The 'dumbing down' of the American media consumer

by William P. Muhammad

As the United States continues to tout itself as the world’s only remaining superpower, a casual observer might at the same time expect Americans to be counted among the world’s most informed and enlightened people. However, with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and the expansion of on-line communications, the supply of the trivial and inconsequential has unfortunately surpassed the intellectual edge mass media has made available to most Americans.

Proportionate to its growth and development, an escalating trend among commercial mass media emphasizes that which is superfluous to the edification of the American electorate. Deflecting attention away from the corporate interests that seek to influence the legislative process and by media outlets that beat the drums of war through pseudo-patriotic packaging, the ability of the American people to sustain a cogent response to continuous media stimuli is increasingly doubtful.

During his farewell address from office in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the public to be wary of what he called ‘the military industrial complex.’ He warned in part that: “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals….” Although the peacefulness of American policy objectives since that time has been at best questionable, Eisenhower’s late call for Americans to remain ‘alert and knowledgeable’ was nevertheless an important appeal to reason.

While nearly 49 years have passed since that historic Oval Office speech, today, the average American has difficulty defining and becoming fully aware of what is truly in his or her own best interests. With an emphasis on sport and play, and through the melding of news and entertainment into one package, consumers of American based media are being herded away from the cerebral experience. Placing emotional stimulation and shortened attention spans over the intellect, commercial media has become more of a self-serving tool for public relations than it has for educating and informing the public at large.

Commercial media is not a pillar supporting corporate America; the major broadcast networks, print and cable companies are corporate America. Whether owned by media moguls, major entertainment companies or by parent companies that earn hundreds of millions of dollars as defense contractors, to those paying close enough attention, corporate media’s political and economic ambitions are clear.

With their focus being the making of money and the establishment of self-serving international agendas, corporate controlled news media appear interested in gaining the trust of a public that remains oblivious to their backroom intents. General Electric, a major player in the defense industry and the parent company of NBC, Telemundo (a major Spanish speaking network) and a myriad of other mass media holdings, influences the thinking of their consumers through television and movies throughout the Americas. Capturing tens of millions of viewers from throughout the Western Hemisphere, is General Electric similarly capable of helping to shape domestic and international policy at the governmental level?

Regardless of the answer, the defense industry is not the only corporate conglomeration of which the public should be mindful and alert. The investment banking, agribusiness, energy and pharmaceutical industries, each of which competes within their own domain for larger market shares, have commercial ties to corporate mass media as well. Each benefit from the distraction of an American public too preoccupied to consider their behind the scenes maneuvering and each has the resources to saturate the public with propaganda for or against whatever government, movement or leader they may like or dislike.

In the meantime, as the influence of corporate mass media continues to expand, its consumers are increasingly being subjected to a fictitious and substitute world. As opposed to focusing on the real, where real-life decisions yield real-life results, mentally, socially and politically speaking, the media consuming public is literally being driven to distraction.

The “dumbing down” of the American public will persist as long as the people continue to tolerate the cajoling and manipulation of their collective psyche. As information and entertainment have combined to create “infotainment,” and emotional appeals continue to replace intellectual analysis, the public will never be able to extricate itself from the twin webs of corporate interests and media propaganda.

Now, as both have become nearly one and the same, it appears that President Eisenhower’s warning has finally come full circle. With corporatism apparently molding, if not trumping, the concept of so-called American democracy, the will of the people appears to have become nothing more than a speed bump in the face of corporate agendas. What it will take to reverse this trend, no one really knows, but one thing is for certain, a “dumbed down” electorate cannot sustain a great nation for long.