The constant and persistent voice of the radio, whether it was what we wanted to hear or not, was a familiar voice that grounded us in our community when I was growing up. The 1996 Telecommunications Act was an invisible but vital change to the background of our lives; it re-shaped how the media works by allowing for concentration of ownership and defanging what few standards the ‘Fair Use Doctrine’ gave us. Language, from cave paintings to oral and written histories, developed as a way for humans to describe the material, physical world to other humans, but private ownership of media distorts its purpose. Famously, "freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Our task now is to rebuild communication networks that are free grounded in the needs, stories and yearnings of our communities.
That influence is realized in often unnoticed ways. The media depict class structures in very different ways, using framing which constitutes a mental shortcut in thinking about class. Because the media often shapes people’s perceptions of the world, these mental shortcuts become the framework through which people understand class, driving them to behaviors that benefit both the media itself and capital. The world is described in a limited way, so it is then interpreted in a limited way. It's self-referential. It's postmodern, completely divorced from reality, which is how even though we are of nature and more dependent on other humans than ever before, we're atomized and isolated. There is strong incentive to maintain the status quo, as those in the dominant classes enjoy privileged roles in society and are loathe to rescind their comfort.
All of this is exacerbated by the increasing isolation of our day-to-day lives and atomization of societal structures. Our physical geography has shrunk, such that we are often left to fill our networks through our workplaces and through necessity, while we lose touch with the ways our community enriches our lives. We come to view those in other classes through the lenses of the media shortcuts that are easily provided to us, everywhere. And as our workplaces and daily lives demand more and more of our personal space and time, those media shortcuts become more and more central.
What can we do to bring a fulfilling local, physical sense of community back into our daily lives? How can we combat the imagery and systems that the people in power have forced upon us? We can start by problematizing these systems we have been relegated to work within. In turn, we will realize the shared power we have in our digital geography.
DSA is an organization made of members in chapters who share a physical geography. They work together to build community where they live. Each member and chapter is bound to one another through our shared values, but we also live together in a shared digital geography. Because our communication networks have been built by us for us, we do not have to accept the ways in which the media typically portray us. We will build it for ourselves.
This work is not easy and does not come quickly. This is in part because education in the United States teaches us fundamentally different definitions for the concept of work, depending on class. Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, Jean Anyon’s attempt to qualitatively assess primary and secondary schools along social class lines, shows that differences in educational methods and evaluations between social classes create a “hidden curriculum.” This unseen curriculum prepares students to relate to authority and the process of production in a particular way, based on their social class. Frameworks around fundamental concepts such as the very definition of work and the relationship between the individual and the fruits of their work change depending on the social class of the students.
Each social class analysis begins in the same way: defining “work.” For the working-class, work is following the steps of a procedure. For the middle-class, work is getting the right answer. Affluent professional scholars (e.g., Horace Mann) teach that work is a creative activity carried out independently. For elite executive schools (e.g., Phillips Exeter Academy), work is developing one’s analytical and intellectual powers. It is clear in Anyon’s analysis that each social class has very distinct educational methods, which align on a spectrum of ideological extremes. Working-class schools are more authoritarian and unilateral, in contrast with the elite executive schools which provide students with freedom of movement and personal autonomy.
One way to describe the result of her analysis is in terms of the questions “Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why?” In working-class schools, students are only encouraged to ask what – as in, “What do I do?” or “What did you say?” – never encouraging individual thought. Middle-class schools introduce who and when and where: basic questions to gain basic information about a subject. In affluent professional schools, where inquisitiveness is encouraged, where students ask how. Only in elite executive schools, where the “primary goal of thought is to conceptualize rules by which elements may fit together in systems and then to apply these rules in solving a problem,” are students challenged to ask why. If DSA hopes to dismantle the oppressive structures empowering imperialist forces and patriarchal white supremacy, we must similarly examine the media’s frameworks around class, asking why these frameworks persist, and how we can replace them with frameworks that enable true liberation for all.