For the more spirited man in modernity, perhaps nothing characterizes the present epoch more than an overwhelming sense of distaste. This distaste is best epitomized by the advertisement and propaganda levelled at us in every direction. Whichever way an individual may look, in the public sphere he will see, disguised or blatant, a worrying infusion of propaganda as entertainment. This propaganda is not limited to advertisement but is manifested as well in all forms of the media and arts, wherein it culminates in a piercing array of images and language. From the magazines sold to young women and children which showcases whichever value is designated most fit for espousal, to the historical television programme that has had its cast filled with diversity quotas by executives who foresee positive ratings, to the bolder ‘for sale’ signs which one finds draped above various products in a store – all roads in modernity lead to a form of subversive advertisement and propaganda caused by the chaos of the free market and the individuation of economic and moral liberalism. Dastardly is the cultural landscape of our world, steeped in these insurgent properties and caught in a process of financial acceleration and value destruction, the outcome of which sends maddening those who are willing to rail against it – or at the very least, those who cannot help but observe it, sometimes with unwilling eyes.
And how can we not rail against this subversive force, those of us who are familiar with or desire that archaic realm which remains inaccessible to us – the material formation of which, if it did exist, we could not even experience? That ‘golden age’, which stood in complete opposition to everything which we must overcome today. At every turn the modern world seems well equipped to divide us from it.
The propaganda of today is already stark to those who perceive it, but for those who lack the correct alignment and disposition necessary to overcome their own base receptivity, propaganda everywhere reinforces the existing social structure of liberal capitalism, which subconsciously manufactures a desire to uphold and participate in values which have been deemed ‘correct’ by the pleasures and comforts of entertainment and information; juxtaposed against the more brutal, but by no means less effective form of control devised under organized totalitarianism, the system of propaganda featured in democratic capitalism emerges as a more insidious threat, since it is correlated with decay, the slow decline of natural values, and a society suspended over the void, upheld by nothing but an intangible market.
So we must look with disgust, and a form of nausea, upon the commercials, and magazine covers with their needlessly displayed human sexuality, insipid design and symbolic warfare; we must in a certain sense preserve this disgust, lest these things corrode our minds, as they have corroded the minds of the common individual – the masses – who harbour no spell against them, and are unable to shield themselves from the devastating effects of material propaganda, but rather become its foremost victims.
In the 20th century, sociology attempted to analyze the way in which propaganda functioned; various theories were developed in Europe, seeking to explain what exactly made the human being so subject to propaganda, and how it could most effectively be spread. The Jewish-Hungarian sociologist George Gerbner studied the effects of television upon the mind, in a theory which became known as the ‘Cultivation Theory’1. This theory, brought to life in the United States, posited that due to the ease of access of television and lack of a requirement for literacy, the potential to subvert and alter ways of thinking was dramatically enhanced in the mid-1900s. Viewers would passively begin to build up a view of life which existed exclusively in accordance with the ‘television world’, the world of the media, and would became blind to or reject what we will call here the ‘reality of life’. Today, this mutation more evident than ever: everyone seems to attempt to live life as informed by television and the internet, replicating thoughts suggested by these pseudo-realities with a dizzying speed; one wonders if the world of the internet and television has not already supplanted our material reality, infused as it is by constant bombardment of connectedness with these realms. Though dehumanizing, this is where the ‘NPC’ meme popular today pangs with chimes of truth: slaves to propaganda seem to draw from a well of encoded information, implanted by media, without stopping to consider the origins of their thoughts or their ramifications.
In a similar model of communication theory, dubbed ‘The Hypodermic Needle’, researchers encouraged the idea that the media directly ‘injected’ the masses with a form of propaganda, to which they became beholden. Whether this model accurately describes the process by which the media (and government) tamper with the minds of the citizen, the result remains the same: propaganda subverts, and it is particularly good at it. Today, we are witness to a transformation in these stratagems: propaganda takes on a subtle, semiotic tone – brands and concepts are so deftly interwoven with public consciousness and unconsciousness that one need only mention the term ‘McDonalds’ and immediately one visualizes that horrifying golden arch, under whose shadow the world lives in a twisted form of psychological oppression.
When determining how this process occurs, we can distinguish and refine the lack of a centralization of the ‘state’ as a defining factor, at least today. As the capitalist market wills it, interest groups and corporations are free to compete with one another in dealing out excessive doses of subversion, whether as a deliberate force, or as a reaction to the success of previous endeavours in the field of advertisement; for there are minimal regulations being enforced, and the propensity for corporations to sell to consumers is nearly entirely unhindered, due in large part to the advent of the internet. For example, when the public is no longer outraged by what once would have been a shocking or alluring image of sex, something new is sure to be forged in the fires of decadence, so that the product or idea might be sold, catering to public zeitgeist and interest; not only is there no brake on the production of such images, but they are actively encouraged by the system presently in place.
