Tag Archives: America

The Disuniting of America

An interesting article I read not too long ago describes some problems with the study of history in the United States today.

The author starts by describing a recent case heard by Montana’s Supreme Court. The court upheld the state constitution’s ban on corporations donating directly to political campaigns. In order to justify its decision, the justices cited many works of history in order to recreate the thinking of the time period in which the ban was instituted, which was almost 100 years ago. As a history teacher, it is good to see courts using history to come to what seems like a just ruling.

However, according to the author, most of the books to which the justices referred were all published before 1977. The reason, according to him, is that books of political history have been hard to come by since that time. Instead, the study of history has been dominated by gender and race. To him, this is an unmitigated tragedy and a blow to the more traditional historical concentrations, like politics, war and foreign relations.

My own feelings on this issue are mixed. History, by its definition, tends to be a conservative field of study. I remember the tragedy of 9/11 taking place during my second year as a history teacher. People were walking around saying “this is the worst day in American history”. Although their feelings were justified given the magnitude of the tragedy, I thought back to things like Pearl Harbor or the Battle of Antietam and realized that there were days when our country had it worse. 9/11 was certainly the defining tragedy of our era, sort of Generation X’s version of the Kennedy assassination, but I will never concede that it was the worst day in our history.

Because history tends to be conservative, it is true that high school and college curriculums used to focus on the doings of dead white men. In order to counterbalance this, the 1960s and 1970s saw a new wave of historians, writers and researchers focused more and more on the struggles of ethnic minorities and women. The pinnacle of this movement is probably represented by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. A walk through the history section of the bookstore, or a quick scan of history classes offered at universities, shows a thriving movement of historical study as seen through the lens of minorities and women.

On the one hand, I believe this movement was necessary because minorities and women were indeed made invisible in the history curricula of old. On the other hand, I sympathize with the sentiments of those who believe that the ethnic and gender movement in historical study has gone too far. The people who believe that it has gone too far are not all right-wingers either. The eminent historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote a book entitled The Disuniting of America towards the end of his life where he bemoaned what ethnic and gender studies have done to history. More recently, one of my favorite historians,  and probably the greatest living expert on early American history, Gordon Wood, has made no secret of his distaste for the same. Conservatism cuts in many ways. Both of these men, while sensitive to the need to include minorities and women in all historical accounts, are merely defending what they see as the dissolution of the traditions that have made history a valuable subject and art form.

A story from my own experience can perhaps demonstrate what these scholars are criticizing. Years ago I had to take one of those graduate level education classes for my permanent state license. Most of my classmates were elementary school teachers in their early-mid twenties, most of them women. One of our assignments required us to give a presentation of a unit we would teach to our classes. One of my aforementioned elementary school teacher classmates gave a presentation about a unit on early American history. I do not remember all of what she presented. What I do know is that, over and over and over again, she said to us “and the Founding Fathers got their idea of the Constitution from the Iroquois.” or “did you know that it was the Iroquois who gave the Founding Fathers the idea for the Constitution?” She said it with rapt enthusiasm. You could tell that she expressed the same type of enthusiasm when she taught it to her own students.

Whenever students come into my class with plain wrong ideas of American history that they picked up from elementary and junior high school, I always think about that teacher. She was referring to the Iroquois Confederacy and how it bears resemblance to the federalist structure of the Constitution, or the division of powers between state and federal government. This was a popular thesis during the 1980s, a time when many ethnic and gender reinterpretations of American history were coming out. Here is the problem: there is not one shred of evidence to conclude that the Founders were at all inspired by the Iroquois. Now, this does not mean that the Iroquois did not have an enlightened and effective system of decision-making, one that united many tribes of the northeast United States. It simply means that there is no evidence of direct influence of the elegant system of the Iroquois on our own elegant system.

The Founders who were at the Constitutional Convention bequeathed to us thousands of pages of writings: transcripts from the convention, newspaper articles debating pros and cons of specific measures and personal correspondences. Together, they give us a wonderful glimpse into the time period. This means not only the things they debated, but the assumptions they held. A close reading gives us a sense of the intellectual universe they shared. One thing is painfully clear from their writings: they moved in an intellectual universe that was heavily European. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, buried himself in histories of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as studies of British common law and the British constitution (which is not a written constitution as we know it), in order to prepare himself for the Constitutional Convention. He was also intimately familiar with the workings of each colonial government, which themselves were heavily influenced by England. Furthermore, the Founders shared the European arrogance towards Native Americans in thinking they were savages with very little to contribute to civilized life, including the workings of civilized government. In short, not only were the Founders not inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy, they had no motivation to be inspired by them.

