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QP 23 Watkins

QP 23 Watkins

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Published by Luka Culjak

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Published by: Luka Culjak on Nov 12, 2012
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Notes onThe Media Crisis
Peter Watkins
   Q  u  a   d  e  r  n  s  p  o  r   t   à   t   i   l  s
As the proessional repression against my work became more extensive, I travelled to schoolsand universities in North America, Europe, Scandinavia and Australasia, speaking aboutthe media crisis and trying to organise critical media education. In the mid-1970s I ran twosummer courses under Dr. James Shenton at Columbia University in New York City, in whichwe analysed a series o American news programmes. From this emerged my awareness o what I call the Monoorm - I have written about it extensively over the past 30 years.Our research at Columbia revealed the development o a ormatted and repetitive TV language-orm o rapidly edited and ragmented images accompanied by a dense bombardment o sound, all held together by the classical narrative structure. Although this language-ormhad originally been conceived by Hollywood, it was disturbing to discover its commonuse throughout virtually all contemporary TV programming, rom soap operas to newsbroadcasting. This standardisation - and the imperatives behind it - has become worse inthe last decades, and now embraces virtually all orms o ‘proessional’ lm and TV usage,including ‘reality TV’, sports broadcasting, most documentary lms, etc.Because o its extreme rapidity (especially the version developed over the past 20 years), theMonoorm gives no time or interaction, refection or questioning. Its dense layering o sound, its lack o silence (except or manipulative purposes), is again hostile to refection.The rapidly edited images are like small railway cars, and the rails they run on themonolinear narrative structure as originally developed by Hollywood and designed to movethe story (the message) in a
line (pre-determined by the producers, notthe public), rising and alling between impact points to a nal climax and termination.This Monoorm is designed to entrap - to catch and hold the attention o the public overprolonged periods o time. It is organised to create
responses, whichmeans that beore the audience sees any Monoorm lm or television programme, itsproducers already know how they (the audience) will react - or at least such is the intention.No allowance is made or any reaction rom the audience which might be dierent to theanticipated and created one.The media, and probably many media scholars, would claim that the use o the Monoorm inthis way is a widely accepted practice. But accepted by whom? Who has discussed it? Andwhat do we know about its impact?Given the sheer breadth and universality o the media crisis (its eect on the creative andpluralistic development o cinema and television on the one hand, its detrimental social,political and human consequences on the civic process on the other), the silence thatreigns over the subject publicly, within the mass audiovisual media (MAVM) themselves,and throughout the education sphere, is shocking. The multiple holistic issues o the mediacrisis remain undebated by the public nearly 100 years ater the emergence o Hollywood!
Notes onThe Media Crisis
Peter Watkins
Since the time o the 1966 banning by the BBC o my lm
The War Game 
(which dealt withthe consequences o using nuclear weapons) I have been concerned with the increasing‘dumbing down’ o the MAVM (mass audiovisual media) and the development o whatI now reer to as “the media crisis”. Key elements in this crisis include the heavilycircumscribed agendas o the MAVM, the orced development o the media popularculture, the standardisation o the audiovisual orm resulting in the creation o anincreasingly hierarchical and manipulative relationship with the audience (the public),and education systems which are largely compliant with this system.
Many actors are involved in this issue, but here I will outline just the bare bones:
The Monoorm and ‘objectivity’
The smothering o virtually all TV andcommercial cinema within the limiting structure o the Monoorm presents many problemsand contradictions - especially in a proession claiming to uphold ‘objectivity’, ‘impartiality’,‘airness’, ‘balance’, etc. Related to this issue is the act that commercial cinema producersuniversally claim that their products are uniquely “entertainment”, the “telling o a goodstory with strong characters” - and deny that there is any
agenda orimpact (intentional or not) behind the making and screening o their lms.The notion o ‘impartiality’ (the idea that the message is unbiased and can convey ‘acts’),when applied to the consequences o receiving inormation rom the MAVM, is a completemyth. I the MAVM are impartial, why is it that we can still claim to know so little aboutthe consequences o the sustained impact o audio-visual messages? - it is certainly not‘objective’ or the MAVM to withhold that inormation rom us!It is not uncommon or media proessionals to say that they too understand that ‘objectivity’ doesnot exist... and to continue by saying that, “all you can strive or is some kind o balanceand airness when you present something in a documentary or news programme...”.But this claim holds no water either. “Balance” and “airness” are meaningless concepts whenone considers that the products parading under this banner are invariably structured bythe Monoorm, and deliberately not discussed by the media... again, this is hardly ‘air’or ‘balanced’.
Culture o suppression within the MAVM
The Monoorm is nowcompulsory as media practice in all but name - a widespread repression throughout theproession enorces its use, and all attempts, either publicly or on the screen, to debate theissue are blocked. We have only to look around us to see the ruits o this silence - as we haveonly to look at TV, or visit the commercial cinema or some months, to see it in practice.Filmmakers today have the utmost diculty in making a lm or commercial cinema or TVunless they use: a) the ideology o the media popular culture, b) the Monoorm. Both aremandatory in all but name, and have resulted in the widespread proessional rejection / banning o a broad swathe o alternative orms o audiovisual communication - especiallyones using slower, more contemplative and complex editing and narrative orms, or onesthat present less brutally simplistic themes with a social concern and a critical edge.The nature and extent o this internal repression remains a secret to the public, even thoughits evidence is seen and heard every day on the screen. The MAVM reuse to debate thesignicance o this problem, and suppress any lm or TV production that attempts to raise it.As a consequence, it is now very common (and has long been the practice in commercialcinema) or commissioning editors and senior producers in TV to intervene directly in thecreative process o TV programmes, orcing material to conorm to ‘accepted practices’and the dictates o commercialism. TV and commercial cinema executives insist on theuse o the standardised Monoorm (without o course reerring to it as such), and telldirectors (and editors) that without it “we lose our audience”.It is impossible to exaggerate the extent o the repression that is now in place within theMAVM or the extent o the culture o compromise that allows it to happen. This is urtherillustrated by the emergence o the “universal clock” and “pitching” (see my writingelsewhere on these practices). Unortunately, many lmmakers and related proessionalshave accepted all o these repressions or ear o jeopardising their possibilities to obtainproduction unding, or work o any kind.One o the many glaring contradictions in the contemporary MAVM is that, alongside therepression, TV organisations still carry ocial texts o 
Broadcasting Codes, Standards and Practices 
, which herald the notions o ‘objectivity’ and ‘airness’!
Agendas and process o the MAVM
The media crisis does not onlyrelate to the enorced use o the Monoorm, but also to the
o the MAVM - whatthe media decide to show on the TV screen or to produce or the cinema (or print in thepress). With some exceptions (notably in the print media), the agendas o the mass mediaare extremely conservative and based on a national ideology (or lack o one) - which in theWest implies the maintenance o neoliberal globalisation.One way to consider the impact o media agendas is to contemplate how dierent the planetarysituation would be, had the MAVM not been incessantly bombarding us or the past hal-century with consumer-society values.The issues o language-orm and control agendas are only part o the media crisis. Anotheraspect is the undemocratic
o the MAVM towards the public - and this touchesupon every element regarding the decisions that the media make about what to say/tell, ornot, to the public (
), and about how to structure the presentation (
). The
 involves every other aspect o the relationship: the training that proessionals undergo,how they dialogue and communicate, or not, with the public (via public meetings, etc.),

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