Thursday April 17th, 2014, 11:03 pm (EDT)

Media & Communications

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 11 (April 2014)

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 11 (April 2014)

The insidious nature of the economy, state, and cultural apparatus of global monopoly-finance capital is difficult to perceive—if only because it is to be found everywhere we look. Focusing on a specific case can therefore help us see what might otherwise elude us. A striking instance of this principle is to be found in the recent takeover of Chrysler by Fiat—linking a century-old Italian auto dynasty, the Great Financial Crisis of 2007–2009, the U.S. corporate bailout, the 2014 Superbowl, and the American folk music tradition.… | more |

Sharp Left Turn for the Media Reform Movement

Toward a Post-Capitalist Democracy

The contemporary media reform movement exploded into prominence in the United States in 2003 as a response to the effort by the Bush Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to weaken media ownership regulations.… The size and success of this popular uprising was…a testament to the power of activism to thwart the plans of the powerful in seemingly hopeless conditions.… The Obama campaign in 2007 and 2008 expressed interest in media reform and worked closely with members of the movement…. Except for Obama’s speech against the Iraq War invasion, it was arguably his communication platform that most distinguished him as a progressive in the 2008 presidential primaries.… One can debate whether this was an appropriate strategic shift at the time but there can be no debate that the strategy failed. The Obama administration abandoned its platform almost immediately, and repudiated the movement.… | more |

Who has little, let them have less

Marge Piercy is the author of eighteen poetry books, most recently The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980–2010 from Knopf. Her most recent novel is Sex Wars (Harper Perennial) and PM Press has republished Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep with new introductions.… | more |

It’s the System Stupid

Structural Crises and the Need for Alternatives to Capitalism

On Thursday, December 13, 2012, The Guardian announced Queen Elizabeth finally received an answer to her question—“Did nobody see this coming?”—about the 2008 financial crisis.… Perhaps she could have also asked three more questions: Does nobody see the suffering and socioeconomic injustices of oligopolistic-finance capitalism? Does no one see that the problems are structural and systemic? And is there no alternative to a system that generates continuous “quadruple crises”—the socioeconomic, political, environmental, and personal/psychological?… The conventional wisdom is “There Is No Alternative,” or TINA. For this reason most Americans simply acquiesce to capitalistic social relations and, like Sisyphus, are resigned to performing eternal tasks while enduring the “endless” quadruple crises generated by a pathological system.… The most extraordinary aspect concerning the absence of an alternative is that it is fallacious. The capitalistic system itself must be transformed. To put it into a slogan: Capitalism Is No Alternative, or CINA.… | more |

Rethinking Is Not Demonizing

A Conversation with Cao Zhenglu About His Novel Lessons in Democracy

Cao Zhenglu is a well-known contemporary Chinese realist writer. His stories “Na’er” (“There,” about the tragic experience of a union cadre in a state-owned enterprise undergoing “structural reform”) and “Nihong” (“Neon,” about the life and death of a laid-off woman worker) expose the predicament of Chinese workers in the reform period. His novel Wen cangmang (Asking the Boundless—an allusion to a line from one of Mao’s poems, “I ask, on this boundless land, who rules over man’s destiny”) has a Taiwanese-owned factory in Shenzhen as the central theater, around which different characters struggle to understand and play their roles in the larger context of “investment.” This novel has been celebrated as “the first novel that uses Chinese reality to explain Das Kapital.” His most recent novel, Minzhu ke (Lessons in Democracy [Taipei: Taiwan shehui yanjiu zazhishe, 2013]), initiates a further reflection on the Cultural Revolution. Cao’s novel re-narrates the Cultural Revolution in terms of its historical unfolding—its aims, processes, contradictions, and significance, and links this story with the contemporary problem of China’s path today.… | more |

