The Cosmic Consciousness of Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler

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Shabazz Palaces Photo by Victoria Kovios.

For more than two decades, MC and producer Ishmael Butler has built a diverse and challenging body of work, exploring the nuances and potentialities of Black American music. In the early ‘90s, he helped infuse hip-hop with deep jazz sensibilities and Marxist philosophy as a member of the Grammy-winning rap trio Digable Planets. He spent part of the 2000s diving deeply into minimalistic psychedelic funk with the band Cherrywine. And as frontman of the avant-garde hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces, Butler’s practice of open experimentation and exploration continues. Working in Los Angeles and back at home in Seattle, the group has created two separate but complementary albums to be released together: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Starand Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines. Both are the products of this adventurous approach to music making. From the rolling, bass-heavy soul groove of “Shine a Light” to…

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Empirical Reality

“The philosophy of the dogmatists, it is to be hoped, was only a promise for thousands of years afterwards, as was astrology in still earlier times, in the service of which probably more labour, gold, acuteness, and patience have been spent than on any actual science hitherto: we owe to it, and to its ‘super-terrestrial’ pretensions in Asia and Egypt, the grand style of architecture.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good And Evil

It is apparent that we have become so firmly embedded in the concrete reality that the previously fielded questions of mankind are now taken for entirely granted or otherwise imagined that they are solved — the faculties of perception are taken ‘as they are,’ thus constituting the notion empirical reality. The flaws, then, are only addressed in relation to some other ‘concretely’ understood notion, such as in the case of social leveling, (or, ‘justice’) where a skewed vantage is thoroughly critiqued in the case of whatever cultural body may possess pre-eminence in a given historical context within a social situation. The lens that we use to view the broken glasses, however are taken as whole. Empirical, the power-word, empiricism, the skeleton key, the great pillar on which all that can be known is displayed. Obversely, intuition is taken as a humorous by-product of physically contingent human beings who exist (by accident, it is presumed) in a strictly material world. The metaphysical is no longer readily accepted into the vocabulary nor explored in academia related to secular society — which is the pre-eminently empirical society — psychology, sociology, systematically presumed leveling affects are achieved, here the glasses seen as broken in the light of day were once veiled in myth and mystery. But again, the greatest folly of the concretely embedded zeitgeist is an endless cycle of mindlessly attributed energy, so great a number of flags now hang on the imagined pillar of empiricism that it is entirely incomprehensible to see whose is whose, further reducing the ability to intuit will, further embedding us now in the mouth of concrete reality.

Research (information gaining) of a social nature observes phenomena through an agreed upon lens, constituting this ‘empirically’ derived reality. The mind is frequently referred to as a ‘black box’ — there is a strange dual relationship held between the agent of empiricism and this box; an aura suggesting of the attainment of knowledge is breathed over the individual and his or her work, suggesting of pre-eminence, yet the mind (suggested by its analogy) bears an outsiders’ relationship to the predeterminate concreteness. In every mode of knowing, we intuitively question the validity of the notion of progress, nowhere is babel-construction more illusorily conflated with wisdom and direct insight than within the linguistic construct discussed thus far. [The levelers must be leveled, then] The hypothesis of the thus limited mind removes altogether the question of transcendence of the external (concrete) complex of social, physical, psychical stimuli — the individual’s ability thus is removed through the positivist’s operationally defined construct. Language, already divorced from ‘reality’; the relationship which the individual bears to his or her highest type is subsequently irrevocably damaged, substituted is the possibility for a herd-like quiescence towards the tangible mean.

‘Sublimity’

1, ‘Sense of Wonder’

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2, ‘Distant Bliss’

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3, ‘Melt / David Caspar Friedrich’

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4, ‘Rose Meditative’

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5, ‘Dreaming and the Subconscious’

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6, ‘Chaos’

 

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7, ‘Ego’

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8. ‘Act’

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9, ‘Life is a Lucid Dream’

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‘Technica’

1, ‘℞’

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2, ‘Spontaneity’

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3, ‘Voice’

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4, ‘Tension’

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5, ‘Aztec’

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6, ‘Ultra’

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7, ‘Duality’

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8, ‘The Self’

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9, ‘Dope’

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10, ‘Voices’

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‘Golden Age’

1, ‘Back & Forth’

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2, ‘Street’

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3, ‘Freedom’

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4, ‘Peak’

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5, ‘Calm & Prosperous’

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6, ‘DMSR’

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7, ‘Vibe’

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8, ‘Clear-Eyed’

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A Cosmic Drifter’s Exploratory Guide to the Multiverse

or

Chimera

Preface:

“He is a prisoner in the midst of what is the freest, the openest of routes: bound fast at the infinite crossroads.”

