the first day of January, many public ceremonies will feature time capsules –
sealed long ago, when "the year 2000" sounded incredibly futuristic.
Those containers, intended for opening at the start of the new millennium,
presumably hold evocative symbols of earlier eras.
as the moment nears to open old time capsules, we might consider what would be
appropriate to put in new ones. For this high-tech age of super-duper mass
communications, quite a few objects could go into a media time capsule. For
technological marvel became a mainstay in millions of American homes and
workplaces. Widely glorified, the PC offered many advantages — including quick
desktop functions, speedy communication via the Internet, and clarity of visual
personal computer changed almost everything — except content. The quality of
ideas, the reliability of information, and the clarity of thinking underwent no
discernable enhancement. Along the way, the advent of the PC greatly widened
gaps between the media "haves" and "have nots" — those for
whom the cost of online access was incidental and those for whom it was
TV meant that instead of just flipping through a few broadcast stations, viewers
could choose from dozens or even hundreds of channels. Media companies were able
to "narrowcast" by appealing to specific interests. A few cable
networks were willing to take chances with some artistic ventures that
subscribers to "basic" cable paid hundreds of dollars a year for a
monotonous collection of formulaic programming. Even viewers with access to
large numbers of channels often ended up wandering through a glitzy wasteland of
shallow entertainment and public affairs shows. For most cable customers, it was
impossible to find a single national TV channel that wasn’t constrained by
corporate sponsors, underwriters or owners.
two decades ago, the mini-cam led the way for television news departments to be
able to quickly edit broadcast-quality videotape, shot with miniaturized TV
on local news shows around the country, the main use for this advanced
technology was to instantly produce footage from crime scenes, courthouses,
fires and traffic accidents.
hair dryer and a can of hair spray
and often blow-dried, the media professionals on our TV screens have rarely
all the chaos in the real world, television proved adept at offering a sense of
order and a never-ending supply of cheery artifice.
set of handcuffs
mass media kept people edgy and entertained with a profusion of news stories and
TV programs devoted to crime and punishment.
the 1990s, in the United States, media depictions of crime skyrocketed — and so
did the number of people behind bars, reaching 1.9 million in 1999 (compared to
1,148,700 in 1990 and 501,900 in 1980). Television stations continued their
barrage of crime news and cop shows, but social context remained somewhere
between scant and nonexistent on the air.
news accounts did not convey information that might disrupt widespread racial
illusions among whites in America.
distorted media picture has helped a slanted legal system to stay tilted. For
example — as recently reported by The Sentencing Project, based in Washington,
D.C. — "African Americans constitute 15 percent of drug users nationally,
but 33 percent of drug possession arrests." Examining figures from 1985 to
1995, researchers found a 707 percent increase of black drug offenders in state
prisons, compared to a 306 percent increase for whites. And records also showed
that Latinos are incarcerated at a disproportionately high rate.
virtually any part of the world, television networks have provided us with
instant coverage of historic events.
spring, American newscasts stoked outrage at Yugoslavia — which was being
bombed by the U.S. military — as Kosovar Albanians fled murderous thugs abetted
by the Belgrade regime. A few months later, newscasts were far less critical of
Indonesia — still closely allied with Washington — as Timorese people fled
murderous thugs working for the Jakarta regime. Not coincidentally, in the final
quarter of this century, U.S. aid kept boosting the Indonesian government while
it systematically killed more than 200,000 people in East Timor.
21st century will get underway with plenty of wondrous technologies available
for placement in a media time capsule. We can be proud of the gizmos, but not
Solomon’s latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."