Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

Shopping for Freedom: Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

United Natures Media (2019)

Film Review

Shopping for Freedom is best described as an illustrated podcast about the legacy of Edward Bernays, the father of the public relations industry. It’s intended to remind us of the subtle way public relations and propaganda influence our culture to the point we only imagine we have free choice in the items we purchase.

The film has no background narrative. The sound track is a casual conversation between the hosts of Ashes Ashes, a podcast about the “end of the world.” Meanwhile we are bombarded with priceless archival footage of early TV ads and the propaganda news reels shown in schools and movie theaters in the fifties and sixties.

The footage begins with the propaganda films Bernays produced in the early fifties to win popular support for the CIA-backed coup to overthrow Guatemala’s elected government – at the behest of United Fruit Company (to protect its monopoly control of the banana industry)

The film goes on to describe Bernays’ work under Woodrow Wilson promoting US entry into World War I, and the new science of psychological persuasion as described in the former’s 1928 book Propaganda.

The hosts go on to give illustrated examples of Bernays’ successful campaigns – to increase smoking among women and consumption of nutritionless breakfast cereals and to shame working class women who got married without diamond engagement rings or wore the same dress more than once a week.*

Intriguingly the filmmakers also insert several one second “subliminal” messages inserted into the video, which the hosts never comment on. I saw “You are enough” flashed twice, three one-second Coke ads, and “eco-capitalism” flashed once.

The film concludes by recommending viewers question all their choices. Most people claim not to be influenced by advertising. In most cases, however, many of us are unaware of habits (such as buying diamond engagement rings) the PR industry has elevated into cultural norms. In all their decisions, people need to ask themselves, “Is someone trying to sell me something?”


*Bernays was also hired by ALCOA in the mid-forties to run a campaign to dispose of toxic fluoride waste by persuading municipalities to add it to their public water systems. See Edward Bernays: Father of Water Fluoridation

 

 

Inside North Korea

A Northern Korean Diary

DW (2017)

Film Review

In this documentary, Austrian journalist Luco Fazio takes us on a tour of North Korea. Fazio, who has visited the country seven times in 15 years, includes some footage from prior visits.

Although Fazio is always accompanied by an official “minder,” he observes obvious trends in North Korean society that are hard to conceal. The first is the steady growth of a North Korean middle class that is increasingly independent of state authority. This is clear from a growing cohort of well-off North Korean women adopting western dress, a boom in supermarkets featuring western foods and other luxury items and even occasional concerts featuring western artists.*

In North Korea, blue collar workers earn an average salary of 80 euros a month in addition to their food ration. A combination of severe western sanctions and the loss of agricultural land to drought and flooding has led to chronic malnutrition for many residents. According to Fazio, this is reflected in the shorter stature of North Koreans when compared to their South Korean counterparts.

The most interesting part of the film is a brief visit he pays to a Russian Orthodox Church and his interview with its Korean-born priest.

Where Fazio is allowed to speak to ordinary workers, they all express a strong desire to see North Korea reunified with South Korea.

At present, the US is determined to block Korean reunification (which will significantly strengthen China both economically and politically) by any means necessary. This is likely the real reason behind the current western sanctions regime. See Down the Old Memory Hole: How Bush Jr Quashed the Movement for Korean Unification


*Up until a few years ago, western music could only be found in karaoke bars catering to western tourists – and North Koreans found with South Korean films or CDs could be sent to concentration camps.

 

 

 

 

 

The Psychobabble Theory of Assassination

Age of Assassins: The Loners, Idealists and Fanatics Who Conspired to Change the World

Faber and Faber (2013)

Book Review

In essence this book is an encyclopedia of modern day assassinations. In addition to providing comprehensive details of more than a dozen political murders, Newton proposes a general theory of what motivates assassins. In my view, this aspect of the book is a total failure. Mainly because it largely omits compelling evidence of US intelligence/military complicity in the assassinations of Malcolm X, JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and John Lennon and the attempted assassinations of Reagan, Ford, George Wallace and John Paul II.

I also have a problem with Newton’s assertion that the era of assassinations began with the Lincoln assassination. Assassination via poisoning dates back to Roman times at least.

According to Newton, the Lincoln assassination inspired the Russian Nihilist movement and their numerous assassination attempts (which were ultimately successful) against czar Alexander II.

The Nihilists, in turn, inspired the Irish nationalists and the “propaganda of the deed” (see Why Social Studies Never Made Sense in School: The History of Anarchism ) tendency of the anarchist movement. The result would be a wave of attempted and completed assassinations across Europe and in the US.

