Re: An interview with Herbert I. Schiller

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Posted by Lindsay Deefholts on February 21, 1998 at 13:17:43:

In Reply to: Re: An interview with Herbert I. Schiller posted by Lindsay Deefholts on February 21, 1998 at 13:17:07:

: :
: : 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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