Broadcast System and Social Control

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excerpted from Secession From the Broadcast, starting here


Gene Youngblood:

"I offer language, because new words and new meanings for old words are essential for the new understandings and agreements that crisis of this magnitude demands. Words don’t express what we think, they tell us what we think. Thought is made in the mouth. We need to think differently, so I try to speak differently.

Let’s start with the broadcast. By the broadcast I mean all state media, their institutional infrastructure, their political economy, the culture they create, and the social control the culture serves through the socialization it administers. I’ll repeat that and explain it:

The broadcast is all state media… You would say corporate media, but let’s be consistent: we live in a corporate state and corporate media are state media. That’s been understood at least since the early 20th century. In a democracy, government must rely on corporate media instead of state ministries to disseminate state propaganda.[4]

Corporate media are state media just as the private banking cartel known as the Federal Reserve is a state bank. They are state media just as Exxon Mobil is a state oil company. And we know that privatized state media are more effective than nationalized media precisely because they’re not seen as state media. So never say corporate media. Always say state media when you’re talking about that component of the broadcast. It’s more than just media, so let’s continue the definition: The broadcast is all state media…

their institutional infrastructure… That’s the corporations that operate them for the state, not the Fourth Estate.

their political economy… That’s their service to transnational corporate capitalism and the transnational ruling class. The owners of the wealth of nations.

the culture they create… Consumer culture, which is anticulture. The culture nobody likes or wants except the most damaged Americanists among us. Actually, America doesn’t have culture because culture is what nurtures people.

and the social control the culture serves… Social control in a democracy requires our unconscious collaboration in our oppression. It has to be that way. You either have overt totalitarianism or the people must oppress themselves. That’s why Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, proposed in 1928 that mass mind control is the very essence of the democratic process. It’s hardly a new idea. You can trace it to Plato. The people are the source of all power, so the oppressor’s power must come from the oppressed. It must come from us with our consent.

The Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci famously called this cultural hegemony. A few years after Bernays, in the early 1930s, Gramsci made a crucial distinction between coercive and consensual hegemony. In consensual hegemony one class dominates another by gaining its active consent to be dominated. Walter Lippmann called it “manufacturing consent.” Lippmann is also known for his dictum that the public must not be political actors, but “interested spectators of action.” I call it the audience-nation.

The audience-nation gives its consent to be dominated because it internalizes the values, the codes of conduct, and the worldview of the dominator class. That is, the audience-nation internalizes the logic of the system of domination. Self-oppression becomes common sense, and we give our spontaneous consent to the direction imposed upon life by the deceiving hegemon. It’s the truism that we aren’t held against our will; it’s our will that holds us here. That none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

This is old stuff. I’m just reminding you it’s the most important work we do in a democracy — collaborate with the dominators in the endless reproduction of their reality and of ourselves in its image. We’re not aware we’re doing it, and we don’t necessarily feel oppressed. Cultural hegemony works by inner conditioning, so it feels like freedom. The greatest success of propaganda is the belief there’s no propaganda.

There’s another name for this kind of social control: inverted totalitarianism, a powerful understanding from the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in his book Democracy Incorporated. Wolin brings Gramsci’s cultural hegemony into a sweeping analysis of political economic controls in the proto-fascist corporate states we know as liberal democracies.

Here’s Sheldon Wolin: “Inverted totalitarianism is the political ascendency of corporate power in symbiotic relationship with state power. No longer confined to domestic private enterprise, corporate power evolves into a globalizing co-partnership with the state. There’s a double transmutation: the corporation becomes more political, the state more market-oriented. Economics, historically subordinate to politics, now dominates politics. With this domination come forms of ruthlessness different from the classical forms of it.”[5]

The co-partnership of American media and the state is a triumph of inverted totalitarianism. We’re the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed. The American people are victims of the most successful psychological operation ever inflicted on a national population, the most sophisticated propaganda campaign any regime has ever deployed against its own citizens. So never say the media aren’t doing their job. They are doing their job. We aren’t doing ours. Their job is to make sure of that.

