Monday, November 7, 2016

Sieg Heil: The Influence of Media on Politics

Before I get started, I guess I need to make some kind of explanation as to why I keep making references to Hitler, National Socialism and America, particularly where politics and the Clintons are concerned. When I was an undergraduate in the 90's I read a book entitles The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America, by a man named Leonard Peikoff. Mr. Peikoff was a professor of philosophy and the heir apparent to Ayn Rand's Objectivist movement. He believes that philosophy is the engine that drives history. In his book, about 350 pages of political, economic, social and philosophical indicators that outline how Germany went from being a nation of "poets and philosophers" to one driven by bloodlust and evil. He compares the rise of National Socialism in Germany to the ideology that is pushing America toward totalitarianism.

As I've written before, Hitler exploited that failings of the Weimar Republic to his own advantage and the advantage of his Nazi Party. He was able to accomplish this by employing the media of the day. The symbiotic relationship between politics and the media is so evident today that I almost could have titled this the Effect of Politics on Media- either way they are so enmeshed and intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable. There are two important aspects we must observe. First, in Hitler's time, as now, the media of the day was privately owned. In his day, it was newspapers, radio and movies that were used to bring the Nazi propaganda to the public. Although the Party had a radio station, broadcasts of speeches by Hitler and his cohorts were available on private stations as well. The newspapers were privately owned and almost every political party (I believe there were 12 at the time of Hitler's ascendency) had a paper sympathetic to their cause. The second aspect was the profound power of propaganda on the viewing/listening public.

As the video points out the Nazi's were masters of simplifying complex political messages, reducing them to slogans that everyone could understand. Sieg Heil became the national slogan- two simple words embodied the zeitgeist, the national psyche. If you look at American history, slogans have played an equally important role in defining our national mindset: "Remember the Maine," "There is nothing to fear but fear itself," during Vietnam it was "end the war," and "bring our boys home." The list can continue almost indefinitely.

Movies have also played an important role, then as well as now. The early German cinematographers were experts at employing light and shadow to create a desired environment. F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang were masters. Anyone who has seen Murnau's Nosferatu will remember this. In the age preceding "talkies" it was the best method of creating an emotional response from the audience. This was used to perfection in the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl. In her Olympia she used light to showcase the nobility of the athletes. In her propaganda films, Jews, homosexuals, Communists and anyone who was one of "them" were cast as shadowy sinister characters. The favored "Aryans" and their women and children (Hitler's Sonnenkinder) were always bathed in light- there was no confusion as to whom the "good guys" and "bad guys" were. This has a very powerful effect on the viewers.

Although the technology has become more sophisticated, the propaganda has not. It is still, "us" vs. "them." Contemporary filmmakers use their medium to sow the seeds of discontent. During Vietnam, for example, we were the bad guys. Oliver Stone in his movie Platoon created an image of American soldiers as child molesters and psychopathic killers. I was there and saw no untoward sexual acts perpetrated on children...most of us were too busy trying to stay alive. This is very different than the films made during WWII where the nation is shown coming together to fight a common enemy.

Television is the same, particularly in the broadcasting of news. With the advent of the 48 hour newscycle stations have to inundate us with story after story of the same news. When Michael Jackson died we were subjected to two weeks of expert after expert explaining what happened. In political news we are subjected to the same cadre of experts explaining every issue over and over again ad nauseum. Always with the same Democrats are the "good guys" and Republicans the "bad guys" mindset. It's a case of know your audience and shape their minds accordingly. Since the 60's the Democrats have exploited black voters for their own purposes. Election after election they make promises they never deliver. But they have been successful in creating a condition of fear in that segment of the population that they believe that a vote for a Republican candidate will propel them back into slavery.

The same is true of women and other minorities. This us against them mentality has been so ingrained into the national psyche that we don't even look at ourselves just as Americans anymore. With Hitler, it was the Jews, Slavs, Gypsies or some other group that threatened the national wellbeing. Now, in America, it's racists, misogynists, homophobes, etc.. And there is no shortage of experts to make us feel bad about ourselves. Every time a crime is committed by a "protected" minority, the experts are there making excuse after excuse as to why it is OUR fault.

As we close in on the election, the media of today is doing it's best to influence us to vote for their candidate. As it was in Hitler's time, the propagandists fight for their hegemony on the dissemination of information and their influence on the political process. Remember, Hitler was an elected official, not some evil genius who seized power through military means. He played upon the fears of the German people, aided by the media, to acquire and maintain political power. Information is power. If you seek alternative sources of information, you can make informed decisions. Let's not make the same mistakes the Germans made...People who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. (I didn't make that one up...I forget who did). Be wise and if you can't be wise, be smart!

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