-Michel Foucault, 1964

1 Fortunately, Not Everything Is Bad All of the Time

The room was stuffy and it was difficult to breathe, even for a third person omniscient narrator. “Alright, come on now. Ten? Take fifteen at least, you bloody weasel. Silver, do you have any idea just how hard I slaved over harvesting this one?” Deftly produced from his coat pocket, the small crystal prism containing the Wizard’s immaterial soul had a faint purple glow to it, a sheen of energy coursing over it in waves as it laid on West’s black glove. And he certainly had slaved, in getting it. Only recently returning from the Above, West was really starting to feel his nerves tighten from the stress of the work load. Things had gotten hairy towards the end. He was just a bit more belligerent, more irritable of late. “Yes.. Well, yeah, you know.. But, at the end of the day, you know… A fellas gotta make a profit.” The dealer became resolute as he so often had in the back room. “Soul sales are down sixteen percent from last quarter, eighteen the one before that. Collectors just aren’t buying like they used to.” He glanced towards the corner, where the swimsuit calendar hung next to the bookshelf. He began flittering his fingers together anxiously, as if in anticipation of his business partner’s displeasure. Silver had a slow, drawling way of communication. His speech was unassuming, unimpressive, his facial features neurotic and a little obsessive in the way they twitched sometimes. West attributed a great part of Silver’s long term success as a dealer to this air of impassivity; the tough guys usually burnt out fast down here. When you first meet him you’d just about have him figured out as uncharismatic, an inexplicable yet faint Scot’s accent touched his words. And while that wouldn’t be exactly what he would want you to think, his non aggressive way of handling things kept him from any sort of confrontation. So, the caricatured version of himself stuck with most people. Typically, when treated with derision or indifference, he would instinctively assume an air of unknowing; he would feign ignorance while his unquiet mind thought up clever remarks.. Words he would probably never say sober. And yet West knew him more precisely for who he actually was; incredibly lucky, surprisingly resolute in business dealings, a functional neurotic whose ideas regarding anything or anyone outside his enterprise were usually as implausible as they were amusing. His eyes darted around the grey backroom. His fingers tapped out an irregular rhythm on the table he so often bartered from across it in the Money House. West had been a frequent over the years in that “office” that in reality functioned for negotiation during business hours and as an interrogation room after them. As one of the co-owners of the entire enterprise, Silver enjoyed limitless access to the firm that was founded all those years ago. The two were relatively cordial that day considering the strain both were under; though it was apparent to most that the relationship was really more of a symbiotic one, a calculated business partnership. While neither cared for the other’s tactics when it meant less coin in a negotiation, they admired one other’s virtuosic ability (that often bordered on depravity, such can be necessities of the sales world) on the House floor or in the Above fields, partly because THAT typically meant more coin in total, (at the very least it meant an increased likelihood of buying a round) and partly due simply to the sheer mutual acknowledgement of talent. The two were nearly friends, and gotten a bit drunk at the Waterloo (the town’s local intoxication station) as they were wont to do on occasion the duo became just about unstoppable, feeding off a reciprocal energy that was equal parts gleeful chaos and spiteful humor. Just last cycle they’d been indicted, ticketed, and given a nearly universal scolding by the residents for what most considered in outrage to be a truly offensive joke about Pam’s partner’s disability (he had a hop toad limp). Still, the seeds of contempt and disgust towards the duo had been sewn, there was a constant feeling they were always one step from going over the line. “You sell to complete idiots and we both know it. Turning a sale has never been your issue..” “Yes, yes, well.. But, that’s marketing,” Max replied in the only way he knew how, with that fragile, nervous sounding voice of his. “Oh don’t give me that, Max. You and I both know full well what that means. So, will you give me a fair price, or will I have to salvage like last time? Listen, this one’s top tier, a real shiner, this one… Just get a look at that odometer reading, energy numbers don’t lie Max. Successful and creative, that one. I mean, there was that look he had, and the adoration! The innovation, the music, the glory, man… ” West had been gone for what felt like a long time. He was hungry and craving a fix, tired of the salesman talk and longing for the isolation of his flat. “Sh, yes, I get it. I’ll pay 15, that’s fine, yes… Just know that I can’t sell the thing for more than… 20, 21 ledt (the currency around here), old and worn, way it is. Take your bloody coin, West, but don’t expect this kind of flippancy every time. We all have bills to pay, addictions to fuel.” “Fine.” “Fine.” Abruptly standing, ending the conversation and grabbing the outstretched hand full of currency in a turning rush, West noticed for the first time just how nervous Silver looked in his assumed get up of worn patterned velvet and tacky brown corduroy. Given the opportunity, as he almost certainly is nearly every cycle, Max never outwardly changed, still opting for the same off-putting, unappealing look even as he made money with ease. In this way he was somewhat like an greasy eighties American shyster. He maintained a ravenous addiction to cocaine.

