Category — Media
Source: Opening of SCTV, 1981
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The Awareness Vaccine:
A Review of Mitchel Davidovitz’s
Window of Normalization
by Fred Roberts
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 inside 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.
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.
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.
June 29, 2014 1 Comment
©2014 Jonathan Alpeyrie
April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine: Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. Here, family members of Sasha, the youngest man killed in the gun battle, are seeing his dead body for the first time. The circumstances of their deaths are unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blame on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region.
the Conflict in Ukraine
with Mike Foldes
Born in Paris in 1979, Jonathan Alpeyrie moved to the United States in 1993. He graduated from the French high school of New York City in 1998, before going to the University of Chicago to study medieval history. Jonathan started his career shooting for local Chicago newspapers during his undergraduate years. He did his first photo essay in 2001 while traveling in the South Caucasus. In addition to Ukraine, he has photographed conflicts in South Caucasus, East Africa, Nepal, Mexico, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Alpeyrie is a staff photographer for Polaris Images. His work has been published in Paris Match, Aftenposten, Time, Newsweek, Wine Spectator, Boston Globe, Glamour, BBC World, Popular Photography, The New York Times, VSD, American Photo and ELLE. A photography book about WWII veterans with Verve Editions is in the works, and scheduled to come out next year.
Q: In a recent statement that appeared in L’Oeil de la Photographie, you wrote, “The Western press does not understand the nature of the conflict: I was more appalled by the lack of understanding by the Western press who was convinced that Russia was the enemy, and furthermore, that the Western powers were right to intervene. As always the reality on the ground is different from what the general public is being fed by the mainstream media.”Can you please explain “the reality on the ground”?
A)The reality on the ground is, first and foremost, a historical one. In 988 AD, Rus king Vladimir the Great of Kiev converted, and his people, to Byzantine Orthodoxy in the region, creating a Christian state in what is now Eastern Ukraine. Today, for locals, this historical founding moment is still of great importance as it unifies the Slavic civilization. Therefore, a division within this entity is indeed a very difficult notion to accept for many Eastern Ukrainians and Russians alike, as it would be seen as truly illogical proposition.These historical implications cannot and should not be discarded by Western powers, and the ever powerful mainstream media. It is, in fact, an oddity to think that they both are willing to put aside these considerations, as Western Europe as well as the United States are also Christian nations.This lack, and this unwillingness to understand the past, especially for the US government and most of its media, has lead to much misinterpretation of what Russia is, and what it is trying to become. As it is true for the United States, Mr. Putin defends his country’s interest, and its place in the world. What would the United States say and do if Russia would today, directly challenge America’s zone of influence in Asia, like Japan or the Philippines, or even challenge its hegemony in Mexico, right on its border? I assure you, the United States would not allow it. Well, the situation in Eastern Ukraine is no different: the Eastern Ukraine was shaped by Russia. Not the West.Though I fully understand that geopolitical logics are in place in this crisis, and the US, aided by its smaller less significant ally, Western Europe (maybe with the exception of Merkel’s Germany, who is a close ally to Russia), I am also appalled by the mainstream media’s lack of seriousness, let alone its inability to remain neutral. Though it is safe to say that most mainstream media leans on the political left, which by essence proves its illegitimacy as an impartial entity, it also copies from each other most information spread around by social media and incompetent reporters. I will say it again, a journalist with no historical understanding of the region he works in, makes him a bad journalist. And there are many.
Portfolio of photographs from the conflict in Ukraine, 2014. Copyright Jonathan Alpeyrie. Courtesy of the photographer and Polaris Images.
