?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

"Story of Stuff" vs "Citizens United"

Via the Story of Stuff's Facebook feed, I got a request to blow 40 minutes of my (admittedly copious) free time watching a selection of YouTube videos that came out after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that legislated from the bench that corporations have a First Amendment guaranteed right to spend as much money as they want on political campaign advertising at all times, including in the last few days before an election. I had nothing better to do, so I figured what the heck, as much value as Anne Leonard has donated to my life, I can spare her 40 minutes.

As I start to write this, I'm about halfway through ... and I feel my brain liquefying and running out of my ears.

And I'll tell you why: here are about a dozen or more supposed experts on the subject, both in favor of and against the Citizens United decision, and after almost half an hour of talking nobody's talking about the real issue here. They're talking about straw men like censorship, or alleged buying of votes in exchange for campaign donations, and they're not talking about the only vote that has been bought by corporations:

Yours.

The elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about is the fact that the second most powerful decider of every election that's been held in this country since I was a child in the early 1960s is the 15 second broadcast television advertisement. And the most powerful decider (the basic likability of the candidate, their ability to seem like nice people when in public) is not one that's at stake here.

Now, if you're reading this blog entry, the odds are that you're not actually one of the people I'm talking about. On the other hand, if you're actually reading this blog entry, the odds are just as good that you feel like you have little or no voice in our elections, that you've been frustrated for your entire life by the fact that the voters who matter, the voters who decide the election, seem to be making their decision as to who to vote for in total ignorance of even the basic facts about the parties, about the candidates, about the policies being advocated. And you're right. In every statewide or federal election since the 1960s, the most reliable predictor of which candidate will win is which candidate was able to place the largest number of 15 second television advertisements. Period.

Sure, some ads do more harm than good, and some candidates have a hard time looking good in their ads, and some can never get it right. And once or twice per decade, somewhere in America, there have been gifted politicians who've won the old fashioned way, without depending on saturation bombing campaigns of TV ads. But probably in excess of 90% of the people who show up at the polling places on election day based their entire collective impression of each candidate off of nothing but 15 second campaign TV ads. As long as that remains true, then running campaign television ads is like taking swings at a pinata full of ill-informed voters to see who can knock the most of them out of it. Only the tiny handful of candidates who are so inept at swinging at the pinata that no matter how many swings they take they can't hit it, and only the even tinier handful of candidates who are so good at swinging at the pinata that they only need one swing, are exempt from this basic math: the person who gets the most swings at the pinata is the one who'll get the candy.

The result is not a Congress or a statehouse or a White House that can be bought. The result is 50 statehouses, a Congress, and a White House who don't need to be bought, because all of the candidates who were even willing to consider occasionally voting against the interests of the Fortune 500 and the Forbes 400* were massively out-spent on 15-second broadcast television advertisements. Out of any given pool of candidates, the one or two that the wealthiest individuals and the wealthiest corporations in the world personally trust to see the world their way will be given 9 or 10 chances to puff themselves up, 9 or 10 chances to smear mud on the other guy, for every 1 chance that any of the less-reliably pro-corporation candidates get, and study after study has shown that with enough repetition, you can convince almost anybody of almost anything.

By the time I got to the end of this essay, the videos were done, and still, nobody had said word one about this simple fact: almost the only form of political activity that has mattered since the 1960s is the running of 15-second broadcast television political campaign advertisements, and those are (a) prohibitively expensive and (b) to some extent, auctioned.

I love Anne Leonard's videos to date, and I wish everybody in America would watch them. But I can't get past this fact: before she made "The Story of Stuff" and its sequels like "The Story of Bottled Water" and "The Story of Cap and Trade" and "The Story of Cosmetics," she spent her entire adult lifetime to date studying the materials economy. By comparison, she's spent mere months studying American electoral politics; I don't really have a whole lot of confidence that when her next video comes out, it'll reflect the same level of insight as what she brought to the extraction to production to sale to consumption to disposal economy.


* P.S. It was in the news, yesterday, that over 40 million Americans are now living in poverty. There are only 400 people on the Forbes 400 list. Even with one hundred thousand poor people's votes for every one ultra-rich person's vote, the ultra-rich people's preferred candidates win every election. As my old friend the_geoffrey used to say, "Coincidence? Or ancient astronauts?"