This is where Schlesinger and Wood believe the ethnic and gender movement in history has gone too far. In a mad dash to give a more prominent place to groups who have traditionally been ignored, our bookshelves and our curricula have been littered with specious and questionable historical theories. By teaching her students that the Iroquois influenced the Founding Fathers, that teacher gave her students an incorrect impression of American history. While we as teachers of inner city students might feel a need to make minorities and women an important part of our curriculum, we also have to keep in mind that the end goal of history is not to boost self-esteem. We merely cannot pervert and distort facts to come to wrong conclusions just to make ourselves and our students feel good about themselves. By doing this, we lose the art, the interpretation and the pursuit of truth that the study of history is meant to be.

In fact, there is no need at all to lie or distort history to give women and minorities a prominent role. Any history teacher that knows the subject will be easily able to provide examples of the contributions of all types of groups to the American story. Lying or stretching the truth only ends up doing a disservice. It is intellectually dishonest. Even worse, what if the student later finds out the truth about a lie they were taught about a woman or minority group? The damage can have long-lasting impacts.

The bright side is that there are still political, military and diplomatic histories out there. They are tougher to find for sure, but these traditional histories are still around for anyone determined enough to track them down. What is more, owing to the push for greater inclusion since the 1970s, these more traditional types of histories are sure to have the women and minority characters that histories of a previous era might have lacked. Gordon Wood himself is a prime example. His breathtaking renditions of early American history seamlessly include the roles of dead white men and women, as well as those dead people of color. Looking at most of the histories associated with the Oxford History of the United States, I would say most of them do the same thing. What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe is especially adept at weaving the experiences of white men, upper class women, free blacks, enslaved southerners, Native Americans and Hispanics into an era of American history that has traditionally been associated with one racist white man: Andrew Jackson.

Students often ask me “when are we going to learn about my people?” This is the type of divisive tribalism that has been engendered by the overreach of the ethnic and feminist movements in the study of history. There is so much I want to say to the student who says this. “Why don’t you study it yourself?”, “who are your people?”  or “what does it mean to have a people?” However, what I often say is “all people are our people”. Anyone who has read history to any extent realizes that it is impossible to separate these people from those people. There are usually six degrees of separation between any two cultures. Somewhere along the way, cultures have borrowed ideas, goods and practices from other cultures, who have adapted it from other cultures. It is common for a student from, say, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic to blurt out “what were my people doing at this time?” when studying ancient Rome. They are shocked to hear that Puerto Rican or Dominican culture as they know it was still a long way off from being forged. That lesson will have to wait until Columbus’ major mistake of 1492.

I fear that this is one of the destructive legacies of the ethnic and feminist movement in history. As the title of Schlesinger’s book, The Disuniting of America, suggests, studying history in this way encourages us to see people as part of an identity. We atomize history into black history, feminist history, Hispanic history, Asian-American history and we lose sight of the fact that we inhabit this country and this planet together. Critics like to call people who study history in this manner “Marxist”, but I doubt Marx or any champion of the working class would approve of dividing people in this way. I would label this merely “liberal” because it is in step with the identity and culture war politics in which elitist liberals of today excel. It is a great way to get the poor classes to divide from each other, argue over what group gets which month and take our minds off of the class oppression that transcends all ethnic and gender identities.

This brings me to another point made in the article I cited in the beginning. The author bemoans how university history departments across the country hire a disproportionate number of Democrats. How he can be sure that this is the case is beyond me. I will concede, however, that most historians I know of and read seem to have a leftist bent. The author ascribes this to discriminatory hiring practices. For my part, I think things are a lot less sinister. Quite simply, historical facts tend to have a leftist bias. As I have heard others express it before, “facts tend to lean to the left.”