The social control the broadcast serves is based on controlling the social construction of realities.[6] More accurately, the broadcast controls the contexts in which realities are socially constructed and culturally affirmed, as Herbert Marcuse would say. I emphasize controlling the contexts in which that happens because control of context is control of reality. Context is everything. Everything is context, and the broadcast is the metacontext for everything. It has the power to define, for most people most of the time, the four basic dimensions of reality — existence, priorities, values, and relations. Existence (what’s real and what’s not), priorities (what’s important and what’s not), values (what’s good or bad, right or wrong), and how they’re related.[7]

Who gets to define those things at politically relevant scale? Who’s excluded from conversations that establish understandings and agreements at that scale? Because there’s no power greater than that. Like all cultures, the broadcast is a technology of the self.[8] Everything we think, feel, desire, and do (or don’t do) results from our living in it. We are who we are — and therefore civilization is what it is — because we internalize those understandings and agreements. We become the place we live in. We are not born in the world. The world is born in us.

That’s the last piece — the socialization the culture administers, through the broadcast’s cultural hegemony. Its imperial speech is univocal: many channels, one voice. Many voices, one chorus. Many stories, one message. Many views of the world, one worldview. We suffocate in the broadcast’s oppressive singularity. We feel claustrophobic in its words. Only one purpose exists there, and it’s not ours. All the wisdom of history tells us that wherever one voice speaks, wherever one story is told, is not a healthy place to be.

But it’s not only the broadcast’s singularity that’s so important for social control; it’s also the repetition of its stories. The essential repetition that stabilizes the culture. Repetition normalizes. It solidifies belief. What is repeated becomes truth; what is not repeated recedes from consciousness. So the stories of any culture must be told over and over again, never stopping. The chorus must repeat without end. Over and over again, endless and immersive repetition. We live in oceans of redundancy.

There’s a fatal flaw in this kind of social control: it only works if the audience-nation is listening. It only works if we’re present and paying attention, participating in the conversation we call America. Our participation is more or less assured only if there are no alternative conversations of equal magnitude, no counter-narratives available at the same scale. Inverted totalitarianism works only if there’s no exit from its cultural imperium, only if it’s not possible for the audience-nation to stop being an audience, to secede from the broadcast, to leave the culture without leaving the country.

That has been structurally impossible until now, and if there’s nowhere else to go, the audience-nation will stay in that dysfunctional parasocial relationship.[9] We’ll keep coming back for more exploitation and abuse. In fact, most of the audience-nation won’t exit the imperium even when there is somewhere else to go — at least not at first. Witness the 24 million victims of Americanism who still deliver themselves to the broadcast every night at prime time for their training in consumer consciousness.

Some do it because they’re Americanists. They’ve internalized the broadcast. The identification is complete. But most people are just immobilized in the sedimentation of habit. Socialization is never 100 percent, in fact not even close, and that’s its weakness. Lack of alternatives used to compensate for that weakness, but now there are unlimited alternatives at global scale. We’re no longer held against our will. We’re no longer trapped inside the signal. The broadcast’s knowledge sanctions are lifted. We’re released from cognitive lockdown.

Which is to say that the cultural arm of social control in America — the cultural arm of control, there are other kinds of course — is now based exclusively on a mass identification that’s not enforceable. The very existence of this apparatus that enables millions to systematically dis-identify with the American Imaginary, to willfully estrange ourselves from the master signifier — that’s a new menace to social control.

It’s jaw-dropping to realize what a house of cards the imperium has become, how tenuous the base for social control is in America today, how unsound are its moorings, how precariously it rests on a gamble that the audience-nation won’t change its mind. Well, maybe we won’t. But the possibility is there, on a scale that should terrify the dominators, and exactly what they can do about it is far from obvious." (

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