THE GOALS OF MODERN MEDIA
By Roland Watson
"I don't like the drugs, but the drugs like me."
- Marilyn Manson
Well, I have saved the worst for last. The media, through their own content and the advertising of others, are the dominant force in establishing and regulating the form of modern society. All of the messages and values to which I have referred, and many of the institutional tactics, are created by and conveyed to us through the media. They truly are the enforcers of modern conformity.
But, as we have seen, the media's masters are the corporations. In fact, corporations, the media and the advertising industry are interdependent. The first aspect of this is that the latter two are dependent on corporate advertising dollars. Some print media, of course, such as newspapers and magazines, also rely on circulation revenues, and some visual media, such as cable, satellite and pay per view television, and some internet websites, charge similar user fees. But in the main it is advertising, and of this, corporate advertising, that supports the bulk of all modern media.
(However, there are variations in this structure by country. In the United Kingdom people pay general user fees in the form of television taxes, and this enables British Broadcasting Corporation channels to be ad-free. In addition, these taxes subsidize BBC content, and allow it to provide programming tailored for specific audiences. In this way, its dependence on ratings, and attracting massive audiences, with all of the consequences that this has on program content, also is broken.)
Corporations, in turn, are dependent on the media and the advertising agencies to boost their sales. Indeed, the latter are the foundation of corporate sales and marketing strategy. The media shape us as the corporations so desire, turning us into their willing victims, and then advertising delivers the final blow. Or, put in an earlier context, corporations, to fulfill their need to earn profits, dream up products. The media then shape us, in general terms, to be the type of people who will want such products. And lastly, advertising, with its cleverness, fear and deception, gives us the solution to our new desires in the form of specific products, i.e., those of its corporate clients.
Of course, all three then go on to pat each other on the back for their perceived service to humanity. Their argument, which is disingenuous in the extreme, is that they are only giving us what we want, what we have asked for. But this is a lie. They told us what to want; manipulated us to want what they have to offer. We never asked for it.
When you go to a magic show, and watch a woman being cut in half, or an elephant disappear, you know you are being deceived. It is part of the premise of the show, and it is very well done, so you accept it, and are entertained. But this type of deception is also widely prevalent in society, in the form of messages from corporations and their partners, the media and the advertising agencies. It is also very well done, but it is not all in good fun. They do not want you to realize that you are being deceived; that you have been formed. They are practicing real magic, one might even call it black magic, by taking away your individuality, by getting you to become their willing slave.
And, of course, like corporations, the media and the advertising agencies are not held responsible for this, and all of the social costs that it creates. They also exist outside of our system of checks and balances (other than anemic "truth in advertising" laws). For example, we saw at the beginning of the website that the success of the women's liberation movement is evidence that major social forms can be defeated. Women in Western societies now have power and independence. However, their peace of mind has been undermined by the advertising industry and its absolute obsession with appearance. Women feel a strong need to mate, to bear children, and they understand the importance of appearance in this process. But the advertising industry, and women's magazines, prey on this. They harp on it, again and again. They overpower women with all manner of messages, direct and subtle ("the most important thing in life is not having wrinkles"), to create the fear that they - the women - are not pretty enough. Indeed, the entire beauty products industry is a sham; one more confidence game.
Just look at the ads in these magazines: the photos are airbrushed to perfection, and the faces of the models (already some of the most beautiful women around) are shown in extreme close-up. By definition, no woman can ever meet this standard. But the power of the brainwashing, the fear that is created, is so strong that most women feel compelled to try. Almost all women carry small mirrors with them (no men do!), and look at themselves, inspect their appearance, many times a day.
This form, provided to us by corporations, the media and advertising agencies, is working, and in the process it is reversing the most important gains, the psychological gains, of the women's liberation movement.
