The Reconquest of Cool

The Media's New Aesthetic

More and more people are stepping up to join the ongoing battle against a media system that has left civil society out in the cold and in the dark. It’s a battle that Adbusters pledges to continue.

The Media's New Aesthetic

Photo: Volker Stock

The last few years have been hard on poor old television.

Viewership has fallen across the board as core audiences – guys aged 18 to 34 in particular – are abandoning the device that raised them, opting instead for game controllers and the internet. Meanwhile, those who have remained loyal to TV are failing to remain similarly loyal to the advertising that makes it profitable, increasingly choosing to get their fix via commercial-annihilating digital recorders, ad-light DVDs, and (horror of horrors) pirated downloads.

With viewers putting up blinders to the ad-program-ad rhythm of for-profit television, the desirability of the conventional 30-second commercial spot is tanking. For the first time in decades, several key markets have witnessed decreases in spending on such spots, as marketers demand the ever-elusive bigger bang with in-program product placements and full-on brand integration within storylines. The result: as much as 15 full minutes of every programming hour in North America is now dedicated to integrated ads, with shows like American Idol topping out at over 4,000 per season – all of this in addition to the average of 14 to 22 minutes out of 60 still set aside for traditional spots.

Given TV's incredible shrinking credibility, especially in the case of broadcast journalism, it is little wonder that we have suffered through the ceaseless debate over whether we live under the thumb of a "liberal media" or a "conservative media." Luckily, we can safely disregard the question of television's political affiliation, since we are rapidly approaching a McLuhan-esque implosion that will render the answer irrelevant. It's the moment when the specifics of the rock 'em, sock 'em talking-head debates may be school massacres or missing pageant queens, but the message itself remains the same. That message is television, an ingenious device for the capturing of eyeballs. Gradually, it has been pressed into the service of a singular purpose, one that requires the exclusion of dissonant ideas to efficiently function.

Adbusters began, in large part, as a product of outrage over just how destructive, self-serving, and at times downright insane the deliberate exclusions of this system have become. We've learned, for example, that the keepers of the airwaves will permit you to expose the perils of cardiovascular disease; you may not, however, tell the truth about a major advertiser's fat-laden products. Similarly, you are allowed to ask kids to get more exercise, but you can't ask them to turn off their TVs in order to do so. You may encourage women to ignore the images produced by the beauty industry and to feel good about their own bodies, no matter the shape or size – but only if you're selling soap in the process. Most gallingly, you can pay lip service to tackling climate change, and yet you can't challenge people to buy less stuff as a way to actually go for it.

But it's possible that you don't care. Maybe you gave up on television a long time ago. Maybe you don't even own a TV anymore. For your personal peace of mind, that was probably a good move; with an estimated 112 million television households in the US alone, however, we only ignore the stirrings of TV at our own peril. The last couple of decades have seen unprecedented levels of consolidation in mass media. Today, the movers and shakers of TV are the very same people and corporate entities who control the majority of newspapers, of radio stations, of book publishing, of outdoor advertising, of music distribution, of film production, and of your favorite social networking sites. The dirty tricks and the sleights of hand that are used to keep urgent, dissonant messages off the air aren't in any way specific to TV. They are the natural consequences of corporate rule, and they will be brought to bear whenever we are too distracted to stand in the way.

Not by accident, more and more people are doing just that – stepping up to join the ongoing battle against a media system that has left civil society out in the cold and in the dark, a media system that has been busily propagating itself at the expense of our social, cultural, political and environmental health. It's a battle that Adbusters has proudly taken up with its ongoing lawsuit against CanWest, Canada's biggest media conglomerate.

What's at stake in this struggle is not just access, but the creation of a whole new media aesthetic: a messier, more spontaneous and unpredictable energy that fosters participation and social relevance – a genuine engine for positive change. If Adbusters' lawsuit is a success, one of the first manifestations of this aesthetic will be a strange new mood – exciting, challenging, even slightly dangerous – every time you switch on the box in your living room, where previously there was only a moribund device completely sewn-up by private, for-profit interests. This strange new mood will prove once and for all that television (just like newspapers, magazines and radio before it, and like the internet after it) is able to do much more than sell us on the idea of buying, and that it can provide services of vital importance to the health of our species and its democracies. Like all exciting, challenging and slightly dangerous new moods, we're betting this one will prove to be pretty damned infectious.

