First of all, I want to emphasize that this statement is not anti-media per se - that would be both pointless and unjustified. It is the contemporary use of the media - particularly the mass audiovisual media - which is questionable.
A number of the world's more serious newspapers and magazines provide us with daily articles and editorials on the perils facing our society and the planet in general. A number of these articles are not only critical, they point to urgently needed alternative measures.
The problem, however, with most of these publications is their disinclination to criticize or analyze the role of the media. Even the most critical journals are often highly defensive when it comes to challenging the role of the mass media in general in contemporary society. Certainly there are articles about Rupert Murdoch's (and other moguls') drive for global media power, articles about CNN and the war against Iraq, etc., but these are not enough. They are not sufficiently holistic, and do not touch upon the very role of the media within our society.
In order to take seriously the warnings about depredations against the global environment, the growing gap between rich and poor, the new phase of the global arms race (with the Pentagon now developing a new generation of weapons, including huge hypersonic drones and bombs dropped from space, which would enable the USA to strike at enemies with lightning speed from its own territory), etc., we need to simultaneously rethink our use of the mass media, especially TV, commercial cinema, and radio.
All of the major problems confronting our world are directly linked to our ability to be responsive, and to the MAVM's effect on our capacity and willingness to become involved - including to prioritize and challenge. That its effect is deeply damaging, and has global ramifications, is hopefully now obvious.
It has been the aim of this statement to propose a series of measures which might enable us to move beyond our present paralysis vis-à-vis the MAVM. These proposals, as I have stressed, are not based on restricting the use of the present MAVM, or the work of its countless practitioners. They are based, rather, on the concept that new forms of critical analysis and media processes - notably those directly employing the public - could provide parallel and alternative media experiences which the public might increasingly embrace.
The premise for these proposals has been that the mass audiovisual media are something other than simply neutral, diverting, (possibly) educational and informative sources of amusement and intellectual pleasure. It is their shadow self - their alter ego - which is of concern here.
Along with their intellectual and amusing aspects, the daily messages of the mass audiovisual media - increasingly accessible via the Internet - are also changing our relationship to history, time, tolerance, suffering, charity, collectivity, and so forth, in more ways than we have begun to realize.
My critique of the Monoform strikes at the heart of an authoritarian process which is being imposed on society by the global MAVM. A central facet - indeed the primary purpose - of this language-form is the denial of dialogue and opportunity for reflection. "Everything is happening so fast, people now are reacting too quickly, they have no ability to respond properly to anything," commented a member of my family in France recently.
According to a current poll in the United States, 56% of Americans are ready for war with Iran; at the same time, support for President Bush's handling of the war against Iraq has dropped to 53% (!). This sort of contradiction is just one of the many alarming aspects of the social process resulting from a flurry of instant, ill-considered, media-influenced, superficial - yet monumental in impact - decisions being made both by the public, and by many of its leaders.
That we are even considering war against Iran, let alone entering another obscenely expensive phase in the global nuclear arms race (whilst the gulf between those who have and those who have not continues to escalate in over 50 countries) - that we can momentarily acknowledge horrific traumas, and then seemingly forget or pass them by - speaks volumes about the impact of today's MAVM.
Only 4,500 of the 1.5 million AIDS-infected people in Uganda (alone) benefit from antiretroviral drugs, because only that number can afford the $30 to $300 treatment per month (depending on type of drug used). At the same time, the cost of attacking and occupying Iraq could reach $100 BILLION over the next year. And while we distract ourselves from this reality with TV 'reality shows', the average annual income in Uganda (not the poorest country in Africa) amounts to circa $300.
I hope that it is becoming increasingly apparent that the MAVM are NOT balanced or compassionate in their ways of dealing with contemporary society. They are becoming ever more pro-capitalist, pro-consumer, pro-military, and increasingly repressive against all forms of dissent, and critical thinking.
As I have written [see The Role of the Global Justice Movement], unfortunately many radicals and others who are aware of these problems, assume that the solution lies in changing the messages, and the people who issue them.
History shows that this panacea invariably ends up with one set of media authorities replacing another; it leaves in place hierarchical forms and processes, notions of 'professional expertise', of 'helping the audience', etc. - concepts which caused the problem to emerge in the first place.
Admittedly, there are movements via the Internet (Indymedia, etc.), which are developing in an alternative direction, and which offer decentralized ways of conveying news information. These are very important steps forward, but again, they are not enough.
Only if global society can allow - or grant by legislation, or yield in the face of massive protest - genuinely alternative media processes directly involving the public, and critical forms of education (especially re the media), will we truly begin to emerge from the quagmire. Until we begin to acknowledge the direct relationship between this quagmire and the pleasure syndrome of the MAVM - that the causes underlying the one are directly related to the numbing and neurosis-producing effects of the other - we will remain stuck. And steadily sinking.
I would like to emphasize that my analysis is not founded on an anti-film, anti-art, anti-intellectual, even anti-Hollywood position. (I also have thoroughly enjoyed many Hollywood films!) My analysis is based on the belief that the responsibility concurrent with producing - and watching - the MAVM has changed, and transcended its previous role. I believe that nearly all audiovisual acts - both creative and receptive - are now linked in some way or another to the global media crisis.
