Louis Althusser wrote “The State Apparatus, which defines the State as a force of repressive execution and intervention ‘in the interests of the ruling classes’ in the class struggle conducted by the bourgeoisie and its allies against the proletariat, is quite certainly the State, and quite certainly defines its basic ‘function’.” The “Repressive State Apparatus” was made up of organisations and institutions that “function by violence-at least ultimately (since repression, e.g. administrative repression, may take non-physical forms),” such as the police, the army, courts, etc. According to Althusser, their non-violent corollary is to be found in the “Ideological State Apparatus”, those “realities which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions”, that is, the educational system, the media, legal systems, religious systems, etc.; in other words, the means through which we are taught and come to identify with the dominant ideology.
Has there been a clearer articulation of the work of repressive and ideological state apparatuses in relation to contemporary concerns over media piracy than what recently happened in the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, IL? On August 30 “Police arrested another alleged CD/DVD pirate last week during a traffic stop.” In the inventory search of the car, officers found CDs and DVDs with handwritten labels, which prompted them to contact the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The RIAA is among the many media industry lobby groups responsible for spreading the notion that sharing media is not only illegal, but downright immoral. The charges against the driver, who was pulled over for speeding, now include two that are related to copyright infringement thanks to a further search of his house.
So, the ideological work of the RIAA in creating a public “awareness” of piracy as evil has certainly done its work on the cops in Park Forest who, upon seeing the handwritten labels “naturally” noted this as a criminal activity and sought counsel from the very group who in part help construct their understanding of the phenomenon in the first place. Torrentfreak notes that “They might be searching iPods next.” The success of the RIAA’s propaganda also seemed to work on the man who was arrested in as much as his first reaction was to deny that the infringing materials were his, offering instead that they belonged to “a friend.” (Who, upon questioning, also denied knowledge of the materials – some friend.)
It makes us question who is really calling the shots here. The police are clearly, in this case, representing the interests of a coprorate music industry, and are not working in the interests of the citizenry, who have demonstrated time and again the desire to share and copy music. Especially given the recent criminal charges brought agains Alan Ellis, the former OiNK admin, and the four OiNK uploaders in the UK, perhaps we also need to ask: Do we need another force to keep the public safe from the long arm of the corporate media industry?
Perhaps this could have the unintended effect of making all “pirates” drive slower, while allowing those dutiful citizens who have purchased their music legitmately to drive as fast as they want!
Read Louis Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.”