Saturday, July 11, 2009


From AlterNet, my favorite Master of Divinity Chris Hedges on real art, politics, and culture:

The Corporate Media State Has Deformed American Culture

American culture -- or cultures, for we once had distinct regional cultures -- was systematically destroyed in the 20th century by corporations. These corporations used mass communication, as well as an understanding of the human subconscious, to turn consumption into an inner compulsion. Old values of thrift, regional identity that had its own iconography, aesthetic expression and history, diverse immigrant traditions, self-sufficiency, a press that was decentralized to provide citizens with a voice in their communities were all destroyed to create mass, corporate culture. New desires and habits were implanted by corporate advertisers to replace the old. Individual frustrations and discontents could be solved, corporate culture assured us, through the wonders of consumerism and cultural homogenization. American culture, or cultures, was replaced with junk culture and junk politics. And now, standing on the ash heap, we survey the ruins. The very slogans of advertising and mass culture have become the idiom of common expression, robbing us of the language to make sense of the destruction. We confuse the manufactured commodity culture with American culture.

How do we recover what was lost? How do we reclaim the culture that was destroyed by corporations? How do we fight back now that the consumer culture has fallen into a state of decay? What can we do to reverse the cannibalization of government and the national economy by the corporations?


The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying and control of traditional sources of information. We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased. These lines diminish the power of reform, justice and an understanding of the truth. And it is for this purpose that these lines are there.

More here.

Well, that's what I've been saying. Again and again, for years now. Corporate constructed culture has literally replaced our homegrown varieties, for the most part, and, in addition to the primary function of creating profits for shareholders, it also exists to push American hopes, dreams, desires, and conceptualizations in a direction that will serve corporate interests.

For instance, we've all watched hundreds of movies where protagonists solve complicated problems using simple violence: consequently, whenever we're faced with complicated global issues, the first solutions we envision usually involve sending in the troops, or James Bond styled covert operatives, whatever. Same thing with crime. Instead of considering gun control or social intervention or drug legalization and treatment, we want to send in badass cops to bust heads. Most of the movies and television shows we watch portray characters with enough money to live a high consumption bourgeois lifestyle, and we tend to measure our own success against that. We watch non-stop coverage of celebrity death and scandal instead of the health care debate, which, by and large, is relegated to CSPAN, which nobody watches. We listen to popular music that diverts us with trivial issues like fairy tale love, or bitches and hoe's. It just goes on and on. We're literally drowning in this shit; it's all encompassing.

The effects here cannot be underestimated. You realize, of course, that most Americans aren't registered to vote, and, usually, most registered voters don't manage to make it out to the polls at election time. Bread and circuses for the masses, propaganda disguised as "news" and "entertainment" for the rest. False narratives, sick mythology, symbolism and meaning as plastic product. Meanwhile, America as we understand it disintegrates.

As a student of both the theater and the mass media, this became disgustingly evident to me in the mid 90s. Yeah, it's been going on for a long time, since well before I was born. Like Hedges, I've also been at a loss for effective solutions. Like Hedges, all I've been able to come up with is a desire to foment some kind of cultural insurgency from the ground up. But how do individuals take on the rising ocean known as the mass media? This has really been an existential issue for me. I'm an actor by training, and the theater seems to be utterly irrelevant in terms of these problems, and film and television generally tend to contribute to these problems. Taking the traditional career paths for actors is at best problematic for me--perhaps that's why I've been so halting and hesitant about getting my actor life going here in New Orleans; in many ways, I'm like "what the hell am I trying to do here?"

On the other hand, there's some good news. I've long had the sense from people around me that we're all vaguely aware that there's something wrong here, that the meaning of life, as constructed by the artificial culture enveloping us, is unsatisfying or downright malevolent. People are hungry for an alternative understanding of reality, one that gives their lives validity and meaning. People are ready to listen to different points of view, want to hear strong criticisms of corporate-created culture, criticisms of conventional wisdom, criticisms of power establishments. And I find that when I'm able to talk about all this shit, people really do listen.

But I feel like David versus Goliath isn't even an appropriate metaphor: maybe Bambi versus Godzilla is better, or Amoeba versus H-Bomb. Can performing in front of ten people at a coffee house my song about how much it sucks to work at the mall have any chance in the long run of altering mass attitudes about consumerism and labor? Does my blog make anybody but me think about all this shit? I like to think I'm working separately but in tandem with thousands of other like-minded individuals, but I don't really know that. On the other hand, what else can one do?

Still more good news. Technology has served to radically decentralize the mass media; there are now so many choices for media consumption out there, now literally competing with small-scale in-home myspace and youtube projects, that the loud corporate media voices are relatively quieter, and the soft individual voices are relatively louder. That is, the playing field appears to be leveling out.

I guess we'll see where all this leads.