As the aforementioned ‘state’ in its ability to alter and transform cultures in a more precise and radical fashion stands in opposition to this, we must recognize it as the foremost antidote to the corrosive poison described. From a mere overview of history, we can attest to the characteristically strengthening force of positive state propaganda; within the state lies the power to implement values organically, to blot out and destroy all precedents which might be considered ‘negative’ traits, and to formulate a transformation of the character of a people or civilization with an almost divine mandate – as opposed to the impotence of the liberal doctrine, which has resulted in a power vacuum filled by interest groups, financiers and corporations who act according to nothing but the chaotic reward of the market and positive feedback loops.
Democracy, with all its inherently inefficient and tyrannical programs, opens the road for what has been called, in clear and concise terms, ‘consumer culture’ – a force which disintegrates the actual culture and life of a people into slavish atoms, ready for manipulation and coercion from every direction. The fight against consumerism, against product-entertainment, against the destruction of authentic forms of art and against materialism begins and ends with statism. It is perhaps unpopular to claim, but even the Soviet Union, a regime with murderous result facilitated the artistic world, financing large operas and ballets, and sought to create a unified, homogeneous ‘Russian Culture’, even if this existed under the guise of Communism. We must also not discount the efforts made by the German Reich to depict family life, rural living and production as holistic, healthy modes of existence; indeed, it seems that throughout history, any time that a powerful state has emerged, culture has often emerged as a defining trait of that civilization’s greatness. Today, all the state offers is complacency – a status quo, a middling existence, devoid of any spirit, which is compromised daily by advances in internet technology and advertisement, propelled in turn by mechanized interest groups. Art as a cultural platform today is debased, propelled by a demand from rootless cosmopolitan elites, which routinely autoinvigorates itself with boundary-pushing agendas. Therefore the role of culture in today’s society is relegated to a source of amusement for the bourgeoisie, stripped of intrinsic soul and significance, sunken to the same level as recognizable brands whose value is determined entirely by an artificial supply and demand. Works of culture and art financed by governments today are often debaucherous, outright malignant and inconsequential to the legitimate struggles which man (in particular, European man) faces today, as the dissolution of any sacred or traditional order becomes the primary focus of groups and currents whose ostensible aim is the establishment of a ‘global village’.
Still, one question remains: how does the average man or woman escape this nightmarish relationship between consumer and product? The answer is that it is incredibly difficult, and only becoming moreso at a rate which would seem to mirror the wildest flights of science fiction. The obvious solution on a daily level is to avoid, as best as one can, brand items or any form of mass media or entertainment. The mental imprint left behind by logo and advertisement no doubt performs some sort of undesirable trick upon our brains, wherein they make room for the recall of visual and semiotic cues, perhaps at the cost of excluding other information. The visual and audio attack to which one is subject on a near daily basis – on the internet, too; let us not forget the staying power of memes – is sure to cause psychological and spiritual decay. If there is to be any sort of legitimate struggle against the implicit and psychologically subversive ‘ordinary’ propaganda that one encounters daily (for instance, shopping at a supermarket), then a future state mandating the removal of competing products into a unified system of packaging would be a step in the right direction. If there is room for a future state to accommodate for it, then to have every man growing his own produce for consumption and trade in a local market would no doubt reduce the capacity for man to become host to consumerist tendencies. Even as things stand today, the importance of local firsthand trade should not be understated. In the end, the complete abolishment of company slogan, clickbait, neon-lit ‘for sale’ signs, and the removal of any interest group or organization not subsumed into or dependent on the state as a unified organism, is the primary long-term solution which we should begin shaping ourselves towards. In the face of such incredible adversity from capitalist markets, we would do well to not ignore the potential use of other modern economic systems such as distributism, corporatism2 and hard collectivism.
Lest we stray too far into the economic, let us offer a final warning regarding our current world: The soul of modern man is under enormous pressure, and soon will find itself dissipated and eventually obliterated by the consuming megalomania of liberal globalism, should this reactionary-revolutionary3 transformation not take place. Indeed, in its absence, the average man will be left feeling dazed and confused, rendered useless in any fight against this system should there be any, and the more distinguished and organised man feeling disdain, and disgust, as a vacuous hole opens up within the earth, and he, unable to prevent it, so too finds himself swallowed up within its depths.
1 For those interested in media theory, consider reading ‘Television and Its Viewers’ by James Shanahan. Alternatively, any collection of writing by Gerbner himself.
2 Referring to the form of corporatism practiced under Italian Fascism, not the ‘corporatism’ that is the target of much polemic from the left.
3 We use this term to designate the combined efforts of reactionary and revolutionary modes in overthrowing liberal capitalism.
Well, I believe more than anything else that we should learn from modern propaganda its capacity to persuade human minds.
The great difficulty then arises of whether or not the propaganda that we might want to subject the public to is as damaging as the propaganda to which we are beholden in this era. The ability to alter and subjugate the human psyche is a dangerous and radical one.