Sunday, February 26, 2012

You Are the Merchandise

If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold. ~ blue_beetle, Metafilter discussion.

Any time you think you're getting free stuff, think again. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Free radio, free TV, free email, free health care, free education. Forget it. It isn't free. You're being sold.

Just out of college, I was the chief engineer for a radio station. The radio station had a sales department. Did the sales department go door to door, soliciting listeners? No, the sales force went business to business selling listeners, selling time to advertisers to propagandize the listeners. Sure, there is some kind of symbiosis between listeners, advertisers and the radio station. The station needs listeners in order to sell their time to the advertisers, so the radio station provides useful services and entertainment to the listeners, because more listeners means higher ratings, which translate into more advertising dollars.

Listeners don't like advertising all that much, but they tolerate it for the free music and news. But make no mistake, the listeners are the merchandise. If you watch free television, or use free services on the web (Google maps, Google mail, etc.), then you, your activity patterns, and your privacy are being sold. Someone has to pay for all that free stuff. And it's you. Oh, right -- it's the advertisers. But who pays the advertisers? You do. In response to their propaganda advertising.

What about public broadcasting? Aren't PBS and NPR supported by viewers like you? Aren't their programs made possible by grants from The Ford Foundation, or The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Or Mobile? Well, maybe insofar as individual viewers do make a pledge now and then, yes. But the foundations? The commercial supporters? Those are mini-advertisements. And, PBS and NPR have to keep doing what those foundations like, or they'll stop supporting public broadcasting. It's still propaganda.

Which brings us to government grants for public broadcasting. Everything up until here has been voluntary. Listeners who don't like being sold can turn off their radio. You don't have to patronize the advertisers, or contribute to NPR, or the foundations and corporations making public broadcasting possible. You can opt out at any time. Except when it comes to your taxes. The government taxes you, and you have no recourse but to pay -- under penalty of law -- without any significant say in how your taxes are spent, even if it goes against your beliefs (no taxation without representation -- are your beliefs being represented? Anything? Hello?)

When the government buys listeners from NPR and PBS, they are buying your eyes, ears and mind, and NPR and PBS are selling propaganda time. Public broadcasting is always in need of cash, and the government has tremendous power over them, because it can withdraw its grants any time it doesn't like what the network says or does. You say it can't, or doesn't happen in America. Really?

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. ~ James Madison (Federalist 51)

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