The Internet is a democratic tool against corporate media control

Hama Bbela and Hama Bbela

Spring break, to me, is another excuse to watch TV. I know I’m in the minority, but I probably had more fun than everyone else.

Last year, break was spent in my bleak apartment, revisiting classic Kung Fu titles like “Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow.” This year was different. The weather wasn’t bad and I took a few walks around this amazing little town. It has always amazed me how it becomes a ghost town in a matter of hours. The sudden mind-numbing silence that envelops the town during spring break is disorienting to some, but heavenly bliss for silence lovers like me.

My theme this year was documentaries, most of them free and online. I watched my favorite PBS documentary “The Tank Man.” I also watched a documentary on Napoleon (don’t ask me why, I just felt like it). Then, I saw something called “RiP: A Remix Manifesto,” and it was easily one of the most fulfilling 86 minutes of my documentary-watching life.

Directed by Brett Gaylor, “A Remix Manifesto” explores the evolution of copyright laws in society. In particular, he does an excellent job of going into the legal conundrum of remixing existing works of art. I was drawn to this because I’m a huge fan of early hip hop, which was largely built on remixing preexisting musical works. It got me thinking not just about copyright, but about the evolution of mass communication and how corporations have such a heavy hand in controlling the flow of information.

It got me thinking about how in the past, monarchs, emperors and religious pontiffs held an iron grip on expression and possession of information. Most people were serfs and pawns in the constant ebb and flow of history in the past. Then, in 1440, a man named Herman Johanne Gutenberg gave the common man a chance to participate in the consumption and expression of ideas. Gutenberg freed up the monopoly of ideas by monarchs, empires and pontiffs.

Today, we don’t even fret about information. We live in a world saturated with it, where the only crisis we face is whether to check Facebook or read Russian writer Vladamir Nabukov. We are participants and shapers in the new evolution of world history.

We aren’t just passive observers. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have turned everyone into participants and consumers of information. Yet the truth is, in this new information-rich age the threat to this freedom of information is not from governments but the ever-reaching power of the corporation. This is a reality Gaylor’s excellent documentary highlighted for a documentary fanatic like me.

The global media system is dominated by a few powerful, mostly U.S.-based, multinational corporations. Until the 1980s, media systems were largely national in scope and the basic broadcasting and newspaper industries were domestically owned and regulated. Then, in the 1990s companies expanded and began to have a hand in everything. This is resulting in the conglomeration of media.

Conglomerations produce movies, books and soundtracks built around the same idea. This is done to milk all the money possibilities out of people’s ideas. We have seen this in everything from the “Twilight” saga to “Avatar.” This is why more and more movies are based on best-selling books and original scripts are a rarity. That’s why mainstream musicians are using tried and tested formulas to churn out copycat music, hence the proliferation of Lady Gaga-inspired eurotechno-sounding divas on the radio.

But consumer, don’t you be afraid. The Internet is just too democratic a medium to be conquered by anyone.

We have seen governments worldwide fear the power of the Internet. The Iranian government was quick to bring down blogs promoting free speech and dissent; the Chinese have acted similarly.

The Internet’s very premise is democratic in nature. An integrated network of computers speak and spread information with no gatekeeper acting as regulator. These governments realize an uncontrolled, unrestricted Internet is a very powerful tool.

In the documentary “Mash Up,” musician Girltalk is profiled. His art involves using bits and pieces of popular music to create unique and innovative music. He represents an important fact about culture; that they are built on top of one another and not independently of each other. Innovative ideas always get bits and pieces of pre-existing ideas.

But corporations, by using patenting and licensing, are trying to limit and halt people’s abilities to do this. Corporations don’t want everyone to be a participant in history; they want to relegate us to consumer status. In watching documentaries like these I realized how much of what is popular today is being decided by corporations. Innovative films and music aren’t as popular because they don’t have huge corporate machinery to back them; I have to sit and take Harry Potter books, movies, comics and video games based on the same stale idea.

As consumers of media, people need to be conscious and not give their power up to corporate juggernauts.

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