 

  1. Streetlife

Stepping out onto the brimstone paved street in his tall black military style boots he hurriedly left Silver in a state of a bewilderment, 15 ledt poorer but as the new, somewhat reluctant possessor of a jagged though thoroughly indulgent piece of craft, universally known if not always adored, here and there, everywhere. Truthfully, he was glad to be rid of the thing, with the remnants of fatigue still wearing on the corners of his expansive mind. They’re rarely easy, that much is understood by all, even those who never have to deal with such things. The number of folk tales and cultural encoding done in direct reference to soul siphoning made sure public awareness on the matter rarely dwindled. American culture was particularly notorious. Expecting and being greeted with a bleak sky and a desolate landscape he stepped from the Money House into the paved street where geometric construction drew the onlooker’s attention away from the godforsaken backdrop where the red moon hung during the day cycle. Weather was hardly ever nice around here, except when they (the Council) had enough energy to power the atmosphere creation machine, and that rarely happened anymore. Despite it all, the place isn’t nearly as humorless as it might appear upon first glance. The Bazaar of course had a liveliness unique all in it’s own, both in the outdoor courts and inside the trading centers, emanating a tangible energy that gave back to the partaker with an ebullience that nearly matched it’s breathlessness, it’s vertigo inducing tendencies. The Web, (as the academy is commonly known) where youngster’s rival their ‘intellects’ underneath aging mentors brims with it’s own jagged, cynical laughter, it’s swelling, boundless optimism at the prospect of furthering the collective mentality or simply pulling off the perfect prank on the elders. There are the show rooms where one might see how the other half live (you know, outside of oblivion), the sound dens bursting with sonic creativity, the self schools where one might learn, for a fee, to take on another’s form, to pilot an avatar of choice and replay memories, weeks, sometimes even months if the pilot is skilled and wealthy enough.

 

Speeding up his pace to get over the Wall as quickly as he possibly could, night took on a newly menacing, claustrophobic and suffocating form, pressing into him the desire to smile ironically at the gradual notice in his mind of his own mounting paranoia. When you’re that old with an immense, marked mind wrinkled with nuance and detail like a surrealist cartographers dream, emotions and states of awareness begin to stretch out and become devoid of any sort of immediate impact. Something resembling a third person vantage point that comes with having ‘seen it all’ as they say replaces the visceral, raw and impacting sensations of immature youth and ignorance. There are obvious benefits and detriments to each, although having the steely nervous control of a dead eye seasoned poker vet certainly lends it’s benefits when dealing on the Floor or in the House. Ignoring much of his surroundings, he centered his mind’s aching focus in the thin bones of his hand, curling, tensing his grip, relaxing, tensing, and relaxing in side of his coat pocket. From the distance he was at, Maniah, the Gatewatch resembled an arching, ghastly white giant’s cane, and her sight filled him with a sense of perturbed ambivalence. He was nearly home, but he also nearly always felt obligated to converse with Maniah, whose position at the Gate was really more a gift of courtesy than anything earned through talent or hard work. Her age and longstanding in the community entitle her to a whole lot more than she’s worth in her advanced years; such can be the cost of a village style democratic socialism, he had often reflected. The first and likely only holder of an entirely unnecessary position since the installation of the autonomous system, (none of the other gates had keepers, those were entirely automatic these days since their installation by the Council) she was nevertheless a pitiable old creature with a balmy heart once you took the time to know her, and West, despite his foulest mood, had no real desire to spurn her attempts at connection. Compassion was something sorely missing in his life. Maniah was once a real go-getter, or so they say. He knew that she was once a sort of token jewel diplomat for the Court, sometimes genuinely aiding in public affairs, though more often than not her role was simply entertaining. It was told in a now half joking, back then in an entirely envious manner around lecture circles, c-hubs, working rooms and the like that her smiling glance alone could once stir about a sense of such overwhelming warmth in it’s recipient, swaddling the feminine sucubus’ willing and desperate victim in a blanket sewn of a sweet forget far surpassing that of even the stiffest draught concocted in this desolate desert corner of a place. He was unlikely to get such a look tonight. Better days behind, a smoggy, reeking, lingering stench of stale cigarette smoke long soaked into what passes for skin worn with senility wafted from the tiny cove of her toll chamber. Her cosmetically grafted and whorled face and ridiculously primped hair nest distracted from her inwardly drawn face and her flat expression. The ‘infants’ (though far from helpless) would often gather behind the corner spot that marked the end of the proportioned, geometrically concentric Bazaar, snickering amongst themselves in juvenile mockery at the way Lady Maniah (as she is sometimes more affectionately known) resembled something of a robot with a dead battery when she, thinking herself alone, allowed her worn smile and tired eyes to assume their natural, fatigued positions. She looked a ghastly figure cast in the night’s hazy ambiance, far removed from the piercing look of that cosmic Cleopatra that had once amazed the chieftains of the high Court with her quicksilver, subtle sense of sexuality, with those blissfully unknowing yet persuading green eyes. “Oh, good evening, a good day about the town, I do hope?” Her words had an asthmatic, wheezing quality to them as they laboredly drifted from her gnarled lips. “Not the worst, not the best either. Good night, Maniah.” In no mood for niceties and feeling quite depleted of vigor by the work cycle, West deftly produced and flashed the identification card that he had prepared for passage ahead of time by transferring it from the leather holder in which it normally resided into his left coat pocket. Traditionally hung around the neck on a uniformly drab lanyard, West, in satisfying his replete sense of aesthetic homogeneity had removed the card from the cord, in spite of the fact that doing so brought him in direct conflict with the residential director, whose half sincere penchant for protestant-like witticisms and efficient bureaucracy made him the passive aggressive pseudo-enemy of such an individualist character as West. On those rare confrontational occasions, Reg (short of course, for Reginald, The Laminator) had often marched past refusing to fully engage him, mumbling up a nearly silent whispery whirlwind of remarks on citations, mandates, and order, the tired old catechisms that gave familiar form to a bureaucrat. They were empty threats, especially considering the failed attempt at reprimand that had ended with the laughing suggestion of a duel from West, renowned across the universe as a brilliant combatant, causing the numbing cowardice of a desk jockey who was given, rather than earned, a position of titular authority with (debatably) no real power, to surface. Just what do citations mean in the wild? Truthfully, Reg was utterly terrified of West, a being with nearly double his years and yet only half of his phobias.. Still, there was something of a quiet revolution only now awkwardly beginning to stir in many of the residents since the Split, giving folk like Reg a big boost in his sense of importance as well as his role as chief bureaucrat, not his official title. Uniformity had it’s allure for the weak, he supposed, and he made no public show of his individuality as he once had, many a cycle ago. Pressing the laminated card onto the rectangular card reading platform and waiting only a fraction of a second for the affirmative ding before throwing open the now unlocked passage door separating the quarters, he put up a cordial wave of the hand as Maniah, with longing reproach watched the back of his black trench coat flutter cinematically as he strode down the long separating corridor. West was damned cool.

