Our American-Corporate Culture Machine

April 30, 2007

Conservative America is always decrying the constant stream of sex and violence which is part and parcel of American media. And they are on to something. The major media corporations in this country control and manufacture American culture. Now, this isn’t new and has been critiqued since the founding of the Frankfurt school, but as the scale and power of the American Culture Machine is currently unprecedented in our history it deserves continued attention.

What the recent Don Imus affair illustrated was how integral major media corporations are to the dissemination and propagation of American culture. Most black-Americans didn’t know who Don Imus was before his scandal and indeed many still don’t. This is because bigots like Imus, Hannity and O’Reilly are never speaking to or heard by most of black America. That population, especially black youth, are targeted by an entirely different sector of the corporate media-entertainment complex: hip-hop.

In this country life imitates art. Corporate manufactured popular culture is the single strongest influence in this society and hip-hop is one of its mainstays. Every child I know can sing the lyrics to a whole host of songs which promote misogyny, racial pigeonholing and violent machismo. But where are these songs coming from? Leaders in the industry like Russell Simmons continue to claim that this trend is a reaction to real conditions on the street and in the American ghetto. If so, then where is the legitimate social commentary, the outrage? If this music is a product of the black American ghetto – an environment created by 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow – why is this never explicitly dealt with in mainstream rap? It is on the tip of everyone’s tong in black communities across America, but receives no attention from those who are supposedly reflecting the black-American condition.

Last year, on the eve of Louis Farrakhan’s “Million More March,” South East Washington, DC – a highly segregated, all black area – was littered with signs calling for the payment of reparations to black-Americans. Why isn’t this reflected in the popular hip-hop which dominates our airwaves? Before we answer this question, it is important to note that this is not the fault of the artistic community. There are voices which reflect a wide variety of sentiments, but only a sliver of the spectrum is picked up by major American media. For obvious reasons, corporations are interested in signing and promoting artists who appeal to suburban white teenagers, something which authentic voices addressing conditions in the American ghetto would be unable to offer.

What are we to do then? Should the government regulate misogynistic, racist or violent material? US regulation of music and culture is the last thing we need. But we do need more diverse voices. The only way we will see more female, revolutionary or angry voices, however, is if we vote with our dollars. The music industry is in the midst of a radical transformation, but will there be space in the new, internet era of music for voices which champion justice and peace? Yes, but only if we stop worshiping and buying the albums of those who – while claiming to address what is “real” – only pollute our culture with homophobia, chauvinism and violence.

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One Response to “Our American-Corporate Culture Machine”

  1. jed Says:

    sadly, i would argue that the mere reality of the commodification of art and the marketing and advertising which is used to paint its imageand inject it with cultural meaning is what makes it impossible for art, especially mass produced and distributed art, to ever take hold in any true reality of the socioeconomic conditions of the oppressed.


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