Individuals and groups manipulate the truth to serve their own ends, in a conscious/unconscious way that often include denial and projection. Speech means that we can tell the truth or tell lies. This has been an issue for humans before they were even human, like theft and violence. In one of the most fascinating stories of ape behavior I have heard, researchers documented that a young male baboon made the mistake of trying to force himself on a high ranking female baboon of his tribe. When the female screeched, the rest of the tribe began chasing the young male along the ground floor. Suddenly, the young male turned and gave the call for leopard. The chasers dashed up into the trees and out of sight, while the young male stood, watching them leave, on the ground in no danger from any leopard. The researchers concluded that they had witnessed and documented an ape lying to save his own skin. Thus, we can assume, humans have been lying since before they were human.
Interestingly, we believe in lying to children as a matter of raising them. Children before the age of seven are quite incapable of telling the difference between fiction and reality or understanding sarcasm. This is why young children believe in Santa and wonder where Thomas the Train Engine lives. There are two amusing stories I have on this. One of my students in a response paper wrote that as a young girl she had a pet goldfish and accidentally killed the fish by cleaning its bowl with hand soap. When she saw her fish was dead her mother, who did not want to torture the young girl with the truth, told her that the cat had walked by and the fish had a heart attack. Notice the utilitarianism here, and that Kant would be mortified.
Secondly, there was a news story last year about a boy in Thailand who was stuck on the roof of a tall building, and he would not climb into the arms of the police who ascended a ladder to rescue him. One of the police dressed up in a Spiderman costume, and the boy threw open his arms and leaped into the waiting embrace of Spider Man, who carried him down to a cheering crowd.
Children believe in superheroes and villains. One would like to think that the use of heroes and myths ends with childhood, but the literature on propaganda tells us that all civilizations make myths that glorify themselves and demonize their enemies, both internal and external. Because children are raised with these myths, they often do not think to question them even when they are quite past the age of seven.
Consider the use of superheroes in comics, fighting criminals at home and enemies of America. The Watchmen is a good look at some of these dynamics. Consider that in the first appearance of Iron Man, it was originally set in a POW camp in Korea and included depictions of Koreans that would raise eyebrows today as racist caricatures, and then the more recent movie puts Iron Man in the middle east. We still use superheroes to stand for “truth, justice and the American way”, but we have subtler ways. I think you can look at Iron Man and the new Batman movie and see distortions that we not only pass on to kids and teenagers but the adults in the audience as well.
The Assyrians were masters of propaganda, and they were one of the oldest civilizations on the planet. Most of their conquest was through trade, though they invented all of the siege weapons used through the European middle ages. Rock edicts, tall carvings in cliffs and on monuments, declared glorious meanings for the common people to consume. Interestingly, the common people could not read, and someone who could read and pass the messages to others was called “one who makes the stones speak”. Just like a modern textbook, the human authors are lost and the media simply speaks for itself.
Here we come to the old and the new style of propaganda. The old propaganda model is simple, and it is still in use particularly by traditional and communist countries: We are the king and state, we tell you what you need to know, namely that we look after you and our enemies are evil. WE are the great multicultural empire that looks after everyone (Assyrian did not denote a race, but a citizen of the empire), but our enemies will oppress you and kill you for no good reason. Very little has changed over several thousand years. In China today, the communist government says openly that they use propaganda to educate the people, and the same was admitted in the United States and Britain until just this last century. The government tells you “brush your teeth, it is good for you” and this is acknowledged as a message coming from authorities telling you what you should know and do.
The new propaganda is even more effective, and strangely it does not call itself propaganda at all. “Propaganda” only recently became something evil, something that the enemy does. Rather than officially announce itself as part of the state, the new style of propaganda, taught to the Americans by the British in the course of WWI, appeals to experts rather than the state. I am going to focus on American propaganda from WWI through the Cold War, and then talk about Chomsky’s theories on propaganda models and the American media’s role in American empire and economics.
Hegel tells us when we haven’t looked into an issue, perspectives are polarized as black and white. It is only with investigation and experience that we can put things in terms of shades of gray. Here in America, similarly in Britain, it is thought that we are free and love democracy, but other cultures (especially the Germans in WWI and II, the Russians in the Cold War, the Chinese and Islamic extremists) are not civilized but rather lie as much as they can because, “they hate our freedom”.