The book contains a long section on the life of US anarchist Emma Goldman and the attempted assassination oshe plotted with her lover Alexander Berkman on Henry Clay Frick (hired by Carnegie to break the steel workers union) s. Although she would later renounce violence, her huge public following (according to Newton) would inspire Leon Czolgosz to assassinate president William McKinley.

The book devotes a long chapter to the rise of Serbian nationalism, the Black Hand and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the purported cause of World War I. It devotes numerous pages to the Armenian genocide by Ottoman rulers and several assassination attempts against Roosevelt and Truman.

I found the later chapters, beginning with the assassination of John Kennedy, a big disappointment. In my view, this section of the book is pure pop psychology and psychobabble.

Newton identifies three primary motives for assassination:

1) A desire to end the suffering engendered by capitalist greed.

2) The drive for violent retribution in reaction to other killings.

3) A desire to smash the state and other authoritarian structures.

This leaves out all the lone nut assassinations – in which misfits try to murder prominent political figures for no apparent reason at all. Except for the JFK assassination (Newton acknowledges Oswald had accomplices* ). Newton seems to be a strong supporter of the lone nut theory of assassination. He blames the rise of lone nut assassins on deep seated decay and alienation in US society, which he believes is aggravated by the motion picture industry.


*Based on an acoustical recording obtained from a Dallas police microphone, the 1978 House Committee on assassinations ascertain that Oswald had to have at least one accomplice. See  https://spartacus-educational.com/JFKassassinationsC.htm

.

 

The Electronic Whorehouse

The Electronic Whorehouse

by Paul Sheehan

McMillan Australia (2003)

Although 15 years old, this book offers valuable historical insight into the major transformation of traditional media in the 21st century. Paul Sheehan is a columnist and former senior editor for for The Sydney Morning Herald. His book is pretty wide ranging. As a point of departure, he examines the simultaneous rise of Fox News and Alex Jones, just as total network news viewership dropped from 60 to 30%, with a comparable reduction in newspaper readership.

One of Sheehan’s most important points is that the rise of the Internet has ended exclusive control by politicians, bureaucrats, media executives and journalists over the flow of public information. A second relates to the role of Fox News in forging a divergence between the “cultural elite” (represented by the traditional TV networks and CNN) and “mainstreet.” In describing Fox News’ appeal to blue collar white workers and Christian evangelists (almost never reflected in network news coverage – despite representing 46% of the US population), Sheehan eerily foreshadows the Trump phenomenon and the battle currently being played out between Trump and heritage media.

Sheehan goes on to decry the growing blurring between news, opinion and entertainment, as well as the exponential growth of the public relations industry as the source of most western news.

His conservative political bias comes across loud and clear in his diatribe against so-called “economic” refugees*, who he claims cheat the asylum process, and antiglobalization protestors (like myself), who in his view are merely trade unions playing the system for higher wages.

Oh really? That’s news to me – and I’m sure to conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan, as well.


*With the chaos the US and allies have inflicted on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the distinction between “economic” and “political” refugees has become purely arbitrary. When the basic infrastructure of a society has been totally destroyed, the question of basic survival becomes even more acute than if a refugee has received actual death threats.

 

 

Colonizing the Third World via Appearance Marketing

The Illusionists

Directed by Elena Rossini

Film Review

The Illusionists is about cultural globalization and the colonization of the third world via appearance marketing. The westernized image of whiteness and thinness is aggressively marketing through out the world as synonymous with power.

The effect of this marketing is to continuously bombard women with messages that their appearance is unsatisfactory – to convince them the way they look is all that matters, that no one will love them if they aren’t sexy and that anyone can be beautiful and sexy if they work at it and purchase enough beauty and weight loss products.

I was amazed to learn of all the skin whitening products being sold in Japan, India and Africa. To my immense astonishment Lebanon, where 1/3 of all women undergo it, is the plastic surgery capital of the world.

The most concerning segment concerns the deliberate sexualization of preschool children in marketing campaigns that, in my view, amount to soft porn. In addition to marketing make-up and lingerie to preschoolers, the ultimate goal of such campaigns is to “eroticize” shopping for young girls.