Tags:

Comments

( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
teflonspyder
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
So if you want to make a significant change in national government policy you've got to come into it with an absolutely unholy amount of financial backing. The Paulsies tried that last election, but even knowing what to do they just couldn't hold a candle to the real players. Cash-to-enthusiasm only converts in the one direction as far as elections are concerned.

Also you really nailed it with the 15-second ads; even persons with strong media presence prior to a run haven't been able to make a dent without commercial support.
pope_guilty
Sep. 27th, 2010 08:52 am (UTC)
It didn't help that Ron Paul is unfiltered batshit crazy.
(no subject) - teflonspyder - Sep. 27th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
mikazo
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC)
I don't wish to change the original subject, but do you suppose that alternative voting would change any of this? In Minneapolis now, you can vote for three candidates in order of preference. The point is apparently to support voting for third-party candidates. Perhaps people would be more inclined to vote in a manner less influenced by corporate advertising if they could put their favorite corporate candidate as their second choice instead of only being able to vote for him or her?
bradhicks
Sep. 17th, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
As long as the conversation is driven by 15 second sound-bites, and which sound-bites a decisive number of the voters believe are determined by the rate of repetition, how could that affect the outcome? Once in a very rare while it might get a candidate out of the primaries and to the nomination who was less corporate funded, but what then stops the corporations and the hyper-rich from picking the friendlier (to them) candidate of the three and smearing the other two, or the other six, 9 times an hour for all four hours of television a night the average voter watches?
(no subject) - peristaltor - Sep. 18th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
jonathankorman
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
This unhappy observation reminds me of an old favourite: Teresa Neilsen Hayden's essay Common Fraud which contains the horrifying observation that deceiving us has become an industrial process.
captain_swing
Sep. 18th, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)
Interesting links. They remind me of the the point Phil Agre constantly repeated on his Red Rock Eater mailing list; that properly debunking slick industrial sophistry requires substantially more time and effort than its consumption.
(no subject) - jonathankorman - Sep. 20th, 2010 04:04 am (UTC) - Expand
tacky_tramp
Sep. 17th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
This is part of my starry-eyed motivation for going into education: increasing media literacy may help average people be less susceptible to advertising manipulation, and more able to make thoughtful political decisions based on the facts and their values and priorities. But that's about as long-term a goal as turning public opinion away from unfettered campaign spending, and it would encounter just as much resistance.
peristaltor
Sep. 17th, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
. . . the most reliable predictor of which candidate will win is which candidate was able to place the largest number of 15 second television advertisements. Period.

While I don't doubt it at all, I've never seen it stated more boldly. Do you by any chance have a source to back that assertion?
snowcalla
Sep. 18th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
With the advent of TiVo and other such tools (such as streaming TV from internet), I doubt this is the case any longer, if it was to begin with. Especially with younger vewers (under 50), people tape shows, or watch them on the internet, and skip the commercials. I work in advertising sales and let me tell you, my friends in broadcast ad sales are unhappy campers.

This isn't to say that TV (and other advertising) doesn't have an effect on who people vote for. It certainly does! But when people are asked what influences their opinion the most - Friends and family - by about 90%. Advertising is down around the 20-50% (depending on medium) with TV ads being nearer the 20% mark and a candidate's official website closer to 50%. News reports are at about 70%.
(no subject) - peristaltor - Sep. 18th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - krinndnz - Sep. 18th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
simulated_knave
Sep. 18th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
That's...that's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
(no subject) - peristaltor - Sep. 18th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - krinndnz - Sep. 18th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
kimchalister
Sep. 18th, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
Well, my partner tells me that television is dying. Not fast enough....
silveradept
Sep. 18th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
Perhaps this is my jaded media-savvy talking, but that seems pretty obvious from where I'm sitting. Which is probably the point - to most people, the ones likely to be influenced by that kind of thing, this kind of knowledge would be a surprise to them.

