Anyone that has been reading along has seen me mention the latest Public Enemy album, Man Plans God Laughs. As a lover of albums, I not only like to hear records in full, but when an artist comes out with a new record that I love, I like to hear it in the context of their career. Often records speak to each other, especially when artist are creating records that have concepts and aren’t just collections of songs. So as well as checking out Public Enemy’s catalog, I have been reading different interviews with Chuck D, unofficial leader of and main rapper in Public Enemy. Chuck D is always interesting. In the above interview there is a segment where the interviewer and Chuck D it is mention how Bill Clinton deregulated radio with his 1996 Telecommunications act. This is not the focus of the interview, but it is an interesting snippet. From the interview:
DX: I wanna go back to one additional thing Too Short said. After he put Barry Weiss on blast he went on to say that he believes there was a meeting of the minds amongst the major labels to shut down conscious Hip Hop. Do you believe such a collusion happened, or was it more likely that Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996, that consolidated radio ownership, was the real nail in the coffin to message-driven music?
Chuck D: Yeah, the latter was the real nail in the coffin – not so much to message-driven music but to local music being able to have a chance to independently breathe. The consolidation of radio stations was like the worst thing ever done to music.
As someone that works in the music industry, I have long known that the consolidation of radio stations by big corporations, Clear Channel (Now known as, I’m not kidding, iHeartMedia.) in particular, has been horrible for the music industry. There was less artistic diversity than ever before. One only has to look at the aftermath of 9/11 to understand what can happen. After 9/11 Clear Channel (iHeartMedia), the largest owner of radio stations in America banned songs that were deemed “sensitive” to listeners. One of these songs happened to be John Lennon’s Imagine. This ban was eventually lifted, but one can see this kind of thing happening on a lesser scale all of the time.
So why is this interesting, even if you are someone like me that never listens to the radio? First you can see how big money can stifle culture. Art is how ideas can be spread in a way that is accessible, in a way that is entertaining and easy to understand. Less competition, created by one corporation owning a large percentage of the market, means there is less reason for alternative programming. Even if a corporation isn’t trying to purposely stop a certain message from getting out, there is less reason to play something new or cutting edge, even if it has a certain following. Luckily, we now have internet radio and satellite radio, which have helped bring diversity into the market, but a large group of people still listen to regular radio. What gets played on traditional radio still has an advantage. Art is extremely important as a form for political discussion, as it connects emotionally. One only has to look at the 60’s counterculture to understand how art and particularly music can affect people from a political perspective.
There are many reasons that music doesn’t have the political power that it once did, reasons that have to do with technology, culture, education, and economics. However, I think the above Act is something that greatly contributed.
Also, I find it interesting that it was Clinton that signed the above Act into law. I have always known that Clinton was a corporate Democrat, but being that I was 18 at the time and not fully formed politically, I never put it together that he was the one that oversaw that law being put into place. As someone that would consider themselves as being on the left, I think it is extremely important that we condemn those on our side that do not act in the public interest, especially if we are going to be believed when we make political accusations of those that do not in anyway share our values. Even if I view Hillary Clinton as the far lesser of two evils, when compared to the pack of mutants running for the Republican nomination, we must make sure that she does not repeat the sins of her husband if she were to gain the nomination. (Who really was far more conservative than most people remember.) I am hoping that Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, but I have no doubt that I would vote for Clinton over anyone declared for the right at the current moment.
So I think it is important to see how big money can corrupt culture, as a concrete example. It is important to acknowledge how art influences our culture. Remember, the whole reason that I am writing about this subject is because I was reading an interview with a musician. I also think it is important, for those interested in politics, to stay vigilant especially when someone on “one’s side” is in political power, as it is much easier to be lulled into complacency.
It’s late on a Saturday and already I feel that I am rambling a bit in this post, but there is just one other thing I want to mention. (But believe me, I actually feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg in talking about the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the deregulation of media in general.)
Just as a playful what if, I want you to imagine a world where subversive art and other media voices did not face so many restrictions in communicating on mass. If more voices were heard, would tragedies such as the Iraq War have been averted or at least not carried out with such zeal? (Not only did Clinton help to deregulate the media, but Ronald Reagan also contributed greatly to media deregulation.)