The Multinational Monitor


B O O K    N O T E S

The Global Media:
The New Missionaries of Global Capitalism

By Edward Herman and Robert McChesney
Herndon, Virginia: Cassell, 1997
262 pp.

ALTHOUGH IT HAS NOW ENTERED conventional wisdom that the media, computer, entertainment and telecommunications industries are converging via the digital revolution, there is no single work that synthesizes an analysis of these still distinct sectors. Perhaps the process of convergence, while discernible, is still too undeveloped to be analyzed clearly. Certainly the task of understanding this convergence is critical, for it will significantly shape the future of democratic politics. Edward Herman and Robert McChesney's The Global Media is by no means a complete account of the information industries, but it does an excellent job in identifying key trends -- nearly all of them worrisome -- in the emerging New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). Those trends are a far cry from what Third World nationalists had in mind when they issued demands for a NWICO in the 1970s.

Among the most important trends in the information industries, the authors argue, are:

Against the consolidation and commercializing trends stands the alternative media of the internet. But Herman and McChesney are quite skeptical that the internet can exist as a viable alternative, and they note increasing commercial encroachment even on this medium.

Concluding that the fight against media consolidation is "politically utopian" in present circumstances, they place their hope in citizen efforts to improve the performance of the commercial media, protect and strengthen public broadcasting and, most importantly, create alternative media.

Breaking Up America:
Advertisers and the New Media World

By Joseph Turow
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997
257 pp.; $22.50

CAPITALIZING ON AND ENCOURAGING new media and information technologies that enable them to segment communities, advertisers are dividing the United States along ever more lines, argues Joseph Turow in the stimulating Breaking Up America. Foremost among these cleavages is income group, but advertisers are encouraging divides among people by race, gender, age, ethnicity, politics, lifestyle and interests. While to some extent the advertisers are crafting their messages to meet group and individual wants, they are also shaping those desires. Advertisements help create community, Turow argues, but those communities are now ever-shrinking and isolated.

Whatever the value to the individual as customer, there are high social costs to this fragmentation, Turow contends. "Many of the key players shaping the wonders of the new media world have a vested interest in emphasizing differences among people. The social price may be alienation, reduced social mobility, anger and fear of others."

Another cost may be further advertiser retreat from programming or materials that may be considered controversial, and the consequent weakening of democracy. "Advertisers already avoid associating with controversy if they can help it, since they believe that the displeasure people feel rubs off on them and their products. It stands to reason that when targeting become an efficient alternative to sending the same materials to everyone, even more sponsors will hesitate to support touchy topics and perspectives if they go to certain viewers. Research will explore who is angered by what, and and media will adjust their formats accordingly."

The prototype of the new advertising is direct mail, which, thanks to computer technology, can be tailored to an individual based on what magazines she reads, the food she buys at the local supermarket and the clothes she wears. But direct mail is only the wedge of personalized advertising which includes telemarketing, advertisements and special supplements in magazines which are personalized and only sent to select subscribers, clubs and memberships which curry to frequent users and an array of internet-delivered advertisements and products that are now only in developmental stages.

Endangered Mexico:
An Environment on the Edge

By Joel Simon
San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1997
265 pp.; $27

IN HIS ALMOST LYRICAL ENDANGERED MEXICO, Joel Simon takes his readers on travels from the maquiladoras in Northern Mexico to the bulging Mexico City to the jungle of Mexico's southern states. The sad conclusion: Unequal international and domestic economic relations dating back centuries, compounded by poor development planning, have plunged Mexico in a severe environmental crisis. Intense water pollution, deforestation, oil pollution, decimated coral reefs, Mexico City's infamous air pollution and its less well-known problem of rapid sinking (due to depletion of the underground aquifer on which it rests) -- the ravages of failed development strategies are omnipresent.

The sinking of Mexico City is representative. Having destroyed the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish set out to construct Mexico City on its ruins. Unaware of the complex hydrology of the Valley of Mexico, their city was repeatedly flooded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with devastating consequences. The Spanish would then drain Lake Texcoco, the lake which surrounded what was then the island-city of Mexico City. What had been abundant thus became scarce, and Mexico City residents were forced to drill deep wells for water or pipe in water from mountain springs. Following the economic-induced mass migration to Mexico City of the twentieth century, the pumping of water into the city and wastewater out absorbs 10 percent of Mexico's total energy output. And meanwhile, the city sinks.

"After a century of slow subsidence, downtown Mexico City resembles a fun house at an amusement park," Simon writes. "Streets are buckled; buildings are pitched forward or balanced at impossible angles." The result is occasional tragedies -- the emergence of sudden sinkholes which swallow a piece of the city and whoever may be standing there -- but, even worse, the destruction of city infrastructure (pipes, cables, subway tunnels, etc.) and building foundations, posing long-term threats and the possibility of genuine catastrophe in the event of earthquake.

Mexico is developing a vigorous, indigenous environmentalism in response to its environmental woes, but it is uneven and conflicted. "The part of Mexico that is highly developed, the first world Mexico, supports a small but highly influential group of environmentalists who are concerned about air pollution and urban transportation, but who are also worried about global issues like climate change." On the other side of the economic gulf is also concern, Simon writes, "but it is much more narrowly defined" -- though he might more precisely have said the poor's environmentalism is integrated into daily economic concerns. "The most urgent battles are for clean water, drainage, paved streets, a piece of land, and a way to make it produce."

Crapped Out:
How Gambling Ruins the Economy and Destroys Lives

Edited by Jennifer Vogel
Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1997
233 pp.; $15.95

THE SUBTITLE SAYS IT ALL. Crapped Out, a collection of previously published articles from newspapers and magazines, shows the utter foolishness of relying on gambling as a means to promote economic development or to fill state tax coffers, and the high cost of legalizing gambling to the poor. The contributions, many focusing on local gambling conflicts, shows in great detail how gambling can destroy the lives of solid citizens.

Many of the contributions document how gambling interests -- including state lotteries -- target the poor, pandering to their fantasies of getting rich fast.

Joshua Wlf Shenk reports on lottery ads with shameless appeals to the poor, though many states now try to regulate ads as brazen as a Chicago billboard that read, "Your Ticket Out of Here." An ad for the D.C. lottery shows a man "before" and "after" the lottery -- before with stubble and matted hair; after wearing a tuxedo, clean shaven and holding a theater program. The copy reads, "Just One Ticket ... And it Could Happen to You."

Ford Fessenden and John Riley show that annual lottery spending per $10,000 of New York state household income is eight times higher in the lowest income areas than in the highest; they also report that low-income neighborhoods in places like the South Bronx and Harlem spend more per household on the lottery than high-income areas like Great Neck and Scarsdale.

One of the most disturbing elements of the gambling boom is that gambling has gone legit. In recent decades, gambling in the United States has gone from a local vice and an isolated concern of Las Vegas and then Atlantic City, to being a $500 billion-a-year industry. Most states have sanctioned heavily advertised lotteries; casino gambling has come to cities, states and Indian reservations across the nation; and the political influence of casino interests has skyrocketed. The mainstreaming of casino and gambling interests will make regulating gambling -- and ultimately rolling back legalized gambling to restricted areas, as anti-gambling advocates believe necessary -- far more difficult.

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