Thursday, October 11, 2018

There's Nothing Hard About This: When People Are Swayed By Propaganda They See On TV THAT Is Where It Comes From

I have been volunteering for a campaign for a Democratic candidate to a state office, a couple of weeks ago, as I might have mentioned, he told me that going door to door, knocking on doors and talking to his prospective constituents he can always tell if someone watched FOX "news" almost as soon as they start talking.  That their obsessions are identical, that they use the same language to talk about them, that their anger and fear is identical.  He said that crosses party affiliations, that, especially elderly people will start by saying,  "I'm a Democrat but . . " and begin spouting the FOXspeak lines that Republicans will spout.

When I listened to that interview with Marilynne Robinson yesterday, this passage jumped out at me as particularly interesting.   I will give my transcription of the passage then I'll comment on it.

Nam Kiwanuka:  I'd like to read a part of a part of an essay you wrote for this book and it's from an essay that you gave last year at a lecture at Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock and you write:

"My mother lived to be ninety-two . . . She was a sharp-minded woman, aware of her intelligence to the end of her life.  She was complicated, and my relationship with her was never easy, but it was interesting, which was probably better for me, all in all.  With a little difficulty we finally reached an accommodation, an adult friendship.  Then she started watching Fox News. "

So pick up where that sentence ends,  She started watching Fox News, and that means what for you?

Marilynne Robinson:  Simply that she adopted a great many attitudes and fears, anxieties of various kinds, even resentments that came to her through media and had no basis in her life experience.  You know?   And I find this is something that has occurred in lots of families in the United States.  That there's a genius of polarization at work that can make people identify very passionately with attitudes that they could not really justify . . . I think that there's a kind of a hobby of fear, a sort of fear fad that makes people who are as historically secure as human beings ever are, feel as if they, nevertheless, have to be ready to defend themselves in extreme situations and so on.  It's very irrational, very unattractive, very undignified 

Nam Kiwanuka: I find that interesting, a hobby of fear.  And, so, is that being presented to us by corporations or within our own circles?

Marilynne Robinson:  I would like to know.  I would not have thought that it could assume the importance that it has assumed.  There are the sort of house-bound elderly, there are . . .  I'm afraid, especially vulnerable to this.  And then there are also men with paramilitary fantasies.  And these two populations being of one mind, I think,  is quite extraordinary.   But, there it is.  I'm surprised by it.  I would have to do a lot of reasoning to do a lot of exploring to be able to reason back to its sources.  

While I have the highest respect for Marilynne Robinson and that passage contains some impressive insights, she doesn't have to go through a lot of thinking to get back to its source, she gave the source of it in the passage from her essay.  It comes from FOX, it comes from an American cabloid 24-7-365 propaganda source that does what the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda could only dream of being able to do, what George Orwell imagined would be done in his most famous novel and the results are not far off from what Orwell imagined.

I used to hold that Aldous Huxley got the future under modernism and mass media more right than Orwell but the past two decades made me realize that Huxley only got it right for the college credentialed side who I dealt with far too much.  Orwell had his finger on the real future which we are living right now.

That college credentialed group who dutifully took in the nice, liberalish view of the noble profession of journalism and the lie of that the media that people absorb for more hours a day than they attend school or church was of no possible harm have had more of a hand than almost any other group in leaving those who are vulnerable to the kind of manipulation that Rupert Murdoch and his thugs have practiced with far more success than the entire history of the liberalish-leftish media.  The leftish, liberalish media with their pathetic little low-circulation magazines, their even more impotent journals and the ridiculously inadequate Pacifica-podcast electronic version of it.  Even when you add in the liberal ghetto hours on MSNBC the result in real life is unimpressive in the extreme.  I listen to Majority Report which is good, for the most part, then Jamie Peck and even the more jargon resistant Michael Brooks and Sam Seder go off into the absurd cul de sac of no-destiny lefty history and ideological futility.

FOX is successful because, having no intention of being true but being ideologically useful to its billionaire owners and patrons, it has no need to have a  basis in life experience or fact or anything any more real than a movie or even science fiction.  It is a pure manipulation of peoples' worst parts, their weakest, least reasonable, least rational, least generous and trusting, their most paranoid and envious and selfish, resentful sides.  That is exactly how most American entertainment and all of American advertising (as if those are different) does what it does.  It is exactly how the Nazis, the Stalinists, and Maoists did what they did.  And a big part of that is ginning up the kind of fear of others within your group to create a pack mentality in which they will target others outside that group.

