Boston Takeaway: Such Obedient Serfs We Are!
Each of us will inevitably be left with certain lessons learned or some fully formed memory engrams from the bombings in Boston, be they the photos, the early media reportage, the conflicting stories, agency ass-covering, the failure of the massive snooping security state infrastructure ‘failure to investigate or predict’…and in the future: the trial of the live suspect may be what some remember most vividly.
One of my favorite literary characters, John Irving’s Owen Meany, once said (his utterances were always in upper case: ‘TELEVISION GIVES GOOD DISASTER’. ) At the time, he and his best friend were watching the endless coverage of JFK’s assassination and the aftermath…that really hasn’t ever ended. And that fact causes my mind to ping on some other favorite fictional characters: The X-Files’ ‘the Lone Gunmen’, parodies of conspiracy theorists who got a lot of it…right, in the ‘just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you’ sort of way.
Given that by now, it’s ALL media (including the blogosphere) that ‘gives good disaster’ is the main reason that I don’t really ‘do’ disaster; not Oklahoma City, Waco, the razing of the Twin Towers, or Boston. Among those reasons is that governments lie, ours lies with even more frequency in the handily constructed ‘War on Terror’, war is profit for Empire and multinationals, and…the media love to play on our fears, and spike them higher to…sell ads, as well as serve their corporate masters.
It wasn’t possible to avoid seeing photos, headlines, and I even read a thread or two at FDL, so a few impressions and bits of coverage stuck with me, but one stuck out mightily from all the others:
‘Boston is under lockdown!’
The other concerns how easily Americans are swayed by propaganda of all sorts, which truth underpins my thoughts on the main one. Thus, the melding of these two are currently the residuals of the event/s for me. So, bugged by both of them, I went spinning around the Giggle cache and through my mind to see what others of my favorite authors may have noticed about them, and bingo!, right out of the gate, I found that:
Boston wasn’t in fact ‘locked down’, except in a voluntary way; to wit, from Time, April 19, 2013:
That suspect was Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in Watertown after a firefight with police. His brother Dzhokhar, the other main suspect in the bombings, escaped, setting off what Governor Deval Patrick called “a massive manhunt.” In his announcement Friday morning, Patrick said “we are asking people to shelter in place.” Life, for the time being, would have to be lived at home and under siege.
By early Friday morning, the streets of Watertown and Cambridge were deserted, and life in Boston, a major American city, had ground to a standstill. Throughout the day, the media described residents complying with a “lockdown order,” but in reality the governor’s security measure was a request.
When it came to keeping the public off the streets on Friday, an order, it seems, wasn’t needed. “When the governor suggested in light of last night’s events that we have an armed subject on the loose who is very dangerous, who has committed murder, I believe the citizens of the commonwealth, in the hopes of helping law enforcement, voluntarily stayed off the streets,” Massachusetts State Trooper Todd Nolan told TIME. “This is a request that the public stay inside and they are adhering to it. There has been no law mentioned or any idea that if you went outside you’d be arrested.
Oh. Well, then…
Well, shiver me timbers; these Boston hearties obeyed a request! Such dear little lambs those Bostonians were, even given that Duvall had apparently shut down all public transportation. Why did they meekly ‘shelter indoors’, which directive has apparently been employed during outbreaks of diseases, so that the afflicted might be quarantined or treated.
Were all those citizens seriously afraid that if they went outdoors they might be harmed by one individual the media claimed was armed, dangerous, and identified as having been willing to set off bombs to make a political point? All of them, except the one who found the brother hiding in a boat?
Or is it possible that the zillions of SWAT police in their militarized get-ups were frightening the bejayzus out of them, so…indoors they stayed, cowering not from the advertised media ‘threat’ so much, but from the full-on spectacle of the fascist police state in action? Holy hell, I swear I saw a photo in which five or six cops, rifles raised, were at the door of a house which had just opened. Perhaps it was a mother and her son standing there, looking terrified, but trying not to. Yeppers, that would leave an impression on viewer and participants alike.
[For a bit of comic relief, I did discover that although all businesses had been ‘ordered to stay closed’ (or was that by way of request, also?), the one chain of food-servers allowed, nay, requested (ordered?) to remain open was Dunkin’ Donuts! (You can write your own cops-and-donuts jokes here.) But I swear to you, on the way to discovering if that fact were indeed true, I found a news site that called those on-the-job Dunkin’ Donut employees who’d never really vowed to serve and protect the security state…heroes. In fairness, there was online evidence that one other restaurant had stayed open: an oyster bar, and again: you write the jokes.]
Now, considering the immense need for resistance to The Machine among the serfs and soon-to-be-serfs to reclaim our government from the corporate plutocracy, this and other sorts of self-kettling obviously has long roots.
Psychologist Alice Miller believed that our reflexive submission to authoritarianism was rooted in our early childhoods, and that it was drummed into us by either guilt-producing verbal messages, or in many cases, spankings and beatings. Bullying by the more powerful, in other words. Then for many of us, our life’s trajectories through school, first jobs, next careers, up the ladder or not, our lives were so underpinned by not only conforming to social convention, but adherence to…authority figures. Musing about Bostonians led me to consider the irony that those pesky upstarts there dumped a few British ships’ worth of tea into the harbor as a protest against the Stamp Act in 1763 or so. As history textbooks tell it, that eventually led to the First American Revolution. Was that genetic memory not passed down the generations, not to folks who just had to go out by foot or bicycle on some dire errand or other? Were they all really afraid of getting hurt by either the still-at-large Tsarnaev brother, or shot by the police? Were drone assassinations really being considered, as one of my favorite authors claimed?
