Noam Chomsky – Propaganda and the Mainstream Media

I have been reading, listening and watching Noam Chomsky lately (yes, I am a baby lefy feminist taking her first steps into the field of ideas). And because I believe strongly in passing the wisdom on, here I give you tiny snippets of his thoughs. If you can read the whole articles, that’s good and if you read his books, that’s even better. But if you can’t, like me, for whatever reason, then I strongly advice you to read this quotes, or, if you can’t, read my emphasis of them. They have clarified lots of things for me.

From “The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda”

“The people in the public relations industry aren’t there for the fun of it. They’re doing
work. They’re trying to instill the right values. In fact, they have a conception of what democracy ought to be: It ought to be a system in which the specialized class is trained to work in the service of the masters, the people who own the society. The rest of the population ought to be deprived of any form of organization, because organization just causes trouble. They ought to be sitting alone in front of the TV and having drilled into their heads the message, which says, the only value in life is to have more commodities or live like that rich middle class family you’re watching and to have nice values like harmony and Americanism. That’s all there is in life. You may think in your own head that there’s got to be something more in life than this, but since you’re watching the tube alone you assume, I must be crazy, because that’s all that’s going on over there. And since there is no organization permitted—that’s absolutely crucial—you never have a way of finding out whether you are crazy, and you just assume it, because it’s the natural thing to assume.”

From “What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream”

“”The universities, for example, are not independent institutions. (…) It’s dependent on outside sources of support and those sources of support, such as private wealth, big corporations with grants, and the government (which is so closely interlinked with corporate power you can barely distinguish them), they are essentially what the universities are in the middle of. People within them, who don’t adjust to that structure, who don’t accept it and internalize it (you can’t really work with it unless you internalize it, and believe it); people who don’t do that are likely to be weeded out along the way, starting from kindergarten, all the way up. There are all sorts of filtering devices to get rid of people who are a pain in the neck and think independently. Those of you who have been through college know that the educational system is very highly geared to rewarding conformity and obedience; if you don’t do that, you are a troublemaker. So, it is kind of a filtering device which ends up with people who really honestly (they aren’t lying) internalize the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society.”
“When you critique the media and you say, look, here is what Anthony Lewis or somebody else is writing, they get very angry. They say, quite correctly, “nobody ever tells me what to write. I write anything I like. All this business about pressures and constraints is nonsense because I’m never under any pressure.” Which is completely true, but the point is that they wouldn’t be there unless they had already demonstrated that nobody has to tell them what to write because they are going say the right thing. If they had started off at the Metro desk, or something, and had pursued the wrong kind of stories, they never would have made it to the positions where they can now say anything they like. The same is mostly true of university faculty in the more ideological disciplines. They have been through the socialization system.”
“Okay, you look at the structure of that whole system. What do you expect the news to be like? Well, it’s pretty obvious. Take the New York Times. It’s a corporation and sells a product. The product is audiences. They don’t make money when you buy the newspaper. They are happy to put it on the worldwide web for free. They actually lose money when you buy the newspaper. But the audience is the product. The product is privileged people, just like the people who are writing the newspapers, you know, top-level decision-making people in society. You have to sell a product to a market, and the market is, of course, advertisers (that is, other businesses). Whether it is television or newspapers, or whatever, they are selling audiences. Corporations sell audiences to other corporations. In the case of the elite media, it’s big businesses. ”
“The next thing you discover is that this whole topic is completely taboo. If you go to the Kennedy School of Government or Stanford, or somewhere, and you study journalism and communications or academic political science, and so on, these questions are not likely to appear. (…) If you look at the institutional structure, you would say, yeah, sure, that’s got to happen because why should these guys want to be exposed? Why should they allow critical analysis of what they are up to take place? The answer is, there is no reason why they should allow that and, in fact, they don’t. Again, it is not purposeful censorship. It is just that you don’t make it to those positions. That includes the left (what is called the left), as well as the right. Unless you have been adequately socialized and trained so that there are some thoughts you just don’t have, because if you did have them, you wouldn’t be there.”
“(…) By manufacturing consent, you can overcome the fact that formally a lot of people have the right to vote. We can make it irrelevant because we can manufacture consent and make sure that their choices and attitudes will be structured in such a way that they will always do what we tell them, even if they have a formal way to participate. (…)”

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    pisaquari said,

    This is awesome Mary Tracey9–an important thinker to be quoting.

