Broadcasting in Stereo…types

Few things in life are simple: Math, at its core, it simple. As is language, or survival. But humanity has evolved beyond the basics, now reaching to the stars themselves while simultaneously looking ever deeper into our own bodies and what makes up the very stuff of our world. It is easy to claim that the shift in American culture over the past fifty years is something simple: anti-intellectualism, the stoking of the fires of hate and ignorance, and in some respects that is true. But, as I said earlier, few things are so exquisitely simple as that.

Take, for example, small town America. To some, it is a bastion of traditional values and the very picture we have in our mind when we think of This American Life or that blanket term “Americana.” For others, it is a sprawling land of flyover states populated by too few people and too many cows, and in their mind it is not always clear which would be the better voting population. If we flip it around, we can take the Rural viewpoint to the Urban jungle. To those in the sticks, it is a hive of scum and villainy, smog and ill repute, but for those who call these cities home it can be a land of hardscrabble, hardworking people who take the hardships of life on the chin and persevere all the same. Rural America boasts that city folk couldn’t handle a day on the farm, and Urban America maintains the trope of the naive farm girl devoured by a big city she will never fully understand. Yet the truth of this matter is neither of these: not idyllic or idle, not Ward Cleaver or Walter White, but somewhere inbetween.

You might realize that I am speaking in sweeping generalizations. Stereotypes, even. Tropes and idioms well known for most of our country’s history. And why is it that someone in Canton, Minnesota thinks they know what life is like in Compton, California? It’s media: television, radio, print, and the new kid on the block, digital media. Mass media is all of its forms has to, by definition of its name, appeal to a large audience, and when that is the case nuance and subtlety will always lose out to broad parody and stereotyping. There’s the old chestnut “will it play in Peoria” meaning that a show about people living in New York will not survive if it cannot present something accessible to a nationwide, or worldwide, audience. Even digital media, often lauded for its small-batch, individualized approach to entertainment, has pan-continental smashes like “Gangnam Style” focused on one idea: he’s doing a silly dance.

Why does this work? Simple: if it is easy to digest, it is easy to consume. If it is easy to consume, it is easy to purchase. If it is easy to purchase, it is easy to produce, and if it is easy to produce, it is easy to profit.

Let’s think about the media landscape of those Halcyon days of the 1950s. While you had the hallmarks of todays media: sitcoms, police dramas, newsmagazines, you also had what we now consider artifacts of the time like “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Leave it to Beaver” and experimental shows and formats that can’t seem to survive in today’s much-larger media landscape. Recent attempts to revive variety shows and teleplays have not fared well, while those same shows were extremely popular in years past.Why?
There was more room to experiment in past decades because there was just more room in the media landscape, period. Thanks to deregulation and a Congress bought and paid for, we now have six media companies owning the majority of what gets put out there, and that includes news, music, movies, television, and some parts of the internet. When the market gets concentrated to this amount, when billion-dollar mergers become commonplace every couple of years, it becomes strikingly clear that there is one and only one motivation for everything that is said, done, or put out into our media culture. Profit.
And how do you make profit? Not by putting out bold, interesting television, but by going to the same well of tried and true, low cost and high margin methods to get what you need, what your massive corporation needs, and what it needs is MONEY. And there is money in old, comfortable stereotypes, which the current crop of media thrives on to an almost embarrassing degree.
Think to yourself: would The Twilight Zone get made today? Would Network? Laugh-In? Would something bold and challenging come out of Viacom, or the NBC Universal Comcast behemoth? Instead, we’ve seen some of the most daring and groundbreaking media come out of Netflix which is internet based. The internet by and large has allowed we the people to wield a cudgel against the samey, insulting pap put out by the media giants, but they don’t know how to show anything else because they literally cannot think of anything but what will make them money.
So, what does this have to do with City Mouse and Country Mouse?
We’re being fed stereotypes. We’re being told that this person is different and that this person is bad. The media companies are putting out easily digestible dreck and hoping to continue these fears and hatred because that means you will buy season 700 of Fat Guy and Hot Wife. This is having a toxic effect on how we see the world, not just as divides between cultural groups, but with our country as a whole. I was reading a National Geographic article about the history of the World’s Fair, a former gold standard of world culture and the idealism of the Space Age. Why are we no longer making these World’s Fairs the destinations they once were? It’s not because people are inherently getting more stupid or vapid, it’s because they are being instructed to be.

Don’t think that everyone in the country is Honey Boo Boo: most farmers will be able to talk circles around you on a variety of scientific and mathematic processes. The tragedy of it is that, due to ugly media conglomerates, they sit atop a $250,000 combine harvester, harvesting corn that has been painstakingly monitored for proper levels of Potassium and other minerals in the soil, all the while thinking they must be dumb hicks. It’s time to throw this false picture away, and realize what can be accomplished.

Conversely, there are people who can navigate New York City flawlessly, design an app or product that further increases the ease with which we live our daily lives, but will balk at keeping an herb garden, or changing their oil, or trying to traverse gravel roads. They can’t do that; they’re city people. The news told them so. It’s time to throw this false picture away, and realize what can be accomplished.
We need to bring Americans back together in the spirit of optimism and wonder that first gave us the best standard of living in the world, and the first step to that is to break down the corporate walls. Shatter the corporate media that locks down our brains, destroy the corporate food that poisons us, and break the corporate stranglehold on our politics and policies of daily life. We must throw away our preconceptions and our stereotypes and work together like we did once before when we beat back the Nazis and made America the envy of the world. It’s time to end the cruel corporate joke being played on us by those who are richest beyond our possible collected imaginations. First, we break their hold, and then we get our money back.
Then? The future is up to us, the people. As it should be.

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