative websites of its own – googling Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr. could land you on a page designed to obscure those historical personalities.
The power actually has whole environmental organizations and their campaign communications – even manufacturing their own opposition within ‘watchdog’ social sectors and preparing the messages the media will report! The Pew Family Trust is an excellent example, forming the supposed activist group Bear Watch and their well-planned capitulation at the formation of the Great Bear Rainforest Park on the west coast; and Suncor has the Canadian Boreal Initiative and, through it, the Women Advocating Responsible Mining. The irresponsible oil and gas producers founded WARM.
The power has most of the inhabitants of ivory towers, where its intellectual opposition is also carefully cultivated and contained, and the academics “publish or perish.”
These mediums come to define the words we use to name our worlds.
When babies are learning to speak they can hear all kinds of languages and produce the sounds. As the young people age, by about seven, they become able only to hear the sounds they have heard most and grow less able to hear other sounds – as in other languages. The brain stops keeping those channels open as they seem not to be needed, Like language, the icons and syllables and phrases of the mass, incessant media hydra have become the means of communication of choice available to new First World western generations: it’s what they have heard most. The young people of today talk about relationships, “like in The Notebook!” and environmental issues, “like in Avatar!” and heroes, “like in…” – but no longer have a visceral connection to the physical, sensual, emotional, inter-personal world and its creatures portrayed in those movies, nor even words for their names and aspects.
Even those popular forms of media which came out of humble beginnings and reached hundreds of millions through a free internet loophole now suffer the power to act through their venue, or actively join it. For instance, when Cop Watch of New York City reached over a million viewers with their video of an instance of police brutality towards a civillian, they received an automatic response from youtube inviting them to participate in an advertising program. But when “youtube” discovered the nature of the organization which posted the video, the offer for cash remittance for advertising was retracted. In an instance from the other end of the spectrum: the owner of facebook met with secret service agents of the USA and of Britain to discuss terms of sharing facebook users’ information with the governments, as an anti-terror mechanism. Facebook has made one man a billionaire.
When Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message, he was looking at people sitting still and absorbing widely circulated information without raising much response. He was looking at unilateral platforms like newspapers that may not publish responses to their material if it didn’t suit them, to town hall discussions and public art galleries where artists come and engage with people who are seeking, to the theatre of the oppressed, to national radio broadcasting corporations which wear a badge and tell people, without qualification, what’s going on, and wondering aloud whether it isn’t the actions that a medium provokes that is the real story. He was looking at stories of genocide running down short columns next to large display ads for suburban utility vehicles. He was noticing that there’s no place for the world news to land in a person’s workday.
The most important simple single fact that supports the idea that the power has too much media in this part of the world is that 99% of print, radio and television media with mass distribution in Canada is corporately owned – and has been for many decades. These media are further corporately backed through advertising – advertisers will want to be pleased with the content which appears alongside their promotions. Corporations buy ads in the media from other corporations, and they control the content of that media because their financial contributions are the most relevant to the owners of the particular media in question.
The power has politicians, elections and governments: its foot soldiers, middle men and buffering bureaucracy of investigation and legislation. Consider that politicians are backed by owners of the same corporations which largely control, or at least contain, the media by their influence.
Whether a local Trustee or a potential Mayor or a runner for an MLA spot, the public candidate’s first pledge of allegiance is to a private campaign sponsor. The elected official then rises further by way of the official’s discretion in spending currency in contracting for public works, licensing resource industries, and permitting development. They arrive finally to a seat on the Board: deciding who will get the next campaign funding to run for and keep office and perhaps receiving a knighthood. In the same way, former BC Premier Sir Gordon Campbell originally accepted real estate tycoon Jack Poole as his sponsor to run for Mayor of Vancouver, and, in the course of his career, handed over vast tracts of unceded indigenous land near Whistler, paid Poole’s companies to build condos on it and then bought them back all with public money. He sold the public railway to his friends, divided the public utility, and spent billions of tax dollars financing transportation infrastructure which hydroelectric producers, oil companies, forestry companies and mines will use to access resources. Resources which are well understood to be situate on unceded indigenous homelands.
Political candidates who don’t advocate the power’s agenda don’t get much media coverage. Their real job is to sell that agenda to the public.
