Re: An interview with Herbert I. Schiller

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Posted by Brett on November 17, 1997 at 01:16:39:

In Reply to: An interview with Herbert I. Schiller posted by Geert Lovink on March 09, 1997 at 16:40:17:

I was wondering what other books Professor Shiller has written on the topic of cultural imperialism:
: Information Inequality
: An interview with Herbert I. Schiller
: By Geert Lovink

: Herbert Schiller is a critic with a clear, political and social view
: on media matters. He has been Professor of Communication at the
: University of California at San Diego and is well known for his 'Mass
: Communications and American Empire' and other writings on American
: cultural imperialism. One could position Schiller as a mediator between
: the US-foreign policy type of media analysis done by Noam Chomsky and
: the more conservative, moral critiques of Neil Postman. Schiller has
: elements of both. Like Chomsky, his lack of knowledge about the history
: of the Sovjet Union, stalinism and the destruction of people's lives,
: cities, countries and nature by sovjet communism is highly disturbing.
: But this counts for many of the old leftists, who are themselves a
: product of the Cold War (both in Europe, the US and in the 'Third
: World'). Net criticism is a movement from '89' and therefor celebrates
: the fall of the Wall and the end of these dictatorships, from my point
: of view. All anti-US-imperialism, which rejects to study the tremendous
: tragedies, caused by 'socialism', is condemned to history and will
: itself become another fundamentalism.
: But this was not the topic of our conversation.
: Fortunately, the materialist critiques on large corporations are always
: true and so is Schiller's latest book 'Information Inequality'. It
: deals with topics like selection mechanisms in the culture industry,
: the sell out of public properties like school, libraries and elections,
: 'data deprivation', special effects for capturing viewers, the global
: rule of American pop culture and last but on least, the inforbahn,
: being the 'latest blind alley'. Lately, Herbert Schiller wrote an
: updated critique on internet and social exclusion in the French
: magazine Le Monde Diplomatique. This interview was conducted in
: Muenich, during the conference 'Internet & Politics', on february 20,
: 1997.

: GL: Could you tell us something about the pre-history of cyberspace?
: When did you encounter the cyber ideology for the first time?

: HS: One of the earliest was Daniel Bell, who wrote about 'the end of
: ideology' and 'the post-industrial society'. Production didn't ammount
: too much, in his view, and everything was services, mostly in various
: kinds of informational fields. He did not start discussing cyberspace.
: But others started there and began to talk about the 'information
: society', being the post-industrial society. The other was Alvin
: Toffler, a popular writer, who wrote about these tendencies, in the
: early seventies. Bell and Toffler became the unquestioned basis and
: there was no remarkable criticism at the time. The elite critisized
: Toffler for writing in such a popular manner, but that was nothing
: serious. So these writers had the field to themselves.
: The electronic basis of these writings is much more recent. ARPANET and
: the Internet as an academic communication network preceded without a
: great deal of attention. It is only less then 10 years that it has
: brusted out into a much more generalized public. My view is that this
: development has been very carefully cultivated by the standard forces.
: Like governmental bureaus as the National Science Foundation, which
: gave significant grants to individuals for the development of software.
: There was a very delibirate promotion and encouragement. It was not all
: so random and accidental or unplanned.

: GL: How does Marshall McLuhan fit into this picture?

: HS: McLuhan was taken up and given a lot of attention by the media
: itself. They liked it that he emphasized the media issue, out of an
: narcissistic interest. They found somebody who was making them appear
: very significant. But I don't see him as a prophet of cyberspace or in
: any direct line with the current business. In his early works, like
: 'The Mechanical Bride', he was somewhat of a materialist, a social
: critic. But then he got off into esoteric areas.

: GL: George Gilder believes that the old, mass media monopolies will
: soon crumble because of the empowering possibilities of individuals by
: the so-called interactive, many-to-many media. There is a certain
: similarity to your critique on the big media corporations. Could you
: comment on that?

: HS: All what one could do is look around. Do you see any indications?
: The monopolies are stronger than ever and the concentration continues.
: It now embraces a wide area, it is not just 'media', All forms of
: communication are brought together in these unified corporate
: conglomorates. You have Time-Warner, which has assets of about 20
: billion dollar and is operating radio stations, recording studios, film
: studios, television programming and increasingly also retail stores,
: where they sell the apparels that they produce in their movies. Disney
: is of course an enormous conglomorate. Then there is Viacom, which
: ownes MTV and does a great job in selling pop culture and making these
: kids less and less capable of doing any thinking. But it also includes
: computer companies, telephone companies. The television networks are
: all owned by super conglomerates. CBS is owned by Westinghouse, NBC by
: General Electric. ABC was just bought by Disney and Fox is owned by
: Murdoch. To think that these are crumbeling, is like being in a
: phantasyland.
: We have to be carefull in using the word 'globalization' in this
: context. It may to seem that everybody is participating in it and you
: will have to, and if you don't you will fall behind and lose, we have
: to be competitive, that thing. Globalization is a direction of super
: corporations. They are using the globe to market their products and
: penetrate every part of the world. But there is a big difference
: between what they are doing and the whole world population.