It is tough to imagine how one can call themselves an historian and a Republican in 2012. Being a Republican today not only requires the traditional GOP faith in markets and the private sector, but it requires an entire reading of American history that bears no resemblance to any history book I know of. What historian is going to believe, in good conscience, that the Founding Fathers were Christian fundamentalists  who believed cutting taxes for the wealthy and allowing corporations to do as they please was the “American way”? In Nixon’s era, it was possible for one to be an historian and a Republican, since the GOP had yet to go off the deep end at that point. Today, however, you either know something about American history, or you are a Republican/Libertarian.

During the 1970s, well after the protests of the 60s had revealed that the intelligentsia was overwhelmingly leftist, wealthy right-wing interests established an entire infrastructure of their own dedicated to spinning an alternate reality. This included the creation of private colleges dedicated to the teachings of right-wing extremism, like Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. It also included the establishment of think-tanks dedicated to spinning an entire web of right-wing reality, like the Heritage Foundation. These organizations were established because it was feared that the leftist intelligentsia had a hold on the minds of youngsters. During the 1970s, progressive government had been in the saddle for decades, or so they seemed to believe. The youth of tomorrow promised to imbibe the leftist program thanks to liberal universities, then they would go on to be tomorrow’s leftist voters. There needed to be an alternative way of seeing history and public policy, one that could compete with the leftists who controlled the education system. This movement to establish a parallel, conservative universe has been wildly successful. It has been one of the major reasons why ultra-conservative government has been in the saddle since Reagan.

So I believe it when the author of the article says that leftists are in history departments across the country. Liberal arts departments are some of the only places where leftists can wield any type of influence any more. The halls of government are cut off to them, as are the major media outlets. Sadly, the defunding of state universities and the paltry opportunities people have to make a living with liberal arts degrees are choking off even this small enclave for leftists.

What all of this represents, from the way we study history to the way universities hire, is a fracturing of America’s social fabric. The culprits are liberals who partake in identity politics and conservatives who live in a hermetically sealed fantasy world.

Advertisements

Monday Morning Picture Round-Up

Liberals, Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David: comedic genius, limousine liberal.

The gay marriage controversy is easily resolved. If I were President of the United States, I would issue an executive order legalizing gay marriage in every U.S. state and territory. My decision would be accompanied by a brief speech explaining that, in the United States of America, the government should make every effort to ensure the rights of consenting adults to build a life together in any way they see fit. It is a fundamental American value that government should guarantee “the pursuit of happiness” as an “unalienable” right.

The Emancipation Proclamation, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and prohibition of stem cell research all flowed from executive orders. Presidents have used the executive order to make sweeping changes to American society before. There is no reason why gay marriage could not or should not be resolved in the same way.

Most importantly, I would legalize gay marriage so fast in order to focus on what I consider more pressing matters.

Yet, over the past several years, activists have been filing lawsuits, judges have been handing down rulings and lawmakers have been working on legislation to legalize gay marriage. President Obama, facing reelection this November, recently came out in support of it. The media has been abuzz with this politician and that politician coming out for or against. In short, a healthy amount of the nation’s resources and attention has been husbanded to the gay marriage controversy. More than one respected source has alluded to gay marriage as either the civil rights struggle of our era, or the gravest threat to American values.

And yet, one wave of the presidential hand can make all of this go away.

A friend of mine said she read a statistic somewhere that most of the legislation that has been introduced and debated by this current Tea Party Congress revolves around abortion or women’s reproductive rights.

This is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Gay marriage, abortion, marijuana and other such issues have been on the lips of our elected officials for a reason: they distract our attention from the grave structural problems that plague our civilization.

Childhood poverty has reached levels not seen since the late 1800s. The American worker, despite skyrocketing productivity over the past 35 years, has not seen their wages keep up apace. The average CEO makes around 300 times their average worker. Many multi-billion dollar corporations pay no taxes. There is no more class system in the United States, only an economic caste system. The financial sector is still largely unregulated; the student debt bomb being the next terrorist device set to explode because of it.

Our elected officials will give impassioned speeches about gay marriage, but when it comes to children living in households where their parents make less than 3 dollars an hour, they are totally silent. Indeed, the longer they can string these culture war issues along, the more they can make speeches about them and ensure that our structural class problems remain invisible.

