Mass Communication and Mass Disintegration [Chapter 1]

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Communication presupposes a community which, in turn, means a communion between the consciousness of the persons in the community.

-Rollo May

The best answer [to how to make the citizen important again], I assume, is to try to keep stretching people’s imaginations and concern, mainly through the media of communication. Television . . . has the greatest opportunity — and the furthest to go — to widen horizons in the arts, technology, science, societal differences, the political issues of the nation and the world.

-Benjamin Spock

We’re in science fiction now . . . . Whoever controls the language, the images, controls the race.

-Allen Ginsberg

[Broadcasting] matters more over the long run . . . than what anybody else does because [it is] more persistently shaping the minds of more people than all the rest of us put together.

-Archibald MacLeish

As much as the Federal Communications Commission would like to crawl back in its hole and limit its jurisdiction, the fact remains that it is knee-deep in every problem or change in our society. Man distinguishes himself from the other animals most fundamentally by virtue of his ability to communicate — to create and manipulate symbols. However you define “communications,” it ends up as part of the most fundamental and basic quality of everything that is human. Organized society at any level — whether a simple agrarian commune or a highly industrialized metropolis such as New York City — often can be most perceptively understood in terms of communications theory.Very soon after arriving at the FCC, I came to realize that I simply could not avoid the responsibility of informing myself about the impact of radio and television programming upon virtually all of our society’s problems. Ultimately these problems were going to end up at the FCC in one form or another anyhow.

  •   When the Kerner Commission examined race relations in the United States, it finally had to devote an entire chapter of its report to the implications of the mass media.
  •   After the Eisenhower Commission conducted its inquiry into violence in our country, it published two book-length staff studies on the relationships between violence in television programming and violence in our society.
  •   When Senator Fulbright searched for the key to the military-industrial complex, he reported his conclusions in a book entitled The Pentagon Propaganda Machine.
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Give me the making of 
the songs of a nation, 
and I care not who 
makes its laws.

-Andrew Fletcher, 1703

By limiting, distorting and 
obscuring information, the 
mass media can limit, distort 
and obscure man’s freedom of 
action. To the extent that the 
media limit his information, 
they make a man less than fully 

-William F. Fore

It is because they [a self-governing people] are compelled to act without a reliable picture of the world, that governments, schools . . . and churches make such small headway against the more obvious failings of democracy, against violent prejudice, apathy, preference for the curious trivial as against the dull important, and the hunger for sideshows and three-legged calves.  This is the primary defect of popular government, a defect inherent in its traditions, and all its other defects can, I believe, be traced to this one.

-Walter Lippmann, 1922

  •   The most dramatic recent success in educational reform is a television program: Sesame Street.
  •   Whenever attention is focused on campaign reform, it ultimately comes back to the rising and disproportionate cost of television time and the need for free time or other solutions.
  •   Women’s Liberation believes one of the most repressive forces in America is the portrayal of women in television programs and commercials.

An FCC commissioner in the 1970’s, who is sworn to regulate broadcasting “in the public interest,” cannot content himself with myopic supervision of antenna tower painting and frequency assignments. In a nation wracked by careening chaos and constructive change, he must try to evaluate whether broadcasting is part of the solution or part of the problem. And so I feel some responsibility to speculate about the root causes of the discontent in our country and to examine the possible role of mass communications in our current malaise.

What I have concluded so far has frightful implications for the responsibility of Big Business and Big Broadcasting. But it has also led me to some heartening insights about how each of us can markedly improve our own day-to-day lives in the midst of the corporate state.

Every society, in every age, has imposed some stresses and strains on the people who have lived within it. In most respects, we Americans are today an advantaged people. We complain about the burdens thrust upon us by our wealthy, industrialized society, but we are also enjoying its fruits. The medical care we receive may be inferior to that in many less affluent nations  — but it is still decidedly better than that re-

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Malaise and tensions are mounting throughout tho world. Even affluent and strong societies show symptoms of a deep-seated uneasiness amidst uncontestable economic and technical progress. Violence has become a way of life and death when things get too complicated. Quick bloody clashes flare up almost everywhere, and nobody knows if larger confrontations are lurking just around the corner.

-Aurelio Peccei

As we talk to people across the nation, over and over again, we hear questions like these: “What does it all mean?” “Where am I going?” “Why don’t things seem more worthwhile . . . when we all work so hard and have so darn many things to play with?”

