Saturday, July 19, 2014

Media and Human Attention: Who's To Blame For Too Many Insipid Media Distractions?

Author Michael Wolff is reduced to a plaintive cry in his essay in the USA/Weekend magazine. Evidently, there just isn’t enough media scarcity today! Too damned many distractions, what with social media, bloggers a dime a dozen, as well as video games and Netflix etc.  As he puts it (‘Massive Media’, USA/Weekend, p. 7):

This is, curiously, a crisis for the media business – a business that even if we felt it encroach on our lives, actually thrived on scarcity.”

He adds that:

We wanted it more because there was relatively little of it. Advertisers would pay more because audiences were gathered at exclusive moments. Now, everything is available at any time- there is not only more media but soon all media that ever was will be instantly servable – vastly diluting the attention for, and value of, any one media experience. Supply has overwhelmed demand.”

Sounding an awful lot like the 55-odd calendars I receive each year as “gifts” from assorted charities – each one expecting at least a $15 donation when the very excess of calendars diminishes the value of any one to maybe a quarter. (Well, I do give ‘em a buck each – since the supply is so large that it merits very low donation irrespective of the costs of production. Even then I believe I’m being generous.)

Anyway, Wolff is right about an excess of media competing for a finite supply of attention. He’s also right that it’s a “crisis” for the media business, namely the corporate media business, which depends on advertising, whether for network TV or newspapers.  But that’s a good thing and here’s why:

Most of what passes for media vying for citizens’ attention is little more than tripe and propaganda.  It’s an effort to distract our attention or to mold our minds into a false conscious state to make us more amenable to manipulation. Hence, once the facility for individual expression in the computer age became a reality, it was inevitable that thinking citizens would strike out on their own, in blogs, or their own web pages.  Why the hell should we be passive vessels for the corporatists and elites?

The sad situation of a surfeit of trite, crappo media has perhaps been no better expressed than by author Chris Hedges in his terrific book, ‘Empire of Illusion’ (p. 45):

Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, we are bombarded with the cant and spectacle pumped out over the airwaves or over computer screens by highly paid pundits, corporate advertisers, talk show hosts, and gossip-fueled entertainment networks. And a culture dominated by images and slogans seduces those who are functionally literate but who make the choice not to read…….

Propaganda has become a substitute for ideas and ideology. Knowledge is confused with how we are made to feel. Commercial brands are mistaken for expressions of individuality.   It’s in this decline of values and literacy, among those who cannot read or have given up reading, that fertile ground for a new totalitarianism is seeded.”

Which is to say, false consciousness has been inserted into too many millions of our fellow citizens-  turning them into puppets for the propagandists. This is exactly why the excess media barrage is dangerous, because it makes discriminating selection so difficult and too often encourages the choice of lowest common denominator fare.

What is false consciousness? It’s the name given to a false information system that's been absorbed in part or whole, osmotically or via direct mental ingestion, by the majority of a population.  It has specific uses in the Neoliberal Corporatocracy to mislead a population about how things actually work. The political system ('democracy' is the rhetoric, but corporate dictatorship the reality), the economy ('free market' the rhetoric, but controlled markets the reality) and so on. If understanding can be obfuscated, and attention deflected to specious distractions and titillation, then the people can be disempowered. And even cooperate in their own economic (or social, political) subjugation.

As Carl Jensen also notes (Project Censored Yearbook: The News That Didn't Make the News and Why, 1995, pp 12-13):

"More than a half century ago Hitler said the masses take a long time to understand and remember, thus it is necessary to repeat the message time and time and time again - the public must be conditioned to accept the claims that are made no matter how outrageous or false those claims may be. We as a society, appear to have been well-conditioned to accept any number of claims regardless of how detrimental they are to our environment or to our own well being."

How to break out of this web of illusion? The solution, which terrifies the corporatists, is independent citizen expression! But….it assumes the citizen himself is well-informed, armed to the teeth with knowledge – whether of history, science, economics, or whatever- and also endowed with formidable critical thinking skills. Otherwise, the citizen’s independent expression is really just an extension of corporate propaganda and false consciousness with the effect to reduce us to the level of dependency of children.
Blogging is the ultimate citizen individual expression, which has as its prime objective to break free of the corporate media matrix and lies. But again, the blog that aspires to this objective must reflect and embody not just opinions – but opinions predicated on facts- supported by critical thinking and reasoning, analysis.

This blog, Brane Space, was launched with those goals in mind and with the attention to a diversity of topics simply because we inhabit a diverse, multi-faceted world. I began writing diverse contributions because I believed fellow citizens needed to be made aware of the delusions (and illusions) fabricated by the corporate media and the society at large to keep them dependent or manipulated. Only if they were aware of these, could they escape the dependency and the false consciousness.

Again, Michael Wolff is quite correct when he cries out that:

With only 24 hours in a day it isn’t possible to make a dent in everything that demands to be seen, listened to and read.”

But that means the intelligent citizen has to exercise discretion and discrimination in his media choices. It means he doesn’t waste time viewing hours of  porno or ‘kitty-doggie’ fights on Youtube, or baby wrestling matches, or talking gators or similar foolishness. It also means he (or she) doesn’t consume hours of time on absurd video games like ‘Grand Theft Auto 3’. None of those is edifying to the mind, which as Thomas Jefferson has observed, must be developed for the citizen to exercise his rights via active participation.  From his 'Notes on Virginia':

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. AND TO RENDER THEM SAFE, THEIR MINDS MUST BE IMPROVED."

Why is it so many otherwise intelligent people chase frivolity and foolishness in their media choices? Because, in the words of Chris Hedges (p. 137),  those diversionary selections of mass entertainment provide an escape from “the unhappiness that comes from isolation and the loss of community”. But it’s a cruel trick to believe that if we avoid a 'negative' blog post, i.e. about the failing economy or the Ukraine crisis, or the real reasons that so many want to cut Social Security it will improve our psychological state. In fact, we become mental hostages to the positive psychology manipulators, the same lot that assist the CIA in assorted interrogations,

We then become complicit in our own regression as citizens, by opting  exclusively for the 'positive' or (secondarily) for titillation over knowledge that can bring us to reality. Instead of seeking to escape reality then we need to embrace it.  Only in so doing can enough citizens be grounded in their society as opposed to becoming lotus –eaters mired in illusion.  As Philosopher David Jopling has put it (op. cit., p. 123):

"The deeper and more pervasive an individual's positive illusions, the greater their effect of diminishing his range of awareness of himself, other people, and the situation confronting him, With the diminishing of the range of awareness comes a corresponding diminishing of the range of responsiveness and openness to what is real. One's ability to interact intelligently with all the world's real consequences diminishes."

Hence, Chris Hedges' perceptive observation (p. 143):
Cultures that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion die."

Is ours a culture that can really distinguish reality from illusion? You look around and tell me: Is money really speech? Are corporations truly persons? Are they religious believers? Is debt leveraging wealth creation? Are your share valuations in a mutual fund, real money? Is fracking really good for our nation, our health, our economy?

Is "consent of the governed" really applicable today? Or, is it consent of the corporations and their lobbyists?

You be the judge!

See also:

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