We have failed to have a real discussion about censorship and bias in America. This means ‘THEY’ are simply biased and put forth propaganda, and WE would never do something like that. This is not only the basic human frame as before, but Americans and British got set in this in a particular way through WWI and II. In WWI, propaganda became something the Germans do, not the Belgians, British or Americans. In WWII, the Germans and Japanese do propaganda, and in the Cold War, the Russians.
The British and Americans, however, would never do ‘propaganda’ by name, as they are the champions of liberty, democracy and freedom from tyranny (even as Britain and then America plundered and sought empire in the same way that the Germans, Russians did). Today, this is ‘Islam and the West’ where we have unbiased journalism while they simply put forward obvious propaganda. Watch the documentary Control Room for for more on this:
What we need? We need to see how people censor and authority is abusive in comparison, and this is what is never done. Rather than hear one line of Chinese media through ours and say “Propaganda!” we need to compare censorship operation by the government in both places and see the complex similarities and differences. I am going to show human overall consistencies while describing the particular way that Americans are involved in the inscription of messages and ideology in our society. That way, we get beyond the strange complex of saying that in America there is no propaganda while living in an America that knows how to sell and spin professionally better than anyone ever has.
During WWI, The Germans invaded Belgium, and the British make up all sorts of things. The Germans become the evil Hun, and the Belgians the poor victim, even though they had just gotten bad world press along with their leader, King Leopold, by systematically killing 10 million Africans in the Congo. The British run propaganda in America to get us into the war, and teach us the techniques of British style empire and propaganda. You set up ‘free’ reporters to say your messages, rather than do the old way like Germany and Russia with a Ministry of Propaganda. Thus, after the horrors of WWI, ‘propaganda’ became a bad word in Britain and America. Since then, we do not do propaganda at all. We do ‘education’, ‘information’, ‘public relations’, ‘human relations’, and in time of war we may engage in psychological warfare, but we never do ‘propaganda’.
Propaganda is not an evil conspiracy. Consider great example of guy who did ‘Birth of a Nation’, a film that lead to a popular surge in the KKK, being jailed for 10 years for his next movie showing British and Natives committing war crimes against Americans. Basically, the British and Americans lied as much as possible about German atrocities, the French and British took most of what Germany had after WWI, the Germans fell even lower in the 20s with the market crash, and they came back as the Nazis, NOW as bad as the British and Americans had led others to believe. Consider that Irish newspapers in NY were shut down for telling people that the British have been evil in Ireland, Scotland, India, Africa, all while calling themselves the defenders of democracy and freedom. At this time, government censorship during time of war was unquestioned (story about Pentagon lifting ban on coffins today).
Chomsky says that Bernays was one of the first propaganda specialists in America and he is quite open about praising the use of propaganda. Bernays says, during WWI, that it is remarkable that the moment America propaganda explodes (advertising, PR), becomes a necessary tool of corporations, it becomes ‘evil’ in name. PR went from being Barnum and Bailey to every corporation running spin and ad campaigns. Bernays invented the committee of Doctors who tell you to eat eggs and bacon for a ‘hearty’ breakfast, saying old way is ‘Eat Bacon!’, new way: ‘Drs say, ‘Eat bacon’’. This is ‘free expert’ style of propaganda.
In 1938, writing his book, Bernays says that half the front page of the New York Times, America’s most prominent and widely distributed newspaper, is identifiably propaganda, stories planted by interested parties. He says the NAACP is a great PR group, and show a strong hand holding their annual conference in Atlanta. He got out of cigarette ads in the 40s, tabloids having picked up on the health risks. It wasn’t till the 1970s that major media carried the story at all. 1953 Bernays helped United Fruit convince everyone that Guatemala was a communist threat, so the US overthrew the elected leader with a CIA coup and we supported dictatorship there for cheap labor to supply Americans with cheaper fruit.
In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that in WWI the Germans were not as good at propaganda as the British and Americans, but next time will be different. Nazi TV, engineering goes to American, America rises above Britain in wake of WWII. During WWII, the Americans and British praised Stalin and his Red Army as they all fought the Nazis. Then, as soon as the war was over, the British led the Americans in the Cold War anti-communism campaign. This is where stuff gets REALLY INTERESTING: US vs. Soviet Union. Both say, ‘THEY do all of this, so WE HAVE TO’, in the official channels, but the story for the masses is: only THEY would do that.
