Here's another Naomi Klein column from today's Toronto Star, posted with her
This Marshall's medium has lost message [By Naomi Klein]
When I first met Stephen Marshall 10 months ago, he =20
was complaining that his project, Channel Zero, had
not been covered in the Canadian press.
He explained impatiently that he was about to give ``birth to a new
medium'' - ``an alternative universe'' to broadcasters who are more
interested in pushing Diet Coke then helping the planet to communicate. A
chronicle of Marshall's trip around the world would be the first instalment
of an ad-free global, quarterly video magazine to be sold in stores.
It was a fine idea, but Marshall's outrage at the absence of media fanfare
was puzzling considering that, at that point, Channel Zero had yet to
release anything at all.
Marshall, however, understood that hype is not about what you do, it's
about packaging yourself with an irresistible news hook. In the coming
months, everyone from The Globe and Mail and The Star to this month's Utne
and Shift magazines heralded the arrival of a new medium, a new generation,
a new revolutionary, a new revolution.
Marshall used every clipping to get another, circulating the reviews on
posters and on the Internet with lots of pictures of Marshall himself, arms
outstretched. He now says the video ``will be revered,'' claiming he was
``chosen'' by ``beings'' in the desert to be the one to expose the
corporate media monopoly and its commercial interests.
The problem was that Channel Zero's hype was far more high-impact than its
actual product. The video faded into the background as journalists chose to
fixate on Marshall's club boy clothes and dizzying blizzard of words, and
to mix and match from his buffet of self-promotional expletives: ``MTV
meets Sixty Minutes,'' ``Sesame Street For Adults,'' ``High-impact
In the flurry of newness, some key questions failed to be asked.
Like how can you be chosen to do something so many people are already
doing? In the early '90s, a group of African American ``camcorder
activists'' formed a troupe called Not Channel Zero under the slogan ``The
Roger & Me, TV Nation and Manufacturing Consent, a Canadian film about Noam
Chomsky, have reached millions by using innovative film and video
techniques to popularize ideas that question the corporate orthodoxy.
Channel Zero, on the other hand, has sold 2,500-3,000 copies - a nice start
but hardly a ``global reach.''
As for his claim that an independently distributed video constitutes the
birth of ``a new medium,'' that's like calling a homemade audio cassette a
revolution in radio and declaring yourself Marshall McLuhan.
What set Stephen Marshall apart was not his medium or his message, it was
his budget. Unlike his predecessors, he had the cash - $2 million - to
launch a slickly packaged media blitz.
Channel Zero's message was that ``anyone can do this from their basement,''
but during interviews, Marshall was evasive about his own background as the
son of a Montreal Steel magnate.
He told me ``the universe can give you millions of dollars in a second if
it wants to,'' failing to mention his principal donor is Holiday Phelan,
heiress to the Cara food empire and a childhood friend.
None of this would have mattered had Marshall used the money to help people
from all over the world to tell their stories, as he claimed he would.
Instead, he kept telling his own story, over and over again. He travelled
around the world for the second time - this time Executive Class.
He bought a new Volvo station wagon and installed a Zen rock garden in his
apartment. Marshall explains that his ``guide'' (the one in his head) told
him not to worry about contradicting his anti-consumer message and instead
to ``project abundance.''
Sure enough, before the second issue hit the stands, Marshall had blown the
money - money that was supposed to put out two more issues. His staff went
from 16 to 6 people; some were laid off by fax or E-mail and others were
given only two days notice.
Marshall, on the other hand, is doing fine. Buoyed by the hype of the last
10 months, he is offering himself up as a youth market expert to the very
multinationals he reviled.
At a November conference of television executives in Berlin, he addressed
the audience not on the need to save the planet from corporate interests,
but on how to capture the youth demographic with funky graphics.
Not surprisingly, Marshall has been contacted by several major networks,
including CBC and CNN - and his guide is telling him to give the
multinationals another chance. ``Ted Turner is being presented to me by the
universe,'' Marshall says. ``He is the perfect being . . . Ted's a freak
like I'm a freak. They're comparing me to him already.''
So the question is: Why does this little saga matter? Unlike most media,
Channel Zero actually had a message: a message about the danger of media
monopolies and corporate control that many independent filmmakers and
progressive thinkers have been steadily building upon and spreading for
Marshall took that deep desire for justice and used it as his ticket to
publicity and corporate success - a new anti-corporate corporate niche
market. And we are left with another fast-talking TV savior, trying to sell
us something we already have.
Naomi Klein's column appears on Mondays. Her E-mail address is
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