Friday, December 26, 2014

Television, One Big Corporate Commercial - The Need For New Business Curriculum In Public Schools

Screenshot Disney Park Frozen Christmas Celebrationl
My mom watches channel 7 here in LA. Sitting with her, I get to see my fair share too.   Rosie O'Donnell, at the end of The View, which she co-hosts, was telling us how she has a Frozen family - all the members of her family love the movie.  Then there was a 'show' full of more syrupy testimonials about  to how Disney has been the glue for so many families for 77 years.  It took a while but I found Disney Parks Frozen Christmas Celebration.  There's a short trailer for it here which gives you the flavor of the film.  How I imagine people in North Korea publicly talk about their leader.

I've been noticing this sort of self-promotion show since I've been visiting my mom so regularly and seeing television with her.  The networks do 'shows' that essentially are touting their other shows.  The stars of one show come on another show to talk about their shows.

I had this bit of memory nagging at me.  And so I had to look up the ties between ABC (channel 7 in LA) and Disney.   Here's what I got from Wikipedia:
ABC, Inc.[1] DBA Disney–ABC Television Group[2] manages all of The Walt Disney Company's Disney and ABC-branded television properties. The group includes the ABC Television Network (including ABC Daytime, ABC Entertainment and ABC News divisions), as well as Disney's 50% stake in A&E Television Networks and its 80% controlling stake in ESPN, Inc.[3] While holding the controlling stake in ESPN, Disney-ABC TV Group and ESPN operate as separate units of Disney Media Networks.[4]
Essentially, this is a program length commercial for the Disney parks, the Disney movie Frozen, and all associated spinoff products on the television network that Disney owns.

With conglomerates melding many different businesses together, particularly media corporations, any pretense of fair and objective news reporting is totally out the window.

Need For More Sophisticated Schooling On Businesses

This raises an issue I've been thinking about for a while.  In a democracy, people need to understand how government operates and who the big power players are.  In today's United States, that means we all need to understand, not just the structure of states and local governments and the federal government.  We also need to understand the structure of American businesses - how they are interconnected and how they relate to government.

So,  school curricula should include, beyond teaching maps of the states and countries (they do still do that don't they?),  teaching the ins and outs of corporate structure and relationships.  Which companies own which companies?  Who sits on the boards of these different companies and how much do they get paid to do their board work?  And how do their duties on different boards affect corporate competition and government actions?

Without knowing well the structure of corporate America (and the corporate World as a whole) we cannot make reasonable election decisions.  How many people even know the ten largest publicly held companies?  (that question assumes people know what a publicly held company is.)  Well, trying to find the answer on Google demonstrates the problems.  I got all sorts of options, but not the top ten publicly traded companies in the US.  I got the top 20, but it was for 2007.  Changing the search to top ten US companies in 2014, I had to keep going to page three before I got a list of the top ten in North America.

But I'm not just interested in the top ten or top 100.  I'm interested in how those companies are interrelated - who owns whom and how does that affect how they do business?  The most dramatic impacts are likely on media companies that present us the news.  The impact of being owned by Disney on ABC, means that, at one level, viewers see shows that tout the products of the mother corporation.  What happens to their news reports?  How much about Disney products find there way into 'news' stories?

Here's an out-of-date 2006 map of media companies from Advertising Age.

It's a start.  It's level of complexity should help people realize why this needs to be a school topic where kids spend time studying all the interrelationships.  Maybe they'll start understanding the financial impact of McDonald's television ads or how their favorite movies are pitched over and over again on the stations owned by the movie company that made it (or they're both owned by the same company).  And how the boards of directors sit on each other's boards.  Maybe if they spend time looking at how much money corporations spend on elections and lobbyists, they'll start to wake up.

