29 June 2018

You can be the media (if you want to)

Not too long ago, in these columns, I wrote about one of the most courageous human beings I’ve ever met: Geronimo Ja Jiga Pratt, one of the longest serving political prisoners in the United States of America. He served 27 years on trumped up charges. Tony, a friend from my days in the University of Southern California, a fellow dropout, (dare I say?) fellow-poet, a wanderer along word paths and moonlight-trace, and a remarkably well informed citizen of that country, had a comment.

‘Saw him speak at a rally in South Central LA years ago and the one thing that did strike me was the conspicuous lack of bitterness in his voice. But, just as a constant affirmation of how disreputable the US media is, not to mention the ‘un-justice’ system at large, it is still incredible that our glossy propaganda still works highly effectively on its intended objects, which includes passive observers, well-intentioned activists (and celebrities) and its actual administrators.

‘Talk to an average, young, formally educated African American today about Pratt’s false imprisonment (or even mainstream cats like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, for that matter) and the invariably dismissive attitudes speak volumes to the effectiveness of the continuing marginalization of ‘dissenting voices.’ Only now, the attack is carried out via the corporate funded and managed entertainment culture. Our politics has been effectively trivialized by the likes of American Idol and various other reality TV shows. Turning off the television (Kill Your TV!) and growing our own (organic) food, especially if it’s by way of urban guerrilla gardening (breaking up the concrete, seed bombing, etc), are two beginning counter-establishment and revolutionary measures that everyday people can use to stem the tide of an ever-present dystopian society and world.’

Spot on, as they say in the USA. The seedier side of that country rarely gets aired and doesn’t find itself into the mainstream movies which go a long way in constructing our perceptions of that country. I know of people who were told by friends when they set off to the USA for studies to be careful of black people. The misinformation industry is so effective that we still refer to that country as ‘America’, when in fact that name is applicable to two continents, stretching from Argentina to the northern most point in Canada.

Clubs in that country, when they win a trophy offered for a given sport, are routinely called ‘World Champions’. Most schoolchildren cannot mark the USA on a world map and that’s possibly because they are conditioned to think that ‘World’ and ‘America’ (yes, without the US part of the name) are synonyms or at least that the USA is such a power that other parts don’t and cannot count.

This is a country where political prisoners face multiple-decade jail terms. Judicial unfairness, get-tough-on-crime policies, guilty-until-proven-innocent mentalities, defense incompetence, racism and xenophobia (that country happily incarcerated thousands upon thousands of its own citizens because they were either born in or had ancestors in Japan - their ‘German’ counterparts were spared however) are hardly ever talked about by the holier-than-thou ladies and gentlemen in the US media industry, so ready to vilify anyone and everyone opposed to how Uncle Sam goes about doing business.

I’ve said this before but it needs to be said again. And again. The US prison-industrial complex is said to be one of that country’s fastest growing businesses and one which includes a private gulag, prisons for profit, with corporations running dozens of facilities housing tens of thousands of prisoners. The Wall Street Journal, no less, reveals that “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colours.”

There are over 2.4 million prisoners held in various facilities, at least 15 percent of that number estimated to be wrongfully convicted. I was surprised to learn that US prisons produce 100 percent of US military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. They also supply 98 percent of equipment assembly services, 93 percent of paints and paintbrushes, 92 percent of stove assemblies, 46 percent of body armour, 36 percent of home appliances, 30 percent of headphones, microphones and speakers, 21 percent of office furniture, and much more.

Bad news, friends, is made for under-the-carpet shoving. I mean, the really, really bad news. Bad news that embarrass but can be diverted into the accounts of individuals and not collectives or systems does get aired and perhaps this is why the wide-eyed about and in the USA believe that it is a functioning and vibrant democracy. It remains, however, as bad as it was when Malcolm X famously opined in the early sixties: ‘US democracy is actually hypocrisy and as for the “American Dream”, it is in reality a nightmare’.

Is this a USA-disease, though? Tony’s comment is valid for other parts of the world as well, other ‘democracies’ and ‘sunshine places’. There is a reason why pickpockets and pickpocketing make the headlines but corporate crooks and crookedness rarely does. The latter have the bucks and connections; they boost the advertising revenue of those who might undress them and routinely fund political campaigns to make sure they have adequate cover by way of political insurance.

The truth comes channelled, if it ever does. If we are not alert or critical, we would take things at face value, not realizing that half-baked is the standard. I return again and again to that brilliant tagline of the radical communications outfit Indy Media, which came into prominent during the anti-WTO protests in November 1999: Be the media.

We are all communicators. We pass information around. We absorb information. We reflect and synthesize. We might as well go about it seriously. We might as well pinch ‘given’ truth, dig deeper than expected of us, break silence and shout, and if that’s too loud for comfort, whisper!

If you are not willing to read between the lines and still want to be informed, you can stop buying newspapers. The same goes for television and radio. You don’t have to ruin the pavement if it unsettles aesthetic sensitivity, but you can most certainly grow things in your garden or apartment, for there is ‘Guerilla Gardening’ and ‘Urban Agriculture’ too. You can ‘google’, and if you are smart you’ll realize that search engines are also structured mechanisms for misinformation. You can therefore ‘scroll down’, or go to the 6th ‘o’ in goooooogle or even further away from ‘main page’. Being the media is hard work. It is fun, though. I would say ‘probably necessary’ in this Age of Communications.

[first published in the 'Daily News' on June 28, 2011]