But rest assured: the PTB surely saw the self-kettling as a major victory in the oppression of the people, including a compliant and disaster-loving media. ‘Hey, peeps; this is what we got; ya reckon ya might think again about resisting us?’
I was reminded of a few lines of Margaret Kimberly’s piece Everyday Terror, her thoughts on recent Boston days, in which she mentioned how subject we are to propaganda, but more about that piece later. Several authors commenting on Boston and the wider angle of propaganda mention Edward Bernays again, and found these quotes of his in blurbs advertising his 1928 book Propaganda:
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.
It is the purpose of this book to explain the structure of the mechanism which controls the public mind, and to tell how it is manipulated by the special pleader who seeks to create public acceptance for a particular idea or commodity. It will attempt at the same time to find the due place in the modern democratic scheme for this new propaganda and to suggest its gradually evolving code of ethics and practice’.
The Austrian-born Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, so over the years he established many relationships with the emerging psychological experts of the day, and allowed him to harness the power of the unconscious mind to manipulate thought and reaction. Once he’d moved his family to New York, his work for the Woodrow Wilson administration sold the idea that it was the intentions of the American war effort was ‘exporting democracy’. Oh, and so are our present war efforts, according to far too many either ignorant or Machiavellian power-brokers of Empire.
The man knew what he was about, and his ideas succeeded only too well, except for the ‘evolving code of ethics’ part. As in the ethics of the MSM: ‘Was the suspect dark-complected? ‘ or ‘Is that a foreign name?’ Was it...the Other?
You can read more about Bernays, propaganda and public relations/spin here; I really admire John Stauber’s writing. The elemental constructs are so familiar that most Americans believe what authoritarian propagandists say without question, and what’s even worse, once they believe the lies, they just can’t let go of them, and tend to avoid any discomfort that alternate truths might bring…by hanging out with folks who believe what they do, even when provide contrary evidence.
Bernays’ work is said to be at the core of the Koch Brothers’ ALEC campaigns. Advertising agency propaganda is used to sell wars (Saddam’s ‘babies stolen from incubators’, for instance); polish the images of dictators and their nations; convince hapless Americans to ‘ask their Doctors about’ new meds whose lists of potential downsides take a whole minute to list, and actually take the damned meds. Or to help the PTB get Generals on the talking head programs to spout war propaganda for pay. Or to make sure that we know that being anti-war is tantamount to treason, as in the case of the Presidential/War Machine blowjob given by San Francisco Gay Pride President Lisa Williams acting in concert with certain ‘most militaristic LGBT organizations and activists’ denying the title of Honorary Grand Marshal for this year’s LGBT Pride Celebration. Jackasses. Or in media, showing us why and how we should fear The Other, including other Americans, be they black, Muslim, trangendered, illegal immigrants (exploit or deport), dissidents, whistleblowers, whatever; not to mention all the cues over how the wars, wiretapping and other stolen Constitutional rights keep us safe at night… (please don’t point out the failures, or you might get Gitmoed…)
Or, coming back to Margaret Kimberly’s thoughts on Boston:
All Americans’ behavior is understandable if one acknowledges that we are constantly subjected to propaganda of various kinds. We have been propagandized to believe that some lives, white Americans’, are more valuable than others, namely anyone not white nor from the United States. There is no other way to explain why the government’s killing of thousands of people abroad is met with a shrug, if it is acknowledged at all.
The president showed up and as always on such occasions uttered words seemingly written by his worst speechwriters. The full force of the government would catch the cowards and the people would not be frightened because they are the best and freest in the world and the prayers of the nation went out to them because of democracy and the whole world stood beside them. Amen.
One of my favorite authors, Randy Shields, calls Obomba’s disconnect mirrored by her first paragraph: Barackodile tears’, the ‘tears shed by America’s historic first black president about dead, generally white, children gunned down in massacres while he simultaneously murders brown-skinned children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc.’
And thus completes the circle of that particular form of jingoistic propaganda that so few see through. And it pisses me purple.
And of course, Obomba’s rhetoric for both domestic and global consumption is not very subtly tied not only to his hero Ronald Reagan, but John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Fame (now Boston/Salem), who eventually became the Governor of the new state. It was he who first used ‘The City on the Hill’, which underpinned Manifest Destiny, then was tweaked by politicians like Reagan to ‘the Shining City on the Hill’, or: American Exceptionalism. Another full circle boomerang that will continue until more of get wise to it…and stop it.
What we can do is expose the lies, bring the truth, and encourage our friends and relations to listen to their inner music; that music that lies beneath their nagging sense that the lives they may be living in service to the Feudal Lords…is vacuous and empty. Make community with people of all colors and creeds where you can, and do it with loving-kindness, if not actual ‘liking’ of them. When we awaken to the knowledge we must act, whether in word, deed or support of physical resistors, remember this (h/t to juliania)
“I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats – any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death – then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself. But don’t you see, this is just the point – what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the powerful attraction of its example…”
~ Young Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
And keep in mind one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most cautionary admonitions:
(to be cross-posted at wendyedavis.net)