Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why Don't Americans Follow the Brazilians on the Barricades?

Election Day by John Lewis Krimmel 1815
Marty Kaplan,  Professor of Media, Entertainment and Society  and the founding director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of the impact of entertainment on society, at the
USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism recently wrote an article Let's Be Brazil  in the Huffington Post about last month's massive protests in Brazil, and was wondering why Brazilians went to the streets and why it seems nearly impossible within the U.S.  to organize similar protests "even though millions of Americans below the poverty line can't make a living wage, and millions more are barely hanging on by their fingernails." Kaplan continues:

"..There are, of course, plenty of dissimilarities between the U.S. and Brazil, a developing nation ruled by military dictatorship until 1985, but there are also plenty of all-too-close analogies between what's pissing off Brazilians and what ought to piss off Americans.
  • Income inequality. Brazil is in the world's bottom 10 percent on income inequality, ranking 121st out of 133 countries. But the U.S. ranks 80th, just below Sri Lanka, Mauritania and Nicaragua.
  • Wealth distribution. There are only six countries in the world whose wealth distribution -- accumulated holdings, not annual funds earned -- is more unequal than Brazil. But the U.S. is one of those six.
  • Education. The annual rate of growth in student achievement in math, reading and science in Brazil is 4 percent of a standard deviation. But U.S. educational achievement is growing at less than half that rate: 1.6 percent, just below Iran.
  • Corruption. Brazil ranks 121 in public trust in the ethical standards of politicians, out of 144 countries. But the U.S. comes in only at 54, just above Gabon.
  • Infrastructure. The quality of Brazil's infrastructure puts it at a dismal 107, out of 144 countries. But the U.S. ranks 25th -- below most other advanced industrial countries and even behind some developing nations, like Oman and Barbados.
  • Health care. Brazil's health care system ranks 125th out of 190 countries. But the U.S., jingoistic rhetoric notwithstanding, is only 38th. Among our peer nations -- wealthy democracies -- we're dead last, and it's only gotten worse over the past several decades.
So why aren't Americans at the barricades?

Our spirits have been sickened by the toxins baked into our political system, which legalizes graft and is held hostage by special interests and a gerrymandered minority. "

Kaplan in the end blames "learned helplessness" of the American citizens, caused by its disfunctional political system and its media, that focus on entertainment and superficial issues, rather than what really is important in society. Brazil with all its disadvantages as a relatively young democracy, has apparently something the U.S. doesn't have: hope that its citizens can change its politics.

Have a look at this interesting interview by Bill Moyers with Marty Kaplan on the "weapons of mass distraction", i.e. how mainstream media in the U.S. keep their viewers and listeners uninformed, and distract them from understanding and action.

For background reading on media & journalism in the U.S.:

The State of the News Media 2013, an Annual Report on American Journalism (Pew Research)

and also

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