“This is the enemy” — Godard on the disgusting culture of…

Jean-Luc Godard in 1988 at a press conference in Cannes after the first screening of the first two episodes of his very personal documentary, Histoire(s) du Cinema.

This video clip from Godard, which is not altogether clear, but which nonetheless resonates for me, reminded me of Neil Postman’s 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death in which he states:

[W]hat I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether.

To say it still another way: Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure. That is why even on news shows which provide us daily fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to “join them tomorrow. What for? One would think that several minutes of murder and mayhem would suffice as material for a month of sleepless nights. We accept the newscaster’ invitation because we know that the “news” is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say. Everything about a news show tells us this—the good looks and amiability of the cast, their pleasant banter, the exciting music that opens and closes the show, the vivid footage, the attractive commercials—all these and more suggest that what we have just seen is no cause for weeping. (p 87)

>Richard & Mimi

>I am on a journey of discovery, and I feel like what I’m discovering is not new, but the footprints of those who went before me. That’s how I feel about my woeful and wonderful ad hoc wanderings though folk music. But I am not worried, I keep finding amazing gems everywhere.

Below are some clips of Rainbow Quest with Richard and Mimi Fariña originally broadcast Saturday, February 26, 1966. Tragically, on April 30, 1966, a mere two months after this show aired, Richard would be dead from a motorcycle accident. His death occurred only minutes after leaving his wife’s 21st birthday party. Mimi was the sister of Joan Baez.

I have to say that for all the improvements in technology since Rainbow Quest was on the air I can’t think of a better way to present great folk music. Sitting around a kitchen table, drinking coffee, and jamming with Pete Seeger is just the best.

>The Video New Wave (as of 1973)


The portable video camera changed everything. In 1967 Sony introduced its DV-2400 Portapack (the Video Rover) and video production was placed in the hands of ordinary people, almost. It was still expensive, but universities could get the technology and students could take it out and start shooting. This camera system great contributed to the growth of video as an expressive and personal art form. Of course, many still used studio technology as well. By 1973 the form was established and growing, enough so that WGBH in Boston created a show on the topic (see clips below). Now our cell phones create digital videos that can instantly span the globe, or be posted online. But it all started somewhere.







Maybe what is most fascinating about these kinds of technologies (and I include the Internet, mobile phones, etc.) is their democratic nature. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s there was a feeling that video, because it was so portable and instantaneous, could be at the vanguard of personal expression, the interchange of ideas, and forging new ways of seeing ourselves, and thus creating a better world. And it was, though a better world has proven to be elusive. In the 1990s those hopes shifted over towards the Internet, which has proved to be even more conducive to the spread of ideas. But our heritage includes a heavy (by today’s standards), black-and-white, reel-to-reel, portable video tape recorder and camera system invented in the 1960s by a Japanese corporation that would later give us the Walkman, Compact Disc, and DVD.

>independent media and the future


If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be.

~ Thomas Jefferson

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

~ Mark Twain

Where do you get your news? Increasingly I find myself seeking out alternative sources of news, that is, independent news. I am deeply concerned that a small group of very large corporations own most of the media in the U.S. (See the chart below.) I am certainly not against all corporations, or even the idea of corporations, and I am not against the idea or the fact that most news outlets are companies with bottom lines. But in practice, corporations, especially large corporations, do not want democracy in the same way that the average person thinks of democracy.

Chart from the Media Reform Center.

Democracy is messy, unpredictable, works from the ground-up, is slow in making decisions, includes everyone, and is uplifting to both the individual and the masses. Democracy also challenges capitalism because capitalism seeks that all problems be solved by the market and the inherent selfishness of the individual. Ideally democracy requires compromise and some level of caring for others. Corporations want to reduce that messiness in order to maximize profits and makes them more predictable. Democracy wants to keep that messiness in order to foment the exchange of ideas.

The “corporate flag” by Adbusters.

