|Number 492||October 26, 2011|
The 2011 NYGAARD NOTES PLEDGE DRIVE -- Week II
A gigantic THANK YOU to the many who have ALREADY sent in your Pledges for 2011. You wouldn't believe how much this means to me.
Most of this issue is Pledge stuff, but don't miss Part II of the Propaganda essay. That's all I have to say for now.
Until next week,
Here are some excerpts from ACTUAL UNSOLICITED COMMENTS from ACTUAL READERS of Nygaard Notes, sent in since the last Pledge Drive:
"Incredibly well thought-out and expressed..."
"Nygaard Notes is still one of the best resources for accessible rigorous analysis of media/propaganda/public relations/the spin."
A "clear sighted and no-nonsense approach..."
"You have an incredibly discerning mind..."
"In the 'Age of the Tea Party' your work is that much more valuable."
"THANK you, for your integrity and your determination—as well as your keen mind, and ongoing research."
What is this "Pledge Drive" of which I speak? (You may ask.)
Here is the simplest of simple explanations of what is going on in the pages of Nygaard Notes last week, this week, and maybe next week depending on the response:
Nygaard Notes is made possible by readers who donate money to the project in the form of Pledges. When the basic conditions are met, you (yes, YOU!) send in a Pledge of some amount of money to Nygaard Notes.
Here are the basic conditions:
1. You read Nygaard Notes
2. You realize that you agree with some or all of the comments that you read elsewhere in this issue of Nygaard Notes. ("an incredibly discerning mind...", "clear sighted and no-nonsense approach...", "Incredibly well thought-out and expressed...", "integrity and determination," etc)
3. You come to the realization that none of this—I mean: NONE—could occur without the help of people just like you, and you, yourself, doing your part to help out.
4. You decide to do your part to help maintain this ongoing experiment in values-based journalism.
There: It's as simple as 1,2,3,4. Then what?
You're a Nygaard Notes reader, so I know this is not too complicated for you. What is stopping you? Nothing, I hope.
To all who heed these words: THANK YOU in advance!
What in the world are you supporting when you make a pledge to Nygaard Notes?
Everyone knows that Nygaard Notes is a newsletter focusing on news and analysis that comes out several times a month. (Don't they?) But newer readers of Nygaard Notes may not be aware that the Nygaard Notes project is more than simply a newsletter, however worthy that newsletter may be.
WITH YOUR HELP I try get out in the world and make my skills and talents (and obsessions and jokes) available to the world that exists beyond the subscription list of Nygaard Notes, all in the service of helping to build a broad-based movement for social change. Here is a glimpse of the activities that your pledges make possible:
* NYGAARD ON TELEVISION. Once a month those of you in the Minneapolis/St. Paul viewing area can see myself, along with local activist Dave Bicking, discuss politics and media. We tape it live on the first Monday of most months, when we look at the news over the past month. It's part of a weekly program called "Our World Today," and it runs on the Suburban Community Channels from 8:00 to 9:00 pm in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities.
Our monthly feature is called "News: A Different Perspective." (But it's much more interesting than that name is.) Each month we talk about the current news and offer, well, a different perspective. To watch it live, tune in to SCC Channel 15 at 8:00 on the first Monday of the month. The Minneapolis Television Network also shows it multiple times during the month after it is taped. Go to the MTN website and click on "TV Guide," then Channel 17, and look for "Our World Today: News: A Different Perspective." The same thing on St. Paul's cable network, SPNN, where you find us, I think, on Saturdays at 6:00 (it seems to move around). Check those listings on the SPNN site. As I mentioned last week, you can also watch it online.
Less regularly, Nygaard appears on the wonderful cable TV show called "Our World in Depth." While the name is very similar to the other show, Our World in Depth shows are less topical and more timeless. I talk about whatever it is they ask me to, but it's usually something about media and propaganda, and the overall intellectual culture. You know, the usual Nygaard Notes stuff. It's pretty fun. I don't even know when they are broadcast, but I do know you can see these shows on the web. Go to the Our World in Depth website and look under "Past Shows" for "Nygaard."
* NYGAARD IN THE COMMUNITY. My participatory workshops are offered to anyone who asks. I also do presentations, or lectures, or talks, on whatever topic people ask for, usually media and/or Propaganda. But if you have read many issues of Nygaard Notes, you'll correctly guess that the possible subjects range far beyond those two options. By the way, if your group could benefit from what I do, get in touch.
* NYGAARD IN THE CLASSROOM. In the past I have taught classes in media in community-education settings. I hope to start that up again soon. I'll announce it in these pages if and when I get after it again.
* NYGAARD IN THE BOOKSTORES? I have been working on writing a book for a while now. I used to talk about it quite a bit, but that was before I found out how hard it is to actually write a book! I haven't talked about it much lately, as I have been forced by various circumstances of my life to take a lengthy hiatus from the project, but I'm still working on it. So it's not dead, just resting. To all who have been looking forward to it, I apologize for the long delay.
* NYGAARD NOTES, THE WRITTEN VERSION. This periodic newsletter is, of course, the core of the whole Nygaard Notes project. And that's where YOU come in. The more money I can take in through YOUR pledges and donations, the less time I will have to spend in my other jobs and the more I can produce and present useful work, both in the Notes and in other publications. Many of you tell me I should do this. "Your work deserves a much larger readership!" you say. Making a pledge of support to Nygaard Notes will make that happen, more often and in more ways.