The Columbia Journalism Review has page where you can look up media corporations and see who they own.  I looked up CBS which has this note on the top of the list:
National Amusements has controlling interests in CBS and Viacom.
51 West 52 Street
New York, New York 10019-6188
Voice (212) 975-4321"
So I looked up National Amusements.  Wikipedia tells us:
National Amusements, Inc. is an American privately owned theater company based in Dedham, Massachusetts, United States. The company was founded in 1936 as the Northeast Theatre Corporation by Michael Redstone. National Amusements is now owned by Michael Redstone's son, Sumner Redstone, who holds 80% of the company, and Sumner's daughter, Shari Redstone, who owns the remaining 20%. Through National Amusements, the Redstones control both the CBS Corporation (owner of CBS) and Viacom (owner of Paramount Pictures) through supervoting shares.[1] The company operates more than 1,500 movie screens across the United States, the United Kingdom, Latin America, and Russia under its Showcase Cinemas, Multiplex Cinemas, Cinema de Lux, and KinoStar brands. National Amusements is equal partners in
So, do you think that the huge media emphasis these days on what movies are coming out and how much they're grossing has anything to do with the fact that television companies are owned by companies with an interest in movie theaters and film studios?  National Amusements owns CBS and Paramount.  Disney owns ABC.  And 20th  Century Fox is connected Murdoch's Fox News  (though I'm not completely sure how given recent changes.)   Comcast owns Universal (movies) and NBC (among many other things.)  Comcast is waiting for FCC approval of its $45 billion purchase of Time Warner.  However, an article on Re/code  that is interesting because it has this note at the bottom,
* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’sparent company.
says there's a new group that's teamed up hoping to block the merger of Comcast and Time Warner.

Just to give a sense of how long the tentacles are, National Amusements, through CBS, also owns radio stations in about 28 cities - big ones mostly, including New York, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, and in most of them they own three or four or five different stations.

My point here is not to expose  the connections among corporations and how those connections bias how those corporations operate - that's way too big a project.  I'm just trying to illustrate through one tiny example - O'Donnell's testimonial for Disney and the ABC tribute show to Disneyland, how these relationships breed massive conflicts of interest that most people have no clue about.

That example is there to make the bigger point:  School curriculum should teach kids about corporate structure and ownership.  I'm not talking about the Junior Achievement goal - "dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs."  I'm talking about getting a base for understanding the power of corporations in a democracy, understanding who has that power, and how that power affects what we know, how our laws get made, and what we can and cannot do.

I tried to find a clip of Rosie O'Donnell touting Disney on the View.  I didn't find the clip, but I did find the link to the show I saw mentioned at the beginning of this post and an announcement for another such show: "ABC to Air 'Backstage With Disney on Broadway: Celebrating 20 Years' on Sunday, December 14th"

I also found some O'Donnell/Disney connections (besides Disney owning ABC where O'Donnell is one of the hosts of The View.) From the Disney Wiki
Roseann "Rosie" O'Donnell (born March 21, 1962) is an American comedienne, actress, author, and television personality who voiced Terk in the 1999 Disney animated film Tarzan and appeared as one of the hosts in The Boudin Bakery Tour, an attraction at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California. She currently voices The Bouncing Bumble Queen on the Disney Junior original series Jake and the Never Land Pirates.
 Someone posted a video of the bakery tour here.

ETonline, snarkily headlines a feud between O'Donnell and another actress who said she didn't like the movie Frozen.  O'Donnell apparently called her out for that on The View:
"I just want to say, that I feel that Frozen is the best Disney movie ever made," O'Donnell told the crowd with the same level of intensity that is usually reserved for witch trials. "I've seen it 250 times, I can say it, every word of it, memorized. I love it like the rest of America."
Can we attribute the dissing of O'Donnell's love for Frozen to the fact that ETonline is a part of the
CBS corporate world, and  an ABC rival?  According to Wikipedia
As of the 2014 awards season, the staff and hosts of ET handle all red carpet event coverage for CBS's sister cable network TVGN (which CBS acquired a half-interest of in mid-2013), and air said programming on that network leading into award and movie premiere events as an extension of ET, usually under the title of ET at the (event name).
As you can see, this can go on and on.  And with all that corporate money and power behind what's on the networks and cable shows, the rest of us will have to work pretty hard to first understand all the connections and how they bias things, and second, to explain it to others.  

I know there will be people who will see the Disney show this post started with and wonder what I'm talking about.  It was a great show they'll say.  How can you say bad things about Disneyland?  All I can say to those people is that temptation, if it were ugly and repulsive, wouldn't tempt people, wouldn't seduce them.  From a Christian blogger:
"I always see Satan depicted as this red, horned, hideous-looking creature, when in all actuality he is one of the most beautiful of all of God’s creation. . . God says of him, “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.” 
Disney is a huge business that sells fairy tales for lots of money.  I went to their site and checked on tickets.  Two adults and two kids for two days costs $686.  Parking costs $17 more (per day I'm guessing.)  According to Allears (I couldn't find the answer where you buy the tickets) the tickets cover most rides, but not arcade games and shooting galleries.  And, of course, not food or other purchases in the stores.

