From the Mediageek Zine: A Radical Media Call To Arms

As I mentioned earlier, I have completed the first issue of the mediageek zine, my new print project which made its debut at the Allied Media Conference. It’s 38 pages full of rants, how-tos and reviews, with a neat-o mediageek sticker affixed to the front of every copy.

The contents are:

  • mediageekery – welcome from the editor
  • a radical media call to arms
  • d.i.: do it!
  • a guide to zine making tools
  • so you wanna shoot some video? no-nonsense tips for getting yourself a camcorder
  • chicago rocks, st. louis rolls
  • shoot some video for a change; a review of the guerrilla video primer
  • end-zine: the sense of place

  • The mediageek zine is available for $2 post-paid (in the US) from: P.O. Box 2102, Champaign, IL 61825-2102

    As I explain in the introductory welcome piece,

    At this point I also feel like I should explain why, with a website and radio show, and at the ripe age of 31, I decided to make a ‘zine. My first reason is that I’ve wanted to make a zine for more than ten years, and I finally got an excuse to get off my ass and do it.

    More seriously, the bigger reason is that I think communication does and should happen in many forms and many forums. I know IÂ’m not the first person to recognize this, but itÂ’s hard to drag a computer with you on the bus, or into the bathroom to do some reading. Sure, I guess with a new ultra-light, super-Palm-handheld-pocket-cellphone-laptop-PDA it might be a little easier to read the mediageek website in those places. Yet, how many people actually can, and want to?

    I hope the mediageek ‘zine might reach people who don’t or can’t read the website or hear the radio show.

    As a teaser I’m going to post here in its entirety a “manifesto of sorts” that I promised more than a month ago that appears in the mediageek zine:

    A Radical Media Call To Arms
    a manifesto, of sorts
    by Paul Riismandel

    The tools are at hand. The tools to communicate and create media are omnipresent and attainable for just about everyone in the developed world. And yet, overwhelmingly we are content to sit by and watch, spectate and consume, rather than create.

    Media consumption, however, also is a giving over, a surrender. A giving over of time and attention, a surrender of control.

    WeÂ’re living at a point in time where human communication is everywhere, whether we want it or not. From billboards to PA systems, booming stereos to skywriters, not to mention the media we supposedly elect to consume, like TV and magazines, we are constantly bombarded with messages that we have very little control over.

    In many situations our only control is the choice to pay attention or to shut it off.

    I argue we have another choice: create.

    Plenty has been written in the recent past about the onslaught of media consolidation, fueled by the cojoining forces of corporate greed and government acquiesence. Especially in the alternative/underground/radical/left press, we hear how fewer and fewer corporations are owning the vast majority of (commercialized) media outlets.

    But what are we to do about it?

    As I write this, the Federal Communications Commission just decided the fate of a bunch of media ownership rules that until now just barely held back the last few frontiers of corporate media consolidation. The most significant, is the rule that keeps the same company from owning both your daily newspaper and a TV station in your town. As the FCCÂ’s Commissioner and the media industry have their way, youÂ’ll have several different flavors of vanilla in your news. Eat up, be happy, buy, and shut up.

    The elimination of these few rules that That this should happen with minimal public notice, support and the barest of majority is not remarkable, except for the sheer audacity with which it has been executed.

    The winners here can afford audacity, they’ve paid dearly for it, and they had no intent to lose. This decision – and most government decisions – was bought and paid for. The fact that two FCC commissioners stridently and vocally objected only lends credibility to the façade of democracy and fairness.

    But it was hopeless. Every procedural and “political” remedy proposed is hopeless.

    Throughout months of public hearings held without the FCCÂ’s blessing, throughout multiple on-line petition campaigns and other activism, what has been the solution?

    Write the FCC. Call your congressional representative. Lobby. Beg. Grovel.

    Since when has any kind of victory been won through begging?

    Yes, we are up against a savvy political media machine. We have an appointed president with no discernable qualifications, hand picked to head up a government thatÂ’s run by men that we didnÂ’t choose either. But they are savvy media makers. From carefully arranging backdrop scenery behind the presidentÂ’s public appearances, to having the commander-in-chief co-pilot a fighter jet onto an aircraft carrier, their every public mediated move is premeditated and precisely designed to create an image and provoke a reaction.

    What’s most audacious about it is that they don’t deny it or lie about it. No, the great paper of record, the New York Times, fawningly reports on it, like it were an homage to the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” lady or some other clever ad campaign.

    But we’re not dumb. If you ask almost anyone, she knows she’s being manipulated, she knows it’s a sham, she knows it’s more movie than reality. But it doesn’t matter. Just like it doesn’t matter that we know Old Yeller is just an old movie – we still cry when that dog gets shot. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense. So what? Perhaps we’ll be better off if we just recognize this rather than trying to fight it head on.

    So how do we fight this new political media machine? Is this a monster that can be fought with regulation? With laws? With lobbying?

    Really. How and why do we expect that the well paid Hessians of power who masquerade as our elected officials and appointed regulators would turn around and bite the hand thatÂ’s really been feeding them?

    The only chance we have is to fight media with media. We have the tools, now is the time to use them.

    The power to communicate with media has been available in the US for over a century – the first American newspaper publishers were independent printers, not big corporations. The same for radio – the first broadcasters were hobbyists and experimenters, not companies. Corporate America didn’t see the value in radio until they invented the commercial announcement. (Before that, they just thought you broadcast radio programs to give people a reason to buy radios.)

    Print and radio – these technologies are still with us, but they’re even cheaper and easier than ever to harness and use. But we have new ones, like video and Internet. But that’s not all We often forget great old standbys like spraypaint, wheatpaste and magic markers.

