Posts Tagged ‘media’

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility.”—Author Neil Postman

Caught up in the spectacle of the forthcoming 2016 presidential elections, Americans (never very good when it comes to long-term memory) have not only largely forgotten last year’s hullabaloo over militarized police, police shootings of unarmed citizens, asset forfeiture schemes, and government surveillance but are also generally foggy about everything that has happened since.

Then again, so much is happening on a daily basis that it’s understandable if the average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from reality while the government continues to amass more power and authority over the citizenry.

In fact, when we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this. As investigative journalist Mike Adams points out:

This psychological bombardment is waged primarily via the mainstream media which assaults the viewer by the hour with images of violence, war, emotions and conflict. Because the human nervous system is hard wired to focus on immediate threats accompanied by depictions of violence, mainstream media viewers have their attention and mental resources funneled into the never-ending ‘crisis of the NOW’ from which they can never have the mental breathing room to apply logic, reason or historical context.

Consider if you will the regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions in the past year alone that have kept us tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles and tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms:

Americans were riveted when the Republican presidential contenders went head-to-head for the second time in a three-hour debate that put Carly Fiorina in a favored position behind Donald Trump; Hillary Clinton presented the softer side of her campaign image during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon; scientists announced the discovery of what they believed to be a new pre-human species, Homo naledi, that existed 2.8 million years ago; an 8.3 magnitude earthquake hit Chile; massive wildfires burned through 73,000 acres in California; a district court judge reversed NFL player Tom Brady’s four-game suspension; tennis superstar Serena Williams lost her chance at a calendar grand slam; and President Obama and Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg tweeted their support for a Texas student arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school.

That was preceded by the first round of the Republican presidential debates; an immigration crisis in Europe; the relaxing of Cuba-U.S. relations; the first two women soldiers graduating from Army Ranger course; and three Americans being hailed as heroes for thwarting a train attack in France. Before that, there was the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse; shootings at a military recruiting center in Tennessee and a movie theater in Louisiana; the Boy Scouts’ decision to end its ban on gay adult leaders; the first images sent by the New Horizons spacecraft of Pluto; and the victory over Japan of the U.S. in the Women’s World Cup soccer finals.

No less traumatic and distracting were the preceding months’ newsworthy events, which included a shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church; the trial and sentencing of Boston Marathon bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection drugs and government censorship of Confederate flag license plates; and an Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia that left more than 200 injured and eight dead.

Also included in the mix of distressing news coverage was the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody and the subsequent riots in Baltimore and city-wide lockdown; the damning report by the Dept. of Justice into discriminatory and abusive practices by the Ferguson police department; the ongoing saga of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state; the apparently deliberate crash by a copilot of a German jetliner in the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers and crew; the New England Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl win; a measles outbreak in Disneyland; the escalating tensions between New York police and Mayor Bill de Blasio over his seeming support for anti-police protesters; and a terror attack at the Paris office of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Rounding out the year’s worth of headline-worthy new stories were protests over grand jury refusals to charge police for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown; the disappearance of an AirAsia flight over the Java Sea; an Ebola outbreak that results in several victims being transported to the U.S. for treatment; reports of domestic violence among NFL players; a security breach at the White House in which a man managed to jump the fence, cross the lawn and enter the main residence; and the reported beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff by ISIS.

That doesn’t even begin to touch on the spate of entertainment news that tends to win the battle for Americans’ attention: Bruce Jenner’s transgender transformation to Caitlyn Jenner; the death of Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown; Kim Kardashian’s “break the internet” nude derriere photo; sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby; the suicide of Robin Williams; the cancellation of the comedy The Interview in movie theaters after alleged terror hack threats; the wedding of George Clooney to Amal Alamuddin; the wedding of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt; the ALS ice bucket challenge; and the birth of a baby girl to Prince William and Kate.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, these sleight-of-hand distractions, diversions and news spectacles are how the corporate elite controls a population by entrapping them in the “crisis of the NOW,” either inadvertently or intentionally, advancing their agenda without much opposition from the citizenry.

Professor Jacques Ellul studied this phenomenon of overwhelming news, short memories and the use of propaganda to advance hidden agendas. “One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones,” wrote Ellul.

“Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandists, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.”

But what exactly has the government (aided and abetted by the mainstream media) been doing while we’ve been so cooperatively fixated on whatever current sensation happens to be monopolizing the so-called “news” shows?

If properly disclosed, consistently reported on and properly digested by the citizenry, the sheer volume of the government’s activities, which undermine the Constitution and in many instances are outright illegal, would inevitably give rise to a sea change in how business is conducted in our seats of power.