As much as I would love to blame conservatives for trying to foist their religious fundamentalism onto the rest of us, the lion’s share of the blame must go to those who pass as “liberals” in this day and age. This includes not only so-called liberals in government, but self-styled liberals of the rank-and-file.

In order to test this, find yourself someone who you might consider a liberal and suggest to them that our country has more pressing matters to attend to than gay marriage. You will be met with moral outrage, if not a full-blown accusation of homophobia.

It is symptomatic of what has become of the entire liberal edifice over the past 35 years.

For example, somewhere along the way, the most prominent black leaders started worrying about “the n word” and which corporations were promoting blacks to middle management positions. All the while, almost a third of America’s black population live below the poverty line and the life expectancy of black Americans remain far below the national average. In essence, the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world became preoccupied with issues relevant to the black middle class or, in other words, those with the disposable income to give to their organizations.

One can only hope that Tavis Smiley and Cornell West have breathed new life into the black civil rights movement.

In the same manner, gay marriage has been the issue du jour of the white liberal class. Whether gay, straight or transgender, liberals around the country have mobilized for the fight for gay rights. For me, it is self-evident that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the right to get married. I consider myself a well-wisher of the gay marriage movement.

I can only say that if gay marriage is your number one political concern, you must have a pretty good life.

The people who pass as liberals in this day and age have played right into conservative hands. Liberal leaders have taken their most impassioned stances and scored their biggest victories in recent years on culture war issues. They have scored these victories because, in the end, conservatives have largely allowed them to do so. Allowing gays to marry will not make any deep structural changes to our broken socioeconomic system. That means that, while it is a loss for conservatives, it is a loss they can live with.

We live in an era of decadence, which literally means a “falling apart”. Both the liberal and conservative elite have reached a consensus that radical reform of our system is unacceptable, so they have resigned themselves to tinkering along the edges. While gays will be allowed to marry and marijuana will someday be legal, the economic caste system that rots our democracy will go unchanged.

While the people of France recently elected a new president in the hopes of altering the direction of the European Union, our president is campaigning on gay marriage. While the people of Greece turned many of their austerity hawks out of government, our leaders are garnering votes over the question of whether man came from God or ape. We are, without question, the single dumbest and most vegged out nation in western civilization.

This goes a long way towards explaining what has become of the Democratic Party in recent years. They are a conglomerate of special interests: gays, minorities, environmentalists, etc. Each interest single-mindedly pushes their agenda to the forefront and, at varying times, is successful at getting their pet issue at the center of the public debate. By bringing their issues into relief, the fundamental traditions on which the Democrats used to stand (the New Deal and the Great Society) fizzle away.

Whether one votes Democrat or Republican, the outcome is the same: the economic caste system stands unperturbed. Liberals should not cheer their superficial victories. They should instead mourn the fact that the culture wars are the only wars they have the heart to wage.

Louis CK Discusses Corporate Takeover

A smart discussion with Louis CK on the Opie and Anthony show. It is at the point where comedians make the most valuable insights on American society now. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have more news than Fox. Louis CK has more to say in this 25 minute segment than Rush Limbaugh has said in his entire radio career.

It s ironic how this discussion took place on satellite radio, an irony they point out in this discussion.

I like the part when they talk about being able to fix your car on the side of the road. You used to be able to pull over to the side of the road, fiddle with some some parts and get it working again. Parts used to be hefty and last forever. Now everything is computerized, making it impossible to fix your car on your own. Car parts now are light and flimsy, guaranteed to break after a year or two.

And all of those auto jobs were moved out of Michigan in the name of “progress”.

We all are being forced to belong to corporations. Life itself is being arranged around the demands of a corporate elite. What is marketed as “progress” to us means progress for a very small group of people.

The Real Welfare Recipients

What do you notice about the majority of states on this list that receive the most federal funding? Yup, they are some of the reddest states in the country.

The top freeloading state in the union in 2005 was New Mexico. Reading the State of New Mexico’s Wikipedia page confirmed my guess as to why they receive such government largesse:

Federal government spending is a major driver of the New Mexico economy. In 2005 the federal government spent $2.03 on New Mexico for every dollar of tax revenue collected from the state. This rate of return is higher than any other state in the Union.[15] The federal government is also a major employer in New Mexico providing more than a quarter of the state’s jobs.

