“Manufacturing consent” is a concept that was first established in “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” written by the world-renowned linguistics professor and leftist public intellectual Noam Chomsky.
The idea is that modern-day mass media, which traditionally is meant to function as a watchdog for society’s most powerful people and institutions, has actually been commandeered by those people and institutions. This takeover is an attempt to control the discourse in a way that manufactures consent for their actions and perpetuates their power.
In 2021 it was announced that Mars, Hershey and Nestlé were presented with a lawsuit because they sourced their chocolate from cacao plantations that widely practiced child slavery.
Coincidentally, soon after that lawsuit was announced, Mars decided it was high time to change the design of the Green M&M, replacing her provocative gogo boots with some prudish tennis shoes.
News outlets — both liberal and conservative — erupted in protest over the change. Some progressives and feminists argued that Mars was trying to repress the Green M&M’s sexuality, while conservatives railed against another example of corporate “wokeism.”
A Tucker Carlson segment where he bemoaned no longer being turned on by the cartoon mascot was railed against by many an article and video essay. All the while, enlightened centrists argued about how stupid of a thing this was to argue about.
This is manufactured consent.
Evidence oft-cited for proof of this is the increasing centralization of mainstream media, 90% of U.S. media is owned by just 6 different megacorporations: AT&T, CBS, Comcast, Disney, Newscorp and Viacom. This includes not only the news but also television and cinema as well.
This arrangement creates an obvious conflict of interest, which places necessary limits on the scope of discussion that mainstream media can allow.
Outlets and studios owned by multi-billion dollar companies are not going to publish material seriously critical of capitalism. They also typically ignore any actions committed in the name of defending the neoliberal world order which so enriches the U.S. and its other wealthy western allies — where most transnational corporations are headquartered.
Evidence of this conflict of interest can be seen in the bizarrely bipartisan coverage, or lack of it, of almost anything outside of U.S. domestic affairs in our supposedly polarized political landscape.
Fox News and CNN can squabble over culture war issues till the sun comes up, but when it comes to, let’s say, the U.S. meddling in the affairs of foreign countries, there is little to no coverage. If something does get said it will only minorly critique the meddling itself, but never offer an in depth analysis of why it’s occurring in the first place.
Over the course of the Cold War, the U.S. attempted 72 different regime changes and meddled in more than 80 foreign elections. Since 1991 alone we have launched more than 251 military interventions, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Presently around a quarter of humanity is subject to the U.S. illegally imposed sanctions, which nothing can be done about due to our over 750 (documented) overseas military bases in over 80 countries on every inhabited continent — funded by more military spending than the next top ten countries combined.
Did you know most of those statistics? Probably not. Though how could you, considering the legacy of the U.S. as the world’s preeminent imperial power for nigh on a century is completely swept under the rug by mainstream media?
If you don’t know about it, how can you make an informed vote about it? If you can’t vote on it, how can you try and change it? If you can’t change it, what does that say about the state of our “democracy” that the media supposedly exists to uphold and defend?
It’s so absurd, that it almost might be comical was it not so depressing. One can imagine pampered news anchors shouting about the fetishization of a sentient piece of chocolate and the Mars CEO jumping into a Scrooge McDuck-esque pile of money while an enslaved child is beaten for not meeting his cacao quota, and Noam Chomsky bangs his head into a wall.
The nation was immersed in the story for all of a week before the news cycle chewed up the Green M&M press, spit it out and churned out some other sensational story to distract our collective consciousness.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court ruled that the chocolate companies could not be held liable for knowingly obtaining slave-sourced cacao, and the lawsuit was dismissed with little media fanfare.
That is why manufactured consent is the answer to last week’s alien observer’s question: “Why is this tolerated?”
Any society, especially one that must concern itself with getting that next paycheck just to pay for rent and keep food on the table, only has so much collective energy to channel toward creating meaningful change.
I believe the average person today feels that some sort of change is desperately needed — political polarization in the domestic sphere provides ample evidence of that.
However, their imagination of what needs to be changed is constrained by a mass media landscape that only concerns itself with meaningless culture war nonsense, sapping our energy and diverting our discontent.