Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Dion Dennis: Priming the Pump of War

(I was reminded of this essay after seeing Tas post All He Needs Now is That Little Skinny Moustache... at the Progressive Blog Alliance)

Priming the Pump of War: Toward a Post-Ethnic, Post-Racial Fascism
Dion Dennis

They first appeared in the summer of 2002. Driving across the major interstate highways (10 and 35) in San Antonio, large white billboards emerged. With a few words, and evocative graphics, they sell simple "prosocial" virtues. For example, one such billboard is composed of two main elements: The visual element is the evocative depiction of a young, blond, white girl of five or six. Her arms, head and eyes are extended upward, as if she is ready to take flight from her father's shoulders. At the top of the photo, extended from her right hand, colorful and vibrant as it ascends above a dark sea of brown heads, is a vivid and bright American flag. The second element, the text, is to the right of the picture. It proclaims: "What Makes Us Great – UNITY – Pass It On." Below all of this, in much smaller type reads: "The Foundation for a Better Life."

Across from the Downtown campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio, another of the Foundation's billboards, in the same format, delivers a message that I found foreboding. On the left, the visual is taken from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Amidst the rubble, two ash-crusted New York firemen hoist up an American flag (again composed so it is at the top of the visual frame) in front of the collapsed vertebrae of one of the towers. The text to the right of the picture reads: "No Setback Will Set Us Back – DETERMINATION – Pass It On." And again, below all of this, in much smaller type is the sponsor of this message: "The Foundation For a Better Life." With visual similitude to both the urban devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the flag raising at Iwo Jima, the terroristic tragedy of the WTC was deployed in imagery well suited to prepare a population for an imminent campaign of total war.

These are just a miniscule sample of an ongoing and prominent multi-media campaign. Almost entirely ignored as an object deserving of media scrutiny, ten thousand of these billboards, bus placards and signs, all evocatively depicting "simple" virtues such as courage and perseverance, have been planted across the major highways and thoroughfares of the US in 2002. The reach of the Foundation's televised ads is equally impressive. On their home page is the following claim about how frequently and widely they propagate their message into the mundane choreography of our lives, via their video spots:

(pass it on) The Values We Live By ARE WORTH MORE When We Pass Them On:
These award winning Public Service Announcements produced for television are being seen on average over 2 million times per day on seven networks and over 900 TV stations. They are also being shown in all United Artists, Regal and Edwards movie theaters totaling over 6,000 screens.

The Foundation's video spots, billboards and web site are all clearly aimed, in the words of one famous propagandist, to "develop [a] crisp, clear idea into a system of thought that includes all human drives, wishes and actions [into a coherent] worldview." The Foundation's website is clearly the repository, library and showcase for the varied messages, media and strategies employed in propagating a uniquely 21st Century, post-racial, post-ethnic Fascism. As such an artifact, it deserves a closer look.

Read the Rest of the Essay

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