Ubiquitous Propaganda: Our Perception in Chains
By now some of you may have read or heard about the embarrassing exposure of the Netflix promotion in Toronto, where Netflix confessed to engaging paid actors to excitedly hype Netflix’s debut in Canada. The actors were coached in the pretense of just being casual passers-by and regular, average-guy-and-gal, Dick-and-Jane members of the demos. InformationWeek, for example, headlined the story (first reported in The Globe and Mail) “Netflix Apologizes for Misleading Media“.
Gee. Misleading the media. Is that it? I wouldn’t even bother to comment here on this minutiae if it weren’t so illustrative of the more wide-spread problems of late modern consciousness, (and for being somewhat exemplary of Robert Parry’s article on “America’s Decoupling from Reality” that has become a point of controversy on The Chrysalis, too).
That the media, misled, should find this particular, (and relatively minor) pretense and deception surprising and news-worthy is really the only real news-worthy thing about the incident, because this sort of thing goes on all the time and even on a grander scale than this. There are very many “how-to” manuals (and I’ve read quite a few of them. They are all direct descendents of Edward Bernays‘ crucial 1928 book Propaganda) containing recipes and formulae for generating just such faux events and fake news: buzz, spin, disinformation, “guerilla marketing” and other such examples of hyperventilating, hyperbolic speech-acts designed for the daily production (and our consumption) of marketeers, advertisers, public relations professionals, political hacks, propagandists, and other sundry sorts of confidence men and women to follow: books like Emanuel Rosen’s The Anatomy of Buzz or (especially) Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout.
(And there you go — I’ve already created a blog “buzz” for Ries’ and Trout’s book just as they intended).
This sort of stuff is ubiquitous. This info-pollution — which it truly resembles — saturates and permeates the Late Modern air(waves) like smog, obscuring our attempts at gaining fresh insight into reality, suffocating the perspecuity of our reason, and confounding and confusing our perceptual clarity and mental hygiene (let’s call this process “de-mentation”, as in de-mented). “Buzz”, “spin”, “hype”, “disinformation”, or (one of my favourite euphemisms for propaganda) “public diplomacy” are, nonetheless, only the rivulets of what is more broadly called “perception management” — the Mother-of-All-Propaganda-Objectives. But all these are also instances of what the “speech-thinker” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy diagnosed as “diseased speech” — killer of societies and civilisations.
True enough. It is all diseased speech. And this diseased speech is the most publicly manifest symptom of what historian Jean Gebser referred to as the latter-day “deficient mode of the mental-rational structure of consciousness” or decay of the Modern Era. Diseased speech is the general symptom of the decline of an Era. A deficit being the result of a deficiency, there is in this instance a deficit in sincerity, authenticity, and clarity generally characteristic of the circulating public speech of Late Modernity. This deficit manifests as duplicity, hypocrisy, dissembling, pretense, mendacity, and prevarication — all of which are, indeed, the modus operandi and characteristic psychopathic traits of the thorough-going narcissist and of narcissistic personality disorder.
So, we probably shouldn’t be surprised by the recent spate of books on the problem of narcissism that began (more recently) with Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (a pioneering and worthwhile book, in that regard, but in my opinion far from adequate in its assessment of narcissism as being something unique to “America in the Age of Diminishing Expectations”, rather than as being something general to the human condition. In fact, in focussing merely on the “American” experience, Lasch was demonstrating something of the general problem of narcissism himself! You mean, Christopher, that Canadians, or Iranians, or Russians, or Arabs, etc aren’t narcissistic? Of course, maybe that omission itself inadvertently proves Lasch’s very point — that he himself was so narcissistically “Americo-centric” that he couldn’t recognise narcissism as the general problem of being human, just as Morris Berman could only write about a Dark Age America. It’s all very ironic. Even America’s own native critics of American self-absorption are now engaged as self-absorbed nativistic American critics. The problem, though, is not a geographical or territorial one, but one of an entire Era in decline.)
There really isn’t enough space, even on WordPress, for what I could write about “perception management” and the dementation of the Late Modern Mind as being the very meaning of Gebser’s “deficiency” — as a deficit in a necessary and vital human faculty or competency (deficiency being, in some ways, the negation of both efficiency and, especially, of sufficiency. And what is “sufficiency”? It is, in fact, another word for “sustainability”).
In other words, the situation is completely unsustainable. And unsustainability is the hallmark of an Era in the throes of decline and fall.
That’s the lesson or insight that our media might have taken from this particular episode if it had examined the complete context of the incident as one episode amongst very many of the falsification of reality. But, perhaps it was only noticed or highlighted as extraordinary event because Netflix attempted to generate “buzz” and hype, but was found out, without actually paying for it as advertising revenue stream — such advertising, editorial commercialisation, or infomercial articles being, today, the normal protocol and commercially acceptable format and forum for the conduct of “public diplomacy” and perception management. Maybe the loud indignation over Netflix’s manoeuvre was simply resentment at the fact that Netflix had tried to pull one over on the media gatekeepers and tried to get a free-bee?
Is that why InformationWeek described it as an act of misleading the media and not, as was the real objective, misleading the consumers of the mediated message? Does this mean that, it is OK to mislead the public (as long as one follows proper protocols and pays for privileged access to the mediated public), but not OK to mislead the media as the jealously guarded access to public perception? If Netflix had paid actors to pretend to be Dick-and-Jane types (or the famously white-coated medical and scientific types) and then paid the media access agency to publicly broadcast this pretense (as happens every hour of every day), it wouldn’t even have been news-worthy at all.
Can you imagine as an alternative headline in the mainstream media: “Advertisers mislead public”?; or “Goverment pays media to disinform public”?