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Worshipping New Media Gods
Studying the Media
Freeing the Media: The Exception â€¦
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Worshipping New Media Gods
Meanwhile, back on the ground, mortals can only imagine what its like to move corporate mountains and build digital highways with the flick of a pen. Were encouraged to look up with awe at the colossal deal-makers.
Theyre creating the software in our drives and the images on our screensand, increasingly, the dreams in our heads. They are the Providers. We are the consumers. The reverence in the air leaves an acrid smell. We may resent the lord of Microsoft and the lesser gods, but the media culture of worship seems almost overpowering. An ultramodern theology now glorifies the quest for vast wealth and technological power.
A decade ago, the advertising critic Leslie Savan noted the emergence of what she called "secular fiscalism." Television commercials were starting to tout the accumulation of capital "as an expression of inner spiritual growth."
In 1986, Savan described a new MasterCard slogan"Master the Possibilities"as "apparently EST-inspired." She added that a Merrill Lynch ad campaign, "Your World Should Know No Boundaries," linked investment with traditional religious images of "Gods country."
By the early 1990s, such commercials were common. Savan dubbed them "spiritual ads" and observed that they "help us to simultaneously see our shallow, materialistic ways and exorcise them: We can consume the evil of excess by making every purchase into a prayer."
And yet, Savan pointed out, those ads "clang with the contradiction between the abundant material life that commercial culture pushes and the more mystical injunction to shed that abundance in order to focus on what really matters." The contradiction "is readily resolved by the ads passive spiritualitybe impressed by killer sunsets, feel awe from celestial musicwhich works right into a consumer kind of spirituality."
During the first years after World War II, sociologist C. Wright Mills saw the trend coming. He warned that money-driven fixations among elites were having enormous effects on the entire societycausing people to shape themselves to fit the "higher immorality" of corporate America and "the social premiums that prevail."
The process was insidious and did not provoke a sense of public crisis, Mills wrote in his 1956 book The Power Elite. He called attention to "a creeping indifference and a silent hollowing out." And he commented: "Money is the one unambiguous criterion of success, and such success is still the sovereign American value.... It is not only that men want money; it is that their very standards are pecuniary."
When such standards hold sway, even fame and fortune are not enough. The dominant concept is always "more."
Maybe youve seen the new TV spot featuring acclaimed novelist, Kurt Vonnegut, who appears in a commercial for Discover Card. He talks about buying his own books at a store: "I presume I got a royalty as well as the bonus from Discover Card."
Must all knees bend in the direction of dollar almighty? Of course not. Despite the intense pressures, plenty of resistance continues. But deeper values must withstand the assaults from the monetary worship that proliferates in the mass media every day.
Image Distortion Disorder
Are we suffering from Image Distortion Disorder? Its not listed in medical dictionaries. But physician Michael LeNoir is urging our society to treat Image Distortion Disorder as a very realand very unhealthycondition. Possible remedies arent discussed on television. Instead of helping to alleviate Image Distortion Disorder, prime time is ablaze with programming that inflames it. This is a pervasive ailment that has no obvious physical symptoms. It stokes fears and antagonisms so familiar that theyre apt to seem natural.
"Most of the images that one ethnic group has of another are developed by the media," Dr. LeNoir has observed. And media images have a way of feeding on themselves. "The incessant portrayal of African Americans as criminals and buffoons has been responsible for the success of many police programs and sitcoms."
The white majority remains ill-informed. "Most people in America get their information about people of color from radio, movies, print and especially television," LeNoir notes. "In most instances, people of color are depicted as drug-addicted, homeless, welfare criminals."
LeNoir, an African American who practices medicine in Oakland, California, is calling for "more realistic images of our young people." He adds: "Most of them graduate from high school, do not go to prison and enter the work force in significant numbers."
A new study confirms that media outlets keep applying black-face to this nations afflictions. Only 29 percent of poor Americans are blackbut when Yale University scholar Martin Gilens examined coverage of poverty in national news magazines like Time and Newsweek, he found that 62 percent of the pictures were of blacks. On network TV evening newscasts, the figure was 65 percent.
"Part of the problem is news professionals to some degree share the same misperceptions that the public does," Gilens commented. "The people who are choosing the photographs sort of misunderstand the social realities."
Whether the issue is poverty, crime or drugs, the tilt of the media mirror often makes racial minorities look bad. In Dr. LeNoirs words, "the perception painted by television of people of color becomes the reality, and it creates a background of anxiety and fear in America that is dangerous."
Writing in a fine new anthology titled Multi-America, LeNoir asserts that media distortions of African Americans, Latinos, and Asians "have a devastating effect on every person in this country and undermine any attempt to bring us together as a people." He emphasizes the importance of speaking up: "Those of us in America who are concerned about race relations must react to obvious distortions in the media by raising our voices in protest over the never-ending attempt to portray people of color in these caricatured, fragmented and distorted images."
Its symbolic that the book containing LeNoirs essay on Image Distortion Disorder has gotten the cold shoulder from mass mediadespite the fact that it is a landmark volume put out by a major publisher (Viking) and edited by a prominent author (Ishmael Reed).
Published four months ago, Multi-America is a collection of pieces by ethnic Americans whose ancestors came from Asia, Africa, and Latin America in addition to European countries such as Italy and Ireland. The book demolishes stereotypes while challenging the traditional, monocultural view of what it means to be "an American."
Key media outlets, ranging from Publishers Weekly to the New York Times, have refused to review Multi-America. Perhaps the 465-page hardcover bookfeaturing eloquent essays by more than 50 American writers from a wide array of ethnic and racial backgroundswould have seemed more valuable if those writers had been at each others throats.
Meanwhile, Little, Brown, owned by Time Warner, has shelled out a $3 million advance for yet another book about O.J. Simpson, this one by former girlfriend Paula Barbieri. Her book, of course, will get massive media attention. Sounds like another victory for Image Distortion Disorder.