Surely Americans would be concerned about the Obama administration’s plans to use behavioral science tactics to “nudge” citizens to comply with the government’s public policy and program initiatives? There would be no end to the uproar if Americans understood the ramifications of the government’s plan to train non-medical personnel—teachers, counselors and other lay people—in “mental first aid” in order to train them to screen, identify and report individuals suspected of suffering from mental illness. The problem, of course, arises when these very same mental health screeners misdiagnose opinions or behavior involving lawful First Amendment activities as a mental illness, resulting in involuntary detentions in psychiatric wards for the unfortunate victims.

Parents would be livid if they had any inkling about the school-to-prison pipeline, namely, how the public schools are being transformed from institutions of learning to prison-like factories, complete with armed police and surveillance cameras, aimed at churning out compliant test-takers rather than independent-minded citizens. And once those same young people reach college, they will be indoctrinated into believing that they have a “right” to be free from acts and expressions of intolerance with which they might disagree.

Concerned citizens should be up in arms over the government’s end-run tactics to avoid abiding by the rule of law, whether by outsourcing illegal surveillance activities to defense contractors, outsourcing inhumane torture to foreign countries, causing American citizens to disappear into secret interrogation facilities, or establishing policies that would allow the military to indefinitely detain any citizen—including journalists—considered a belligerent or enemy.

And one would hope American citizens would be incensed about being treated like prisoners in an electronic concentration camp, their every movement monitored, tracked and recorded by a growing government surveillance network that runs the gamut from traffic cameras and police body cameras to facial recognition software. Or outraged that we will be forced to fund a $93 billion drone industry that will be used to spy on our movements and activities, not to mention the fact that private prisons are getting rich (on our taxpayer dollars) by locking up infants, toddlers, children and pregnant women?

Unfortunately, while 71% of American voters are “dissatisfied” with the way things are going in the United States, that discontent has yet to bring about any significant changes in the government, nor has it caused the citizenry to get any more involved in their government beyond the ritualistic election day vote.

Professor Morris Berman suggests that the problems plaguing us as a nation—particularly as they relate to the government—have less to do with our inattention to corruption than our sanctioning, tacit or not, of such activities. “It seems to me,” writes Berman, “that the people do get the government they deserve, and even beyond that, the government who they are, so to speak.”

In other words, if we end up with a militarized police state, it will largely be because we welcomed it with open arms. In fact, according to a recent poll, almost a third of Americans would support a military coup “to take control from a civilian government which is beginning to violate the constitution.”

So where does that leave us?

As legendary television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned, “Unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”

 

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“You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just like you. You’re wrong. Dead wrong.”—They Live

We’re living in two worlds, you and I.

There’s the world we see (or are made to see) and then there’s the one we sense (and occasionally catch a glimpse of), the latter of which is a far cry from the propaganda-driven reality manufactured by the government and its corporate sponsors, including the media.

Indeed, what most Americans perceive as life in America—privileged, progressive and free—is a far cry from reality, where economic inequality is growing, real agendas and real power are buried beneath layers of Orwellian doublespeak and corporate obfuscation, and “freedom,” such that it is, is meted out in small, legalistic doses by militarized police armed to the teeth.

All is not as it seems.

This is the premise of John Carpenter’s film They Live (1988), in which two migrant workers discover that the world’s population is actually being controlled and exploited by aliens working in partnership with an oligarchic elite. All the while, the populace—blissfully unaware of the real agenda at work in their lives—has been lulled into complacency, indoctrinated into compliance, bombarded with media distractions, and hypnotized by subliminal messages beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards and the like.

It is only when homeless drifter John Nada (played to the hilt by the late Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of doctored sunglasses—Hoffman lenses—that Nada sees what lies beneath the elite’s fabricated reality: control and bondage.

When viewed through the lens of truth, the elite, who appear human until stripped of their disguises, are shown to be monsters who have enslaved the citizenry in order to prey on them. Likewise, billboards blare out hidden, authoritative messages: a bikini-clad woman in one ad is actually ordering viewers to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Magazine racks scream “CONSUME” and “OBEY.” A wad of dollar bills in a vendor’s hand proclaims, “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

When viewed through Nada’s Hoffman lenses, some of the other hidden messages being drummed into the people’s subconscious include: NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONFORM, SUBMIT, STAY ASLEEP, BUY, WATCH TV, NO IMAGINATION, and DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY.

This indoctrination campaign engineered by the elite in They Live is painfully familiar to anyone who has studied the decline of American culture. A citizenry that does not think for themselves, obeys without question, is submissive, does not challenge authority, does not think outside the box, and is content to sit back and be entertained is a citizenry that can be easily controlled.

In this way, the subtle message of They Live provides an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the American police state, what philosopher Slavoj Žižek refers to as dictatorship in democracy, “the invisible order which sustains your apparent freedom.”