V10N4 Jonathan Alpeyrie
January 30, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Anti-government groups have barricaded entire streets to keep away police forces loyal to the Yanukovych government. Heavy clashes between both parties has left its marks on the area, with destroyed vehicules, assault resistant barricades, and burned tires. The standoff between both parties has shown that no one is ready to give way for a true compromise. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kiev-ukraine-uprising-feb-2014_0.jpg]200010_Kiev Protest
February 5, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine has been hit by more than two months of unrest following a decision by president Viktor Yanukovish not to pursue trade and other deals with the EU. After days of clashes, the EU and the USA are moving torwards economic sanctions. Opposition leaders have agreed with such a move, which, they say, would bring further attention to their struggle. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kiev-ukraine-women-feb-2014_0.jpg]240007_Women of the Revolution
February 5, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Women are marching for peace near the barricades. After months of protest in Maiden Square thousands of Ukrainian nationals, from all over Ukraine, have volunteered to help in anyway possible. Hundreds of Ukrainian women have also joined in to help. Some by cooking food for the men outside, others by organizing the struggle through the web. Some even have been forming a para-military unit. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-uklraine-april-2014_0.jpg]160009_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Police riot is retreating inside the building after being attacked. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-gas-april-2014_0.jpg]170008_Donetsk Breakup
April 28, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Pro-Kiev protestors rally in the center of town in order to show their support for the current government. Only a few hundred strong, they decide to move and take their protest through the streets of Donetsk, where hundreds of pro-Russian separatists are waiting for them. Clashes quickly fallow, with the police barely getting involved as most of them are pro-Russian. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_aleksandrovka-ukraine-militia-april-2014.jpg]140016_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Armed separatists are attending the burial of the men killed in their village. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-maidan-fighters-april-2014_0.jpg]110003_Ukraine Breakup
April 19, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Masked men are guarding the area near the occupied administration building. Ukraine's foreign minister has said that operations against pro-Russian militants in the Eastern part of the country have been suspended over Easter. However, the stalemate remains between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-throwing-bricks-april-2014_0.jpg]60008_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-police-line-may-2014_0.jpg]60020_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A police officer is trying to reason with attacking pro-Russians. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-carrying-casket-april-2014_0.jpg]60009_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. The bodies of the men killed during the gun battle are being taken outside for the crowd to see. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-russian-position-april-2014_0.jpg]60015_Slavyansk
April 21, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. An armed pro-Russian gunman is standing guard in front of the administration building they captured 2 weeks before. Fifty miles north of Donetsk, the town of Slavyansk is under the control of heavily armed pro-Russian gunmen who say they want a referendum on the region's status. After a deadly shooting the previous night, the separatist "people's mayor", Vyachelav Ponomarev imposed a curfew and issued an appeal to Russian to send troops. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-service-april-2014_0.jpg]80004_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-soldier-in-field-may-2014_0.jpg]110001_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Slaviansk Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A Ukrainian soldier is taking position at a roadblock during clashes in a near by village. Ukrainian troops fought pitched gun battles monday with pro-Russian militias around Slavyansk. In the mean time, the government in Kiev has been tighting its grip around the rebel city by adding new roadblocks ever closer to the city itself. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-body-may-2014_0.jpg]90007_Donetsk Breakup
May 3, 2014, near Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A separatist was shot dead by pro Kiev forces during a attack on a bridge. The Ukrainian military is continuing its military operations around the rebel held cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. Swift armored raid are launched, now each day on rebel positions, inflicting casualties, both civilians and separatists. As a defense measure the pro-Russians burn their tires to cover their retreats. Today, in and around Kramatorsk rebel positions were hit by these raids killing perhaps as much as 6 people, triggering a gun battles on the streets of that city. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-2-may-2014_0.jpg]70011_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Locals are participating in the funeral of a young 21 year old girl, called Julia, who was shot and killed alongside two men while driving their car in the middle of a gun battle which took place in the center of town between advancing government troops and pro-Russian militias. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-may-2014_0.jpg]100014_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. The family of the late Julia is morning during the funeral at a local cemetary. Locals are participating in the funeral of a young 21 year old girl, called Julia, who was shot and killed alongside two men while driving their car in the middle of a gun battle which took place in the center of town between advancing government troops and pro-Russian militias. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_aleksandrovka-ukraine-home-april-2014.jpg]200018_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Family member of the youngest man killed in the gun battle, called Sasha, are seing his dead body for the first time. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
Portfolio of photographs from the conflict in Ukraine, 2014. Copyright Jonathan Alpeyrie. Courtesy of the photographer and Polaris Images.