  1. Poison Season, West

A half minute passed before the Gatekeeper seemed to resume her normal downcast expression and West made it to the entrance of the open, oval shaped cluster of dorms and houses nicknamed the Hive where most of them went for isolation or for rest. Though the maintenance crew had been through with their sweeping devices only a couple of days ago, rubbish had already begun to pile at the edges of the communal courtyard where the masses would like to congregate, enjoyably trading gossip or jokes or related banter amongst the carved obsidian statuettes, near the lone tall street lamp. Cigarette ends littered the gathering place. West paid little attention to these details as he actively strove to push the squalor from his awareness and he drifted past them, moving up the winding streets to his own flat, where he figured he just might find a brief respite in the familiar comforts of home. Producing his house key on the steps leading up to the door, he plunged it into the reader, turned the handle, and shouldered the door ajar only to be greeted with an awful, rotting stench that forced his expression sour and causing his engineered, mechanical stomach to churn. Gathering himself on the small rectangular porch West burst back into the drawing room and swiped at the light switch, his coat pulled up around his scent recognition device so that the horrible smell might be averted somewhat. A jarringly bright contrast to the smoky streets of town his small apartment’s hot fluorescent lights and incredibly busy, multitudinous, yet delicately arranged decorum sent a jolt of will into him. He whirled, seeking the origin of the scent. Cursing under his breath, he strode quickly to the kitchen, where a brat (a horrific accidental cross breed of a bat and a rat) was providing an undoubtedly excellent feast to a swarm of larvae, it’s small corpse sparse and thoroughly ravaged (you might rightly wonder how such a thing could exist here, but that’s a story for another day). Performing the necessary clean up with an immense, brimming feeling of irritation, West at last disposed of the whole mess and half leapt up the stairs in search of recharge, to tear from his tired mind the cares of today and yesterday in hope of some sort of inadequate preparation for tomorrow. He simply never got used to the strenuousness, the breathlessness that inevitably rises from those long, repetitive cycles of seduction and persuasion followed by the haggling that had come to characterize his occupation since the Split. Passing into his personal chamber, the familiar sights of vibrant Picasso prints (originals were nearly impossible to get, down here) and those lines of LP’s and books that had always brought a degree of comfort to the occasionally anxiety-ridden psyche that would force him for long hours into modes of sensory deprivation. Hardly consciously aware of what he was doing, he grabbed from out of the bin of music which he considered one of the nearest things he had to a real muse in this place an older, (if such an adjective is even fitting, with an expanded perception of time) favorite record, and with the dexterity of many years of routine slid from the envelope it’s package, placing the matte black circular object onto it’s desired resting place. With a few switch flicks and knob turns the device began to operate with a slight hum, and still fully clothed, West threw himself into his chair and let his head begin to tilt back. The weariness began to overtake him. Like some murky, black ocean’s waves whose opaque waters were gradually beginning to rise up with the tide more and more, his consciousness began to recede as the darkness of exhaustion and confusion further impressed upon the white sands of his mind. Just as his focus began to entirely lessen it’s grip on his own presence, his temporal awareness, the wild, chaotic strings of the complex music rose into a feverish crescendo, sending him spiraling upward towards an unseen mountain’s peak of madness which a Stravinsky or an Erich Zann undoubtedly claim as his eternal abode, the cacophony of confusion even further preventing him from any sort of escape into a mode of relaxation. Such avant-garde dissonance held little attraction for him now. In a whirl of complex emotions most nearly resembling dismay he quickly stood to his feet, causing yet another sense of physical as well as of psychical disorientation. Hurriedly striking a blow against the power switch of the audio system and then casting a glance towards the ornate yet kitsch golden colored full length mirror that leaned against his wall, the sight of his dark outer and white inner clothes restored a feeling of presence to what was beginning to feel like another out of control spiral. Debilitating break downs of self-awareness were happening with more and more frequency, the cracks were beginning to show in between those awfully contrasting alternations between the desire for the release of nothingness and the burning agony that came with the realization of a complete selfness that once only occasionally, yet more and more frequently plagued him. Usually his mind was located somewhere in between, where most would reside unknowingly. Yet these nervous fits as of late involving the extremities of conscious awareness still moved back and forth in his soul like some pendulum swinging from Within to Without, from Judas to Jesus, from a cage of selfness to complete selflessness’ bittersweet release. Beginning to power down the layers of elaborately arranged clothing and body parts, he stood in front of the mirror and saw for the millionth time his projected animal figure; despite his truer being vaguely forming something closely resembling a shadow, that immaterial spiritous body condensing and expanding like some gaseous vehicle changing form in order to fit whatever shape it’s possessor might deem appropriate, necessary, or appealing. His shape pulsated with a visible kinetic energy, and at last as he stripped the last of the apparel from his form, West began to recite familiarities to himself in order that he might calm and center his electricity charged mind. “I am here, present. I possess awareness of my self. This cycle is over, and I can now rest, for a time. My name is West Poeman, and I am a free lance used soul salesman. I currently reside in a suburb of Pandemonium, Hell. I am here, present.”