We’re being fed a series of carefully contrived fictions that bear no resemblance to reality. The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers). They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being. They want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats. Most of all, they want us to continue to march in lockstep with their dictates.

Tune out the government’s attempts to distract, divert and befuddle us and tune into what’s really going on in this country, and you’ll run headlong into an unmistakable, unpalatable truth: the moneyed elite who rule us view us as expendable resources to be used, abused and discarded.

In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern University concluded that the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens. Instead, the study found that the government is ruled by the rich and powerful, or the so-called “economic elite.” Moreover, the researchers concluded that policies enacted by this governmental elite nearly always favor special interests and lobbying groups.

In other words, we are being ruled by an oligarchy disguised as a democracy, and arguably on our way towards fascism—a form of government where private corporate interests rule, money calls the shots, and the people are seen as mere subjects to be controlled.

Consider this: it is estimated that the 2016 presidential election could cost as much as $5 billion, more than double what was spent getting Obama re-elected in 2012.

Not only do you have to be rich—or beholden to the rich—to get elected these days, but getting elected is also a surefire way to get rich. As CBS News reports, “Once in office, members of Congress enjoy access to connections and information they can use to increase their wealth, in ways that are unparalleled in the private sector. And once politicians leave office, their connections allow them to profit even further.”

In denouncing this blatant corruption of America’s political system, former president Jimmy Carter blasted the process of getting elected—to the White House, governor’s mansion, Congress or state legislatures—as “unlimited political bribery… a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over.”

Battlefield_Cover_300Rest assured that when and if fascism finally takes hold in America, the basic forms of government will remain. As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, fascism will appear to be friendly. The legislators will be in session. There will be elections, and the news media will continue to cover the entertainment and political trivia. Consent of the governed, however, will no longer apply. Actual control will have finally passed to the oligarchic elite controlling the government behind the scenes.

By creating the illusion that it preserves democratic traditions, fascism creeps slowly until it consumes the political system. And in times of “crisis,” expediency is upheld as the central principle—that is, in order to keep us safe and secure, the government must militarize the police, strip us of basic constitutional rights, criminalize virtually every form of behavior, and build enough private prisons to house all of us nonviolent criminals.

Clearly, we are now ruled by an oligarchic elite of governmental and corporate interests. We have moved into “corporatism” (favored by Benito Mussolini), which is a halfway point on the road to full-blown fascism.

Vast sectors of the economy, government and politics are managed by private business concerns, otherwise referred to as “privatization” by various government politicians. Just study modern government policies. “Every industry is regulated. Every profession is classified and organized,” writes economic analyst Jeffrey Tucker. “Every good or service is taxed. Endless debt accumulation is preserved. Immense doesn’t begin to describe the bureaucracy. Military preparedness never stops, and war with some evil foreign foe, remains a daily prospect.”

In other words, the government in America today does whatever it wants.

Corporatism is where the few moneyed interests—not elected by the citizenry—rule over the many. In this way, it is not a democracy or a republican form of government, which is what the American government was established to be. It is a top-down form of government and one which has a terrifying history typified by the developments that occurred in totalitarian regimes of the past: police states where everyone is watched and spied on, rounded up for minor infractions by government agents, placed under police control, and placed in detention (a.k.a. concentration) camps.

For the final hammer of fascism to fall, it will require the most crucial ingredient: the majority of the people will have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary. But why would a people agree to such an oppressive regime? The answer is the same in every age: fear.

Fear makes people stupid.

Fear is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government. And, as most social commentators recognize, an atmosphere of fear permeates modern America: fear of terrorism, fear of the police, fear of our neighbors and so on.

The propaganda of fear has been used quite effectively by those who want to gain control, and it is working on the American populace.

Despite the fact that we are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack; 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane; 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack, and 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist , we have handed over control of our lives to government officials who treat us as a means to an end—the source of money and power.

We have allowed ourselves to become fearful, controlled, pacified zombies.

In this regard, we’re not so different from the oppressed citizens in They Live. Most everyone keeps their heads down these days while staring zombie-like into an electronic screen, even when they’re crossing the street. Families sit in restaurants with their heads down, separated by their screen devices and unaware of what’s going on around them. Young people especially seem dominated by the devices they hold in their hands, oblivious to the fact that they can simply push a button, turn the thing off and walk away.

Indeed, there is no larger group activity than that connected with those who watch screens—that is, television, lap tops, personal computers, cell phones and so on. In fact, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month.

The question, of course, is what effect does such screen consumption have on one’s mind?

Psychologically it is similar to drug addiction. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed, and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV viewing with a lack of tension.” Research also shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet discontent and pacify disruptive people. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek.

Given that the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by six mega corporations, what we watch is now controlled by a corporate elite and, if that elite needs to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers, it can do so on a large scale.

