A ‘postcapitalist Netflix’ from the new American Left
Interview with Naomi Burton (Means TV)
Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 elections was a shock for many Democrats and at the same time revealed the extent of the Democratic establishment’s failure. The party leadership had thought that Bernie Sanders would have worried Wall Street and the big corporations and did whatever it could to prevent him from running as the Democratic candidate. Doing so they probably opened the door of the White House to Trump but also prepared the ground for the rise of a new wave of socialist candidates within the party, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former organizer of Sander’s primaries campaign and recently elected at the US Congress.
The electoral rise of American socialists reflects also some deep changes unfolded in US society after the 2008 crisis: growing inequalities but also the return of significant workers mobilizations, like the teachers strikes in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Los Angeles etc. Over the last ten years the aspiration to a fairer society, as shown by the polls, has been matching with the legacy of American socialism and labor movement. According to Gallup polls 51% of young people, 18-29 years old, 57% of Democrats and 37% of Americans as a whole say they hold a positive view of socialism.
Naomi Burton is a cofounder, along with Nick Hayes, of Means of Producton, a media production based in Detroit, which aims to spread socialist ideas using cinema and advertising tools and techniques. Last year Naomi and Nick produced some electoral ads for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (The Courage to Change) and other socialist candidates and in the last weeks they’ve announced they will launch Means TV, a subscription-based streaming platform: a ‘post-capitalist and working class oriented Netflix’, they use to say. On Wednesday they also announced they are going to try and raise half million dollars for the first year of Means TV, which will start with 10 weeks of free entertainment this spring. In this interview with Naomi we try to understand how did so an unusual initiative unfold and to what extent it reflects the mentioned changes in American society.
Can you explain to our readers what did you do before founding Means TV, when and how did you decide to start with socialist filmmaking?
We started Means Media in January of 2017. We had become Socialists during the 2016 election after seeing how much the Democratic Establishment failed. We were both working in the commercial film and marketing world creating propaganda for Fortune 500 companies. We realized that we could remove ourselves from that space and take the expertise and resources we learned from the private world and bring them to the Left. That’s when we formed Means of Production.
Around the same time, we began to shoot content and plan for Means TV — a post-capitalist, cooperatively-run streaming platform that we’ll begin rolling out this year.
What is Means TV and what do you mean when you talk about a ‘post-capitalist Netflix’ and challenging the Right in the ‘Youtube war’?
Means TV is a post-capitalist streaming platform and digital TV network.
Similar to a Netflix or Hulu, Means TV produces original comedy, episodic television, movies, animations, documentary programs and also acquires entertainment that aligns with our values.
All of the content Means TV creates or acquires is anti-capitalist in nature and the platform takes no money from corporations or advertisers, relying instead on monthly subscriptions from viewers.
In the same way the right wing has propaganda structures, like Fox News, and liberals and corporations have structures, in the form of Netflix, MSNBC, etc.
The Left needs its own equitably-run propaganda structure to boost our ideas and provide employment to socialist creative professionals
Youtube’s algorithms knows who I am. Yet they feed me videos with Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan who entertain harmful, fascist, misogynist ideas.
We plan to release tons of funny, short, free content on Youtube that’s shareable and targeting young people. In the hope that we can offer some stiff competition to the right wing, and introduce folks who aren’t necessarily socialists or interested in politics to some of these pro-worker ideas.
Have you already planned to expand your activity overseas?
Yes! We’re planning to dub and subtitle our content in as many languages as possible to reach the most viewers possible. We also want to work with filmmakers and entertainers overseas to create and develop content for the platform that speaks to stories they face in their own countries.
What does it mean ‘socialism’ for you? And for an average US worker?
Socialism is all about Democracy.
Socialism means that working people, or the majority, have control over their workplace, their political systems, and most importantly, their economy.
When we have an economic system like we do now in the US that allows for all the wealth to be hoarded by a few billionaires, it has the effect of slowly rolling back worker protections and pay globally while flooding the market with low quality products, waste, and no real innovation.
Instead of working in a top-down hierarchy where you have no control over your wages, how your workplace is structured, your benefits, what you’re creating etc, we could empower worker cooperatives that place decision-making in the hands of the employees.
If working people are able to decide, how they want to generate their electricity, or how they want to manage local agriculture, they’re going to choose and prioritize ways that allow for the community to be sustained.
CEOs, billionaires, and all of the greedy forces in the US economy couldn’t care less about our communities. When they decide to pollute a river, it’s just numbers to them, to workers in that area though, it’s their lives.
It will always be a more efficient method of social organization to have workers controlling the means of production. We will get better technology and innovation under socialism solely for the reason that rich kids like Elon Musk aren’t the ones deciding what science gets to happen and what doesn’t. Scientists do, workers do.
Having seen some of your stuff it seems to me that you try to put ‘socialism’ into the everyday life of common people…
That exactly what we want to do! The US has a long history of socialism and communism that we should be proud of.
There’s still a legacy of those ideas in the Midwest, Appalachia, and in the South — wherever you find working class people who benefited from the union movement, you’ll find Socialism.
How can filmmaking and workers organizing get together? Did you ever collaborate with unions?
Film and advertising are some of the most effective tools to communicate ideas, but under Capitalism those resources are only afforded to the wealthiest corporations — that’s why we started Means Media.
We do work with unions and believe they are a critical source of power in fighting to overthrow capitalism.
How important are elections and how important are workers’ struggles to change society and build socialism?
Elections are extremely important but they are also a huge time investment that often doesn’t yield much for working people.
We believe there is work to be done in elevating truly Socialist candidates in the US but we also believe there is more work to be done within the culture. We need to move the needle toward a complete disdain of capitalism and a feeling that Socialism is the only viable option as we descend into global climate catastrophe.
What is DSA and what have you got to do with them?
DSA is the Democratic Socialists of America and they’re the largest Socialist organization in the US. They do direct actions, mutual aid, and educational lectures. We are card-carrying members of DSA and hope to create more propaganda that boosts their work and ideas.
Do you think you can change the Democrats from inside? Would you rule out a political rupture between DSA and the Democratic Party?
If the Democratic Party continues to pander to donors instead of people, there will be a political rupture in the party.
The majority of people in the US want massive wealth redistribution, nationalized healthcare, free college tuition, a demilitarization of the police and A Green New Deal. We are waking to our collective power and demanding dignity.
If they don’t act fast, we’ll find another way.
Would you like to send a message to Italian left-wing filmmakers?
We’re building Means TV for all of us! We’ve connected with hundreds of creatives and filmmakers from all over the world who have been shut out of the establishment media and entertainment because of their politics. We’re building Means TV to be a long-standing structure that not only introduces ideas into the zeitgeist but provide employment to socialists.
If you have ideas, scripts, or already-made content that has been rejected by the hyper-capitalistic establishment entertainment structures, send it our way! firstname.lastname@example.org.
The interview is an excerpt from PuntoCritico.info newsletter, 8 February 2019
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