ESSAY — War of the Words

Image from Wikipedia Commons

Image from Wikipedia Commons

Stuff sells.

Somebody out there wants to buy whatever you’re selling, as long as you dress it up right. Advertising is powerful, and subversive, and a part of everyday life.

Most people are used to goods and services being sold – and have developed a pretty thick skin in the face of the adman’s pitch. What we’re not used to is the constant bombardment of ideas that are being consumed at lightening speed, around the globe. We have little time to process meaning or truth (all truths being relative) and go with a vague gut instinct, a ‘sounds about right to me’ way of understanding the world.

Which leads us to political rhetoric.

And that is truly scary – somehow or other, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, despite the throngs turned out to protest his inauguration and in such that the numbers of protestors far exceeded those attending the ceremony itself.

Clearly he’s not a popular guy, but he did win the popular vote. And that’s where things get weird.

The protests in themselves aren’t scary – it’s the voices defending Trump as president that drift into the weird zone. Defenders use short, statements that rely on simplistic truths and strange flips of logic and impositions of power on others. (I’m not going to discuss them all, just a couple common ones.)

Assertions stating that ‘he is your president’ and statements of ‘shut up and entertain us (act/play music/ write books) because we pay you to’ do a few things. They lay an implied claim upon the intended audience – a sense of ownership, and as such, the audience must perform in some way. The ‘he really is your president’ relies on a distorted notion of citizenship and patriotism – he is your president, your leader, and therefore you must respect his authority.

Uh, no thanks, I don’t. I can think what I’d like, because (a) I’m a Canadian, and he’s really not my president, and (b) even if he was, I’d be protected under the Constitution, and have the freedom to think and believe what I want.

(And honestly, if you know me at all, you’d know that no matter what, I’d question any kind of authority, never mind respect it. But I digress.)

The whole point of a democracy is so that the people themselves have a say in the system, their voices will be heard, and the right to dissenting opinions is respected (so long as they don’t impose on the rights of others.) Think the good ol’ American right to life, liberty, and freedom.

So, I can say and think what I want, and memes from Trump supporters aren’t going to change that.

But – and here’s the big but – it’s not about me, as the intended audience. Sure, I am anti-Trump. But his supporters don’t really care about convincing me – they care about convincing themselves (which is why the statements empower themselves, like claiming the ownership of entertainers. It’s a sort of anti-boogey man charm – you can’t hurt us, because we hold power over you.). They also care about convincing other less decisive voices, the sort of grey area of supporters, and by maintaining a strong image, the promote a decisive ideology of pro-patriotism (even if you don’t like the guy, you gotta respect him).

Sound familiar?

Think Nazi propaganda – identifying marginalized groups, purporting power of them through use of laws, words, and imagery, and maintaining that power at all costs.

Which is obvious when you see it in this context, but, in the world of memes and .05 second attention span, strange understandings become truths to uphold.

You must be patriotic, because otherwise you’re un-American.

We must learn to like Donald Trump, because he’s our president. (This relies on implied and absolute respect for authority, and adherence to patriotism as part of American identity and culture.)

Again, in this context, these statements are jarring instances of propaganda – but – they creep into memes and rapid fire social media discussion. And people, through lack of analysis, and unfamiliarity with this type of ‘advertising,’ and the cognitive demands of life in a fast-paced world – fall for it.

That is when the war of the words becomes truly terrifying – when people ‘on the fence’ about an issue (take Donald Trump for example) start to cave in through blanc mange justifications – sticky stuff, and without substance, but draws you through to the other side. And I’m seeing this in social media – people, very kind and well-intended, try to ‘make the best of things’, and accept ‘our new president’ for what he is.

And they’re turning.

This is where the true horror creeps in. People (formerly on the fence about an issue) start to slide toward one side or another, and the abhorrent nature of one side slowly dissolves into vague phrases and dreams of American ideology – apple pie, picket fences, and mom and pop.

Or, an Aryan race.

When you’re ‘trying to make the best of things’ and following a leader (because he’s your president, and to not do so would be ‘un-American’) you might find yourself going in a direction you never intended.

Don’t believe me?

Ask Germany.

*

This essay was based on my experiences writing advertising copy for various products and services, that are all a bunch of crap, but sold really well. Oh, and by the way, I’ve got some pink salt you might be interested in, mined from the ancient Himalayan mountains and imbued with holistic healing properties… and with no discernable difference between it and regular table salt – other than the price.

***

Liz McAdams is a short, sharp writer living in the wilds of Canada. Her work appears in the usual places, including Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey and scattered around Twisted Sister. You can check Liz out at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/

ALL WORK COPYRIGHT Liz McAdams (2017)

Image from Wikipedia Commons

 

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