Posts Tagged ‘Ideology’

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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Well, this last year has been a mighty strange one, but never did I imagine such culture shock at returning to Canada.

The most shocking thing to me about contemporary North American society is its peculiar attitude to food.  I’ve been out of Canada for the last 8 years, living four and a half years in England, and then three in South East Asia.  My first port of call back in Canada was a large supermarket chain.  At some point in the last few years, small supermarkets have become a thing of the past, and now all grocery shopping is done is buildings about the size of a football arena.   But the most appalling thing about this attitude toward food, is the packaging of it all.  Food in the West seems to me to be something so heavily processed that it no longer actually resembles food.

Having spent the last eight years buying my meat exclusively from butchers, and fruit andveg from farmers markets and green grocers where things do not come pre-washed, pre-picked, trimmed and packaged, I find the amount of food waste in the west grossly offensive.  When we have gotten to a point where only boneless-skinless chicken breasts are available, and kidneys, liver, tripe and heart cannot be purchased, I’m left wondering why and how North Americans have become so terrified of food in its raw state, and yet ironically at the same time so much of this commercially processed product is being marketed as ‘natural.’  ‘Natural’ but completely divorced from its natural state.

So, here is my first film in a series of video blogs about ideology in contemporary life.

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The final apprenti smugly beaming to camera

The Celebrity Apprentice is a very odd show, one I find strangely compelling while simultaneously detesting every single smug second of Donald Trump`s increasingly strange shaped head and vulcanized hairdo (which his two smarmy spawn sons seem to have inherited).  The premise of the show is simple (er, actually its bizarrely convoluted).  A dozen or so `celebrities` – a very generous extension of the term there – with contestutants (yes, my freshly coined neo-logism) ranging in fame from disgraced senator Rod Blagojovich to someone who may or may not have competed in the Beijing Olympics but her personality is so non-existent that I frankly don`t care if she quickly swam through a pool in China or Australia.  Or through a swamp in Belize for that matter.

But I ramble.  These pseudo-celebs whose major achievement in most cases seems to be aggressive self-promotion, are weekly tasked to perform a pointless campaign which strikes me as little more than a heavily sponsored product placement for some lucrative but absolutely useless service, from some expensive personal data security service called `life-lock`, a service so completely befuddling that even the president of the company had great difficulty explaining or even being aware of what it is, to a rapid plumbing service that guarantees they will be on time with a cash back promise.  Finally, a service that treats fixing my oft broke commode like it’s a pizza.

But what is so deeply astonishing and disturbing about this show, is the petty nastiness with which the celebrities treat one another.  They have become so thoroughly narcissistic that every tiny interruption of their single minded attention to themselves brings down their full wrath upon each others` pin-heads.  In this last week`s episode, one character (I shall call her a character, as I don`t think there is any genuine person cast in this show) dared to steal a slice of pizza from another team.  This pizza was most likely provided gratis by the show`s producers, but quite possibly a tiny amount of one of these over paid star`s personal budget, and yet the sour faced misery that such a petty act conjured up was almost beyond belief.

And herein lies the ideology.  The Celebrity (sic) Apprentice is a show that ostensibly tries to be about the `real` world of business and finance.  And it fully lives the attitude that the world is a `dog eat dog` environment.  Contestants are selected and groomed based on their fulfillment of the show`s ideological worldview that business and that society functions best through competition and consequently through nastiness and pre-emptive attack.  The show presents and normalizes the attitude that petty self interest, that vindictiveness and spite, are all simply a part of the day to day business of accruing massive personal wealth despite that wealth being to the detriment of competition, neighbors and even teammates.  No wonder America is in deep financial crisis.  If American society and values have been headed unchecked in the direction of such aggressive personal self interest that every action is approached as a personal affront even when it comes down to sharing a slice of free pizza, then we`re all well and truly fucked.

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So I’ve examined the seven techniques of propaganda and how they have been used in political rallies and how to sway a society.  But that is not all there is to propaganda.  These techniques were developed in the 1930s, a period before television was broadcasting endlessly in peoples homes.  In the intervening years propaganda has developed substantially more sophisticated techniques.  The first modern academic to question the ways in which propaganda, and its more subtle cousin ideology take hold, was Louis Althusser.

For Althusser, society controls its people in two ways – through Repression and through Ideology.  Some would argue that money is the great controlling factor – that wages give us incentive to work – but when we look at a society closely, it seems that many people believe in institutions that don’t necessarily help them.  There are instances of factory workers who oppose unions, when unions work for the express benefit of the workers.  There are low income earners who favour withdrawal of government services, when it is those very services (schooling, healthcare, government unemployment plans) that most benefit low wage workers.  Althusser argues that these ambivalences occur because of ideology.

