Archive for the ‘Ideology in the news’ Category

Click to watch the film Welcome to North Korea

This documentary, filmed in 2001, is a rare look into the world of North Korea.  And while the documentary has some fascinating footage into the lives of North Koreans, it continues to have a distancing gaze at the people.  Rather than looking into how people have such fervent leader worship, and to what effect that such leader worship is ideological, it continues the line that North Koreans have been brainwashed.

The narration states, with no sense of irony, that the North Koreans believe that Kim Il-Song had magic powers.  It seems strange for us to think of a people who believe their leader has supernatural powers.  When he died, the cult of Kim Jong-il was started, equating the son with the father’s abilities.

But is it really so strange for North Koreans to accept this doctrine as believable?  It’s not without precedent.

So to repeat, North Koreans truly believe that their leader had supernatural powers, and when he died he left for them his only son to lead them through to a righteous life.

But is this really such a fanciful idea and should we really be so quick to condemn North Koreans as ignorant?

It seems to me there is another, larger group on this planet who also believes that their leader had supernatural powers and he too left to us his son to lead us into the correct path.

That group, of course, is Christians.

Of course, Christians don’t just believe that the father had supernatural powers.  They’re quite sure that Jesus’ dad was God, the creator of all life.  And Catholics continue to believe that their spiritual leader, the Pope, is God’s representative on earth.

And while 100 million North Koreans must be wrong, are a billion Christians so firm in their own convictions?

My point is, we are quick to judge North Koreans as having been ‘brainwashed’ for their incredulous beliefs, while refusing to recognize the same belief in a spiritual father who has left his only son to guide a people through life, as being along the same lines as most religious belief systems.

Religions must start somewhere, and while I’m not for a second stating that Kim Jhong-il is ‘like Jesus’, I am arguing that we should have a more nuanced and sympathetic approach to North Koreans, for they are afterall, human, and humans are prone to believe in all kinds of crazy things.

The film can be watched online at the Internet Archives




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There has been a lot in the news lately about two major incidences of changing language of past texts.  The first is the Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn Nigger fiasco, and the second involves the music by Mark Knopfler’s Dire Straits song ‘Money for Nothing’ which has the word faggot.  Both works have been censored recently, and the offending term removed.  The argument is that we are in a post-racial world and such out dated pejoratives are discriminatory and offensive to contemporary sensibilities – they have no place in contemporary society.  A noble sentiment indeed, but what is the significance of removing these terms from historical works.  Aren’t we in danger of forgetting about our racist and homophobic past?  Don’t we have an obligation to keep these works, offensive terms and all, in our collective imaginations so that we do NOT forget that we have until very recently been hateful bigots who promoted ideologies of racial segregation, forced labour, beatings and rapes?  Our past was brutal and as shameful as it may be to us in our contemporary ‘post racial’ enlightenment, don’t we have an obligation to always remember that past, scars and all?  By removing the language of oppression from our historical texts, we are refashioning history into a new model wherein violent and brutal oppression did not exist.

The argument has been made that it is difficult to teach Huckleberry Finn, because it is hurtful for students to hear the word nigger.  That may be true, but language is potent, and sometimes hurtful but it can only be made less hurtful when appropriate measures are used to make amends for that hurtfulness.  And amends can only be made when one is aware of the potency of language.

However, the alternative – removing the offending word – also removes the requisite need for making amends.  Removing the hurtful term negates our society’s need to apologise for past transgressions.  But surely we have an obligation to continue to acknowledge and grieve the sins of our past.  Of course, this raises the question of ‘white man’s burden,’ and many argue that we’ve atoned for our sins and that we are in a post racial society.