Also, as to models, they are the aristocrats of the female gender. They are paid monumental sums, and their opinions, on all manner of issues, are even solicited, which shows the real power of the appearance form. There is no reason why anyone should think that a model has anything to say, about anything. They are paid solely on the basis of their appearance. Their minds are for all intents and purposes ignored, and often this is for good reason. Models begin working at an early age, so their education suffers. And, of course, they occupy the fanciest of all possible worlds, so they have no real experience either. But, to the media, their views are important. (Listening to a model is like voting for the spouse of a deceased, or disgraced, politician, merely because of their marital relationship.)
Needless to say, and for the last time, it wasn't always this way. The "media" refers to medium of communication, and for most of the human experience communication was the spoken word. From talking we progressed to writing, and then the telephone and the radio, followed by video - movies and the TV - and now the internet. It is worth noting that all modern media, all of our modern forms of communication, are inextricably linked to technology. Hence, we absolutely should be worried about them. It is guaranteed that they will have unintended consequences. (It is also therefore no surprise that one of the media's core messages is that we should love technology.)
What all of this represents is the cycle of human communication, and one wonders where it will go next. To date, though, the media exhibit the common change in purpose that we have seen with all of the other social institutions, from a concern with assisting their users, to caring only for themselves. For instance, the earliest books and broadsheets provided education and news. Their creators were not motivated by a desire to make money, but rather to distribute information.
Now we have video, most importantly the TV, which is the most powerful communication medium ever invented.
"There's the television! It's all right there. It's all right there.
Look, listen, kneel, pray!"
- from the film, 12 Monkeys
But the question remains: is it being used for the social good, as a tool to further education and to resolve social ills? The answer is: hardly, or more accurately, rarely. The dominant use of the TV is to assist the earning of profits, and given our economic system it was inevitable that it would be devoted to this end. Corporations raise capital to produce goods, which they then need to sell. Their goal, therefore, is to reach as wide a market, or audience, as possible. The TV has become, has had its purpose largely restricted to that of, a sales tool.
Television is not for your entertainment. It is solely a means to hold your attention captive, like a hostage, so you will watch the advertisements. Advertisements are the drug, and TV the needle.
There are many consequences of this, and one of the most important, if only because it leads to so many others, is its effect on education. The television medium, by default, through the interest its visual power creates, has taken over the role of teacher from parents and schools. But it is unprepared, actually unwilling, to fulfill this responsibility. Education does not earn enough profits. There is no money in it, hence the people who are responsible for the medium do not want to provide it.
Of course, as with our other institutions, the goal is not only to make money; more importantly, it is the acquisition of power (and status, and fame!). Indeed, it is one of the greatest tragedies of capitalism that our most creative people pursue careers in the media and advertising. This is another example of labor misallocation, and of the system co-opting the most able. From a social perspective it would be far better for such individuals to create fine art, and high culture, and insightful education, to enhance the human experience.
But this is not how the creative people themselves view it. They like TV and film, and advertising. These are their best career options, because of the tremendous power that they get over other people. Other than via the authoritarian imposition of force and pain, there arguably is no greater power. Such individuals, as propagandists, can influence and manipulate what we think, and therefore how we live. Indeed, to the extent that the demands of modern life make people dependent on the media, if only for stress relief, it grants them absolute power.
We saw before that humans are gullible, but it is actually far worse than that. From the media's perspective, we are idiots! And I am not kidding. They back this view up with lots of cold, hard cash. And they are right! We buy their trash content, and advertising works!
"Week after week, month after month, we bombarded the public with ads."
- Dick Morris, advisor in Bill Clinton's reelection campaign.
This is the first lesson taught in every business school Introduction to Marketing class, and political advisors obviously recognize it as well. If you increase the advertising, you will increase the sales. People can be influenced and manipulated. All it takes is money.
The media could provide us with education and real originality. And, they could be the strongest force of all in bringing about a better society. They could both encourage wide-ranging individuality, and be the glue that holds us together. Instead, in their thrall to profits, they seek our conditioning, our sameness, and our enslavement.
© Roland Watson 2016