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Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Past Shows


We Interrupt This Commercial

April 26, 2009

3P-024 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the twenty-fourth episode of Third Paradigm. Our title this week is "We Interrupt This Commercial." Radio and television have become long segments promoting a consumer lifestyle broken up by shorter explicit commercials about specific products. In the following piece, we'll look at a book called The Soap Opera Paradigm by James H. Wittebols. Wittebols illuminates the origins of marketing-driven media in the serial radio drama. Personally, I thought that radio and TV had always been entertainment sponsored by and for profit. My biggest surprise was finding out that wasn't the norm when radio and TV began. As we look at how our expectations for journalism and integrity have been lowered, it's notable that we the people wanted and recognized high quality before junk media, like junk food, hooked us on pre-digested bursts of quick sensations. Media is now the simple carbohydrate of the mind – empty calories fostering a lazy metabolism.

But first, I'd like to continue the conversation that we're having in the independent media. I picture this like a big long dinner table where the guests may disagree on strategy but respect each other and share the same goal. In a sense, it's a way of talking out loud to yourself, except through different people. This week, Democracy Now addressed one of my topics last week- how to define a human right. Senator Christine Kaufmann of Montana has introduced a bill to recognize healthcare as a universal human right. Amy asked her what she meant by that. She says it means "that it's something that's just part of what we get as citizens in this country." Excuse me, Christine, but universal and citizens of this country doesn't mean the same thing.

If something is a universal human right, all people in the world are entitled to it equally, not those who are citizens of one state or one country. In this sense, single-payer healthcare is as much a market-based solution as that of Senator Max Baucus, whose solution is to mandate insurance coverage. With single-payer, we, who live in a monied economy, would fund the exorbitant costs of healthcare and pharmaceuticals by raising taxes – socializing the cost, capitalizing the profit. We would also pay for litigation when we failed to extend lives as long as possible. I just got a notice that the schools are being driven to a 2% furlough next year and cutting? Learning Assistants, Reading Specialists, Library Assistants, Classroom? Materials, Arts Coordinators, Lifelab Instructors, Custodial time, and Office Machine maintenance. What else would we cut to fund healthcare?

There is another solution. What if we made the patenting of food or medicine illegal? What if we said that all knowledge beneficial to humanity could never be withheld in order to extract profit? Let's debunk intellectual property rights as colonizing the mind as the last frontier. Without Intellectual Property rights, South Africa could make its own anti-retrovirals and cures for yellow fever. Immunizations in the US would drop from $1000 to less than $100. Medical research would dry up but so what? Let's implement the cures we already have but don't produce. That would be consistent with medicine as a universal human right, not just for citizens of the empire. If we wanted to bring the cost of healthcare down, we could create an insurance that gave all unused funds each year to Partners in Health, NGO of the legendary Paul Farmer. That would make doctors and patients partners in creating profit that served humanity, who wanted quality of life, not to argue with God about the quantity.

[Paul Farmer – I believe in health care as a human right.]

It's not our right to be taken care of – it's our right to take care of ourselves without taking that right away from anyone else. I just heard homeless advocates and college students in Sacramento chanting that food, clothes, education, and shelter were human rights. They weren't asking for the land to be farmers, or the tools to produce clothes, or the material to build houses. No, these things appear of their own accord, dropped from the sky as human rights. This Earth Week, let's not insult those who work it, by saying the products of their labor are our right. I'll now read a poem by John O'Donohue called In Praise of the Earth.

In Praise of the Earth

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth.
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed's self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

~ John O'Donohue ~
From To Bless the Space Between Us

Donohue asks that we may awaken to live to the full the dream of the Earth. Last night I attended an event called Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream, put on by the Pachamama Alliance, which means Mother Earth in Quechua, the indigenous language of Ecuador. They showed an inspiring video with footage from Julia Butterfly Hill, Paul Hawken, Lynne and Bill Twist, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Desmond Tutu. It included excerpts from The Story of Stuff, the One Earth Wombat, and quotes from Vaclav Havel and Emerson. The audience was also impressive and included many people becoming familiar from these many meetings, motivational events, empowerment workshops, and rapport-building exercises. At this point, we know we're the ones we've been waiting for. But what's our strategy? For myself, I'm ready to put some flesh on this dream.

I've been incubating eggs for the last three weeks. As I told my friend that I was chalking it up to a learning experience because nothing was going to hatch, an egg cheeped! We now have nine rare-breed chicks at our house. Some have feathered feet and two have mullets. However, those puffballs that seem to be on top of their heads actually are their heads, which reminds me of Naomi Klein's recent newsletter, Brain Bubbles and Hope Hangovers. It's very funny. To continue her joke, I think I'll name my two brain bubble birds Larry Summers and Alan Greenspan.

But let's go back from brain bubbles to soap bubbles – The Soap Opera Paradigm, James H. Wittebols well-researched book on Television Programming and Corporate Priorities. I would say that it's also very entertaining, but I don't want to demean it. One of the points that fascinated me was about the early days of radio, subtitled "Who Owns the Airwaves?" It details how a US govt-corporate consortium – the Radio Corporation of America or RCA – secured a monopoly on all the patents for broadcast and reception. During WWI, the military maintained exclusive control over radio with sponsorships by its partners, United Fruit, GE, AT&T, and Westinghouse. But among the public there was general agreement that the airwaves were a resource to be managed for the common good, with strong representation by nonprofit, educational and spiritual interests. In 1925, over 240 college and noncommercial radio stations were operating, along with "amateur" radio operators.

In 1927, the Federal Radio Commission or FRC was established as a traffic cop for broadcast licenses. Their technical standards put many educational stations out of business, but radio was still mandated to serve "the public interest, convenience, and necessity." The debate between public and commercial came to a boil with the Hatfield-Wagner Amendment, which would have required that 25% of licenses be noncommercial, guaranteeing labor, church, farming and other civic interests part of the spectrum. Instead, the act that passed said that network owners would "study" the proposal. We all know how that ended.