Oh really?  Do we really no longer benefit from a past history of violence?  Is there no such thing as the inherited benefits of whiteness?  The truth is that families that benefited economically from slavery passed that wealth down through generations, and white society continues to out earn and out spend all other racial groups in America.  It is not coincidental that while only 15% of habitual drug users are black and 77% are white, African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested on drug charges.  It is not coincidental that it was predominantly the poorest of the black neighbourhoods in New Orleans that were most devastated by Hurricane Katrina and it is because of the simple fact that poor neighbourhoods are in more volatile areas, and tend to be over represented by racial minorities.

But to get back to Twain and Huck, what is the harm in changing a word in a novel?  Well – it changes the meaning of the text, for one thing.

To begin, it changes the unequal relationships between dominant white and subjugated black, to a capitalist inequality of rich ownership and poor subject.  It denies that race is even a contributing factor to the relationship, and instead changes it to one of haves and have-nots.  Of course Huck is a member of the poor whites, and even the poor whites expressed dominance over the blacks.  But changing ‘nigger’ to ‘slave’ changes the history of racial oppression in America to a history of economic inequality.

Secondly, in Huck Finn, Jim is Huck’s friend.  And yet, even their close, familial relationship is still tainted by the inherent prejudice in Huck’s language.  Even though he loves Jim, he can only refer to him in a pejorative way, always reminding the reader of the inherent racial barrier between them.  And while Huck is a child and Jim an adult, Huck’s language positions him above Jim – they cannot escape their racial identities and their racist society, even when alone on a raft.

But also, I’m a firm believer in the adage ‘those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.’  So we are obliged to remember what we have been capable of doing, lest we do it again.

But are we really in a post Racial world?  While our cartoonish images of Blackness have been diminished (although not removed entirely – reality television and rap music continue to predominantly present the spectacle of blacks as volatile, violent, sexually promiscuous and lazy), we have continued the use of the stereotype to construct other races.


The image of Kim Jhong-Il continues to use the archetypes of the Attack the Jap propaganda of the second world war.  ‘See the crazy tiny Asian man with the penchant for violence,’ the ads scream.

The image of the Islamic in contemporary media, is often reduced to a cartoonish scimitar wielding madman intent on violence.


Are these really the hallmarks of a post racial world?

We have a duty to remember the sins of our fathers and continue to address and keep striving to remedy our continued inequalities.  And yes, these terms are hurtful, they were hurtful when originally used.  But to remove the offending terms is to begin to erase our history of violence and is a means of promoting the lie that we are currently beyond prejudice.


So here we are, in our post racial world, and yet surrounded by the stereotyped image of otherness and so totally blind to these images as racially driven and promoting ideologies of hatred, fear and intollerance.  The lesson learned?  We can’t publish the word ‘nigger’ as it appeared in racist texts because it’s offensive, but to depict Arabs as crazed ‘rag heads’ is perfectly acceptable.

Post-racist my lily white ass.

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Quick quiz, what does this list signify?

China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, USA, Yemen, Sudan, Vietnam, Syria.

Got it yet?

These are the countries with the highest number of executions in 2009.  Of these eight countries, only one is currently classed as a country of the first world. North Korea fails to appear on the list, as they don`t disclose their number of executions and therefore cannot be counted. But, if we presume that North Korea similarly participates in executions and similarly belongs on this list, than where does the US fit in its relation to the so-called Axis of Evil?

And while Syria, Yemen and Sudan continue to practice female genital mutilation and clitoridectomies, America still executed more of its citizens than those three countries combined.

Here is the list in full, courtesy of Amnesty International.

China > 1000

Iran > 388

Iraq > 120

Saudi Arabia > 69

USA – 52

Yemen > 30

Sudan > 30

Vietnam > 9

Syria > 8

The US is the only country with a stable enough infrastructure to provide an accurate and verifiable list. The rest of these countries are still working on providing clean water to their citizens.

So why does America continue such practice which even countries like Burundi and Togo – a country that in the not too distant past practiced cannibalism – consider to be inhumane?

