The Dwindling Power of the Media

The illusionists I was talking about yesterday always use the Mainstream Media to create and sustain their illusions. For whoever controls the media has the power to shape the reality of millions of passive viewers. Using the media effectively, people can be made to think whatever the controllers want. And Tobacco Control has a vice-like grip on the MSM. It’s not just that they use it to put out antismoking ads, but they can (and have) prevented tobacco companies from advertising their products, and they have largely banned smoking from most of the programmes that are made. Smokers aren’t allowed on television any more.

It’s not accidental that someone like Deborah Arnott was once a producer/director working for ITV. She’s someone who’s skilled in creating and sustaining illusory realities. She knows what adds authenticity, credibility, etc, to a TV or radio broadcast. And she’s always using those skills as she works to de-normalise tobacco and create a “smoke-free” world. You might even say that she’s quite a good actress, even though I don’t think she ever appeared in front of camera as much as she does these days.

And for a great many people, TV has become reality, and you’re only really real if you’ve appeared on TV. Real people have become illusory, and televised illusion has become reality. And if you want to make an impact on the ‘real’ world, you’ve got to get yourself on TV.

And so last year, when a couple of hundred smokers showed up at Stony Stratford, the most important thing was to get TV coverage of the event. And this was achieved, because the BBC showed up with their cameras, and a one-minute segment was broadcast on the local 6 pm news.

But at the time I wondered whether this should have been the prime objective. I’ve written before that I was a bit disappointed that, almost as soon as these smokers had done their bit for the cameras, they jumped back in their cars and headed back home, passing up the opportunity to chew the fat with like-minded folk from all over the country.

For these days, it seems to me, there’s a good argument to be made that MSM ‘reality’ is not what it once was, and trying to get on TV may not be the way to go any more.

Back in the 1950s there was only one TV channel in Britain, and that was the BBC. I used to watch it on my grandfather’s handmade television receiver, which had a screen about 6 inches square with a couple of bakelite dials under it. In the 1960s ITV and BBC2 appeared. And in the 1970s (or maybe 80s) Channel 4. After that came cable and satellite TV. And now there’s the internet.  Back in the 1960s, if you saw something “on the box”, chances were that almost everybody else had seen it. And it seems to me that, if there ever was a time for shaping people’s reality, it was back then. Because now there’s no longer the single, monolithic, shared TV culture that there was in the 1960s and 70s and 80s. As more and more channels have become available, more and more people are watching completely different things. TV viewing figures have been falling for decades. And I don’t watch it at all these days.

If anything the heyday of television lies in the past, and all the people who want to get on TV these days are trying to buy shares in a dying medium. They’re like investors who buy gold when it’s fallen from $1000 an ounce to $200, in the hope that it’ll bounce back up, because gold is real money.

The arrival of the internet has been the real game-changer. It’s pretty difficult to get on TV, but it’s dead easy to get on the internet. I’m doing it right now, courtesy of WordPress. The internet allows people to find other viewpoints than those expressed on the MSM. And if there was, say, a substantial opposition to the Iraq war in 2003, and to mainstream climate science since 2005, it was largely because the internet provided the information that anti-war activists and climate change sceptics couldn’t find in the MSM. The same is happening right now with tobacco and smoking.

And what all this means is that TV “reality” (which was always an illusory reality) is an ever-dwindling pond filled with ever more reprehensible low-life. There are more and more different realities. Last night, for example, I was watching an American bar owner talk about the damage that smoking bans cause, courtesy of Jredheadgirl. And a few days before that I was watching an hour-and-a-half long talk courtesy of Captain Ranty. And watching stuff that would never appear on the MSM in a hundred years. Television is becoming like the theatres it once aspired to match. It’s become ever more select and inbred and self-absorbed. Reality – the real world – has stepped outside TV.

Back in the 1950s in England you could pretty much only hear Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly on Radio Luxemburg, and in the 1960s the Beatles and the Rolling Stones only became nationally successful when they made it onto BBC TV’s Top of the Pops (and only successful in the USA when they appeared on US TV shows). But now Lana Del Rey has become a global superstar purely on the back of a few grainy viral YouTube videos. It was the internet that made her, not TV or radio.

And it seems to me that this how it’s going to be in the future. If you want to get a message out there, you do it through the internet, or not at all. If you make it big enough, you’ll get invited on TV.

But will you want to appear? Lana Del Rey does a great job of vamping in front of a mirror, but she’s not that great (yet) in front of a live audience, and so arguably should stay on the medium that made her, and for which she has the perfect skill set.

Much the same perhaps applied in the case of the Devil, who was writing a wonderfully splenetic blog until he made the mistake of appearing on TV on Andrew Neal’s Daily Politics TV show. Personally I think he should have carried on with his blog (which I rather miss these days, now that much of the venom has gone out of it). But obviously he wanted to appear on TV, because that’s where everything important happens. And he also wanted to run a political party (the Libertarian party), and that didn’t last long either.

Nobody’s ever asked me to appear on TV, but if they did, I wonder if I would want to. After all, why should I want to appear in a television studio where smoking (and a smoker like me) is banned? To appear on their antismoker-controlled medium would be a bit like a black guy trying to get on the Black and White Minstrels Show in a segregation era.

