ESCAPISM AS SOCIAL CONTROL: PART 7
HOW CAN I SUBVERT HIGH MORAL ESCAPISM TO HELP CREATE A BETTER WORLD?
Let’s say you’re directing a “light” “fluffy” “apolitical” “pure entertainment” movie.
Of any form or genre. Use your imagination here.
So, let’s say you’re making light entertainment.
How could you secretly subvert this light entertainment toward political ends?
Here’s ten classic ways to do it:
1. Exploit color schemes.
For example: In the 2006 movie “300” the Romans obviously represent the Americans. They are garbed in red / white / and blue imagery all throughout the movie. They are also the strong, loveable protagonists. Flawed, yes… but flawed in the way we are. Color schemes are a powerful way to subconsciously plant ideas into audiences minds. The classic example is the white hat cowboy / the black hat cowboy. But it gets more elegant & complex. Take a look at the ties of presidents. They're red or blue, for obvious reasons.
Remember that time people freaked out because Obama wore a tan suit? Humans respond viscerally to color. They send a message. (PS: That suit looked awesome.)
2. Engineer the metaphor.
Metaphors are a great way to hide propaganda. Your alibi is strong in this case. For example: “What do you mean? I’m simply making a movie about A Bug's Life…” Actually, the movie 1998 “A Bug's Life” is a great example. The movie is obviously for children, but it’s also implanting an idea of individual liberation through anti-authority activism. This is pretty radical if you think about it. It doesn’t do this by simply stating it, or repeating a message. That tactic simply doesn't work. When we're not receptive to the style of the message, the content of the message doesn't sink in. Instead, the only way to truly propagandize the youth of society is with alluring honey. (As a side note: that probably explains the inexplicable cult-status of 2007’s ‘The Bee Movie’.) The filmmakers were cognizant of the movie's metaphor, and engineered this metaphor to communicate a particular real world message. When you don’t design your movie like this, you end up with “Antz.”
3. Good Emotions For Things You Like. Negative Emotions For Things You Don’t Like.
This one is simple. If you’re trying to persuade people that America is the greatest, then depict the Army has as valiant heroes with a mythic brotherhood. If you’re trying to persuade people that Muslims are evil, then depict them as sharp-faced, ugly, foreign, taboo, mysterious. So in the show “24” (Season 4) for example, the Muslim family plotting the big terrorist attack is depicted as shadowy… oily skinned… exaggerated dark and sharp facial features… Arab music score whenever they’re doing something wrong… hints of incest and filicide… Or if you’d like to discredit liberal activists – like in Season 4 of “24” – depict the only liberal activist character as a whiney, disheveled, entitled rich kid who’s acting suspiciously treasonous. Notice how there is NO TRUE LINK between the characters and the emotional qualities. America is not the greatest thing in the Universe, Muslims are not the most evil people in the Universe, Liberal Activists are not the most destructive force in the Universe. But the television show sets up the characters to be experienced really only in this way. There is no opportunity to positively identify with the liberal activist character (the spoiled son of the Secretary of Defense)… unless you’re a sociopath. So attach as many good qualities to your side as possible, as many bad qualities to the opposition as possible, and bada-bing! Propaganda.
4. Fake Flaws.
People don’t admire perfection, however. Audiences are actually drawn to loveable flawed characters. Because in this way, these idealized beings are not contemptable – because they represent everything we’re not. Instead, with the right “fake flaws” idealized people actually become loveable, because they are no longer divinely special. They are OURSELVES, but mastered. This is the process by which we become in awe of somebody: despite the fact they share one (or some) of our flaws, they have overcome and mastered the best qualities of themselves (myself). In many ways, this is the process of identification that occurs with Trump among his supporters. They see him as an idealized version of themselves – flawed in the same way, yet in control of his destiny due to some kind of commendable self-mastery. To keep using the example of Season 4 of “24” … Jack Bauer is depicted as a hot-head. He simply doesn’t respect authority when it gets to crunch time. This makes him a liability in any organization. Quite a flaw. And yet it’s a FAKE FLAW. A fake flaw is a bad habit that gets in the way of the character’s success but endears him to the audience. So with Jack Bauer, we all identify with anti-authority urges. Who doesn’t? Yes, Jack can’t control his overriding of the command chain during an operation, but goddammit he does it for the good of the country and he always gets the job done and saves the day. That’s the true message of his “Achilles heel.” So engineer a flaw into your hero, but make it a fake flaw.