I frankly don`t know, I`ve yet to encounter a credible argument for it. But what is most appealing (er. surely appalling) about America`s particular affinity to this form of barbarism is that it is, of the countries which practice capital punishment, both the most creative and experimental in its ways of killing people. From hangings, to injections, to electrocutions and now firing squads, America is frankly medieval in the prosecution of its criminal class.

The land of the free – coincidentally the country with the world`s highest active prison population both in total and per capita. 0.75 percent of its population or roughly 2.3 million of its citizens, is currently housed in prisons, eclipsing China`s meager 1.6 million – seems to be completely at a loss as to what to do with its offenders.

And so it has really devised only one of two solutions. Either lock them up for such crimes as writing bad checks or using drugs, or execute.

According to the New York Times, April 23, 2008, (America) `has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)`

So what could possibly account for such high incarceration and execution rates? One possible answer is democracy. In a country in which judges are often elected officials, rather than government appointed civil servants, tough sentencing tends to be driven by popular sentiment rather than an impartial system designed to perform a task regardless of public opinion. So, lets just hope the Great American public doesn`t get a taste for firing squads and stonings.

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I`ve been watching with growing horror the seemingly unstoppable stream of oil gushing into the gulf of Mexico, and am very much unsurprised with BP`s inability to stop the flow.  But why can`t they stop the flow?  Surely this is their area of expertise, no?  Well, yes and no.  Their expertise is in the active exploration and drilling and collection of oil.  Not in the stoppage of oil.  Indeed, this would be entirely against their mandates, which is to secure oil for their rights of sale.  And so their solutions to the oil flow problem are inherently going to be counter to our best interests because a proper solution would be to so totally bury the burst pipe thereby making all that oil totally unaccessible.

There really is only one option, and that is to render the entire drill site unaccessible, which BP of course is not going to propose as a solution, as their bottom line, regardless of how big the current bill may be, is dependent on these vast oil reserves.  In the long term, regardless of how much oil escapes, that is still insignificant in relation to how much oil they can eventually extract from that well. And so rather than stopping the oil leak, they are trying to salvage their investment.

And so their so far failed solutions are to try to collect the oil rather than stop the flow.  The failed top hat and such were designed so that they could siphon off the oil from the leak and collect it in their tankers, thereby diverting the oil from the shores and into their pockets.   And here in lies the problem.  We, as people unconnected to the oil industry, are hoping for a solution that stops the leak, while they as the oil industry, are looking for a solution which minimizes their loss.  And so their solutions will always be least effective to OUR needs because they are trying to solve a different problem from that which we want solved – an end to unsafe deep water drilling.

But under what other circumstances do we permit the guilty party to come up with the resolution to their problems?  Do we allow murderers to come up with their own ways of compensating their victims?  Should we allow rapists to devise a way of comforting their victims?

While BP had no intentions of causing this leak, it was through their cost cutting, mismanagement and negligence that this leak occured, and so for precisely those reasons, they should be the LEAST suitable company tasked with the responsibility of repairing their damange.  But we often get mislead by the ideology of expertise.

It is precisely the same problem with the auto industry.  America has a problem with ENERGY dependency.  We all have a problem with global climate change and pollution.  One of the major contributors to this problem over the last hundred years, is the auto industry, an industry which is highly polluting in the manufacture of its product, a product which in turn creates a great deal of pollution.  So who do we look to for a solution to these problems of energy dependency and reduction of pollution?  The auto industry itself.  The very same industry which created the problem.

So as their solution they convince us to consume hybrid cars, or electric cars, and airheads like Gwyneth Paltrow tell us she bought a Prius cause she loves the earth, blithely assuming that the production of these cars is less polluting than the production of conventional autos.  In fact the reduction in pollutants is negligble.  We`ve replaced oil in the combustible engines, with Nickel Cadmium batteries, nickel that is extracted in Canada (a highly polluting process), then shipped to Japan (using conventional, high polluting shipping), manufactured into batteries in Japan, then shipped back to America, to be installed into the frame of a car.

