About Censorship in Camouflage
Censorship in Camouflage I: The Censor Within
Censorship in Camouflage I: Free Markets and Free Expression
- Censorship in Camouflage II: McDonalds or McDocumenta: Artistic Freedom in a Global Economy (Panel)
- Censorship in Camouflage II: McDonalds or McDocumenta: Artistic Freedom in a Global Economy (Discussion)
Censorship in Camouflage II: McDonalds or McDocumenta: Artistic Freedom in a Global Economy
Panel Discussion held at the New School University
June 17, 2003
Welcome to the panel, McDonalds or McDocumenta: Artistic Freedom in a Global Economy, the third installment in a series of discussions we began last year under the general heading of Censorship in Camouflage. The Censorship in Camouflage project is dedicated to investigating how expression is stifled in ways less obvious than outright government censorship. It is organized by independent writer and art critic Robert Atkins; the Arts Advocacy Project at the National Coalition Against Censorship; and artist Antonio Muntadas, whose interactive online archive of censorship incidents, The File Room, initially inspired this project. I would like to thank the Vera List Center at the New School University, and especially its director, Sondra Ferganis, for making this series possible.
For better or worse, the changes to which theories of globalization refer define our present. An investigation into how the processes of globalization affect the ability of individuals, states and minority groups to voice their concerns and be heard is not of purely descriptive value; it could serve as the base of active intervention in cultural policy and thus have tactical as well as theoretical uses.
But, first, what is globalization? There are many ways to see globalization—depending on who is looking, where they are looking from and what they want to see. Yet, we can probably all agree that, in the widest sense, globalization refers to an intensification of worldwide economic and social relations, as a result of which the local and the global are linked to an unprecedented extent.
In culture globalization brings into play two main recognized forces—the forces of homogenization and diversification/ hybridization—each of them with its own complications. Homogenization refers to the global spread of cultural products coming mostly from the US, i.e. the proliferation of McDonalds, Hollywood, CNN, American pop music, and so on, while diversification emphasizes the process of multiculturalism occurring in different nations due to both foreign imports and the new visibility of internal minorities.
Homogenization is frequently lamented—to the extent that is has become the most salient feature of cultural globalization. The perception of cultural homogenization often comes, however, from the cultural tourist point of view: to the western intellectual, the tourist with a sense of the "richness" and diversity of cultures, homogenization presents a particular threat. John Tomlison, a critic of the use of the notion of cultural homogenization, notes, "The Kasakhstani tribesmen who has no knowledge of (and perhaps no interest in) America or Europe is unlikely to see his cassette player as emblematic of creeping capitalist domination." As is obvious to most inhabitants of a recipient culture, the availability of foreign programming in the media, or the presence of the golden arches of McDonalds, does not mean US values and ideologies are accepted uncritically.
On the other hand, the very concepts of national and cultural identity—the binary opposite of U.S.-inflected cultural homogenization—are not at all as solid as they appear at first sight. Nations are becoming increasingly multicultural; minority groups whose cultures have been marginalized are creating new networks and gaining new visibility in a global world.
Yet, many countries adopt measures protecting national culture from domination by the products of another country: they subsidize traditional arts; protect the indigenous cultural heritage; impose quotas on imports. Brazil, India and Iran have limits on imported TV and film programs; France subsidizes its film industry, places quotas for non-French film and TV, and requires that French popular music constitute, at least, half the program on radio; some Islamic fundamentalist countries have totally banned foreign imports; Nigeria and Jamaica have policies supporting local music; many countries have programs supporting local musicians. But whom does cultural protectionism really protect: cultural producers or the profits of the culture industry? In the attempt to preserve the heritage, the emphasis is on recognized existing work and cultural sites and less on the creation of new work: new forms could well be ignored. In trying to attract tourists, cities bring in "Great Events" frequently at the expense of supporting local small groups.
So, perhaps, the real issue is not how a national government can assume control of a nation's culture and insulate it by restricting foreign influences, but how a culture can become more open to its young artists, to new production, and to small local groups who don't necessarily work in an immediately recognizable national tradition. In a word: how a culture can be democratized. When we look at it that way, globalization can have very positive effects. The process of democratization is helped by a new concept in international relations—namely, that human rights trump national sovereignty (the right to free speech is one of these). As part of the process of globalization, minorities can appeal to transnational human rights standards beyond state authorities, indigenous people can find support for local demands from transnational networks. Globalization, in fact, provides an enormous opening for previously suppressed voices.