Many of the federal jobs relate to the military; the state hosts three air force bases (Kirtland Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base, and Cannon Air Force Base); a testing range (White Sands Missile Range); and an army proving ground and maneuver range (Fort Bliss – McGregor Range).

In addition to the National Guard, New Mexico has a New Mexico State Defense Force. Other minor locations include the New Mexico Army National Guard Headquarters in Santa Fe county and the National Guard Armory in far northern Rio Rancho in Sandoval county.

Other federal installations include national observatories and the technology labs of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). SNL conducts electronic and industrial research on Kirtland AFB, on the southeast side of Albuquerque. These installations also include the missile and spacecraft proving grounds at White Sands. Other federal agencies such as the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service, and the United States Bureau of Land Management are a big part of the state’s rural employment base.

They are awash with military installations and little green men.

The funny thing about this is New Mexico is the state of Gary Johnson, a man who has become the second-biggest Libertarian hero behind Ron Paul. During his stint as governor, Johnson slashed state spending and balanced the budget. He gained a national following, generally among small government types, as a symbol of fiscally responsible leadership.

I suppose small government is not possible without large government.

The second biggest recipient on the list is the poorest state in the country, Mississippi. Their standing as number 2 in 2005 is probably due to Hurricane Katrina.

The home of Sarah Palin, Alaska, is the third biggest mooching state on the list. Alaska has a wealth of natural resources. Their oil and gas companies depend upon a healthy stream of federal funds to drill for more. A 2010 article outlines Alaska’s love affair with federal money:

Each person in Alaska receives approximately $20,351 in federal funds each year. Compare that amount with Nevada residents who receive only $7.14 per year.  The large amount of federal funds that go to Alaska allow them to go without a state income or sales tax.  Besides a generous amount of federal dollars for defense spending within the state, the state also receives a disproportionate amount of federal subsidies for oil and gas exploration.  Many Alaskan residents actually receive a yearly check, which comes from the massive revenue generated from Alaska’s oil and gas reserves.  Some would argue that far from being “independent,” the state actually is heavily dependent on the federal government it so maligns.

Wow, it seems that Alaska is one giant den of welfare recipients. Is this the independent and can-do American spirit that Sarah Palin spoke so much about on the 2008 campaign trail?

Louisiana was the fourth state on the list. Just like Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina seems to account for its standing in 2005.

West Virginia rounds out the top 5. One beneficiary of federal funds seems to be the coal industry:

In reality, the coal industry is heavily subsidized by the federal and state governments, enjoying explicit subsidies of billions of dollars a year, plus the indirect subsidy of free pollution that costs the United States 10,000 lives a year, destroys the land and water of mining communities, and destabilizes our climate. In September 2009, the Environmental Law Institute identified coal industry “subsidies of around $17 billion between 2002 and 2008”.

So, taking a look at 3 of the top 5 states who benefit the most from federal tax dollars, we get a picture of who the biggest welfare recipients are in the United States: the military-industrial complex and polluters.

And who pays those federal taxes? It certainly is not the wealthiest corporations who, thanks to loopholes and the Bush Tax Cuts, pay absolutely nothing. No, it is you and I, the working people of this country who fund imperialist war and environmental degradation.

What do 4 of these 5 states have in common? Take a look at this map and see for yourself:

Just a word about the only blue state, New Mexico:

The key voting bloc in this state is Hispanics, which makes up a plurality of the state’s total population with 45%. George W. Bush enjoyed good popularity with Hispanic voters and received over 40% of the Hispanic vote nationally in 2004. As a result, Bush had the ability to nip John Kerry by approximately 6,000 votes in New Mexico in 2004. In the previous election, New Mexico had been a very close swing state. Al Gore won the state by only 300 votes in 2000, which was even narrower than the controversial results in Florida. However, after the 2004 presidential election, support for Bush in the Hispanic community collapsed. During the 2008 election, New Mexico was regarded as an Obama-leaning state despite the fact that John McCain was from neighboring Arizona and held similar views on illegal immigration to those of Bush. Ultimately, McCain was only able to obtain 30% of the Hispanic vote.

