Media moves people. Its forms include t.v. and cable networks, the internet, radio stations, magazines, newspapers, blogs, social network websites, and commercial advertising. Everyday speech and conversations are hodge-podges of mass-media produced soundbytes and slogans. It is clear that marketing and promotional hype is responsible for way most Americans think and the subsequent choices they make.
Decoding media requires breaking it down to its elements. These are symbols, graphics, color and type that drive the ideas communicating specific messages and attitudes. Taking the examination further raises questions of ownership, intent and interest. Who controls media? Who stands to gain the most from the messages in mass media? Who stands to lose the most from the same messages? What ideas and attitudes does mass media promote? To what effect?
For some initial answers, simply turn on the television, browse the internet, or step outside. The most accessible media pushes consumption, sex, fear and violence. And effectively so, look at the state of this country's government and citizens. Many are programmed autobots parroting mediated perspectives without understanding their implications and fulfiling mandates to buy and be blissfully ignorant.
What would happen if the same mechanisms that endow the invisible hand of mass media with limitless power, were utilized to energize the population with political and social agency? FAIM Internet Magazine takes a trip back in time to answer this question.
Back in the days of the mid-1960's, when racist and economic oppression were undeniably blatant and brutal, the Black Panther Party emerged. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the party in 1966 in Oakland, California to empower the most attacked people to defend themselves and to demand the end of global capitalism and imperialistic oppression. Emory Douglas, formerly of the Black Arts Movement of the time was appointed as the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. His responsibility today would be the equivalent of brand manager and art director. Emory Douglas produced the visuals to represent the Party's platform and designed the layout and graphics for their weekly newspaper.
Communicating the urgency of self-defense was crucial. The American government and its police forces readily attacked Black communities, murdering and torturing innocent people without penalty. The Black Panther Party recognized the power of the media, printing over 400,000 copies of the "Black Panther" newspaper each week at its peak. The publication frequently displayed images of revolutionary art, which at the time had been a powerful tool internationally in garnering grassroot momentum of social and political issues.
One of Douglas' most famous depictions is of the "Pig". The term refers in particular to the police and is defined as "a low natured beast that has no regard for law, justice, or the rights of people; a creature that bites the hand that feeds it; a foul, depraved traducer, usually found masquerading as the victim of an unprovoked attack."1 Painting a picture in the minds of people, especially of their enemy in its exposed ugliness, proved powerful and permanent. Pig is still in today' vernacular to describe police and snitches.
Women, mothers and children were also symbols in Emory' art. By repetitiously showing women, men and families together in the struggle, he was able to foster an acceptance of equality for women that was revolutionary at the time. Additionally, the image of strong women and armed mothers produced a visceral reaction in many viewers who formed emotional associations with the representations.
Emory Douglas' art showing everyday people armed, defending and steadfast was a major charge in moving them to physical resistance. These visuals coupled with phrases projected the ideas into the minds of the people, whose actions manifested the meaning of the messages. Media moves people. And what was the result? The Black Panther Party established 45 chapters across the country within 6 years. People of oppressed communities organized and ran Free Breakfast Programs, Free Shoe Programs, Sickle-Cell Anemia Testing Programs and Freedom Schools. Key members of the Black Panther Party even ran national campaigns for seats in American government. The Black Panther newspaper and Emory's art were instrumental in mobilizing people from being victims to agents of their own survival.
The power of media is not limited to the present-day controllers of mass communication. Behind it all are thinkers, artists, designers, writers and directors, people like the readers of FAIM Internet Magazine. As is shown in the example of the Black Panther Party newspaper and in the revolutionary art of Emory Douglas, consistent, intentional messages coupled with powerful imagery have a signficant impact, even on the most localized and independent scale. Let more embrace the power to use the skills of media-mastery in the interest of the greater, common good. The future of our survival depends on it everyone's participation in the solution.
1. Black Panther The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas. p 28. Rizzoli, New York, 2007.
All art done by Emory Douglas