As we watch endless reruns on cable, I wonder how they’re selected. The choices get worse every year. For some time, television for me has been pretty much limited to news and sports, well, what passes for “news” and after the recent NFL Pro Bowl, something all too similar is happening to sports. Perhaps this is how “dark ages” start.
Of course, our travails with entertainment are the least of our problems. Today’s problems seem not only existentially dangerous but seemingly irresolvable. Plato thought pretty much the same two and a half millennia ago. “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, but do they have to? Let’s start on a light and superficial note, but one that illustrates our quandary.
To many of us, today’s television programs and movies are insipid, politically motivated, politically correct drivel, but, omnipresent insipid, politically motivated, politically correct drivel. Choice, other than abstention, is pretty much non-existent despite the vast quantities of great material produced during the second half of the 20th century. How many of us would love to binge watch “All in the Family” or “Sanford & Son” or “Welcome Back Kotter” or “Different Strokes” or “Happy Days” or “Whats Happening” or “WKRP in Cincinnati” or “The Jeffersons” or “Night Court” or “Julia” or “The Wonder Years” or “The Jamie Fox Show” or “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” or “Martin”? And going back even further, “The Ozzie and Harriet Show” or “I love Lucy” or “Amos and Andy” or “Father Knows Best” or “My Three Sons”. The examples are legion!
Admittedly, sitcoms are not a high art form but the programs cited and many others were entertaining and a relief from the stress of daily life rather than superficially disguised demands that we criticize ourselves and our ancestors into oblivion for not having been born perfect. Damn Eve and her apples (hmmm, that may be resundant)! We enjoyed those old sitcoms and would enjoy them still, if we could, if they were available. But as in politics, our choices are all too few; filtered for us for incomprehensible purposes other than that perhaps, entertainment is not about our own preferences but an effective behavioral means of manipulation. Initially to sell products but now, for social control.
A primary tool for the exercise of social as well as economic and political control is the abuse of intellectual property rights. The concept of intellectual property is sound (albeit ironically totally contrary to capitalist theory). Its purported goal is to reward creators for their efforts and thus incentivize innovation. Of course, the “benefits generally go to investors and corporate executives rather than to creators. In any event, the “warehousing” of intellectual property, whether in the field of entertainment or other fields (such as technology, energy, transportation, etc.) has exactly the opposite effect. Indeed, the abuse of intellectual property rights forces consumers to acquire inferior products at inflated prices, all too frequently designed for accelerated obsolescence.
How can something so antisocial exist in a democracy?
Well, the truth is that it couldn’t, and there’s the rub.
The concept of democracy (like the concept of capitalism where the market purportedly makes the decisions) is a ruse and exists in name only. It is no more than a way to placate us and to fool us into thinking that we have control over our own lives when, to an objective observer, it would be obvious that we don’t. Just as government supported monopolies deprive us of choice in all markets, political parties (political monopolies) filter out the leaders we deserve and would chose if given the chance at least as efficiently as do autocratic dictatorships, something a student in a Comparative Politics class I taught once pointed out to me when we were covering governance in contemporary Iran. Constitutions should be the vehicles that resolve the tensions between liberty, democracy and minority rights but instead, they create the organic anomalies that protect the ability of elites to govern us all, as though they possessed Sauron’s One Ring.
Perhaps they do. I can almost hear the echoes of “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them; in the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.”
How is it that nowhere (other than perhaps tiny Iceland and once upon a short time ago, some of the Nordic countries) is there a country where the citizenry takes its political obligations (not political rights) seriously enough to have a serious shot at attaining (rather than fruitlessly pursuing) happiness? How is it that being able to control the right of others to make their own decisions became a higher priority for us collectively than enjoying our individual autonomy? Is there no way out of the incoherent social mess we’ve permitted others to force us to endure?
Strange that the foregoing is so aptly illustrated by the entertainment we watch, not having a viable option to enjoy the entertainment we would prefer, had we the option. The reality is that there are numerous answers to all the socioeconomic problems that we face: to inequity, inequality, injustice, impunity, poverty, etc., had we the collective will to demand their selection and to participate in their implementation. Instead, we seemingly live in a world as controlled and manipulated as the one presented in the Matrix series of movies; and most of us know it, at least most of the time. Unfortunately we tend to forget all semblance of reality during electoral cycles when most of us apparently lose our collective minds under an avalanche of electoral posters, electoral ads and dire warnings of existentially greater evils. And we do so time after time after time, ad nauseaum.
If only the fury and disdain for our political, social and economic leaders that we feel during the years in which elections are not held could be preserved, then we could make make a difference, ….
We do have effective options, elections may be one, although there are serious doubts as to whether legitimate elections are still a viable option, but there are always mass boycotts. Boycotts of all products sold directly and indirectly by mass media advertisers, whether in print, through social media, on television, etc. Interestingly, in response to a question from a former student as to how to identify corrupt politicians during an electoral cycle I replied that those with the most posters and most commercials were in all likely hood, the most corrupt. The same seems true of most advertisers. How much more productive would it be for us, and for our communities if we prioritized local purchasing from family businesses?
Ahhh …. Oh Happy Days!
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.