Some great connections...
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Is the Pope Catholic? Some notes on 'spin'
You know that joke, "Is the Pope Catholic?" It's a phrase used to archly refer to something that's self-evident. Except that what's self-evident to me, is often not self-evident to the next person. I'd have thought, for example, that there was no question about whether a Catholic is a Christian. Catholics, after all, think that they are members of the "one true" Church: they believe that the heads (those same popes) of that Church descend in a straight line from Saint Peter. However, fsjl informs me that, for black folk where he lives, a Christian is a Baptist or an Evangelical, and most certainly not a Catholic. (I hope I'm not misrepresenting what you said, fragano!) I don't know what that makes of all the churches, other than the Baptists and Evangelicals, that believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer of humankind, but there you have it. In Jamaica, it was once held by some that a woman who was a Christian would not straighten her hair – another, and very interesting, definition of 'Christian'! This isn't really a post about religion. It's a post about packaging, propaganda – what's nowadays called 'spin'. 'Spin' is by its nature invidious, that is, meant to cause resentment and hatred. It’s a good word for the activity it describes. It means that admen, political handlers, biased journalists and packagers turn us round and round so fast with their false or carefully slanted information and carefully concocted images that we believe what they say because we’re so dizzy with being turned round and round! As they do their jobs, spinners are having a laugh at those for whose consumption they are 'spinning' things. They know that the purpose of spin is to set us at one another's throats, Democrats against Republicans, blues against reds, Left against Right, meat eaters against vegetarians, creationists against evolutionists, free marketers against regulators, capitalists against – well, once it was communists, but that one has kind of broken down, hasn't it? We really should not allow our intelligences to be violated in this way. Here’s an example: the admen for the Conservatives in Canada put Stephen Harper in a blue sweater and film him sitting comfortably in a homey place and the public for whom he is being 'spun' are supposed to think he is a warm and fuzzy family man. Well, he may well be, but I, for one, am insulted to think that I could be persuaded to this point of view by a picture of him in a baby blue sweater! Stéphane Dion, the Liberal leader, is less easily spun. I don't know if he is a hockey player, but that picture of him wouldn't convince me about anything other than what I already believe: that he's a decent man who likes kids and with whom I'd leave mine, confident that they'd be safe. Spin isn't anything new either. Down through history, it's been used, perhaps most devastatingly in the arena of religion, to whip up one set of human beings so they'd go out and do injury, sometimes mortal injury, to others: crusaders against infidels, Jews against Christians, Muslims against Christians, Catholics against Protestants, Muslims against Hindus, and so on, and so on. Nowadays, we're packaging war in much the same way: "Support our troops!" doesn't mean that we should be anxious that the men and women injured in war should have adequate care for their bodies and their minds. It doesn't mean that we should agitate for veterans to get education and other benefits. It doesn't mean that we should be concerned that armored carriers for the troops are the safest they can be, nor about the psychological health of pilots who are fed uppers and downers so that they can fly as many missions as required and as often as the army requires them. It doesn't mean that we should take any interest in their welfare at all. What it means is, "Don't you dare suggest that these brave young men and women aren't fighting for God and their country!" What it means is, "Don't you dare protest against the battles they are sent into in defense of freedom and democracy!" And what do the words 'freedom' and 'democracy' mean? They are probably the words that have been spun to humankind's greatest detriment. I've already gone on too long, and so cannot tackle that ‘spin’ now. Suffice it to say that if we are free in the supposed “First World," then some are clearly much more free than others, as the present fiscal crisis in the US so amply demonstrates. Some people were 'free' to manage other people's money, were 'free' to do so without regulations or controls, and so were ‘free' to plunge an entire country's economy into ruin. We need to get out from under the spin and start to examine what words, images, information really mean – that is if we are to preserve what really is ‘democracy' and ‘freedom’.