: GL: It might not be enough anymore to just practice ideology criticism.
: The understanding of this expanding branch might also need an
: economical analysis.

: HS: You have to examine how things proceed. You might want to focus on
: the commodification of information. What was free, is now owned,
: proprietary information. What has to be looked at, is to what extend
: the net itself becomes a privatized operation. Another area will be how
: they are going to put television and broadcasting onto the internet.
: That also is going to bring commercial advertisement. It will no longer
: be open, available and free.

: GL: How do the broadcasting media relate to the rapidly growing, but
: still small cyber media? Noam Chomsky does not seem be very interested
: in the Net. Perhaps he does not see its strategic importance.

: HS: You have to examine this as things develop. It is an area of
: continuous scrutiny and monitoring. Everything you will discover in the
: areas of television and film will come back in the Net. The patterns
: are going to be very similar. We are nowhere near to what they like to
: call an information society. This term serves to camouflage what the
: current reality is. The talk about the 'new' keeps the present level
: left aside. We are living in a period of innocence and bankrupcy of
: values. People are desperately looking for meaning, identity, etnicity,
: gender. All of which are legitimate, but when they get to be
: obsessional, they make it less possible to recognize what the
: underlying, fundamental forces are. There is a lot of escapism in the
: talking about 'are we now in the information society?' But many of
: those people are sincere, so you can't make them seem as if they are
: fools.

: GL: What is your view on the role of cultural studies in all this?

: HS: For me it is very ironic because I have tried always to include the
: cultural component. I was aware about it from the very beginning when I
: wrote about the role of cultural imperialism. All along comes cultural
: studies and attacks the political economy approach as being too narrow
: and too exclusive. At least in the United States, the main current of
: cultural studies is to deny the legimimacy of the political economy of
: mass communication. I do not mean it intentionally, but it has served
: the dominant ideology as I see it. They do not want to see the
: underlying reality of the images and messages they are looking at. 'The
: act of the audience' puts people like myself in a curious situation. I
: am not saying that everybody is a cultural dope. But I do have to
: recognize where the cultural power is. I cannot accept it when they
: talk about the opposition and resistance of viewers. If they are
: reading women's books, romances, they are showing their resistance to
: their way of life... This might be the case, but I don't regard that as
: the type of resistance that will take us very far.

: GL: Where do you see the roots of such a political economy of the
: media?

: HS: It has not such a long history, a few decades. I am trying to
: indicate that the fundaments of a materialist philosophy are crucial to
: an understanding. Students should have some sense of the social forms
: that have evolved, from early capitalism til now, in terms of labor
: and wage labor. These form do not disappear.
: There is a great deal of materiality that can be pointed to, even in
: the case of the internet. I don't think it is so remote. You can show
: how those big companies get involved in all these different
: activities. People themselves can recognize some relationships. You can
: show the connections to organized sports, to the apparel industry,
: which is producing baseball hats, football uniforms and the rest. The
: cultural industry is so overt, so visible.

: GL: Do you see a massification of the internet taking place?

: HS: That might be the case. But this concept was mainly an oppositional
: idea of what was happening in the media industry in the late thirties
: and early fourties. It was an elitist view, which looked down on the
: masses. So the term itself has to be looked at as an ideological
: outlook. Persuasion, for example, was a big issue in the thirties, but
: when mass communication became a formal discipline, they dropped it,
: because persuasion would come too close to the nervous system. So they
: switched the topic to the effects of communication. But that is a very
: different question.

: GL: What do you think of the equation of the internet with American
: imperialism? Certain forms of anti-Americanism in Europe are not very
: progressive... How do you look at this dilemma?

: HS: I have looked on the phenomena of cultural imperialism for a long
: time. This is not someting of the nineties. It even preceded the
: American, there was the French, the Brittish and the Dutch imperialism.
: It is not a new set of relationships. But we do have to ask overselves:
: does the internet undermine the old relationships or do it reinforce
: them? I am only trying to suggest that there are key people, key levels
: in the United States who see a very practical utilization for
: imperialistic purposes. That could be an alert signal. If the internet
: is becoming a major vehicle for transnational corporate advertising,
: you are quite justified in talking about the extension of cultural
: imperialism into the internet.

: Herbert I. Schiller, Information Inequality, The deepening social
: crisis in America, Routledge, New York/London, 1996
: ISBN 0-415-90765-9

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