Welcome to the first installation of Activist Watch List (AWL) – a series in which we take a look at documentaries or otherwise important video content that illuminates the issues and conflicts at the heart of the activist community. In each chapter we will highlight a specific piece, discuss its importance, and invite our readers to join us in further discussion. Lastly, we will always chose documentaries that can be easily viewed and shared, free of charge. [click here to skip straight to the video]
What to watch: Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media
“Funny, provocative and surprisingly accessible, “Manufacturing Consent” explores the political life and ideas of world-renowned linguist, intellectual and political activist Noam Chomsky. Through a dynamic collage of biography, archival gems, imaginative graphics and outrageous illustrations, Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick’s award-winning documentary highlights Chomsky’s probing analysis of mass media and his critique of the forces at work behind the daily news.”
Reasons to watch:
In the first few installations of Activist Watch List we will be focusing on social control, which refers to the regulation of the individual (whether blatantly or covertly) in the effort to create social conformity. Sociology reveals that social control tends to occur most heavily in certain sectors of society – psychiatry, education, law enforcement, and as we will discover today, media and entertainment.
In this documentary – released a few years after the book by Chomsky and Herman – Chomsky discusses the process by which the media is manipulated into producing biased content.
It goes like this:
- Powerful interests both inside the US Government and the private sector, are able to decide which television stations, magazines, or newspapers are given access to information (while also deciding what information they are given).
- When denied the news and information they need to keep consumers satisfied, the publications or television stations begin to lose readership/viewership leading to potential financial ruin.
- Finally, in order to stay in business and recoup viewership, the media portrays these powerful interests in a favorable light, allowing them to stay in business and continue to profit.
This idea, also known as “the propaganda model” is a framework for noticing and understanding the ways in which the news that we consume is manipulated to serve particular interests. This framework is extremely important to understand for a few a number of reasons, the most salient being that this system dictates what information the American people are exposed to, and consequentially, what types of things they think about. In other words, the media cannot tell you what to think, but they can tell you what you should be thinking about. It follows that such a system is a very powerful force of social control, and the only way to break free of it, is to understand its existence.
The documentary also touches on the issue of media monopolization, or the slow but sure elimination of competition within the US media. As media companies continue to acquire one another the diversity of information they provide dwindles. If you want to learn more about this issue beyond this documentary, Free Press’s breakdown of the issue is a great starting point.
Lastly, the documentary offers the viewer a chance to see inside the mind and career of one of America’s leading intellectuals. If you haven’t immersed yourself in Chomsky’s work, this documentary is a wonderful place to start.
How you can watch:
Manufacturing Consent: Chomsky and the Media can be found for free on YouTube in a 17 part series. Below you will find the first part embedded, with links to the rest of the documentary.
As always, let us know what you think in the comments, and leave us recommendations on what issues to cover in our next installment of AWL.