One of the effects of corporate mass media is to make oppression and control appear as normal. To make it appear normal that workers obey authority, and normal for white people to control things. White men, usually.
Normalizing of domination.
The structural dimension of global capitalism is never questioned. The mechanisms are both in language and in image. There is also the role played by media in its presentation of public figures, and of itself, and how this helps blur distinctions between state propaganda, and artworks, between fiction and history.
One of the curious effects of the last thirty years of marketing dominance in media, has been that people have come to live with cognitive dissonance. The government no longer really has to hide its ideology, because the public, largely, accepts ideology as a given. Now, one of the aspects of ideology is that it is normalizing. That’s what it does, in part. Marx said there was an economic base and a superstructure. To be reductive here, the base are those relations of production, and the superstructure the ideology of the owners of production, the ruling class interests in other words. The dominant ideology serves to create a master narrative that suggests its own ideology and belief system is good for everyone. It manages to do this via propaganda and the culture industry.
What seems to have changed is that where once the distortions in propaganda were hidden, they now operate openly.
Ideology forms social reproduction. Althussar maintained that material institutions and rituals created beliefs in the minds of the populace. Ideology has no history, as he said.
Today, the effects of mass media, over a sustained period of time, have created such rote behavior in people that the contradictions of ruling class interests are not perceived as contradictory. Or, they are, but the contradictions are neutralized by a deeply ingrained belief in certain behaviors.
Corporate media now holds a position of almost religious authority within the general populace. If something is part of the established media, any contradiction that occurs is absorbed as an acceptable part of this system of branded virtue. Beyonce can lip sync the national anthem (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/22/so-what-if-beyonce-lip-synced-the-star-spangled-banner.html) at a presidential inauguration, and this is seen as somehow actually a good thing, a *normal* activity. Questions of authenticity are bypassed, are rendered irrelevant because the spectacle is the authority in such matters. I continue to note the ideological side-bar question of professionalism. The police can do anything, and its OK, because they are professionals just doing their job. Dissent on the other hand is depicted as aberrant. The constant repetition of narratives that define dissent as both unnatural and criminal.
The normalizing, however, takes more subtle forms.
The intellectual or cultural infrastructure is designed, in a sense, to neutralize dissent or radical visions and voices. The institutions of culture will even embrace that which they cannot ignore, and place it within a frame that renders it invisible. Nominate a serious film for an unserious award — not that it will win a prize, but it’s been castrated as a force of cultural change.
Politically, in 2009, there was public debate about torture authorized by the U.S. government. Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, stated clearly, yes practices such as waterboarding were torture, and then in April of that year issued an executive order banning *harsh interrogation techniques*. Following that, the Obama administration decided not to prosecute CIA torturers, in the interest of “moving ahead”. The message was, torture was something in the past, an aberrant practice, now officially banned. Except that, the *war on terror* was to continue, re-branded under new guidlines and labels. Torture was now *not torture*. It was re-normalized.
This is how the new propaganda works. The future is, as Patrica Ticeneto Clough puts it, ‘made to spill into the present’. The anxiety of what is to come in an ever more branded future of fear and catastophe.
The narrative created for the future is one of immigrant deportation, ecological terrorism, occupation, and financial meltdown. A future one needs protection from. It is a present of permanent crisis.
It’s important to understand that branding is more than the creation of a logo or image. For behind that logo is a virtual world of ideological codes. The logo (which can be audio as well as visual) is itself a code, a key that unlocks the myriad abstractions which combine to form a sense of a future in which the consumer is given relief from the state of crisis in the present. In the west, the consumer lives amid a jungle of constant hyperbranding, of non-stop assaults on consciousness. Creativity is hijacked in one sense and put in service of this mental warehouse of potential commodity purchases. The word “lifestyle” is the ultimate code for this imagined creative future.
Media promotes constantly a hyperrealtiy of simulacra that is often linked to screen image. Images are circulated like currency, they are currency in fact. Desire is colonized and occupied by marketers. And marketers are in the service of the dominant ideology.
The erasing of history is now accompanied by the creation of new memory. History isn’t just erased, it is replaced. The replacing of the past however, has to occur with the creation of an uncertain future. A future lifestyle, threatened at all times, by that dangerous world ‘out there’. Out there means poor countries. Personal security is marketed not just as safety from harm, but as a lifestyle. A fashion. Intersecting here comes the co-opting of much of identity politics. For this branding of security must be seen as a lifestyle *choice’. YOU are the sort of person who wants to be secure. You are choosing to be *responsible*. You choose Brand X security systems, or Brand X security services. Security is linked to peace, and to equality. Security is linked to responsibility. Surveillance is OK, it’s part of my personal choice to be safe. The future is dangerous and full of germs (Arabs, Africans, South Americans, Asians).
