A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

So-Calling it Mainstream; the early years

MistahCharley wrote:
I just want to urge you to start using the term "corporate media" for what has been too long misleadingly called the "main stream media" - "corporate" is denotatively as well as connotatively more accurate.

I usually do say "corporate media", or "reactionary."

Note what I did say this time though--not SCLM, not MSM. I said SCMSM! The So-Called Mainstream Media--that is the essence of the discussion. Who does the calling besides themselves? My point is that they have always promoted a "national party line" and been rewarded with a special status for it. This has not arisen by accident and is no recent phenomenon. They have always been corporate, true, but they have always been "so-called mainstream" in a largely successful attempt to drown out and discredit alternative messages with the clear signal that whoever listens to what is not on their menu of acceptable memes will be ignored, dismissed, or shunned and punished as an "irresponsible" thinker.

Our modern perception that the MSM are corporate whores is not exactly breaking news!

I was not thinking very carefully or planning or anything. But I have done this rant in dozens of comments in the past. If I did it right I'd weave in the cartoons in The Masses magazine (actually in a memorial compendium)--"Poisoned at the Source," by Art Young, showing a suited, sneaky figure poisoning a reservoir ("The Press") with a vial of "Lies." He is labeled--AP. The cartoon is from July 1913, and AP sued The Masses over it.

TM was a sort of semibohemian, semiprogressive, semiradical, semipopulist organ that featured a lot of cutting edge journalism and wicked cartoons (including of semi-nude women, which prompted a semi-obscene portrait of the semihuman Comstock, maven of censors in his day who of course tried to shut them down.) Much of their best work (featured in the collection anyway) was concerned with World War I--its precursors, its example, the US being drawn into it--actively as TM's contributors saw it by the US elites. (Another great cartoon-haven't found a link to it yet-a bloated, confused, worried, greasy figure gesturing at the black clouds and vague but horrible smoking ruins of Europe over the sea--this man is a "Preparedness Advocate" and his tortured plea is "If we don't do as they did it could happen to us!" The cartoon's caption? "Logic") One thing about TM was that I could recognize images that the cultural censorship we live under had let through the net--yet other cartoons had eventually gotten a gig as illustrations in such references as the World Book Encyclopedia. And the editor, Eastman, went rightward and founded Reader's Digest in later years.

But in its day, The Masses was sort of like Mother Jones magazine. And the war between the radical and establishment press was in full swing. Woodrow Wilson is in many ways the President who did the most to lay the foundations of modern, 20th century America--FDR largely just had to cultivate Wilson's legacy and bring it front and center. (Wilson also did much to confirm and to worsen the system of racial oppression as it worked in modern America, practically mandating Jim Crow, and his racism was fused with his imperialism to set the pattern in global policy as well.) Regulation got its start earlier than Wilson, with Theodore Roosevelt, but it was the Wilson years where such entities as the Federal Reserve Boards and the amendment to allow income taxes were passed. In general their impact was kept limited by conservative resistance. But of course Wilson got World War I to give him war powers in this early modern context--Lincoln had equally sweeping powers and mandate, but Lincoln was dealing with an internal convulsion that demanded radical, sweeping methods, while Wilson was entering into what was for us an optional war. He used his war powers to reshape the very idea of what was "normal" in America, creating Creel's committee of advertisers to not only direct propaganda but also to create a culture of informers. Of course he created the FBI to round up and jail or deport troublesome leftists who allegedly sabotaged the war effort--as many did merely by continuing to be against the war on the same terms they had always opposed it. That's how we got rid of the Socialists as a rising mass party for instance.

And as the cartoon illustrated, the mainstream "respectable" press played its part in the general repression, hewing to what Abby Hoffman would later call a "national party line." Such are the origins of the ideals of liberal journalism--a social contract whereby the press plays a defined role and follows rules, and is rewarded with its place at the big table. Throughout that era there were parallel presses, that followed different lines and did not get that mantle or those perks. I suppose there were far rightist rags, though actually the mainstream was so accommodating of so many reactionary views, to which it could point as evidence of its freedom, that it would be pretty hard to be thrown out of the ranks of respectable journalism in the day for being too racist or nationalistic or otherwise bigoted. But definitely there were left-wing organs, ranging from Communist Party mouthpieces to some of the greatest journalism we have ever seen-that were socially speaking lepers to the AP set. They were the best evidence we did have a free press, but their views were not considered to have the reliability that the word of the mainstream press did.

So what I am pointing out here is, the claim to be "mainstream" is not just a market response phenomenon, it is not just that 7 out of 10 readers freely choose to prefer this or that flavor of news. Powerful social mechanisms exist that claim the right to define "mainstream" in terms not of what people like or dislike to read, but in terms of the range of content these papers and other media have. If they toe the line they are mainstream. They are "so-called" because someone arrogates the right to do the calling. They are mainstream because the national party line defines that idea, not some faith in moderation or loyalty to truth. It was always that way here, at least since Woodrow Wilson and World War I.


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