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Re: <nettime> Comment on Paul Miller's Entertainment Nation
Kali Tal on Sun, 18 Jun 2006 23:49:24 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Comment on Paul Miller's Entertainment Nation


I'm with you, Paul. How do you suggest we go about it, though? A  
television boycott? A movie boycott? A movement towards live  
entertainment? A coalition that is geared towards recreating a non- 
mass-media social life? How do we circumvent the vertical monopoly on  
media and still get the word out to everyone? Slow media might catch  
on; slow food is making some comeback. But most of us expect our news  
and our communications at lightning speed, and the same companies  
that own our media also own huge sectors of the internet, where  
private toll roads will shortly become the rule, at least in the  
United States.

I've been thinking quite a bit about the dangers of vertical monopoly  
in mass media for the last decade, especially as I watched my college  
students become more and more alienated from each other; less able to  
interact without the mediation of tv, film, video games, concert  
attendance, shopping, eating at (primarily chain) restaurants,  
cellphones, internet connections.  Fewer and fewer of them practice  
any sort of creative art (making music, painting, dance, theater),  
and fewer and fewer of them talk to each other (or anyone else) about  
anything that truly matters in their lives.  I know this because I  
had the benefit of teaching small classes for the last decade, and  
creating the kind of classroom environment that demanded  
participation of each student.  Many of my students said that my  
classes were actually making their relations with their friends more  
difficult because they were finding they disagreed with those friends  
about more and more things but they didn't know how to have real  
discussions with those friends.  I'm not saying I'm a spectacular  
teacher -- I'm a good teacher, but no better than my own good  
teachers were when I was in college.  I'm saying this because one of  
the things students in my classes are asked to do is to observe  
themselves, take notes on their own culture, conversations, habits.  
And over the last thirty years, I've seen those habits change a lot.  
This may be shifting a bit with the involvement of youth in creating  
their own internet presence, but the most popular venues, like  
MySpace, are owned by the same companies that own the rest of the  
media. In the case of MySpace, it's Rupert Murdoch, which makes  
MySpace a sibling of Fox News, which certainly should give us pause.   
Exciting things are happening in online spaces, but they are fragile  
because we, the people, don't own them.

Don't think I'm making a pitch for nostalgia, because I'm not. The  
"old days" weren't so great either. But I know that there was more  
choice available for people in terms of activities, in terms of the  
news they read, in terms of what they did for entertainment, in terms  
of what they did when they met in groups and socialized: the days  
before immortal, amoral vertical media monopolies became concrete  
entities and began to invisibly edit the world for everyone in reach,  
lately spreading out of the industrialized nations and swallowing  
huge segments of what we used to call "Third World" populations,  
growing, like The Blob, bigger every day.

Of all the things my students do for entertainment, the most  
liberating and the most communal is actually talking on their cell  
phones. Don't laugh. I hate cell phones, and I hate it when people  
are talking to people who aren't there, especially now that invisible  
headphones exist and you can't tell the schizophrenics from the  
"normal" people anymore. I got mad if a cell phone went off in my  
classroom and I made my students turn off ringers and vibrating  
functions at the door.  In the last year I taught (1996), I had to  
ban students from chatting on wireless internet devices when they  
were in class.  But at least this medium lets young people *talk* to  
each other.  It's active, not passive communication, even if it  
consists mostly of people telling other people where they are and  
what they're doing, and making plans to meet up later to engage in  
some consumptive, passive activity.

When you call for change, you need to realize that the change must go  
far deeper than rejecting the media options that are out there for  
us, provided by the corporations whose end goal is selling us into an  
intellectual and moral stupor.  Before we tell people, "don't watch  
TV," we need to offer them opportunities to create something else to  
do. And we're not very good at that, we folks who call ourselves  
progressives.  There needs to be a whole lot more dancing at the  
revolution before people will start coming.  P-Funk said it best:  
Free your ass, and your mind will follow.  There are a lot of polls  
rolling around showing that the majority of Americans do not approve  
of Bush, and especially disapprove of the Iraq war and the tanking  
U.S. economy. Maybe people are ripe for turning their backs on media  
that don't represent their beliefs or opinions, but they still need  
something to entertain their minds and hearts when they come home  
after work and on the weekends. The average American works hard, with  
long hours and lower and lower pay (if you count wages in real  
dollars), and if we don't want them to put their feet on the coffee  
table and sack out in front of the television, we need to give them  
an alternative; or, rather, we need to create opportunities for THEM/ 
US to create alternatives.