And then they'd deny it was true. "I'm an informed voter! I make decisions based on issues, not campaign spots. I'm reading and watching and I'm media-savvy! I watch a little CNN with my Fox (or with my MSNBC, depending.) I'm informed!"
bradhicks
Sep. 18th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
Yeah. One of the biggest lies that the American people tell themselves, in order to get through their day with any self-respect, is "advertising doesn't work on me."
(no subject) - porysski - Sep. 19th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - siege - Sep. 19th, 2010 02:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - teflonspyder - Sep. 19th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - naath - Sep. 20th, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
pingback_bot
Sep. 19th, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
Sitting on this one for far too long - 16-18 September 2010
User silveradept referenced to your post from Sitting on this one for far too long - 16-18 September 2010 saying: [...] the zone targeted by an atomic explosion, a bank vault may actually protect you from the initial blast. Meaning that the Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith may not be entirely fiction. Hiding in the refrigerator, however, is still right out.

Edwin Newman, long time correspondent for NBC news, arrives in the Dead Pool at 91 years of age.

Also, since most of your are Internet-savvy, check out the explanation of several myths of copyright. Especially for the mash-up artists in here, it's worth a look.

Out in the world today, The United Nations has indicated that it may be sending a special inspection to Syria to detemine the truth of that country's nuclear ambitions. Iran came to the defense of Syria, accusing the UN of acting as Israeli pawns in taking false allegations seriously.

Senator Cornyn continues to push for the Justice Department to show that the states are actually in compliance with the laws regarding active servicepeople being able to vote in elections in their home states. Setting aside the validity of his challenge, as disenfranchisement should be stomped out everywhere it is, I wonder if this big push isn't concidental with the fact that we have significant numbers of people overseas that could influence elections if their votes get back in time to be counted.

One hiker home, two more to go, with the possibility that the other hikers might be used as chips to trade Iranians rather than to let them out on their own.

So, the Pope's going out on a tour. Remember, this is the Pope that, as a cardinal, worked against the defrocking of a priest that was convicted of abusing children, delaying his dismissal for almost six years after conviction. Now, as Pope, he's apologetic the church fathers didn't take appropriate measures fast enough - in this context, it sound like he's apologizing that the cover-ups didn't come faster and weren't effective enough. In his remarks in Scotland, to the Queen, the Pontiff decided to disavow the Christianity of Adolf Hitler and complain that atheists are forcing their views on the rest of us and diminishing us all as a result.

Domestically, a pertussis epidemic has claimed nine children so far, with the root cause likely being a lack of vaccinations. Nine children have died from a preventable disease. And there is no sound science to indicate that vaccinations are somehow responsible for anything other than keeping children from dying from preventable diseases.

Comedian Rush Limbaugh commits the first error of middle school research in broadcasting untrue material on Wikipedia without making independent confirmation first. This is the stuff the librarians drill into your head as Reseach 001, Rush - how do you expect anyone to take you seriously after a basic blunder like that?

...then agaaain...considering that the most accurate indicator of how an election turns out is how many television campaign ads are run [...]
pingback_bot
Sep. 19th, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
Sitting on this one for far too long - 16-18 September 2010
User silveradept referenced to your post from Sitting on this one for far too long - 16-18 September 2010 saying: [...] the zone targeted by an atomic explosion, a bank vault may actually protect you from the initial blast. Meaning that the Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith may not be entirely fiction. Hiding in the refrigerator, however, is still right out.

Edwin Newman, long time correspondent for NBC news, arrives in the Dead Pool at 91 years of age.

Also, since most of your are Internet-savvy, check out the explanation of several myths of copyright. Especially for the mash-up artists in here, it's worth a look.

Out in the world today, The United Nations has indicated that it may be sending a special inspection to Syria to detemine the truth of that country's nuclear ambitions. Iran came to the defense of Syria, accusing the UN of acting as Israeli pawns in taking false allegations seriously.

Senator Cornyn continues to push for the Justice Department to show that the states are actually in compliance with the laws regarding active servicepeople being able to vote in elections in their home states. Setting aside the validity of his challenge, as disenfranchisement should be stomped out everywhere it is, I wonder if this big push isn't concidental with the fact that we have significant numbers of people overseas that could influence elections if their votes get back in time to be counted.