Hardly a green option.

But surely the sollution to our energy dependency problems is not a question of what kind of car to drive, but rather, to use PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.  But Ford, Toyota, Honda et all., are hardly going to propose that you get off your ass and take a bus. And so we are provided with spurious solutions which turn out to be no solution at all.

And meanwhile the seas are getting darker, the storms are getting stronger, and we`re wringing our hands waiting and wondering when these corporate entitites which have put us into the shit, are going to get us out of it.

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Sarah Palin, Idiot or Genius?  (I'm going with dangerous fool)

Sarah Palin, Idiot or Genius? (I'm going with dangerous fool)

As early as 1937, the Institute of Propaganda Analysis was established as a means of combating propaganda and agitprop in America.  Edward Filene established a set of seven key propaganda techniques that are used to present a particular agenda.  Those techniques are highly powerful tools of persuasion, and even though it seems we should be able to recognize such obvious tactics of manipulation, they are still very much in use today.  It is clear, when examining the speeches of Sarah Palin, that her mass popularity is due largely to her exploitation of raw emotion and unthinking patriotism.  Such high passions, when stoked by political propagandistic rhetoric, can develop a huge following.

Filene’s seven techniques of propaganda are as follows:

Name Calling:  Can be subtle, from politically charged negative connotations regarding policy; to outright overt slander.  Such terms in American politics as ‘socialist’ can be seen as rather benign, to the highly inflammatory ‘terrorist.’

Glittering Generalities:  Using desirable but vague terms, such as ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘Patriotism,’ ‘real.’  These terms have become meaningless in the ways they are deployed but have strong connotations of rightness and become impossible to argue against.  Such statements as ‘do you love freedom?’ are ridiculous, but the converse can only be ‘no, we hate freedom’

Transfer:  Transfer is the attachment of certain ideas and ideologies to other objects in order to borrow credence or affinity.  In the past, such icons as the flag, home, apple pie have been used as fetish objects for America, but in recently history the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become symbols of transference.  We also now have ‘main street’ as a source of expertise.

Testimonial:  Using spokespeople with certain authorities to provide testimony lends credence to an argument, even when that testimonial is irrelevant to the proposed position.  For example, Palin aided the Republican ticket by bringing to it an association with working mothers.  Her experiences as a working mother presented the Republican party with an avenue to a large number of conservative wives who may not have felt any attachment to John McCain.  Her testimonial was a cynical attempt to appeal to a large voter demographic that the Republicans have often alienated.

Plain Folks:  Invoking plain folks is a way that many politicians connect to ordinary voters.  Politicians who may have been raised in elite backgrounds will often remove their suits and be seen wearing working class clothes or be photographed in working class environments in an attempt to be seen as representing folks from ordinary working environments.

Card Stacking:  Often politicians will only present one side of an argument, perhaps exposing the flaws of an opponents policies, without addressing how these flaws can be fixed or how the opposing candidate would service such an issue.  The republicans have spent a great deal of time attacking the Democratic health care reforms, without devoting any time to addressing the very real problems with the current health care system.

Band Wagon:  The notion that ‘everyone’ agrees with certain policies and that the majority is right.  Presenting certain belief systems as natural and desirable convinces that those who disagree are in the minority and are by their minority status, implicitly wrong.

While Sarah Palin is not a good orator at all, she has been well schooled by the Republican party in the art of propaganda, and it is clear that she has been groomed to naturally deploy classic propaganda techniques.  She regularly, in all of her speeches, utilizes all seven of these techniques throughout both her campaign and currently in the teaparty meetings.  From her statements that Obama ‘pals around with terrorists’ has ‘death panels’ and is a ‘socialist;’ her frequent use of meaningless but politically potent terms like ‘freedom,’ ‘real America’ and ‘grassroots;’ her use of symbols like her down home Alaska ‘main street’ to give her credibility as a spokesperson for average Americans;  her testimonials from ‘real’ people like ‘Joe the Plumber;’ her constant allusions to herself as a plain ole’ hockey mom;’ her misrepresentations of Democratic policy (it was she who invented the health care ‘death panels’) ; and finally her constant attending of the Tea Parties and affirmations that this is a growing concern for real Americans.  It is clear that Palin is using highly exploitative techniques to further her political agenda.

