Herbert Schiller
Guy Lochhead, 13/12/10

American writer and media critic whose work might be roughly divided into two main concerns: warning against passive consumption of corporate media, and proving that international relational biases mimic the actions of those, mostly American, megacorporations (beginning immediately postwar with the Marshall Plan). He wrote eight books and hundreds of articles between 1969 and 1995. I’m not often a big fan of media criticism, but Schiller’s work is characterised by a cautious idealism that I believe can encourage the best sort of independent growth and understanding. I feel quite strongly that it could be beneficial to include some of his writing in the programmes in some way. His theories are easily practically applicable, but not as reactionary as much of the writing that creates the same sort of “stick it to the man” feeling. In fact, in many areas he’s cautious to the point of paralysis – particularly with regards to the internet. The advent of widespread use of the internet put Schiller’s writing in a new context that seemed to be very similar to his previously-proposed model of a democratic media form. However, typically, instead of getting all excited he advised a “slowly, slowly” approach to better understand the potential consequences of this new form – a hesitance that has since been vindicated by the large numbers of hopeful “dot com millionaires” and elite computer nerds who can create their success via the internet without any wider responsibility. As Schiller put it, there is a danger in “technological solutions devoid of social accountability”. He has been criticised as miserablist but was in fact an impassioned, blackly humorous speaker. He was not a pessimist and believed, to quote a great article in the Progressive Librarian, “a significant change is possible if those of us excluded by the corporate media monopoly can find ways to create alternate media structures that resist domination and promote humane values of equality, solidarity and justice”. You can’t beat that with a baseball bat. His writing on the “American empire” and wider take on economic history, and his criticism of something akin to neoliberalism are equally fascinating, but I’d probably include the writing of his that can be more easily applied to new technologies and the potential new media context.

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