If you make minimum wage in California, you would earn $9 an hour or $360 for forty hours.  If you consider the taxes that would be withheld,  a minimum wage worker in California would have to work about two weeks to pay for two days at Disneyland for a family of four.  More if they were going to eat in the park.   And shows like Disney Parks Frozen Christmas Celebration - essentially a long commercial for the movie Frozen (and all the products from it) and Disney Parks shown as a 'program' on the network the Disney corporation owns - puts a lot of pressure on parents to spend that money at the park.  Money they're hard pressed to spend.


  1. I was born in California and remember my first visit to Disneyland with a bunch of girlfriends in the 1950s. We had a silly, good time (and we could all afford to go using our babysitting money).

    Jump thirty years and a visit, with my British partner John, to Disneyworld in Florida. We loved it, but came out feeling covered in treacle and waking up from a swirling manipulation of forced happiness.

    Between the first and second visits I learned a lot about the place from
    a friend whose fulfilled adult ambition was to work at Disneyworld (boy, was he disillusioned -- he lasted only a few months). He said the Disney corporation has studied every aspect of its up-market carney business and the place is run like a Nazi camp.

    But $686 -- I had no idea! -- how manipulable people are!

    But I really wanted to make another comment on your post:
    Commerical-filled TV shows -- their days are numbered, as is television itself. How many people tape the shows to be able to fast-forward through the commercials? Commercial sales surely must be dropping and leaving network budgets thinner. Major networks suspend TV shows over every holiday period. How many series now have fewer episodes per year?
    There is now a network -- CRAVE -- that only airs reruns. No new, expensive programs to finance.

    So... TV shows must hype their other shows, i.e., products, during the show time, in sneakier ways, and the gullible viewers think they are getting content.

    You see through it, but you are one in a million.

    1. Barbara, I can't even comment on my own blog anymore. I responded to this twice and both seem to have disappeared in the ether. Briefly, my experiences are similar to yours. Entranced by the tv shows Disneyland and Mickey Mouse Club as a kid, I was excited to go to the newly opened park way out in Anaheim. Generally impressed, I did get one big political lesson as the long line for the little cars I could drive myself got longer. We had to wait for Vice President Nixon to cut in front and get his ride in.

      Years later we took the kids to Disneyworld. That's when I noticed the crowd control techniques - moving sidewalks to keep people from dawdling, winding lines so you couldn't see how long the wait was, etc.

      But I think the Nazi comparison is misleading. Most everyone was there voluntarily, they all got out, not only alive, but mostly with smiles on their faces. Orwellian maybe, in that people were programmed to control themselves. Force and violence weren't necessary.

    2. I know "Nazi Camp" is over the top, but there is an overriding iron-fist-in-velvet glove feeling behind many of these "crowd-pleasing" enterprises. It's a short step seeing the evil behind most institutions (like organized religion) that cream the public in the name of doing good.

    3. Barbara, that's why I offered the Orwellian option. When the oppressors have to use force, at least the oppressed know what is happening. In the Orwell example, people have been brainwashed into thinking what the tyrant wants them to think. The Disney messages are similar. With Disney people are led to spend lots of money in an artificially happy world, a world where nature and adventure are tamed.

      One could reasonably argue that for a day or two Disneyland is an innocuous entertainment. But if it were so great, people would come without such deceptive advertising, disguised as a program. And when people use similar techniques to get voters to choose their candidates, or raise doubts about things like evolution and climate change, we're in trouble. Which we are.

  2. The CIA has been in the business of media manipulation for many, many years.

    Lowell Thomas, who had ties to Alaska, was one of the original founders of what eventually became ABC.

    My inoculation against all of this propaganda is to simply not watch television of any kind, save for The Simpsons® and Trailer Park Boys.

    1. Anon, thanks for the links. They expand my thoughts to far more ominous machinations than I had gotten to, linking the CIA to ABC. I'd urge readers to check them out.

      I'd also urge commenters to go to the link for commenters on how to add links to your comments. I've added links above to Anon's references. People are much more likely to follow them if they are linked.


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