The sociologist Niklas Luhmann says, “What we know about society and its world we know almost exclusively through mass media.” At the same time, we suspect that this knowledge is manipulated. We live in a media-centric democracy. But what does that really mean?
Are there dominant media? What is the task of public broadcasting and how does it accomplish it? How has the media landscape developed over the course of the last decades? Who are the powers behind the scenes? Does critical journalism still work? Are we being objectively well-informed, educated and entertained?
At issue is also: What effect do media have on the person? How do they change our thinking, feeling, and interaction? What powers of suggestion and manipulation do they have? What would we do without the media’s entertainment offers? How can our interaction with the media be changed? How can media and its power over interpretation be changed?
At this conference, the International Erich Fromm Society will look behind the scenes of the media, but also question our use of the media from a Frommian perspective. It is to be about the opportunities and the risks of the media and its power. In this effort, a series of competent speakers will conduct us through the conference in the media-hub Mainz.
Erich Fromm on manipulation
Our economic system must create men who fit its needs; men who cooperate smoothly; men who want to consume more and more. Our system must create men whose tastes are standardized, men who can be easily influenced, men whose needs can be anticipated. Our system needs men who feel free and independent but who are nevertheless willing to do what is expected of them, men who will fit into the social machine without friction, who can be guided without force, who can be led without leaders, and who can be directed without any aim except the one to „make good.“ It is not that authority has disappeared, nor even that it has lost in strength, but that it has been transformed from the overt authority of force to the anonymous authority of persuasion and suggestion. In other words, in order to be adaptable, modern man is obliged to nourish the illusion that everything is done with his consent, even though such consent be extracted from him by subtle manipulation. His consent is obtained, as it were, behind his back, or behind his consciousness.
(Erich Fromm, A. S. Neill, Summerhill –
A Radical Approach to Child Rearing,
New York (Hart Publishing Co.) 1960.)