Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Media Mythologies

Are the Public well served by the Media? Argument for the negative.

by James Travers-Murison

This analyses Barry Lowe's book “Media Mythologies” and injects a bit of satire into the intellectual debate on where the media is taking us and who exactly is in control.

Marxist social scientists earlier this century claimed that the media was the ideological mouthpiece of the ruling elite sowing false consciousness in the minds of the masses. If only they could have seen how their beloved communist states manipulated the media. They were replaced by the Gratification theorists who claimed that the media was there to gratify the wants of the public and the audience was free to select what would satisfy their needs. Semiologists followed later asserting the symbolic affects of the information conveyed by the media and its subliminal influence on our choices. Now according to Barry Lowe in ‘Media Mythologies’, “the cyclical transferal of ideas” best describes the media's relationship with the people.

He believes that the media actually acts as a brake on the expansion of ideas. That in outpouring its concepts and stereotypes it creates the public's attitude. The public then reinforces this by demanding more and the media believing that they are then serving the wants of the public justify producing their stereotypes in ever increasing volumes. By mutual reinforcement a cycle of stagnation is caused with the media actually acting as a conservative force in society. The cycle is only broken when the public becomes so saturated with 'the same' that they refuse to consume it. Only then does the media, in a desperate bid to re-establish their ratings (and profits), attempt to evolve its attitudes.

He uses Asia as an example of media stereotyping and reinforcing negative attitudes through its focus on secular crisis like East Timor, corruption, debt defaulting and poverty; while only focusing on the political side it ignores communicating the positive informative stories of how the Indonesians, for instance, happily live. According to Barry Lowe woman suffer the same fate due to media portrayal. The attempt to grab ratings by sensationalisation and titillation is too much for the media to resist. One only has to look at the portrayal of women in our soaps and even if one moves up to the so-called cutting edge to a show like Blue Heelers, it has a heroine who follows all the sexual stereotyping and innuendo, complete with the enormous phallic symbol of her overbearing male boss, that is all not so removed from those dreadful cop shows of the early 70s like the Professionals and the Avengers.

The great media critic Chomsky maintains that coverage of world events mobilizes public support for the special interests that dominate the government and private sector by manufacturing consent. He uses the Gulf War reporting as an example where reporters were limited in their access to information to what the government deemed necessary and beneficial to the war effort. Gil Serine in ‘Buried Alive’ emotionally uncovers the veil of censorship that restricted coverage of East Timor in Australia. John Hurst in ‘Ethics and the Australian News Media’ looks even deeper into the morality behind how the media seek to manipulate reporting. It is misusing influence that he believes is the temptation of not only the media proprietors, but also the journalists themselves.

Whether one accepts the Marxist social scientists and their prodigies, who state that the oligopoly of the media barons is manipulating us for their own profit driven ends, or the Barry Lowe's that state the media and consumer are caught in a mutually reinforcing cycle, where both believe their attitudes come from the other and so change becomes stultified, regardless of which approach it appears overwhelming that the intellectuals in our community believe the media is letting us down.

Perhaps they are right for the media provides the conduit for evolution of intelligence in our society. They disseminate the information on the superficial level that leads the consumer to further education and then to specialisation. Even the entertainment they offer is a channel for ideas to be communicated and social behaviour to develop. The media must ferment the essence of human thought. It must procreate an evolution, a germ of inspiration in the citizen, which when well nurtured will produce fruit, will contribute to Australians becoming more responsible, intelligent and well-informed human beings.

The reality is multichannel cable and satellite, Internet web sites, magazines and newspapers bombard us. Our television programming is full of American repeats, situation comedies with the same stifled stereotyping, and Bugs Bunny cartoons still greet our children when they get home from school. Our educational programming is limited to the ABC and SBS. The shows are dull, underbudgeted, lacking technical innovation and are restricted to the middle of the day or the small hours of the morning. Our government has cut a half billion dollars from the ABC and introduced the userpays concept so commercials have entered government channels. Our newspapers are full of inaccurate oversensationalised articles where you are often unsure what the issue is, because the facts behind the matter have not been reported. When they are reported well there is often a lack of follow up, because the editors are afraid of saturating a story.

George Gilder in 'Life After Television' says it is all a dead issue as computers and fiber optics will end the telephone and television including cable TV. We will become part of a fully integrated communications interface where we actually become the media. If that does not sound too far-fetched Jacques Derrida, in his book, proposes E-mail is developing our telepathic powers so creating a world of human psychic computer machines.

Consume, consume. The consumer dictates what the media supplies in an impartial capitalist free market economy. There is no media overlord conspiracy as it is the almighty dollar that rules and dictates the information conveyed. This is what the media would have us believe, but Barry says incognito cloaked as entertainment is advertising which telepathically influences 'we the people' and subconsciously molds our perceptions. Freedom of speech is delusion because we are caught in Barry Lowe's 'cyclical transferal of ideas'. Why? Because the media equally deluded seek to provide us more of what they think we want because they persuaded us to want it in the first place, but which in fact if we knew any better we would not want because it is giving us hernias. So where are we left... the pluralist democracy, the "mixed economic sandwich" of materialism pervading. Ham, lettuce, tuna and avocado are piled on to be topped off with a thousand island dressing and we are lost in the surges and tidal eddies of preying media barons and their advertising cohorts, who perhaps so attached to their empires are more the prisoners of their creation than us. Meanwhile Big Macs fly as freely as wild bison used to herd across the plains of America, or as the plagues of kangaroos and koalas that the media now persuade us must not be shot.