No, I think the right thing to do is to dispel the illusion that you’ve gotta get on TV to get your message over, and instead work to make sure that the dwindling MSM audience continues to dwindle, and that the real world increasingly happens elsewhere. They’ve banned smokers and smoking, and in doing so they’ve banned most of the creative people. They may as well have banned blacks, and women, and Christians too. And, for all I know, maybe they have. They’ve cut their own throats. Why help them to survive? They threw in their lot with the antismokers: now let them reap the reward.

The thing to do is to start using the internet creatively. The possibilities are infinite. And in some ways Lana Del Rey is doing exactly this as she appears in public smoking cigarettes. Tobacco Control must hate her (and may well be penning some of the vitriolic attacks on her). It’s a small dent in their denormalisation armour, but it’s a significant dent. And I’m get about 10 extra hits a day from people looking for Lana smoking.

Blogs are one creative outlet. But I’m sure there are plenty more. For example, what’s to stop smokers creating their own dispersed online streaming TV station, on which people just sit around drinking beer and smoking cigarettes and talking about matters of interest (not necessarily smoking-related)? A sort of virtual pub or something.

Update: When I first saw this photo, it didn’t look like she was smoking. The cigarette had been cropped out. But actually she was smoking, as a subsequent photo revealed:

So they are trying to censor her.

About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to The Dwindling Power of the Media

  1. nisakiman says:

    “And in some ways Lana Del Rey is doing exactly this as she appears in public smoking cigarettes. “

    This is a very valid point. The antis can witter on all they like about banning smoking on TV and in the theatre, but as far as the internet is concerned, they have absolutely no control. And there is no prospect of their ever having any control, or influence, in the future. And as you say, Frank, the internet is becoming ever more influential in disseminating information and opinion.

    We will prevail over the puritans eventually, and it will be by means of the internet, which they cannot bend to their warped morality, that we will do so.

  2. Here’s a sports star smoking; brought to our attention by ASH UK news (don’t see their logic). As the Croatia manager said when a busy-body tourist complained his players were smoking with their breakfast coffee, “They are international footballers, so it can’t be doing them much harm.”

    http://sportwitness.ning.com/forum/topics/real-madrid-star-in-trouble-after-getting-caught-smoking

    • ptbarnumthe2nd says:

      And from that report emerges news that Lionel Messi, officially the most prolific scorer in European footballing history, has also been spotted smoking. These are the photos we need – our propaganda! “Look, kids, smoking makes you a brilliant footballer and sexy!!”** Any chance we can give D. Arnott a stroke?

      **I don’t think it does, but it certainly doesn’t stop you being either, evidently. Oh, and I don’t think Messi is sexy, but others may beg to differ.

  3. US TV programs dutifully show “No Smoking” signs in places they would realistically appear. Jsut last week I saw a sign saying “No Smoking Zone” on top of a park swingset on “Up All Night”, a show that takes place in (where else?) California. But the realism ends when it comes to showing people actually smoking. I believe there’s some sort of “voluntary” policy, much like the Hayes Code of old Hollywood, where no kiss could last more than 3 seconds, both partners had to have a foot on the floor, etc.

    Cable is much freer. Last year there was a show called “American Horror Story” which featured all kinds of occult mayhem and some pretty bizarre sexuality, but none of that excited the morality police as much as teenage characters smoking….

  4. smokervoter says:

    I welcome the demise of the MSM in all of its many forms. They’ve branched out now from TV and radio to the internet, but it’s the same old crappy formula they’ve got going on there too. Check out Bing, Yahoo and AOL portal pages and you’ll see the same old tired lead-off stories that banally rotate between diet and smoking and smoking and diet.

    Can they really be that lame? Yes they can. They seem to think that everyone on earth spends all of their waking hours chewing their fingernails over the current state of their health and wellness.

    I pondered this topic of mass hypochondria long ago on your site. Given the elevated standard of living found in the West (and much of the developing world for that matter) the vast vast majority of people are not sick and dying or even in failing health at any point in time.

    Dylan has scribed some mighty nifty observations and lyrics but “He not busy being born is busy dying” is not one of them.

  5. beobrigitte says:

    Former Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt (94) will not be interviewed on TV unless he is provided with an ashtray.

    In this (clip 1 year ago) Helmut Schmidt is asked if our new secretary of state was reliable with respect to his leadership in the EU concert.
    Helmut Schmidt replied: “I don’t believe you seriously expect an answer from me.”
    Interviewer: “This bad?”
    Helmut Schmidt: “I have nothing more to add”. (and continues to smoke his cigarette)

    • Frank Davis says:

      He’s quite a character, is old Helmut. I wonder if they have to evacuate the studios when he shows up.

      • beobrigitte says:

        The anti-smokers have tried (and presumably still do) to stop TV interviews with Helmut Schmidt. Not very successful, people respect Helmut Schmidt. He is probably the only person who gets away with (APOLOGIES if this offends our American readers) comparing Obama with Hitler.

        At one point the interviewer says: “I know that Herr Schmidt mistrusts charismatic people”
        Helmut Schmidt: “I have experienced that charismatic men have caused more damage than they themselves have imagined.”

        Of course Helmut Schmidt has an opinion about health:

        He has been asked how one can reach his age (just noticed my mistake; Helmut Schmidt is 93 and not 94!).
        Helmut Schmidt’s reply: “You always have to have been working. And, foremost, one needs cigarettes.

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