    The opportunity to create, leave or send a message for someone else is everyone around us everyday, but we rarely take this opportunity for anything but the most mundane of tasks.

    Why? Why do we leave the power unharnessed?

    Rules? Laziness? Fear?

    If itÂ’s fear, then itÂ’s fear of failure. The fear that leaves millions of cool ideas and projects undone.

    ItÂ’s a fear driven by unrealistic expectations and the imagined judgements of the blockbuster mindset.

    We’re all so submerged in a world of big media that anything else looks small by comparison. The most popular books sell tens of thousands, the hottest CDs sell multiple millions, and even the crappiest prime-time television shows reach millions. The bombarded message is “bigger is better!” Who’s on top is most important! Who’s sexiest? Richest? Who’s #1 and who’s #2? Is my favorite song gonna get beat out by somebody else’s favorite song? Oh, can you believe the new blockbuster movie didn’t beat the last blockbusters opening sales?

    After a while, a few hundred copies of a zine doesnÂ’t seem so remarkable. In fact, it starts to look downright pathetic. But only if we buy into blockbuster mentality.

    We must ask the question: why is it so important to be big? Why must we be #1? Why do we even care enough to count?

    Big blockbuster media takes all the fun out of it and turns creativity into a horse race. But itÂ’s a fixed race. Just a few big, powerful players who jockey for position. None ever really lose and nobody wins for long, except for the rest of us who are forbidden from entering the game.

    If we oppose their message and their methods, then we have no business playing their game. ItÂ’s rigged, and simply accepting their rules changes everything.

    Not playing by the big media rules means not accepting their values. It means recognizing that every creative act, every communication, is valuable and worthwhile, whether it reaches two people or two thousand.

    Now more than ever we have the tools and the impetus to communicate ourselves. But we canÂ’t be fighting ourselves while we fight the commercialized carpet bombing we forced to endure every waking hour.

    We fight back by communicating back. By countering the messages we dislike and by projecting ideas and visions of how we think things, the world, can be better.

    It can be fun, funny, and lighthearted, or deadly serious. I donÂ’t think it matters how you communicate, what matters is that you do it.

    I often measure the vibrancy of a community by seeing what kind of communications are growing out between the cracks in the media pavement. What kind of posters are up? If I go to a café, record store or some other public space, do I see flyers and handbills around for shows and grassroots events? Is there meaningful graffiti – not just tags (though they have their uses) – but words of protest or stencils intended to break people out of their slumber?

    In a large city the appearance of these signals can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Sometimes they indicate an area where artists and other creative people live, or sometimes it’s just a hip place. But I notice that the more “hip” a place becomes, the less interesting, less vibrant and more homogenized, and ultimately corporatized these signals become.

    WhatÂ’s so funny about it is how simple it is. It doesnÂ’t require lots of schooling and skill, just a message a pen and maybe a photocopier.

    Simplicity is sometimes mistaken for insignificance.

    But notice how in the newer “hip” neighborhoods and cities, as they become more “cleaned up,” gentrified and yuppified, those cracks in the sidewalk disappear. Under the argument that they’re eyesores, the posters get taken down, and the stencils get painted over. The forces of local power take back control and in their place you see billboards and Starbucks.

    Well, if those posters and stencils and flyers and pamphlets were so insignificant, then why all the effort to get rid of them?

    Independent, radical, underground, grassroots media matters. It makes a difference.

    ItÂ’s true that any one zine or poster or song or website might not have the same sort of massive impact as Star Wars or Harry Potter. But thatÂ’s not the point.

    The point is that thousands and millions of zines, posters and pirate radio stations make an enormous collective impact, bigger than any blockbuster movie can muster. ItÂ’s a kind of impact that big media is too scared of, because it sucks away the power of the blockbuster.

    Every hour you spend writing a zine is an hour you spend not consuming some big media product. The same for every hour you spend shooting a video, painting a picture, writing a song or making a stencil. But what’s so amazing about it, is not only have you expressed yourself creatively, but you then have the opportunity to share your work with someone else – to offer that person a new perspective and a new alternative to another hour of “Must See TV.”

    We can take back the media by taking back our attention and blotting out their messages with ours. We start by taking back the spaces that are easy – flyering our neighborhoods, making public access TV shows, distributing zines.

    The next step is an incursion into corporate media territory. Pirate radio, droplifting CDs into stores, reclaiming billboards are just a few methods of varying “legality.”

    One activist in Modesto California has been protesting the invasion of corporate news media in his community, just so that they can exploit the Laci Peterson murder. All he does is simply stand behind the newspeople on camera with signs criticizing the corporate media. He sure does piss off Fox News, but as long as we still have some sort of 1st Amendment, thatÂ’s his right to do so.

    Even if only a few of us take up the call, it makes some difference. But that difference grows with each person who dives in and takes the chance of devoting an hour to creation instead of consumption.

    I do not claim nor guarantee that a growing movement of independent, people-created media will by itself overthrow the corporate media and their corrupt political mouthpieces who license it. Change like that will require many kinds of movement and force. But I do claim that this overthrow cannot happen without that media.

    I, for one, would rather spend ten hours slaving over a word processor, a photocopier, behind a camera or stapling flyers than one hour lobbying and begging to get just a little bit of our media back, pleeeeeaaasse?

    LetÂ’s rewrite the rules and create our own game. The more people choose to play with us, the fewer who will be seduced to the blockbuster game down the block.

    The slow sapping of their power will probably be intolerable (for them).






    One response to “From the Mediageek Zine: A Radical Media Call To Arms”

    1. pault Avatar

      A great read Paul. Thanks very much.

      As I’ve just set up a new blog and am involved in community newspapers [my job], community technology projects and our local imc [volunteer/activist], these issues have been exercising my mind somewhat of late. This is really helpful.

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