Yet up until the late '70's, news was seen as a fulfillment of this mandate to serve the public interest. They weren't expected to be profit centers. CBS strove to be the NY Times of TV, with quality documentaries like Harvest of Shame about migrant workers, and The Selling of the Pentagon. Generally, the goal was to give news viewers what they needed to be citizens in a democracy, not necessarily what they wanted. CBS prohibited music, visual re-creations, news stories sympathetic to advertisers, and sensationalism. The Standards Handbook maintained, "This may make us a little less interesting to some, but that is the price we pay for dealing with fact and truth." Reuven Frank's book, Out of Thin Air, details the efforts made for substantive, in-depth reporting challenging the government, as Edward R. Murrow did, and powerful institutions and corporations.

Distinct from the news, back in the Great Depression, soap operas were designed to extend the broadcast day and sell detergent to homemakers. They were an advertiser's dream – inexpensive to produce, and not only carried ads but placed products in the story, featuring celebrity and actor endorsements. Soon, the programs themselves were produced by the ad agencies. It was cheap entertainment, a respite from the daily grind of making a living. This was relatively harmless, but the thesis of The Soap Opera Paradigm is that all programming has come to follow the model – starting with sports and leading to coverage of news, disasters, and primaries, not to mention prime-time and reality-TV.

What are the market-critical elements of soap operas? First, they're a serial narrative that uses teasers and cliffhangers to promote continued consumption of future episodes. Second, they have a real-time orientation, so time passes in the story and for the viewer at the same pace, mimicking reality. Third, they bring the viewer intimately into a community of surrogate friends. Fourth, the viewer is omniscient – is allowed inside the character's heads - the ultimate "in" with the in group. Lastly, they draw on three basic themes: interpersonal conflict and chaos, clearly-defined good and evil, and the "grand narrative" of all television, an upper-middle class worldview that hard work equals affluence, which is available to all. We'll now hear Mat Weddle of Obediah Parker doing an acoustic cover of the rap song Hey Ya. This was featured on the primetime soap Scrubs.

That was Mat Weddle doing a cover of the Outkast song Hey Ya, which I didn't especially like in its original version. However this one has reached cult status with almost 4 million views over the last week due to its use on Scrubs. The book was published in 2004, and so the examples are a little out of date, but I can fill in the blanks from my daughters. Along with Scrubs, their favorite soaps are Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and its spinoff, Private Practice, and old episodes of Friends. Soap Opera Paradigm says that 18 to 35 yr olds, and especially college students, are the most targeted demographic because they're entering high-income professions. They tend to watch together, and imagining and commenting on shows becomes a parasocial interaction as the program becomes an alternative to their own lives. However, I think the target audience is far younger – middle and High School-age girls, in particular. Kids living at home have the most influence over spending of any socio-economic group. High School students who work have no bills to pay, and can spend it all on luxury items.

There also seems to be a common theme between the shows that my girls like – a sense of inclusion and security. They all have the acerbic character you love to hate, since the witty put-down is the highest art form on TV. But otherwise, the characters never let anyone in their group slip through the cracks. There's a social safety net in TV soaps for girls, which contrasts with the mean streets of your average High School. By contrast, reality TV celebrates competition, acquisitiveness, and greed. In early examples of one called Big Brother, both the audience and participants worked to foster solidarity and cooperation in meeting the goal, choosing to thwart the producer's intent and share the prize money. The producers changed the rules, introducing hierarchy and arbitrary all-or-nothing prizes. They brought ex-lovers as participants, which they called the X-factor. Is this reality? Certainly it's a kind of reality shaped by the capitalism under which TV operates. In this sense, it holds a more accurate mirror up to society of how fear, jealousy, resentment, and conflict can be created against our better nature.

How did the news fare in this prime-time capitalist behind the scenes reality show? By 1988, pumping up the emotion, creating a sense of "being there," and emphasizing conflict between good and evil were common news tactics.

A dispassionate, analytic approach to the news didn't serve the bottom line. Local crime reporting increased while actual crime decreased, leading to feelings of greater insecurity. Infotainment played up the human interest stories while ignoring policies and context. One example is the reporting on natural disasters. Wittebols compares the Presidential visits to two floods in '82 and '97. In '82, the reporting is on the millions of dollars in aid that Reagan was there to okay, with barely a sound clip of him speaking. By '97, the emphasis is on Clinton's moral support to the victims. He gives vapid spiritual pep talks, and the media stands amazed that he takes the time to listen and sympathize. He praises the resiliency of the people, which has replaced statistics and funding for relief.

He also looks at a 2003 edition of Dateline, a typical example. The bulk of the 2-hours is a program called "Missing," and I'll quote from the opening segment:

"Her child simply vanished. Her two children disappeared. He lost his past. Tonight, they go in search of the missing…"She disappeared, like so many others, without a trace. Where did they go? Who would take them?"

It continues in this vein, titillating listeners with phrases like "a story of love and loss, espionage and intrigue. As parents, many of us fear our children being ripped away from us, from our homes and everything they know and love. For these families, that dark and primal nightmare came true."

You later find that this is a father who took his children back to Cuba, but who were returned by Fidel Castro. Stripped of the geopolitical context, what we learn from the news is that it's a scary, senseless world, and that's why insurance companies love to sponsor news.

For Third Paradigm, this has been Tereza Coraggio. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for music, production, and editing, and to James H. Wittebols for his enlightening book, The Soap Opera Paradigm. Our final song is "Words Can Save" Us from The Boy Bands Have Won

[Chumbawumba – Words Can Save Us]

Thanks for listening.