1990s >> 1993 >> no-1061-january-1993

Between the Lines: The Road to Nurenberg

Something dangerous is happening. Mind manipulation has become one of the growth industries of the late twentieth century. Three examples from the year just gone: the use made of the media by Clinton, Perot and Major. Each in their own way showed that leaders with money can afford to have contempt for democratic debate.


The Clinton Presidential campaign was a masterpiece of saying nothing winningly. Millions of Americans were sucked within the emptiness of Clinton’s fake-smile reformism. They abdicated their power to control their own lives to a man committed to the continuation of their exploitation — a man advised by well-paid media consultants (i.e. propagandists) whose task was to trample all over their political intelligence.


The bizarre earthiness of the Perot campaign appeared to be a contrast to all that. But it was not. The key to the Perot style was the appearance of the man next door being projected with the aid of millions of dollars on to a Texan billionaire whose class interests were diametrically opposed to those with whom he chatted from the screen as if he leaning over the fence. The entire Perot campaign was a media hoax, made possible solely by the possession of huge funds.


The Tory election victory last year was again a victory of form over content: of the myth of Major, the local lad made good, over Kinnock, the unreliable loser. These were big moments in what could have been wide, intelligent popular debates. That is certainly what workers looked for when they campaigned for the vote. The danger is not just that these perversions of democracy are happening, but that they go un-noticed, unchallenged. It is as if arrogant media men who believe that the dignity of human intelligence is degradable to a sordid exercise in mind manipulation have invaded our living rooms and, through the medium of TV, created a world where workers are mere followers, extras in the movie of life, spectators upon our own world.


How odd it now seems that half a century ago workers thought that they were fighting to defend democracy. What they were fighting for, amongst other economic aims, was to preserve and consolidate the more subtle dictatorship of capital of Britain and America against the crude thuggery of fascistic and naked dictatorship. A chilling reminder of that Nazi moment in history was BBC2’s showing of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1934 propaganda classic, Triumph of the Will (12.05am, Saturday 19 December). This was the famous film in which Hitler’s presence at a Nurenberg rally was presented as an inspiring romance of nationalist inspiration. It had an enormous impact, apparently causing German cinema audiences to weep with uncontrollable joy.


Viewed today the film’s propagandist zeal to aggrandise the Fuhrer and turn the worshipping followers into a single, amorphous mass of robotic dancers to the fascist will, seems transparent and even faintly ridiculous in its pretensions. In Iran, Iraq, China and many more dictatorships too numerous to list the transparency might be less evident: what would be more obvious is the similarity to the backward propaganda methods of those states.


But Riefenstahl was in the mould of 1984, and by and large we can say that 1984 has passed and the uncouth propaganda of leader-worship has not triumphed. But the road from Nurenberg has not led to democracy. It has led to the triumph of sophisticated media trickery. We shudder — and rightly so — at neo-Nazi fools performing imitation goosesteps. and other more sickening acts, in the streets of Germany, but the biggest threat will not come from them. It will come — it already does come — from those whose dismissal of the intelligence of the majority is not reflected in the culture of the jackboot: it is exhibited by the culture of TV-run politics. It is no more sensible to let a factory owner organise his workers in a strike than to allow these money-governed mind-manipulators to tell us how and what to think. Something dangerous is happening and it is only the vitality and will to organise ourselves for ourselves that can overcome it.


Steve Coleman