Mass Media in the Shaping of the Civil Rights Movement

 

As an information serving entity, the media plays an undeniable role in shaping the public conscious, and has since its earliest inceptions in print form. The media’s functional purpose as an informative network has served the public in more good ways than bad. The media acts as a mirror; it reflects our own beliefs and opinions, articulating them better than we could ourselves. The media is a watchdog; it has eyes and ears where the average citizen does not. It informs us of events that happen across the globe. The media protects us by keeping a watchful eye on our leaders, lest they become too powerful or abuse their positions. Media at its best does all of these things. However, at times the media oversteps its boundaries by shading or distorting the truth. Whether to reinforce erroneous beliefs held by popular culture, or to serve a governmental body, mass media can distort the facts to better-fit the “story”, whatever that story may be. It is an undeniable fact that the United States media throughout our history has served the agenda of the rich and powerful by distorting the truth.

The advent of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s can be seen to directly correlate with the increased use of the television in American homes. This is important to note as we discuss mass media’s role in shaping the Civil Rights Movement. In the early 1950’s, the television was a novelty owned by few. According to PBS, in 1960 ninety percent of Americans owned a television. The addition of a visual medium was a major catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. Those in the northern states could see what was taking place in the south, and vice versa. American citizens were able to witness the violence that was taking place in graphic detail, forcing them to challenge previously held beliefs. The television provided anti-segregationists with unlimited potential to expose American citizens to the truth. Unfortunately, Americans were not always presented with the truth of racial equality. Early in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly in the south, news corporations worked to reinforce the status quo that was racism and segregation. The media in the deep south played a part in the social system that claimed blacks to be inferior, and it worked to reinforce this belief.

In Todd Gitlin’s classic work of sociology entitled “The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left”, Gitlin outlines the effects of mass media on particular aspects of the student/antiwar movement (32). Gitlin highlights the different ways in which the media represented the SDS- Students for a Democratic Society- and how this misrepresentation affected the organization as a whole (127). In this essay, I plan to illuminate several ways in which mass media affected the Civil Rights Movement, and particularly examine how media coverage affected violence in the social movement. The aspects of Gitlin’s book I have chosen to cover and apply to the Civil Rights Movement include the media’s role in perpetuating the status quo, it’s tendency to certify leaders and convert leadership into celebrity, the media’s inflation of rhetoric and militancy in order to create a more media coverage, as well as the media’s role in directly assisting the ruling elite to extend and reinforce the ruling classes hegemonic values.

The makings of the Civil Rights Movement began in the south. Here, segregation was so deeply rooted into the social, economic, and political system that it was a way of life. It wasn’t something to be questioned, and the media served the hegemonic values of the south by shying away from any inquisitive reporting as to the rigorous social structure held in place. It is often suggested that national television news coverage of the Civil Rights Movement helped transform the United States by allowing viewers to see the violence of segregation. While this certainly was the case later on in the Civil Rights Movement, early on, especially in the Deep South, the news media had quite the opposite effect. Rather than showing the truth, the media either distorted the facts or omitted them entirely. This was commonplace among the southern states.

The Birmingham riot of 1963 was an example of civil disorder in the south that was purposefully ignored and distorted by the news media. The riot was provoked by bombings on the night of May 11, 1963. The bombings targeted leaders of the Birmingham Campaign, a movement organized by the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) to bring attention to integration efforts in the area. It is thought that the bombings were planned and executed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The bombings triggered riots, and the mostly young, black protestors were met with repressive force from the Birmingham Police Department, in the form of vicious dogs and high-powered water hoses. Alabama Public Radio reports now that Birmingham News had relegated the story to a lesser page, and left out the shocking images that were circulated throughout the rest of the United States (2).

It’s easy to see the media’s potential to use journalism as a tool for social change, to break down stereotypes and influence the public. The media has tremendous power in terms of influencing the populace. Unfortunately, early in the Civil Rights Movement news media often chose to only cover the “breaking stories” of the movement, typically those involving violence, rather than taking a journalistic lens to the everyday problems blacks in this country faced. The fact that the overarching story of the hardships African Americans had faced since the beginning of the slave trade were blatantly ignored by the news media speaks to the segregationist agenda of the hegemony (254).

