• Media, Crime and Hegemony

    For three decades scholars in mass communication and criminology have called our attention to the role of the media in the social construction of crime. Study after study has documented how media representations in both the entertainment and news arenas have created a social reality of a dangerous world full of danger and risk populated by stereotyped “others” (Jewkes, 2010; Marsh and Melville, 2009). A flood of mediated images emanating from our televisions, computers, books, newspapers and magazines, movies and even popular music instruct us on the seemingly natural order of the social world. It is through this incessant institutionalized attack on our senses that we come to experience what Jock Young (2007) calls the vertigo of modern society. But the irony of all this is that our fears, prejudices, stereotypes, and pervasive impulses toward meanness and retribution are something less than real. They are fabricated, mediated images offered to us as news and entertainment by a handful of immense and very motivated global corporations inextricably bound to state power.

    As we entered the 21st Century the power of the media reemerged as a compelling and urgent concern. As early as 1983 scholars were commenting on the problems of increasing media corporatization and the concentration of ownership in fewer and fewer hands (Bagdikian, 2004; Bennett, 2004; McChesney, 2008; Thussu, 2006; Hesmondhalgh, 2007). But as newer technologies created new and more diverse platforms for mass communication some argued that the danger of media consolidation was being offset by access to the internet, proliferating channels on cable television and community access to some cable systems. It was argued that domination of all five media platforms, TV/satellite, radio/music, film, print and the internet was virtually unachievable.

    What is clear today is that the concern about concentrated ownership and power manifest in a small number of transnational media corporations was not only justified but massively understated. The combined forces of deregulation, diversification, corporatization and globalization have created the perfect storm in mass communications. Today five massive transnational corporations dominate all five media platforms in all corners of the world (Arsensault and Castells, 2008; Flew, 2007). Globalization, corporatization and diversification have served to create and solidify a global network of heavily interlocked media corporations dominated by five transnational media conglomerates: Time Warner/ CNN, Disney/ABC, NewsCorp/FOX, NBC/GE and CBS.

    The Perfect Storm

    Both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began pushing for media privatization around the world as early as 1995 resulting in the denationalization of media distribution and production (McChesney, 2008; Sterling, 2000). National media regulatory bodies responded by repealing or significantly weakening legal restrictions on media ownership. In the United States the 1996 Telecommunication Act and subsequent actions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened the floodgate for media company mergers and acquisitions.

    Mergers, acquisitions and takeovers in the media industry were obviously facilitated by the neo-liberal push to deregulate and privatize. Those mergers and acquisitions created ever larger, and still growing international media conglomerates. From a market perspective these mergers and acquisitions made perfect sense. They were rational decisions made by corporations seeking to maximize sales, increase production efficiency, and create strong positions in global markets (Croteau and Hoynes, 2006).

    The structural reorganization of the media industry in the past decade has been defined by growth, integration, globalization and concentration of ownership. In addition to simply growing through mergers and acquisitions, the media giants have been integrating both vertically and horizontally (Croteau and Hoynes, 2006). Horizontal integration has seen the largest media companies moving into all forms of media: television and cable; music and radio; print; film and the Internet. Vertical integration has seen those same companies acquiring different stages of the production and distribution system. The media giants have globalized by extending their markets worldwide and by acquiring holdings worldwide. And as we have seen while all this is happening media ownership bas become more and more concentrated (Croteau, Hoynes and Milan, 2011; Flew, 2007).

    Technology also opened the door to increasing concentration of ownership. The digitalization of information allowed the integration of different kinds of media and communications technology creating one digitized network composed of telecommunications, the Internet and the mass media (Jenkins, 2006; Schiller, 1999).

    The result of all of this is that (1) media ownership is highly concentrated; and (2) a few massive media conglomerates are able to deliver a wide diversity of products over all five communications platforms. The largest media corporations not only own more properties than ever before but they also own the platforms through which content is delivered. Put very simply, five transnational corporations dominate both the access to and the forms of mass communication.

    Integrating Media and Finance

    The concentration of ownership and control in a small number of media corporations was not the only outcome of the perfect storm. Today, the corporate boards of directors of the five largest media multinationals are liberally populated by representatives of the most influential banks, venture capital firms, and other corporations central to the financial industry such as insurance and real estate companies and financial services corporations (Arsensault and Castells, 2008). This marriage of convenience is important for a number of reasons.

    First, these transnational media conglomerates are in and of themselves vital cogs in the networks of financial capital. According to the Financial Times, they are among the world’s largest companies when measured by market capitalization.

