Media Policy – Publics vs. Celebrities

In this crowded room in Memphis, at the Media Policy Pre-conference just before the National Media Reform Conference, we are talking about policy, about media, about the essential overlap between activists and academics, but mostly about the public .

Craig Calhoun (who was apparently once a preacher and still speaks like one), argued that the challenge of articulating a public or community good requires a necessary knowledge. Further, for “those of us with less money and power, we need knowlege even more”. This knowledge is meant to assist with the opposition of what Calhoun calls, “the priviatization of everything”.

These comments are inspiring for someone who has always valued knowledge, but I wanted to take them in the context of the promotion of the Media Reform conference. Across town, in the mass media and online, the faces and names of celebrities: Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Geena Davis, are working to attract attention to the “media reform movement”. But celebrities are *not* the public, and the “celebrity government” and celebrity philanthropy (Oprah and Bill Gates as major investors in African education) that attract attention might actually be deeply problematic for the development of knowledge.

Celebrities, and the necessity of using celebrity to get attention within dominant media, is, I think, a major barrier for creating knowledge. Celebrities are the accidentally mighty — they have wealth and power in some cases, accidentally. They attract attention, but Calhoun would call the appeal to celebrity a “forced choice” that reveals the arbitrary limits of our current media system.

We need strategies and tactics to make change. If more people come through the door to find out about media reform because they want to see Jane Fonda, great. But this tactic still opposes the overall strategy of producing, developing, and inspiring “necessary knowledge”

PS I will be guest-blogging the NCMR over at Media@McGill the next couple days