We are the censors

From my personal experience, speaking as the editor of a counterculture magazine — i.e. the largest gay youth magazine in the world — everything that Chomsky writes is absolutely correct and mirrors my own experience. Of course, Chomsky’s essay is a few years old, so it is a little out of date (e.g. it talks about anticommunism, rather than antiterrorism, which is the same thing) but the general areas are spot on.

I am particularly interested in Chomsky’s tridactic look at concentration of ownership, and the way that this interacts with both advertising and shareholder fealty. Only a high school journalism student (if even that) must truly believe in “objectivity” and “the separation of the editorial and business end” when advertisers and shareholders so clearly control editorial direction.  This is even true in the New York Times (in another class, I am researching the way that this supposedly liberal paper is out for blood on certain stories which are the pet peeve either of advertisers or shareholders).

I am especially interested in Chomsky’s assertion that reporters “even can convince themselves” that they are objective in spite not just of evidence but of logical impossibility that this is or could be so.  However, unlike Chomsky, I am not so innocent to believe them when they claim possession of angelic qualities — I have seen the reality of Abercrombie and Fitch and how they control the agenda of youth publishing.

Chomsky, though, seems not to notice the complete-loop nature of culture and censorship. He, like most theorists in my view, does not note that that the censors are the censored.  Over the past decade especially, our so-called “share-owning democracy” has seen not just concentration of media owenership, but a mass purchase of media stocks by mutual funds (e.g. gigantic retirement funds like CALPERS) which are in turn held en masse by the great masses of middle-of-road shareholders.  The resultant conformatizing, blanderizing, hence stagnant point of view, means there can be no freedom of the press — if freedom of the press only belongs to the man who owns one, and nobody owns one, then there is no freedom of the press.

Horkheimer only partly gets this when he says, “under monopoly all mass culture is identical.”  He also questions the conflation of “economic power” and “quality”; of “poverty” with “amateurness”; and gives mucho examples of blanderization and the cruelty of economies of scale.  However, what both writers still don’t see — which by the way “The Merchants of Cool” did see — is that the buyer is the bought. That is to say, we are the censors; we are a nation that lives in fear of its own passionate expression; when we wear Abercrombie we are the enforcers of the bland social uncharacteristics of fear that we bemoan; we are the censors who adopted the repression we published for ourselves.  There is no “profiteer” when AOL-Time-Warner-Viacom-Vivendi IS us.  The problem is that we cannot not censor until we see that we are the censors.

P.S. After I wrote this, I watched “manufacturing consent,” and the whole thing was so true. I particularly agreed with Chomsky that even from childhood, many examples of language foisted upon children as mere “examples” in fact harbor in inherent “degeneracy.”  That was a conformatizing link I hadn’t thought of by name, but which I find very disturbing and even makes me question the inherent morality of our species.



3 Responses to “We are the censors”

  1. I agree with you that Chomsky’s piece may be a little out of date. Although I think much of what he discusses can be applied to our world today (and I like your parallel between anticommunism and anti terrorism), I do think some points he makes can be argued irrelevant today. For example, he focuses quite a bit on limited voices in the media and the control of media by capital. This is still very much a problem in the print and television industries, but I would argue that the internet is changing that significantly. The internet gives a voice to a much larger percentage of the population and while many still remain unheard (some for economic reasons), the scales have been shifted quite a bit with this new media. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another issue entirely, but it does seem to be headed in a more “democratic” direction.

  2. Chomsky doesn’t seem entirely out dated. Although many of his opinions could be considered irrelevant, it depends on the context it is put in. But the underling theme speaks to it all, wealth and power controls the media we are subjected to. Interesting perspective on the “reality of Abercrombie and Fitch and how they control the agenda of youth publishing”. Although my thirteen year old brother would disagree, I agree with your position.

  3. One of the great things about studying is getting to relive “the good old days” when we were afraid of the communists, but weren’t quite sure what they would do to us aside from “ruining our way of life”. Terrorism is too tangible in a post 9/11 world.

    Speaking from personal experience as a former journalist I have to say that I have definitely been and seen a reporter convinced they are reporting new facts, not something they’ve been hand fed. Speaking from my current positition delivering propaganda (PR executive), I am not sure why.

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