Due to a complete lack of direction in life and an astounding cynicism towards the systems that govern it, I have returned to university to study the so-called final and sacred vanguard holding the world’s democracies up like Atlas does the globe – journalism! Buckle up, it’s a journey to piss off some academics and “professional communicators”!
Having seemingly wasted a number of years of my life by making decisions I feel weren’t really mine, spending another three years doing undergraduate study, this time of an industry I have a keen disdain for generally, seemed like the only sensible way to take control of the reins. Absolutely nothing could go awry moving in circles of people who would possibly, if they found them, view my critiques of The Media™ quite uncomfortable – yes, dude in my tutorial, maybe I did silently judge the fact you read The Australian!
So far it has been fairly good, with the obvious conflicting opinions in some cases and mild amusement in others. In one unit they discussed the Frankfurt School (quick, point at the cultural Marxist university!) and their analysis and critique of the culture industries in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and liberal America. It is the expected nightmare of options – either be brutally repressed by one regime or another, or have your consent manufactured by industrial (now modern, I suppose) meaning makers.
The lecturer, however, levied a critique at the Frankfurt School model by quoting some suggestion that it doesn’t account for social change. It was along the lines of, if society and out institutions are controlled by powerful interests to such an extent that society and culture becomes one-dimensional and merely consumed by the masses, then how do they explain the leaps on social issues (didn’t mention economics) that attack that hegemony?
I don’t know, I haven’t read Adorno or Horkheimer. But to me that is a very disingenuous argument, one that I couldn’t tell if the lecturer or others in the class actually buy into. It is disingenuous, in my view, because it seems to completely erase the masses themselves. The masses, almost always the oppressed and disenfranchised, are the ones that challenge that institutionally controlled narrative, be it overcoming racism or barriers placed on the LGBT+ community. Institutions have power and, as a result, a lot of control over the population if they do it right – but it isn’t total.
People, especially those who are negatively affected by the status quo, will always be at the forefront of social change, challenging the culture that permeates society. Eventually, this effort is rewarded, even if there is a still a long way to go. But those institutions still hold control – Obama may have been the first black President, but it didn’t really do much for many poor black Americans. MLK and Malcolm X are watered down to be “acceptable” paragons of racial justice, while ignoring the quite radical beliefs they held and tried to spread.
Point being, towering institutional power and creeping social change aren’t mutually exclusive.
The recommended textbook for this unit is quite open with that fact, I feel. On page 18 of Nicholas Carah and Eric Louw’s Media and Society: Production, Content & Participation, it says:
“You will not remain employed at a mainstream western news organization if you produce stories that are anarchist, anti-capitalist, fascist or that encourage terrorism, for example.”
First of all – wow, rude. That’s my career in tatters before it ever really began.
Second, it is interesting that they place anarchist and anti-capitalist alongside fascism and terrorism. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, given they are just listing examples of things that would not be accepted, but it feels a little off to see socialist ideas being derided right next to terms attributable to the Nazis or ISIS.
Basically, though, social change is generally achieved slowly and absorbed into the existing system – that is why, as the authors mention, there are so many cheap shirts out there with Che Guevara’s face on it. Society may not be as openly racist or sexist as it used to be, but it is very much stacked against those who don’t conform to the dominant demographics. In every meaningful sense – that is, anything that gives genuine power and autonomy into the hands of the people – the masses are still marginalised.
And then there’s me, a first year journalism student that fits every dominant demographic, yet envisions a wrecking ball through the system, reading that the industry I want to look into – surprise surprise – does not look kindly on the viewpoints I hold.
I wonder why?