44 comments on the article “The Media's New Aesthetic”

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bozhidar bobbalkas

i have noticed about 20 yrs ago that corporate media was giving us a corporate product. we were getting also corporate food as well; and it is/was awful. just look at people at 150 k. and talk to people who get their news/views is futile. some of these people are willing to go to war to defend media. my own wife screams at me; she thinks i'm quite wrong. and there are millions like her in canada. that means we have to get to kids before ruling class does. it controls armed forces, cia, fbi, police, journalists. as i have said to amers, It may take 1,000 years to democratize iraq and 2,000 years to democratize US. the two amers laughed at this joke which was my intention. i was happy they didn't throw rocks at me. thank you.

Jennie

My mind boggles at the legnth of advertisements today. It has become almost unbearable to watch any channels other than ones like PBS that have very few commercials.

I refuse to watch the commercials I mute them too but I often find that after 5 minutes of the TV on mute I've forgotton what I was watching in the first place, which goes to show two things:
1. Most things on TV are not that captivating! They are forgetable in 5 mins, and
2. The commercials have now become so long that it is turning people off.

Controll

I totally agree with just about everything you've said. Why are we as a people so interested in what other people are doing? I wonder why these coperations are trying so desperately to hold our attention? Maybe their just make money off our dumb consumer asses, or maybe theres a bigger reason, lol. Fun thought.

Larry.

Dude wot are u talking about man.....im so high u cant believe it. like i started on crack but then i changed to crystal meth. i lost my children and family and this is the way you make me feel beta by putting this amazinly boring thing on the web......

Oil Monkey

Opting instead for game controllers and the internet is simply an act of trading one brand of screen for another. This is not something to celebrate. I threw out my television 4 years ago but I'm fully aware that I have more than compensated for its absence via my computer. Save a few notable exceptions, I believe our toooftvaunted technophilia is more of a negative than a positive.

We're increasingly atomized, overly specialized, and we believe that transmissions of bits and bytes equals the lost art of face to face communication.

Mike

I vehemetly hate TV. Everyone who says anything about TV in my presence instantly recieves my response of 'TV is a disease'. It's symptoms: Melted brains, rotting muscles, coagulating arteries and the desire to buy useless crap from the nearest store. The only reason I watch any TV is to watch a specific show like the Simpsons or Famly Guy for a good laugh, or the Star Trek that I've been a fan of for years, but I look forward to the day when I'm making enough money to simply rent or buy these shows... I hate the disconinuinity and the commercials. Most of the time I can proudly say 'I don't watch TV that much' whenever someone quotes a commercial.

Jordan

I thank the great minds behind the AdBusters project for their courage, and for taking CanWest a former employer of mine to task. This is the only way to initiate change, by actually doing something, instead of just talking about our problems. The 'Progressive' community needs more of this, and this should serve as an example to activists and concerned citizens everywhere.

'Layoffs' ended my rather interesting relationship with Global Television/CanWest, and I'm happy to say that I now work for one of Canada's public television networks, which does showcase 'dissonant ideas', and serves as evidence that television can not only be a force for 'good', but also, that contrary to the excuses of media execs and news managers there is a great appetite in Canada for 'intelligent TV'. Never forget that we are the majority, and the truth is our greatest ally. The only way we can fail, is if we fail to ACT.

rozyp

I just bought a tv at christmas after having refused to own one for the past three years. It's only been 3 months that i've had it and already i'm seriously questioning whether to keep it. it's a bit of a black hole that sucks you in and puts stuff in your head that might never be there otherwise...i think i'm answering my own question.

Rissa

Blaming North America's problems on TV and media conglomerates seems idiotic. Education is the key, it is important to realize that advertising is sales and sales is $$ regardless of what medium the sell is expressed in when you realize that you're free to enjoy the medium without the pitch.

John Berry

Though I do think that the television is a huge problem in America and everywhere else that people own one for that matter, I don't think that is the only problem. I'm going to side with Oil Monkey and say that while yes, the amount of people watching television is dropping, I don't think that the amount of people sitting in front of a screen for nourishment is dropping. In fact, while 810 years ago Americans were judged by how many TV's they had in their house, now one can count how many computers are in a household. Personally, there are 4 computers in my house. Ultimately, there is no way to rid our nation or anywhere else of a screen of some kind. The best thing we can hope for is that pornography is abolished from the internet so that it too can become boring and useless like Television has become in recent times.

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