The following material is drawn largely from the book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Saunders, an excellent source of the extent of new style propaganda that America engaged in to fight the Soviet Union between the late forties and early nineties. Post WWII, the French and Russians had largely convinced everyone that America has no culture, only cheap commercialism, and America talks a lot about Freedom, but treat black people terribly. Both the US and Soviets started ‘Congresses’, (Soviets for World Peace, US for Cultural Freedom) to convey their messages.
It is now know that these were the two big umbrella groups for a lot of fronts for propaganda campaigns. These groups used historians, scientists, poets, artists, philosophers, professors, you name it, to give the impression that individuals were lining up against ‘the evil’ of the other. The US wanted to fight the ‘French Flu’ and push European intellectuals away from Marxism as liberation towards free market capitalism as liberation. Ex: US intellectual goes to Paris, gives a talk about the ‘Negro’s progress in America’. Then when he is heckled (“possibly by communists”), brings out black band to do jazz all night.
US used CIA and many fronts to tour black performers through Europe, increase publication of certain books (Camus, not Sartre example, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, introductions written to spin Animal Farm and 1984 by Orwell, who hated both). The idea was to promote the “non-communist left”. (Sartre and Merleau-Ponty not studied in America, as they boycotted Congress of Cultural Freedom invitations due to US treatment of Black people). The US had spent $34 million on this by 1950 (also, wealthiest country at this point, passing Britain in financing the rebuilding of Britain, Germany and France). The money quadrupled in rate of expense after 1950, as China became the world’s largest communist country. The CIA set up French literature reviews, toured the Boston symphony orchestra, approached wealthy individuals about setting up art collections that praise US art and European art that honors the US.
The abstract minimal paintings of Jackson Pollock and others, in spite of the fact that Pollock and others were left-wing communists, toured through Europe to show that American has genius painters after all. Agent as director stockpiled abstract minimalist art at the NY Moma (Contemporary Chinese art exhibit in Berkeley today). The Ford and Rockefeller foundations remain serious fronts for money dispensed in America to artists, writers and performers who do work that promotes America even as it is avant-garde art.
At home, Billy Graham got money knowingly from intelligence, toured America telling Christians that ‘Communism is masterminded by Satan’, never mind that the first communes were French Christian communes. John Wayne and Ronald Reagan were promoted as Soldier/Cowboys, both spied for the FBI against communism at home for the house of un-American activities committee of McCarthy. Disney and Warner brothers made cartoons for the US in WWII, then denounced their writers and animators as communists when they went on strike. Disney spied for the FBI, testified for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), while he was doing illegal things to his workers like sending strike breakers to beat people up and the FBI looked the other way.
In films, token black people began appearing well before the civil rights movement. Documents of agents who worked with studios on scripts say, ‘took out a drunk, added a black person’. One of the best examples is a black golfer and caddy added into the background of a scene on a golf course, at a time when white Catholics and Jews had a rough time getting into golf clubs. Consider that the civil rights movement was partly started by seeing token black people in the cinema, like the golfer and caddy, and wondering aloud why this could not become a real lived reality. Both US and Soviets fought over who liberates and who oppresses. In 1956, the ‘Melting Pot’ became a slogan for the US. We can see that many Russian films and Korean propaganda posters deplore the evils that America has done to black people as a simple tactic.
Today, if your movie has anything to do with police or military, they will give you heavy support as long as they go over the script and OK it. The six major media companies each need a friendly relationship with both cops and military to continue to put out films that feature cops and the military while staying under budget. That means: America is well aware of the streamlined view of America put out all over the world in TV and Movies. They are the BEST form of propaganda. There are consulting firms who specialize in getting your script ready for police and military approval, so that you do not get charged extra by the official government representatives who review the scripts for a fee.
Meanwhile, stories pepper the news about how “Iran censors movies” and “China might be censoring the internet”. No further detail is drawn. This is the British/American style: THEY simply censor, without any comparison of us and them. THEY censor (so, we don’t?). Recently the media corporations agreed with the government not to show footage of coffins coming home from the war. Is there ever a need for a conspiracy when power works the way it always has?
There is no better book on American propaganda and the stories both promoted and ignored by the American media. The book argues that the mass-media protects the interest of the wealthy and powerful individuals and institutions in America by promoting particular views and filtering out others. This process involves the ownership of media groups, the reliance of media on the government for information and support, the reliance of media on advertising revenue, flak heaped upon dissident views (particularly socialist views and those critical of business interests).