This morning I dreamt of a bleak world. In this world, protest was permitted only if the message was approved by a higher authority. Protesters attending a sanctioned rally were given a choice of signs from a large pile to carry. Any differing message was prohibited. But the scary thing about it was that the protesters didn't think twice about this absurd requirement. They dutifully lined up to receive their manufactured signs of protest. And since they were given numerous choices of the message they proclaimed, they didn't notice the serious censorship to which they were subjected. And because this form of protest was all they ever knew, they didn't believe that their government was behind the message control. Maybe there were corporations and organizations that were officially in charge of leading the protests in order to detach the government from the process. The message control worked so well because the people were never told what they couldn't protest -- those issues were simply swept aside, out of view. How can you protest something you know nothing about? Instead, you're given a choice of a wide variety of meaningless issues to argue about. It's displaced, diverted anger on a huge scale. "Oh, you're upset with the government? Well, come down to the rally where you can protest to your heart's content. In fact, we'll lead the chanting. We'll provide the message; you provide the anger. Don't say we never did anything for you."
What is more frightening is that my dream is not as far-fetched as it should be. We live in a country where we must ask for permission if we want to organize in public. We need permits to march, and when we march, we're corralled by police away from the public. We have designated "protest zones". During Bush's presidential campaign and at his speeches, campaign organizers prepared signs for attendees to hold -- signs seemingly hand-written by the average joe. Clear Channel, the largest radio monopoly and billboard advertising company staged many of the "support the troops" rallies and Dixie Chicks bashing events held across the country. The radio and TV talk show hosts receive daily "talking points" straight from the White House. It's no coincidence that they all preach the exact same message. Even college campuses, bastions of critical thinking, are seeing an influx of corporate message control. Neoconservatives who worship Reagan and Coulter are attempting to bring their message of stagnant thinking, big business, and perpetual war to impressionable college kids. The titans of conservative thinking make speeches at colleges exhorting the budding fascists to "look cool" and lay off the racist remarks in order to recruit more Sheepublicans. They are trained in the art of dismissing arguments outright in favor of sticking to the party line.
But I don't want to sound like Chicken Little. After all, we still have outlets to present our point of view, right? Well, for how long? I can type all I want, but if Comcast decides to block web servers again (as they did a couple years ago when the Code Red worm spread across the Internet), it'll be more difficult to get the word out. Television and cable networks refuse to air commercials which deal with controversial issues. Meanwhile, I see no shortage of exciting Army, Navy, and Marine recruitment commercials on TV and the big screen. All three cable news networks quickly eliminated any programs that would've presented a differing opinion on the war. Dissent was and is effectively squelched. We're told the war is over now; let's move on to other things. Forget about the death and destruction we've caused, the oil we'll steal, the government contract corruption, and the anarchy in Afghanistan and Iraq. And especially, forget that we haven't found any of the weapons we said were an imminent threat to our survival. After all, we removed a brutal dictator. Isn't that good enough? (and nevermind that he and his sons are still alive and probably in Iraq) Oh, and do forget about the rotten economy, the record deficit, the corporate criminals, and the climbing unemployment rate.
So, what are we supposed to talk about? Laci Peterson, Jessica Lynch, American Idol, Michael Jackson, SARS, the terrorist threat of the day: anything to keep us in a state of fear or apathy (preferably both). And if you're looking for a scapegoat, a place to vent your frustrations, look no further than Hollywood and public school teachers. Blame it on Clinton; blame it on a lack of religion; blame it on the rain. But whatever you do, don't blame it on the government. That's unpatriotic, blasphemous, communist-terrorist-talk.
The other day I caught a brief bit of a morning show on CNN which was talking about the Matrix Reloaded. Time Warner, the studio which released the Matrix, owns CNN. The spot was an interview with some "expert" of some sort. They discussed whether the Matrix teaches the wrong lesson by condoning violence and whether it leads people to violent behavior. Well, surprise, surprise, the expert dispelled those fears. In years past, we would've seen anchors talking about the link between violent movies and violent behavior, but now that the the news and entertainment outlets are owned by the same gigantic companies, any suggestion of a link is batted down as absurd. And the news producers don't feel a need to inform the audience that their parent company owns the movie studio which creates the violent film (not to mention the record company that might produce violent music) because they don't consider cable news as real news. It's all opinion, we're told, and the viewer is free to accept or reject it. It's just a coincidence that you won't find a differing opinion anywhere else. There is no longer any line between journalism and commentary. News coverage is now somewhat like sports coverage, where you have one guy explaining what is happening and another "color commentator" sitting next to him, interjecting with his opinion. Except now, more than ever, we're seeing the color commentator take both roles simultaneously. This trend, my friends, is bad news for journalism.
I might've strayed from my dream story, but the title here is "the future is not set" (stolen from The Terminator). The point is that we should never become cynical, apathetic pawns. Never give up! While I can't say exactly how to turn around from the slippery slope we're heading down, I know that we can't just give in to inertia. Those who hold power would like everyone to agree with them, but failing that, they would rather have apathy than dissent. You can be as apathetic as possible, but eventually it'll catch up to you. Eventually, some policy or issue will directly affect your life, and then what will you do? By that time, it may be too late for change.
Don't tread on me!