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Brainwashing Stalin would have admired
and, boy, does it cost you!

Free The Media, May 2001;, November 2000
This election will come and go, and we’ll still be stuck in propaganda land - propaganda that has a far greater influence on our lives than political parties and governments.

We’re referring to brand-name advertising: rule by Coca-Cola, Nike, General Motors, McDonald’s, Labatt’s, and the rest of the powerful and entrenched brand-name marketing bureaucracy. Most of all we’re referring to their grip on television, the ultimate in propaganda media. We’re referring to television commercials, a propaganda system par excellence.

One has to remember what television commercials are. They constitute a classic propaganda system - expensively produced, highly manipulative, pervasive, repetitive, one-way propaganda, with right of response excluded. The manipulative intent is admitted in advertising circles; it’s the whole point of the propaganda. And the propaganda is everywhere and insistent: 12 minutes per hour, hour after hour, day after day on television,and everywhere else where it can intrude itself as well, even in some cases beamed onto clouds or in the bottom of the cup on golf holes. You can’t escape it. It will get you wherever you try to run.

Remember Stalin’s propaganda in the old Soviet Union? “Socialist realism,” it was called. This propaganda system might, in turn, be called “materialist realism” - the pushing of the idea of the consumption of things as if it were the be all and end all of life. The parallel between this propaganda and Stalinist propaganda has in fact been made by sociologists. It’s an obvious one, except that brand-name propaganda is more omnipresent, insidious and professionally manipulative.

The marketing bureaucracy behind it, too, knows far more about us than anyone else, with huge data files and computer tracking - information at a level of detail that would make a police state blush. Big brother Nike and Coca-Cola are watching you!

This bring us to the politics of it. This propaganda glorifies the buying of things and downgrades everything else. It distorts values and the allocation of resources by society as a result. It dehumanizes people. It is anti-community and anti-environment. It is highly dangerous because it fixes us in what is quickly becoming, environmentally, a backward and destructive culture. Its long-term effect on politics and the economy are just enormous....which is to be expected from a powerful and protected propaganda system that cannot be challenged.

Let’s take just a small example from this election and from right here in Greater Vancouver. Public transit is an issue. Vancouver, Burnaby and other municipalities are clogged by cars. People nevertheless resist paying an extra stipend for public transit. The federal government resists helping out in Vancouver. The propaganda system, of course, glorifies cars with powerful and well-calculated images, reinforcing an outdated car culture, while saying nothing about the value of people doings things together as members of a community.

Now imagine that for every automobile commercial on television there was another one debunking automobiles and advocating public transit instead. It wouldn’t be long before, in one way or another, we would be effortlessly allocating all the resources we needed for public transit.

Indeed, one only has to imagine balance over all - a counter-commercial for every commercial, with no political holds barred - to visualize how we might be liberated from this commercialization of society. We would open up in Canada a post-propaganda age.

Now here’s another irony to swallow. We’re told we have to allow ourselves to be brainwashed in this way to have television, since commercials finance television. There are other ways of financing television, however. Doing it through commercials, moreover, is highly uneconomical.

Such financing, for example, has extraordinarily wasteful overheads. The production of the commercials, the advertising agency commission, the sales commission and other expenses, all cost a great deal of money. For every dollars that actually goes into television production and distribution, another 50 cents or more is swallowed up in overheads, in this method. That’s grossly inefficient. Raising money for television publicly through the tax system, on the other hand, costs only 1.6 cents for every dollar remaining. It makes far more sense, financially, to underwrite television through non-commercial mechanisms.

The overhead waste in the commercial financing of television alone now amounts to $1 billion a year in Canada. You ultimately pay for this waste as a consumer, as well as paying for the inflated profits of advertisers. Brand-name advertising raises the average price of goods 5-10 per cent. It’s like a private GST. The whole purpose of brand-name advertising is to allow companies to charge higher than the market would bear.

You get brainwashed, your hockey games are incessantly interrupted, and it costs you at the same time!
Copyright © Herschel Hardin 2005
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