The Unreality Industry (The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What It Is Doing to Our Lives) – Mitroff / Bennis
If the lines between nearly every conceivable aspect of our physical and mental environments either have become or are in the process of becoming radically blurred, then some of the major rationalizations or defences by which the TV and other media industries have defended themselves are invalid at best. At worst, they represent outright demaguogery. Again and again one encounters six major arguments that those who work in virtually all media use to defend what they do:
1. The people themselves are largely to blame for and deserve what they get because they are inordinately and inherently stupid (the Grand Stupidity thesis).
3. If people don’t like what they see or what they listen to, they can either turn off their sets or switch channels.
4. What’s wrong with entertainement?
5. If we don’t give the people what they want, somebody else will.
6. People can diferentiate between what’s “hard or real news” and what’s entertainement.
It is undoubtedly true that the public itself ultimately must accept a large part of the blame for the dreadful state of American TV and culture, which could not survive, let alone prosper, if there were not a significant demand for it. However, even if the Grand Stupidity thesis were true in its entirety, this does not excuse or relieve the media from their responsibilities. What the media all too conveniently ignore in the equation is that they are fundamentally responsible not only for feeding on this “stupidity” but for encouraging it to the benefit of their huge profits. To say that the public is solely responsible for its own stupidity is to ignore the symbiotic relationship that exists between those who are supposedly stupid and those who feed and profit from it. Even more, it is to ignore the tremendous role that the media play in both creating and furthering such stupidity. It is also to ignore, by not examining it, the moral and ethical principles upon which the behaviour and policies of the media rest. Just stating this major moral principle is enough to see how utterly ridiculous it is:
” Whenever a segment of the public exists (and of course, the bigger the better) that is stupid enough to consume whatever we produce, then we are justified morally in satisfying that need or demand.”
The second argument, “We only give the people what they want,” is the argument of the drug dealer and pornographer. First of all, leaving aside its moral implications, the argument is only partly true at best. If the media were giving the people what they truly want, then why do new network shows fail at such an alarmingly high rate? The media themselves are more than willing to admit that they can’t predict the taste of the public. This is precisely one of the reasons why so many movies and TV shows ape one another.
One can’t have it both ways. It can’t be argued that one is giving the public what they want when so much of what is presented fails spectacularly. More important is the notion that the media only fulfill an already existing demand, and do not, like the drug dealer participate in the creation and maintenance of the demand. This conveniently ignores not only the symbiotic relationship that always exists between the producer and the buyer of a product or service, but also the differential power of the media themselves in creating, maintaining, and shaping needs.
No matter what field of human endeavor one investigates, one knows that “moral rock bottom” has been reached whenever a party defends what they do in terms of “We only give them what they want.” If they had a better, stronger moral principle to trot out, they would surely do so in order to defend their activities. The fact that the media repeatedly fall back on such a line of rasoning in order to justify what they do shows how incredibly shaky is the moral foundation upon which they stand.
The third argument, “If people don’t like what they are getting, they can always turn their sets off or switch chanells,” is especially interesting. This argument is symptomatic of either the outright refusal of the media to recognize the full nature of the impact thet make, their inability to do so, ignorance of this impact, or all of the above. Whatever the true case, this particular argument may be the most demagogic of all.
TV has insinuated itself thoroughly throughout our culture the general and widespread adoption of its general format and look by such newspapers as USA Today and magazines such as Business Week. It is now virtually impossible to distinguish between where TV leaves off and our general culture begins. Thus the argument that “If you you don’t like what you see and hear, either turn it off or switch” is truly preposterous. It refuses to recognize, let alone understand, that it is impossible to turn off a whole culture! One can physically turn of a set, but one cannot turn off its effects if they are so deeply imbedded throughout a culture. It may be comforting to believe that flipping a switch or turning a dial allows independence and freedom of thought and action, but such actions are largely symbolic, devoid of any true significance.
“Violence is imposing itself on producers and directors because it’s cheap,” [George] Gerbner [a professor in the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania] said, contending that viewers cannot exercise the right to avoid “entertaining murders” and otherwise violent-ladden programs.
“You can change channels but you do not have a choice. We are born into it, ” he said. “Like the wallpaper on the wall, you absorb its [TV’s] pattern without even know it.”
The third argument also conveniently ignores the fact that everything on TV – whether on public, commercial, cable, or special access channels – increasingly looks alike, then the proliferation of the number of channels is not equivalent to an increase in the quality of choice. This argument not only confuses quantity of choice with quality, it deliberately obscures the truth that choice is merely an ilusion. The sad fact is that in its constant battle to raise funding, public TV is being forced to adopt many of the ..