Another way of looking at globalization in culture is through the lens of hybridization, which sees flows of influence coming from different directions rather than unidirectionally from the West and the USA. Attention is then focused not so much on national cultures as on diasporas, migrations, and border crossings. As a result, the emphasis is shifted to the history of hybridization of metropolitan cultures, itself a counter-history to the history of imperial domination. Hybridization, however, rather idealistically passes over the consequences of economic disparity. How free can you be to express yourself if you lack the conditions of possibility for creative production?
Understanding the contradictory forces operating at the intersection of free speech and globalization, and how these forces affect the creative process, is a demanding project. Among others:
— It requires an investigation into global versus local, national, and ethnic pressures on the creative artist and the avenues the artist has to oppose these pressures.
— It requires attention to how economic factors decide who gets to speak.
— It demands an understanding of how media conglomerates control what speech is disseminated and how an independent media network provides alternative information.
— It forces us to ask whether the international art market of events like Documenta provide an opportunity for expression or a pressure-field determining the shape of creative expression. As Leeza Ahmadi, a curator of Afghani descent, noted at one of last year's Censorship in Camouflage panels, "The common denominator for contemporary artists is that they have been trained to speak the language of art. Artists from diverse parts of the world are compelled to express themselves through a language established in the Western Hemisphere in order to be accepted by the establishment. They could express their own cultural sensitivity and political views as long as they fit the Western definition of art, which reigns in the institutions."
We hope the discussion to follow will expand our understanding of the complex interrelation between freedom and globalization.
Dr. Imre Szeman
Associate professor of English and Cultural Studies, director of the Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition, and an associate member of the Department of Sociology at McMaster University. Recipient of the 2000 John Polanyi Prize in Literature and of the 2003 Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award. Dr. Szeman is the founder of the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies and a founding member of the Cultural Studies Association (U.S.). He is co-editor of Cultural Spaces, a book series published by University of Toronto Press, and is on the editorial boards of Review of Education/Pedagogy/Cultural Studies and Mediactive: Ideas/Knowledge/Culture. In addition to numerous articles on globalization and cultural studies, Dr. Szeman is author of Zones of Instability: Literature, Postcolonialism and the Nation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), co-author of Popular Culture: A User's Guide (Nelson, 2003), and co-editor of Pierre Bourdieu: Fieldwork in Culture (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).
One of the chief ways in which artistic autonomy is denied but which is seldom actively talked about is that artistic production is rarely imagined as a form of labor. Always undervalued as a form of labor, the erosion of public support for artistic production on a global scale has made it more and more difficult for individuals and groups to commit themselves to the arts—even if globalization has produced a situation in which there are fewer forms of official or state-censorship than ever. We live in a situation in which artistic production is effectively free to circulate, but whose very production (except at elite levels) is impeded from the outset by the fact that the arts have become something that one can only do as an afterthought to those economic practices that are essential to one's physical survival.
So what place do the arts occupy in the era of globalization? Reflecting recently on the situation faced by cultural producers in the era of global culture, the performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Pena a paints a picture of a world in which culture has become more central to the operations of the global economy and yet, paradoxically, has also become more irrelevant than ever. Gómez-Pena a writes that today:
'Content' is a topic discussed by the sponsors of cyberspace, and "counterculture" is a weekly show on the Bravo channel. In this bizarre context, artists don't seem to perform any meaningful role other than that of decorators of the omnipresent horror vacui and entertainers of a new and much more cynical consumer class that is more open to radical behaviors: www.radarts.com. The paradigm shift is drastic, total, and irreversible. It truly feels like the day the TV antennas arrived in Brazil and many forms of popular theatre and community fiestas died overnight.
For avant-garde and performance artists in particular, it has become increasingly difficult to produce culture in what Gomez-Pena describes as:
the culture of the mainstream bizarre… where so-called ‘radical' behavior, revolution-as-style and ‘extreme' images of race, violence, and sexual hybridity have become daily entertainment, mere marketing strategies… From the humiliating spectacle of antisocial behavior ‘performed' on infamous U.S. network talk shows to TV specials on mass murderers, child killers, religious cults, kinky sex, predatory animals, and/or natural disasters, and the obsessive repetition of ‘real crimes' shot by private citizens or by surveillance cameras, we've all become daily voyeurs and participants of a new culture in extremis.
