The Internet – assessing its main social, political, and cultural impacts in America (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
This series is based on a draft of a paper read at the “Media in America/America in Media” Conference (Lublin, Poland: Maria Curie-Sklodowska University), May 25-26, 2017.
It is a vitally important question whether the Internet will offer the possibilities of enhancing serious social, political, cultural, and truly philosophical debate, or if the various news and entertainment imageries so widely and readily transmissible through it, will simply deepen the extension of American consumerism, the excesses of political-correctness, and the mindless, ersatz patriotism, today.
It may be noted that a situation now exists, where it appears that little more than one percent (a somewhat different sort of one percent) of the population -- termed variously as the knowledge elite, the symbolic analysts, or the New Class -- endeavors to thoroughly condition the rest of the population – through the mass media – in what to think, feel, and believe, and in how to act. This system has been described as the managerial-therapeutic regime, the melding of big business and big government, a social environment of total administration and near-total media immersion.
It may be noted than any more honest challenges to the system, whether from the anti-consumerist, genuinely ecological Left, or from antiwar, localist, paleolibertarians and paleoconservatives, are simply being edited out of “approved”, media- and administratively-constructed social reality.
It is an open question whether simply making some good ideas available on the Internet, can have a major social, cultural, and political impact. Although some may not wish to admit it, there is a clear hierarchy of information on the Internet. It ranges – roughly – from the mostly unmoderated, self-posting forum, or purely personal website or blog (unless the person running it has already achieved major success or notoriety outside the Web); to the widely-read, conscientiously-edited, but not major-income-generating e-zine; to major web-magazines like Salon and Slate; to the websites of major media entities such as CNN and The New York Times – who are simply reinforcing their massive presence in the world outside the Web. In the general media world, it seems that there can only be a comparative handful of “exceptions that prove the rule” – such as the vast success of The Drudge Report, and the unexpected success of (for example) The Blair Witch Project. It should also be noted that, while an act of spectacular violence can bring attention to the online writings and images of the perpetrator or perpetrators, it surely does not increase the credibility of their ideas. Far from it – it usually makes their notions appear totally loathsome.
While there now exists the possibility of easy book-printing – along with a greater hope than previously that the book (or e-book) can reach a wider audience (for example, through placement on the Amazon bookselling and retail site) – the obvious authority and imprimatur of a book appearing with a major commercial, literary, or academic publisher – constitutes a very tight barrier indeed to the intellectual transmission of “unapproved” ideas.
While eclectic material can theoretically be made available on the Internet, in most cases, it lacks the authority, cool-factor, and advertising muscle of such phenomena as Hollywood blockbusters, CNN news programs, or videogames created with multi-million-dollar budgets. Indeed, the effect of the Internet is often just to mobilize and intensify a given fan-base – rather than to encourage any kind of eclectic philosophical thinking, reflection, or discussion. The Internet has arrived on the scene after more than four decades of extremely intensive image shaping by media such as television and electrically-enhanced popular music (formerly mostly existing in the category of rock music, and now given over largely to rap and hip-hop.)
As for the subgenre of talk-radio (typified by Rush Limbaugh, who has in recent years been going through a personal drug-use scandal of his own) it could be argued that there is little there apart from a jingoistic, meaningless, ersatz patriotism – whose main purpose appears to be to drive the United States into endless foreign wars.
It could also be argued that one of the general effects of the Internet is the tendency to accentuate a “hyper-fragmentation” of social, cultural, and political interests, which means that broadly-based public and political debate becomes ever more difficult.
Also, in the case of a very large number of people, the Internet is used simply for access to various entertainment and pop-culture imageries and news, existing in various subgenres like porn, celebrity-cults, rock- and rap-music, and sports, movie, and television show fandom.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.