One hiker home, two more to go, with the possibility that the other hikers might be used as chips to trade Iranians rather than to let them out on their own.

So, the Pope's going out on a tour. Remember, this is the Pope that, as a cardinal, worked against the defrocking of a priest that was convicted of abusing children, delaying his dismissal for almost six years after conviction. Now, as Pope, he's apologetic the church fathers didn't take appropriate measures fast enough - in this context, it sound like he's apologizing that the cover-ups didn't come faster and weren't effective enough. In his remarks in Scotland, to the Queen, the Pontiff decided to disavow the Christianity of Adolf Hitler and complain that atheists are forcing their views on the rest of us and diminishing us all as a result.

Domestically, a pertussis epidemic has claimed nine children so far, with the root cause likely being a lack of vaccinations. Nine children have died from a preventable disease. And there is no sound science to indicate that vaccinations are somehow responsible for anything other than keeping children from dying from preventable diseases.

Comedian Rush Limbaugh commits the first error of middle school research in broadcasting untrue material on Wikipedia without making independent confirmation first. This is the stuff the librarians drill into your head as Reseach 001, Rush - how do you expect anyone to take you seriously after a basic blunder like that?

...then agaaain...considering that the most accurate indicator of how an election turns out is how many television campaign ads are run [...]
pingback_bot
Sep. 19th, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
Sitting on this one for far too long - 16-18 September 2010
User silveradept referenced to your post from Sitting on this one for far too long - 16-18 September 2010 saying: [...] the zone targeted by an atomic explosion, a bank vault may actually protect you from the initial blast. Meaning that the Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith may not be entirely fiction. Hiding in the refrigerator, however, is still right out.

Edwin Newman, long time correspondent for NBC news, arrives in the Dead Pool at 91 years of age.

Also, since most of your are Internet-savvy, check out the explanation of several myths of copyright. Especially for the mash-up artists in here, it's worth a look.

Out in the world today, The United Nations has indicated that it may be sending a special inspection to Syria to detemine the truth of that country's nuclear ambitions. Iran came to the defense of Syria, accusing the UN of acting as Israeli pawns in taking false allegations seriously.

Senator Cornyn continues to push for the Justice Department to show that the states are actually in compliance with the laws regarding active servicepeople being able to vote in elections in their home states. Setting aside the validity of his challenge, as disenfranchisement should be stomped out everywhere it is, I wonder if this big push isn't concidental with the fact that we have significant numbers of people overseas that could influence elections if their votes get back in time to be counted.

One hiker home, two more to go, with the possibility that the other hikers might be used as chips to trade Iranians rather than to let them out on their own.

So, the Pope's going out on a tour. Remember, this is the Pope that, as a cardinal, worked against the defrocking of a priest that was convicted of abusing children, delaying his dismissal for almost six years after conviction. Now, as Pope, he's apologetic the church fathers didn't take appropriate measures fast enough - in this context, it sound like he's apologizing that the cover-ups didn't come faster and weren't effective enough. In his remarks in Scotland, to the Queen, the Pontiff decided to disavow the Christianity of Adolf Hitler and complain that atheists are forcing their views on the rest of us and diminishing us all as a result.

Domestically, a pertussis epidemic has claimed nine children so far, with the root cause likely being a lack of vaccinations. Nine children have died from a preventable disease. And there is no sound science to indicate that vaccinations are somehow responsible for anything other than keeping children from dying from preventable diseases.

Comedian Rush Limbaugh commits the first error of middle school research in broadcasting untrue material on Wikipedia without making independent confirmation first. This is the stuff the librarians drill into your head as Reseach 001, Rush - how do you expect anyone to take you seriously after a basic blunder like that?

...then agaaain...considering that the most accurate indicator of how an election turns out is how many television campaign ads are run [...]
pingback_bot
Sep. 27th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
No title
User seekingferret referenced to your post from No title saying: [...] -This post makes a fantastic and important point: http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/443399.html [...]
subnumine
Oct. 18th, 2010 12:36 am (UTC)
You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God! the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
Unbribed, there's no occasion to,
-Humbert Wolfe

You are adding the American politician to the British journalist; the Supreme Court has been in that category for yeas.

( 30 comments — Leave a comment )