The quintessential lyrics of the famous Seattle band ‘Alice in Chains’ in their song “Man in the box” describe how our eyes have been sewn shut by media to feed up our hunger for knowledge. True enough, information has become a euphemism for propaganda. Irrespective of the pill we choose, red or blue, we do witness a myriad of instances where we feel the vast extent of propaganda, indulging in coup de grace. Nevertheless, you become Joseph K and I’ll show you how long this Trial goes.
Though the word propaganda usually stirs up images of Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, and maybe a casual stroll down the memory lane brings up images of Hitler, the tentacles of propaganda reach far and wide down to the grass-root level. Or they could even be the very soil. Being the sole cause of the Vietnam Wars, Bay of Pigs invasion, Banana Wars, etc improper propagation has a lot of blood on its hand and a myriad of questions to answer.
It is well thought that people need the media to “preprocess” the information for the public cannot digest the raw form. But this “preprocessing” strips us of the very thing that made us intelligent: processing. The labyrinth methods adopted by agencies to hide their failures and shortcomings on our blind spot while it broadcasts the adulterated highlight reel are beyond common man’s comprehension. Ranging from a night out as “Nightcrawler” or getting to “Wag the Dog” Robert De Niro style, they have aces up their sleeves which are truly enigmatic. Walter Lippman—journalist, military intelligence specialist during World War I, propagandist, political scientist, author, and adviser to the presidents—made the same observation a generation ago. These words from his book, Public Opinion, bear repeating:
Every newspaper when it reaches the reader is the result of a whole series of selections…. In order that [the reader] shall enter he must find a familiar foothold in the story, and this is supplied to him by the use of stereotypes. They tell him that if an association of plumbers is called a “combine” it is appropriate to develop his hostility; if it is called a “group of leading businessmen” the cue is for a favourable reaction. It is in a combination of these elements that the power to create opinion resides.
So, my Dear Watson, the question raised is why is it so easy to lead people into new behaviours, desires, and attitudes? Why don’t people think more critically and see through some of the airy media stories that have no real substance—the stories that are less news than public relations or marketing? As Lippman noted, it’s the result of “apathy, preference for the curious trivial as against the dull important, and the hunger for sideshows and three-legged calves.”
Modern-day news channels can be compared to Sophists, offering opinions instead of true knowledge hereby creating ripples which distort our understanding of reality. We don’t need to search for modern examples. The advocates of ‘abortion-on-demand’ do this better and more forcibly than anyone. They eschew phrases like “partial-birth abortion” which accurately describes a surgical procedure. It would seem logical of them to raise awareness about responsibilities accompanied by reproduction and exercising that choice carefully. Instead, they use words with a more positive connotation, combining “reproductive” with “rights,” and “pro” with “choice.” They label those who oppose the killing of life in the womb as “anti-choice,” preferring not to mention what the choice is.
On a massive scale, people have been re-educated to accept the unacceptable. Even people of faith, drawn into this groupthink culture, get swayed and accept the distortion of the truth packaged as freedom and enlightenment. The general public is being reduced to a state where neither do the people find out about the truth nor are they able to search for it. This is because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions. The stories are framed such that they get satisfied with a fictitious reality, created by design through the abuse of language.
Starting out as an awareness and information raising platform, social media and its reach have twisted the very fabric of nature. When people look only to private media for factual information and news, chances are that a lie doing the rounds eventually establishes itself as truth. It travels the full course – passed on from Facebook, tweeted into shared accounts, across thousands of unsure minds, spreading like wildfire without proof or doubt – till opinion becomes fact and belief becomes total. Within the world of the Internet, in fact, the distinctions between making the news, reporting the news and sharing the news become all the more blurred. News may be reported in papers and news channels, but when political parties promote their ideological agendas and Facebook becomes the primary source for news, the fact, opinion and propaganda become one and the same.
Sadly we cannot hope for a ‘V’ to arrive in Guy Fawkes mask to extract his/her vendetta from the system thereby liberating us from our shackles by ripping off this facade of information. Our rise from this is much similar to that of Bruce Wayne climbing out of the hell hole in “The Dark Knight Rises”: Uncertain, difficult and accompanied with frequent failing. In a world of media spin, it’s not easy to keep one’s own balance. First, know what your core values are, what you hold to be objectively true. Be discriminating in your selection of news sources and carefully scrutinize everything you hear and read—see how it resonates with what you believe. We have become subservient to the highest bidder and willing to sell ourselves to them so long as it will alleviate our suffering. We are trapped in a confusing, self-conscious, existential void in where we are not even allowed the most basic individual freedoms and you aren’t recognized as a person until the sprawling arms of bureaucracy and everyone else deem you as one. Lost in a scary and petrifying existence, we are doomed to let ourselves be subjected by everyone who doesn’t share the same pain as we do and let ourselves be tossed around like a ragdoll. Unbiased information has become essential because decisions in a modern state tend to be made by the interaction, not of Congress and the executive, but of public opinion and the executive. For this reason, the accuracy of news reporting, the protection of the sources of public opinion, has become the ‘basic problem of democracy.’ The power of public opinion, which is supposed to be the driving force behind most important decisions in a democracy, can itself be driven or steered by the prejudices of unofficial opinion-makers. Vigilance and self-awareness are its only protection. Which is why, wherever they get their news, intelligent citizens will take nothing for granted except their principles.
Sitting alongside WhatsApp and Facebook on the pedestal of “Information source”, one may find articles and blogs sharing a spot.
By Krtin Kala.