I have experienced on many occasions events which have made me doubt the legitimacy of the press world when it comes to world affairs. After covering over a dozen wars, I have never been confronted to such spreading of misinformation directed to the public, who after all, does not need to be influenced in one way or the other when it comes to current affairs: it is for the reader and the viewer to decide for himself. Dictatorships begin in such ways. History has proved many times over. During my four weeks in the Dombass region covering the crisis there, over 90% of foreign journalists were openly against Putin’s Russia, and therefore agreed with the Maidan movement. Not only is it not the role of these journalists to put forward their personal preferences, it is their role to let the readers decide. Furthermore, I was also very surprised to see that a lot of information taken by the media came from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. Because of its nature, and its propaganda use, social media should never constitute a valuable source of information for any major media. Every morning, Tweets and pro-Maidan Facebook posts, as well as pro-Russian hashtags, influenced the way the crisis was being perceived in the Western world, and often mainstream media outlets took this information and published it! For instance, one morning it read from Twitter: 30 dead in clashes between pro-Keiv and pro-Russian troops. It happened that I was there during the gun battle, and only three people died. The pro-Kiev faked the number in order to show that pro-Russians were killing countless innocent civilians, while pro-Russians used the same casualty count to show that Kiev was also killing left and right. In this crisis, it is mostly a war of information in order to influence one side, while demonizing the other. Too many times the media fell into that trap while reporting false information, which can still be read on the web, on their websites. I once called my contacts at the BBC to retrieve information that was false, which had been reported by a BBC journalist who was not even on site when the event happened, but was reporting from Kiev! The press should not be a tool for propaganda, which often favors government foreign policy, but a force meant to debate and engage in conversation. It seems that the main stream media has forgotten its primary purpose, and many journalists should remember that important fact. The Ukraine is a perfect example of that. From the beginning the Maidan movement was pure and fair, while Russia was evil and wrong to even pretend to exercise its power. Not once there was a discussion about Russia’s legitimacy and its historical connection to the Ukraine. Russia is not an enemy, and quite easily Mr. Obama and his administration could have come up with a deal that would have made everyone happy. Instead, the US administration has increased its sanctions, further humiliating the Russians. I cannot help to make the comparison between the humiliation suffered by the Germans after the end of WWI with the treaty of Versailles, which is a direct consequence of the looming next world conflict. Russia is a powerful nation, with a deep sense of history and pride. This needs to be respected.
Q) How do you respond to those who say the contemporary historical reference is that Ukraine (and Crimea) were legally established and internationally recognized as independent states upon dissolution of the USSR, and their status should remain as such? And, if Putin’s Russia and the EU are co-existing, why would there be such resistance for Ukraine to strengthen economic and political ties with EU?
A) Again, history and demographics are what we should be looking at. Ukraine was reconquered by the Red army from German forces in 1944. Furthermore, an estimated 60% of the 2.7 million inhabitants are Russians, and about 26% are Ukrainians. And finally, Russia has had military bases long before the Ukraine became independent. Therefore it was, de facto Russian land. The international community did not dispute the annexation for all of the reasons stated above. Besides, there was no military contest coming from the Kiev government. It is only the Western part of the Ukraine that wants to join the EU. Historically, Western influence, like Poland, has had a big impact in that part of the Ukraine, formatting a very different mentality in the region. The East has always looked toward Russia, not Europe. One has to remember that the Maidan movement represents a small minority of people, not a majority like the press and some Western government would like us to believe. However, I certainly do not understand why there should be a divide between the West and Russia. We are all Christian nations with a common history and destiny. Mr. Putin wants nothing more than to allow a great Northern alliance to finally take shape. Though it is true that Europe has reached a post-Christian era, for the Russians, however, religion and traditions still matter.
