Comcast (through merger with GE/NBC/Universal), Viacom, Disney (who now controls most of Newscorp/Fox’s media), CBS, and Time Warner currently control 90% of American media. This media oligopoly is more dangerous than we often give it credit for. These five companies exert incredible power over our modern political landscape. (They are responsible for things like the DMCA, and the TPP, EME, and today’s Net Neutrality decision, in addition to our ever increasing copyright terms.)
They collectively control so much of our political and economic landscape that it’s difficult to effectively understand, or begin to trace, the breadth of their influence. And that’s without stopping to consider how much the media we consume can shape our views. It’s hard to believe that the near constant coverage of President Trump in the months before the election didn’t influence his performance in the election.
We are constantly bombarded with entertainment and news media from these five companies, to the point that it is nigh inescapable. Even if the companies that feed us our news and entertainment were benign (and, don’t kid yourself, they aren’t), it would be nearly impossible to keep their biases out of our media. Simply put, we cannot afford to have such a vital part of our society controled by so few.
If we’re ever going to actually effect social change, we’re going to need to provide home grown, community alternatives to the media produced by the entrenched power structures represented by these mega-corporations. We need to hit them at their bottom line, which means creating (and consuming) compelling community TV, Film, Games, Prose, Music, and other art.
Many are already working towards these goals, and we should support them. Others are considering embarking on path towards DIY media. We must encourage and support them. As consumers, we must actively support the creators who choose to work independently.
See, it’s like this: When we buy stuff from major corporations, we transfer money (and therefore power) out of our local communities, and in to the pockets of CEOs and shareholders. When we make stuff, or buy stuff from our communties, that wealth (and power) stays within our communities.
Until recently, there were economic and logistic obstacles that prevented comunties from providing the same kind of Community alternatives for most kinds of media. Thankfully, this is no longer true.
Kids in their bedrooms can record and produce an album that sounds “professional” with a few hundred dollars worth of gear, or record an album that sounds “good enough” with a smartphone or a laptop and some free software. Countless news stories of the last few years broke on Twitter, or Facebook thanks to a citizen journalist and their smartphone. There have been many TV show style series released on the web, from amatuers and professionals alike.
People are making their own media, and that’s awesome.
For the first time in the history of mass broadcasting, anyone can reach an audience of millions. (Sure, at the moment, we largely rely on corporate behemoths like Google and Facebook to do it, but the DIY Tech movement is well underway with decentralized services like Mastodon going strong, and new platforms being developed every day.)
The products of modern hobbyists can rival and surpass the output of media conglomerates both in terms of quality and consumption in nearly every field. In fact, with the exception of a couple of NPR or BBC endeavours, most successful modern podcasts/audio dramas are community-centered productions.
At this point, I feel like the act of creating media outside of the control of a multi-million dollar corporation is a radical act in and of itself.
Media controls our perception of reality. Current media companies are monopolistically huge, and thanks to modern copyright law they exert undue control over the figures of our modern folklore
Studies have shown time and again that when people experience fiction about people, they identify and empathize with those people.
We experience the world through our media. We use it to contextualize and understand our environment. When the most popular TV shows and Movies are about renegade cops and violent vigilantes that take the law in to their own hands, we internalize and normalize that.
We have to control our own media.
The bit I mentioned about copyright before is why the Creative Commons foundation is so important. Copyright reform might be a defining battle of our age, but we can skip it by embracing CC.
I currently view independent media production and distribution as among the most significant and necessary acts of protest available to regular folks.
This was the message Punk was supposed to teach us, before it got co-opted by shitty white supremacists, and people so afraid of teenage girls that they burned down the whole institution.
We gotta make our own stuff, even if it’s garbage. But beyond that, we gotta support one another when we make stuff. A lot of Punk (and a lot of late 60s/early 70s Jazz) was recorded on potatoes, basically. It was of “low quality” compared to the output from the major labels of the era.
But it was also radical and revolutionary, and some of it unquestionably changed the face of modern music.
So, what I’m saying here, is don’t worry if your stuff is “good.”
Make it. Get it in the world. Share it.
Support One Another!
So, what can you do? You can make things. You can consume things. You can seek out independent media, and support it (by paying the creators, and spreading the word.) You can get off Facebook, and join something community run.
Right now, the DIY media community is just beginning to stretch it’s legs. We have found what appears to be a viable funding model through services like Kickstarter and Patreon, though these are not without fault. We are building the communication channels needed to enable solid Content Discovery (though this is still the largest problem facing the community today.)
So, consumers of media, I encourage you to intentionally seek out experiences that weren’t designed by one of the major players, and support community creators financially when possible.
Hop on Bandcamp and listen to music that was recorded in someone’s bedroom. Seek out independently produced films on Youtube. Go watch something out of the Public Domain. Listen to a podcast. Enjoy some fanfiction. Play some Indie computer games (no really), or read some independently published novels. Actively and intentionaly spend even a small portion of your media budget on something that wasn’t produced by one of the big 5.
And Creators: Keep making weird, wonderful stuff. Every piece of media created outside the sphere of influence of the big 5 is an act of protest. Keep fighting the good fight.
The effects, while slow to start, will snowball. If we work together, and support one another, we can break the hold this oligopoly has on our media. We can take our culture back.
If you make something, Tell me About it so I can tell others!
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