Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Media Censors the Masses

(This post also appears on Intellectual Property and Social Justice, a new movement at the UC Davis School of Law.)

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The Alliance for Community Media has declared a Media Democracy Week from March 20-26 (found through navigation on various links from this Ms. Musings post, reflecting on the 2005 Women and the Media Conference).

Sarah JonesThe media, of course, is a very powerful tool for shaping and challenging cultural norms, so carving a space within it is inherently a matter of social justice for those of us who have been historically marginalized on account of gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, political views, or other factors. A few years ago, poet-performer Sarah Jones composed a brilliantly scathing commentary of misogynistic music (listen to it here), which the FCC attempted to censor for “indecency,” since it clearly encouraged depraved behavior that would tarnish the wholesome legacy of big-label gems such as this. Jones’s song has probably reached out and touched more people at a fundamental grassroots level than would, say, a prestigious law review article. Breakthrough, an international human rights organization, also exemplifies the importance of media in promoting equality and subverting social injustices.

A massive disparity in distribution of wealth already concentrates access to and ownership of media in the hands of the powerful few, who are able to control the production of mainstream culture. But current intellectual property rights in media, music, Mickey Mouse, etc., also prevent most of us from democratically expressing ourselves in a meaningful way, such as by creating “derivative works” of these well-established products of culture from our own perspectives, and disseminating them for non-commercial use. Which, of course, is why it will become increasingly important to edify the public on the value of the Creative Commons approach and achieve a better semblance of a semiotic democracy.

Fortunately, blogs allow an avenue to get more voices out than do traditional forms of media (although, the conspicuous underrepresentation of female bloggers and bloggers of color among the “top blogs” and the outgoing links of “top blogs” is another matter to be duly addressed ;) ). Let’s do our part to promote some incisive and critical thought on the relationship between media and social justice.

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