Everyone involved in the study or production of culture today is familiar with these kinds of apocalyptic scenarios about the character of the present. But while it would be a mistake to dismiss Gómez-Pena's worries, or to fail to attend to the global explosion of innumerable forms of ‘invisible censorship,' we should be clear that what he is reacting to is only one vision of globalization and of the global future. If the arts still matter in today's globalized world—and I believe that they do, even in the midst of the culture of the ‘mainstream bizarre'—it is because the arts continue to provide an essential resource for imagining another future, another globalization—one that has little in common with the project that has thus far been undertaken under the sign of "globalization." And this is true, I think, not only of those forms of culture that explicitly take on the pressing political and social issues of our times, but of the arts in general, insofar as they prompt us to imagine something other than a world defined exclusively by the logic of the market and by what Janice Gross-Stein has referred to as "the cult of efficiency." With respect to the market, the arts are inefficient and useless—characteristics which have to be counted as among their greatest virtues and strongest political claims.
Though there has been a vast amount of ink spilled on the topic of globalization, it is easier to explain than one might think—or to put it another way, as globalization has progressed, just what is meant by this term has become clearer than ever. The rhetoric of the past decade has trumpeted globalization as the inescapable new reality of the contemporary world—as the outcome of supposedly inevitable historical processes that nation-states were unable to do anything about. The initial rhetoric surrounding globalization was meant to account for the reorganization of the economy away from its productive base in the West, and to explain why governments could do nothing to prevent the loss of jobs and community devastation that accompanied this shift. It has since been transformed into a term that captures the process of creating the good life at home and abroad, the economic process of "raising all boats," whether this is through the creation of free trade zones abroad or tax cuts at home.
In both cases, globalization names not an historical process but a political project: the all-out assault on public institutions and civil society in an effort to extend social and political control as deeply as possible into society, while also maximizing profits and creating new spaces for profit-taking. It is an ongoing project that is far from complete, and a project whose success depends on the mobilization of public sentiment and control over the language through which political, social and cultural possibilities are imagined.
This vision of globalization has occasioned unprecedented resistance on numerous fronts, and has led to the creation of alternative visions of a global humanity., The slogan of the World Social Forum (WSF), where 100,000 activists were gathered to talk about ‘other globalization' this year, was: "Another world is possible."
As the stakes involved in the struggle over globalization have become clearer, and so, too, have the problems that globalization has imposed on artistic labor. Outside of the U.S., the deleterious impact of globalization on various forms of ‘local' cultural production—from something as sophisticated and complex as ‘local' film industries to a variety of more grassroots endeavors, such as community theatre—has long been an issue that states have felt compelled to address. At worst, states have responded to the intensified internationalization of culture by unhelpfully and dangerously reasserting a kind of ‘blood and belonging' vision of the ties of culture and geography. At best, what many states have come to realize is that what is really at stake is not the defense of some supposedly authentic national culture (whose coordinates always already extended beyond the nation in any case), but rather the defense of a certain mode or model of cultural and artistic production. What has often been conflated in the defense of local cultural production against the incursions of globalization is the somewhat different issue of the threat posed to forms of artistic labor that are outside or other than the logic of markets; what is ‘national' about national culture has been that artistic and cultural production in some nations has not had to follow the dictates of the market because states have been willing to support artistic production in other ways.
An example of what I have in mind here can be seen in the activities and policy statements of the International Network on Cultural Policy (INCP), an organization created in 1998 to promote "cultural diversity in the face of technological, economic and social change." The INCP is currently comprised of 53 countries from around the world, including a number of Western European countries, the UK, and Canada. The primary efforts of the INCP have been directed toward the creation of an International Instrument of Cultural Diversity, which aims not only to recognize cultural diversity but also to provide "sustainable solutions to a range of national cultural diversity challenges." What has emerged out of the meetings that the group has held since 1998 is that it is not enough to simply insist on the necessity and benefits of global cultural diversity. The group has expressed clearly that cultural and artistic autonomy requires more than simply a lack of formal limits on what artists or cultural producers can create. The INCP states directly that "market forces alone cannot guarantee diverse cultural expression and that public policy in partnership with civil society and the private sector is vital." In other words, it is has become clear to the states involved that cultural and artistic freedom is a labor issue. One of the issues that the INCP has been addressing is the maintenance or creation of public cultural institutions and public support for artists. This may seem like an old-fashioned issue to be thinking about with respect to something as shiny and new as globalization, but it seems to me that a discussion of censorship in the context of globalization needs to insist on the limits that supposedly free markets impose on artists and cultural workers.