Brave Girls Alliance is a grassroots group started by teenagers campaigning to end the role of Wall Street corporations in defining beauty standards. See Brave Girls Take Back the Media

This film can’t be embedded but can be viewed for free at Films for Action

In No Way the Alt-Left: Dispelling Disinformation About Antifa

Antifa Handbook Author Discusses Rose of AntiFa Movement

C-SPAN Washington Journal (2017)

The following is an excellent C-SPAN presentation by Mark Bray, author of The AntiFa Handbook. Bray himself isn’t an Antifa member, but an historian and professor at Dartmouth. He’s a Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors and credits this for his interest in AntiFa.

He describes AntiFa as being a diverse network of groups dedicated to collective self-defense against neo-Nazi and fascist street violence.

He traces the movement back to the 1930s when Nazis were first coming to power in Germany and fascists in Italy. There was a resurgence in AntiFa organizing in the US and Europe in the 1980s, in response to Nazi skinhead attacks at punk concerts and gatherings.

He refutes the pervasive claim that Geroge Soros is financing AntiFa, based on the fact the name doesn’t refer to a single organization but a loose-knit network of many disparate groups with no central leadership.*

He also disputes the common assertion by the media and traditional “liberal” groups and spokespeople (eg Chris Hedges and the ACLU) that fighting hate speech and organized violence against vulnerable groups amounts to the suppression of free speech or left wing fascism.

He argues that traditional “liberal” methods of suppressing fascist violence have never worked. He also points to German and Italian history to make the point that organized neo-Nazi and fascist violence becomes extremely dangerous once a national leader like Trump begins to endorse it. This type of official advocacy can make it grow really quickly, which is why it’s especially important to stop it when it’s small.

The Q&As are the best part of the presentation, especially when Bray explains the concept of preemptive self-defense and the importance of protecting vulnerable immigrants and minorities when the police fail to do so.


*I have traced the factual basis of this claim. It originates from the discovery that an NGO called Alliance for Justice – which chooses to self-identify with the Antifa movement – advertised for paid protestors for an antifascist protest against Alt-Right organizer Milo Yannopoulos in Berkeley. In 2016 the Soros-funded Tides Foundation donated $50,000 (out of their $2.2 million budget) to Alliance for Justice (AFJ). To stretch this into a claim that Soros is financing Antifa is ludicrous.

The 1936 Spanish Revolution – A Pro-Capitalist View

The Spanish Civil War

BBC (1983)

This is the first of two posts concerning the 1936 Spanish Revolution – which the US and its western allies refer to as the Spanish Civil War. This BBC documentary offers a more or less conventional pro-capitalist interpretation of events. Tomorrow I will post an alternative view by Spanish anarchists who actively participated in the revolution.

Ironically, although Spain was the birthplace of guerilla warfare,* Stalin (the only foreign leader willing to sell them arms) forced the Spanish Republic to engage in a conventional war against overwhelmingly superior forces.

Owing to the massive grassroots mobilization behind the Republic, guerilla warfare would have had a far greater chance of success (as it ultimately did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan).

When Franco ultimately crushed Spain’s first republic in 1939, it would result in a brutal fascist dictatorship lasting 36 years.

Part 1 describes

  • the non-violent fall of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, resulting in the establishment of Spain’s second Republic
  • land reform of a semi-feudal system in which landless peasants lived in virtual slavery
  • the creation of 10,000 non-church schools in a country with 50% illiteracy
  • declaration of emancipation of women and home rule for Catalonia and the Basque region

Part 2 describes

  • the 1934 takeover of the Republic’s governing coalition by fascists, who repealed most land and other reforms
  • the success of socialists, communists and anarchists in winning back the government in 1936 as the United Front
  • the move by 60,000 landless peasants to retake 3,000 farms they lost between 1934-36
  • the coup launched by Franco and thousands of Arab troops and Spanish legionaries from Spanish Morocco
  • how the grassroots resistance led by Spain’s one million anarchists became a revolution, in which they formed revolutionary committees to organize and arm the resistance and seized factories, which they turned into workers cooperatives, and to redistribute food and other necessities which they distribute to the poor.
  • how effective civilian resistance held back Franco’s forces, confining them to regions to the north and west of Madrid for nearly three years.

Part 3 describes

  • how Mussolini and Hitler supported Franco with arms, funding and troops, while western Europe and the US signed a pact of “non-intervention” – allowing Roosevelt to sell Texas oil to Franco but prohibiting any western country to supply fuel or arms to the Republic.
  • how only the Soviets came to the Republic’s assistance by selling them weapons (for Spanish gold), providing air cover and coordinating the International Brigades – 40,000 international volunteers from more than a dozen countries (including most of Europe, Australia and the US).