    Second, it was an enormous flow of capital from banks and venture capitalists that funded the mergers and acquisitions which created these media giants. For example, in 2007 alone venture capitalists invested over $50 billion in these media properties (Arsensault and Castells, 2008).

    Third, these media corporations are a major source of financial capital. They are all integrated into transnational networks of finance capital, being able to both attract significant investment and provide the capital to other smaller corporate entities (Arsensault and Castells, 2008). These five immense media giants serve as the nodes through which finance and media interact and become mutually dependent.

    In addition to the disproportionate representation of banks, venture capital firms, and other financial institutions on the boards of directors of the five multinational media giants there is also a disproportionate representation of other media and communications technology companies. This representation of ostensible competitors means three things.

    First, the media monoliths can operate together in exploiting markets and technologies. Second, the dominant media conglomerates can exercise even greater political influence in protecting their holdings and their power. And third, the integration of finance and media is even deeper than an initial survey of seats on the boards of directors would indicate. In fact, the boards of directors of these five media giants become incubators for the creation of even greater flows of finance capital.

    The extent of these interlocks on the boards of the five largest transnational media corporations is compelling, as Table 1 shows.

  • Teaching Capitalism

    Almost every semester I teach an undergraduate or graduate course in criminological theory. At best I can devote three weeks to radical, critical and feminist criminology because of the plethora of other lesser theories in the discipline. It is almost absurd to suggest that I can, even superficially cover the 1,152 pages of Marx’s Das Kapital and the 912 pages of The Grundrisse (Penguin Books editions) in an hour or two. The truth is that I am in my 30th year of trying to read and understand The Grundrisse myself. Even if I had a full semester devoted to a critique of capitalism trying to make the esoteric concepts and ideas relevant to students, particularly undergraduates, is an insurmountable task. Well, at last help has arrived!

    Stephanie McMillan has produced a 244 page book of texts and cartoons titled Capitalism Must Die! What It is, Why It Sucks, and How to Crush It which makes the complex and indecipherable easy to understand. Available here!

    In Part 1, Ms. McMillan explains in easy to read text and with wonderful illustrations how capitalism works and why it must constantly and rapaciously grow through exploitation. In Part 2 she offers ideas on how we might organize to confront this ruthless system of global exploitation.

    But it is not so much the content of the book as its style which makes this an invaluable pedagogical resource. First of all it is written in clear, concise, everyday language, not the obfuscating style of economic and sociological treatises. Second, she explains her text with wonderful cartoons organized around a cast of recurring characters: the capitalist/corporate/banker ogres; the self-important, smug, empty-headed, and usually inherited privileged consumers repeating every hegemonic lie they can manage to remember; and finally our hero, the patient, understanding, acerbic revolutionary rabbit named “Bunnista.” The text is simple and straightforward and so are the line-drawing cartoons. Ms. McMillan warns us that: “Theoretical clarity for its own sake is pointless intellectualism; instead, it should be a guide for action.”

    McMillan patiently introduces all the key concepts of Marxian analysis. She gently explains that despite the constant hegemonic appeal to the “middle class” that we are not all middle class. We in fact do work for others who exploit workers and consumers as well. She lays out the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, the fact that infinite growth which capitalism requires is not possible in a finite world. Her explanation of commodities is both funny and precise. McMillan lays out the ways capitalism is killing the planet through water shortages and environmental devastation. And she warns of one of the most dangerous capitalist trends, the inevitable march toward fascism.

    In the second part of the book McMillan introduces the basic concepts of organizing for substantial change to the social structure. She discusses the role of labor, the need for strategy and a “political line” and the role of agitation. She also warns against reformist tendencies, collaboration with NGOs and power grabs in her chapter on “Traps, Pitfalls and Dead-Ends.” In the end Stephanie McMillan sums up our alternative futures. “It will probably have to restructure itself and it could become fascism or it could lead to a civil war between the representatives of different factions of capital or some horrible things that don’t actually improve anything,” she said in the interview. “Or we can organize and get rid of them.”

    Stephanie McMillan won the 2012 RFK Journalism Award. She has authored six other books including The Beginning of the American Fall, published by Seven Stories Press. Her cartoons have appeared in myriad locations including the Los Angeles Times, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

    Capitalism Must Die! What It is, Why It Sucks, and How to Crush It is a brilliant introductory text, written in a cogent manner and illustrated beautifully and with great humor. It is a work that should be considered for courses on theory, mass media, globalization and social justice. Of course, with that said, it is not a text at all, and that is its greatest strength.