5. Blips From The Real World.
Season 4 of “24” depicts Fox News as the only official news source on the show. It also has a memorial to an Iraq War veteran (VERIFY) at the end of one episode. In Munchausen, Poland is an integral part of the story – even though the entire thing is a complete fantasy. Somehow World War Two’s Poland found its way into an 1800’s set sci-fi fairytale. This is the Blip From the Real. This is usually the direct link between the metaphorical propaganda and the real you actually exist in. It’s like a compass, or a legend, on how to read the propaganda code in the movie. It’s also a valuable opportunity to cement strong associations to a real world brand. So, Fox News becomes THE channel combatting radical Islamic terrorism in the fictional universe of “24.” It’s also the frontline of American supremacy and heroic vigilante action. Fox News is now the home for this kind of narrative, regardless of the objectivity of their reporting. But, at the same time, it has a strong alibi: It’s simply a news channel being used in one of America’s top television shows. Pretty benign stuff… right? Nah. It’s Propaganda 101: witting or unwitting.
6. Engineer the Message
Season 4 of “24” has a tagline: “As the world becomes more dangerous… As the enemy becomes more unpredictable… Instinct Never Dies.” Every movie has a message. Be aware of what it is. Engineer it toward a cause. In respect to official or State propaganda, this can be done in many ways. The key message of “24” is that it’s okay to override authority as long as you’re acting on true-blue American apple pie football instinct. This folksy allure of the vigilante patriot. At the same time, it should be obvious how this message could spillover from a hit-TV show to justify actual legally-nebulous State policies like George W. Bush’s torture program. Engineering the Message is a subtle art, but a powerful tool in persuasive escapism.
7. Family Relationships Make It Real.
This comes from Aristotle. However, I’ve been noticing it more and more every day. Season 4 of “24” is filled with this technique. The Secretary of Defense isn’t just a hard-ass neo-conservative, he is a loving dad and brave patriot. Jack Bauer isn’t saving just ANYBODY from the terrorist live-video beheading, but the woman he loves (who also happens to be the warm & savvy daughter of the Secretary of Defense). “But when the tragic incident occurs between those who are near or dear to one another- if, for example, a brother kills, or intends to kill, a brother, a son his father, a mother her son, a son his mother, or any other deed of the kind is done- these are the situations to be looked for by the poet.” Propaganda, like Tragedy, cannot depend on mere spectacle. Aristotle states this plainly as well. “But to produce this effect by the mere spectacle is a less artistic method, and dependent on extraneous aids.... And since the pleasure which the poet should afford is that which comes from... imitation, it is evident that this quality must be impressed upon the incidents.” In order to make propaganda receptive, it must not look like propaganda. A convincing drama involving family members are universal gateways into the heart and souls of most people. So in “24” when the Muslim father tries to kill his non-faithful son for being “weak” and tells him he’s no longer his son… This is a clear message to the audience that this man, and everything he stands for, is evil. Likewise, we become instantly emotionally invested in the drama between one of the Counter-Terrorism computer guys and his mother being stuck in the radiation cloud of a nuclear meltdown. At the same time, this communicates loud-and-clear that this computer guy is a noble good-person. It also quickly injects high-stakes emotionally-reactive drama into the television show.