This is exactly the thing that has gotten what I write the most mockery because it goes against the common received wisdom of the nice, polite, college credentialed, liberalish American of the post-war period, something about which no amount of obvious evidence in "life experience" seems to be able to shatter, not even the most obvious manifestation of Orwellian nightmare manifesting itself right before our very eyes and in that all too real life experience.  The very same politician whose campaign I'm working on, when I had a discussion of this in depth, looked at me and said,  "I don't care, I like to watch fiction" which is the most discouraging sentence anyone has said to me all year.

American democracy has been killed by TV, by Hollywood,  the things which take up the most hours of the minds of Americans and which have replaced reading and school and church - religion in America being, itself, far too much "as seen on TV".   I don't think it's looking good that we are going to have the maturity or strength of character or even the moral sense to understand that if you allow the likes of Rupert Murdoch to own TV stations and other media, they will succeed in doing what the advertising industry has done.  The hire experts in telling them how to lie effectively, they do some of the most rigorous social science that is done to tell them how they might lie more succesfully, they study the results to see what worked in real life and what hasn't and they have honed their methods of how to lie with maximum success.  There's nothing hard or secret about that.  What is hard is overcoming the lies told by the civil liberties industry that prevents us from admitting what's right there before our own eyes.

I think if there is an aftermath in which democracy is salvaged, one of the hardest lessons will be that the legal theories that permitted FOX and hate-talk radio and other media to propagandize us into fascism cannot be allowed because it is successful in destroying democracy.  Democracy has no obligation to allow those bent on destroying it free reign to lie people out of democracy and into facism.  The free speech dogma that denies that democracy has a moral responsibility to suppress what destroys it is one of the most fascist friendly frauds sold under a false front.  The dangers inherent in suppressing anti-democratic, fascist lies are dangers we have to face because not facing them has produced what we have now.  We are the ones who should decide how best to avoid them, refusing to do that is total abdication of responsibility.


  1. My frail hope for FoxNews is that only the elderly (myself excluded) are keeping cable, and they aren't getting any younger.

    It's not absolutely true, of course, that only the elderly are on cable, but younger people are ditching it for Amazon Prime and Netflix, etc. The expansion of channels on digital broadcast is an under appreciated bonus of modern technology that undercuts cable severely: why pay for 200+ channels with nothing on when you can get 50 or more on broadcast (in major metro areas, anyway)? Hell, my local PBS station has 6 extra channels alone.

    I think cable itself will slowly fade away (or rapidly), and FoxNews will find its audience older, less likely to pay the advertisers, and too old to bother to vote (My father watched Fox, to my dismay, but quit voting at least by the time he moved nearer to me; my mother has never bothered to register again. I honestly think the old models of "old people vote, young people don't" is going to become cliche in fact, not just in usage, before long. Yeah, older people tend to vote more consistently, but they also get too old to bother with it; or care. Not en masse, but undoubtedly enough to dent their presumed power.)

  2. And what is it about America that makes us so gullible? Aside from Brexit (and the former P.M. stuck the nation's head in that lion's mouth), Britain hasn't been this stupid, and Murdoch had functioned there for years. He even tried A FoxNews in Britain, IIRC, and it failed.

    1. That's a good question, though Murdoch and the other gutter press has had a big hand in the Conservative stranglehold on Britain, relieved only by the Conservative-lite Blair years. There are some restrictions on lies that can be told with impunity in Britain that might also be a factor, as well as that Brits have the class system while we have things like the "Lost Cause" and "How The West Was Won" all exacerbated by the enormous body of propaganda supporting racism, regionalism, sexism, the cult of rugged individualism (I'd love to discuss with M.R. how that mixes, irrationally, with those paramilitary fantasies as they coexist in the same men).

      The effect of FOX here is probably due to the more fertile grounds Hollywood had already laid. He did take over an entertainment corporation to build his propaganda out of, that wasn't a mere coincidence. Maybe some of it has to do with the BBC being a more established institution without the vulnerabilities of PBS-NPR to Koch bros. and other corporate corruption here. Every country is different.

    2. After napping on this, it occurs to me that due to WWII, opposition to Nazism and fascism might have taken more strongly in Britain because of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain and the somewhat mythological character those have had in its culture. I don't think Pearl Harbor serves the same purpose here and it was quickly turned into a conspiracy theory by Republicans against Roosevelt. That didn't take very strongly but it does resonate. Not to mention the various idiocies of the American Marxists in that regard.

      Britain and the United States have quite different histories that might account for the differing effects of Murdoch's manipulations. Maybe Murdoch wanted to preserve Britain as a relatively more rational and safe place for him to scurry off to like the rat he is. Only rats are nice compared to Murdoch.