Progressives have to be out there building youth centers, supporting  
local libraries, starting book clubs, community sports teams, putting  
on dances, sponsoring music and arts education and performance in the  
community, forming outdoor clubs, cooking clubs, hosting picnics and  
building alternative press structure.  We need to do this in an  
organic way, so that it's not "prescribed entertainment"; in short,  
we need to ask people what they want to do for entertainment and  
social connection, and help them find the resources they need to do  
it.  This means getting out of our heads and going into our  
communities and figuring out how to unite "progressive" and "fun" for  
a change. Throw a dinner party, and at the party, talk about  
boycotting mass media. Encourage your friends to throw parties and do  
the same.  Get one community to mobilize for "mass-media free"  
entertainment, and see how it catches on.  The underlying theme is  
"We Can Do It Ourselves" -- we can be active, have fun, and not rely  
on the vidiot box in its various packaged forms.

That's the above ground part of the movement.  An underground  
movement would probably co-evolve to include coordinated billboard  
defacement, pirate media, sabotage, civil disobedience that disrupts  
broadcasts, and all sorts of enjoyable and exciting monkey-wrenching  
activities for those who require a heavy dose of adrenaline with  
their entertainment. Something for the kids to do....

The Right Wing understands this, by the way; particularly the  
fundamentalist Christians.  They understand it's a very short walk  
from the church social to the abortion clinic picket line, and that  
the family that prays with its neighbors is the family that preserves  
white supremacy, sexism, property values and the Republican Party.  
They understand that a sense of neighborliness and community is  
crucial to building and sustaining their power base. A sermon shouted  
from the pulpit is easily translated into an anti-gay-marriage letter- 
writing campaign, especially if the church pre-prints the letters and  
cards for their parishioners to mail.  The "family values" promoted  
by fundamentalists incite people who have the capacity to be  
extremists to do things like shoot doctors who perform abortions,  
burn down black churches, and lynch homosexuals -- acts that the  
above-ground fundamentalist movement overtly condemns, while covertly  
encouraging.

People are social animals and gravitate towards organized  
institutional structures, especially if those structures reinforce  
their notion that they are good people, doing good things.  The  
Christian fundamentalists feel mutually supported and part of a  
righteous community.  We progressives don't feel that way, in large  
part because we have forgotten that not all institutional structures  
are The Enemy -- that we need institutions that support us and share  
our goals and affirm our lives and our sense of purpose.  Social  
organization is not necessarily a cage or a trap; there are  
alternative modes and we can find them if we look. (A good place to  
start, by the way, is with  Wini Breines' brilliant study of Sixties  
organizing, _Community Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968: The  
Great Refusal_.) One of the reasons that the progressives of the  
Sixties were successful at all was because of the communal spirit  
that motivated organizers and participants alike. We may scoff at  
Woodstock today because we have been taught to scoff at Sixties  
culture (primarily by the right wingers--via their media machines-- 
who were frightened by that era so deeply that they swore that Never  
Again would their power be threatened by the masses), but go watch  
the film of Woodstock again and you can see that politics and culture  
were so deeply meshed that they couldn't be separated.  You can see  
that in a lot of the Sixties footage, from the newly re-released  
_Winter Soldier_ (http://worldfilm.about.com/b/a/257116.htm)  to  
radical films that are deeply buried and long out of print (_FTA_,  
_No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger_, _Citizen Soldier_).  You can  
see that, too, in the few activist enclaves that truly act as  
communities -- Gainsville, Florida is a good example of a place where  
Sixties activists are still alive, kicking, effectively working  
towards political ends, and regularly recruiting new blood.  They  
also, I hear, play volleyball together.