Dee Dee Halleck
Professor emeritus of communications at University of California, filmmaker, media guru, activist and founder of Paper Tiger TV (http://www.papertiger.org/), an open, non-profit, volunteer video collective. Through the production and distribution of their public access series, media literacy/video production workshops, community screenings and grassroots advocacy, Paper Tiger works to challenge and expose the corporate control of mainstream media. Dee Dee Halleck is also the co-founder of national satellite network Deep Dish Television, which assembles material from producers around the world and transmits it to community television stations and home dish owners nationwide. She is has frequently spoken on the value of community media for global exchange: creating communities of interest across borders, exchanging information that has global relevance, providing models for popular organizing, as well as inspiration for creative production.
In looking at the title for this discussion, it looks like you left out one of the "Mac's," the McDonell Douglas Corporation. It is McDonell-Douglas, which makes the globalization that we're talking about possible. It is important when talking about culture to think also about military culture. Cyberfeminist Francesca Da Rimini recently created a website where she documented twenty-seven recent military contracts—just from the last few months. In March, McDonald-Douglas was awarded a 689 million dollar contract to create a little kit to carry a 2000-pound bomb. In April, the University of Southern California was awarded almost $12.5 million to provide the "MONARCH Cognitive Heterogeneous Information Processor." I just retired from the University of California San Diego, one of the largest military contractors within the University of California system. I know it's not all that easy to get grants to do cultural studies but I know that the people in science departments are going to have plenty of money in the upcoming years. This is a booming field.
I have recently been talking with a number of people around the world about global community media and thinking about it as kind of system, as a potential for working together and collaborating, particularly so as to look at local, regional, national and global policies. There is a meeting, The World Summit on the Information Society, coming up in December 2003, at the International Telecommunications Union, where we will be present. The ITU was the first international organization, started in the 1860's, to adjudicate disputes about borders and about information crossing borders. They are the organization that decides who gets what satellite paths. So, if Rupert Murdoch needs one more satellite he first has to apply to the ITU to get assigned a frequency and a space. The question is, when that limited global resource is assigned, what benefit does the world get? A number of us, who do community or alternative media, are looking at these resources and asking: where is the public payback for this?
Here in the United States the projects that I've been working with, Deep Dish Television and Paper Tiger, both work within public access. Public access is a very special resource. It is a result of the negotiations that happened between the cable companies and the cities and which demanded some kind of payback to the public when resources were allocated. Now, on a global scale, we are asking that a similar kind of payback be made available to community media around the world. For example, if Rupert Murdoch uses a satellite he will have to provide certain channels for community media. Or there could be a fee structure so that the commercial use of this global resource would fund local indigenous community media around the world. That is the kind of thing we're asking for at this meeting in December, at the ITU. Because, despite the fact that there is an overbearing and ubiquitous satellite system, there is also some very vital community media activity out there. For the first time civil society is actually going to be meeting at the ITU to discuss global media policy. We will be there, and it will be interesting to see if it will be more like Seattle or Porto Allegre.
I am at the present time working with Deep Dish Television. Initially, Deep Dish began using commercial satellites, leasing time, packaging programs and putting them up on the satellite at a specific time. They were then downlinked by community channels around the country. By 2000, we had space for public interest programming set aside on the DBS channels, which enables us to have a 24-hour channel for alternative media. It's called Free Speech TV. This didn't just happen through the generosity of Charlie Urgan, who owns the Dish Network. It was because we lobbied in Congress and at the FCC and were able to get a provision that four percent of all the channels that are on the DBS have to be public interest channels. That includes the University of California, World Link Television, and also Free Speech TV. Deep Dish has space on Free Speech TV.
We are currently working on a series looking at the war and its aftermath called "Shocking and Awful: A Grassroots Response to the War in Iraq." Also on the channel is Democracy Now, a radio program produced by Amy Goodman. It is really the first time that there's ever been an alternative live newscast on television in the United States. It's seen in over 130 cities around the country including places like Tucson, Pocatello, Idaho, San Francisco and Cambridge. The program is repeated many times during the sunlight hours on these channels and it has become a real beacon for public access, which in many ways had become degraded and ridiculed by the mass media. Think, for instance, of Wayne's World. It was made by Time Warner, which does not want to support public access because they want the channels back. As a result, many people think of public access as a vanity video place where nothing important can be shown. Democracy Now is proving that this is not true. Last week Democracy Now had a program on Rachel Corrie, the young woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Palestine. The show included a short speech that Rachel Corrie's mother made when she accepted Rachel's degree at Evergreen State College. This you did not see on CNN or Fox News.