Q) So, you are putting this into the context of a religious conflict, and not the result of economic difficulties, oil interests, or strategic geography?
A) All of the above are true. However, the interesting thing about the religious aspect is the view these Eastern Ukrainians have of us, modern Westerners. For them, it is hard to understand what we have become, both morally and religiously. During my time in the region many pro-Russians perceive the West as a decadent society, a post-Christian society, where old traditions which had once found common ground between Europe and Russia, are quickly disappearing. For locals, these old Christian traditions with the belief of God, and family, are setting apart these two worlds: Religion and all its implications do matter enormously in the region. Religion is one vector which opposes these two worlds, one that has moved away from its Greek/Christian roots, while the other still sees itself has a religious entity defined by the Orthodoxy.
Q) You began by saying that reporters who have no historical knowledge or perspective should not be allowed to report on important issues as these. What can networks and news agencies do to make sure their people on the ground — and their editors back in the office — get things objectively correct?A) I do believe that it is crucial that reporters on the ground have a strong sense of history, not only in the region where they work, but also in general. Historical knowledge brings sensitivity to the journalist and a sense of neutrality needed to remain objective: Bashing the Russians and Putin constantly will not help in that regard. One has to remember the trauma lived by Russians and their neighbors during WWII: An estimated 25 million dead were suffered during the great patriotic war of 1941/45. We cannot blame the Russians for their mistrust towards the West, though it was more then 70 years ago, these events are still very present in people’s minds.
Jonathan, thank you very much!
All photographs courtesy of Jonathan Alpeyrie.
Find out more: http://www.jonathanalpeyrie.net/
About the Interviewer: Michael Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.” The foregoing interview was conducted via e-mail in June 2014.
June 26, 2014 Comments Off on Jonathan Alpeyrie/Photographer Interview
Revival of the Fittest
New Police Gazette brings back
good old-fashioned Journalism
How did you get interested in the Police Gazette?
I became interested in the Gazette first as a youth, seeing it referenced in other areas of popular culture such as Bugs Bunny cartoons. I loved the name, the logo, and the way it was portrayed as something shocking, titillating, and funny. Much later, I did more extensive research and found it was even more shocking, titillating, and funny than I had imagined. This was especially interesting due to the fact it had started in the 19th century. Ribald humor and shocking irony were not 20th century inventions.
What prompted you to claim the site?
The publication had finally ceased by 1977 and, other than a brief interest shown by a gentleman in the 1980s, the National Police Gazette trademark had not been picked up by anyone else. The Gazette was lying fallow, seemingly without a soul to carry it into the 21st century. I simply picked up a standard that had been dropped, and created the website to breathe life into the Gazette once again.
Who is William A. Mays? Your alter ego?
Yes, this is my pen name for the website. William A. Mays is based on Richard K. Fox, the most flamboyant and successful previous owner of the Gazette.
Can you give us a little history on your background?
My father was writer Donald E. Westlake. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Miami, where I was managing editor of the graduate literary magazine. I’ve worked as a reporter for weekly newspapers, and as a contributing writer to a national women’s magazine. Other writing includes poetry that was accepted at the Hofstra University conference celebrating the 100th birthday of Babe Ruth, and the accounting department procedures manual for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). I also have experience in sales and client financial management, particularly as an agent and registered representative for New York Life Insurance. Other business and financial experience include my four years at Morgan Stanley, doing the business start-up for my brother’s company, writing the business plan for a friend’s company, and serving as a board member and treasurer for the Summer Savoyards, Inc. I have years of experience in theater as an actor, director, production manager, etc. Finally, I also have experience as a teacher, most recently as an instructor of English at Broome Community College.