    “they wouldn’t be there unless they had already demonstrated that nobody has to tell them what to write because they are going say the right thing.”

    Yes, yes, yes. And just to think of the ways feminists have been treated in the University system in the past 50 years–those who dare speak out against the regime such as Mary Daly, or Andrea Smith or Pauline Bart.

    “Unless you have been adequately socialized and trained so that there are some thoughts you just don’t have, because if you did have them, you wouldn’t be there.””

    This speaks volumes to me about the always popular term “thought police.” We become irate to think someone might reject our current thoughts or find them undesirable, that there is a place or person with whom they are not accepted. But where are the discussions (or outrage) about why and how our thoughts come to be? The movies, advertisements, promotional works, mags, internet, friends, family–those are so very much *thought police*.

    “By manufacturing consent”

    A great term and something I believe I’ve been trying to get at with my recent sexual stigma series–that with gender and beauty standards in media we are creating a look that manufactures women’s consent. Or is *believed* to (b/c I for one don’t want consent manufacture-able, but good luck with that right!)

  2. 2

    Of course, Chomsky is a product of the same system that he critques. A highly successful social commentator with numerous awards and a career spent at such institutions as UPenn, Harvard and MIT. Why can he ask the questions that others can’t?

    (Still love me some Chomsky though- just saying).

  3. 3

    Mary Tracy9 said,

    Thanks, Pisaquari. You may now this already, but he has a book titled “Manufacturin Concent” and there is a documentary of his with the same title that you can get from the interwebs.
    Though he doesn’t talk about feminist issues per se, it’s very interesting stuff to think about.

    Feminist Avatar, I have been thinking about how and why people like Noam Chomsky and Germaine Greer can get away with being such BIG “trouble makers”. I believe it mainly has to do with two things:
    a) they are gifted. They are very, very bright. It’s hard to keep people away from reaching the top when they get “straight As” and are so useful for the academic system in other un-related ways. (history and literature in Greer’s case and linguistics in Chomsky’s)
    b) they are just a few cases. The media needs a few dissenting voices to give the impression that it “works” because, “see, they can talk about this stuff, we are letting them, it’s all democratic and fair”. Just as long as they don’t make “too much” trouble, ie: not too many people take them seriously, they don’t really have that much coverage, etc.

  4. 4

    Lara said,

    I like the quote where he points out that universities are NOT independent institutions. They are money-making machines. Period. Universities are institutions of learning only for the generation of more profits and links with higher-ups.
    I think Germaine Greer and Naom Chomsky have more exposure and are allowed to say the things they do also because they are white males.
    Thanks for posting these though, they are very thought-provoking.

  5. 5

    I tend to be suspicious of people (and I am not aiming this particularly at Chomsky here, although it might have some relevance to him) who claim to have insight into a system that nobody else does, or in a way that nobody else can. Because it tends to silence other people through privileging that person’s voice, and we all know that when there is privilege to be thrown about the people who suffer tend to be women. (And as we all know just because somebody is a great mind with revolutionary ideas doesn’t necessarily make him aware of his own privilege).

    I also think that Chomsky underestimates the number of people in academia who make similar arguments to him. I mean being a Marxist or at least having Marxist sympathies in academia, certainly in the UK, is pretty de rigeur. But I absolutely agree that academia is a money-driven machine and the higher up the system you get the more you realise that what you do is based on what you can get funded and that means a LOT of hoop-jumping. Ultimately, what you want to write about is irrelevant; it’s what the funding agencies will pay you that gets written (which is different from doctoring results- academics (mainly) don’t lie or fudge data- they just are limited in what subjects they are funded to research). It certainly doesn’t mean that we are not aware of that process. Maybe it’s different in journalism 😉


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