"Finnish Views of CNN Television
News" by Brett Dellinger
"CNN's format is a proven competitive broadcasting commodity while other formats, and discourse styles, are not competitive and will have more difficulty attracting audience attention in a predominantly commercial environment."
"Cueing ... as an artificial contrivance becomes a complex phenomenon, one which, after time, can develop into a formalized and familiar cultural experience whose frame becomes ritualized."
"The American public got what many critics and "conspiracy theorists" did not entirely expect: Instead of the "jackboot" and fascist-style propaganda, American television viewers got an endless stream of entertainment..."
"Stuart Hall ... sees the operation of the media within western capitalist societies as "all inclusive." The media shape our tastes and our desires--as well as our expectations. There is 'a shaping of the whole ideological environment ... a way of representing the order of things ... with ... natural or divine inevitability ....'"
To Finns, it seems, American television news is read "with a gleeful smile and interspersed with laughter, punctuated by frowning--as if ... emotions were totally disconnected from the text. American audiences ... expect "happy talk" and banter during a news broadcast. Finns, on the other hand, associate such behavior with clowns..."
For more information: See Sam Inkinen, the editor, in Research in Text Theory Untersuchungen zur Texttheorie, a series edited by János Petöfi.
The Structural Constraint of "Concision" as it is Used in the Discourse Style of American Commercial Broadcasting
Im interested that youve said that commercial radio is less ideological than public radio.
Thats been my experience. Here Id want to be a little more cautious. Public radio out in the sticks, in my experience, is pretty open. So when I go to Wyoming or Iowa Im on public radio, for longer discussions. That would be very hard to imagine in Boston or Washington. Occasionally you might get on with somebody else to balance you for three minutes, in which there are three sentences for each person. But anything that would be more in depth would be very difficult.
Its worth bearing in mind that the U.S. communications system has devised a very effective structural technique to prevent dissidence. This comes out very clearly sometimes. The United States is about the only country I know where anywhere near the mainstream youve got to be extremely concise in what you say, because if you ever get access, its two minutes between commercials. Thats not true in other countries. Its not true outside of the mainstream either. You can get maybe ten or fifteen minutes, you can develop a thought. If you can get on a U.S. mainstream program, NPR, Ted Koppel, its a couple of sentences. Theyre very well aware of it. Do you know Jeff Hansen?
Hes at WORT, Madison.
Last time I was out there, he wanted to arrange an interview when I was in the area giving some talks on the media. He started by playing a tape that he had that youve probably heard where he had interviewed Jeff Greenfield, some mucky-muck with Nightline. He asked Greenfield, How come you never have Chomsky on? Greenfield starts with a kind of tirade about how this guys a wacko from Neptune. After he calmed down and stopped foaming at the mouth, he then said something which was quite right: Look, he probably "lacks concision." We need the kind of people who can say something in a few brief sentences. Maybe the best expert on some topic is from Turkey and speaks only Turkish. Thats no good for us. Weve got to get somebody who can say something with concision, and this guy Chomsky just rants on and on. Theres something to that.
Take a look at the February/March 1990 Mother Jones. Theres an interesting article by Marc Cooper in which he does an analysis of the main people who appear as experts on shows. Of course, theyre all skewed to the right, and the same people appear over and over. But the commentary is interesting. He talks to media people about this and they say, These are people who know how to make their thoughts concise and simple and straightforward and they can make those brief two-sentence statements between commercials. Thats quite significant. Because if youre constrained to producing two sentences between commercials, or 700 words in an op-ed piece, you can do nothing but express conventional thoughts. If you express conventional thoughts, you dont need any basis for it or any background, or any arguments. If you try to express something thats somewhat unconventional, people will rightly ask why youre saying that. Theyre right. If I refer to the United States invasion of South Vietnam, people will ask, "What are you talking about? I never heard of that." And theyre right. Theyve never heard about it. So Id have to explain what I mean.
Or suppose Im talking about international terrorism, and I say that we ought to stop it in Washington, which is a major center of it. People back off, "What do you mean, Washingtons a major center of it?" Then you have to explain. You have to give some background. Thats exactly what Jeff Greenfield is talking about. You dont want people who have to give background, because that would allow critical thought. What you want is completely conformist ideas. You want just repetition of the propaganda line, the party line. For that you need "concision". I could do it too. I could say what I think in three sentences, too. But it would just sound as if it was off the wall, because theres no basis laid for it. If you come from the American Enterprise Institute and you say it in three sentences, yes, people hear it every day, so whats the big deal? Yeah, sure, Qaddafis the biggest monster in the world, and the Russians are conquering the world, and this and that, Noriegas the worst gangster since so-and-so. For that kind of thing you dont need any background. You just rehash the thoughts that everybodys always expressed and that you hear from Dan Rather and everyone else.
Thats a structural technique thats very valuable. In fact, if people like Ted Koppel were smarter, they would allow more dissidents on, because they would just make fools of themselves. Either you would sell out and repeat what everybody else is saying because its the only way to sound sane, or else you would say what you think, in which case youd sound like a madman, even if what you think is absolutely true and easily supportable. The reason is that the whole system so completely excludes it. Itll sound crazy, rightly, from their point of view. And since you have to have concision, as Jeff Greenfield says, you dont have time to explain it. Thats a marvelous structural technique of propaganda. They do the same thing in Japan, Im told. Most of the world still hasnt reached that level of sophistication. You can go on Belgian national radio or the BBC and actually say what you mean. Thats very hard in the United States.
Below is another excerpt, an interview with Noam Chomsky appearing on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour-- Chomsky continues after he is interrupted by the host, Robert MacNeil:
Again, there is—has been—an offer on the table which we rejected—an Iraqi offer last April..".Robert MacNeil: "Okay. I have to interrupt...
[Continuing] "...uh...to eliminate their arsenals if Israel were to simultaneously do the same..."
"I have to end it there."
[Continuing] "That should be pursued as well..."
"Sorry to interrupt you. I have to end it there. That’s the end of our time. Professor Chomsky, thank you very much for joining us."Concision, the 44-minute hour and "structural constraint "
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Brett Dellinger lives in Finland.
Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.