William a. Mays’ background?
You’ve heard of The Most Interesting Man in The World? William A. Mays is his best friend and biographer.
Now what about the Gazette? Who was responsible for it in the beginning, and were the woodcuts regarded then as the beautiful women and photography you include now?
The National Police Gazette started in 1845 as the 19th century version of America’s Most Wanted with John Walsh. It was designed to expose fugitives to the public so they could help in the fugitives’ capture. By 1878 it was doing poorly and on the verge of closing. That year it was purchased by Richard K. Fox, an immigrant from Ireland, who then used it to revolutionize American journalism. Fox turned the Gazette into a showpiece of lurid sensationalism. In the process, he invented the sports page, the celebrity gossip column, the girlie magazine, and perfected the concept of the illustrated weekly. Within a few years the Gazette went from near extinction to one of the most popular and talked about weeklies in America. Half of the column inches in any given issue were covered with illustrations, totally unheard of at the time. The subject matter of these illustrations was heavily weighted toward crime/violence, sports, and women. And if women could be depicted in settings involving crime/violence or sports, all the better. Fox also had the good sense to hire some of the best artists available, resulting in lurid, grotesque, prurient illustrations that also happened to be technical masterpieces. To answer the question if Fox’s woodcuts were regarded the same as the photos I put up, what I do is far more tame and tasteful based solely on the prevailing attitude of society. If I were to get the same reaction to my pictures as Fox did to his, I’d probably have to feature stills from snuff films. What Fox did was irreverent and shocking to the sensibilities of the 1880s, and I feel he deserves a great deal of the credit for helping American society transition from the stuffy Victorian era to the looser attitudes of the 20th century. He was a visionary in many ways, and one of the delights of handling the Gazette now is when I get contacted by a researcher who is flabbergasted that the Gazette documented something years before it appeared anywhere else. Finally, until I have the resources to make the website more picture oriented, I’ve been focusing on the concept of “the girl on the Police Gazette.” This was a popular catch phrase that highlighted the fact that before Playboy, or even magazines such as Photoplay, the Police Gazette was the periodical of choice for pictures of provocatively posed young women. Irving Berlin even wrote a popular song about this titled “The Girl on the Police Gazette.”
Where do you get the articles you headline? Do you have any copyright issues here?
Ideas for the original material I write for the site come from real news items. These are all real people and events reported as accurately as possible, but told with the Police Gazette style or perspective. Those stories are copyrighted by “William A. Mays,” which is my dba (trade name). The articles and illustrations I publish from the original Gazette are all pre-1923, and thus in the public domain. However, the pages on my website in which they appear are copyrighted by William A. Mays, which means if you want to use material on the page that was from the original Police Gazette, that’s okay. But if you want to take the webpage itself and do something, that requires permission. Also, the Police Gazette logo is a trademark of William A. Mays, National Police Gazette. So anyone who wishes to use the logo in an original work other than scholarly research would require my permission.
How do you do the reproductions of the woodcuts and/or lithographics you’re selling online? What processes? Quality of paper? What are people buying here?
The process involves a digital camera, the original paper issues of the Gazette, and Photoshop. The details are a bit proprietary, so I’ll just leave it at that. But the result is that the illustration is enhanced for clarity, detail, and consistency. The quality of the image ends up better than you will see in any copies of an original Gazette, which have suffered from wear and age. In fact, I feel so strongly about the quality and historic value of Police Gazette illustrations that I would like to run every Gazette illustration through this process and save them for posterity before the paper issues deteriorate into dust. The posters I sell are 18″x24″ and printed on thick semi-gloss stock using archival ink.
Is this a profitable venture? Or a hobby?
