Let's Prehend
A Manual of Human Ecology and Culture Design

JELLY AND JAM, Mechanisms of Media Menace

Mass media is like jelly: sweet, rather homogeneous, perhaps a few shards of fruits and nuts, mildly flavored with sugar and petrochemicals, frail in texture, held together with a microscopic network of gelatinous proteins, each strand just doing its job. Media sweetness appeals to everyone, but it rots the teeth and leaves citizens unable to chew the information. Simplicity of its petrochemical flavor and color appeals to the broadest mass of MAC consumers.

Mass media is also like jam because it jams the mass mind. As it currently operates, media jams interpersonal communications on every level from the most personal to the global. Not to deny the countervailing advantage of the WEB, promising a new kind of `community of concern' or `conspiracy to conceal' - whichever way the culture is designed.

Communications technology is expanding and complicating ever more rapidly. Does high tech media make the ideology more abstract? Let's assert that it enables - but does not compel - such pathology. Jerry *Mander in his book FOUR ARGUMENTS OF THE ELIMINATION OF TELEVISION and other works, explains these pathological influences. TV watching dissociates experience from physical action. TV mostly offers a gross oversimplification and abstraction of images instead of enrichment of viewers ideas. Current ownership and sponsorship of media implicitly censors and distorts content.

These are Luddite arguments.[ The Luddites were bands of workmen in England, 1811-1816, who organized to destroy machinery on the grounds that it diminished jobs. Movement originated by Ned *Ludd, a worker in Leicestershire, England.] We can't progress backwards. Even though Dr. Mander's points are well taken, such pathologies are not totally compelled, we hope. TV can be magnificently enriching. It can tie the world's people together in greater understanding, perhaps progressing toward an orgy of universal love such as "We Are the World", sadly inadequate though that sample may be.

On the personal level, critics comment: "People define themselves using TV characters as their metaphors." "The stereotyping and normalizing of every type of emotion and personality is one of TV's new forms of censorship."[ Charlotte *Cornwell, on PBS's *TRUTH ABOUT LIES, Television's Distorting Effect on the World. Part 1. Part 2: The *Tube is Reality.]

TV talk shows lead the way in jamming media when they displace serious concern with perverse personalism. Talk show scholar Jill Nelson writes "Why bother to have a serious discussion about education, unemployment or building community when it's so much easier to demonize.... Television gives not only a voice but a face to our fear and rage, enables us to point the finger of blame at the tube - at `them' - and roar for punishment."[ Jill *Nelson in *TALK IS CHEAP, Nation Magazine 6/5/95, from her *VOLUNTEER SLAVERY, Penguin Books.]

On TV news and commentary programs the older reporters furnish that image of calm reflection that soothes the masses in their quiet desperation. The younger reporters are needed for their energy and intelligence as well as to provide a complimentary image. Some journalists may push against the unseen barriers, only to have the news manipulated back to the level of pap or jammed with fillers. Following principles of drama, skilled TV personnel choreograph heart-tugging presentations to provide artificial intensity to the passive and isolated viewers. Programs penetrate the viewer's dulled attention, carefully not enough to cause disturbance. The engaged viewer is soon soothed, leaving barely a ripple of distress, barely a tug at the drugged hearts and minds of the masses.[ For a look behind the scenes of TV news, see the video series, *MURPHY BROWN.]

"Zombie TV" it's called because of its mindlessness, except for some rich and resourceful programs that few people watch. People often leave it on just for company, even when guests come over to chat. No wonder school children have difficulty responding to adult teachers as if they were real people, instead of TV images which do not compel interpersonal attention. TV is a often a deep dissociation from responsive interpersonal communication toward mental isolation and alienation.

Media has positive potential, but as it is presently structured it's jammed with superficial and incoherent material. The hapless viewer is jammed with input so fragmented that only a few subconscious crumbs remain to guide the selection of cereal or candidate; jammed so deeply that integrative mental mechanisms are damaged and a coherent world view becomes rare.

