James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The real media message from Iowa

In the early 1960s, a Canadian named Marshall McLuhan wrote a book, “Understanding Media,” that was a very big deal, although few people actually read his turgid prose.

What made it big beyond the tiny audience of scholars who really cared about how various communications media affect public perceptions and actions was one enigmatic statement: “The medium is the message.”

There still are arguments about what that really means, but I figure the hoopla, blather, nonsense and plain nuttiness spilling from our television sets and noozpapers since Thursday night pretty much prove the point as I understand it.

There probably are very few Americans who aren't convinced by now that the Iowa caucuses and the upcoming New Hampshire primaries are very significant indeed. And believing it, they make it so, though neither event has much significance in itself.

Despite having warned against acceptance of such nonsense right here on my blog a couple of days earlier, I felt myself being sucked in Thursday night. Yessiree bob. Sure looked like Hillary's goose was cooked, that Obama had emerged as the likely candidate of the Democratic wing of the Corporate Party, that Edwards was on his way out and that Huckabee, the super Christian, was gonna be the candidate of the Republican branch.

The “commentators” were excited. Breathing hard. You could switch from network to network, CNN to CNBC, everywhere but Fox Propaganda, and the opinions and lock-step analyses were almost identical. Wow. What a horse race! Yessir, Obama had a thrilling victory which showed us America was ready for a black president and women would vote for a man over Clinton, and Huckabee showed the rich guys of the Republican right that the middle class is unhappy with their leadership and, and, and....

And it's almost entirely fiction, except that in being sucked into accepting the nonsense, the public may well turn it into reality, thus again allowing handful of corporate commentators to choose for them.

To repeat: Iowa is a sparsely populated, behind-the-times state with a mostly rural population that is 93 percent white. While the people who participate in the process do, as one reader pointed out to me, make considerable effort to check out the candidates before the caucuses, they do so from a pretty narrow point of view. (They might vote for a black guy – might; we still don't know for sure – but most of them don't know any black people, and their opinions are formed mostly on the basis of television news: Gangs bad, rappers bad, some celebrities good.)

And New Hampshire is 96 percent white, mostly rural and small town, with pretty narrow, social-conservative views.

The professional blabbers were very excited Thursday evening by the big jump in caucus attendance in Iowa, particularly on the Democrat Branch side. More than 200,000 attended Democrat caucuses; Republican numbers were considerably smaller.

What they pointedly did not mention -- it would greatly have reduced the message of significance -- is that the population of Iowa is slightly less than 3 million, according to 2006 Census figures. (The state holds less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, by the by.)

So all of the hoopla is about the actions of less than 10 percent of the residents of a very small (by population) state.

Want to guess how many of those very white rural folks in the nonparticipating 90-plus percent -- people who get their news from television and often get their views from "reality television" -- are willing to vote for a black man who, they've been told, attended a Muslim school as a child?

Both Iowa and New Hampshire are traditionally Republican, incidentally.

What we've seen in the papers and, especially, on television is show biz, folks, not news. The yapping heads are hucksters, not reporters. They're the guy on the back of the medicine wagon, the woman doing the restrained grind in front of the hootchie-kootchie show, the barker talking you in to see the corpse of the giant squid, the shill for the three-card monte dealer.

Their purpose is to increase ratings, not to enlighten. They do that by persuading you that what you are seeing is important. It doesn't have to be, most often isn't, actually important.

But by convincing us that their version of events is the real thing, they get a great many people to behave in ways that are innately illogical and stupid. The medium is the message.

(Even Britney's being hauled to the hospital, with film of her trucked out of her house on a gurney, interrupted the flow only for a couple of hours, off an on – and am I prescient or what? The Iowa story already was scripted, the flapping jaws in place, so that act had to go on.)

Election cycle after election cycle, more intensely every four years, Americans are brought to believe that they should go along with the positions taken by maybe 400,000 small-state residents whose views generally are different from the views of a majority of Americans on a long list of important issues, such as abortion, the rights of gay Americans, the entry into and conduct of war and adherence to the U.S. Constitution, taking measures to protect the physical environment, the role of religion in government and our attitudes and conduct toward other countries.

The media say it's so, and therefore, for a large and uncritical portion of Americans it is so.

If you're chewing over Thursday's results, taking the jaw flappers seriously, let me suggest a couple of lines of thought, and questions to ask yourselves or others:

Have you noticed that almost all of the coverage of candidates has been celebrity coverage? You have been told much about their spouses and marriages, about their family backgrounds, about how they deliver a speech.

There have been stories about their tastes in music and food, where they went to school, haircuts and styles of dress. You've been told that Obama appeals to “optimism” and sees himself as someone who “can bring people together” (where they will dine on him before going back to attacking each other).

You've been told endlessly about Clinton's claim of experience and real leadership ability. Only very recently, belatedly, in fact, you've been told that Edwards is willing to take on the country's oligarchical corporations.

What do you know, really, about their positions on issues of importance?

Are you aware that serious analysts of economics and health care issues call Obama's health care “plan” little more than a guarantee of continued runaway profits for insurance companies and pharmaceuticals? And that the expert views of Clinton's plan are only minutely better?

Are you aware that Huckabee is rabidly antiabortion, antigay and for teaching right wing Christian views, rather than accepted science, in our schools?

Also, think hard about who has received how much of what kind of coverage.

A few weeks ago, or maybe it was a bit longer than that, the New York Times disappeared Dennis Kucinich. That's right; so far as the Times is concerned he does not exist. The paper had two big pieces last week on positions taken by candidates of both wings of the Corporate Party. Kucinich's name did not appear.

Television and most other newspapers did the same months ago.

And that disappearance came after about a year of telling us the man could not possibly be taken seriously – but never, never telling us what his positions and thoughts were about anything. The nooz people didn't want us to take him seriously, to get a look at him, so they never gave him, or us, a chance.

They did much the same, though not so blatantly, with a few others, some of whom actually are nuts, and some of whom, like Kucinich, are intelligent, perhaps even brilliant, and certainly strong and honest members of Congress.

You might ask yourselves why you would take seriously anything propounded by a “news” media that would simply refuse to let you know about candidates they don't want you to know. You might also ask what those people were afraid of and why.

The big story that won't be published in tomorrow's newspaper or bleated about endlessly on CNN is the utter breakdown of the American news media as serious public watchdogs, and what that breakdown means for rapidly fading American democracy.

The medium is the message, and the real media message is: Do not believe us; do not trust us.