Why Whiteness Is Invisible

Look, a White! [by George Yancy] was written to share a way of looking at records, new ways of bringing attention to what has become the norm, business as usual. Yancy’s objective is to “name whiteness, mark it,” to share a critical view on it.… This book is a much needed, insightful look at the ideological construct of race. Since the invention of scientific racism in the French academy in the early nineteenth century, race has applied to every group but to whites. Thus, whiteness was made into an invisible trait of racist thinking and definitions.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 3 (July-August 2013)

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 3 (July-August 2013)

» Notes from the Editors

A Note from Bob McChesney. During my time as coeditor [of MR], communication colleagues would sometimes wonder what I was doing at MR. After all, I was a media scholar, and MR was many things, but it was not a magazine known for its work on communication. I explained the singular importance of the MR tradition, of the work of Sweezy, Magdoff, Leo Huberman, and Paul Baran, in my intellectual and political development. I also explained the importance of the MR work on advertising, monopoly, and technology in developing a radical critique of media and communication. But I had to concede the point, nonetheless.… Imagine my surprise, then, when Foster informed me two years ago that two drafts of a missing chapter of Baran and Sweezy’s magisterial Monopoly Capital (1966) had been discovered in their papers. Not only that, it was a chapter on media and culture. I was shocked, to say the least. Foster provided me with the backstory: it was meant to be the penultimate chapter of the book, but when Baran died in 1964, Sweezy elected to leave it out (after doing additional work on it) as the book was already quite long and there remained unresolved issues with it.… | more |

The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital

An Introduction

The past half-century has been dominated by the rise of media to a commanding position in the social life of most people and nations, to the point where it is banal to regard this as the “information age.” The once-dazzling ascension of television in the 1950s and ‘60s now looks like the horse-and-buggy era when one assesses the Internet, smartphones, and the digital revolution. For social theorists of all stripes communication has moved to center stage. And for those on the left, addressing the role of communication in achieving social change and then maintaining popular rule in the face of reactionary backlash is now a primary concern.… political economists of communication, including one of us, identified themselves as in the tradition of radical political economy, but with a sophisticated appreciation of media that had escaped.… [the stellar critique of journalism produced… by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky]. Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy were occasionally held up by political economists of communication as representing the sort of traditional Marxists who underappreciated the importance of media, communication, and culture.… We were never especially impressed by this criticism. To us, Monopoly Capital, and the broader political economy of Baran and Sweezy, far from ignoring communication, provided key elements for a serious study of the subject. [Note: this article was released in three parts: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]… | more |

Theses on Advertising

Confronted with a progressive deterioration and an increasing “Americanization” of mass media in Britain, the British Labor Party appointed a Commission under the Chairmanship of Lord Reith the assignment of which is “to consider the role of commercial advertising in present day society and to recommend whether reforms are required; if so, what?” This Advertising Commission solicited oral and written testimony from various workers in that field, submitting to them a questionnaire covering the principal points on which comments were invited. Having also been asked for our reflections on the matter, we prepared the following statement the purpose of which is not so much to answer all the questions posed in the questionnaire, as to present a more or less integrated view on this, most important, subject.… | more |

The Quality of Monopoly Capitalist Society: Culture and Communications

This is a hitherto unpublished chapter of Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966). The text as published here has been edited and includes notes by John Bellamy Foster. The style conforms to that of their book. Part of the original draft chapter, dealing with mental health, was still incomplete at the time of Baran’s death in 1964, and consequently has not be included in this published version. For the larger intellectual context see the introduction to this issue.… | more |

St. Brecht and the Theatrical Stock Exchange

This is an abridged version of an article by the same title published in Review1, launched in 1965 as Monthly Review’s literary supplement. Eleanor Hakim was the managing editor of Studies on the Left in its first few years. At the time she wrote this article she was teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Her essay dealt with Brecht’s theory of the subversive role of the artist in confronting what he conceived as the “cultural apparatus”and how this affected his theory of epic theater. Hakim was particularly concerned with demonstrating that Brecht’s critical outlook was confirmed by the way that, after his death, the U.S. cultural apparatus (“the theatrical stock exchange” of her title) was manipulating and de-radicalizing his drama. In this context, she drew out the significance of Brecht’s revolutionary humanism.… —Eds.… | more |

