-- Political Issues: Media --
This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on the Media.
Fall/Autumn 1985 - Cockburn on the insularity of U.S. press and radio
JV: What's your view of the American press and radio?
BC: Generally it's insular in its point of view. With some notable exceptions, few American newspapers carry much foreign news. There's a great deal of things happening in the world that people in "middle America" never have access to. And I'm not speaking geographically, I'm thinking more of the cultural phenomenon. I think that's really a shame because the decisions made in the U.S. have such a far reaching effect in the world. The people in the states especially should know more about what's taking place in other nations. But that's a problem with the print media.
Radio, with the exception of public radio or the various things that might be loosely called public radio, tends to really say nothing. Basically it's just rock & roll, easy listening, or whatever it is. There's no political content except what's there by default. There's a soporific drugging that comes when you hear nothing but a certain type of music all the time. music and commercials. It puts people asleep politically and I think that is something one should resist although there's not much you can do about it. It's pretty heavily institutionalized.
-- from "Interview: Bruce Cockburn" by John Vernile. Written by Mary Anne Devine. From the WUSB 90.1 FM Program Guide, Fall 1985.
September-October 1994 - Commenting about how words and their meanings are often "lost" in the mass-media
"[The mass-media] have cheapened language and make it nearly impossible to
speak with subtlety."
Wearing the persona of an English professor, Bruce turns to an example off
the new album [Dart To The Heart]: "You wouldn't believe how many people do not see the difference between listen to the laugh and listen for the
laugh. They are totally different things. When I am doing a radio interview
these days, people often say, Hey, I really liked your song, "Listen to the
Laugh." But what laugh is he listening to? If you're listening for it you
haven't heard it yet!"
As he talks, I am sure that he is spinning off Herbert Marcuse's 1960s
classic, One Dimensional Man. Mass culture has impaired our capacity to
interpret life on a series of levels.
"No," he responds, "I've never read the book, but I am aware that our
reality changed drastically with the introduction of mass communication.
That is why distilling the truth of your experience into a song is such an act of
-- from "Straight to the Heart, Bruce Cockburn's songs of subversion", by David
Batstone, Sojourners Magazine, September-October 1994.
25 August 1997 - Commenting on his left-leaning material causing others to dismiss him as an annoying and humorless symbol of political correctness, to the point where he
is often the target (as St. Bruce) of a television comedy troupe called This
Hour Has 22 Minutes (CBC).
"The comedy stuff doesn't bother me," Cockburn says. "It's kind of like,
'Where did they get that from?' I've seen (the television spoof) once or
twice. I don't know if I get as much of a belly laugh out of it as other
people. But it's not really disturbing.
"It does bother me when (criticism) comes out in the form of media comments.
Like people disregard what I have to say because of this or that stereotype.
Nobody likes being reduced to a stereotype, me included."
-- from "Cockburn sticks to causes for The Charity of Night", by Jon Matsumoto, CNN Interactive, August 25, 1997.
September 1999 - Commenting upon airplay in the US and Canada
"I actually get on the radio there, which I don't do here to any great
amount. The States has this triple A format. How applicable it is to my work
comes and goes, but at least it is there as a niche for songwriters. We
don't have an equivalent format in Canada."
-- from "Staying POWER" by Kerry Doole, Word and Music, September, 1999.
January 2000 - Reacting to a description of a NFB documentary called "The World is Watching" which shows how the news is filmed around the world and sent to the major
cities of the world for viewing. It used the Aries (?) Peace Treaty as the
focus point but shows video footage of a family being annihilated and the
film crew needs to get permission to continue filming.
BC: "I'll check it out. That's not even taking into account the
deliberate distortions that occur with media, of which there are many.
People ask me if it's worth reading or watching anything because it's all
such bullshit, but if you only watch one thing then you do get a very
distorted view. You have to read both MacLeans and Common Ground.
Very few people get the whole story, even with the best of intentions
and all the time in the world, which doesn't exist because everybody's got a
deadline and a budget. Then you have to contend with all the forces that
exist, wherever there's a political issue involved, particularily for the
U.S., there's going to be somebody trying to keep you from finding out what's
-- from "Conversations with Bruce Cockburn", Common Ground, January, 2000, interviewed by Joseph Roberts. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.
16 October 2000 - Commenting on being called 'un-American', the writing of the song Call It Democracy, and trips to Central America
"In the course of several trips to Central America in the 80's I met people
who were trampled by US economic policies. In Nicaragua but also peasant in
other countries who suffered under the status quo. I got a song from it. It
got more radio play in Canada, less in the US. It was deemed un-American.
In Chicago a guy wanted to put in pay toilets. The public protested,
rightly so, and they were not installed. The guy said it was un-American
not to let him charge people to take a....!
So in this context, getting called un-American is a cool thing. This song
is called un-American even though it doesn't mention the US.
I have (still have) a great video of it. MTV would play it. They played it
for maybe three seconds, but then they wouldn't play it because it
mentioned the names of some products. It had an image of peasants being
ground up and coming out in Coke bottles."
-- from the Institute for Policy Studies', 24th Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights
Awards, 16 October, 2000. Transcribed by Ruth White.
Help out! To add material to this section, see this page first.
This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.