In chapter 10 of Todd Gitlin’s book, he focuses primarily on the function of media in perpetuating the status quo (249). Gitlin explains the ways that the media can serve the hegemony, being the dominant political and social philosophy of the ruling class. The elite in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 were in favor of segregation. The ultimate goal of a hegemony (259) that wishes to suppress a people becomes the penetration of ideology (ideas and assumptions) (253) into the common sense and every day practice of those people. We see this not only happen in Birmingham as the local media refused to run a high profile story on the race riots, but throughout the south. Even where the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t ignored in the south, the stories were often only reported if they included violence, attracting the wrong type of attention and refusing the bigger question that is, why is this violence occurring? Hegemony exists when a ruling class is able not only to coerce a subordinate class to conform to its interests, but also exerts a social authority over those that the government does not seek to oppress. We see this social authority imposed in media, where the ideology of the common citizen is shaped and molded to fit the hegemonic values. We see attempts to subordinate blacks by southern governments throughout the Civil Rights Movement, be it through scare tactics, terrorism, or outright repression. The news media in the south worked to repress blacks through a form of racial injustice; choosing to not cover certain stories that may shed light on the situation, or distorting the truth in instances where the stories are covered.

The ruling class was established as a result of slavery, slavery was upheld as a result of racism. It is difficult to justify the type of slavery that took place in the United States unless the populace held the belief that those enslaved were somehow inferior to those not. Thus, it was in the interest of the ruling class to uphold racism. It would seem that the very economic system of the United States was established on the pillars of racism. Although slavery itself had collapsed, the structure that placed whites at the top of the socio-economic ladder was held together by racism (258). The broader, ideological story that is structural racism in America was left unspoken during the Civil Rights Movement. Mainstream media was largely sympathetic to the black cause, yet the fact that the media often chose only to cover the Civil Rights Movement when things became violent hurt the movement as much as it helped it. Americans saw the end result, being violence, without being shown the roots of this violence (263). Average American citizens desired normalcy above all else, and as they were only shown the visceral elements of the movement, many were unsympathetic to the movement as a whole.

In chapter 6 of The Whole World Is Watching, Gitlin analyzes the media’s role in exacerbating the militant tendencies of the SDS movement (192). His main argument, as its title “Inflating Rhetoric and Militancy” would suggest, is that the media inflated the rhetoric and militancy within the movement to create more media coverage. This tactic is seen time and time again, throughout the Civil Rights Movement as well as in more recent years, for example, media coverage regarding police brutality. The focus of the media has typically been placed on the rioting, marching, etc. and not on the reasons behind the marching. Whether during the Civil Rights Movement, the coverage of SDS, or even more recent racially divisive issues such as the race riots in Ferguson, MO, or Baltimore, MD, following the deaths of black men Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, respectively, news media often only covers issues they believe will be violent (196-197). “Where a picket line might have been news in 1965, it took tear gas and bloodied heads to make headlines in 1968. If the last demonstration was counted at 100,000, the next would have to number 200,000; otherwise it would be downplayed or framed as a sign of the movement’s waning.” Gitlin makes it very clear in this chapter that the need for attention by SDS meant that they were forced to play into the media’s hands, which meant a growing need for violence within the organization.

In chapter seven of The Whole World Is Watching, Todd Gitlin explores the moment when media reform becomes necessary for the organization as a whole. As the Vietnam War progressed and sympathy for the antiwar movement grew, the media was forced to change its framing of the movement as a whole. The media was coerced into forming a new consensus as the consensus of the United States itself had shifted. The same thing happens as the Civil Rights Movement gathers steam. Initially, we see news organizations in the south deliberately distorting the harsh reality of racism, and at times omitting the facts from their media coverage altogether. However, as the overall message of the Civil Rights Movement began to resonate with the American people, the southern media was forced to change its framing from occasional coverage of events to a sweeping indictment of segregation and racism as a whole. The institution of racism was at last brought under a microscope, and American citizens were forced to look. The media is seen time and time again as self-serving, perpetuating the hegemonic values of the ruling class and extending the status quo unless forced to change by the demands of the population.

In chapter five of his book, The Whole World Is Watching, Gitlin explains the ways in which the media’s framing of SDS made celebrities of some leaders, and left others out of the spotlight (146-179). Some of the leaders that were made into celebrities were not adequate leaders, and this caused immense pressure within the group as a whole. This same process took place within the Nation of Islam, regarding Malcolm X. As Malcolm rose in popularity, it became increasingly difficult for the Nation of Islam to hold him accountable to what they deemed appropriate behavior (148). The media framed Malcolm as a larger than life political figure, elevating him above even Elijah Muhammad in the public eye. This became problematic not only due to the fact that the two held different views on a variety of issues, from secularism to the use of violence in politics, it was also problematic due to Elijah Muhammad’s increasing paranoia and jealousy of Malcolm’s fame. The ranks of the Nation of Islam wanted their leaders to lead, yet they were uneasy with them at the same time; the mixed messages they sent made the leaders’ situation untenable in the long term.