8. Use Children.
Likewise, children are universal. The fate of children is something everybody from any culture can identify with. We were all once children, we experienced life for the first time as children, we long to return to childhood, and many people have children or young loved ones of their own (nephews, nieces, cousins, family friends, etc). It’s quite ethically ambiguous when you include children in an adult message. The reason is simple: Children don’t have much experience in life. They trust adults. So to have a child, even if they agree, to say or do something they don’t fully understand is pretty wrong. However, that never stops anybody from using this technique. Because it’s extremely potent. To continue using the “24” metaphor, the moment we know the terrorist family is evil is when they murder the 17 year old son’s blonde high school girlfriend. On the flip side, Michael Bay uses children all the time to sell the idea of American supremacy. The way he poses them, what they’re doing, establishing them as ‘on our side’ and innocent – then putting them in danger (so we can hate who puts a wonderful innocent child in danger), etc.
9. Appeal to the Mass Market.
This goes back to the idea of “escapist propaganda doesn’t look like propaganda.” We are entertainers, first. We are providing audiences a true escape from the real world via an aesthetic experience. That means they seek an emotional rollercoaster from us. And often, the audience pays in advance for a specific type of emotional rollercoaster. The hint of the emotional rollercoaster you can embark comes from the poster, and the advertising campaign. It’s at this point we decide to ride the ride. The movie then must deliver the emotion of the rollercoaster. In the case of “24,” forgetting about all the propaganda George W Bush bullshit, at the end of the day “24’ delivers a consistent non-stop stream of high-octane high-adrenaline high-stakes tension. This is the drug audiences are seeking when they decide to watch “24.” And it delivers. Because it delivers, the subconscious propaganda messages in the show can be downloaded into the docile, satiated, massaged brains watching the show in the first place. First Entertainment, Then Propaganda (Expert Mode: When Propaganda is Entertainment.)
10. The Source of Entertainment.
To touch on that last point… When Propaganda IS Entertainment… How can that be achieved? Well this is our 10th and Final Technique: Engineer the source of the entertainment. What does that mean? The thing that is entertaining about a movie tends to be what the movie is truly about. So a movie could pretend to be about optimism and the joy of life in the end, but if the substance of the movie’s entertainment hinges on various visual depictions of a woman suffering (like Fellini’s 1957 “The Nights of Cabiria”) then maybe the movie is actually about something else. A good way to figure out what’s going on with a movie is to analyze what is its source of entertainment? To end this with a final example from Season 4 of “24” … In Episode 11, the entire series seems to thematically climax when Jack tortures an American to get information that could save millions of lives. This scene is the source of our entertainment. It’s what we’re looking forward to watching, it’s the most dopamine-inducing sequence, and it’s what’s most talked about the day after. If we examine this scene we can see that it’s the hero administering the torture, and he does it in a way that’s justified in the eyes of the audience. Thus, torture is a virtue in this instance because audiences identify heavily with the situation. Although there is NO NATURAL CONNECTION between torture and good feelings (if anything, torture is intrinsically negative because it depicts another human in agony) … Once the right circumstance is contextualized, through the medium of cinema, torture can appear agreeable. Indeed, any act can be depicted as agreeable, desirable, and good through the power of movies. This is why it’s important to be educated in spotting propaganda in escapism.
A Word of Warning: State-sanctioned movies tend to be made under extreme bureaucracy and oversight (dictators have thus far been obsessed with their filmic representations) so you will need to be clandestine in your subversion. Nobody can know you are part of the resistance. In fact, you must appear SYMPATHETIC to the cause. If you don't, you may not be allowed to create a distributable movie under the dictatorship in the first place. Thus, play the role of the acolyte, make the escapism, and weave in the subversions with enough plausible deniability.
If young men and women are being drafted into battle - consider charismatically suggesting making a new fantasy-war movie with huge crowds of real soldiers. Say it's to show to the world American superiority via mass crowds in the medium we still dominate - cinema! Or whatever you have to say. The point is to convince whoever to film real American soldiers. Then take a long time filming. A week. Two weeks. A month. The idea, like KOLBERG, is to save their lives. By having them act in your movie instead of fighting in some pointless war for a bunch of nationalist monarchs, you could be the Oskar Schindler of Hollywood and save hundreds of soldiers from the frontlines.