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Issue #1436      18 November 2009

Culture & Life

The corporate agenda

As everyone knows, the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington gave the Bush White House the opportunity to unite the USA behind a right-wing agenda of increased military action abroad and greatly increased restrictions on democratic rights at home.

The US Patriot Act, which overrides many of the fundamental freedoms afforded US citizens in their much-touted Constitution, was pased opportunistically after the September 11 terrorist attacks with very little debate. In Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 he records Congressman Jim McDermott alleging that no Senator read the bill.

Whether the White House merely took advantage of a fortuitous terrorist attack (as some claim) or was privy to a well-planned operation by extreme right-wing elements in the US intelligence community as others claim, is moot. Either way, the result was to forcibly shift US policy significantly to the right.

While the Right in the US sought to consolidate this shift and to curtail everything that smacked of “liberalism” (the peculiarly American euphemism for “progressive” or “left-wing” thinking), the American people were quick to realise that they were being stampeded away from the rights and liberties they had been told were the very essence of “America”.

The Department of Homeland Security was set up and promptly started running amok, restricting access by known left-wingers (anti-war activists, for example) to commercial aircraft to fly from one city to another. The work of the myriad other US intelligence agencies was blatantly interfered with, to the detriment of actual intelligence gathering. On the other hand, electronic surveillance of US citizens was stepped up dramatically, all in the name of “national security”.

To cover all this, a wave of “patriotism” was unleashed on the country by the mass media, simultaneously promoting and encouraging jingoism and paranoia. Hollywood weighed in with movies and television shows about attacks from outer space, terrorist encounters galore, and a general heightening of people’s fear of strangers, the dark, other countries, intellectuals – in fact, anything out of the usual.

Fortunately, the US people are not stupid: preventing terrorism is one thing; removing basic democratic rights is another. At the last election they removed the Republican administration instead.

However, the Right in the US has been strengthened so much in recent decades that President Obama’s administration has to move very gingerly indeed, if it is to effect any significant changes.

With both an economy and a mass media that are under the tight control of large capitalist corporations, Obama’s people can only be too aware that they are highly vulnerable to corporate power. Everyone remembers how the capitalist corporations and the intelligence community successfully combined to first flummox then destroy the Administration of President Jimmy Carter – and his policies had only been mildly “leftist” (normalising relations with Cuba, for example).

While manipulating the economy plays a big part in these manoeuvres, manipulating the mass media probably plays an even bigger one. Control of television – backed up by the daily press – allows capitalism to plant (and inflame) ideas without giving people time to think much about them, still less to analyse them.

Repetition (especially across different media) turns statement into fact and pretty soon everyone “knows” exactly what capitalism wants them to “know”, including that good is bad and black is white.

But the pundits of corporate American are not content to rely on control of the news. They know that, thanks to them, millions of Americans (and Australians, too) pay scant attention to the news, regarding it as Rupert Murdoch intends that they should: see it as a branch of show business.

It is not for nothing that public health messages are now put out to people not through the news so much as by embedding the information in the script of a popular soap opera or even better a popular sitcom. At least, that way a significant number of people will actually receive the message!

There was a time – the 1960s through the 1970s – when sitcoms were a popular and effective vehicle for promoting anti-racist, anti-war or anti-sexist themes. There were even some that had digs at sacred cows.

I can recall an episode of the popular cop-shop comedy Barney Miller making glorious fun of the US military, specifically their habit of wearing their caps pulled so far down that the brim virtually obscures their whole face.

Harmless enough, surely? But unthinkable today. It would be deemed unpatriotic. (Bush may be gone, but those who put him in office originally still dominate the media.)

I have recently seen a number of episodes of the US crime series Bones. It’s about solving murders using forensic science. Once, that – and interplay between the main characters – would have been sufficient. Not now.

Now, the series is loaded down with bouts of patriotism, becoming maudlin about US military deaths and waxing lyrical about the US as the land of liberty and the bastion of freedom and democracy. All with a very straight face.

This never-ending propaganda barrage has a definite agenda. Whatever administration is in power in Washington, capitalism wants the American people to follow that agenda: to reject the dangerous ideas of progressives or “liberals” (whatever those ideas might be – free health care, for example, or public ownership of utilities).

To curb the arms industry and to pursue a peaceful foreign policy is equally verboten. Peace through strength is the only motto the American people can be allowed to adopt.

Corporate America used to dominate the world. It dreams of doing so again, and of being able to crush anyone who tries to stop it. We used to call such people and companies “war mongers”.

Whatever you call them today, their motives remain the same: they profit from the death and destruction of war. But now they face an obstacle that is getting bigger all the time: the world is changing – the people are increasingly unwilling to follow the warmongers’ agenda.

And therein lies the potential salvation of us all.

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