- Propaganda



This is the fifth part of The Next Thrilling Chapter, and concerns the pollution and enslavement of mind by ideology. If ideal frameworks are required, in order to think at all—and if, adopted pragmatically, they allow us to think freely—then ideologies represent, at best, the systematization of thought, and, at worst, the systematic constraint of freedom. 



If the first four chapters approached the serial’s subject in a sidelong or elliptical manner, the fifth is more direct, and perhaps easiest to decode. After the narrative recap, it pretends to survey the various means whereby villains, in old movie serials, were able to control the actions, and often the minds, of unwilling victims. Indeed, the survey is quite accurate, as the serials—following the thrillers, weird fiction and science-fiction of the first part of the twentieth century—frequently used hypnosis and mind-control as a means of advancing their plots.

     But I trust the subtext is nakedly obvious. 



Some propaganda is clearly recognizable as propaganda. It has a particular tone, a distinct flavour. Sensational, it provokes an outraged reflex. Whether blunt or shrill, its premises are not open to question, its assertions are pre-determined. How can anyone be fooled by such nonsense?

     Yet they are.

     Or are they? I find propaganda obvious when I find it offensive. Otherwise, if I detect a bias (and I don’t mean exclusively a political bias) I’m often prepared to discount it. I’m willing to entertain a doubtful interpretation of evidence, so long as the evidence itself is not falsified. Is it possible that, for some people, propaganda isn’t obvious simply because they’re not offended? I don’t always recognize a bias, therefore my judgment on certain matters may be incomplete. Thinking this way, I’m led to imagine that if we were better educated to recognize propaganda, some of us might not be so easily misled.

     But I begin to suspect I’m kidding myself, because it’s clear that, for some people, the absence of reasoned argument is a matter of indifference, and hectoring incoherence just one way—possibly the best way—of signalling an opinion.

     So let me cease deceiving myself. Some people I imagine fooled by propaganda aren’t fooled because they fail to recognize it. They recognize it well enough, and welcome it, because it announces, loudly and clearly, what they feel, and what they want to believe. They accept it because, rather than liberating thought by clarifying and informing, it relieves them of the painful and awkward need to think, making their perceptions of the world—and their responses to it—rigid, reflexive, automatic. And that's one way "innocent" people are turned into an army of mindless robots. 



But can I be sure I’m not one of them?

     Perhaps not. But I can ask the question, and try to answer honestly. And as I interrogate the frayed and uncertain boundaries of my honesty, do I doubt myself?

     Yes, I do.

     And, if I’m honest, I’m rarely more doubtful of myself than when I encounter the absolute and unshakeable certainty of others.

     Why so shaky?

     Because I’m rarely as sure of myself as these people seem. When they look me straight in the eye and tell me the sky is green, it’s always been green, and anyone with any sense knows it’s green, my first response is to feel rather inadequate, because I always thought it was blue. Or, if it’s not blue—and there’s not really any such a thing as the sky—at least it was reasonable to say most of us saw that colour, mostly, when we looked at the space above us, on a clear day. Did I get that wrong? Have I merely succumbed to the illusion of consensus?

     Yet, when I recover my composure, I grow suspicious of their certainty. It has the stink of ideology...



At least my uncertainty may acquit me of the charge of having committed an act of propaganda.

     Also, when Adolf Hitler wrote that, “All propaganda must be popular, and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to,” he pretty much let me off the hook, because The NEXT THRILLING CHAPTER is not really designed to be popular. And if you can figure out what it's about, I reckon you're smart enough to be let out of the house on your own.