22 December 2017

Manufacturing Consent

Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann, 1921, Excerpts

The manufacture of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technique, because it is now based on analysis rather than of rule of thumb. The processes by which public opinions arise and the opportunities for manipulation are open to anyone who understands the process.

To most of the big topics of news, the facts are not simple, and not at all obvious. News and truth are not the same thing, and must be clearly distinguished. The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.

The picture which the publicity man makes for the reporter is the one he wishes the public to see. He is censor and propagandist, responsible to the whole truth only as it accords with his employers’ own interests. The development of the publicity man is a clear sign that the facts of modern life do not spontaneously take a shape. They are given shape by somebody. Thus the ostensible leader often finds that the real leader is a powerful newspaper proprietor.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, 2016, Excerpts 
Osip Ivanovich had actually mastered the English language right down to the past perfect progressive as early as 1939. But American movies still deserved their careful consideration, he argued, not simply as windows into Western culture, but as unprecedented mechanisms of class repression. For with cinema, the Yanks had apparently discovered how to placate the entire working class at the cost of a nickel a week. “Just look at their Depression,” he said. “From beginning to end it lasted ten years. An entire decade in which the Proletariat was left to fend for itself, scrounging in alleys and begging at chapel doors. If ever there had been a time for the American worker to cast off the yoke, surely that was it. But did they join their brothers-in-arms? Did they shoulder their axes and splinter the doors of the mansions? Not even for an afternoon. Instead, they shuffled to the nearest movie house, where the latest fantasy was dangled before them like a pocket watch at the end of a chain. Yes, Alexander, it behooves us to study this phenomenon with the utmost diligence and care.”

And the westerns? They were the most devious propaganda of all: fables in which evil is represented by collectives who rustle and rob; while virtue is a lone individual who risks his life to defend the sanctity of someone else’s private property. In sum? “Hollywood is the single most dangerous force in the history of class struggle.”

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