Associate Professor at the Gallatin School of New York University. He is the author of Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture and the editor of the recently published Cultural Resistance Reader. Professor Duncombe is also a life-long political activist; most recently with Reclaim the Streets/New York City and Mobilize NY.
When we think of censorship we usually think of it in terms of State or Church authority squelching free expression. Not surprising, as this is how it has been defined in the past. The right to free speech is enshrined within the First Amendment of the Constitution, which protects against state censorship. Certainly, in the age of Ashcroft, we still have much to worry about. But, as this Censorship in Camouflage series highlights, we also have other, subtler censorship concerns: economic censorship (the press is free for those rich enough to buy one); censorship through "community standards" and "cultural sensitivity;" and self-censorship.
It's really great the definition of censorship is being broadened to include these ideas. But still, even in its expanded form, this definition of censorship presupposes two things: first, that there is a scarcity of information, second, that information is precious and unique and if censored will be lost or unheard.
All this rests upon the assumption that there is value in knowing the Truth—or, in a postmodern variation, multiple truths—and that this truth will lead to some sort of activity. This is an article of Enlightenment/Democratic faith. In the words of Jesus (or his 1611 King James interpreters): "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." That is, there is a connection between the idea of truth and knowing the truth and doing some sort of activity.
For millennia there was an economy of information scarcity and because of this there was a value in knowing the truth. Just think of the Church's monopoly on the Word and the revolutions that followed in the wake of its translation to the vernacular. But we now live in a different world: a world of informational abundance. A process that began with the printing press and universal education in the early 19th century has brought us the Internet and Google Searches. We still have to guard against censorship—the old world never completely disappears. We need to guard against resurgence of that old world in the name of Tradition and God, or Safety and Order. But the forces of neo-liberal globalization, which brings with it communication and information technologies that even the capitalists themselves cannot contain, has also nullified many of the traditional concerns about censorship. It is well worth arguing that the truth is out there and it may not make a difference. And this unsettling idea leads me to my new concerns.
We have a problem of information without meaning, i.e. we are awash in "truths" without critical structures through which to make sense of them. Reading the financial pages of the New York Times, we find out that unemployment is up and so is the stock market. Is this a good economy or a bad one? We need a meaning structure in order to tease out that data and say what this world of facts actually means for us. We need critical institutions that lend coherence to the data chaos. We need this both mentally, so as to answer the question: what does it all mean? We also need it physically, so as to find out what to do with this information once we have it.
The conservatives are much better on this than liberals and the left, partly because they have power and money that can actually fund institutions, but also because they have a different relationship with the truth. I think they see it as something that is open to manipulation.
The second problem is information divorced from action. Part of the Enlightenment/Democratic faith in the Truth was that ideas lead to activity. I love reading Frederick Douglass' autobiography, where he talks about learning to read. He learns to read the Bible from his mistress. His master comes along while he is learning to read and, of course, he turns around and forbids his wife to teach Douglass to read. He tells his wife, "if you teach this man to read he'll be running away with himself." At that moment Douglass realizes something, that there is some sort of power in the word of the Bible. He realizes there is power in knowledge and sure enough he runs away. This is the classic idea that somehow knowing the truth will set you free.
I am not sure this connection between knowing and doing still exists. How? This is a complicated question, but in addition to a lack of institutions that would guide us in the path from action, the rise of a consumerist/spectator society has led to a world where we've learned to consume or watch ideas, without necessitating any activity on our part (other than paying our cable bill). In fact, going to an art exhibit or sitting down in front of the TV is often a relief or release from activity: it is leisure. Knowing information and acting upon it are two different things.
