MY INTEREST IN THE MASS ILLUSION
What follows are a few of the events that got me to realize something was drastically wrong with the information we are getting from the mass media. A lot of other encounters were involved also, but these incidents readily come to mind as major eye openers.
YOUNG TV ADDICT
Growing up, watching TV was one of my favorite pastimes. My mom must have read The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. As I watched TV, Mom would comment on the programming, pointing out hidden messages. I became adept at spotting them myself.
BIASED DEMONSTRATION REPORTING
In 1970, I was a geology student at Miami University of Ohio. The Vietnam War was in full swing, and a large percentage of the student body was outraged. News of the bombing of Cambodia caused intense anger.
After the shooting of the students at Kent State, Miami and numerous other college campuses broke out in spontaneous demonstrations, and many schools shut down. There was no question about why the students were upset: it was clearly about the wars and the student shootings. The news reported that outside agitators were the cause of the unrest. We knew that this was pure fabrication.
Like a million other people, we drove to Washington DC to see what was happening there. The entire city was inundated with protestors. The entire mall area was a mass of people. The Reflecting Pool itself was completely filled with protestors. It was an amazing scene. It wasn’t until late afternoon, when the crowds had thinned out, that the tear gas started.
After we returned to campus, a meeting was held to reopen our school. The faculty, student leaders and the press were present in a packed auditorium. With cameras rolling, the university president got up in front of the microphone and said that alcohol would now be allowed in dorms and that male students would be permitted to be in the women’s dormitories.
After the university president granted these “concessions,” he left the stage. Then, the student spokesman came forth, at which point the cameras left! The audience booed and jeered, but to no avail. The media was not going to report why the students had spoken so loudly and strongly. Our message to the public was repressed, our voice denied!
This was a blatant propaganda maneuver committed in broad daylight. Instead of reporting that the students had demonstrated in protest of the bombings and the Kent State massacre, the TV viewers were given a story that the spoiled brats at Miami rioted so they could drink alcohol and have sex in the dorms. It appeared that the administration had folded to these demands. Brilliant propaganda. This completely distracted attention from the actual issues behind the demonstrations. Instead, it created rage toward the students, and the desire to have the faculty show some “backbone” and apply the needed stringent discipline to the unruly students.
A LESSON FROM THE HAMBURGER CLOWN
Some years after college graduation, I was working in the oil fields outside of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. This was a very remote area. The wildcat rig was way out in a vast expanse of snow-covered tundra. From the small plane flying in to the location, it was impossible to tell where the land ended and the Arctic Ocean began.
I had a stack of books I’d bought in Anchorage to help pass the 12 hour shifts in the logging trailer. The work was often slow, so there was plenty of time to read. I read good books and became inspired by the creative, intelligent writing. There was no television reception.
Back in Anchorage, during time off in the company apartment, the TV set was spewing its usual drivel. At first, it seemed stupid compared to the excellent books I had been reading. But after a while, it all seemed normal again, and I’d sit back with a drink and watch it contentedly.
On another time-off visit to Anchorage, the TV featured my first experience of Ronald McDonald. After weeks of good reading in a pristine Arctic wonderland, coming into the presence of the hamburger clown shocked me. Ronald was an absurd aberration that actually had the power to influence people to buy hamburgers. In a flash, an epiphany struck me that the mass media must not be allowed to control my mind.
Thank you Ronald.
Some years later, I was living in Santa Barbara, CA. In a city park, there was an outdoor rally concerning the Diablo Canyon Nuclear reactor. Speakers warned about the dangers of nuclear power, and about tactics being used to silence opposition. The claims of the dangers sounded extremely alarming.
However, after working for four years in the oilfields, I had heard abundant warnings about “bad environmentalists.” As a geologist, I decided to sort out the information for myself from the scientists who had developed nuclear technology. The library had abundant resources from the nuclear pioneers.
After a little research, the issue became shockingly clear. The groups in opposition to the plant were on totally solid ground with their concerns. Sometimes hazards were even worse than opponents understood. The nuclear industry’s literature was not only inaccurate, but intentionally misleading. This was my first direct encounter with the Public Relations Industry. The public was being deceived about life and death issues.
Citizens were trying to protect what can only be described as Paradise from exploitation by an industry that was indifferent to the harm it would commit. People from all walks of life spoke up at public forums to defend what they treasured. They were labeled as environmentalists and were described as a misinformed fringe element of society.
Although I had no language to describe it at the time, this was an example of an organized public relations campaign designed to confuse and divide the public for the purpose of industry profits. Their slick literature was filled with dangerous disinformation. The public relations corporations working for the nuclear industry were legally allowed to say whatever they wanted to, no matter how false or harmful. It was a tactic very similar to what came to be known as the Tobacco Strategy.
Not too long after that, I learned what was going on in Central America from eyewitness accounts of people who had been in Nicaragua. Information came through that mass murders of innocent civilians in Nicaragua were being carried out by the U.S. funded Contra army. Ronald Reagan called these murderers “Freedom Fighters.” Our news outlets had failed miserably in informing American citizens of the information we needed to know, to direct the actions of our powerful nation.
Not only there, but throughout the region, U.S. support of dictators protected corporate profits through bloody massacres of civilians who were only guilty of wanting fair wages and decent living conditions.
It had become painfully apparent that the world we learn about through the media is nothing more than a movie set. An often brutal reality lies beyond the artificial projections on our TV screens. An invisible hand defends this fake reality with marginalization (or worse), for those who oppose the official paradigm.
There were many other supporting examples over the next decades. A better understanding of what was happening emerged when I discovered the life and works of Edward Bernays, AKA: The Father of Spin. He was remarkably candid about his profession.
Bernays was a nephew and close associate of Sigmund Freud. The propaganda he was creating was sophisticated in the fields of human psychology, using what was being learned about human motivation from the relatively new field of psychoanalysis; a field in which his uncle was the foremost pioneer.
I read the following in Bernays’ book Propaganda:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”
“We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. “
We live in a world where we all are subjected to sophisticated opinion management, which controls how we vote, what we buy, and the wars and policies we support. Often, people no longer support their own self-interest. Although most people believe they understand spin, very few people have any inkling of how powerful a force we are dealing with. There seems to be very minimal effort on anyone’s part to inform our citizenry of this pivotal fact.
Money doesn’t directly buy votes, it buys public relations campaigns. As long as people can be persuaded to vote for public officials that support corporate agendas over human agendas, democracy will not work.
Although we cannot stop the PR industry or the flow of dollars that support it, we can immunize ourselves and others from its effects by becoming educated about its strategies.