Corporations are, by definition and design, expressions of capitalism. Thus, if democracy gets in the way, or even threatens the forward march of capitalism, then corporations will usually choose capitalism over democracy. That, at least partially, explains the constant collusion between big business and government. But a thriving democratic government takes active and informed citizens. If only a handful of corporations own all the media how does that affect the news citizens receive? Do we get the full picture? Do we have the facts we need to be committed to democracy and make informed decisions?

We all know the world we live in today is saturated with an overwhelming amount of information and entertainment, and that much of it is just garbage. And we know this includes the mainstream news. We live in an age of gross media mediocrity. Mainstream news tends, regardless of its name or origin, tends toward homogeneity rather than true diversity. But there are still many good alternative news choices, if one makes a little effort to find them.

Recently the National Conference for Media Reform highlighted some of those good choices. There is a groundswell of independent media in this country. Much of it is driven by its opposition to the War in Iraq and the never ending War on Terror.* It is also driven by the Internet. One of the key moments of that conference was the speech given by Bill Moyers.

Moyers speech is truly wonderful and worth taking the time to view.

Adbusters was there too. Here they interview several individuals, like Robert Greenwald and Amy Goodman, who are playing important roles in the independent media movement:


Independent media is not a guarantee of democracy or of quality news. But it does offer a better chance for building a foundation for good debate and informed choices. Of course the individual still has to take responsibility for sorting through it all. But that process is, in itself, informative.

I truly believe the future of this country, and of the world, politically, socially, and economically hinges more on the future of independent media and its relationship to democracy than just about anything else, along with love, human sin, and the hand of God of course. I should say that when I refer to the future of this country and the world I have in view a future where democracy and peace can thrive, and where ordinary people play a greater part in shaping this world and creating flourishing lives. It is not a complicated vision.

I have recently discovered the links page at the Independent Media Center. This looks like a decent place to start looking for alternative un-embedded sources of news and opinion. Feel free to suggest alternative news sources you enjoy.

I have just added this clip which takes a look at the new Newseum, or news museum, and highlights some of the same concerns I mention above:

*One of the ironies of alternative news is that by being animated by the ideals of a democratic society such news begins to look and feel radical and even “left wing” regardless of the issues. Democracy should not, in my opinion, be a radical idea in a free society, but it often seems that it is.

>vive la commune | vive la vérité


Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

~A. J. Liebling

One of the most fascinating and important scenes in Watkins nearly 6 hour (the shortened version) masterpiece La Commune (Paris, 1871) is when the established press (print) discusses with the burgeoning Commune TV* crew about the nature and goals of journalism. They argue over the nature of television news and its relationship to the worker’s uprising and the establishment of La Commune de Paris (the temporary socialist/anarchist government that ruled Paris in mid 1871).

The question on the table is why the television team doesn’t dive more deeply into the issues and, in particular, focus on the debates raging within the new government about its policies and procedures. The short answer is that serious debate just isn’t appropriate to the nature of television. This is the same concern we have today.

At its inception Commune TV was all enthusiasm. They had taken/stolen some television equipment and started covering the revolution like some community television crew – great ebullience and limited technical knowledge.

Here the two reporters, male and female (as apposed to the single male reporter for national television), introduce themselves. Alongside them stands a representative of the revolutionary press.

Commune TV gets many of its ideas from the press. In some ways they become a kind of mouthpiece for the revolutionary newspapers, but they also back away from getting too deep into the issues. Their goal is to primarily give voice to the citizen revolutionaries. So they provide lots of individuals’ opinions and talking heads without a lot of organization.

The national television station provides the “official” perspective on the revolution. This perspective represents the traditional bourgeois and ruling class interests. Its format and style is much more professional and apparently reasonable, conveying ideas and perspectives in a droll monotone as though they are merely unarguable facts.

And here is the scene in which the revolutionary press argues with Commune TV about how they cover the revolution and why they don’t present some ideas critical to the raging debates about the new government and its direction.