Communications in Capitalist Society

In no field do the claims of democratic diversity and free political competition which are made on behalf of the “open societies” of advanced capitalism appear to be more valid than in the field of communications—the press, the written word generally, radio, television, the cinema, and the theatre. For in contrast to Communist and other “monolithic” regimes, the means of expression in capitalist countries are not normally monopolized by, and subservient to, the ruling political power. Even where, as is often the case for radio and television, agencies of communication are public institutions, or mixed ones, they are not simply the mouthpieces of the government of the day and exclusively the organs of official policy or opinions; opposition views are also heard and seen.… The importance and value of the freedom and opportunity of expression is not to be underestimated. Yet the notion of pluralist diversity and competitive equilibrium is, here as in every other field, rather superficial and misleading. For the agencies of communication and notably the mass media are, in reality, and the expression of dissident views notwithstanding, a crucial element in the legitimation of capitalist society. Freedom of expression is not thereby rendered meaningless. But that freedom has to be set in the real economic and political context of these societies; and in that context the free expression of ideas and opinions mainly means the free expression of ideas and opinions which are helpful to the prevailing system of power and privilege.… | more |

The Existing Alternatives in Communications

It matters greatly where you start, in thinking about communications. You may start, for instance, in a mood of excitement and even congratulation that at the present stage of civilization there is a communications system incomparably more vast and efficient than could ever have been imagined: that the voice of radio, the face of television, goes into millions of homes, and that we have the most widely distributed press in the world. You can feel this excitement even if you recognize certain little local difficulties such as a cigarette advertisement appearing just before Robin Hood, or a particularly shocking series in one of the Sunday papers, or even the overnight death of the News Chronicle.… On the other hand, you may be starting from the feeling that never in the history of the world has there been so much production of bad culture. Never, it is true, has there been so much production of any kind, but the percentage of this production which is bad is now appalling.… Many people, good people, have this image of a depraved, or largely depraved, population, whom they call the masses. The people are not profiting by the gleaming machine of communication, but are being reduced to what is usually called a near-moronic mass.… My own starting point is distinct from either of these attitudes. In my view you cannot understand the communications system unless you look at it historically, and this as yet we have not really enough evidence for. Very few people have been working on it.… and because of this, such history of the communications system as exists is mostly bad history, bad history which hides from us the factors which could lead to an understanding of the contemporary situation.… | more |

Introduction to the Second Edition of The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism

The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism: An Elaboration of Marxian Political Economy was initially written thirty years ago this coming year as my doctoral dissertation at York University in Toronto. It was expanded into a larger book form with three additional chapters (on the state, imperialism, and socialist construction) and published by Monthly Review Press two years later. The analysis of both the dissertation and the book focused primarily on the work of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, and particularly on the debate that had grown up around their book, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (1966). In this respect The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism was specifically designed, as its subtitle indicated, as an “elaboration” of their underlying theoretical perspective and its wider implications.… Three decades later much has changed, in ways that make the reissuing of The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism in a new edition seem useful and timely. The scholarly research into Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital has expanded enormously in the intervening years, most notably with the publication of the two missing chapters of Monopoly Capital—one on the theoretical implications of their analysis for economics, the other on culture and communications—and through research into their joint correspondence. The Great Financial Crisis and the resurfacing of economic stagnation have engendered new interest in this tradition of thought. Under this historical impetus the theory itself has advanced to address new developments, particularly with respect to the understanding of stagnation, financialization, and the globalization of monopoly capital.… | more |