The Republican base in New Mexico consists of the more rural southeastern part of the state which, while thinly populated, votes heavily Republican. Democrats are strongest in the state capital, Santa Fe and its close-in suburbs. The city of Albuquerque and the southwestern part of the state are also Democratic, but to a far lesser extent. On a larger context, Southern New Mexico is typically more Republican while Northern New Mexico is traditionally more Democratic, while Albuquerque and other areas in the center tend to swing both ways.

There are 4 major military bases in New Mexico. And where are 3 of the 4 bases located? That’s right, in the southeastern (Republican) part of New Mexico: Curry and Otero counties. The reddest parts of the state are the biggest beneficiaries of federal largesse.

And the states that receive the least bang for their tax buck are: New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Minnesota. And what do all of these states have in common? Take a look again:

So the bluest states in the United States subsidize the reddest states.

And yet, the reddest politicians rail against government handouts and how those handouts destroy the individualist spirit of the country.

They certainly do, just not for the reasons they imply.

Speaking of American tradition, 3 of the 5 states who subsidize all of this welfare are from the oldest (eastern) parts of the country.

And the two largest welfare recipients? From the youngest (western) part of the country.

There is your American tradition.

The political narrative in this country has been stood on its head.

The Secularist’s Rise

Atheists gathered this past Saturday in Washington, D.C. for what they called the “Reason Rally”. The purpose, according to a quote in this article, was to show America that “we are here and we will never be silenced again.”

An estimated 30,000 people of diverse backgrounds showed up. It was a heartening turnout for what is becoming a necessary cause in the United States of America.

Since the end of the 1960s, a Christian fundamentalist movement has been afoot. There were wide swaths of the population who were disoriented by the changes of that era. Technology, morals, politics and everything else were undergoing rapid change. Religion provided solid answers and stability amidst these changes.

The simplicity of fundamentalism made it a great vehicle for political organization. We started seeing signs of this with the election of Jimmy Carter, who wore his religion on his sleeve and even in his policies. Through televangelism, Jesus camps and church organization, southern-style Christianity became a form of political activism. The Culture Wars of the early 1990s provided the fertile ground needed to turn the Democrats out of Congress and elect a crop of very Christian Republicans. This bore fruit later with Clinton’s impeachment and the election of George W. Bush.

Since this time, we have seen attacks on women’s reproductive rights, homosexuals and Muslims. We have taken to seriously debating the merits between creation and evolution, as if they occupy the same intellectual plane. We have become a country where policies inspired by a small but organized group of Christian fundamentalists impact the lives of everyone around the world.

Around this trend is the rise of a counter narrative of American history that portrays the Founding Fathers as intolerant Christians. Although the Founders talked a lot about God, it was the God of Enlightenment Deism that ruled their day. It was a mechanical God, a “watchmaker” as Isaac Newton would say, under which they lived. It was a God that had created the universe and then walked away, allowing humans to use their brains to divine the underlying laws of nature.

So, it is necessary that the secularists gathered in the nation’s capital over the weekend. Unbelievers need to show that they can be a political force as well. Leaders need to see that there is a base of very organized, very vocal Americans who feel attacked by religious fundamentalism.

At the same time, secularists need to take care of not falling into the trap of the fundamentalists. It is very easy to be dogmatic. My own views on religion are complex. I am more agnostic than anything. There is a danger of falling into dogma whether you are a believer or unbeliever. What the secularists are fighting against is the intolerance, the demagoguery, the arrogance of Christian fundamentalism. We should be careful not to replace religious dogmatism with secular dogmatism.

What we should be fighting for is a free and open society. There are atheists who are just as demeaning as fundamentalists. Faith in science can be just as severe and unyielding as faith in God. Our aim should not to be severe, but to be free.

The Mediaopoly

The evil Mickey Mouse and the rest of the brainwashing squad.

I have been mostly television free for around two years. The other day (I won’t get into specifics) I was forced into watching Jersey Shore. It is a show where a bunch of people do nothing but argue and have sex for an hour. There is no other purpose to it than to parade these young people in front of a camera so that their jackassery becomes a for-profit public spectacle.