Embedded journalists simply smooth the way for their bosses’ candidates and make potential public outcry toothless for want of relevant question. The journalists recognize their ultimate employer – even while obscuring the identity of that agent by minimizing or blacking out recognizable features in their reporting.
For example, in news reports of indigenous protest there is only the question of what should be done with these “terrorists” – not documentation of the atrocious human rights abuses they are resisting and exploration of human rights based legal remedies. Editors place royal weddings in front of world news, as they did while Canadian pilots led the NATO attack on Qaddafi in Libya. The British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, agreed at some point with Canada and others that Palestinian killings of Jewish leaders should be called “assassinations” in the press, while Jewish murders of Palestinians would be called “executions.” Here at home, in reports of the sale of BC Rail, a public asset that was making money and linking communities, somehow the journalists just cannot find any business or personal connections between the government members and the buyer – they have to rely on what one or two non-conformist politicians believe may have happened and simply quote them.
If the odd elected politician gets batted into the stratosphere on the blunt end of a failed initiative, there are plenty more where he came from, and some will be sacrificed in scandals this way. But that is what it is when the mass media goes after a politician: a failed initiative. He falls in the balance of convenience; a sacrificial lamb to oil the gears of appearance, to appease the gods of The One Truth who must remain concealed. For example, when BC Premier Glen Clark was thrown out on the basis of his, not unusual, use of BC Lottery monies, that had more to do with silencing his growing personal interest in an Inquiry into the events of the Gustafsen Lake siege which was a provincial and federal attempt to wipe out indigenous sovereigntists in 1995. Glen Clark had recently presided over the Nisga’a Final Agreement – no small accomplishment, getting the roadblocking Nisga’a to coerce and intimidate their citizens to vote “yes” to a “treaty” that would make them a BC municipality – but in spite of this victory he could not be suffered his questions. And all BC Premiers have had their hands in the till.
The power’s media is held up by essential pillars. For instance, “progress” is above criticism, where progress is an ever-expanding economy making more and more people cash-rich (or making some people more and more cash-rich). It insists on a lack of alternatives. For example, when Tsilhqot’in people blockade their Fish Lake against open pit gold mining, the only debate in the media is how long their sentences should be, and politicians like Rich Coleman pronounce on the gravitas of “turning back the clock” to a fictitious time when Indigenous babies and mothers died in childbirth, lacking the “progress” which gold mines and all that flow from them provide.
In Canada and now in further circles, particularly other British colonies, an essential pillar for media’s made-up world, the one in which advertisers wish us to believe we live, is that Canada is an excellent nation. The whole idea of nations has been swallowed and digested and excreted and composted to give growth to a modern definition: that a state which has imperially gated in the tribal nations on their homelands and made all other individuals equal within its borders, although without any meaningful identity, is a nation. So for instance, while Canada is perhaps an excellent organization, the uniting force of indiscriminate resource extraction and structural development on a couple generations of immigrants from desperate situations around the world can hardly be understood as the genesis of a nationality or a people. It’s more like an enterprising refugee camp. The fact that the cornerstone of this excellent organization is the dispossession and decimation of a hundred distinct indigenous nations is conspicuous. More to the point, the Canadian dollar has just been made a reserve currency. It must be a safe state for money and the power.
A certain perpetual cataract on power media’s discourse vanishes the monopoly that unceded aboriginal title to the land holds on this incorporated state of Canada. And in the shadow and skew of that blind spot, in the denial of a great human crisis, what else is sacred? Can the product of the mass media point out one sacred thing which they have not already discarded along with indigenous peoples? Are children sacred, or communities, or identity?
As the corporations do away with the last undergarments of Mother Nature – they’re digging deep now – it is as unlikely a time as any in colonial history for the power media to accurately reflect the legal status of the lands and the question of the survival of the peoples who still own it outright, or else have the right to live on it and have a future on it according to their own determinations.
Entire nations, entire languages, entire histories and cultures are lifted off the surface of the planet by the industrial strength cleansers of humanity present in the cynicism of the media’s human products. The same advertisers bringing us the media are the ones whose goods and wares come from the indigenous territories.
In this “news” environment, journalists or reporters cannot simply reach out through a loyal subscription list to people who are hungry for their cutting analysis or up-to-date fact finding; they are simply embedded in the corporate agenda and they work for the power – if they want to keep their jobs. Newspapers in every community in British Columbia are owned by one of two conglomerates – Black or Glacier. Sometimes there are two newspapers in a community, like in Whistler: one belonging to each corporation.
