“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. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” Edward Bernays
Imagine yourself at the grocery store. You see a young woman in front of you purchasing cookies, candy and ice cream. When the items are scanned she promptly hands the checker a food stamp card. What are your thoughts, and maybe those of the people standing next to you? I will bet most are thinking negatively about her, about her purchasing “junk food” with taxpayer money and this reinforces any stereotypes of people on food stamps. Naturally you don’t consider that her husband may be in the military and has been deployed for six months, and her oldest child turns five that day… and she is giving him a party with his friends as a rare treat. No, we as a species tend to judge and to judge negatively.
Okay, the point of this is not to deal with judging per se but rather how we view others, and specifically how the elite view the 99.9% of the American population. That is why I made reference to the woman in line. As much as we might feel “superior” to others based on social class, or the use of a WIC or food stamp card, the elite are just as harsh towards the middle and working classes. Heck, the super-rich even look down on the “modestly” rich. And by elite I do not just mean those with names like Rockefeller but also those who make our movies in Hollywood or control the media that creates our “news” and TV entertainment. These people are as removed from regular people who work 9-5, and struggle to pay their mortgage, as a geneticist at a prestigious university research center is to a villager in the most remote Brazilian rain-forest.
In a sense Hunger Games could be seen as a satire on modern consumeristic society, and a reflection on the divide between the regular people and the elite. You have districts that are responsible for producing for the people of Capital City who live in their bubble of extravagance and entertainment. And of course who creates the entertainment? Those in power of course. In my latest thriller coming out in the Fall of 2016, “Freedom from Conscience – The Price of Power.” the heroine of the series (a former vigilante serial killer) gets elected to the US Congress. Soon afterwards she is mysteriously befriended by a member of an elite secret society who fancies himself her mentor. This gentleman does the obligatory “villain’s monologue” and explains to her why his comrades must eventually purge the world of those they see as genetically and culturally inferior to them, and how they will go about the process through brainwashing the public to go along with it.
Okay, this is fiction, right? I mean the people who control the people who control the media who control the message are just like the rest of us, right? Not really. And while I am not claiming that in real life they have any sort of genocide planned their reality is far removed from yours, and thus their worldview. They are segregated in affluence. In fact, their lives are not even like the “robber barons” you may have read about in high school history class. At least those captains of industry sometimes came from less-advantaged families. They also built factories and put people to work, and while quite wealthy they often visited their factories and still saw themselves as competing against others in the “social Darwinistic” context. Today the super-wealthy are isolated. They and their children graduate from the same prestigious institutions, which reinforce a particular social ideal. And while they travel the world they live in isolation and here a very distinct sub-culture evolves. In fact some evolutionary psychologists have suggested that the inbreeding of the elite will lead to a genetically distinct group, no longer separated by wealth and influence alone but maybe even a new ethnic class emergence. Of course that is merely speculation. Reality, however, is that economic power and influence over society are undeniably correlated.
Take for instance language. Radio, and then Television, has in great measure pulled all the various dialects in the USA to a common “mainstream” idea of what American English is perceived as. To a large degree this was due to the centralization of telecommunications in the early and mid-20th Century. Yet just as with language one can see how the people who control the much-more pervasive media of today have both enormous power over the sources of the message (today one can only use the term “oligopoly” to describe the industry) but also the values that their industry can lay down as the new norm.
Of course the elite cannot turn out entertainment that only tells their stories. That would turn off regular viewers and not generate much profit. They rely on the “flyover” regions for revenue generation. And while most live in exclusive suburbs their base of operations is in the cities. They seek writers and directors, who generally come from urban environments, and while not top elite they perceive themselves as sharing the same ideals of those with position. So of course they write plots that rely more on oft-used caricatures of what people outside their enclaves must be like. And of course the people who make the final determination as to what goes into movies and TV shows are closer to the elite and are even more separated from authentic reality than the writers and directors. Interestingly enough the majority of American audiences appear not to mind having simplistic images fed back to them; and one could speculate that many adopt the behavioral “norms” fed to them on TV as authentic as they grow up on these media images.
Furthermore, how about an example of how powerful images in media can be? Are you aware that one of the big reasons for the sharp decrease of birthrates in Brazil has been TV entertainment? The idea was that if people see small families presented as positive, and the norm, in what they see on TV they will absorb those norms into their own minds. And whether you see this as positive or not one cannot argue that entertainment can have a huge impact on people’s internal values, maybe even more than religion; thus the average person in Brazil, although Catholic, generally uses birth control. And it works that way everywhere, yes, even in (especially in?) the USA and western world. The elite will want to use their entertainment selections to promote the way they think people should live. After all, in a more modern application of social Darwinism isn’t there a notion that those with degrees from prestigious learning institutions should use their position to help “enlighten” the masses? So while plots on prime-time may be quite simplistic there is always a message. As Orwell noted, all art is ultimately propaganda.
So be it issues relating to religion, outsourcing of manufacturing, family dynamics, life goals, even, as Edward Bernays noted what we wear…these and many more issues may only be interpreted on the macro-societal level from the perspective of what the .1% most wealthy perceive as optimal. And while there has been an explosion of independent media in recent years facilitated by the internet, the monolith of the dominant networks and national newspapers makes it difficult to offer unique perspectives so that genuine discussion can take place at the national level.
One can resist merely conforming to whatever the “popular” group-think is within society but that requires taking an active role in both getting information as well as analyzing the very basis of ones beliefs. The latter can be a scary process for some. I mean, something as simple as table manners originated with some person of royalty deciding how people should eat. And what of other manners, habits and beliefs – might also have been incorporated into how you experience life without any serious reflection on if they were beneficial or not…based on some higher ideal of religion or philosophy, or any other more authentic source than someone within the powers-that-be just deciding what should be the norm for everyone?