The question is: Can your product fill this gap?

-a consumer products survey

Why is it that we, having everything one could wish, are unhappy, lonely, and anxious? Is there something in our way of life, in the structure or value system of our society, which is wrong? Are there other and better alternatives?

-Erich Fromm

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ceived by most of the world’s peoples. It’s true that our children’s nutritional levels are substantially less than our knowledge and wealth could and should make possible. But it’s equally clear that the prospect of potential starvation is not the real specter in this country that it is for many of the nations of the world. We may not spend our leisure time as creatively as we are able, but we do have more time to call our own than any preceding people in history. There is a great deal wrong with our educational system — at every level. Other nations have features of their educational programs that are superior to ours. But we are still, as a nation, among the best educated people on earth.

In ironic fact, this increased wealth, education, and leisure — the very products and prerequisites of our twentieth-century industrialized society — now feed the rhetoric and revolutionary life styles that challenge it. It is important to make this point. Everything has not gone wrong in America.

At the same time, our society — as well as that of other highly industrialized and urbanized nations — does take a heavy toll on the human beings who live in it. Mostly this is something that we just feel — personally, and from our contacts and conversations with others. But anyone studying our society today will also uncover some very troubling statistical evidence of personal and social disintegration.

  •   The number of patients in mental hospitals and psychiatric outpatient clinics has increased 50 percent in the last ten years.
  •   The per capita consumption of alcohol has been rising since 1950; alcoholism is by all odds the nation’s number one hard drug problem.

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The fact is that they can feel better for a short time by using drugs, so it is useless to criticize them as being immoral — any more than you can criticize someone for taking aspirin for a headache. We have to help them to succeed, to get rid of the pain — or we will never reduce narcotic use.

-William Glasser

Indeed, no social emotion is more widespread today than the conviction of personal powerlessness, the sense of being beset, beleaguered and persecuted. It extends not only to Black Panthers and members of the Students for a Democratic Society but also to businessmen, publishers, generals and (as we have recently come to observe) Vice Presidents.

-Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Mr. America, walk on by 
The liquor store supreme; 
Mr. America, try to hide 
The emptiness that’s you inside.

-The Mothers of Invention

The human being cannot live in a condition of emptiness for very long: if he is not growing toward something, he does not merely stagnate; the pent-up potentialities turn into morbidity and despair, and eventually into destructive activities.

-Rollo May

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  •   The number of unwanted illegitimate births per thousand nearly quadrupled between 1940 and 1970.
  •   Juvenile delinquency cases per thousand population have nearly tripled since 1950.
  •   The divorce rate has risen steadily since 1940, running as high as 70 percent in some West Coast communities.
  •   Suicide now ranks as the fifth leading cause of death among fifteen to twenty-four-year olds.
  •   A recent Harris poll indicated that 28 percent of the adult population — more than thirty-three million Americans — felt substantially alienated from the mainstream of American society.

These figures — to which more could be added — can be variously interpreted. None alone proves anything. But, taken together, they provide some evidence that a great many Americans are showing the strain, and they provide a reasonable basis for suspecting that a great many more of us are feeling pressures that show up in lesser ways.  The Wall Street Journal, reporting primarily about and for the nation’s conservative businessmen, recently revealed that many corporate executives are simply leaving their desks and going off to the woods.

But these are only the most extreme examples. Most Americans are neither statistics nor corporation presidents. They just lead dull lives which produce dull headaches. Together these people constitute the nation’s most valuable, and most underutilized, national resource. For America’s greatest wealth is to be found

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Only within yourself exists that other reality for which you long. I can give you nothing that has not already its being within yourself. I can throw open to you no picture gallery but your own soul. All I can give you is the opportunity, the impulse, the key. I can help you to make your own world visible. That is all.

-Hermann Hesse

The gap between rhetoric and reality is so wide, the values actually operative so unrelated to biological, intellectual, and spiritual development in its fullest sense, that an authentically human existence for most Americans is an impossibility.

-Arnold S. Kaufman

The ordinary person is a shriveled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be.

. . . Our capacity even to see, hear, touch, taste and smell is so shrouded in veils of mystification that an intensive discipline of unlearning is necessary for anyone before one can begin to experience the world afresh, with innocence, truth and love.