Despite the tendency of the media to erroneously create celebrities out of social movements; often to the detriment of not only the individual but the organization as well, some leaders are able to maintain their own celebrity whilst effectively leading their movement as well. A primary example of this would be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe strongly that the only reason King appeared to remain steadfast to his cause despite media interference is simply because the media never factored into his decision-making.

When discussing how the media effects movements and celebrities, it is important to understand that above all else, the media as a whole is at times a self-serving entity that occasionally adopts a business model to guide its practice. The media (again, there are exceptions) tends to relay information only as it best serves itself, its ratings, viewership, etc. We have seen reporters time and time again distort the facts in order to present a sensational, if not factual, story.

With that being said, Dr. King appears to remain steadfast not because he was a master manipulator of the media, but rather because he let the media come and go as they pleased, never allowing their opinions or stories change his mission. Dr. King stayed true to non-violence because he believed in it. While he was certainly a flawed individual, (as we all are) Martin Luther King’s commitment to non-violence certainly was an exception to the rule, an individual whose vision changed the media, rather than an individual whose vision was changed by the media.

The media is the vanguard of our modern society. Our culture transmits thoughts and ideas nearly instantaneously thanks to the Internet. Media corporations capable of penetrating the deepest layers of popular culture possess a tremendous responsibility to protect and inform the people of our nation. Whether during the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement, regarding the Nation of Islam, or much later, the media has helped to shape our country for better or worse. While journalistic error is nearly certain to occur from time to time, the issue becomes deadly when media corporations intentionally influence public opinion by either distorting the facts, or omitting them altogether. We see the news corporations do this as they attempted to keep the lid on segregation in the south, as well as the media’s attempts to make a celebrity out of Malcolm X directly leading to violence as his militant rhetoric was magnified to create a story rather than keep the peace. As citizens, it is important that we hold large corporations accountable for their actions, and make certain that no conflict of interest occurs.

Satyagraha: A Call For Independence

In order to understand the Indian Independence movement it is first necessary to understand the driving idea behind it. Satyagraha is loosely translated from Sanskrit as “insistence on truth”, or “holding onto truth”. Satyagraha is a philosophy as well as a practice, taking effect within and yet without the broad category of nonviolent resistance. Gandhi implemented satyagraha to great success early in his life, first in South Africa and then later in India as he fought for the rights of the minority Indian population. This principle involving nonviolence and a commitment to truth profoundly influenced a number of other civil rights leaders, most notably Martin Luther King Jr.

Satyagraha is not a call to subservience, yet at first glance, one is compelled to think so. Nonviolence in the face of oppression may at first seem cowardly, taking the easy way out. Yet Gandhi did not think so. Gandhi believed in the philosophy of satyagraha, he coined the term and lived the practice. Gandhi used satyagraha not only in the Indian Independence Movement, but also earlier in his life, in his struggles for Indian rights in South Africa. Satyagraha not only profoundly influenced what Gandhi himself was able to accomplish, but deeply influenced Nelson Mandela’s struggle in South Africa under Apartheid, as well as Martin Luther Kind Jr.’s nonviolence campaign for civil rights in America.

It’s possible to analyze the Indian Independence Movement through a number of lenses, yet an understanding of satyagraha in necessary to understand why the movement was able to succeed without violence. In his book titled “Gandhi’s Passion”, Stanley Wolpert outlines the importance of satyagraha to the movements in India (100). A revolution that takes place on a solely ideological level is nearly unfathomable; some degree of violence nearly always takes place, and yet Gandhi was able to accomplish much with nonviolence as his sword. Despite satyagraha being primarily a method of social organization, Gandhi believed it transcended the social into the personal. Gandhi envisioned satyagraha as being necessary on every level of life, a standing for truth in all aspects of ones life as being crucial for independence. Gandhi repeatedly called off the movement for independence when he felt his constituency violated the principle of satyagraha. Gandhi explicitly outlined the guidelines of this tactic in many teachings, including nonviolence, truth, and equal respect for all religions. Gandhi’s respect for other religions and his desire for the communication between the differing faiths worked to strengthen his own resolve as well as the resolve of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians alike (117).

Looking at the movement itself, there were several defining moments that took place within India that solidified the movement. By 1914 when Gandhi left South Africa and returned to India, he was still loyal to the British Empire. However, when the British began imposing oppressive legislation on Indian civil liberties after World War I (89), Gandhi began to organize nonviolence protests using the philosophy of satyagraha. Stanley Wolpert writes extensively about the impact of World War I (90-95) in his book, “Gandhi’s Passion”. Wolpert makes it clear in his writings that Gandhi refined the idea of satyagraha following the postwar carnage (113). The Amristar Massacre, in which British troops gunned down largely peaceful Indian protestors (101), finally convinced Gandhi and India of the need for self-rule. This moment was arguably the single greatest catalyst in the movement, shocking India into self-realization. In the early 1920’s, Gandhi organized large-scale campaigns of “non-cooperation”. This represented his first attempts at creating a solidified India. This action eventually led to his imprisonment, from 1922 to 1924, although his initial prison sentence was four years longer.

