Evgeny Morozov makes an interesting claim in his book The Net Delusion. Chapter three, entitled Orwell’s Favorite Lolcat, starts by making the point that in the DDR (communist East Germany) in the 1980s those (the large majority apparently) who were able to receive the television broadcasts from the FDR (democratic West Germany), were in fact much less inclined to revolt against the oppressive rule than the people who did not have access to West German TV. The argumentation is two-fold. First, West German news broadcasts were considered by the Easterners to be as much of a propaganda as their own, a belief stemming from their logical suspicion of everything. Second, West Germany offered a lot of entertainment; particularly, according to Morozov, the US series Dallas and Destiny. For the East Germans, this daily feed of mindless and superficial entertainment, was an excellent way for the people to ‘switch off’ — to forget about the torments of living in an authoritarian regime.
Then the story moves on to the age of the Internet. (In fact, the first two pages of the chapter are dedicated to Russian government-sponsored online TV channel Russia.ru, of which very popular appears to be ‘The Tits Show’.) Similar to the distractions from daily torments in East Germany, the Internet offers an even wider selections of entertainment — from cute piggies/cats on Youtube, to flash games on Facebook — ensuring the majority of the audience thinks about anything but politics.
This quote in the book neatly encapsulates this idea:
In the absence of high ideals and stable truths, it has become nearly impossible to awaken people’s political consciousness, even to fight authoritarianism. How can you, when everybody is busy buying plasma TV’s (Chinese today buy TV’s with the biggest screens in the world, beating Americans by four inches), shopping for stuff online (a company linked to the Iranian government launched an online supermarket the same week that the authorities decided to ban Gmail), and navigating a city with the highest number of BMWs per square meter (that would be Moscow). Even the official media in Cuba, that stalwart of revolutionary values, now broadcast TV series like The Sopranos, Friends, and Grey’s Anatomy. — The Net Delusion, p 68
Quite an interesting argument Morozov is making. Why haven’t authoritarian governments fallen under outside and inside pressures, coming from the wide availability of information about their bad practices? The majority of the people are simple not inclined to worry about politics too much, and are easily distracted by entertainment. They might disagree with what is going on, but the critical mass level for them is pretty high… That would be a sobering argument, and the Arab Spring events would either be an exception, or require a different analytical approach