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“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Edward Bernays

In my latest psychological thriller, “Freedom from Conscience – Descent into Darkness” the main character of the series, Melanie Lindberg, a young state senator, makes some very dangerous enemies after addressing the issue of sex trafficking. After an attempt is made on her family’s lives she sets out to find out who is responsible, which leads her to a strip club on the bad side of town. Desperate to protect her family after police offer no help she decides she must go undercover to find out who is responsible and get her own revenge. She later discovers a far greater conspiracy involving an international trafficking gang and corrupt police. Yet during her descent into this unfamiliar lifestyle she discovers how seduction of patrons and clients really works, and eventually is able to apply these skills in her political life. Ultimately the point she learns is that political persuasion and propaganda are essentially a form of seduction.

While an exotic dancer or sex performer may sound an unlikely comparison with a Madison Avenue marketer the contrasts are more in our perceptional bias than in reality. A marketer ultimately tries to manipulate you…seduce you…to develop false trust so that you become open to suggestion; generally convincing you to part with your money. As Bernays points out manipulation of our emotions and instinctive drives has become the cornerstone of our “modern” society. This is especially evident when discussing news media – which operates pretty much on the same principles. Let’s examine some common techniques at emotional seduction:

First, there is the strategy of establishing an assumed relationship, often bordering on friendship. As the target for propaganda, oh excuse me, the viewer, relaxes in his chair he joins untold millions of people also viewing a corporate news program. The entertainers, I mean anchors, know that the public will accept the version of reality offered if viewers see them as one of them. These people who, at the national news level, are often paid salaries in the millions…yet have you noticed they never mention their extravagant homes or vacations? Instead they try to convey an image of authority but mixed with a folksy delivery that makes our target feel like he shares a commonality with them. He doesn’t. I could also go into psychological techniques employed by the corporate media personalities such as use of body language, hand gestures and rhetorical devises but that would necessitate a very long discussion. Needless to say, psychology plays a huge role in how the media, like the Sirens of Greek mythology, distract and lull the public into accepting the message presented.

A second technique is to create the impression of shared aspirations, a sort of “We are in this together” message. Obama capitalized on people wanting to be part of something with his “Yes we can” slogan.  All too often the media does likewise – this makes it far easier to get people to follow, be it to get a woman to buy into a certain brand-name label or sell her on why she should consider adopting a particular viewpoint on marriage and family. Convincing people to go this way or that works best when the target believes they and the media share the same long-range view of life.

Third, make the message so simple a child can understand. In fact, treat the audience as children. Even Chomsky has noted that if the media talks to the public in an infantile manner the audience will respond as if they are children. Aspects of neuro-linguistic programming work in this way. It is a very cunning form of manipulation.

And lastly, although we could deal with many more strategies of manipulation, let’s conclude with their use of symbols and icons to gain control of the target’s emotions. We know how advertisers use popular cartoon characters to sell products to children, but is it all that different than playing a certain form of music to illicit emotions of connection during a daytime TV talk-show personal reflective segment? How about when the military pays for American flags to be displayed during sports events? Or when a commentator will invoke a historical figure or national symbol to back up their particular take on an issue?

So in the game of manipulation and seduction is a marketer, or member of the corporate media, that much different that a dancer in a strip club who pretends to have interest in a male patron? Are they worlds apart or are they playing the same game?  And as a politician gets up in front of her audience is she all that far removed from a performer who sheds her clothes and does her routine on a stripper pole for her adoring onlookers?

It is just a matter of perspective.

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