The answer given by Commune TV is essentially two parts, 1) They don’t want to cover anything that isn’t import, thus censoring their coverage based on what they like and don’t like, and 2) They don’t like long, drawn out debates, rather they like short, exciting pieces that keep people interested. In this way Commune TV provides a kind of in-the-trenches, embedded revolutionary news while following some of the assumptions of the national news about the television medium itself. Thus, what we find is that both the national television news and the commune’s television news provide limited and distorted perspectives on what is happening.

La Commune (Paris, 1871) is a remarkable film. It is a far more important film than its largely unknown status might indicate. It will never be widely popular because it does not fit the mold of popular films, but it is both mesmerizing and challenging. By raising the questions of what is the role of news and, in particular, what is the role of news in a time of revolution (war), this film calls us to re-evaluate the present. We are in a time of revolution. There are those today who, with unprecedented corporate power and military might, are seeking to shape the world according to imperialistic philosophies of power. This is truly revolutionary. And the mainstream media plays along. I would argue that we need another revolution, one that is not based on imperialism, “might equals right”, corporate greed, or nationalistic patriotism – even if the words freedom or democracy are attached.

If this is brought up in polite conversation many will say, “I just don’t see it.” At least that has been my experience. But we are often like fish in water when it comes to our own culture. I think of it like the visual puzzles that look like one thing, but if you stare long enough, and maybe with someone guiding your vision a little, you begin to see the “buried” image hidden within. Look behind our popular media and you will find amazing and troubling things.

That is why I like Democracy Now.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now.

Democracy Now is just one outlet, but a great one for alternative news, and this is not an endorsement, just a statement of fact. Other outlets include The Guerrilla News Network and Truthdig.

What then is the role of independent news? The following video is one of the most powerful examinations of how the media and the Iraq war have and continue to go together like hand and glove. Without an independent media, without other sources of news, how are we to know what is really going on in the world? How are we to realize that when we think we understand even the basics we too easily don’t?


*Just in case your were wondering, television had not yet been invented in 1871. Watkins uses this creative device to draw comparisons with that era and ours, and the to highlight the relationship of news media to truth.

>modern agitprop and youtube

>From the words “agitation” and “propaganda” we get agitprop. Because this word first showed up in connection with the Bolsheviks it has always had a leftist sense about it. But it really can be applied to just about anything that is about disseminating ideas with the desire to change consciousness and encourage action against the forces of power, blah, blah. From what I can tell today most agitprop, though often leftist in tenor, is mostly about challenging dominant paradigms of power and hegemony. That I can get behind.

It also seems today YouTube is becoming the location of much agitprop.

Here is a provocative and fascinating juxtaposition of images and stereotypes of women and cultures that confront our assumptions of dangerous differences, amongst other things:

Who can forget this amazing anti-war video (a great example of détournement) produced by the Guerrilla News Network only a year into the Iraq War. It is still powerfully relevant and devastating today:

The Billboard Liberation Front “improves” an AT&T advertisement in 2008:

Or this video made by anarchists on how to get the message out (agitprop about doing agitprop):

The question, of course, is how much actual action do things like these produce? For the most part I hope a lot (at least non-violent action), but I fear that YouTube clips may, in fact, exacerbate inaction. It may be “the medium is the message” kind of problem. Sitting at one’s computer and surfing video clips, even agitprop pieces like the ones above, is not the same as doing something. It’s too easy to go to the next clip.

And it’s often unclear what one’s actions should be. This is where the third clip above might be the most effective in encouraging action. People often already have strong emotions about the world they live in, but they don’t always know what to do. Of course, not just anyone is going to be swayed by anarchists and their ilk.

Regardless, getting “the message” out, whatever that message is, is important for the grand dialog. YouTube (and all Internet media) has been affecting the landscape of ideas for a while now. Feel free to add your thoughts.

* * * SPECIAL BONUS * * *

A trip down agitprop memory lane provided at no extra charge.

An excerpt from Ant Farm’s 1975 performance of Media Burn. The original “kill your t.v.” message:

1998 performance of the end of Orwell’s “1984” by The Surveillance Camera Players: