Last week, an anonymous group started plastering Black and Latino neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin with billboards implying that people can be prosecuted for trying to vote. Despite widespread protests, Clear Channel has refused to take the billboards down, claiming that they aren’t responsible for the content.
The Republicans’ recycled one-liner response to anyone exercising free speech–Get a job–will continue to substitute for any genuine commitment to democratic discourse. It’s not by accident that Fox News producers go out of their way to find the least experienced, inarticulate examples from the movement in order to create a straw man that can be easily torched. By contrast, consider this thoughtful discussion on Democracy Now! that presented diverse views about the movement. Can you imagine any of these panalists being interviewed on Fox? Chances are no, not only because Fox would never allow anyone so articulate to air his or her views, but these guests are wise enough to avoid letting themselves get cannibalized by Fox in order to become fodder for future propaganda. I ultimately don’t know Schultz’ motive, but I think it was a mistake (and perhaps a big temptation to be on TV) to give Hannity a forum to exercise his magician’s skills.
As evidence for how little Fox and friends comprehend what is happening outside the walled studio, they refer to Schultz as a leader of the movement. Strange, I didn’t know OWS has leaders or spokespeople. Regardless, it’s clear that this kind of media coverage is a diversion to avoid talking about real issues. It is to Fox’s detriment that they are unwilling to grasp the truly unsustainable nature of the situation and to patronize young people by yelling at them to get a job.
This kind of playbook response is well anticipated. As is the case with any activism that challenges the status quo going back to the 1960s, corporate media typically marginalize the protestor’s claims through flak. They discredit these claims through association with the counter culture (“they’re not like us,” “they are not reasonable people,” “they are lunatics”) and radicals (“anarchists,” “socialists,” “communists,” “Hamas” affiliates, “anti-Semites,” “Nazis,” etc.). They impose a narrative that portrays them as childlike (“petulant,” “spoiled”), naive (“they don’t know what they want”), aiding the enemy (Chavez, Hamas and the Ayatollah “love them”), and destructive (“they want our stuff,” “they will destroy capitalism”). This is not to say that sympathizers in the corporate media don’t exist. Nonetheless, those seeking serious discourse about the world’s problems won’t find much of it in a media environment dominated by conflict-driven infotainment spectacles that consider shouting matches democratic discussions.
I believe it is pointless to expect a reasonable discussion or debate in the corporate media. I think it is far better to continue creating alternative media that works towards building the new paradigm of participatory democracy and media. If you need a good example, go no further than this documentaryy, which offers fantastic insight into the Aikido move that we need to make around mainstream media.
On this note, consider the wise words of Bertrand Russell:
Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
In what can be seen as the evolution of propaganda, for better and for worse the networked public sphere has been Konyfied. This means that slick aesthetics and creative storytelling combined with social networks has the potential to spread any message far and wide.
No doubt, Kony 2012 did inspire eco-communicators to think of new ways to spread the concept of sustainability. But we have also been broadsided by the likes of a video produced by Free Market America, “If I wanted America to fail” (posted above). It pushes a right-wing anti-environment business agenda with slick, youth appeal aesthetics (I can’t wait for the mash-ups!). Though I find this kind of propaganda somewhat disturbing, I’m not sure if it works. It uses a confusing language of irony that contradicts its own messaging. Psychologists have remarked how conflicting it is to say something like “Don’t do drugs” because “don’t” and “do” in the same sentence usually cancels out the negative (“don’t”). By combining “If I wanted American to fail” with all the the actions they don’t support, they in fact are encouraging those behaviors! But then again, most rightwing propaganda is designed to be a mind-frak anyways, so maybe that’s their intention.
Just to be clear, the video offers to expose the “extremist” agenda of environmentalists (and by implication the Occupy movement as well), yet the views expressed here are really those of extremists who are ready to let the planet fail at the expense of an outmoded ideology. The reason why free market radicals are now doubling down on their madness has to do with a psychological need to reinforce an entrenched worldviw in the face of utter contradiction. How can they ignore, for example, that the economic crisis since 2008 basically demonstrated that the free market cannot survive without government intervention or subsidies, or that every year the scientific consensus gets closer and closer to near unanimous acceptance that climate change is caused by humans? Friends, denial ain’t a river in Phoenix (it’s a dry riverbed!).
Apparently Fox doesn’t like the video either, not because they disagree with the main premise (see video below). Rather, it’s because they think it’s a little too over-the-top to convince the non-believers. How’s that for the kettle calling the pot black!
Sometimes the media gods do us a big favor by giving us a clear example of how corporate media is occupied by Wall Street. In this case we are presented with two different covers of the same issue of Time Magazine that ran domestically and abroad. Reading between the lines it shows how scared the media elites are of pushing the idea of revolution at home. And just as the disconnection between the US State Department’s support for the Arab Spring overseas versus the various crackdowns against the Occupy movement throughout the US is not casual, no doubt the editors at Time are nervous about the idea of revolution in Egypt further inspiring the locals. This makes the alternate title, “Why anxiety is good for you,” that much more interesting. Surely their editorial choice reflects a great deal of anxiety.
