Mass media – is it the reflector or the director?
I have not seen the newest blockbuster movie, The Lorax. My kids would like to see it, and should I need an afternoon nap one of these weekends, I might take them. I have a habit of dosing off during any movie targeted at kids under the age of 12, or movies starring former members of the Friends cast. They make me sleepy.
I have heard that as kids movies go, this one is fraught with controversy. From the headlines and occasional talk radio snippets I hear, The Lorax is teaching children evil messages, much like Kaos used messages embedded in rock n’ roll music to hypnotize kids into killing Control agents on Get Smart (kids, ask your parents). The evil messages in this particular movie are that pollution is bad, trees are good, and that we should take care of our planet. Chilling stuff.
This kind of childhood indoctrination from Hollywood is unparalleled in our history, if you exclude all the other instances in history where you could argue that the exact same thing happened. Let’s look at how today’s anti-government zealots grew up under the tutelage of a subversive Hollywood messaging machine.
Kids who grew up in the 1980s watched The A-Team, the hit action show with George Peppard and Mr. T. The A-Team was a group of patriotic, loyal Americans who were 1) wrongly accused and convicted of a crime by a government they loved, 2) escaped shortly after incarceration because the government was too incompetent to hold them, and 3) can be hired as outsourced talent when your inept government cannot do the job (because of red tape, regulations, legal requirements, etc.).
What did kids learn? You need for-profit vigilantes to get things done, and we now have wars fought with 50% hired contractors. The government cannot run the prison system, so we need outside, for-profit vendors to run our jails. The government cannot help you, and effective solutions are only available in the private marketplace.
Kids who grew up in the 1980s watched the blockbuster movie E.T. about a lovable alien anxious to go home. In E.T., the government showed up at Elliot’s home, moved in, threatened the boy to cooperate, and ultimately proved so incompetent that a small boy could escape their grasp on a bicycle with an extraterrestrial on board.
What did kids learn? The government can show up at any time and confiscate your home, your pets, anything they want all in the name of national security, so you’d better be ready to lie and be armed to protect yourself. The government is so dumb, even a pre-teen can pull one over on them. If that’s true, why would we trust the government with financial regulatory oversight?
Kids who grew up in the 1980s watched Die Hard and all of its sequels. Kids were raised knowing that only an urban cowboy like John McClane who flaunted the rules could really defeat the bad guys. The dumbest characters in the movie were the police captain and the FBI’s finest, the two Johnsons (no relation), both representatives of a bloated government bureaucracy stuffed with morons that cannot think in the real world. They have to follow the FBI Terrorism playbook by the letter, and the results are disastrous.
Kids watched First Blood and the Rambo franchise, and learned that the government is run by bureaucrats who are not loyal to the United States of America, and that only a renegade outsider can speak truth to power (with a machine gun preferably). As an extra bonus, kids learned that domestic protests against the Vietnam War are responsible for American deaths (not carpet bombing or napalm sprays). These protests were not protests against war; they were protests against our military. Dissent weakened our commitment to winning, so we lost. The protesters lost Vietnam.
Kids who grew up in the 1980s watched Top Gun and learned that those who flaunt the rules and do whatever their instincts tell them are the ones who will succeed. Not only will those rogue personalities succeed, they’ll be promoted into positions of authority to teach others how to act outside of the rules. Maverick becomes the Top Gun instructor, a final recognition that his instincts were better than any government protocol.
So what did we get for our media indoctrination that rogue actors are better for us than inept government systems and useless protocols? I give you Oliver North, and his heroic and illegal efforts to funnel money from Iranian arm sales to Nicaraguan rebels. Oliver North broke the law and justified his law breaking by claiming that the law was wrong and he knew better. We cheered his rebellious nature and his unquestionable loyalty to his beliefs, and looked the other way at his illegal actions. As a newly minted political celebrity, he narrowly lost election to the Senate a few years later, and now is a radio host and sought after TV commentator. Crime pays as long as you believe in your cause and the victim is the “system”.
A review of the hit shows of the period when today’s most ardent anti-government activists were left home alone to absorb as much TV and VHS movies as possible demonstrates an overwhelming bias towards a few basic ideas that today are Far Right orthodoxy:
· Government representatives are incompetent.
· Justice can only be achieved by hiring outsourced talent.
· Wars can be won only if all internal dissent is eliminated (corollary: wars are lost when there is public dissent).
· Lone actors within the system that use illegal means in order to justify an end are heroes.
So the next time you’re bludgeoned by a Far Right activist with theories on the indoctrination of children from Hollywood a la The Lorax, agree with them and let them know that the proof of their theory is in their mirror, assuming they grew up watching The A-Team, E.T., Top Gun, Rambo, Die Hard, The Dukes of Hazzard, Beverly Hills Cop, and on and on and on...
Silly? Maybe. No more silly than blaming the Bert and Ernie for the increased acceptance of gay marriage.
Mass media – is it the reflector or the director?
** - Based on some ideas I gleaned from my current read, Back to Our Future by David Sirota, a book that is completely one-sided but offers some interesting perspectives nonetheless.