View the archive of my 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the tenuous link between media and democracy – and what the continuing convergence of media, technology, and politics means for artists, and for us all.
My name is Jonathan Taplin. I’ve had five distinct careers. I started my working life the year I graduated from Princeton (1969) as Tour Manager for Bob Dylan and the Band. I was at Woodstock, The Isle of Wight with Dylan and toured Canada on a train (1970) with Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Band and Bonnie and Delaney. Much madness ensued. In 1971 I produced the Concert For Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden for George Harrison and then went to Hollywood to produce Martin Scorsese’s fist important film. Mean Streets. In the 1980’s I helped the Bass Brother’s rescue Walt Disney from corporate raid and then became a Vice President of Media Mergers and Acquisitions for Merrill Lynch Investment banking.
In the 1990’s I returned to film production and then started the first streaming video on demand service, Intertainer.
In the 2000’s I was a Professor at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism and was the Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.
In 2016 Little Brown published my book Move Fast and Break things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. In 2021 Heyday published my memoir The Magic Years: Scenes from a Rock and Roll Life.
These experiences have given me a unique perspective from which to talk with you about something I think about quite a lot these days: the essential link between media and democracy. I believe that media and democracy are so deeply connected that if one dies the other dies. I also know first-hand that media passes through periods of revolutionary change into periods of conservative consolidation. We are currently in a consolidation era, and, unless we are vigilant, the likely consequences are that the outlier artist (Billie Holiday, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Rachel Kushner, Jean-Michel Basquiat) that has always driven our culture forward, will be silenced.
I hope you will join me in my upcoming live class, Five Things I’ve Learned about The Future of Media and Democracy. I want the class to be interactive and provocative. I want you to come away reimagining what our cultural future might soon look like. I’ll share with you some conclusions from a lifetime of wrestling with the convergence of media, technology, and politics.
- Today decisions about our collective art are made by businessmen. The philosopher Herbert Marcuse has said that the role of the artist is to never forget “what can be.” So artists constantly played a role in political change. From Sergei Eisenstein’s Potemkin Village to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’. But these were all personal creations, made under what I would call folk or craft conditions. But now all media is a giant business, and so the decisions as to what get’s created and distributed or not are made by businessmen. We will start by investigating the meaning of that change. We will look at journalism, film and TV, music and art.
- The Internet changed everything. On the positive side, the streaming media future has exposed us to great drama and great music from all over the world. So we know we really do inhabit McLuhan’s Global Village. It makes me optimistic that I can watch Korean or Norwegian dramas or listen to Icelandic music when ever I want and it is a huge boon to society. But we also need to question how we arrived at a situation in which it’s easier than ever to share your creativity with the world, and harder than ever to make a living doing so.
- We share few common facts. For society, the invention of the mobile Internet, in combination with new forms of social media, completely destroyed the world of shared facts that had been the basis of our democracy since Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. When I was at Princeton in 1968 I would watch the CBS Evening News every evening, where Walter Cronkite would end the broadcast with the phrase “that’s the way it is, May 16,1968.” And to a large extent, the whole country could agree on that set of facts. But Social Media changed all that. We have no shared facts. We live in our political and cultural bubbles.
- Volume makes a difference. Could the number of people making media (including influencers) surpass the number of people who are just consumers of media? There are 70 million tracks on Spotify. 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute worldwide. According to Mediakix.com, there could be as many as 37 million influencers online globally. This is a half–serious question, but how much of this content passes the “who cares” test? Whatever your answer, I do think the overwhelming fire hose of media aimed at us has implications for art, culture and mental health.
- The Metaverse is coming. As Big Tech comes to dominate media distribution, men like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have a very clear view of your virtual reality media future. The venture capitalist Marc Andreessen thinks that Zuckerberg’s coming “Metaverse” is just the solution for our current despair. “We should build — and we are building –” he adds, “online worlds that make life and work and love wonderful for everyone, no matter what level of reality deprivation they find themselves in.” But others distrust Zuckerberg’s vision of this alternative virtual reality, where you can’t skip the ads. As Rob Horning noted “Facebook would also like to secure the ability to prevent people from any right to absence … The Metaverse is fundamentally a place you will be forced to be.” Let’s discuss if we want to live in the Metaverse.
So as you can see I’m worried. But there’s still hope and it’s unsure how it will play out. When the class concludes I hope you will have a grasp of some of the possible solutions to the five problems I have mentioned. I would like to spend the last 45 minutes addressing both your questions and your policy suggestions for the future of media and democracy.
Please join me.
– Jonathan Taplin
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