And finally, the most despairing of these propositions is that there might be a lack of public interest in the truth. One of the things that I was astounded by, and probably you were too, is that during the last Gulf War a series of polls were made, and between 40-60% of American public believed that Saddam Hussein was directly connected to 9/11. Part of this had to do with US propaganda: if you say the lie long enough it becomes truth. But that propaganda relied upon an astute understanding that people, weaned on endless dramatic narratives, prefer a clear-cut meaningful narrative to the ambiguous, messy truth. My hunch is that people knew that Bush was spinning out a fantasy, but they liked the story. It's not as if counter-facts were not easy to access (which would have been true at other points of history): NPR, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many international news sites, accessible on the Internet, said there wasn't any proof behind this but people didn't want to know the truth. In other words: people desire stories not necessarily facts. (This was a fact not lost to the Church. It's no accident that Jesus' commandment that "The Truth Shall Set Ye Free" was set within the compelling narrative of the New Testament.)
To conclude, at the core of the concern about censorship lies a belief it is important that people have access to the Truth, or truths. What I am suggesting is that today they do—and that it doesn't matter. If we are concerned about information, power, and the public we need to move past (though not abandon) our older concern with censorship per se and instead look seriously and critically at what kinds of different means of control operate when people do have full access to information.
Vice President and Director of U.S. Programs for the Open Society Institute, a foundation established by philanthropist George Soros to promote open societies around the world. Before coming to OSI in 1996, LaMarche served as Associate Director of Human Rights Watch and Director of its Free Expression Project, and Director of the Freedom-To-Write Program of PEN American Center. Previously, he served in a variety of positions with the American Civil Liberties Union, including Associate Director of its New York branch and Executive Director of the Texas Civil Liberties Union. Gara LaMarche is the author of more than 75 articles on human rights and social justice issues. Gara LaMarche serves on the board of Article 19, the international free expression organization; on the U.S. Advisory Committee for Index on Censorship, the London-based human rights magazine; and on the Advisory Committee for the Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Division.
I have been very provoked by what Steven had to say, if I understand correctly, that there is too much information and the truth is inconsequential. Which is something I worry about. Particularly as a result of the time I spent in the Human Rights Movement during the Bosnia and Rwanda crises.
I was in Scotland last week and among the things that we did was visit malt whiskey distilleries. These are distilleries in the highlands of Scotland that go back to the 1840's and 1850's. One of the things that fascinated me is that the malt whiskey industry, which has become hot in the past few years due to a kind of globalization and all kinds of hip Americans drinking obscure malt whiskeys, is directly dependent on the health of the American bourbon industry. The process of making malt whiskey requires you to age the whiskey in wooden casks in which bourbon has been aged and American bourbon is made in casks that have to be new so they can't be reused. What was figured out about 120 to 140 years ago was that the casks in Kentucky used to make bourbon could be dismantled and shipped to Scotland. That to me is a benign example of globalization and interdependence. In other words, in an ecosystem of whiskey, if you will, you cannot have one without the other. And if the American bourbon industry were wiped out somehow the malt whiskey industry in Scotland would be in very bad shape. I say this because globalization has to be broken down as a term.
It is a good thing in my view, having grown up in a town with only one restaurant, that you can be in Bismarck, North Dakota and be able to get a bagel or mu shu pork. Not so long ago it was impossible to have any access to the riches of various cultures. I grew up in a town with one movie theater—and to live in the middle of nowhere now and have access to virtually all the world's cinematic riches is amazing. It is a bad thing if "H and H Bagels," or its equivalent, is driven out of business by "Bagel, INC" and there is only one way to get a bagel. World News Television seems a terrific thing for people in the Middle East: they can watch a newscast without much difficulty, they can also go online—not taking into account the digital divide of course—and read a newspaper in Bangladesh if they chose to do so. Yet, the increasing conglomeration of media in this country or around the world leading to fewer people controlling information is something to worry about.
However, media conglomeration is not an inevitable consequence to globalization but an inevitable consequence of the way economic forces seem to work when democracy is not strong enough to counteract them. I think globalization is often used to talk about a set of forces and a process that predate globalization as such. It has to do with the primacy of markets and rampant capitalism. This is a process that evolved before it ever really involved globalization, as we tend to think of it today.