The corporations won't like it, if we start having fun without  
watching their commercials or buying their video games, their CDs and  
DVDs, their newspapers and their magazines. They won't like it if the  
people re-purpose their billboards for educational and community  
services. But they're corporations and they have no loyalty, even to  
their own media branches, so if we quit watching their commercials,  
they'll quit advertising on those stations. If we're really  
successful, they'll try to coopt the activities in which our  
communities engage, as they did so well the first time around (which  
is why we're here talking about this in the first place). But if we  
did this intelligently, as a national community of progressives, with  
the intent of rebuilding (or, in many places, building for the first  
time) neighborhood ties in ways that promote solidarity and co- 
dependence, it might actually work.  Right now the liveliest  
"neighborhood" organizations are all about protecting property  
(homeowner's groups and "covenants") and keeping out the riff-raff  
(Neighborhood Watch). We can apparently be persuaded to spy on each  
other a lot more easily than we can organize ourselves to party  
together. (The Homeland Security Department went straight to  
Neighborhood Watch when they wanted to begin their "outreach"  
program.) There's no doubt there will be a concerted mass media  
attack on "subversives" who want to kill their televisions, and who  
advocate others doing the same. I'm sure we'll be called every name  
they can think of, but if we're not watching them when they're  
calling us names, who cares?

At the same time, we need to figure out how to start creating a real  
alternative media.  The problem is that corporations buy up all the  
small guys and the FCC is set up to make it next to impossible for  
ventures with little capital to jump the hurdles that will allow us  
into the game.  But it's far from hopeless. I can tell you one group  
that's gotten around this in an interesting way: The Nature  
Conservency (http://www.nature.org/).  They raise funds and buy lands  
that are threatened with environmental degradation.  They don't  
politic; they own.  They put money down on our future, and they have  
a well-developed strategy that helps them make good choices.  We  
ought to be doing the same with media. Corporate media isn't going to  
change. We're a long way from the world socialist revolution that  
will place the media in the hands of its rightful owners, the  
people.  I'm all for working for socialist revolution, but in the  
meantime, I think we ought to emulate the Conservancy's strategies.   
McDonalds is buying up rainforest and razing it for cattle.  So the  
Nature Conservancy said, hey, we can buy rainforest too.  And they  
did.  We can buy media technology the same way, if we're smart about  
it. Sure, environmentalism is cool, but it wasn't always.  People- 
owned media used to be cool, and it could be again if, as  
progressives, we're willing to put our money where our mouths are.   
We need to start a Media Conservancy and start building an alternate  
infrastructure.

Technology is on our side, as it is always on the side of the  
newcomer, since we aren't heavily invested in old hardware and  
software. Indymedia, CommonDreams, MediaChannel, would all be better  
off if they ran on an alternate "people's internet" (and maybe then  
the Google ads and Google/Yahoo search engine censoring would  
disappear). Now that movies are almost all video products from start  
to finish, it's not impossible to conceive of an alternate Hollywood,  
as well, where progressive stars, directors, and other industry  
workers pool money to develop production and distribution channels  
that don't depend on the major media corporations. But we'd all have  
to *want* to do this, to be willing to believe in the value of  
communal ownership of the means of production and distribution of  
media, and develop a level of trust that would transcend the  
infighting for which the left is famous.  I believe we can build new  
political and economic structures if we are also concerned with the  
social structures within which we live -- if we feel responsible to  
and for one another.  Building community will bring many of us  
outside of our comfort zones and it will require a level of tolerance  
for people who don't adhere to our particular ideological line. On  
the other hand, it will also offer opportunities to grow, to make new  
and rewarding connections with folks we wouldn't otherwise have  
invited over for dinner, to be less insular and more in touch with  
what everyone in our communities wants (rather than the small circle  
of friends we usually inhabit), and, most importantly, to have a good  
time without resort to mass media products. It's a kind of Tupperware- 
Party strategy, I admit, but it sure worked for Tupperware, and what  
we'd be selling is communal self-sufficiency; a far more attractive  
product, I'd hope.

Peace.
Kali Tal

On Jun 17, 2006, at 5:15 AM, Paul D. Miller wrote:

> This is a "remix" of an article I have in the current issue of The
> Nation Magazine. It goes on newstands today/tomorrow
>
>
>  Digital Music Revolution
>    by Paul D. Miller
> his article can be found on the web at:
>
> http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060703/miller


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