Evolution of Panoptic Control

What I believe we should constantly think about is that the media is a means primarily of transmission and secondarily of communication and that the media can be used by many different entities from single people to companies to institutions, some in league together and some at odds with each other.  So when we postulate whether ‘the media’ control people’s behavior or not we must think of individual examples or small groups and then flip to think of wide reaching and cumulative effects.

So when we think that a single commercial or a single TV show can ‘control’ us, it seems unrealistic; but when we think of the millions of media artifacts that we have seen in our lifetimes and the effects they have had on us, we can try and see trends of messages designed consciously or not to separate we the viewers from time, money, self ,etc.

I think that ‘the media’ is another evolutionary tool in the arsenal of institutions (governments, business, churches, etc.) that seek control for their own ends.  Perhaps a chain leading from brutal control to discipline to seduction to addiction as a means of control.  I believe that this evolution of methods is related to Foucault’s arguments that prisons (and schools and factories and armies) function to control people’s behavior (even when they are not prisoners) in the sense that the methods of control have moved from implementation of physical violence to threats of physical violence to fear of threats to fear of loss of identity to addiction to a vague fear of stepping out of line in any context.

The panopticon may have at one time functioned as a material technology but has evolved to a psychological device because the very sight of the buildings or structures built in an obviously panoptic way would lead to instinctive mistrust and a resistance to order, so the panopticon must be invisible and technology makes it so.  In fact the more technology evolves, the less visible the control.  One doesn’t need a physical prison when electronic surveillance can do the same job.

“For manipulation to be most effective, evidence of its presence should be nonexistent… It is essential, therefore, that people who are manipulated believe in the neutrality of their key social institutions.”
Herbert Schiller


3 Responses to “Evolution of Panoptic Control”

  1. I agree with your point that technology lends the system its power. I had not really considered the implications of technology in my analysis of media power this week. Technology is a huge part of it because we think we are in complete control of it when, in fact, it is in complete control of us. It dictates everything we do and we are at the point now where we really cannot function without it. And all the while we are completely unaware. Introducing technology as the source of power complicates the situation quite a bit, however. Technology has opened up many doors for us as a society and certainly cannot be considered a holistically “bad” thing. So then, is being controlled something we should try to see in a positive light? Where would we be without technology? Would we actually be more free or just more aware of the forces that control us? Perhaps it all boils down to ignorance is bliss. I like at least being given the illusion of freedom. I wouldn’t prefer a wildly visible dictatorship. Maybe we are more intricately controlled, but I still think we’re a lot better off than the society of the late seventeenth century Foucault describes or Nazi Germany.

  2. writeinbk Says:

    I agree with you that this media control could very well seem unrealistic at first. Most conspiracy theorist wouldn’t agree with that, but if you dissect media to the core, it doesn’t seem possible. Could one show like American Idol really control the 5 million viewers that watch it? I never thought of the panopticon as a material technology, maybe because the psychological effect seemed to overpower all the other possible effects.

  3. You’re right when you say that there’s no need for actual control when psychology can do the same job. In this, our country often reminds me of the USSR. Remember the USSR? That’s where they had a newspaper called “Truth,” and everyone believed it was true because they had never seen the truth. And, they had “free elections” wit only one candidate and 99% of the people voted yes. They thought they had elections because they had never seen one.

    And really, that’s how we are now, isn’t it? The question is what the future holds. AND ONLY VANQUISHING POSTMODERNISM WILL SAVE US!! WOOOT!!!!

    Have a good one. I am writing this comment late because for some reason I mysteriously forgot to write my second comment on 10/14. Silly me. Have fun, see you soon, Peter C

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