Stanley Wolpert writes that despite the circumstance being seemingly negative, Gandhi did a “complete about-face, turning inward again, back to the Truth in his heart, listening only to his inner voice and to the music of his spinning wheel of universal Love, which he passionately turned day after day in the sacrificial solitude of his otherwise empty cell” (114). Gandhi preached to his followers the importance of using what was meant to be evil into good. Here we see that Gandhi practiced what he preached, using what was intended to break his spirit as a way to recharge spiritually, to regain his center. Now we see that what Gandhi told his followers was not simply out of touch doctrine, as many of the Hindu texts are seen by the western world, but living, breathing advice capable of real change in the world.

After his release, he withdrew from politics for a time, travelling India, and working among the peasantry. But in 1930, Gandhi wrote the Declaration of Independence of India, afterwards leading the Salt March in protest against the British monopoly on salt, a substance necessary to live. Gandhi considered the salt tax an egregious example of British oppression, yet another reason for independence. The Salt March is another example of Gandhi’s exemplary leadership; what began as a seemingly small act of disobedience quickly gathered numerous followers and attracted nationwide media attention (144). This was Gandhi’s magnum opus, comparable to Martin Luther King Jr,’s March On Washington. The belief behind the Salt March being that salt is a necessity of life, and the British taxing it so heavily was equivocal to a direct violation of human rights (142). The British not only taxed salt, but also possessed a monopoly on the manufacturing and selling of the mineral. This made it illegal for any Indian citizen to harvest his own salt. Gandhi had initially planned to work the salt flats on the beach, which became encrusted with sea salt after the tide, but the police stalled his efforts by crushing the salt deposits into the mud. Gandhi reached down and picked up a small bit of natural salt out of the mud, and British law was defied.

Thousands followed his lead, not only where he was but across India. Civil disobedience in response to the Salt March broke out all across India, soon involving millions of Indians (149). British authorities arrested more than 60,000 people (150). Gandhi himself was arrested, yet satyagraha continued even without him. Finally, in January of 1931, the government yielded. The prisoners were released (153) and Gandhi met with Lord Irwin, the viceroy of India, who agreed that the Indian National Congress could send a representative to the Round Table Conference to be held in London.

Despite Gandhi receiving a warm welcome in England, the Conference seemed unable to decide on the issue of how an independent India would handle its Muslim minority. Many conflicts between Hindu and Muslim populations, especially among fundamentalists, led to fear that violence may further separate the two groups.        Following the indecision of the British, Gandhi temporarily withdrew from public life yet again. Yet Indian independence was inevitable at this point. The Government of India Act in 1935 surrendered a great deal of power to Indians, but the Indian National Congress demanded more. After World War II broke out, India erupted into violence. Many nationalist leaders, including Gandhi were jailed. After the war, the new British government wanted to get India out of its hands quickly. The British government’s position of power quickly became untenable in the new world, globalization and the increased ability for mass movement made it much more difficult for an empire to sustain a colony.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the head of the Muslim League, demanded that a separate state be created for India’s Muslims. This was in opposite of Gandhi’s beliefs, as he wished for unity among the regions religions. The divisive nature of religion is seen often throughout history. It’s seen clearly during the American Civil Rights Movement. The differences in Christianity are seen most explicitly in the dichotomy between the SCLC and the KKK. The SCLC used its core philosophy to promote peace and equality, and the KKK twisted Christian doctrine to propagate a war of racism and bigotry. No one understood this potential of religion more so than Gandhi. Gandhi wished to unite world religions at their core of self-betterment and love. Although conflict between Hindu and Islam populations continued, Gandhi optimistically advised those close to him, “we can achieve everything by love. Love can never be impatient nor can it be angry. If you behave with Muslim brethren in this spirit their anger will go” (216). The fact that Gandhi continued to refer to Islamic peoples as his “brethren” despite clear doctrinal differences is indicative of Gandhi’s overall attitude towards religion. He was willing to see beyond differences of belief and love in spite of the violence he found himself surrounded by.

Despite Gandhi’s wishes, the British agreed to divide the country into two halves. In August of 1947 India gained independence, as well as its partition into two countries, India and Pakistan. This measure did not serve to solve India’s problems, as the country immediately descended into violence. Hindus and Muslims began killing each other in large numbers while refugees fled the country.

Despite the widespread violence that the nation descended into, the vision for an independent, unified India was in place. In his short time, Gandhi shared his love of humankind and fought for peace among the regions diverse population. Gandhi’s legacy would go on to influence innumerable social leaders, setting the precedent for nonviolent protest. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about a colleague who spoke to him about Gandhi, saying, “His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works… As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance.” Gandhi’s idea of inter-religious peace was certainly a radical one, an idea that even today we find it difficult to adhere to at times. The philosophy of satyagraha was hugely influential in India.

Had Gandhi decided to utilize violence in his rhetoric, or even to simply abstain from preaching nonviolence, unfathomable bloodshed surely would have ensued in India. Satyagraha itself went on to be influential in Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, with him saying this about the philosophy, “the whole concept of satyagraha was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform”. Gandhi’s legacy impacting India and future nonviolent movements simply cannot be overstated.