It started as a hobby, one of those things a person does for the love of it and I would do whether it made a profit or not. It is, however, gradually morphing into a business. Sales are low right now because the premier item–the posters–just went up less than two months ago, and I have not yet begun any significant marketing push. I’ll be ramping that aspect of it up over the next few weeks. Another big part of my work with the Gazette is that I provide a service to researchers free of charge. A complete collection of the National Police Gazette does not exist in any publicly accessible place. Chunks of it exist in various forms–originals, microfilm, online PDF database–and scattered around various libraries. And there are volumes and issues that, at this time, can’t be found anywhere. Frustrated researchers ask me for help, and often I can steer them in the right direction. I’ve gotten acknowledgements in the books of published authors, and I’ll be listed as a source of archival material in an upcoming PBS American Experience documentary about Wyatt Earp.
Do you anticipate a print copy?
I don’t anticipate a regularly published periodical, unless an opportunity comes along to do something similar to what The Onion does, namely, have it serve not just as a vehicle for a particular brand of comedy, but also as an alternative weekly for the college and art crowd, with useful reviews and locally specific features and advertising. But I do want to produce special stand-alone publications with catchy titles such as “The Police Gazette Treasury of Electric Shock,” “The Police Gazette Treasury of Home Invasion,” etc. or “The National Police Gazette Presents: Profiles in Abomination,” “The National Police Gazette Presents: Profiles in Malfeasance,” etc.
What’s the long-term goal here?
The long-term goal is to brand the National Police Gazette. My dream is to rebuild a Police Gazette “empire,” marketing the old with the new, and appeal to nostalgia/retro enthusiasts as well as current lovers of news-as-irony, e.g., fans of The Onion and Stephen Colbert. The first step is to fully develop the website, improving the technical quality and having regularly updated stories, art, and interviews. Another goal is to make the site a one-stop shop for researchers and fans of the old Gazette, having all the old stories and illustrations available online in a searchable database much the same way that The New York Times does. I’d like to market everything from the Police Gazette font to an entire fashion line. Ultimately, I don’t think a museum is out of the question. The huge amounts of popular culture the Gazette not only documented but generated I think would be ideal for a museum format. In our current environment where the brand is everything, I see nothing stopping a “Police Gazette” brand from taking hold. When I see some of the apparel in the WalMarts and JC Penneys and TJ Maxxs, there’s clothing with brand names and logos that were made up for the sole purpose of serving as art for apparel. They are logos of fictional companies made to sound old fashioned yet important. If the Police Gazette doesn’t sound old fashioned yet important, I don’t know what does! The key is planting it emotionally in the minds of the general public. The “myth” of the Gazette has to be created and disseminated.
Is this a full-time gig for you? If not, what do you do for a living?
This does not yet make enough money to live on, so a good chunk of my time is taken up doing things that pay the bills. Until December I taught English at Broome Community College. Right now I’m exploring other options, including getting involved in other business ventures that may be more immediately profitable. However, I would like nothing more than to have the Police Gazette be my full-time occupation.
Are a lot of your readers cops? Cons? Average Joes?
In spite of the name, the target audience is not involved in criminal justice. Right now most of the site’s readers are average Joes–who enjoy the stories of murdered teen porn stars–and history buffs looking to research the old Gazette or subjects covered by it. In addition, I intend to market the Gazette to 15-35 year olds who enjoy their pop culture snarky. Fans of The Onion, The Daily Show, and Stephen Colbert are good prospects, as are those who prefer the modern world presented with a 19th century veneer, such as fans of steampunk. Then there’s the art. I want the Gazette to be a showcase again for artists’ work. I’d like to see artists create depictions to accompany the original articles, which would bring art lovers to the site to see the latest illustrations.
What else can you tell us about the Police Gazette?
