[The 90’s raw: Ian Mitroff interview]

This tape features raw footage for the award-winning TV series The 90's. It features an interview with author and University of Southern California professor Ian Mitroff. Mitroff discusses television and its effect on politics and public discourse, saying, "TV has become a self-sealing universe... a culture. There's too much garbage on TV but you can't turn it off... how do you turn off a culture?" and "The kids have gotten the message in this society which is... 'Say yes to consumption in endless amounts.' That's the real message, and that's what TV is really about in this country. It's tied to consumerism, not even entertainment... it's all consumerism." Commenting on the television news' reliance on political sound bites: "If [Abraham Lincoln] were around today he would be reduced to 'Read my lips: no more slavery.'"

00:00Copy video clip URL Videomaker Nancy Cain tests the equipment in her apartment. This lasts for several minutes.

05:34Copy video clip URL Cut to a shot of USC professor Ian Mitroff. He and Cain talk about the interview before beginning.

06:43Copy video clip URL Mitroff begins to talk about the cultural role of television. He talks about ineffectiveness of the option of simply turning off the television if one does not like the programming presented. He goes on to say that quantity of channels available does not equate to quality and that the large amount of uninspired and fickle television almost negates the small percentage of quality television. “If television is so much in the culture as it become a model for magazines and newspaper covers, how in the hell do you turn off a culture?” Adjusting his microphone, Mitroff steps out of the room for a moment.

09:00Copy video clip URL Mitroff begins to talk about the arguments concerning television that make him angry. He comments on an editorial by Geraldo Rivera that claimed that television makers are only giving the people what they want. Mitroff then compares television of the past to its current state. Mitroff thinks if television makers had a higher moral principle, they wouldn’t succumb to the rationalization and justification of bad TV. Mitroff directs his anger towards big business and goes on to talk about how television is negatively influencing the public.

12:13Copy video clip URL Mitroff talks about a program in which incoming university freshmen were asked a series of simple questions about history. One of the questions was to name the current population of the United States. According to Mitroff, the answers ranged between 500,000 and two billion. “The end result is that we’re ignorant, that we’re ignorant. That’s the end result. Everything becomes judged by the standard of entertainment.” Mitroff then goes on to say, “But we’ve crossed over the line where entertainment is the main staple of discourse and image-making.” Mitroff makes sure to emphasize that TV doesn’t have to be dull. He compares bad television to a narcotic and thinks that television has not lived up to what it could be. He cites the Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell interviews as good television.

17:37Copy video clip URL Mitroff does not find technology to be the problem when it comes to television. He begins to talk about the lowering standards for the ability of the public to handle complex trains of thought. Mitroff then goes on to comment on the notion of brainwashing the public. He focuses on the manufacturing of political candidates and the selling of the image, not the ideas.

19:39Copy video clip URL Mitroff begins to talk about post-modernism and the media’s ability to warp traditional boundaries, comparing MTV watchers to schizophrenics. He then talks about a lack of framework for images in television. “You have the extreme juxtaposition of images without any coherent framework to make sense or to place it into… In some sense, the kids have gotten the message in society which is not ‘don’t say no to drugs’ but ‘say yes to consumption in endless amounts.’ That’s the real message, and that’s what TV is really about in this country. It’s tied to consumerism. It’s not even entertainment. It’s all consumerism.” He then talks about the lack of incentive for television to make quality programming.

22:25Copy video clip URL Mitroff states that in many ways, “capitalism is its own worst enemy.” He then goes on to talk about the positive aspects of technology and TV, as well as the lack of context on television. He then comments on television news’ reliance on political sound bites, specifically in relation to the 1988 presidential election. “If [Abraham Lincoln] were around today he would be reduced to ‘Read my lips: no more slavery.'” He moves on to talk about the inventions of different forms of media and how they have impacted society. “The curiosity is unleashed. It’s in the human psyche to latch on to archetypes, to know something about, to try and possess them to project on to them because they’re potent… It’s the equivalent of a social AK-47.” Mitroff also mentions the dullness of celebrities and their lives, contrasting between being famous for being famous versus being famous for an accomplishment. He then goes on to talks about the process of image making and manufacturing for a few minutes.

32:04Copy video clip URL Mitroff thinks the American culture is on the verge of redesigning itself. He talks about the convergence of man and machine and how the two will become more closely intertwined in the future. Mitroff eventually begins to talk about Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and his worldview. Mitroff then states that he’s a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist. He is unhappy with the lack of leadership coming out of the media and academia. He then defines the concept of knowledge. “For me, knowledge is intervening on problems that are real and important.”

40:07Copy video clip URL Mitroff introduces his notion of a “global brain.” He quickly moves on to talk about the negative aspects of television and how one can circumvent and redefine those aspects for the betterment of society. He moves on to talk about the fall of the Soviet Union, and raises questions about the power of television and talks about the adolescence of American culture.

46:00Copy video clip URL Mitroff states that he never regarded Ronald Reagan as a leader, despite Reagan’s charisma. Mitroff finds a lot of narcissism in American culture and labels it as “self-delusion.”

50:43Copy video clip URL Mitroff talks about the homogenization of American culture due to the country latching onto experimentation with new technologies in the mid 1800s. We only have a vestige of individualism, he says, calling American culture a “parody of our own parodies.” The video quality gets a little rough during this portion of the tape. Mitroff labels America a “mass consumer society” and talks about the lack of true debate among the factions of the television media.

56:07Copy video clip URL Mitroff asks what is wrong with entertainment, and answers himself by talking about the many different facets of the media. He cites storytelling as an important aspect of entertainment and one that the mainstream media lacks. He goes on to talk about the reinvention of social devices.

01:00:27Copy video clip URL Mitroff calls for limits on some forms of invention. “The trouble is is that the inventive part of us seems to be so much faster than the moral part of us and the socially designed part of us to sit down and design structures.” Mitroff wishes that the many segments of society could play a better part in social design. Mitroff thinks the media does not live up to their responsibility of positive social design.

01:04:10Copy video clip URL Mitroff talks about the need for strong leaders, citing Abraham Lincoln. Mitroff believes that the American culture fails to recognize when people respond to certain questions with silence, though Mitroff finds silence to be the appropriate response. He eventually talks about the divisive effects of greed and money making.

01:08:59Copy video clip URL Mitroff notes that society has become conditioned to certain imagery, and that U.S. citizens don’t crave competency. The video quality gets a little rough at this point in the tape. He goes on to talk about the similarities between television show content and advertising content, believing that society has lost the power to discriminate among content. He then talks about the rarity in finding true leaders.

01:15:35Copy video clip URL Mitroff notes a lack of heroism in institutions, asking what the purpose of the United States is today. “I think the purpose always has to be a good struggle. It has to be a good struggle, not a fight against the stereotypical enemy–not that because we can’t afford that anymore. The fight is against us.”

01:23:11Copy video clip URL Mitroff thinks we lack conversation about the important issues of our society. Pointing out that the camera battery is waning, he goes on to highlight the different ways to implement quality societal conversation.

01:30:47Copy video clip URL Tape ends.

 

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