MY GLOBAL(IZED) NEIGHBORHOOD: TODAY SEATTLE,TOMORROW TIMES SQUARE?
I don't have to go West to be exposed to a more insidious and just as physical concentration of corporate power. It is with me every day. I just have to cross the street. I work in Times Square, New York City, which in one decade has been transformed from a center of sleaze into a mecca of media and finance power. Here, there is little visible governmental presence. Even most policing and garbage removal has been privatized by a company funded Business Improvement District or B.I.D. Walk these streets with me, not as a tourist mesmerized by bright lights, but as a corporate critic aware that trade is only one piece of a more complex free market octopus. The images and entertainment products manufactured here and in LA may have a more lasting and insidious impact than the sneakers, software or airplanes hatched in the boardrooms and assembly lines of the Pacific Northwest. Boeing's jets physically invade the world's markets, transporting us around the world. TV and movies invade our minds, framing how many of us see the world. Was it any wonder that the networks downplayed or distorted the WTO protests? They realized, even if many of us do not, that they play a leading role in the system under attack. Unfortunately, many activists are still parochial, focusing on just one piece of an interlocking puzzle.
Let's begin our tour on the newly Disneyized 42nd Street, where peep shows once reigned. Across from the Disney Store, on the southeast corner, and just up from the theater where the Lion King brings in $80 plus a ticket with its South African inflected rhythms, a new building rises. It's the headquarters of Reuter's, once thought of as a British firm, but now a global enterprise which makes more money with its financial services than its legendary news wire.
On the northeast corner, Si Newhouse has quartered his upscale magazines like Vanity Fair and the New Yorker in a shiny new tower. Around the corner, in the same building, NASDAQ is about to go live with its state of the art exchange, complete with a tallyboard designed to double as a TV set for all the financial reporters who use it as backdrop for their reports on which stocks are up, and which are not. In this world, dollars have become electronic digits on the wall. Downstairs, Disney's ESPN has taken over the corner for its new entertainment zone theme restaurant and video game parlor.
As you walk uptown, you pass ABC'S new 75 million dollar Good Morning America studio with its three level multi-color news and sports ticker dwarfing the old 'zipper' that once brought the headlines to the 'crossroads of the world' in old fashioned black and white. That building was bought some years ago by an investment banking firm for its billboard frontage; its sole store is rented to Warner Brothers so that Tom and Jerry chatchkas can compete with all the Mickey Mouse paraphernalia. NBC leased the giant Panasonic screen on the front of this building to endlessly program us to watch its news programming. A just rebuilt recruiting station for the Armed Forces has just opened next to a police station just in case anyone misses Rudy Giuliani's finest or a Pentagon presence. Halfway down 43rd Street is the Square's namesake, its original media tenant, the New York Times, the country's most influential organ, now a conglomerate in itself with its own network of newspapers, TV and radio stations and other 'properties.' Having just wrangled tax concessions from the City, the Times intends to build its own super modern tower in the neighborhood.
On the next block, there's the nerve center of Bertelsmann,the German owned megamedia combine which recently bought up Random House to add to its own stable of publishing and record companies. The German execs rule on the 44th floor where they have a great view of the MTV studios across the square. In MTV's cafeteria, the Lodge, kids jokingly call the people who work for Viacom, their parent company, "the Viacomese," as if they are a nation apart. Viacom, of course, also runs MTV worldwide, VH-l, Nicolodeon, Showtime, Paramount, Simon and Schuster etc. And soon, once the deal goes through, Vicaom itself will merge with CBS in a new viacomination worth billions. Looking down on all this are flashing billboards of the corporate sponsors who make these media enterprises economically viable. Just a streer away on Sixth Avenue are the corporate towers of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation with its Fox News Channel, General Electric's NBC, Time Warner, Time-Life, The Associated Press., CBS, MGM, Paramount, and Universal. These are the people who shape the cultural environment that influences what most of us know, read, see, and think about.
Just across from our Globalvision office where our new Media Channel Internet supersite, (http://www.mediachannel.org) seeks to monitor what these moguls are up to, is the Morgan Stanley-Paine Weber tower of power with its own supersign that trumps them all, tracking on a moment by moment basis the trades of every commodity, currency and exchange worldwide. It's the ultimate score card on the deals that drive the globalized economy.
So, yes, knowing and caring about the secret maneuvers of the WTO is important and worth raising questions about. But so are the quite open and better known activities of the media monoliths who all too effectively promote the ideologies and the interests of those setting the rules of trade in the back room.
Remember the words of Eduardo Galeano which somehow belong on one of the Square's many billboards: "Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few."
Danny Schechter, author of The More You Watch The Less You Know (Seven Stories Press) is the executive editor of the Media Channel.