Faux Popular Democracy in Capitalism’s Mediation of Merger Mania

Or, Why AOL Is a Perfect Huff-Po Partner That Is Horrible for Majority Rule

In this first of a five unit series—intro and conclusion plus three body parts–giving credit where credit is due is a good way to start.  Arianna Huffington’s How to Overthrow the Government performs a valuable service for anybody who both believes in popular empowerment and has an inkling that the rule-of-the-rich has gone too far.  The book offers at least a modicum of clear and apt guidance to those who would foment or fuel an uprising from below.

The likes of this humble correspondent would vociferously suggest that ‘the book doesn’t go nearly far enough.’  Less charitable, and equally historically and socio-economically aware, critics have argued that, analytically and conceptually, the volume is at best irritatingly cautious and generally vapid.  Nevertheless, the work offers some useful advice to those who want to return socially democratic political action to the grassroots.  At least it conceives of public engagement as a necessary predecessor of political change.

That said, the just-announced merger of Huffington Post and America Online is an entirely different kettle of fish.  Many honestly and erstwhile ‘progressive’ and ‘leftist’ commentators are celebrating this joining, or at least, giving it a ‘wait-and-see’ nod.

The only certain thing is that the writers and participants who have built Huffington Post won’t see a slender cent from among the thirty billion pennies, or billion and a half pennies in stock, that change hands in this bargain.  Several already wealthy people, whose political and ‘strategic’ leadership have, for better or worse, guided the site, will, on the other hand make out like proverbial bandits.

The idea that this $315 million conjunction, much to the benefit of Ms. Huffington’s coffers, might also represent ‘progress’ or be in the best interest of the ‘left’ arguably has much more to say about the deficiencies that attend the language of political description in the United States than it does with any rationally defensible consideration about promoting the needs of common people.  The notion that this is in the popular interest also speaks volumes about the lack of class leadership among working people, who prove willing all too often to rely on the likes of a rich globe-trotting fashion moll with the opportunistic instincts of a coyote.

‘Liberals’ also cozy up to hyper-imperialists such as Hilary Clinton, or so some would say; ‘progressives’ commonly make common cause with Barack-the-Magnificent, whose wars will soon eclipse those of his predecessor; the ‘left’ is a hodgepodge collection of folks who a lot of times are trying to avoid the label that is at least honestly descriptive, that of socialist, or social-democrat.

This humble correspondent considers himself ‘progressive,’ and he’ll only squirm and grit his teeth at the nearly meaningless moniker of ‘leftist.’  However, he is avowedly and unabashedly socialistic in his approach and his analytical proclivities.  He has no problem noticing an obvious fact: without some sort of struggle for social and economic democracy, the worlds working people face further devastation and possible annihilation.

And in this vein, the marriage of the modern defense and imperial establishment, in the form of America Online, with a fetishized, paltry, petty-bourgeois liberalism, in the form of Huffington Post, accomplishes a perfect union from the perspective of ‘free-market’, ‘free-enterprise’ fraud-mongers. As such, the following prediction makes sense: it will turn out to be a disaster for working people, for those who care about more than political labels and actually worry about substance.

One way or another, the lack of class leadership, and the explicit embrace of both imperial ideation and bourgeois marketing and markets, will mean at best ‘friendly’ misleadership for the average people of the planet who are suffering one body-blow after another to any hope that a ‘middle-class’ life will be even a credible fantasy.  One would have to acknowledge, at least as a possibility, that the time for a media of the people, by the people, and for the people is long overdue.

Such an admission ought then to portend a serious effort in such a direction.  Whether folks are, even now, ready to admit the obvious–‘But mommy, the king has nothing on!!–and whether, even now, such an acknowledgment will yield the radical, populist upsurge that recognition ought to call forth, remains to be seen.