Critic Todd *Gitlin points out most TV is dominated by ratings because advertisers want two things: They want appropriate demographics, the largest possible audience of young spenders. And they want to an image environment flush with friendly faces.[ Todd *Gitlin, *INSIDE PRIMETIME, PBS video, 4/27/95.] Mr. Gitlin cites damage to the young, who have little involvement or loyalty as they switch channels. They have little personal investment and much cynicism, if they're conscious at all. He summarizes why advertisers Saatchi & Saatchi choose cartoon characters, THE *SIMPSONS,[ The lengthy burden of drawing this cartoon program is done in Korea, but does not seem to represent Korean culture. Correction - one episode was a brilliant and brutal satire of Japanese culture.] as expressed by archetypal father Homer Simpson: "...The code of the school yard, the rules that teach a boy to be a man: Don't tattle, always make fun of those different from you, never say anything unless you're sure everyone feels exactly the way your do."

Think of commercial TV as paid for by a sales tax. It's supported by advertisers, who add the cost to their prices so that when you buy something, part of the price goes for the TV programs. The cost of the advertising is often far more than the product itself. Three dollars worth of dry cereal could cost thirty cents without the market brainwashing. No wonder some sensitive souls are driven to become cereal killers.[ For a discussion of cereal costs, see THE *TEN MINUTE SHOPPER by Martin *Sloan, syndicated columnist.]

Commercial TV is at the mercy of its market mechanisms, as flexible and yielding as jelly. This media frailty makes each presentation sensitive to criticism, as if by some surrealist inner censorship. Networks copy each other in carefulness, occasionally risking marginal differentiations of fruit and nut. the noble Max *Frankel in his *WORD& IMAGE, The Times of My Life and My Life in the (NY) TIMES, bemoans the loss of journalist ethic as the NY Times evolves from Feudalism to Capitalism.

Censorship is ninety-nine percent covert, internalized by every media person as part of his education, training and apprenticeship. On rare occasions, when the journalist's intelligence and vitality spills over, perhaps as an excess of disclosure, an inadvertent remark, or an incorrect image, she is subtly chastised or surreptitiously transferred. But in order to reduce the inner conflict, the media workers usually convince themselves to accept professional jelly and jam. They sell their labor at what ever cost is offered, lest eager wannabees in the wings replace them. They ICE.

Advertising is a curse. In modern abstract culture, values have degraded from their ethnic origins to superficial greed and status. Advertising promotes greed, leaving the customer with expensive trash, like ashes in the mouth. Advertising promises status, but leaves the customer frustrated, barely able to keep up with the styles.

For example, consumer conformity to the latest fad in shoes offers no deep satisfaction. Yet the buyers, especially the status starved youngsters, seem obliged to accept shoes in lieu of any better values. Advertising enables and compels this loss of deeper value by distracting with trash and by displacing healthier human concerns.

The content of the advertising, the work of some of the best and most creative minds in the human race, is diabolically designed to reach into the depths of the shredded subconsciousness and guide frustrated inner needs toward modern abstract culture. Ads diabolically interrupt any forlorn train of thought that might find a track. Regardless of the content, the interruption in itself makes coherent thought extremely difficult. It disengages the mind from whatever cultural content the rest of the program might have, leaves the intellect stranded in stupidity. Advertising is a basic driver of the compulsion to the abstract life.

The terrible passivity induced by TV itself leaves the citizen in a state of mental agitation with no outlet, as Jerry *Mander explains. This dissociation of mind from body, of emotion from action, of information from understanding, of statement from response, of idea from gestalt - leaves the mass of viewers in a zombie trance. Even as entertainment, the media drives these potatoes to the couch, occasionally amused or thrilled perhaps, but paralysed. This physical paralysis resembles the inhibition of motor and sensory nerves during sleep. It probably contributes to the public health epidemic of sloth and obesity.

Another effect of TV's dissociation of emotion from motion is that viewers become jaded, adding to other aspects of abstract culture that contribute to this numbness. To combat this insensitivity, the media drama must escalate its intensity with more gruesome violence, spectacular action and sensational effects. A lack of interpersonal process leads to a sado-masochism of the mind. From America's Puritan heritage, sex is dirty and violence is clean. As a result, some few adults may watch erotic and sexy TV on select pay channels late at night, but the children must be satisfied with murder and mayhem.

Like drinking, television viewing should best be done in groups, followed by lively discourse and involving some sort of `party', political or plain. One study indicated that immigrant families, still fresh from organic cultures, may have the TV on just as much, but the family doesn't pay as much attention. Instead the generations together joke, argue, tickle and wrestle on the couch. Advertisers need not worry. Such families often have low incomes anyway. As they become wealthier, they become Americanized, live more isolated lives alone with their TVs.

