Friday, December 09, 2005

everything fine the way it is, officials say

In my human sexuality class, I do a lecture on sex and the media. One point I'd like to think I make fairly well is that we are not media's customers, especially in regards to the large, over-the-air networks. A customer pays for the product or service, but television viewers do not pay. The customer, then, is the source of revenue for television, the advertiser. You and I are the product.

The analogy I draw in class is with fishing. You and I are no more the customer to a television network than a fish is the customer of a fisher. Programming is the bait, not the product. The bait must be designed to find the product the advertisers want.

I find compelling the argument that advertisers do not want people engaging in deeply critical thinking - such actions make it more difficult to convince us that we should buy a mobile phone because the actress they paid to appear in the ad has large breasts.

I've been meaning for a while now to write about a pet peeve of mine. News stories, especially headlines, frequently make reference to "officials." Whenever some relatively major event (as defined by media itself) happens, these "officials" (usually government flaks well-trained in pr) are reflexively turned to for their authority and expertise. This paradigm bugs me, because the term "official" implies that there is some higher degree of objective truth to this person's viewpoint.

But, because these "officials" represent government organizations with an interest in maintaining their positions of power, their inherent bias is in defending the status quo. So the structure of news reporting reflexively provides those in power the means to maintain their power.

This really came to light for me yesterday, with the incident where air marshals shot an innocent, emotionally distressed man in Miami. The wave of stories that followed was predictable, with variations on the theme, "Authorities act appropriately again, officials say".

I mean, there's a general media culture of talking a lot of shit about things people don't know anything about. Very few people, officials included, saw the incident in Miami, so can there be any doubt that the lauding of the air marshals is underpinned more by hope than by fact? Because, frankly, it freaks me out how eager the media is to print cavalier dismissals of the killing of innocent people. I know this is really a minor case compared to things like the genocide of American natives, Central American death squads, or state-sanctioned torture.

It's just that it bugs me that when we see the word "official" we're supposed to shut off our brains, shut up our faces, and bend over to receive conventional wisdom.

I mean, imagine if "officials" were not routinely quoted and instead Amnesty International was given an obligatory quote on every major news story? Or the Ku Klux Klan? Or the crazy fucking Raelians?

I'm just sayin', is all, that the government is a set of vested interests like any other organization and unless you see the grip they hold over the news (and this is all setting aside the business interests part of the story) don't be surprised if you're the next to get blamed for making an air marshal shoot you.

3 Comments:

Anonymous tim said...

Nice entry with some excellent points. I like it better when you are writing in your blog than when you aren't...

9:03 PM  
Blogger Unsane said...

good, good, good.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Hattie said...

frankly, it freaks me out how eager the media is to print cavalier dismissals of the killing of innocent people.
A man was shot dead by a cop downtown here a couple of weeks ago. He wasn't "innocent" of crime, and the cop was cleared of all charges, but believe me this was an outrage. A council member is trying to get a civilian oversight committee funded, but I don't think he'll succeed. What we have her is a heredity caste of men who keep the natives down.

5:37 AM  

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