Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Noam Chomsky

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In Manufacturing Consent, Herman and Chomsky present an outdated and flawed thesis asserting government and corporate control over mass media to promote a right-wing agenda, yet still make some valid points regarding propaganda in the media. By cherry-picking a handful of egregious media missteps related to foreign policy, the authors hope to convince readers of the media's complicity in pushing a right-wing corporate/government agenda to deceive the American public.

One problem with all this stems from the book having been written in the late 1980's and only lightly revised in 2000. Hence, the text does not include the media's eight year vilification of George W. Bush's domestic and foreign policy, and its incessant love affair with Barack Obama's leftist agenda. Thus the perspective the book offers on the media seems dated, as the three examples given - Central America, Vietnam, the Bulgarian Connection - arise from a different political era. As for media reporting on domestic issues, the book takes a complete pass.

Furthermore, the underlying premise of Herman and Chomsky is one that deserves more critical examination than is given in the book. This is not that media serves to spread propaganda. Rather, the book's underlying assumption is that the media is right-wing in nature because media outlets are owned and controlled by corporations. Although asserted, no proof is given in the text. However, one can easily conclude this is fallacious based on contributions by corporations to both political parties. Corporations are profit driven and there are just as many left-wing corporate heads as there are right-wing, if political contributions are any indicator.

Additionally, the text of Manufacturing Consent has the appearance of a scholarly work, but a careful reading reveals it doesn't measure up. End notes are sporadic, though numerous. There are many assertions of opinion in the text which are not supported in the text or by any end notes. In some instances where an assertion has a note, the note is just another assertion, with no reference. In some other instances, the authors reference unpublished works, which is as good as no reference at all. Apparently, the authors think the readers should simply trust them.

Despite all of this, Herman and Chomsky do make a convincing case. One should be skeptical of the media - just not for the base reasons the authors cite. Coming from as far left as Herman and Chomsky must be, it is not too much of a stretch to understand their warped view of the media as right-wing. Considered from a more inclusive and centrist lens, however, one still can accept the propaganda model they propose, but from a more balanced perspective.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Peter Gay's Modernism: The Lure of a Selective Survey

Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and BeyondModernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond by Peter Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is of the first edition of Modernism.

Peter Gay provides a sweeping survey of the artistic revolution after which the book is named. It is a fascinating account for anyone interested in artistic development from the mid 19th century on into the late 20th.

What may be more intriguing, however, are what Gay chooses to leave out of the survey. While we get profiles of composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg, there is absolutely no mention of Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and others. Jazz is completely absent, an odd exclusion, considering the art form had a tremendous impact on 20th century popular music. So, why feature pop artists, such as Andy Warhol, but no pop musicians?

Also, why does Gay focus on some rather obscure personalities (Charles Ives, for example, who, rather oddly, as Gay goes to great lengths to point out, characterizes other composers as "pussies"), when the influence of these lesser known figures is certainly limited? One can only assume Gay had some reason, but his justifications for these choices are questionable in light of overall influence when compared to more noteworthy artists.

There are also editing issues and Gay's ponderous and convoluted writing style gets, well, tedious, at times. Other than that, the book is interesting and at times, entertaining. Modernism is a good, albeit limited, overview of a revolutionary shift in the arts.

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