Democrats & Liberals Archives

Cultural Suicide

In every culture’s existence on earth, there’s a point where it turns inwards on itself, chokes itself of new ideas, new dreams and motivations, and dies.

Unfortunately, we are approaching that point. Before, we were simply fading into isolationism, both in terms of our politics and our knowledge of the outside world. But now we’re experiencing an even worse kind of isolation: from the marketplace of ideas. It may very well be this kind that spells the end of American prominence in the world, as well as the culture of freedom which nurtured it.

There will be all kinds of excuses for this stagnation, this self-strangling of the American culture. But it will all come down to one thing: power and the ability to keep it without earning it by fulfilling obligations to the public.

People are genuinely frustrated with the media and with most content being distributed. Because of consolidation, the competitive pressures that would have encouraged Higher quality and greater variety in the marketplace have eased. Corners are being cut, and because of the industry-wide nature of these practices, and the sheer spread of the audience, people are being forced to accept things they otherwise might seek alternatives to.

Lax anti-trust and FCC enforcement has allowed this to happen. Deregulation of market share and cross-ownership have destroyed the incentives the market normally provides to those who produce and distributed excellent material. Our media have been vertically and horizontally integrated in terms of production and distribution, so that one company can see its product go from start to finish through this process without leaving one corporations system. Because of that, work is being herded through the system from its creation to its provision to the audience without being forced to directly encounter the competitive pressure of a organization competing for the same space in the theatres or television schedules.

When the only competition that work encounters is from other works born of the same mindset, morality, and ideology, there's little cause to really think out what it is that the work advocates and manifests through its themes and its progressions.

That's not the worst of it. In order to keep interest up, the turnover for stories, for shows, for movies, are all kept at vicious pace, leading to a kind of amnesia in our culture, where we are hard pressed to remember anything past the last six months.

It's a culture of distraction and dissipation, where every thought of really sitting down and contemplating what it is one's buying into is banished by the Next Big Thing.

We can't keep it up. We can't keep up this level of distraction, apathy and ignorance, and hope to maintain this country in good working order. We cannot give more and more to business without them giving us something in return, and as long as consolidation remains the rule, these businesses will be hard pressed to remember their duties, and it will be further unlikely that they will push themselves to excel past the status quo.

The seeds of renaissance in American culture are there. We just have to force our businesses to practice competition in more than just name. Both Conservatives and Liberals stand to benefit, and already have stood up to speak out about this issue.

A resolution has already passed both the Senate and the House to back ownership caps the FCC had set that would have allowed companies to own enough stations to reach 39 percent of people in America. This FCC decision allowed News Corp. and Viacom, owner of CBS to keep many of the stations they had bought up, where otherwise they would have had to give them up. Under the bill that passed both the Congress and the Senate, the previous rule would have stood as it was. But some unscrupulous legislators slipped the provisions back into the fine print of the recent omnibus spending bill, along with all the pork and spending, so the previous law had been scuttled.

The Senate passed a resolution to reverse that rider, but Tom DeLay pronounced that resolution "dead on arrival", and promised never to let it come to a vote. If it had been allowed, it is likely that the resolution would have passed.

The Bush White House has been consistent in backing the expansion of the market share these people are allowed, even with all the public disgust with media consolidation. If things are to the point that even such committed bipartisan opposition to further expansion is not permitted, how far are we from cultural and political stagnation? How far are we from having fifty-seven channels and nothing on, as the old Springsteen song goes?

Broadcasting is one of the few parts of the media in which the government's power and the corporation's obligations are clear. For the scarce radio bandwidth they take from the people's use in given area, the broadcasters are supposed to fulfill certain obligations. Make good use of the airwaves, keep the technology up and working, broadcast within the standards, inform people of events and political debates, and allow for contrasting points of view to be presented.

But the more the media consolidates, the more it becomes a cash cow for corporate america, and the more government deregulates for their benefit, the more these obligations are forgotten, and the poorer the quality of the content and the service rendered.

Combined with the almost monolithic control that the media companies have over the cable channels, this consolidation is ensuring that we will get fewer points of view, fewer choices, and fewer facts about what's really going locally, nationally, and abroad. It ensures that when politics shift in those few corporations, those with unpopular views will be marginalized, unheard. It ensures that local interests will be ignored and local standards of morality and tradition will be utterly overwhelmed by a bland, focus-grouped pop culture.

And that will be the start of it. In America, the energy and the creativity have been fed by a culture that feeds multiple, emergent ways of life, which allows the holding of a whole host of opinions and the competition between those different ideas of the world. Nowhere else has the marketplace of ideas been established with such shining success. But that could all disappear, all be overwhelmed if the only interests our government takes on are those of a few lazy-minded executives who want profits they didn't earn.

We wrote a constitution 200 years ago to ensure that no one in our government would have the arbitrary authority to declare what is or is not truth for the rest of us or tell us what can and cannot be said. It would be a tragedy indeed if we were to allow that arbitrary authority in our nation to fall into the hands of those who we can't even kick out of office.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at January 31, 2004 1:52 PM