Long time ago (as far back as the late 60s, early 70s) Jürgen Habermas started to believe in the transformative power of undistorted communication. He thinks that communicative action is central to political action and paradigm shifts. He seems to be on to something with his theories.
Following Habermas’ logic, we must focus on linguistics of media. If we have a deep understanding of media language and can attain critical media literacy, then I argue, we can increase our rational communicative competence. Societies make moral mistakes with regularity. For those of us who are committed to the ideas and actions toward social justice there is a vital need of higher moral development so as not to make too many moral mistakes.
This kind of project requires solid collective consciousness. Habermas issues a strong caveat regarding what he calls cultural impoverishment. How do the corporate media deliberately generate cultural impoverishment? Through programming of sophisticated discourses that are designed to SUPPRESS critical discourses produced by engaged citizens and those in the alternative media (e.g., Free Speech Radio/TV, Link TV, and Free Press)–and to some extent public media (e.g., BBC, PBS, and NPR). This is how ideology operates, after all. These corporate media discourses generate a kind of everyday communication with people, yielding what Habermas calls fragmented consciousness.
This fragmented consciousness is severely handicapped when it comes to understanding the world in any meaningful and critical way. It is indeed difficult to escape the ways of the media, as it is connected to the ways of technological advancement congruent with capitalist ideology. Take the case of the cell phone, for example. Most people use their cell phones to get the news, set up appointments, play video games, browse the Internet, and so on…and they might make a few phone calls too. In a corporatist paradigm there exists a top-down management that teleologically (with a purpose) looks to shape people into “functionally rational” (another Habermasian term) workers and consumers while at once culturally impoverished. Think of the professional corporate lawyer who is extremely competent in his or her job but is incapable of reading critically the various Disney films, seeing them as merely benign entertainment.
In The Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas writes,
“We today have a “fragmented consciousness” that blocks enlightenment by the mechanism of reification. It is only with this that the conditions for a colonization of the lifeworld are met. When stripped of their ideological veils, the imperatives of autonomous subsystems make their way into the lifeworld from the outside—like colonial masters coming into tribal society—and force a process of assimilation upon it.” (TCA 2 355)
Do money and power interfere with people’s ability to conduct a form of communicative action predicated on reason? Do corporate media programs “explain” to us what happens, how things happen, why they happen, and in turn, justifying the status quo (i.e., corporatism is natural and ideal)? It behooves us to remember that ideology as mediated through culture industry is systematic and seems to have a comprehensive inventory of ideas and narratives, explaining socio-political lifeworld. They give us the “reality” they want us to believe in. And once internalized, do we demand this “reality” and nothing else?