The Panopticon of Media Control

The power that media has over us is utterly baffling.  We exist in what Deleuze terms a “society of control.”  He explains this control as something almost polar opposite to its predecessor, the “disciplinary society” that Foucault describes so vividly in his account of the plague quarantining.  In a disciplinary society, control is reached division, branding and confinement.  However, in a society of control, power is obtained through the increased granting of freedom.  Deleuze uses the construction of freeways as an example.  “In making freeways, for example, you don’t enclose people but instead multiply the means of control.  I am not saying that this is the freeway’s exclusive purpose, but that people can drive infinitely and ‘freely’ without being at all confined yet while still being perfectly controlled.” (Galloway, 6)  And this is why we are so shocked by the media’s immense power and control.  We do not feel like we are being controlled because we are not being held by force.  We are not chained or shackled.  We are free.  Free to think and form our own opinions.  Free to behave in any way we wish.  Or so it seems.  This perhaps brings us back to the Marx reading from last week.  It is in this sort of “invisible” control that the highest degrees of power are obtained and that seems to be how the media manages to dictate our lives.

In this week’s Foucault reading, he explores Bentham’s Panopticon.  Although the Panopticon is presented as an architectural structure, it is important to consider it as more of a psychological device, which is how it seems to function in our world today.  The Panopticon can be used as a model to describe the media’s control over our society.  We are enclosed not physically but mentally and we are subject to an invisible power.

So although we read Foucault’s description of plague quarantining and shake our heads at the terror, perhaps our society of control is not that far off.  The only difference is that the controlling force has made itself less obvious.  It has infiltrated our world and disguised itself as freedom, which only allows it to obtain more control without our awareness or consent.  We think that we have advanced so far beyond the lock-down state of the plague-stricken seventeenth century, but perhaps that is only an illusion.  An illusion that is actually allowing us to slip further and further into submission.

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