Please send in your pledge TODAY:
In last week's Part I, I suggested that there is a set of ideas—I call them the Propaganda ABCs—that provide us with a mental picture of how the world works. I suggested that we share these ABCs with most members of our society, and that these sets of unconscious ideas can be challenged, but can also be reinforced. Furthermore, I said that challenging these ideas has to be done consciously, while reinforcement can be done—and usually is done—unconsciously, since the lack of a challenge to a widely-disseminated idea amounts to a tacit endorsement. Let's pick up there as we begin Part II.
Hegemony as the "Default"
Every computer has settings that tell the computer what to do. How wide should the margins be? What size type do you want? Etc. The settings that will be used UNLESS you consciously go in and tell the computer to do something else are called the "default" settings. That is, your computer world is set up in a certain way because the people who make the computers believe that most people like it that way. And most people probably do.
When certain Attitudes, Beliefs and Conceptions about the world—our ABCs—become so widely accepted in a society as to function as the de facto "organizing principles" of a society, they become like the "default" settings for the society as a whole. At this point they achieve the status of what the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci called "cultural hegemony." I call them our Propaganda ABCs.
Our cultural default settings, or ABCs, are embedded in the stories and myths that we all grow up with. Families, churches, schools, universities, the different branches of government, and the mass media all do their part to pass along and reinforce these ideas.
Our ABCs are reinforced in a million ways. Certain holidays celebrate certain people (think about "Columbus Day"); shared rituals imprint versions of history into our minds (think of how many kids play "Cowboys and Indians" and "war"); certain groups of people are assigned certain characteristics in popular culture (what image comes to your mind when you hear the word "Arab?") Stereotypes get passed on from generation to generation long after the original propaganda was produced to justify whatever injustice was going on, from the colonial expansion to slavery to various wars to you-name-it.
It's not very often that you'll hear someone say to you something like, "Boys have to be tough to survive," and "The best health care goes to those with the most money," and "Supply and demand is what determines prices." These ideas are perceived by most as "common sense," so most people have long since stopped arguing about them. And that's a big part of why culturally hegemonic ideas remain unchallenged. Most people don't argue them since most people don't think about them.
But sometimes they are challenged.
Winners, Losers, and Deep Propaganda
To say that most individuals don't question their Propaganda ABCs is not to say that ALL people fail to do so. The feminist movement and anti-racist organizing are examples of conscious challenges to the Deep Propaganda of the traditionally hegemonic ideas of sexism and racism. The current Occupy Wall Street actions are a great example of people coming together to challenge the dominant ideas about who gets what, and why, about who is in charge, about who is the shooter and who is the target.
It's interesting to hear criticism of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests that focus on the perception that the occupiers are funny-looking, or unemployed (said as a criticism of the protesters, not the failed employers!), and so forth. After all, who is most likely to challenge prevailing social norms? Not "normal" people! Especially when the very definition of "normal" is a reflection of Propaganda.
Consider that every culture has what might be called "winners" and "losers," in terms of wealth, power, comfort, status, and so forth. The membership in those groups has a lot to do with the nature of the ideas that are hegemonic in that culture. That is, in a culture with a tradition of racist ideology, members of the dominant race will tend to be winners, and members of the "minority" races will tend to be losers. (I don't mean "losers" in the moral or spiritual sense, simply in the accumulation of wealth, power, and so forth.) In a sexist culture, men will win more often than women. Pick your category, the rule will generally hold.
I suggest that the "losers" in a culture will be more likely to challenge culturally hegemonic ideas than the "winners." After all, why would someone who is a winner wish to challenge the rules that they followed to become a winner? For a "loser," a change of rules (in the right direction) will likely be seen as highly desirable.
Here is where we start to understand how Propaganda, especially Deep Propaganda, is perpetuated and reinforced within the culture, especially by the ever-present media.
When the powerful people who are the main sources for our news spout whatever Propaganda it is that they want us to believe, it's believability is based on some underlying Deep Propaganda. If a reporter has internalized that Deep Propaganda, he or she will not even notice that there IS a basis for the Overt Propaganda—it will just seem "logical" or "realistic."
And, like everyone else, the more privileged a journalist is, the less likely they are to question prevailing ideas, since these are the ideas that endorse their privilege, even while making their privilege invisible to them. By "privilege," I mean things like being college-educated, earning a six-figure salary, being "white" or being a member of the majority in other ways, socializing with the rich and powerful, and so forth.
Now factor in the profit-seeking nature of our information infrastructure, as huge corporations buy up media outlets and increase their profits by "cutting costs." As reporting staffs are cut back and resources, especially at the less-powerful regional newspapers and TV stations, shrink, a smaller and smaller group of journalists and editors in New York and Washington end up setting the agenda for the entire nation, and that small group is increasingly made up of society's "winners."
This is not a conspiracy, and "the media" is not "trying" to push a certain view of the world. But it's very difficult for a reporter who consistently questions the status quo to rise in the ranks to be a chief editor at NBC or the head of the New York Times Kabul bureau.
So, to sum up, here's how information workers, and especially workers in the media, distribute Propaganda, all without the aid of a conspiracy:
1. Deep Propaganda is unconscious ideology, often created by people long ago and far away, but reinforced all the time;
2. Deep Propaganda can be challenged or reinforced;
3. Reinforcement happens unconsciously. It's the default, meaning that it happens unless someone consciously decides to challenge it;
4. When an idea achieves hegemonic status, few are conscious of it. The more advantaged, or privileged, one is, the less likely one is to be conscious of it, or willing to challenge it;
5. In today's world, the agenda-setting information workers are Winners, that is, they are largely drawn from the privileged groups;
6. Those winners increasingly set the agenda for public discussion for the nation;
7. By failing to challenge the Deep Propaganda that underlies the stories they consider important, the mass media unconsciously reinforces the ideology that is dominant. This is when information workers become distributors of Propaganda.
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