If we’re watching, we’re not doing.

The powers-that-be understand this. As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:

We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

This brings me back to They Live, in which the real zombies are not the aliens calling the shots but the populace who are content to remain controlled.

When all is said and done, the world of They Live is not so different from our own. As one of the characters points out, “The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.”

We, too, are focused only on our own pleasures, prejudices and gains. Our poor and underclasses are also growing. Racial injustice is growing. Human rights is nearly nonexistent. We too have been lulled into a trance, indifferent to others.

Oblivious to what lies ahead, we’ve been manipulated into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith, things will work out. But that’s never been true of emerging regimes. And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too late.

“The success of a terrorist operation depends almost entirely on the amount of publicity it receives.”—Walter Laqueur, Terrorism (1977)

Just imagine that you’re a terrorist with limited funds and you want to wreak havoc. You only have a few bombs, but you want your message broadcast to the world. How do you get the best bang for your buck? The answer is simple: turn the media into broadcasters for your acts of terrorism. (Rest assured, the politicians will also do their part to make the most of the moment and escalate a legitimate crisis into a full-blown political drama.)

As the recent terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon shows, the way for terrorists to broadcast their message to the world is to get the attention of the world media. Today’s terrorists know that they have the media at their disposal—CNN, FOX and the rest, including their online counterparts, are all at their beck and call—because today’s media outlets have 24 hours of airtime to fill, and what’s more salacious than the murder and mayhem of terrorism?

There is a symbiotic relationship between terrorism and the media—especially television media. Not long after Americans were alerted to the news of the Boston bombings, the coverage quickly escalated to a frenzied level, with every possible angle being covered, whether inane or newsworthy. From minute-by-minute updates on the bombings to reports on what the average American thinks about the bombings, there is little ground that has not already been covered mere days after the tragic event.

Take a look at CNN’s website coverage of the Boston bombings, and the stories range from a moment by moment photo sequence of moments right after the blast, to photo and video reports from eyewitnesses on the scene, as well as an interactive map and timeline tracking the explosions and their aftermath. It’s almost as if they were creating an interactive video game.

Yet does all this coverage really help us understand the tragedy any more or navigate terrorists and reduce a genuine tragedy to an entertainment spectacle?

While journalists have a responsibility to report the news accurately and honestly, they play right into the hands of the terrorists when they cross over into entertainment reporting with the kind of continuous coverage we have been experiencing with the Boston bombings.

As renowned terrorism expert Walter Laqueur writes in his book The New Terrorism (1999):

It has been said that journalists are terrorists’ best friends, because they are willing to give terrorist operations maximum exposure. This is not to say that journalists as a group are sympathetic to terrorists, although it may appear so. It simply means that violence is news, whereas peace and harmony are not. The terrorists need the media, and the media find in terrorism all the ingredients of an exciting story.

One reason terrorists use the tactics they do is to get publicity and thereby get their message across. However, in addition to providing them with a megaphone to the world, the publicity actually encourages further terrorist acts and also serves as a recruiting tool for more terrorists—whether foreign or homegrown. In other words, by shining a constant spotlight on these acts of terror, the media actually serve to spawn the system of terror. As Laqueur points out, “Terrorists have always recognized the importance of manipulating the media.” Indeed, terrorists the world over have mastered the art of marketing themselves to a sensationalism-driven media, and the media lap it up.

Ask yourselves: why do terrorists fly planes into buildings and blow up buildings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon? Do they do it to be mean? Or because they like to destroy things? Perhaps in part. But the real motivation behind these acts of urban terrorism is the attention the terrorists receive from the world media. Laqueur quotes one terrorist leader as saying, “If we put even a small bomb in a house in town, we could be certain of making the headlines in the press. But if the rural guerrilleros liquidated thirty soldiers in some village, there was just a small news item on the last page.”

As consumers of this constant barrage, we are just as guilty of fueling the feeding frenzy. With advances in technology, we now have easy and immediate access to news and entertainment wherever we are—whether at home, on our cell phones, at work on our computers or in our cars. Thus, it becomes a vicious cycle. The more we watch, the harder the media must work to keep us entertained, and the harder they must compete for our viewership. And with all those advertising dollars at stake, the television networks must compete against one another.

So what’s the solution? A large part of the responsibility rests with the news media. The answer is to report news as any other tragedy, but don’t dwell on it. Don’t turn it into an interactive video game on your website. And by all means, don’t turn it into an entertainment spectacle.

As with so many problems, if we are to have any hope of a solution, we must begin with ourselves, at home. Maybe it’s time to turn the television sets off, stop buying the political spin being sold to us through the media, and start focusing on not only who is behind these terrorist attacks, but equally important, who stands to gain from them. — John W. Whitehead