The resistance to this has been pronounced, and the ideological apparatus is not ignorant of this resistance. Hence, the double down on criminalizing dissent.
Marketing must link security with stability, and choice with conformity. Dissent means non-conformity. The trope of professionalism is linked here, too. The professional is heroic. The Camp guard is heroic. He didn’t make policy, he follows it though, with heroism. Integrity becomes linked with control. With domination.
One of the conflations, intentional, of political branding, is to subsume personal safety (or whatever) with political goals of the Imperialist state. Violence against women becomes linked with liberation of women from those dangerous places (Islam, Africa). It is colonialism all over again. The missionary zeal of white Christians come to civilize the dark continent — only this time as part of the neo liberal values of global capital. Narratives abound which reinforce this dynamic. In fact, it would be hard to find a Hollywood film in which white paternalism is not a central theme.
Conformity becomes non-conformity. Inauthenticity becomes authenticity. The obsession with awards and awards shows speaks to this need for material rituals of validation. The spectacle must have a spectacle. The re-writing of the past needs to be repeated. And repetition is comforting, anyway. The sense of being a member of an audience is also reinforced as a virtue. Audiences are heroic. Audiences can be controlled. The management of the population is the goal, and anyone diverting from this pre-fabricated path of virtue is seen as a threat to safety. Now, almost anytime one hears “safety” used in an advertisment, one will also see a symbol for or an image of *family*. Dissent is anti-family. The manipulation of codes for family is among the more sophisticated of marketing’s techniques. The branding of Obama has paid special attention to notions of family. Partly this is a coded compensatory calculation based on race (the *black* family man) and partly it is to reinforce the sexuality — the virility of the President. The entire narration of the inauguration was one of historical erasure (King’s Bible) and of equating the violence of drone attacks with the liberation of these dangerous places, the better to make me and MY family safe. That the same week, a 16 million dollar a year liberal comedian like Jon Stewart can interview the star of the ultimate propaganda film, and never bring up the controversy, is probably not accidental. It is to be remembered just how much political moral authority has been given to Stewart. Neo liberalism is healthy, virile, faithful, and stable. The history of racism is seamlessly interlaced with the branding of needful death. The war on terror — a war on the poor and in its clear orientalist edifice, is being dispensed by the good black man, the legate of Dr. King, and the audience is treated to constant fashion analysis, fawning adoration, and military symbology. So the actual history of racism is neatly tucked into a larger narrative of feel-good ‘affect’- and the struggles of Selma, Alabama and Martin Luther King are digested into the iconic Bible upon which the good black man lays his hand. Racism is defeated by J. Crew.
I want to write much more on all this, but let me get to one other point, by way of introducing it. At the bottom, almost all advertising deals with the fear of death. The fear of death, of course, is linked directly to personal safety. Today, the public, the body politic, civitas, the community, are all an audience. The actual society is an audience. Audiences are passive. Audiences are there to absorb message. If one traces notion of society, of the civic, from Plato through Hobbes and Machiavelli, the constant, in one sense anyway, is that of a living corporeal material agency. The very term “body” from body politic is worth noting. The short form intro here is that the growing secularization of the west, the rise of Capital, and Enlightenment values, gradually eroded the biological sense of society, and replaced it with figures, numbers, counts, and statistics. Eugene Thacker makes interesting points on this history with regard to the new Zombie film — society as already dead. Zombies have no memory. Zombies have no past, no future. The normalizing of control is message. The cleansing of that which threatens infection. The leveling of drone death, Michelle’s Thom Browne dress, King’s Bible, and the new city on a hill — the echos are there, but they get quickly homogenized in the one dominant message, which is safety means sacrifice but it’s your choice, and you are responsible, you are not a dissenting pathogen. Pass the popcorn. The global system of white neo liberal capitalism IS in crisis. The present is a crisis. The expression of this is to terrorize ever wider swathes of the globe as it reboots its message over and over. Society is a brand, now, too. It is a brand that is statistical and cold and without agency. Without memory. History is part of the performance.
Normalizing of obedience. Normalizing of conformity. Normalizing of professionalism (but always with devotion to management). Below is a link to the Stewart interview, and a brief interview with Glenn Greenwald on the surveillance state.
Torture is professional. Security is your choice. Gender, race, imperialism, and death.