Part 4 examines Franco’s background and that of the right wing groups that supported his coup.

Part 5 examines life inside the revolution and how Stalin’s agents and supporters in the Republican government systematically crushed it – by murdering anarchist leaders and launching a formal battle (lasting five days and leaving 500 dead) against anarchist forces in Barcelona.

Part 6 covers Franco’s final defeat of Republican forces after Stalin withdrew his support for the Republic (to pacify Hitler). It also examines the irony of Stalin and the communists forcing the Republic to wage a conventional war they couldn’t possibly win – in the country that invented guerilla warfare.


*The term was first used in 1808, when Spanish guerillas repelled Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. It refers to the use of a small, mobile force competing against a larger, more unwieldy one.

 

 

 

 

Escape from the Cult of Materialism

Escape from the Cult of Materialism

Fair Wind Films (2016)

Film Review

This strange little documentary develops the premise that materialism (the pressure to buy stuff we don’t want or need) is actually a cult.

It argues that like a cult

  1. Our culture is hijacked by sophisticated rituals and symbols that bear little resemblance to our genuine needs.
  2. The materialistic belief system imposed on us destroys our relationship with the environment and each other.
  3. This system pressures us to ignore contradictory views and any activism against it is punished.
  4. Leaders encourage us to focus on external threats (ie Muslims, immigrants, etc) to keep us from recognizing contradictions in the current system.
  5. Our materialistic belief system operates purely for the leaders’ benefit.

The filmmakers go on to trace the history of forced materialism and the brief rebellion against it (the hippy movement) in the 1960s.

The solution they offer – forcing ourselves to focus on Plato’s concept of idealism – strikes me as a bit too abstract for a mainstream audience. However they offer some good examples of millenials rejecting materialism in favor of strong interpersonal relationships and community.

 

How Western Society Traumatizes Boys

 

The Mask You Live In

Jennifer Sibel Newsom (2015)

Film Review

Last night Māori TV showed the Mask You Live In – a documentary about the constant social pressure boys feel to conform to an arbitrary standard of masculinity – and the deep emotional trauma caused by the experience.

Growing up in western society, the greatest fear most boys experience is that they will be found to be weak or “feminine.” The constant pressure (often via school bullying) they experience to “prove” their masculinity forces them to reject all manner of experiences that are artificially labeled as “feminine,” ie sensitivity, self reflection, emotional closeness and intimacy, etc.

The numerous psychologists, educators, coaches and youth advocates featured in the documentary all note a sudden change in boys around 15-16, causing them to suddenly abandon close friendships with other boys. It’s precisely at the point where emotional expression totally drops out of their language that drug and alcohol use, suicide and gang membership skyrockets.

In my view, the best segments of the film are of all boy’s/all men’s groups in schools and prisons that support members in exploring the deep trauma they have experienced from this immense cultural pressure to “man up.”

The film, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed for free at the Māori TV website:

 The Mask You Live In

The State Department/CIA Psy-Op Against North Korea

The Haircut – A North Korean Adventure

Hokusai Films (2017)

Film Review

The Haircut is a 20-minute classic Aussie satire exposing the blatant western propaganda aimed at demonizing North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. Prior to seeing this film, it never occurred to me that constant propaganda churned out about Kim Jung Un is virtually identical to the psy-ops painting Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega and Bashar al-Assad as insane monsters – and used to justify US invasion of their countries.

The video begins by reviewing jathe US-directed split of Korea in 1945 (similar to the US-British directed split of India-Pakistan and of Vietnam) to thwart the establishment of a unified nationalist socialist government unfriendly to western interests. Following the Korean War (1950-53), land reforms (ie returning land to landless peasants) continued under North Korean leader Kim Jung Il. Meanwhile South Korea was placed under the control of a US puppet dictator. South Korean troops remained under the control of the US military until 1994, a year after the South Korean people overthrew the last US-installed dictator (see The Long US War Against the Third World).

The filmmakers proceed to expose a number of specific lies the CIA, State Department and corporate media aggressively propagate to portray North Korea as a dangerous rogue state, starting with the myth that all North Korean men are required to wear their hair like Kim Jung Un. They trace this particular psy-op back to the CIA’s own Radio Free Asia – which credits the claim to “unnamed sources.”

They go on to examine the oft repeated slur about North Korean prison camps, pointing out that no country in the world comes close to the US record for imprisoning its population.

The film finishes with an actual visit to various North Korean tourist sites.