This can be seen very clearly in her recent closing keynote address at the Nashville Tea Party Convention, on February 06, 2010.  By examining Palin’s address, we can see, using Palin’s own words, how she is indeed is a masterful propagandist.

Before she begins her speech, she states to the crowd ‘god bless you,’ reaffirming her allegiance to the Christian Right.  Of course, this is a form of transference, borrowing authority from both God and the Christian institutions.  Note, however, it is the generalized ‘god bless you’ so as not to alienate those of differing sects of Christianity.  She never says ‘thanks to Jesus’ and never invokes different saints, which would identify her as belonging to a specific sect of Christianity.  Instead, her invocation of god is an all encompassing, inclusive (generic and thereby meaningless) usage.

The first statement of her speech is ‘I’m so proud to be an American,’ again, a statement that in itself has no meaning, but can be interpreted as being opposed to Michelle Obama famously stating ‘for the first time, I’m really proud to be an American.’  Palin’s use of the phrase is a totally unqualified statement, implying that just being American is a source of pride and that one need not do anything to actively participate in that pride.  This is another form of transference.

Her second statement is ‘Do you love your freedom?’  This, of course, is a glittering generality,a nonsense statement that has no meaning, but is ideologically powerfully loaded.  The implication is that democrats are a threat to freedom, and that she is an arbiter of freedom.  That those who attend the teaparty are freedom lovers, those who oppose the teaparty are by default, freedom haters.

Her next statement is to thank those who have, past or present, served their country in the armed forces.  This is again, transference, taking support and implied testimonial from those who have fought in war.  So far we are three statements into a speech, and she has managed to deploy five different instances of propaganda, and her speech has another 45 minutes remaining.  She then, once again, states ‘I’m so proud to be an American.’

Finally, she states ‘Happy Birthday Ronald Regan (another instance of transference and an implicit endorsement given by a dead man), before starting her speech proper (we’re only a minute and nineteen seconds is, folks).  She then goes on to make a joke about C-Span not being invited to attend closed door healthcare meetings, but she extends to C-span an invitation to the teaparty.  This, of course, is the bandwagon approach, giving a sense that the teaparty is inclusive, and the site of ‘real’ American grassroots politics.

She then turns her attention to Nashville itself, stating she is happy to be there, the home of great barbecue and country music, establishing her affinity for plain folks and plain folk cultural product. She then announces that she is speaking out for common sense, conservative principles.  Of course, the phrase common sense is a glittering generality.

She then states that America is ready for another revolution, and addressing the members of the teaparty itself, states that ‘you are a part of this,’ another example of bandwagon sentiment.  She follows this up by stating she is so happy to see ‘real people’ involved in politics, not ‘inside the beltway politicos,’ again the invocation of both plain folk and another glittering generality.

Two minutes into her speech, and it becomes clear that every single statement made is carefully planned as ideologically loaded and is scripted line by line, to include some strategy of propaganda.  Sarah Palin is not a smart woman, but she is a very dangerous woman because while having empty policies and no real direction for her campaign, she is skilled in deploying ideology and propaganda techniques.  Sadly, while not actually having any policies, she is ultimately using empty language; language that is ideologically loaded but signifying nothing, displaying no policies or even denoted meaning, but designed to arouse emotion, patriotism and anger, but not to effect any kind of change, progressive or otherwise.

Sarah Palin is an empty signifier, telling us nothing, but whipping up emotion and directing that emotion toward political ends, and in the long term that is more deadly than any form of terrorism.

For her full speech, please click the link below.

