Teddy Roosevelt said, “Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth.” And so it is that we find ourselves living in the most vulgar of times, presided over by the Rough Rider’s number-one fan, George Bush. But the President is himself the creation of a cultural zeitgeist aptly described as “Bush World” by critic John Powers. Who better suited than Dubya to be President in an era when raiding pension plans, kissing up to The Donald and unabashed lying–be it to invade Iraq or sell one’s memoir–is business as usual? It’s no accident that the rise of this winner-take-all culture coincides with an era of unprecedented media consolidation. The media giants–in the guise of giving us what we “want”–have helped create a broader culture defined by untrammeled greed, the worship of power and a ruthless disregard for the public good. For a nation of spectators, the corruption scandals in Congress are no more surprising than rumors of vote-rigging on our favorite TV show, American Idol.
The really bad news is that this is not just America’s problem. After all, the Idol franchise earns more than $2 billion worldwide. Be they Slovaks, Turks, Malaysians or French, everyone has learned to cheer for the winners and revel in the humiliation of those who lose. And in India, which in the past fifteen years has witnessed an explosive growth of corporate media–broadcast, print and online–the result has been infotainment on steroids. Whereas in the “bad” old socialist days dull stories about “issues”–say, poverty, religious violence or women’s rights–ruled the headlines, the brave new “liberalized” Indian media offer wall-to-wall, celebrity-obsessed content that would make Geraldo proud–though it seems a tad more obscene in a country where more than 30 percent of the population lives in poverty. But that hasn’t fazed Bertelsmann, Vivendi Universal and Time Warner, which are lining up to be part of this “revolution.”
The influence of the media conglomerates listed on this chart extends far beyond what they actually own. Indian media outlets are controlled by local conglomerates, but they behave like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, both in how they operate and what they produce. It’s no different with companies like Sweden’s Bonnier, Italy’s MediaSet or Brazil’s Globo. We all live in Bush World now.