I cut some of my censorship teeth fifteen years ago when I was with PEN at the time of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. That was a global case of censorship because it started on the Indian subcontinent and found its way into a Dalton bookstore in San Francisco. We had a taste of the capacity for censorship and restriction on information, which existed in what was then a relatively "mom and pop" era of conglomeration. The Dalton chain took The Satanic Verses off the selves and put it behind the counter because of fears of violence against employees or customers. You saw that someone who controlled a great deal of access to the book market had the capacity, with no government action being taken or required, to take a book off the shelves. In subsequent years, Wal-Mart did a similar thing with Magic Johnson's book on AIDS and then, recently, took off the market, in one swoop, magazines such as Stuff, FHM and Maxim. The same thing happened in Texas when I was a boy with Playboy being taken off the shelves of the 7/11. I'm not here to make a plea for these particular magazines, which are themselves published by large corporations, but to say that the capacity exists. You saw it with Clear Channel and the other radio stations, which banned The Dixie Chicks and then stimulated a protest against their work.
I want to talk a little bit about this business of "to what extent the truth matters." I think the question is not so much whether there is a scarcity or surplus of information, as whether or not the information that exists is reasonably accessible. What used to be a scarcity argument, that there were only three networks, obviously doesn't hold up today with over 700 channels on Direct TV. A lot of people think that because of the extensive access there is no issue of censorship. What's remarkable and distressful is that at the same time I have access to a million things, I have little access to a diversity of political information. There is a lot of information out there but a lot of it has to do with a kind of narcotizing: celebrity journalism and scandal-driven journalism.
In the places where most people get their information in this country, there is an ever-smaller space for information that has a relationship to any actual self-government and having a functioning democracy. A great deal of action takes place on the state level in this very conservative era in which we live in, and yet the intelligent informed scrutiny and coverage that takes place in Sacramento, CA, Albany, NY, or Austin, TX is at a very low point, though it was never good to begin with. When I worked for a Texas legislator as a lobbyist, ten or fifteen years ago, there were dozens and dozens of newspapers and television stations that had many Austin correspondents. That's down substantially. The same is happening in every state in the US. I don't know what people are or aren't interested in and I wouldn't go so far as to say that the truth no longer matters at all.
The premise of the human right's movement, which was a post war movement, was that the kind of abuses that took place in Nazi Germany in the Second World War could not be sustained in a world where people knew about them. Action would inevitably follow exposure. The words of Justice Brandeis, "sunlight is the best disinfectant," have been the guiding premise in many of our movements but particularly in the international human rights movement. If you had to look in the face of people being hacked to death with machetes, some kind of action would follow. Well, it didn't happen that way and it's worth examining why.
At the same time, however, some degree of change can take place: you see how, in recent months and weeks, the public exposure and public discussion of facts that can't be denied is leading to a set of reactions. I think the fact that Howell Raines is no longer the editor of the New York Times has something to do with information becoming available. Information that was catalytic in terms of institutional structure of the Times, catalytic in giving people an understanding of what they were thinking and feeling and about what other people felt, which led to a certain kind of action. The same is true, to an extent, with the Catholic Church scandals. Although, the Catholic Church scandals are also a good example of how successful you can be if you tough it out because the attention turns towards something else. I don't know at the end of the day how much change is going to take place in the Catholic Church despite all that we know. If you can tough it out you can often prevail.
That leads me to the Bush administration. When I was in Britain a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by the intense and relentless focus on Blair and what Blair knew, said or did regarding weapons of mass destruction, a kind of focus that would be almost unthinkable in any kind of mainstream press in the US, including the BBC. When I first arrived in London, BBC was showing a report of Blair visiting the troops in Iraq, much less theatrically than Bush did. He had an open-necked shirt on and was shaking hands, but the commentary that went with it was fairly skeptical, not the kind of boosterism that you see in the American media. At the same time that they were covering his photo op they were beginning to get into the criticisms as to whether the nation had been misled into war and about weapons of mass destruction. For a week or so I was in the UK, every morning the papers were examining who knew what when and I got back here and found it strange that the state-connected media in Britain is more critical of the Prime Minister than the private media of the United States, which ostensibly has all the protections of the First Amendment and no kind of state control, is of the President. That's something worth thinking about. The striking thing to many Americans is that, with the relatively high degree of legal freedom for expression that we have, there is such a narrow range of acceptable political discourse compared to Europe and much of the rest of the world.
Why we don't have, for instance, any significant debate in this country over the misleading of the country and the lies about the weapons of mass destruction is a question we have to ask ourselves every day. Why you are considered to be a liar in American politics if you boast a little about how you might have been the model for a Love Story or you may have misremembered the name of the person you toured the Texas flood zone with, while there is almost total impunity for lying about the actual consequences of policies that starve, impoverish and kill people is another profound American political question we have to ask ourselves.