This Isn’t What Democracy Looks Like

On the brink of the 2012 presidential election, and without considering that electoral contest itself, it is useful to comment on the state of U.S. democracy. The most striking lesson from contemporary U.S. election campaigns is how vast and growing the distance is between the rhetoric and pronouncements of the politicians and pundits and the actual deepening, immense, and largely ignored problems that afflict the people of the United States.… Mainstream politics seem increasingly irrelevant to the real problems the nation faces…. The degeneration of U.S. politics is a long-term process.… capitalism and democracy have always had a difficult relationship. The former generates severe inequality and the latter is predicated upon political equality.… Capitalist democracy therefore becomes more democratic to the extent that it is less capitalist (dominated by wealth) and to the extent to which popular forces—those without substantial property—are able to organize successfully to win great victories…. In the past four decades such organized popular forces in the United States—never especially strong compared to most other capitalist democracies—have been decimated, with disastrous consequences. The United States has long been considered a “weak democracy”; by the second decade of the new century that is truly an exaggeration. Today, the United States is better understood as what John Nichols and I term a “Dollarocracy”—the rule of money rather than the rule of the people—a specifically U.S. form of plutocracy. … | more |

Privatization of Consciousness

Is advertising legal? Most people agree that it is an uninvited intrusion into our lives and our minds, an invasion of privacy. But the fact that we can be aware of this without being furious, and that we do little to change the situation, is a good measure of our level of submission. There is a power relationship in advertising that is rarely, if ever, looked at, and yet it is a profoundly corrupt one. Some speak; others listen.… A. J. Liebling famously said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed, but only if you own one.” Freedom of speech is also guaranteed. But only if you have a few million dollars for an effective media strategy. Soapbox oratory doesn’t sway the public anymore. But the powers of advertising go well beyond the amount of money spent. The true power is in the nature of moving-image media, projected for hours every day into human brains. It’s a form of intrusion we have never before in history had to face. Even now in the Internet age, the powers of television and advertising are undiminished and insufficiently examined or discussed.… | more |

The Bull Market

Political Advertising

The United States is in the midst of its quadrennial presidential election, a process that now extends so long as to be all but permanent. The campaign is also drenched in more money given by a small handful of billionaires than has been the case in the past. Since the 1970s the amount spent on political campaigns has increased dramatically in almost every election cycle. It has led to the formation of what we term the “money-and-media election complex,” which has a revenue base in the many billions of campaign dollars donated annually, and has effectively become the foundation of electoral politics in the United States. Moreover, the rate of increase in campaign spending from 2008 to 2010, and especially from 2008 to 2012, is now at an all-time high.… | more |

Alfred Hitchcock Presents Class Struggle

Class struggle is the last thing most people would associate with Alfred Hitchcock, probably the most famous director of them all. But there is a connection, nevertheless. No one would call Hitchcock a socialist; he emphasized that all he wanted was to entertain people—not instruct them. He was proud of his commercial success (and so were the studios that employed him).… For many, it will sound absurd to claim that Hitchcock has anything to do with class struggle. It is an interesting reaction, because issues that are a function of class struggle are plainly on view in Hitchcock, even if they are ignored—or blocked out. Many of his movies are built around class-struggle issues: without them, there would be no movie. … | more |

The Internet’s Unholy Marriage to Capitalism

The United States and the world are now a good two decades into the Internet revolution, or what was once called the information age. The past generation has seen a blizzard of mind-boggling developments in communication, ranging from the World Wide Web and broadband, to ubiquitous cell phones that are quickly becoming high-powered wireless computers in their own right.… The full impact of the Internet revolution will only become apparent in the future, as more technological change is on the horizon that can barely be imagined and hardly anticipated. But enough time has transpired, and institutions and practices have been developed, that an assessment of the digital era is possible, as well as a sense of its likely trajectory into the future.… | more |

The U.S. Media Reform Movement: Going Forward

All social scholarship ultimately is about understanding the world to change it, even if the change we want is to preserve that which we most treasure in the status quo. This is especially and immediately true for political economy of media as a field of study, where research has a direct and important relationship with policies and structures that shape media and communication and influence the course of society. Because of this, too, the political economy of communication has had a direct relationship with policy makers and citizens outside the academy. The work, more than most other areas, cannot survive if it is “academic.” That is why the burgeoning media reform movement in the United States is so important for the field. This is a movement, astonishingly, based almost directly upon core political economic research… | more |