April 18, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Our Master’s Voice:

I’m reaching into dust-covered files when I pull out the RCA dog. The Radio Corporation of America—which it really was at one time, with parts and labor from America—had a corporate logo, a mascot really, that featured a dog listening to a Victrola with the slogan: “His Master’s Voice.” The dog, with its head cocked to one side, seemed enamored of the Victrola and perhaps believed that somewhere inside the machine his master was playing Dixieland jazz.

As corporations became more powerful in determining the course and quality of American life, the slogan “His Master’s Voice” may have taken on new meanings. Few of those would bring to mind breezy Dixieland jazz.

For the past four weeks, a group of protestors has been camped outside the General Motors facility in Burbank. They’re not upset about labor or wages or jobs going off shore, although they certainly could be. No, these people are irate because GM is about to destroy many of the last of the EV 1 electric cars that it built in the 1990s.

GM made one thousand of the clean ‘green’ cars, but leased most of them. Last August, when those leases were up, GM took back the cars. Since then, according to the protestors, GM has been crushing the cars in Mesa, Arizona. You know, you want to be away from big cities when you’re up to stuff like that.

GM claims it is recycling many of the guts of the cars, and sending them to museums and universities where interested parties can study a textbook case of … well, what, exactly?

Chelsea Sexton was involved in marketing the EV 1 and got to drive one. She’s now one of the protesters in Burbank. Her take? “This is an issue of the American public that deserves to drive clean cars and be independent from oil and to have clean air… It’s a betrayal of the American dream for GM to crush these cars.”

Which rang in my ears like a Wal Mart Made-in-China telephone, because I’d just recently screened Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 again and was reading Howard Zinn’s excellent The Twentieth Century, A People’s History. Through both of these and the EV 1 protest, there seemed to be common thread: “Yes, but what do the people want?”

As you know by now, Moore’s Fahrenheit carefully lays out a trail connecting the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to the Bush family and then to global oil profiteering. Zinn’s book details the history of America through accounts of the growth of organized labor and the empires of the wealthy, empires expanded by flexing American muscle and expending the lives of soldiers whose ranks were drawn from the economically downtrodden. Clumsily paraphrased, Zinn’s book suggests that those who do not study the exploitation of working people by capitalism are doomed to experience repeat pillaging. Or as a business executive flatly posits in Fahrenheit 9/11, “We wouldn’t be over there if it wasn’t for the oil.”

General Motor’s posture on the EV 1 cars is that it couldn’t sell enough of them to make a profit and that it had to bring the cars back in because it could not maintain a base of parts for repairs. One of the protestors responds: “If GM had used the marketing budget that they have for the Hummer for the EV 1…” and so forth.

Ah, the Hummer. Does any other product simultaneously define its owner and insult those dying in Iraq the way these giant rolling jokes do? Yet the commercials keep running and, if you check the streets, somebody is listening. To a voice that suggests ignoring logic and conscience. The voice from the Victrola that, for so long now, has held us in its sway.

This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz

1) A judge ruled that Jay Leno could

(a) tell Michael Jackson jokes.

(b) study old Carson tapes.

(c) invoke bodily functions as needed.

2) Easter at the Hollywood Bowl will be

(a) hosted by Robin Williams.

(b) cancelled due to construction.

(c) interpreted by Mummenschanz.

3) The S.F. Zoo has moved its

(a) last elephant to a sanctuary.

(b) monkey house to a monkey chateau.

(c) “Jump Over Alligators!” attraction.

Answer Key

1) (a) Because there’s a shortage.

2) (b) I thought you put in the seats…!

3) (a) He won’t forget us…

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