We can no longer separate or differentiate films in terms of being artistic, pleasurable, aesthetic vs. those we consider as rubbish - without understanding that nearly all contemporary cinema films, documentaries, and TV programmes (including newsbroadcasts) which are intended and shaped for a mass audience, share certain common elements: a Monoform structure and a hierarchical relationship to the public.
Whenever we watch a film, or even a few moments of TV, we are - with alarmingly few exceptions - participating in a repetitive process of manipulation, whether this was intentional on the part of the filmmaker/producer, or not. On an overall scale, the impact of the MAVM far exceeds the level of manipulation which can be attributed to any other forms of art and expression.
Part of this problem, subterranean and nearly impossible to quantify, is that the daily language of the mass audiovisual media (zooming, typical dialogue edits, shock sound cuts, tracking shots, etc.) is becoming so very standardized [see The Monoform] and repetitive - no matter what the subject or theme. Zooms and rapid montage techniques are used endlessly in the context of violent acts, for their manipulative shock effect. Who can say what (after at least 2 decades of living with an increasingly brutal and blood-spattered MAVM) we subconsciously do with the same techniques in a seemingly peaceful, non-violent film - one which is perhaps meant to please aesthetically?
The consistent use of the basic narrative structure, with its predetermined, repetitive, monolinear story curve and mandated 'closure', needs to be seen for what it is: a deeply authoritarian process cutting into every level of contemporary society. Especially given the deliberate suppression by the MAVM of any space or process which might allow the audience to engage in dialogue or reflection on what they are seeing and hearing.
To those who may query: "Indeed, who can say how we react to all of this stuff - and anyway, why should the effect be negative?" - I would reply: "Why not at least analyze and discuss what the effect might be? Especially given the present global implications... If the effect isn't negative or problematic, why do the MAVM and most of the education system refuse to debate this question in public?". And if this response doesn't suffice - surely the many repressive and authoritarian aspects of the contemporary MAVM are proof in themselves, that something is really going wrong.
There are of course filmmakers, academics, journalists, even festival organizers who work in their own way with the issues raised in this statement. Most of them - myself included - remain very isolated. What we desperately need is a network of communication and solidarity amongst people who share similar concerns and experiences, who can develop ideas to challenge the authority structures and hegemony of the MAVM, and who can bring these into the struggle for universal change.
In this context, I recently saw something quite encouraging happening in Paris. By way of background explanation: actors, musicians, dancers, stage managers and technicians (Intermittents du spectacle) in France, who traditionally receive financial support for a proportion of their periods of unemployment, are now threatened with monetary cut-backs. This is taking place in the midst of a major general assault by the right-wing French government on social welfare benefits and education funding.
The main purpose of the support for the Intermittents had been to allow them sufficient economic security to participate with short notice in spontaneously organized cultural events. Cut-backs will mean that many of them will be unable to continue such work, and that the very essence of cultural life in France will become more rigidly standardized. Given the escalating global crisis, and in particular the Monoform structures engulfing media culture everywhere, the last thing France needs are government measures of this kind.
Is the French government also becoming 'wise' to the need - as they see it - for a tightly controlled media sector? French television already toes the official line to a frightening degree. But what of the vast number of independent cultural workers - has the government decided to pull them into line as well?
A step taken by the French public TV channel, France 2, was very revealing. France 2 was broadcasting an opera performed at one of the major cultural festivals in France, many of which were cancelled due to strikes organized by the Intermittents. At the beginning of the live broadcast, a group of Intermittents read out from the stage their opposition to the government's actions. Some people in the audience began to boo. France 2 immediately switched to a blue screen and a caption expressing support for the government cut-backs, explanations of why they would be beneficial, etc.
The Intermittents who were the technicians at this performance, realizing what France 2 had done, decided to cancel the special lighting plot for the second part of the Opera, and - as part of their protest - have the performance continue with all the house lights switched on. Somehow, France 2 discovered this plan, and just as the second part of the opera began, switched over to the tele-recording of a rehearsal, and continued in this way to the end of the performance, as though it was still a live broadcast. The television viewing audience was not informed of this deception.
The important point here is that the Intermittents, who realize the context and danger of what is happening, have initiated a process of sustained protest and struggle for change. For the past few months, large demonstrations and 'actions' against government policies have been organized all over France.
It was encouraging to visit a large cultural centre in the rue Merlin (11th arrondissement), which had been taken over by the Intermittents (with the support of the local mayor), and transformed into a base of operations. The large space, its separate rooms and halls, were humming with activity - people discussing and planning strategies, developing the latest 'actions', demonstrations, ideas of how to appeal to the public, etc. The walls were covered in a sea of messages, information, exhortations, notices of forthcoming events and meetings. The atmosphere was electric. And very positive. What I found particularly encouraging was that these cultural workers were developing a sustained process of challenge, including ways to directly appeal to, and involve the public.
In precisely the same way, we need collective processes to challenge the role of the mass audiovisual media. We are now in an age when the global crisis is becoming increasingly more obvious, as I believe is the connection between this crisis and the role of the mass audiovisual media in society. I hope that the ideas and analysis presented in this statement - especially the material in the chapter 'The public - alternative processes and practices' - can contribute to the much needed debate for change.