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Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea

Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea

Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, is a man that most have an opinion of.  Yet what is that opinion based on?  How have we come to our conclusions about the sanity/capabilities/health of this man?  He is a man who we really know little about.

Even our supposed ‘knowledge’ of his health is questionable.  He is a secretive man, leader of the most secretive regime on the planet.  His capital, in the centre of a closed country, is not accessible to us decadent westerners, and the few diplomats and journalists who have been granted access to Pyongyang were closely monitored in all reportings, recordings and were given guarded guided tours.  North Korea lays ownership to all knowledge of its state affairs.

Kim pulling strange faces, is a favourite subject in the media

In the media, Kim is lately being depicted as an unstable madman, a vulnerable man, suffering from ill health.  The imagery of him is often of a man pullling strange faces or looking dishevelled, or sporting a ludicrous haircut.  and yet the imagery of him is at the same time ambivalent, often contradicting itself.

In further images of Kim, he is presented as a strategic gamesman, holding the world to hostage or ransom, plotting publicity coups and having the world’s leaders bow to his whim.

A naked Kim, an incompetent madman?

holding the world Hostage

Kim as a dangerous thug, holding the world to ransom

Alternatively, Kim is presented as a strategist, able to get the world’s leaders to bow at his feet.  The fear that North Korea has nuclear capabilities has transformed the image of Kim from being incompetent buffoon, to deadly thug, able to destroy the world.  The knowledge of North Korean nuclear capabilities, coupled with the belief in Kim’s instability has created a mediated figure that is both incompetent and deadly.  He has become a cartoonish supervillain more suited for the pages of marvel comics than for front page news copy.

Kim manipulates democrats

Kim manipulates deomcrats, and has the Clintons (and by association, the Obama administration) at his feet

The symbolism with Clinton is clear, and promotes a Republican belief that democrats (represented by Bill Clinton in this image) and by association, Hillary and the Obama administration, are soft on terror, that they cater to the whims of terrorists and that Kim is a dangerous gamesman, able to manipulate geopolitics.

But how do we know the things we know about North Korea?  What channels of knowledge does this information pass through and get filtered by, until it reaches us?North Korea has one close ally, it is bordered by China, and due to a shared communist history, has some remaining diplomatic ties.  All of our knowledge of North Korea, then, comes from Chinese Intelligence agencies.  These of course, are managed by the Chinese Communist Party.  China often shares its intelligence of North Korea with South Korea, a country that is still in the midst of a cold war with North Korea.  Any intelligence shared by China with South Korea is then tempered by China’s desire to maintain trade and political ties with North Korea.  Consequently, great diplomacy must be exercised by China in its trading of information.  South Korea is a trade and military partner with the United states, and South Korea shares military intelligence with the American government.  That information will be passed by the United States military (after examination, filtering and further censorship) to reporters and journalists.

The end result is that any and all information that is known about North Korea, is not uncovered by investigative journalists (remember the fate of those two women journalists who last year ventured into North Korean teritory?  They were quickly picked up and held for several weeks) but rather is filtered, manipulated and transformed by several stages of censorship at the international level, until we have our end product, an ambivalent gestalt of a man who is both mad and a gamesman, harmless and deadly, vulnerable in a human way, and inhuman in an animalistic manner.

Kim as Cartoonish Nightmare

Kim as cartoonish nightmare

Our image of Kim Jong -Il then becomes nothing more than cartoonish fantasy where we have constructed him as an imbecillic thug, blindly leading his country into famine and disaster or else a genius strategist capable of leading his people into world destruction and conquest (surely those two portraits are incompatible, no?)

Update.  Indeed, so little is known about Kim’s health, that two years after his 2008 stroke, there is still speculation as to the cause and severity of his disease.  According to South Korean political analysts, Kim may (or may not) have chronic kidney failure (it is known he has diabetes), judging by the paleness of his fingernails.  The full article can be accessed at the Times website.

Here’s the link:


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