November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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The Awareness Vaccine/Fred Roberts

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Source:  Opening of SCTV, 1981

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The Awareness Vaccine:

A Review of Mitchel Davidovitz’s

Window of Normalization

by Fred Roberts
Contributing Editor

In 1987, I made the experience of moving to Germany, leaving behind the vast American infrastructure of media, network television, cable TV, early talk radio. I never felt like I was trapped image1inside a propaganda system but after some months, I noticed that some ideas that for many become unchallenged assumptions, were no longer echoed daily from various sources around me: Americans are special, American lives are worth more than non-American lives, free market capitalism is good, universal healthcare is bad, humanists and communists are evil, the world would be a much better place if our European partners would do everything the President wanted them to. Surrounded by so many divergent perspectives, the world gradually felt more objective. On subsequent visits back to the States, I saw the media from the outside, and much more critically than I had before. It was unsettling to notice how strong the influence of the media was on the general public, how the unchallenged assumptions worked their way into conversations and seemed resistant to rational argument.

Years later, I discovered an insightful work by Norman Corwin published 1983 under the title Trivializing America in which he described how mediocrity was seeping into all aspects of public life, film, television, sports, the public discourse, the election process, etc. etc. He saw it as a real danger to our democracy. We were losing our critical ability, our ability to make informed decisions. If the trends continued, we would no longer be in a position to elect responsible political representatives. In fact, the only predictions of his that have not come true were the optimistic ones. He saw a glimmer of hope in the creation of 24 hour TV news networks, that these could report on substance, giving daily scorecards of how our senators and representatives voted, etc. The book was a wake-up call that went under in the wave of events of the subsequent decades. Gulf war. Clinton impeachment hearings. Y2K hysteria. Theft of the 2000 election. 9/11.

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Fast forward to 2014 and a work by Mitchel Davidovitz, Window of Normalization. It is a terrifying snapshot of modern pseudo-reality as formed and reinforced by the visual medium of television. The project is based on a statement by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman:

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.” (2002)

A compelling aspect of the project is that it begins with a definite idea and follows it through to its logical conclusion. If the statement by Chomsky and Herman is accurate, how could the media pull it off? What Mitchel did was to monitor during a one week period the average amount of hours a typical American viewer would see (34 hours).  Out of this 34-hour period he collected a sample of 6500 images, as well as audio samples – in part guided by the expectations of themes described in Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky and Herman and Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges, but also attempting to capture any other recurring themes that became apparent.

Out of the 6500 images, Mitchel grouped a reduced sample into twelve category grids which serve to show exactly which belief systems the mass media support. The results did not surprise me. They matched my impressions of television in recent visits to the States, an idea of a constant state of war. It goes beyond the news, with themes of terrorism working their way into series like Homeland and NCIS, thereby reinforcing the belief of an omnipresent terrorist force that can only be held in check with increased surveillance and security, and ultimately with a curtailment of individual liberties. Witness also TV shows like Castle in which total surveillance is depicted as an effective means to solve any crime.

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A five part audio opus complements Mitchel’s visual findings, sound collages which are a nightmarish synthesis of Big Brother and Brave New World. Altogether this is a document of modern dystopia, an endless chain of images, soundbites and conditioning to keep the masses in a constant state of stupor. The real problems, approaching climate catastrophe, the absence of political influence of the 99%, the looting of the resources of our and other nations by out of control financial and corporate entities, will never be discovered by watching the major U.S. networks which only continue the stupefying bombardment, and for each real issue, manufacture and present instead a multitude of distractions.

The one aspect of the work that surprised me is its brevity, a reduction of a week’s television viewing to twelve images and five audio collages. Was there more that could have been captured? Were there positive grids that might have been compiled? On the other hand, the themes are indisputable and the brevity intensifies the frightening idea that maybe this is all there is, that this is the essence of our media today with TV sets everywhere, in McDonald’s, in waiting rooms, often set to FOX news. The accompanying research paper gives an excellent description of the audio and visual components of the project.

To the question of how a manipulation to this extent could be perpetrated, it is seen as the result of the concentration of media into just nine international conglomerates, with a top down consensus of what should be seen. There may not be a literal guideline to show three 9/11 reminders per hour, but the tone is set from above, with hand-picked editors down the line making all the decisions. As such, a study like this cannot prove cause and effect. One might alternatively claim it is a public mood that perpetuates a media giving the public exactly what it wants. Still, the media are in a position to break that cycle but since they do not, it becomes our responsibility to do so ourselves. It would be interesting to do similar studies in countries where the media is more diverse. One thing the study does not address is the question of how effective the control mechanisms are. As protest and dissent do exist, we can thankfully conclude that the mechanisms are not infallible, although they may be effective enough.

Here is the conclusion of the project in its own words:

“The influence of television is massive. Americans, on average, spend 34 hours a week in front of television screens (Nielsen 2013). Through means of cultivation, television is able to literally alter the minds of those who view it. The values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that are presented on television and imprinted on the audience overwhelmingly benefit power structures and hegemonic control over the populace. The propagandist nature of television is quite evident. It is a tool used by the powerful to prevent civil unrest, promote mass distraction, spread lies and misinformation, and diminish and belittle radical thought. Window of Normalization allows the audience to reflect on the current state of the televised mass media system by arming and empowering them with a new perspective and knowledge. With these new realizations, the audience may choose, if they deem necessary, to break free of television’s power, refuse to subject themself to it, and demand a more righteous press, source of information, and means of entertainment.”

The project is documented at http://mitcheldavidovitz.bandcamp.com/album/window-of-normalization. Please have a look at it to judge the findings for yourself. The key to inoculation is awareness. Turn off your televisions and follow the alternative, independent media wherever you may find it. A good starting point is http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/ which presents a comprehensive selection of current headlines that see through all the smoke and mirrors of everyday American media.

About the author:

Fred Roberts is a contributing editor and music editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us. 

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1 comment

1 Fee { 06.30.14 at 10:23 am }

Dear Mr. Roberts,
es ist Ihnen doch tatsächlich gelungen ihre Beiträge, die uns sonst Themen aus der Vielfältigkeit der musikalischen Welt ausdrucksstark näherbringen, in Ihrem aktuellen Artikel zu toppen.
Ausgehend von Ihren persönlichen Erfahrungen spannen Sie den Bogen von gesellschaftskritischen Abhandlungen, wie sie bei Chomsky und anderen zu finden sind, bis hin zu Mitchel Davidovitz, der neue und unkonventionelle Wege beschreitet, um auf die Brisanz des Themas aufmerksam zu machen.
Wunderbar auf das Wesentliche reduziert und mit einer klaren Botschaft rüttelt Ihr Artikel auf und regt an einen kritischen Blick auf das persönliche mediale (Konsum)verhalten zu werfen.
Man kann nur hoffen, dass Ihre journalistische Arbeit ein breit gefächertes Lesepublikum erreicht und aufhorchen lässt.
Lg Fee