For this humble correspondent, the remainder of the present introduction merely contextualizes, all too quickly, the historical and conceptual nature of the media marriage that has just transpired.  A four-piece unit on AOL’s background follows over the next few weeks, more or less.  Then, a three-chapter unit appears about Arianna Huffington and her love-child at Huff-Po.  A long single take on the merger itself will appear at that juncture, to complete the third substantive unit of this five-part series.  Finally, a conclusion will show up that, in the light of the insights and ideation of the intervening reporting and analysis, returns to some of the issues raised in today’s introductory paragraphs

A Far-Too-Brief Background Precis of the News Media Context From Which this ‘New Media’ Deal Has Devolved

People who fancy themselves media-literate, or even who believe that following the news is important, have a duty to understand how in the world the media that we take for granted has transmogrified to become the apparent digital phantasmagoria that it is today.  This is neither the time nor the place to go into copious detail.  On the other hand, readers may rest assured that more detail will be forthcoming.

For now, this humble correspondent proposes that people consider one simple fact: media springs from the rich dirt of politics like magic mushrooms pop up from cow dung.  Ever since the creation of the secret, and sacred, codes that underlay the first written forms, publication has been a battlefield; the priestly and royal control–extended imperiously–always met a challenge from below, in the form of vernacular articulations of one sort or another.

Need one consider such arcane interpretations of such facts as Derrida‘s “The Mystical Foundations of Authority?”  Or perhaps a more straightforward recollection, that law–the legitimation of force in favor of some stated ‘State,’ heretofore unheard of without social class divisions–is nothing without the capacity to record and annotate it, would serve as a ‘wake-up call’ about media’s social reality.  No matter what, from the ‘dawn of history,’ or text, as it were, the connection between writing and rule is unbreakable.

In any event, much more recently, since Gutenberg, for instance, every communication medium’s technological development and social deployment has entailed this combative dialectic.  The Bible may have been Johann’s first big project, but not too long afterward, the press itself helped Martin Luther affix his challenge to various posting places.

Thus, a pattern emerged that has, quite plausibly, come to stand for a central trait of capitalist evolution.  Put most simply, defining struggles over meaning, knowledge, and power all intersected with and emanated from the powers of technology and labor that inhered in the conglomeration of recorded speech and the media for presenting it; advantages in this contest, almost universally in the form of successful–or replicable–networks and paradigms that reached expanding ‘publics,’ served to influence, and often to determine, social, political, and economic outcomes.

For all of its frequent flaws of glaring bourgeois bias, Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications offers pupils of these matters a relatively elegant empirical bedrock for supporting the above conclusion.  From the concomitant downfall of strict censorship and the censorious Stuarts, to the simultaneous libertine upsurge of colonial textuality–newsy and both globally and locally aware–and a persistent rebellion, to the dialectically intertwined manifestation of knowledge, distribution, and publication forms that have seesawed their way through American history, this characterization of mediation seems, at least, reasonable.

The nearly universal initiation, co-optation, or capture of news-and-publishing outlets by the rising bourgeoisie took many forms.  However, this humble correspondent would insist that folks apprehend the undeniable veracity of the proposition that we have not come to today’s seemingly unstoppable effusion of hyper-monopoly in any other fashion than step-by-step, following original inclinations to their logical and predictable ends.

This is corroborated whether one adopts a biographical approach–from Horace Greely’s faux-Horatio-Alger-garnering of capitalist backing, to Hearst’s gold-mining, and gold-digging, parentage, and beyond, to the Luces, the Paleys and so forth and so on–to ascertaining information networks, or whether one prefers to examine the way that business and regulatory structures favor particular organization forms over others, or whether one chooses different, more intellectual and ideational formulations.  The history of media in America is, practically speaking–‘Citizen-Kane’ gossipy details notwithstanding, indistinguishable from the history of capitalism in America.

Advertising and marketing and propaganda together confirm this.  Power-politics and the specifics of character assassination and the sway of secrecy demonstrate this.  The opportunistic inclusion or exclusion of access to ‘legitimate’ or ‘unacceptable’ publics combine with criminal and civil media law again and again to prove this.

Forthcoming investigation will delve more deeply into the political economic and historical background that underpins the current media conundrums that afflict citizens.  The point of both this explication and what is to come is simple: in the realm of AOL’s conjunction with Huff-Po, such a conceptual, historical, and political-economic framework is critical to any understanding that is richer and deeper than either a ‘follow-the-yellow-brick-road’ optimism or a ‘lions-and-tigers-and-bears’ sense of panic.

Readers might want to stay tuned and remember the words of Betty Davis.  “Fasten your seat-belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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