But the sheer volume of this type of media creates the appearance of balance or range. Canadians have had a kind of access to information that few else in the world have had. We have had reporters in every part of the globe for decades. And we have had cheap TV. This makes Canadians feel informed. But we know what a few artists can do with some celluloid and free reign on presenting the situation in the way that suits the power. The general state of Canadian opinion on world matters is not so much informed as it is manufactured. What the Canadian army, Canadian mining companies and Canadian international aid funding do next is, well, decided by the power. That power informs the media.
If it were another way, we might not accept the general lie that “the colonial period” in Canada is over: because taking indigenous children from their mothers with police is not a post-colonial act and it happens every day. Incarcerating people who block roads into their lands is not a post-colonial act and that happens at least once a month in Canada. But Canada is valuable to the power, and the media occludes such realities.
If it were another way, we would be made to notice that once the indigenous nations are mostly gone, if they ever succumb to Canadians’ genocidal attempts, there are few who will help us when progress comes for us and the places we live, breathe and drink water. For instance, Canadians should come to grips with the fact their governments have already sold the place: the oil and minerals still underground are already paid for; a down payment has been made for the water; multi-national corporate investment in agricultural land and potential hydroelectric power soar. Selective government controls and subsidies drive down the price of land, water, forests: the denial of aboriginal title and criminalization of aboriginal protesters is a government subsidy.
Media produced by human beings and not by corporations might not run ads for an organization called “Reconciliation Canada,” which is a company that is valued by the power for creating the appearance that it has something to do with remedying the crimes of Indian Residential Schools. In practice, it just accepts corporate sponsorship to conduct more fund raising for the company, for purposes undeclared. The occasional volunteer-led walk or event happens under their banner. A humanist media might investigate such a company with interest. No justice for one means no justice for anyone – and falsifying affairs to appear as justice is a shame.
If we had power, we the people, and media that power can afford, we would be forced to reflect and find ourselves immediately and in no uncertain terms guilty of doing nothing when “they” came for the Indians; when the army, the police, the churches and the child-seizing welfare bureaucracy came for the Indians and removed them from the path of “national” “progress.” But the “they” is actually “we.” So, “we did nothing when we came for the Indians,” except that doesn’t make sense. We did do something: we came for the Indians. If there was anywhere in the imperially ransacked world where journalism was independent of the power, this might be a readily accepted report.
Some Canadians are calling for First Nations to maintain some control of land, particularly around Independent Power Projects and logging, but it is only out of self-interest, and the “control” is delegated. The legal issues have not just gone away and we know, vaguely, that aboriginal consent is required in certain places in order for industry to plough ahead. We do not, however, as a society, seem to appreciate that none of us last without oxygen, water and wild plants – the memory holders for our cultivated crops.
We must hold our own memory together. We must not foray further into the dangerous wilderness of an individualized myth of personal freedom within a wonderful but strictly static world.
So long as we publish flyers on pulp from the boreal forest, or upload images using molybdenum-enabled hardware, or sit at home and analyze the state of the world privately and in isolation, turning subjects into objects, or accomplish any of the aforesaid with electricity from salmon-destroying dams, we are not seeing the cloud in this computer screen. And if we can’t see that, if we are speaking only for our imaginary, disconnected profile-projections without seeing the river in this ink, we are not speaking to our true nature. We are endangering it.
We don’t really want entertainment, we really want the truth about ourselves, in all its musical, dramatic and vividly terrible beauty. We just don’t know that because we haven’t had it; but with those truths, we could act. We don’t really want welfare and “social safety,” what we really want is power in our own lives and worlds. We want education not indoctrination, and we want enlightenment. We want Medicare, but we want healers and a healthy environment too. We don’t just want subsidized housing and child care, we want freedom and fair wages.
When we can’t have the truth, we watch cats playing piano on youtube – after an ad for a car. Probably after coming home from work to pay for that car.
But I don’t want to listen to your music on the radio, I want to sing with you. I don’t want to read your blog, I want to hear your voice. I don’t want to watch you on livestream, I want you here with me. I don’t want to watch your cooking show, I want you in my kitchen and I don’t want to watch an ad for shampoo while the onions are caramelizing I want to hear again the story about how you got those mangoes when you were in Panama.