Can We Save Ourselves from The Corporation?

The Corporation’s stranglehold on countless aspects of our lives, and the consumerist culture it breeds has always been something that’s really bugged me.  Here’s a wonderful, yet simple explanation of the effects of our culture of consumption:

The Story of Stuff
The Story of Stuff

The fact that mass media is being produced by an increasingly limited number of media conglomerates with a finger in every pie conceivable, and then some, has always been worrying for the resulting extremely limited spectrum of culture that the vast majority is exposed to.  Despite the armour of cynicism we have supposedly developed to protect ourselves against the influence of The Brands, everyday, I continue to see evidence of the influence of The Corporation’s “carefully crafted” messages on the people around me, myself included (watch: The Persuaders), and particularly it’s influence on youth (watch: The Merchants of Cool).  I’d venture a guess that most of us know or have known a 15 year old who, instead of making his own music, spends his days vegetating in front of MTV watching Limp Bizkit (feel free to replace with an era-appropriate band-name).  And is it just me or does everybody else wince when a teenager you know declares himself a fan of McDonald’s on Facebook (nothing wrong?  watch: Super Size Me, or better yet, read Felicity Lawrence’s Not On the Label)?

Sure, it’s a free world, and we’re free to make our own choices, and we consciously choose to buy into what The Corporation tries to sell us.  Right?  Wrong.  Access to the production of traditional media such as newspapers, television and radio isn’t equal.  How can you make a “free choice” when you are constantly bombarded with the same few messages crafted by the few who have the access?  When mass media as a medium of transmission of information is looking more and more like a mere medium of transmission of advertising?

There are those of us who’ve made our choice.  We’ve passed the first stage in media literacy – managing our media “diets”.  We’ve switched off the television and stopped buying the glossy magazines.  The second stage?  Learning specific skills of critical viewing?  Our choice of independent media is probably helping us discover what’s being left out of the regular media frame.

But it’s not just about those of us who’ve listened to the different sides, and made our choices.  Far from it.  Besides just our passive resistance, is there anything more we can do, or should do?  What about those who just haven’t been exposed to various sides of the story – those who, to borrow the cliche, are still plugged into the system?  Are they ready to be plugged out?  What do they need to be ready?

Do we have the moral obligation to help the young people in our lives understand the forces and the reality behind the machine?  Or are we, by doing so, forcing our views upon them?  Somehow, I don’t recall The Corporations asking for our permission to force their agenda on us.  All we can do, is try to present another side of the story.  It’s up to them to make up their minds.

Creating one’s own media messages is another step in media literacy.  Blogs (including my extremely inactive one) are just one of the many ways we’re slowly digging ourselves out of years of ingrained passive consumer mode into an active producer mode.  Maybe that’s why the social networking website, Facebook, really excited me when it first became popular (I know, I know, there’s plenty of controversy about Facebook, but let’s not get into that, or at least try not to, for today) – the idea of an entire community of active content generators (whom, admittedly, have created plenty of frivolous content, but that’s not for us to judge).  The point was that Facebook created a simple way for users to choose the content we wanted to generate.  We could choose to generate frivolous content, or we could choose to generate socially relevant content.  But the choice was ours, and that was media power to the people.  And that reminded me of something I had long forgotten, the promise of what the internet revolution was supposed to have done.  After years of just being a porn database (okay, so I exaggerate, a bit.  watch PBS’ documentary, American Porn if you really, really doubt me), Web 2.0 has come to save the internet; to give it the new lease of life that will enable every single user to become an active content producer, not just a passive consumer.  I’d almost forgotten that a decade ago, the internet activity I loved the most, was participating actively on internet forums, debating the different perspectives on the issues of the day.  How that kid ended up degenerating into a passive consumer of the internet is an intriguing question, and one I need to ponder some more.  What institutional or cultural forces exerted themselves on me when I slowly stopped writing, stopped drawing, stopped crafting – stopped creating?  Whatever they were, I’ve taken stock, and I’m determined not to let them win.  It’s never too late.

While we’re on the issue of creating, let me sidetrack and ask you to check out the charming Handmade Nation.  I’ve decided to stop being ashamed of my fascination with the wonderful crafting revolution (Cyn, repeat after me, crafting is not frivolous) that’s taking over the world today, and celebrate it as yet another way people are taking back production from The Corporation.

To end off this awfully long-winded rant, is the find that inspired this post in the first place.  The wonderful Steal This Film II really made me rethink my awkward acceptance of the American film and music industry lobby for intellectual property rights.  We’re always told that it’s an issue of intellectual property and morality, and I’ve awkwardly accepted that as fact, but never probed, nor understood my discomfort (am I just a cheapskate?  gasp, horror – a closet pirate?).  But this film frames the debate in a much broader context – that the advent of the technology of the internet is a way to free society from the commodification of culture.  Cultural products as a communal resource and product of the community, and not a commodity to be packaged and traded by a select few?  It seems like such a simple concept, so why is it that this seems mind-blowing to contemplate?  How many parts of the frame haven’t we seen all this while?  Now I understand why I love the idea of Creative Commons (which I use, by the way) and why I love flickr and why I love it when people use my photos on flickr, particularly for advocacy, in ways I’d never have imagined using myself.  See:

Now Public Men at Work article
Now Public Men at Work article
Now Public Does Sitting in Front of the Class Make You a Better Student? article
Now Public Does Sitting in Front of the Class Make You a Better Student? article

Collaboration rocks!  What will you create today?

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