-R. D. Laing

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in the two hundred million man-days that are available to us every day — two hundred million days of potential productivity, potential joy, potential love, potential creativity.

The general semanticist, Alfred Korzybski, described three categories of mental health: sane, insane, and unsane. His point was that most of us, while not insane, are unsane. We are not living up to the potential we possess as human beings. We are not fully functioning. The so-called human potential movement, including the late Abraham Maslow, argues that even the healthy human beings among us function at perhaps 5 percent of their potential.

Ask yourself how many people you know whom you think of as fully functioning personalities. How many are there in whose daily lives there is a measure of beauty, contact with nature, artistic creativity, philosophical contemplation or religion, love, self-fulfilling productivity, participation in life-support activities, physical well-being, a spirit of joy, and individual growth? That’s what the world’s great theologians, psychiatrists, poets, and philosophers have been telling us normal human life is supposed to be all about. But few of us have come close to realizing that potential.

There are many ways of escaping from a whole life. Suicide and the excessive use of alcohol are among the more dramatic examples. But one can also escape into work, the library, a flurry of volunteer paper work or organizational activity, sexual promiscuity, overeating, television watching, or any one of a number of hobbies.

The pressures that make us want to escape and

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Society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. [Many psychiatrists] hold that the problem of mental health in a society is only . . . “unadjusted” individuals . . ..  This book deals with . . . the pathology of normalcy, particularly with the pathology of contemporary Western society.

-Erich Fromm

I have stayed in jail and I have stayed stupid, and I have stayed a child while I have watched your world grow up, and then I look at the things that you do and I don’t understand.

I have done my best to get along in your world, and now you want to kill me. I say to myself, “Ha, I am already dead, have been all my life.”

-Charles Manson

Jesus dealt in his exorcism with the neurotic constrictions of individuals, but his whole life represented a kind of sweeping exorcism of the neurosis of a whole culture.

-Harvey Cox

I shall make little distinction in value between talking about middle-class youths being groomed for ten-thousand-dollar “slots” in business and Madison Avenue, or under-privileged hoodlums fatalistically hurrying to a reformatory; or between hardworking young fathers and idle Beats with beards. For the salient thing is the sameness among them, the waste of humanity.

-Paul Goodman

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that repress our fulfillment are forces we all feel and respond to in varying ways. We are distinguished only by our capacity for adaptability, the strength of that inner force of resistance called our “individuality,” and the paths we take when we are overwhelmed.

Just to say that we are living in a sick society doesn’t advance the dialogue very much all by itself. It is a useful expression, however, as a prelude to — or summary of — further analysis. A great many psychiatrists and other social commentators have concluded, often reluctantly, that there simply aren’t enough professional counselors available to deal with the problem one patient at a time. Besides, there’s no point in curing a patient who’s reacting quite understandably to intolerable pressures:  he’s right, it’s his environment that’s wrong. Is he healthier if he learns to live with such pressures? And, if not, how can a professional man in good conscience treat such a patient indefinitely? He is, almost inevitably, led to an effort to try to reform, or at least analyze, the society that is contributing so substantially to the problems of his patients.

It is revealing, I think, that the concerns expressed by thoughtful psychiatrists and social philosophers are not the exclusive preserve of a small group of liberal intellectual elitists. These concerns are also finding expression in the voices of a cross section of America:  the full range of ages, educational backgrounds, social positions, races, geographical regions, wealth, job categories, and so forth. These are the people who write me thousands of letters every year. They are the people who, together, make up this country and set its course. We ought to listen to what we are telling each other and try to respond

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Day after day, year after year, climbing those same steps, punching that time card. Standing in that same goddamn spot grinding those same goddamn holes.

-Ray Walezack

But there’s a sixlane highway down by the creek 
Where I went skinny-dippin’ as a child. 
And the drive-in show where the meadow used to grow 
And the strawberries used to grow wild. 
There’s a drag-strip down by the riverside 
Where my grandma’s cows used to graze. 
Now the grass don’t grow and the river don’t flow 
Like it did in my childhood days.

-Joe South

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with as much intelligence, imagination, and compassion as possible.

What we are telling each other has a good deal to do with television. But before we examine television, it is necessary to understand the corporate state whose cancerous growth it fertilizes.


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