Mass media has no ideology, no model of the world with which one might disagree. Any coherent world view would be considered propaganda, unless it's religious. Media people even use the word `objective' to mean `sans world view', as well as lacking empathy or passion. Media ideology is so gelatinous that it provides no context in which to understand the increasing information gushing from modern technology. Such a `know-nothing' position is a disservice to objective presentation of how the world works. If only media would present some ideology, people would have something to disagree with and would thereby exercise their political minds. As it is, media shimmers and shakes with shards of fact served up to millions of passive recipients. People become passive and obese, they turn off their vitality, but not their TV.

It seems the super-media, like ideological cancers, are also vulnerable to radiation and chemo-therapy of cyber-sabotage. According to James *Daly, the media resemble living organisms capable of being confused and debilitated like the human body. "Media `viruses' might be used ... to fight the techniques that have created a passive and malleable populace that thrives on sound bites."[ *MEDIA INFECTIONS AND DISINFECTIONS James *Daly, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/21/94, discussing *MEDIA VIRUS by Douglas *Rushkoff. "Media viruses appeal to the objective sensibilities of their viewers, allowing us to understand the symbols in our media as symbols and not reality."]

Even today the citizen TV viewer is not helpless. People can still glean good fruit from the jelly. For a few hundred dollars the viewer could buy video tape recorders, VCRs. While one machine tapes selected programs of interest, the other can play at the viewer's convenience. This allows the viewer to fast-forward through ads and Henry Kissinger interviews. The rich resource of the TV then becomes available, like books in the library, regardless of the proliferation of material.

As computers and television become integrated, opportunities to alleviate the worst of the jamming will improve. Computer magnate John Scully describes the `more'-button to alleviate this problem of infinite channels. Supposedly, it will allow a person to pursue content more actively. Even this improvement leaves the viewing as an isolating antisocial experience. Computer multimedia viewing lacks even the proximity of others on the couch. The only solution to this terrible mental and social alienation is the reconstruction of organic social life, ROSL. In a healthy household and community, media can supplement rather than displace and destroy interpersonal process.

For a serious exercise in human ecology try this exercise, especially appropriate for group discussion: Compare two similar cultures, one with Advertising and one without. Using the Evaluation Chart, E chart, compare the amount, Ei, of world view, the degree of mush-mindedness. For example, reflect on the content of common conversation or the value of common pastimes. Similarly, on the D chart, represent the degree of dissociation of the mental model from the real world, call it the Degree Of Cultural Schizophrenia, DOCS. For example, estimate how topics of common conversation are concerned with real problems of the culture? As an example of the fragility of contraction, FOC, notice the rigidity as proportional to this madness of media culture. For example, look for freak-outs and censorship when real, but taboo, topics are raised.

Criticism of media is time honored. Early in U. S. history Thomas Jefferson, on his return to Montecello in 1809 at age 66, exaggerated: "The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, in as much as he who knows nothing is nearer the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors." In the beginning, the issue of ownership and control was hotly debated. The US Senate, back in 1934, in discussing the new Federal Communications Commission's allocation of frequencies, had 24 votes (out of 96) that a quarter of the frequencies be reserved for non-commercial use!

Reform of media is a major challenge for culture design. Let's brainstorm the possibilities. If advertising were separated from other media, the channels devoted exclusively to shopping would become more varied and extensive. The remaining channels, less contaminated with commerce, could possibly find financial support from public funds, private contributions, political parties, foundations, religions, etc. Such minor changes offer minor improvements. Today the Public Broadcasting System has fewer commercials. PBS is only a little bit pregnant with advertising. More radical reforms rest on the reconstruction of organic culture, the communications between ECOVILLAGES and WARDS through the LETS PARTY.[ Jay *Rosen, Journalism Professor at NYU, cites examples of meaningful media in the TV program, THE *TRUTH ABOUT LIES.]

Pathology of ideology is enabled - but not compelled - by modern technology. The mass media could be `cured', or at least its major diseases could be alleviated, by analysis with the tools of human ecology and judicious application of culture design. As organic culture reconstructs, human beings will increase their interpersonal communication and displace the entrancing one-way communication of the zombie culture, MAC. As people re-learn to communicate, organize and get things done, the marvelous media will make its place as a tool to enhance a rich cultural life.

Unfortunately, very little awareness of this problem circulates within the media itself, except for *Friendly Fred and a few others. And the array of opposition is formidable, unlikely to change its ways, and elaborately structured for its nefarious progress. But surely something will happen. Let's tune in.

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