Occupy Wall Street began modestly enough, a couple hundred seemingly homogeneous folks gathering to protest in the largest city in the United States. As such, it needn’t gather much more news coverage than a curiosity, perhaps buried in “news of the weird”. Yet, though in one month’s time, the protest has swollen to thousands, as its message and mission has grown more focussed, as it has carried out clear and positive actions (such as the demonstration that successfully averted some foreclosures), one would think from the amount and nature of mainstream media coverage of the movement that Occupy Wall Street remains entirely a small gaggle of unfocussed, vaguely angry “young people”–a myth.
The internet, though, isn’t (wholly) mainstream media. What is interesting, though, is that one need not look far online to find this same unanalysed and untrue trope–of “lazy”, misguided youth, small in number and devoid of real purpose–perpetuated in comment sections across the web. I personally believe that this is the direct result of the message that the mainstream media have perpetuated since the beginning, as one sees the same eerily similar phrasings repeated over and over. The mainstream media established the meme of the “spoilt young middle-class rabble-rousers”, and so it has perpetuated through repetition.
It makes sense, though. The mainstream media are owned by the same corporations that the protesters stand against–and if there is one enemy the protesters consider to have in common, it is corporations. Through consolidation and buyouts over the years, the power to disseminate news has concentrated itself into fewer and fewer hands, leaving the news we get every day more and more “corporate”–even as the internet, smart phones, etc have placed the power to spread news in more and more hands. The mainstream media outlets, quite simply, are not going to bite the hands that feed them by relating news stories that stand against their own self-interest.
This, however, is nothing new. The myth that news media are, or should be, “objective” is taught from childhood. But, first off, human beings are not by nature fully objective entities. We are a conflated, confused mishmash of beliefs, principles, and goals, and there is no real way around it. I think also of times past when the media would go to absurd lengths to promote its own economic well-being. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for a major city newspaper to print up a made-up story of, say, an elephant escaping the zoo and rampaging the city, causing panic and, yes, increased newspaper sales. The fact that the last paragraph would read, “The preceding was a complete work of fiction” did nothing to keep people from spreading the rumour of the escaped elephant that they knew their cousin’s cousin saw yesterday–after all, aren’t we taught in school that, when writing news, you put the least important information at the end?
The mainstream media are putting Occupy Wall Street in the last paragraph, hoping that, if we ignore it, we will keep believing them and buying their products.