Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Propaganda Nation

Rob Walker introduces us to a world in which people volunteer to market products in order to gain a sense of purpose. Is this similar to devoted bloggers spreading their insights, tastes and opinions, or, is it something more sinister in that it grooms us to accept propaganda in our daily lives? William Powers wonders about the Tyranny of Choice while BK Loren recognizes this disorder in contemporary America as being reflected by the politics of our current president.
James Howard Kunstler wonders about the extent of this social dis-ease while Douglas Rushkoff serves up a Frontline documentary examining the Persuader culture. Dion Dennis over at CTheory has, for some time, been providing insightful critiques of the politics of our consumer nation. If their is any confusion of where I am going with this particular grouping of links, Nancy Snow makes it all clear in her collection of writings.

The Hidden (in Plain Sight) Persuaders
Rob Walker
NY Times Magazine

Balter did not count on the agents taking BzzAgent so seriously. He still doesn't seem to know quite what to make of it. He has met only a handful of agents, and while he said he intends to meet more, he sounded almost nervous about it. A number of those he has met have been almost apologetic about not doing more -- about not buzzing enough on this or that campaign. The biggest complaints come from people who say they have not been invited to join enough campaigns. One agent resigned because he said he was unsure whether he could live up to BzzAgent's ethical standards.

This might be the most peculiar thing about BzzAgent: not only are its volunteer agents willing to become shock troops in the marketing revolution, but many of them are flat-out excited about it. At his apartment, Desjardins told me about another book he had read because of BzzAgent. Called ''Join Me,'' it's about a guy who decides he wants to start some sort of voluntary group -- a commune, a cult, whatever you want to call it. He puts an ad in the paper that just says, ''Join me,'' and to his surprise, people are interested. They didn't know what they were joining, or why, but they joined anyway. The guy, whose name is Danny Wallace, decided to turn his followers into a good-deeds army, basically on the ''Pay It Forward'' method. The book is nonfiction.

Why, I asked Desjardins, did people join a group without even knowing what it was? Well, he explained, Wallace's theory was that they just wanted to be part of something. That made sense to me. After all, some people are lucky enough to find meaning and fulfillment through their work, family or spirituality. But many people don't. Many people have boring jobs and indifferent bosses. They feel ignored by politicians. They send e-mail to customer service and no one responds. They get no feedback. It's easy to feel helpless, uncounted, disconnected. Do you think, I asked Desjardins, that there's some element of that going on with BzzAgent?

''I think for some people it probably is,'' he answered. ''For me, it's being part of something big. I think it's such a big thing that's going to shape marketing. To actually be one of the people involved in shaping that is, to me, big.'' That made sense to me too. After all, there is one thing that is even more powerful than the upper hand, more seductive than persuading: believing.

Entire Article

The Tyranny of Choice
William Powers
National Journal

That's what shopping -- and life -- is all about these days: choosing one's preference from a bewildering array of options. The U.S. is a choice-happy society, and we seem to like it this way. But as the Christmas catalogs come tumbling in and Best Buys throng with people staring in bovine mystification at the baffling new TV choices (plasma? LCD? LCoS?), you have to wonder whether all these choices are really making us happy.

Entire Column

Swooshing the Presidency
BK Loren

For years, America was thought of as a democracy-oriented country. But now we, and the rest of the world, are recognizing that the most significant thing the USA, Inc. does is market product. We've come around to understanding, finally, that America is a marketing-oriented country, and that our president is our most important marketing tool. What's more, from our celebrity culture to our Humvee-enforced "free" market democracy, America has, in many ways, become the product.

In the beginning there was the Word. In the 21st century there is the Logo. It is worshipped, all-powerful, and we are created anew every day in its image.

Entire Essay

Big and Blue in the USA
James Howard Kunstler

We've sunk so much of our national wealth
into a particular way of doing things that we're
psychologically compelled to defend it even
if it drives us crazy and kills us.

Entire Essay

The Persuaders. Dir. Barak Goodman and Rachel Dretzin. Correspondent: Douglas Rushkoff. Frontline (November 2004)

Priming the Pump of War: Toward a Post-Ethnic, Post-Racial Fascism and Inventing W, the Presidential Brand
Dion Dennis

Also visit Nancy Snow's website which includes Propaganda Inc. and Information War and Propaganda and America's Image in the World and Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Propaganda

Why Think About Propaganda?


Susannity said...

Great merging of post concepts Thivai. I really enjoyed the essays and am going to read Snow's books.

In response to some of the posts, I would have to say
1. We don't REALLY have much choice, just appear to.
2. The masses are already fighting over the scraps, always have been. The trick has always been in not letting us fully realize this and work to "strive for the American dream" in dollar terms. I know, I know, who's "they" and "us". =)
3. The Presidential brand essay - only comment is that it makes me physically ill.

Deleted said...

Propaganda is not sustainable in the long run unless it's coupled to dramatic events that reinforce the message. Even with that, people get fatigued and start to look for different messages. Each event and PR campaign must get more and more extreme. Eventually, the disseminators lose credibility.

Teachers who promote skepticism and a tolerance, however grudging, for multiple viewpoints are on the frontlines of this, one mind at a time.

Michael said...


Thanks, Snow has a great series of books in the Open Media series and some good edited collections--as you can tell from this site she is not afraid to "share" her work in a public manner.

No doubt our choices are limited by the system, but I believe that we do have a fundamental choice to make. The choice is whether to just accept the most available sources for informing ourselves (generally presentin a sanitized version of world events) or to work to find/explore various sources (in my mind it is just as bad to only read left sources--we have to reach across the spectrum and throughout the world to develop a reflective attitude that we can use to challenge propaganda and, also, our own biases)

The American Dream has long been flawed and is based upon an oppressive system of exploitation of others (in our nation and throughout the world) and ourselves (what kind of lives are we living here in the US--how much is enough--consume, consume, consume--why are so many of us sick?)

American politics is sadly nothing but brand advertising... sad, but true...


The neo-conservative revolution (following Lewis Lapham's mapping) has been going on for 30 years now... how long before people see behind the wizard's screen. The other night Barbara Walters (OK, not a great intellectual resource, but it is important to pay attention to popular infotainments as they have a huge influence on our society) on ABC declared Karl Rove the most fascinating person in the US. Fucking A! When will the other shoe drop?

You stated:

"Teachers who promote skepticism and a tolerance, however grudging, for multiple viewpoints are on the frontlines of this, one mind at a time."

Peace! I will have to quote this sometime.... Yes, one mind at a time! We are all Johnny Appleseeds planting seeds across the nation...