The first rule for reading propaganda is to assume that whatever the propagandist says is the opposite of reality. So if Ronald Reagan pontificates that America is a beacon of freedom for the world, what he really means is that he is selling arms to Iran’s Mullahs and Saddam Hussein, and is training the future leaders of Al Qaida in Afghanistan. Likewise, when controversial Tea Partier Christine O’Donnell says in the above ad that she is not a witch, she is actually practicing black magic. Not to denigrate the honorable profession of witchcraft, but we have to deal with the phrase on her terms, which means the cartoony, TV babe version that completely misrepresents the arts, turning it into a tool of manipulation and control of the pettiest kind. What O’Donnell may not be aware of is the prime directive of the arts: what goes around comes around. Be careful of the kinds of spells you cast.
I don’t know O’Donnell, but judging from the various video clips that have surfaced from her past, she strikes me as a true believer that will dabble in just about anything, the kind of turncoat cultist that can easily switch from Krishna to Christianity. Don’t be alarmed if at some point she calls herself a Marxist. Unfortunately, it would be too simple to dismiss this campaign as the kind of conjuring practiced by shopping mall goths. There is too much big business at stake.
What inspires today’s blog screed is the slick salvage job the Republicans are making to shore up their million dollar electoral investment, one that will pay big time dividends to the uber-rich if the Republicans re-take control of the Senate (and can further delay climate change action). Is rehabilitating a religious fanatic as simple as donning some pearls and conservative black business suite while delivering an anti-corruption pitch layered with a bit of Holiday Inn lounge music? What about declaring with the best coached smile and earnestness money can buy that, “I’m nothing you heard, I’m you”? Here she deploys the Charlie Brown theory of cartoon psychology in which you draw something with as little detail as possible so as to make it easier for people to project their own fantasies.
I don’t know anyone in Delaware, so I honestly don’t know how on target O’Donnell is when she declares, “I am you.” If this is the case, maybe this is more the desperate cry of someone who will do and say anything to be popular. That is certainly the case with most Republican politics.
The Democrats have certainly gotten their act together in their effort to define themselves. Throughout this election the Republicans have failed to define their opponents as they so successfully did with Kerry and Gore. For that I appreciate how they are rediscovering their spine.
No doubt this is a finely crafted bit of propaganda. That in itself does not make it evil. Propaganda is just political persuasion. We all need it. This half hour infomercial is full of symbols and personal stories that reinforce a lot of classic (and perhaps deceptive) images of America: wheat fields, auto workers, multicultural civil society, etc. This is as white and mainstream a portrayal as you would get in the most banal Disney film on the Family Channel. Is this supposed to dupe me into accepting some kind of “friendly fascism“?
As an exercise, we could certainly deconstruct this ad and scribe a book about American myths. But that’s not my reason for writing. What I was feeling as I watched is a qualitative difference in energy that I find welcome, and revealing. I think the scare tactics of Bush and Co. worked under a certain context, that of 9/11. But it’s apparent people want solutions, not fear.
When Palin came on the scene and gave McCain his big bump, I was sure that once again the scared ex-burbans would control our fate, the same populous that bought into the commuter car myth and into the housing bubble, the same high-metabolism, petrochemical prefab reality lining America’s highway corridors, a disembodied reality that’s coming to an end (for visual proof, notice how almost all the people in the video are overweight– a bodily representation of living beyond our means). That was supposed to be Palin territory, and the Republican’s sure bet that people would vote for no change out of a fear of acknowledging that their lifestyle has come to end.
If there is one thing the Republicans have mastered is denial, a lack of self-criticism, and the rhetorical skill to mask their true agenda. This doesn’t mean the Democrats are the good guys riding in on the white horse to save our crumbling Western town and to stave off the raiding Indians. But I genuinely feel like the will and energy is now apparent to fix our problems, symbolized by how Obama rolls up his sleeves.
It has been shown that political ads, for the most part, shore up and reinforce the base to help reconfirm and solidify those who intend to support you. Very little of them actually change people’s decision, but it does work on a small percentage. The Democrats are now targeting these undecided ex-burbans, to whom I say, get off the fricken fence. The mythical undecided voter has become the symbol of American ineptitude. If there is a person out there who does not see at this point that the national superjetliner is crashing, we are truly doomed. And it’s not terrorists taking it down. It’s just out of gas, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Are we going to let hysterical alcoholic first class passengers take over the controls, or let skilled pilots glide the plane for a softer landing? Ultimately I don’t like this metaphor because it implies the solution is trusting the skilled technicians to solve our problems, when in fact what it takes is our collective wisdom and combined creativity. Can we rebuild the plane in midair? That would be interesting.
In Italy fascism is on the rise. So for now it feels good that maybe I can make a difference in my home country to help it choose a different path. For once I feel like I’m not voting for the anti-Republican, that is, casting a negative vote. I feel like as imperfect as the process is, this is a step forward towards reclaiming democracy.
I remember the feeling in NYC after the last election. I don’t want to see everyone walking around like zombies as they did four years ago when Bush with his so-called mandate and political capital strode back into washington in his stretch limo Hummer and blackhawk escort.
I implore you to your bit and change the energy. Vote. Please. The world is begging you to do it.