To answer that here are some excerpted paragraphs from a documentary narration draft I wrote:
A century before Howard Stern hit the airwaves, there was a man who not only recognized the appeal of quasi-lesbian imagery, but — like Stern — knew how to make it an acceptable part of popular culture. Five generations before Stephen Colbert and Sacha Baron Cohen blurred the distinction between the real and fictional news correspondent, there was a man who populated his real-news publication with fictional editors and their semi-real exploits. Before there was the celebrity gossip column, he invented it. Before there was a sports page, he created it. Before the advent of the girlie magazine, he provided it. When the sport of boxing was illegal and widely considered immoral, this man championed, promoted, and popularized it all the way into legal and public acceptance. The heads of “respectable” publications looked down on him, but then raced to imitate him when his success became undeniable. Hugely popular, even across the ocean, the publication made an appearance in James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses. At a time when the barbershop was not just a place to get your hair cut, but served as the de facto gentlemen’s club for the working class, it was known as the “bible of the barbershop.” Its recipe mixed the titillating and funny with the informative and serious in just the right proportion, in a way that had never been thought of previously, in a way that led directly to what we know as today’s tabloid journalism, sports reporting, skin magazines, shock jocks, and quasi-news programs such as the Daily Show. The purveyors of these current forms of entertainment, as well as the professional sport of boxing, can address their gratitude to one Richard K. Fox and his publication the National Police Gazette.
The news was real, and it was shocking, but it was offered with a wink. If it was violent and gory, great; if it involved sexual infidelity, wonderful; if it included both, perfect. The details were gratuitously graphic. However, they were mixed with something Richard K. Fox and the Police Gazette may not have invented, but did manage to refine in a way never before seen in American journalism: irony. At a time when newspapers took themselves as seriously as they took their subject matter, Fox and the Gazette set out to blow this pomposity apart. They stalked hypocrisy wherever it lay and went in for the kill, reserving special derision for religious leaders seen as failing to practice what they preached.
Before television and radio were invented, around when Jon Stewart and Howard Stern’s great-great grandparents would have been walking the earth, books, magazines and newspapers were the only way to reach a mass audience. The person who mastered the print medium would be — if not king of all media –certainly king of all mass media.
In pursuit of this goal Richard K. Fox set out to turn this text-heavy medium into something visually exciting. Not only did the number, size, and detail of the Police Gazette‘s illustrations–most of them woodcuts–mark a quantum leap above what was then the norm in other publications, their subject matter was calculated to arouse various areas of the — usually male — psyche. To top it off, he began printing his Gazette on pink paper, another departure — an ironic one at that — from his competitors.
And Fox didn’t just promote boxing. There was hardly a competitive endeavor imaginable that escaped his notice. The Police Gazette sponsored everything from bicycle endurance feats to duck-egg eating contests. Thousands of championship and commemorative Police Gazette medals, belts, and trophies were produced and awarded. With its influence already felt in so many facets of today’s mass communication, the Guinness Book of World Records can also find a direct ancestor in the Gazette. Such was its interest in top achievement in a wide variety of human activities. For these, the Police Gazette served as the paper of record. Richard Fox promised readers the Gazette could settle any dispute when it came to questions of a sporting nature.
The National Police Gazette lasted for 132 years, publishing from 1845 to 1977, and produced 5,000 issues–one of the longest runs in American periodical history. Its heyday was the Fox years, from 1878 to 1922, with its greatest impact occurring in the first half of that remarkable run. The impact was so great that people alive at the time spoke of the influence the Gazette had on them years afterward. Franklin P. Adams, the famed newspaper columnist and Algonquin Round Table member, said “Women and Crime–that magic front-page partnership… interested and thrilled me…. Yes, I used to stare at those pictures, and so did all the boys that I knew.” Thomas Edison was said to have been a regular reader. Irving Berlin wrote a song about it called “The Girl on the Police Gazette.” In movies, cartoons, and even into the television era, when a character needed to be depicted reading a shocking magazine, it was usually the Police Gazette. And it still makes appearances today, most recently being featured in the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.
For news you’ll find hard to believe,
check out the site: www.policegazette.us
Talk to the boss:
William A. May, proprietor
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Cops & Robbers