Althusser argues that society controls through two means, through force and through coercion.  There are RSAs, or Repressive state apparati – these are things like the legal system, schools, courts, prisons and even corporate bosses.  When a person becomes an agitator, or defies the belief systems of the majority, the repressive state apparati intervenes and corrects behaviour.  This means a teacher will punish an unruly student (speaking out of turn is not allowed) a policeman will arrest a drug dealer (non-government approved product is not tolerated), courts will sentence law breakers through confinement or even death.

The second way society takes control is through collusion – that is the shaping of peoples’ thoughts, and this is done through repetition and reinforcement.  Television, radio, newspapers – products that spread information – are called ‘ideological state apparati.’  Hollywood regularly gives us imagery of beautiful people, reinforcing for us that beauty is a more desirable trait than intelligence.  Much media displays wealth conspicuously, causing us to regard wealth as similarly a desirable life goal.  We become indoctrinated into these values through repetition and association of those images with happiness.

But the media works in a much more subtle way than this.  If we were only shown imagery of people who are better looking than us, richer than us, and happier than us, we would just mope around in a kind of jealous depression and simply stop consuming the media.  It would be too depressing to watch beautiful people cavorting about on their yachts if we honestly felt that we could NEVER join them and that our lives are inescapably dull and unsatisfying while those happy people have no troubles.  So the media plays a nasty trick.  It shows us stuff that we are expected to want, and then reminds us of how unhappy those who have attained wealth and beauty, are!  We are fed images of Jennifer Anniston as a person to emulate and to desire both to possess and be like, but then we are reminded of how she cannot maintain a stable relationship – perhaps her life isn’t so grand.  We are given images of lavish wealth, and then told ‘but money doesn’t buy happiness.’  We learn that while Angelina Jolie is a fantastic megastar with a lovely lifestyle and money and a handsome husband, she’s also batshit crazy.  In short, we are given images of a lifestyle to desire, but then when we discover it is an unobtainable lifestyle, are told that those who have obtained it are not so happy.  Perhaps we’re better off as we are.

So ideology pulls us in through presenting two sides of an argument, and insisting those are the ONLY POSSIBLE OPTIONS.  It is precisely because ideology is ambivalent (pulling us in two directions) that we fall for it and cease to look for alternative lifestyles (socialism, collectivism, feudalism, etc) presenting those two flawed lifestyles (poor but happy, rich but sad) as the only possible outcomes and presented as ‘just the way life is.’

For a practical example, lets look at the television show Survivor.  For those who may not know the show, several people from different socio-economic backgrounds are grouped into two teams and stranded on a desert island.  Then from week to week, members of the ‘tribes’ are voted off in seemingly democratic votes.  Whomever is left on the island at the end of 40 days wins a million dollars.

There are two teams and they're labelled as heroes and villains. Note the military effect from the presence of the helicopters.

So far so straightforward and fair.  And yet, the show is inherently unfair.  The show exposes democracy as nothing more than myth, as players can win or steal immunities from votes, players beg borrow and manipulate each other for favours and alliances and in short, do everything they can to make the entire process as undemocratic as possible to ensure their chances at the prize money.  And so the show manages to have it both ways, it is highly ambivalent, both positing the benefits of a capitalism that is an implied meritocracy (the winner is announced as the person who has ‘outplayed, outwitted and outlasted’ the others) while simultaneously reaffirming the very reality that democracies are inherently unfair. This results in having an ideological effect, wherein we watch the show and it justifies our position in society – if we are not as rich as we would like to be, we are compensated by the dual knowledges that perhaps we have what we’ve earned and shall have more if we continue to work hard, and also tempering our angers by providing to us proof of how unfair life and this world can be.  It justifies the attitude that it’s a ‘dog eat dog’ world, but then reinforces the myth that those who are talented and capable will get ahead.

So, tv tells us to want money, risk everything, pack up all our shit, go live on a desert island, compete, cheat, steal, do whatever it takes to get ahead, or alternatively, don’t cause life’s not fair and only cheaters ever really get ahead, and that bastard is gonna win it all, because he’s got everyone fooled and the good people, they don’t really stand a chance, but if you really wanna be rich, you should seize life by its balls, or not and stay at home and you can watch all the drama unfold in the comfort of your own home, but whatever you do, DON’T STOP WATCHING!

And go buy some seven up and hotdogs.

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