One of the reasons I gave up on the tube is the fact that the entire media is controlled by six megacorporations. This is a brief overview of the media landscape:

Time Warner

Home Box Office (HBO)
Time Inc.
Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
CW Network (partial ownership)
TMZ
New Line Cinema
Time Warner Cable
Cinemax
Cartoon Network
TBS
TNT
America Online
MapQuest
Moviefone
Castle Rock
Sports Illustrated
Fortune
Marie Claire
People Magazine

Walt Disney

ABC Television Network
Disney Publishing
ESPN Inc.
Disney Channel
SOAPnet
A&E
Lifetime
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Buena Vista Theatrical Productions
Buena Vista Records
Disney Records
Hollywood Records
Miramax Films
Touchstone Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Pixar Animation Studios
Buena Vista Games
Hyperion Books

Viacom

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Home Entertainment
Black Entertainment Television (BET)
Comedy Central
Country Music Television (CMT)
Logo
MTV
MTV Canada
MTV2
Nick Magazine
Nick at Nite
Nick Jr.
Nickelodeon
Noggin
Spike TV
The Movie Channel
TV Land
VH1

News Corporation

Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Fox Television Stations
The New York Post
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Beliefnet
Fox Business Network
Fox Kids Europe
Fox News Channel
Fox Sports Net
Fox Television Network
FX
My Network TV
MySpace
News Limited News
Phoenix InfoNews Channel
Phoenix Movies Channel
Sky PerfecTV
Speed Channel
STAR TV India
STAR TV Taiwan
STAR World
Times Higher Education Supplement Magazine
Times Literary Supplement Magazine
Times of London
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox International
20th Century Fox Studios
20th Century Fox Television
BSkyB
DIRECTV
The Wall Street Journal
Fox Broadcasting Company
Fox Interactive Media
FOXTEL
HarperCollins Publishers
The National Geographic Channel
National Rugby League
News Interactive
News Outdoor
Radio Veronica
ReganBooks
Sky Italia
Sky Radio Denmark
Sky Radio Germany
Sky Radio Netherlands
STAR
Zondervan

CBS Corporation

CBS News
CBS Sports
CBS Television Network
CNET
Showtime
TV.com
CBS Radio Inc. (130 stations)
CBS Consumer Products
CBS Outdoor
CW Network (50% ownership)
Infinity Broadcasting
Simon & Schuster (Pocket Books, Scribner)
Westwood One Radio Network

NBC Universal

Bravo
CNBC
NBC News
MSNBC
NBC Sports
NBC Television Network
Oxygen
SciFi Magazine
Syfy (Sci Fi Channel)
Telemundo
USA Network
Weather Channel
Focus Features
NBC Universal Television Distribution
NBC Universal Television Studio
Paxson Communications (partial ownership)
Trio
Universal Parks & Resorts
Universal Pictures
Universal Studio Home Video

I believe NBC belongs to General Electric.

That means that whatever gets on the television, movie screen and radio must be filtered through a corporate bureaucracy whose sole purpose is to turn a profit.

As recently as the 1990s, the actual airwaves that carried television broadcasts were owned by the federal government. At certain points, the government was able take hold of the airwaves to provide coverage of events like presidential debates and speeches. The thinking was that there were certain things that needed to be shown in the interests of having an informed democratic citizenry.

Thanks to the privatization wave of the 1990s, the rights to the airwaves were sold to corporate interests for a song. The media is now fully privatized and corporate-run. This means that everything that passes as news in the media gets filtered through a corporate bureaucracy first. There is never any bad press about Disney or General Electric because it would never make it on to the air.

There is no longer any pretense of the media helping cultivate an informed democratic citizenry.

In this clip, Bill Maher mentions something very telling about this media-opoly:

He says 2/3 of Americans cannot name the economic system under which we operate. That seems about right. And if you cannot name the system, how can you analyze it or fight against its injustices?

Media helps shape the boundaries of public discourse. There are very few places one can turn for serious discussion about our economic system. Sure, there are discussions about economic policy, but those policies might as well take place in a vacuum. Without an overall context for those policies, the media tacitly portrays the economic system under which we live as natural.

This is why Occupy Wall Street was evicted. It was drawing too much attention to the economic system as a whole, connecting too many dots and pointing out too many damning truths.

The history textbooks do the same thing as the media. This is why I don’t use them.

Here is a fun video about the media-opoly:

And this documentary, Orwell Rolls in his Grave, is well worth a few watches. It is a much more in-depth look at corporate media and its implications for our democracy. Watch for the cameos by Bernie Sanders: