Author Archives: johnwworth

A Defense of Political Correctness

I am politically correct. I think women doing comparable work should receive the same pay as men. I believe that universities should seek out faculty members from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. I am angered when unarmed black people are gunned down by the police. I support programs that help homeless people, fund AIDS research and recycle.

What’s wrong with that?

It has become trendy lately to point fingers at the so-called politically correct as the “thought police,” “new McCarthyists,” even “neo-Nazis.” Critics have denounced non-sexist language and multiculturalism in a deluge of newspaper and magazine articles. PC opponents have waged a blistering attack on college campuses across the country, rejecting what they claim is regimented language and behavior. Indeed, PC-bashing is all the rage.

But political correctness is not about blindly policing language. It is about making conscious behavioral and linguistic choices and understanding why it is appropriate to do so. It is PC to call a 25-year-old female a “woman” rather than a ”girl,” because it puts her on equal footing with her male counterparts, who are not called “boys.” It is PC to say “humanity” and “police officer” instead of “mankind” and “policeman” because gender-neutral terms do not exclude or devalue women.

Women and minorities have long been required to check their speech. They have been taught to stifle themselves to make sure that they do not make others feel uncomfortable, to never create a scene. Thus, women do not always speak up when men sexually harass them on the street. People of color don’t always protest when they hear a prejudiced remark. Gay men often remain silent when they’re called a “faggot.”

Now, after years of making political and social inroads, a number of women and minorities have gained the confidence to speak up and challenge demeaning labels and attitudes. They now ask others to watch their speech in order to avoid offending others, something that they have been doing for years. PC opponents (mostly white men) feel persecuted by such a request. To them, watching what they say is a new and distasteful concept. What they don’t realize is that everyone else has been doing it all along.

Contrary to what the critics would have us believe, no one is being forced to acquire PC language or behavior. It’s just that the voices that were once ignored or silenced are beginning to finally be heard, and they are making it known that they are tired of the insulting behavior and language that until now has been accepted as the norm. The fact that so many people regard this request for a little respect as an egregious threat shows just how important the PC movement is.

It is ironic that PC people are accused of intolerance, when political correctness is all about tolerance. It’s about respect for human beings, progress, manners and basic decency.

PC means not whistling at women when they walk down the street. It means not waving the Confederate flag, not gay-bashing with verbal or physical violence and not beating a man half to death just because he is black. If you think about it, you just might be PC yourself.


The War on Higher Education

One cannot keep abreast of the news nowadays without coming across a hit piece on higher education and college students. Mainstream media outlets routinely bemoan the alleged widespread suppression of debate and discussion and the prioritization of feelings over facts on college campuses. The right wing, as always, has been at the forefront of the assault on higher education, depicting universities as liberal indoctrination centers populated by coddled politically correct liberal arts majors intent on suppressing free speech and silencing the right. Indeed, the majority of Republican voters now view universities as harmful to the country. But is this onslaught rooted in sincere concern for free speech or is there an ulterior motive?

As a recent graduate of a public university, I found myself puzzled by the negative characterization of universities, which was completely at odds with my college experience. On my left-leaning campus, there was no PC police, no liberal indoctrination centers and no safe spaces or trigger warnings (I actually learned these terms from the media). There were simply students pursuing their degrees. When I went to the tech center or library, the conversations around me typically centered on math and science. In fact, the two most popular majors are business administration and nursing. It’s almost as if people attend college to study and prepare for a good career.

In the classroom, the professors encouraged students to ask questions and provide comments. Most classes were discussion-oriented, and for the most part, discussions were civil and respectful. Respectful conversations only went south on a couple of occasions when conservative students made derogatory comments about certain demographics and insulted and attacked both students and professors who expressed opposing viewpoints. The professors, many of whom were adjuncts, rarely pushed back, and the other students remained quiet. Not only were conservative students not silenced but their insults and bigotry often went unchallenged and professors and students would go to great lengths to accommodate them. The day after the presidential election, one student, a queer black woman whose mother is undocumented, tearfully told a pro-Trump student that she was trying to understand him and his views. I would be hard-pressed to find a Trump supporter who was trying to understand the views of the left.

Right-wing viewpoints could be heard loud and clear around campus. Every day, a preacher stood in the middle of campus and loudly proselytized his views. And after the election season, a contingent of Trump supporters would regularly congregate on a popular street corner and hold up signs that read, “Homos, Muslims and Jews: Repent or Burn in Hell.” (When other students held up their own signs that promoted tolerance and equality, the police showed up to “monitor the situation”). On another occasion, a Zionist student aggressively approached and antagonized a group of female Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) members, hurling insults and slurs left and right. He succeeded in provoking a male acquaintance of the group members to slap him across the face and immediately bolted to the media, posing as a victim of a brutal anti-Semitic hate crime and calling on the university to ban SJP. The media unquestionably reported his version of the incident, and the university released a statement condemning anti-Semitic violence.

Contrary to the narrative that universities are hostile to free speech and conservatives, it is conservatives who are hostile to free speech and progressives and have the backing of both the corporate media and law enforcement. And progressive professors have found themselves under threat. A few years ago, a University of Illinois professor was fired after he criticized the 2014 Israeli massacre of Gaza. More recently, a professor was fired after she had the gall to suggest that Americans should follow the laws of the land they are on. Another professor was censured for mocking the myth of “white genocide.” And at my university, a popular African-American professor, and a noted critic of capitalism and empire, was fired after he opposed the nomination of a white woman to the chair of the African-American studies department.

As a recent college graduate, I can attest to the importance of higher education. My education introduced me to new ideas, new people and new cultures. It taught me to think critically about the world around me and question dominant ideologies and beliefs. My mind was liberated and my consciousness was raised. Herein lies the true motive behind the assault on higher education. The gravest threat to the right-wing elite is independent thought. They are terrified of a populace that questions the virtue of capitalism, the genius of the Founding Fathers, the exceptionalism of the United States and the rightness of Christianity. In short, they are terrified of a populace that challenges their power. And throughout history, the most formidable challenges to their power have been mounted on college campuses. Universities have long challenged the establishment by spearheading powerful social movements, including the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement or, more recently, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement (which is currently at risk of criminalization by Congress).

Higher education critics claim that universities muzzle free speech and debate, when, in reality, it is precisely because universities foster free speech and debate that they are being smeared and muzzled. The smear campaign against higher education thus flips reality on its head. Instances that suit the narrative are cherry-picked, overblown and generalized to the entire college population. The goal is three-fold: discredit university dissent, dissuade the masses from attending college and justify education cuts and ultimate privatization. Indeed, amid the Evergreen protests, a Republican representative called for the privatization of the university. The elite envision a public that is free of educated thinkers and populated solely by ignorant, obedient laborers who can be easily manipulated to serve their interests. Education is their only obstacle.

Progressives, leftists, free thinkers and proponents of free speech must retaliate against this Orwellian assault on higher education and expose its true motives. We must use our voices to counter media narratives and emphasize the significance of higher education. We must not only fight against the creeping privatization of education but fight for fully funded public schools and universities to enable everyone, regardless of socioeconomic background or political beliefs, to receive a world-class education and pursue their hopes and dreams.

The United States has some of the most renowned and prestigious universities in the world, and I am proud to have attended one. Hopefully we can reclaim our universities as a source of national pride rather than shame and ridicule.

Public Media

The emergence of public media in the twentieth century shook the foundations of the media landscape. Public media would provide a valuable service to the public and rectify the numerous flaws of the private commercial media. Public media was developed in Britain in the 1920s with several lofty goals in mind. One goal was to create high quality, intellectually stimulating and culturally enriching content that would expand the horizons and broaden the cultural outlooks of viewers. Other goals included the creation of broad and diverse content and universal provision. Across the Atlantic, public media remained unavailable until the 1960s, when Newton Minow, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman, delivered a historic speech denouncing commercial television as a “vast wasteland” and calling for the creation of more creative, educational and quality content. This remarkable speech paved the way to the establishment of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1967, signaling the launch of public media in the United States. The creation of the CPB led to the development of the National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). PBS developed Sesame Street, an educational children’s series aimed at preparing children, specifically low-income children, for school. Public media, unlike commercial media, strove to provide free, quality and accessible content in order to educate, inform, enlighten and enrich viewers and build high-minded and sophisticated public citizens.

Public media brilliantly executed its goals, providing the public with groundbreaking, educational and critically acclaimed content that made a mockery of the vapid sensationalist content clogging the commercial media airwaves. However, as the era of neoliberalism crept in, public media, along with the entire public sector, suffered. Budget cut after budget cut has forced public media platforms to turn to private contributors to remain afloat. And as government funding has dried up, public media has been forced to rely more and more heavily on private donations. This trend is likely to continue. The new reactionary administration has waged war on public media, calling for the elimination of funding altogether, which would force local public media stations around the country to close their doors. Though the final negotiated budget will probably maintain some funding for public media, the appropriation will likely continue to decline. The ever-shrinking government appropriation for public media and the system’s growing reliance on private contributions pose a threat to the values and goals of public media. Private contributions from wealthy sources inevitably come with strings attached, most notably the power to influence and shape public media content in accordance with their economic interests. The wealthy sources may require public media platforms to dumb down their content in order to appeal to a wider audience and steer clear of content that is critical of certain industries and/or the capitalist system itself. Thus, by depending on private donations, public media risks compromising its fundamental values and intents and morphing into a quasi-private system.

Public media is more necessary at this point in time than ever before. As the public sphere becomes increasingly segmented and polarized, a media system that has a broad and diverse appeal is crucial. The commercial for-profit media thrives on division and strife, and a non-partisan public media system is therefore needed to help bridge the differences among people and foster mutual understanding and respect. Furthermore, public media serves the public interest by providing educational and informational content, which play an essential role in cultivating an informed, cultured and engaged citizenry capable of solving local, national and international issues. By contrast, the ratings-hungry commercial media avoids educational and informational content like the plague in order to cater to the lowest common denominator, reach the largest possible audience and maximize profits for sponsors. Finally, public media is indebted to the public, whereas private media is indebted to a handful of wealthy shareholders and advertisers. Public media is thus fundamentally democratic and helps elevate the voices of ordinary working people and create a more egalitarian society. A completely revitalized, revamped and robust public media system is needed, one that is fully funded by the government and does not accept a dime of corporate money. The revenue can easily be generated by rolling back the spate of unnecessary tax breaks handed to the wealthy over the last few decades or by cutting the bloated defense budget. The investment will be worth every penny. Media not only shapes but also reflects society. And a society marked by communication, cooperation and equality is far more preferable to one marked by antagonism, cutthroat competition and drastic inequality.

My First Pet

Ever since I was a small child, I have always had a soft spot for animals. One hot summer day, when I was seven-years-old, my dad, my brother and I went to the ASPCA to adopt a cat. The cat room was cluttered with adorable and lively cats. Cages lined the walls and piled up high, towering over us. Amid the boisterous cats and chorus of meows, my brother and I spotted a tan cat in one of the back cages. The cat sat quietly in the cage with a disconsolate look in his eyes. We found his reticence endearing and decided with little debate that he was the right choice. As the staff readied him for our adoption, we began mulling over names for him. When the cashier rang up our purchase and said, “45 bucks,” we posited the name, “Bucky,” and instantly fell in love with it. We scooped up Bucky and headed home with our new pet.

Bucky spent the first week with us in hiding. He tucked himself underneath our beds and sat atop the dining room chairs behind the drooping table cover. We figured that he was simply shy and needed some time to acclimate to his new surroundings, but we later learned that his previous owners had abused him. I felt deeply saddened by these revelations and, in turn, sought to comfort and reassure him. I would often sit by him and occasionally reach a tentative hand into his hiding place and gently stroke his fur. I periodically fed him treats and attempted to roll balls back and forth with him. I wanted to show him the love and affection that he needed and deserved.

Eventually, Bucky came out of his hiding and settled into his new home, and the two of us became fast friends. We would play an assortment of games and run around the house together. He’d greet me at the door when I returned home from school and snuggle into the foot of my bed at night as I fell asleep. He eventually let me hold and carry him, and he would tolerate my frequent hugs and kisses. We developed a strong bond. I initially felt that I was the caretaker in this relationship, but, over time, I realized that we were both playing that role. I was exceedingly timid as a child and had few friends, and Bucky filled the void of loneliness inside of me. I began to love him dearly, and he warmly reciprocated. Eventually, I could not picture my life without him in it.

Our relationship remained quite durable throughout the years, but when the time came to enroll in college, it began to suffer its first cracks. For the first time in my life, I was living away from my home, my family and my furry companion, and we missed each other greatly. My mother told me that Bucky would regularly meow and paw at my door of my room. I returned home when possible and would always receive a warm and friendly reception from Bucky. But as I entered my second year of college, I began to notice a growing distance between Bucky and me. My time away from home seemed to weaken our once strong bond, and Bucky, in turn, grew closer to my father. On weekends at home, Bucky would spend more time in my father’s lap than mine, and I’d find myself falling asleep in an empty bed. But despite these fractures in our relationship, we continued to maintain a loving bond.

One day, I received a text message from my mother informing me that Bucky was not walking properly. By this time, Bucky’s fur had considerably greyed, particularly on his face, and baths became more and more infrequent. Nonetheless, I brushed off the text without too much thought. But a few days later, my mother sent me another text message informing me that Bucky was not eating or drinking. I began to grow concerned and decided to return home the next day. Upon entering the house and spotting Bucky, my heart sank. Bucky was very visibly frail and sickly. His eyes were sunken, his fur disheveled, and he struggled just to walk a few steps. He looked like death itself, and I could see the pain, agony and defeat in his timeworn eyes. My mother and I whisked him into the car and promptly drove to the veterinarian’s office. The vet only had to poke Bucky’s belly to determine the issue: he had tumors in his stomach and was on his deathbed. She said one of us could hold Bucky while she euthanized him. My teary-eyed mother shook her head, so I volunteered. I was not as emotional as I had predicted. Everything was happening so quickly that I did not have the time to fully absorb the events unfolding before me and realize that I was losing my closest friend. Almost mechanically, I held out my arms to hold Bucky one last time. The vet injected a needle into his arm, and I watched the life go out of his eyes as tears rolled out of mine. I stood holding my lifeless cat in my arms, stricken with sadness and shock, before proceeding to drive home and bury him.

A few days later, I was sitting on my bedroom floor looking through a collection of old family photos. When I came across some photos of Bucky and me from my childhood, I suddenly felt a pang of pain in the pit of my stomach. Reality finally struck me: my childhood companion was gone. I would never again hear his meow upon returning home or stroke his fur whilst he sat on my lap. I would never again get to laugh at his silly faces, feed him treats or fall asleep next to him. As reality set in, I found my eyes beginning to water. Though Bucky and I had drifted apart during the end of his life, I still cherish all of the wonderful memories we shared and fun times we spent together. Bucky was my friend when no one else was. We discovered much-needed love and companionship in one another and built a memorable and long-lasting bond, one that I will never forget.

Nearly three years later, I still miss my old furry friend. After his death, I pinned a picture of the two of us on my corkboard, my arm around him as he rubs his forehead affectionately against my temple, in order to properly remember our friendship. I will glance at it from time and time and begin reminiscing about the past, though this practice has admittedly become less frequent over time. Occasionally, I’ll hear a cat’s meow or come across a tan cat, and all the memories will start flooding back. But as I move forward in life, I know that many of these memories will inevitably fade. However, I will never forget that hot sunny day that I found Bucky, and he will always hold a special place in my heart.

A Media Literacy Analysis

One of my favorite shows growing up was the hit Nickelodeon cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. The silly, yet captivating show was very popular with my generation, and some of its best lines became staples in everyday conversation. One of the most well-received and memorable episodes is “Chocolate with Nuts,” in which the two protagonists, Spongebob and Patrick, go door-to-door selling chocolate bars in an attempt to become rich and live the “fancy life.” Before long, the two friends resort to lying about the candy’s effects in order to sell more chocolate bars. For me, the episode had some of the show’s most hilarious jokes and punch lines and really illustrated how a children’s show can address important ideas through silly humor. In critically analyzing the episode, I now understand that it reflects several cultural, economical and social ideas that are very evident with some thought but exist discreetly amid the show’s standard characters, plotlines and humor.

The “Chocolate with Nuts” episode is very significant on a cultural level. An important aspect of culture is food, and the episode centers on Spongebob and Patrick selling chocolate bars. The fact that they choose chocolate bars as their merchandise points to the candy’s high demand and irresistibility. Spongebob and Patrick know chocolate is a very popular food item, though chocolate bars contain high levels of sugar and fat and are considered junk food. Another food item featured in the episode is “barnacle chips,” which is a play on potato chips. Because the show takes place in the ocean, the show often combines our culture with aspects of marine life. Spongebob and Patrick see a billboard advertising barnacle chips and note the product’s success, despite its high salt and fat content. Thus, both food items featured as successful products are junk food, highlighting the domination of unhealthy food in American cuisine. Coupled with food, fashion is an important aspect of culture. This episode uses fashion as a symbol of social class and intelligence, much like American society. Spongebob wears a dress shirt, tie and pants, and he is hardworking, ambitious and middle class. On the other hand, Patrick simply wears tropical shorts with no shirt, and he is lackadaisical, dimwitted, and low class. The character that repeatedly scams Spongebob and Patrick into buying useless products wears a suit and tie, and he is high class and astute. Also, most of the customers wear casual shirts and pants and are middle class. After selling all their merchandise, Spongebob and Patrick use the money to rent out a fancy restaurant, wearing top hats and suits to dinner. Thus, their wardrobes now represent high class. These visual cues are symbolic of American culture, which often links formal attire with high class and intelligence, casual attire with middle class, and little attire with low class and stupidity. The episode highlights the notion in American society that fashion is a symbol of wealth, class and intelligence.

In addition to culture, the “Chocolate with Nuts” episode is significant on an economic level. An important aspect of economy is consumerism, and this episode satirizes the inane materialism that pervades American culture. The plot fixates on Spongebob and Patrick’s fascination with the fancy lifestyle and all of its luxuries. They read a Fancy Living Digest magazine in awe, which features high-priced, silly products, such as a swimming pool in a swimming pool. In selling chocolate bars, they desire to become rich and purchase similar luxuries. Throughout the episode, Spongebob and Patrick go door-to-door selling their candy and are easily tricked into purchasing merchandise from the same guy. He persuades them to buy candy bar carrying bags at two houses in a row, which pokes fun at the American habit of buying things you do not need. Spongebob and Patrick end up selling the majority of their chocolate bars to just one customer, who has an intense and frightening craving for chocolate that sends him chasing and screaming at the two chocolate bar salesman throughout the episode. The customer’s crazy and barbaric attitude satirizes the chaos and insanity that consumerism incites, often on Black Friday. At the end of the episode, after succeeding in selling all of their chocolate bars, Spongebob and Patrick immediately spend all of their money to rent out a fancy restaurant for one night. This absurd purchase mirrors many people’s impulsivity, lack of frugality and materialistic values. Thus the episode makes fun of several aspects of consumerism. Coupled with consumerism, capitalism is also an important aspect of economy. This episode pokes fun at the deception and lies that the free market allows advertisers and salespeople to employ in their marketing strategies. Spongebob and Patrick do not have success selling chocolate bars until they see a false billboard advertisement of a successful product. They decide to emulate that strategy and start telling outrageous lies about the effects of consuming the chocolate bars, including the abilities to fly and walk through walls. The guy, who sold Spongebob and Patrick the candy bar carrying bags, deceives them again by donning a full body cast, pretending to have been born with paper skin and glass bones. His nonsensical guilt trip succeeds in convincing Spongebob and Patrick to purchase crates of his own chocolate bars to help pay his medical bills. All of these silly lies symbolize the unethical and deceitful practices that free market competition encourages. Thus the episode satirizes capitalism’s corruption and lies and the senseless materialism that dominate the American consumerist economy.

The American consumers that control the economy also make up the social atmosphere in the country, and the “Chocolate with Nuts” episode has much significance on a social level. An important aspect of social relationships is social class, which is the central theme of this episode. In society, wealth is power and outlines a social hierarchy that grounds many social relationships. People typically associate with those who belong to the same social class but many inherently desire to climb up the social ladder and be among the wealthy. This hierarchy is showcased in this episode among the show’s three main characters: Spongebob, Patrick and Squidward. They all live on the same street and are among the middle and lower classes. But Squidward bemoans his state of living and despises his association with Spongebob and Patrick. He desires to be part of the upper class and heavily enjoys reading the Fancy Living Digest magazine. In this episode, the magazine is accidentally delivered to Spongebob, who spends enough time reading it with Patrick to develop an itch for wealth before Squidward angrily snatches it from them. When Spongebob and Patrick become wealthy, they end up simply renting out a fancy restaurant with two old women as their dates. The episode thus mocks the notion that the rich and fancy lifestyle is the ideal life, and Squidward’s hostility towards Spongebob and Patrick demonstrates how social class can characterize social relationships. In addition to social glass, gender is an important aspect of social relationships. The masculine gender is dominant in American society, and the show and this episode emphasize that dominance through its majority male ensemble. The show’s three main characters are males, along with the majority of the customers, whose wacky personalities drive their characters. However, the one female customer’s old age drives her character, and she is referred to as a “young lady” by Spongebob to flatter her. These personalities represent society’s double standard in judging men and women. Men are typically judged on their characters, whereas women are judged on their appearances. Thus the episode represents both social class and gender hierarchies, which underline and characterize many social relationships in society.

In conclusion, the “Chocolate with Nuts” Spongebob Squarepants episode is very memorable and meaningful to me personally, and it is highly significant on cultural, economic and social levels. The episode addresses the dominance of junk food, symbolizes fashion as a symbol for wealth and intelligence, satirizes the corruption of capitalism and the absurdity of consumerism and highlights the social class and gender hierarchies that outline social relationships in society. I have thus furthered my understanding of this episode as both a media text and cultural item by closely examining and critiquing it through cultural, economic and social lenses. In addition to enhancing my media literacy, I found it incredible that a simple children’s cartoon covered so many essential ideas and issues through farcical and outrageous humor. “Chocolate with Nuts” is hence one of my favorite episodes of Spongebob Squarepants, which was a huge cultural phenomenon throughout my childhood. The episode takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of how silly, fun and carefree life is as a child. Now, I can couple my feelings of nostalgia with a critical analysis and better media literacy.

The Mass Media’s Role

In the capitalist economic system, the ruling class uses a number of tools to mediate class conflict and safeguard its private property. One of these tools is the mass media, which, by definition, are the communication technologies that have the potential to reach large, distant and anonymous audiences. The mass media are among the entities that comprise the cultural superstructure of society and thus play a critical role in shaping dominant ideologies, beliefs, values and attitudes. Their effectiveness in spreading dominant ideologies lies in their omnipresence, financial support and general influence of media images. This essay will unpack these reasons in an effort to fully explain why the mass media are so effective in circulating dominant ideologies.

The mass media are inescapable in today’s world. Society is awash with media images and messages that ultimately reinforce the prevailing power structures. The ubiquity of the mass media is key to their ability to spread hegemonic, or dominant, ideologies. Unlike non-mass media, mass media are capable of reaching a critical mass and can thus inculcate the masses with hegemonic ideas and beliefs. And whereas non-mass media generally carve out a niche audience, the mass media reach the general populace, including people of various backgrounds and political affiliations. The mass media are thus capable of shaping majority opinion, and as people generally take their cues from others, that opinion carries weight. The mass media’s omnipresence is driven by its large financial backing. The ruling class uses its power, money and influence to construct large media conglomerates that dominate the media landscape, and in turn the narrative, and marginalize alternative media outlets. And by commanding the media landscape, the mass media can bombard us with images and messages that underpin hegemonic ideologies and ultimately regiment public opinion in accordance with ruling class interests. Non-mass media are generally unable to significantly challenge or debunk mass media images and messages due to their smaller audiences. In addition, by having access to the best equipment, sets and talent and drawing the largest audiences, the mass media gain prestige in the eyes of the masses. The mass media are seen as professional, impartially reporting on the most pressing events of the day, whereas non-mass media are often depicted as biased and amateurish and, in recent times, are looped in with fake news sites. In sum, the mass media’s vast reach, financial backing and prestige are some of the driving forces behind their ability to effectively spread hegemonic ideologies.

In addition to education and religion, the mass media are one of the foremost socializing institutions in American culture. Socialization is the process by which persons, both individually and collectively, learn, adopt and internalize the prevailing cultural beliefs, values and norms of a society. As noted above, the mass media’s ability to reach critical mass undergirds its socializing influence but its ability to effectively instill hegemonic beliefs and values into the general populace lies in the general influence of media and its role in society. In our highly segregated and atomized society, mass media provide a window into the lives of others, most of whom one may not come across in day-to-day life. Thus, mass media play a significant role in shaping one’s perception of others, particularly members of oppressed communities. For example, many American citizens have no Muslim friends and thus draw on the mass media’s representation of Muslims to form their opinion of them. Americans thus tend to develop a particularly negative and hostile opinion of Muslims, as the mass media routinely portrays the Muslim community as backwards, barbaric and anti-American. The mass media circulates negative stereotypes – misleading or reductionist views of cultural groups – and myths – sacred stories that reaffirm and reproduce ideology – concerning Muslims and Islam in order to promote the interests of the elite. By dehumanizing a group of people sitting on oil-rich land, the potential for resistance when the ruling class wages war on these people to steal their resources is significantly reduced. Again, the hegemonic ideology supports the dominant class.

In addition, the enormous influence of the film and television industry cannot be overstated. Storytelling has the ability to move perceptions in a way that raw numbers and data never can. Stories are how one makes sense of the world and the people populating it and thus hold immense power. Recognizing this power, the ruling class feeds narratives and story arcs, often through the State Department, to the film and television industry. These storylines inevitably reinforce dominant ideologies in American culture, such as capitalism, individualism, orientalism and imperialism. For example, the director of the film Zero Dark Thirty, which was widely panned by leftists for justifying torture, received classified intelligence files whilst making the film. The director had also received input from the Defense Department on another film of hers titled The Hurt Locker, which glorified the United States’s criminal invasion of Iraq. Thus, the mass media’s ability to shape one’s perception of others and the world, particularly through storytelling, is a crucial component of its effectiveness in spreading dominant ideologies.

In sum, the mass media are among most influential entities of the cultural superstructure of society. The ruling class utilizes the mass media to circulate hegemonic ideologies in order to uphold its role and promote its interests. The effectiveness of the mass media in spreading these ideologies lies in their omnipresence and prestige, bolstered by heavy financial support, and their role as a socializing agent and storyteller. The ubiquity of the mass media enables them to reach a critical mass of people, while the stories, and the images and messages underpinning them, effectively ingrain hegemonic ideologies in the national consciousness. The mass media are thus a powerful tool of social control and watching with a critical eye is essential to resisting hegemony.

Election Fraud

A central concern of this election season has been election fraud. While both sides have lobbed wild and unsubstantiated allegations of fraud to suit their own agendas, election fraud can no longer be written off as a conspiracy theory. During this election season, Wikileaks released documents proving that DNC staff violated the impartiality clause of their charter by colluding with the Clinton campaign to sabotage Bernie Sanders. Furthermore, an audio recording emerged in which Hillary Clinton proposed rigging a Palestinian election. Faced with the undeniable truth that the political elite has no qualms about violating the will of the people, one cannot help but become suspicious of electronic voting machines. Many of these machines leave no paper trail, and we are thus forced to simply accept the recorded vote totals. In addition to the very real possibility of hacking, machines are prone to glitches and malfunctions. The fact that our country allows unaccountable, error-prone machines to tally the votes and effectively decide the outcomes of our elections is outrageous. The solution is to immediately switch to hand-counted paper ballots. Many countries around the world use such a system with remarkable success, and with election after election marred by fraud, counting paper ballots by hand is the only way to ensure that our elections are truly clean.

Electronic voting machines arose in 2002. Following the 2000 Presidential election debacle in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which created a fund of nearly four billion dollars to incentivize states to adopt new voting machines, including digital touch-screen machines. All fifty states accepted the money. However, the machines demonstrated problems from the very beginning. In 2002, voters in Florida were forced to stand in line for hours, with many eventually throwing in the towel and going home, when machines malfunctioned and failed to turn on. That same year, nearly a quarter of the votes in Bernalillo County in Albuquerque were erased due to faulty software. An investigation into a school board race in Virginia the following year revealed that one vote was subtracted for every one hundred votes cast for one of the candidates on ten different machines. A few years later, in a hotly contested Florida congressional race, 18,000 votes mysteriously went missing, in an election that was decided by less than four hundred votes. And just a few years ago, a West Virginia voter’s finger pressure on the screen selected an entirely different candidate. Further finger pressure caused the machine to go haywire.

Since the rise of electronic voting machines, a team of computer science and cyber security experts at Princeton has proven without a shadow of a doubt that these machines are extremely insecure and vulnerable. In a demonstration of the vulnerability of electronic voting machines, Princeton professor Andrew Appel simply bought a model in use for $82 and summoned one his graduate student’s to hack it. In just seven minutes, the student successfully picked the lock, removed the four ROM chips and replaced them with ones of his own capable of throwing off the results. The team has shown that virtually every voting machine is susceptible to hacking, the most notable one being the Diebold TS machine. Cyber security experts are unable to study the codes of machines because the voting machine companies have declared the code of the machines as “intellectual property.” But in 2003, a Diebold employee mistakenly left the code for the voting machine on a public website. Computer scientists quickly moved in, and after studying the code, their findings were startling. The machine’s smartcards could be jerry-rigged to vote more than once, poor cryptology left the voting records vulnerable to manipulation and weak safeguards meant than an employee of the company could easily flip the vote. In another instance, the Princeton team was able to hack a Diebold machine in less than a minute and program it to swing an election for Benedict Arnold over George Washington. And just a few years ago, a team at the Argonne National Laboratory of the Department of Energy investigated a newer model of the Diebold voting machines, which was used in this past election in several key battleground states, and found that virtually anyone could tamper with it. The Princeton team’s findings on top of constant malfunctions and errors prove that electronic voting machines are wholly unreliable. Out of the eight European countries that experimented with electronic voting machines, six reverted to paper ballots. Given the proven unreliability of these machines, the United States should follow suit.

The voting irregularities, anomalies and outright fraud in this past presidential primary warrant exploration. Amid the widespread allegations of voter fraud and suppression, including documented instances released by Wikileaks, several academic researchers decided to investigate the fraud and publish their findings. Axel Geijsel of Tilburg University and Rodolfo Cortes Barragan of Stanford University published the most groundbreaking research paper, which concluded that Hillary Clinton’s primary win was fraudulent. The researchers examined the discrepancies between exit polling data and official vote counts., and in all eleven states in which these discrepancies exceeded the margin of error, Hillary Clinton was the beneficiary. The researchers found that the probability of nearly all these discrepancies favoring Hillary Clinton by such a large margin is 1 in 77 billion; in other words: statistically impossible. The researchers also discovered that the states that used easily hackable voting machines without a paper trail overwhelmingly favored Clinton, whereas states that used machines with a paper trail favored Sanders. In addition, a study published by professional statisticians found evidence that “vote flipping” may have occurred during the heated congressional race between Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC chair who effectively functioned as a Clinton surrogate, and Sanders-backer Tim Canova. Such rampant electoral fraud is an obvious affront to this nation’s supposed democracy. Given the mounds of evidence indicating the untrustworthiness of electronic voting machines and the very real fraud that they have perpetrated, the choice to switch to the old-fashioned way of hand-counting paper ballots is an obvious one. Voting on paper ballots and counting them out loud by hand clearly enhances transparency, eliminates the risk of hacking or computer malfunctioning and protects the “one person, one vote” principle.

There are several arguments that are routinely made against the hand-counted paper ballot system. Opponents commonly cite the high cost of producing, storing and disposing of the millions of used and unused ballots to discredit the system. However, ballots only cost around thirty cents each, and with around 146,000,000 registered American voters, the cost of paper ballots amounts to around $45 million. Surely a country that can spend over a trillion dollars on an F-35 program can shell out a measly $45 million to safeguard the integrity of its elections, the foundation of a democracy. Another common argument against using paper ballots is the time-consuming and painstaking process of counting all the ballots. It is true that counting paper ballots by hand may not provide a rapid result for ratings-hungry news networks, but the goal of an election should be accuracy, not speed of counting. And one need not even look overseas to witness the success of the hand-counted paper ballot system. Several precincts in New Hampshire count paper ballots by hand, and the entire process is a community affair. After polls close, bi-partisan counting crews are ushered into each district to count the ballots by hand. Fellow citizenry closely monitor the counting to make sure that the process runs smoothly. The counting is usually completed before midnight on Election Night. The process is simple, straightforward and, most importantly, transparent.

Election fraud is a very real problem, and electronic voting machines lie at the heart of it. These unaccountable and unreliable machines are prone to glitches and errors and are highly vulnerable to hacking. Not only have electronic voting machines thwarted the will of the people and subverted democracy but they have also consistently kept the power in the hands of establishment, corporate politicians who dutifully serve the elite, generating anger and disdain among the public and creating the basis for the ascendancy of dangerous right-wing demagogues. In these times of uncertainty and trepidation, establishing clean elections, the bedrock of a democracy, is of the utmost importance. A law mandating a hand-counted paper ballot system is a simple and practical reform that can begin to cleanse the electoral system of corruption and put the power in the hands of the people where it truly belongs.