The new sovereign
In “Manufacturing Consent,” Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky talk about the “erosion of the public sphere” due to the corporate bias of the mainstream media. In explaining what is called the “propaganda model,” they argue that the media are a tool of powerful corporate interests. The agenda of the mass media, they say, is motivated by profit, which corporations try to advance by means of “structural factors” — ownership and control, funding sources and policy.
The mass media, with the help of their global outreach, are instrumental in propagating Western culture and liberal ideologies. This, according to Herman and Chomsky, is showcased by means of lifestyle themes that promote the values of materialism and individualism. When a society consists of a vast majority of people who barely have enough in order to survive in life, the emphasis on consumer culture will necessarily give rise to discontented and frustrated human beings.
The weakening of the public sphere, or the democratic spaces of society, can be traced to the influence of elitist standards. These standards serve to provide people a way of measure in terms of their sense of happiness. Life is reduced to a number and beauty to the category of being “white-skinned.” Those who do not pass are excluded, their voices forever muted by the objectifying gaze of a society that is judgmental.
Herman and Chomsky add that the propaganda model designs itself in such a way that it is positioned to “depoliticize” popular culture. There is an obvious preference for entertainment programs that bring massive revenues for the media industry. The poor become the willing victims of the “games of the circus,” which divert them from their real lives. The huge prizes given in these TV shows are deliberate in the intent to lure an audience and, thus, earn more revenues from advertisers.
Power, of course, has a tendency to hide itself in the guise of a seeming sympathy for the poor. The poor, however, are actually reduced to worthy victims in order to pursue the self-interests of the media’s corporate patrons. The end result is a diminution of the capability of a people for self-reflection and critique. When what the masses see on TV appears beneficial to their godforsaken lives, the propaganda model is at work.
The advent of the internet, Herman and Chomsky observe, is “breaking the stranglehold of journalism.” It has created what is called the “democratic media.” The obvious reason for this is that the internet allows people from all walks of life to put their content online. However, the problem is that the internet is no longer free. Algorithms define for people their options online. Bots or software operations perform automatic tasks, mostly to benefit the interests of political clients.
Popular culture, as the recent turn of events suggests, has been mixed with popular politics. There is actually no longer a distinction between reality and the human imagination when it comes to the politics of our time. The politician is also the comics superhero who possesses the ability to annihilate the enemies of the public. The same power translates into some kind of an ideological tool that fuels the passion of blind followers, who can only view the world as the battle between good and evil. The only problem is that what is good or bad is no longer built from what is reasonable and just but from the guilt-free comfort of one’s political bias.
Society does not only consume the products peddled by the culture industry; it has also become a consumer of lies that remain palatable to the prejudices of an unsuspecting public. The democratic space provided by the internet is taken advantage of by technology firms, but these firms have also found themselves helpless against power players. While the leaders of the industry can show sincerity and rational judgment, all the politics behind the internet as the new sovereign is too huge a monster to slay.
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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.