Thursday, November 25, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
Patient Iteration of the Message
The Foundation's website (www.forbetterlife.org) contains several subpages linked off the home page. They are "Values," "Good News," "TV Spots," "Billboards" and "About FBL " (a generic mission statement). Clicking on "Values" brings up a page in which a facsimile of a continuous celluloid film strip (in frames) is exhibited; each miniature image frame (over a scroll bar) is captioned with a "value." (There are fifty-two "values," mirroring the number of cards in a typical deck). Typical value captions over the visuals are "Appreciation," "Class and Grace," "Compassion," "Cooperation," "Gratitude," "Hard Work," "Loyalty," "Right Choices," etc. When the web surfer clicks on a caption or its associated image, the graphic (Flash) opens into a new screen. The new screen displays a larger iconic image originally seen in the filmstrip frame. (Many of them are reminiscent of psychological projective test imagery). Then a short story on the selected "value" comes to the fore, such as the of the one below (graphically composed with an image of a son and father fishing on a small boat):
My fondest memory of my Dad occurred one summer day out in the middle of a mountain lake. "Don't jerk it. Just reel it in real slow," my father whispered. But it was so difficult. I hated to wait for anything. I usually took forever to decide what I really wanted, but once I decided, I wanted it right now. And right now I wanted to catch a fish.
My father seemed to sense my impatience. "The big ones didn't get that way by snapping the first thing to hit the water," he said quietly. "You'll soon find that anything big and worthwhile usually takes a lot of time." Then, with a smile that I will never forget, he added, "After all, I've already spent twelve years on you."
"The values we live by are worth more when we pass them on . . . 
The phrase, "pass it on" (as a linked icon) surrounds the story on three sides, as it does for almost all of the fifty-two parables of values on the site. This perpetually repeated suggestion to "pass it on" finds an echo in a famous 1928 essay on propaganda:
Winning people over to something that I have recognized as right, that is what we call propaganda. Propaganda stands between the idea and the worldview, between the worldview and the state . . . At the moment at which I recognize something is important and begin speaking about it . . . I begin making propaganda. At the same moment, I begin looking for other people to join me. Propaganda is nothing other than the forerunner to organization. Once it has done this, it is the forerunner to state control. It is always a means to an end.
The narrative that surrounds this particular "virtue" of patience also unintentionally announces pieces of the methodology and tactics of the Foundation's campaign: These general tactics are patience, and repetition and iterative spread of the message ("pass it on"). This constant exhortation mirrors Goebbels' statement that such "clear" ideas "seek escape through the mouth." But the similarities between the FBL's campaign and Goebbels' ideas doesn't end with these general prescriptions:
Targeting the Message to Multiple Audiences
Propaganda adjusts itself to the prevailing conditions [and] is always flexible. That means that propaganda cannot be limited [because] it changes according to whom I am trying to reach. Propaganda should be popular, but not intellectually pleasing . . . The propagandist's speeches or posters that are aimed at farmers will be different than those aimed at employers, those aimed at doctors will be different than those aimed at patients. . The task of leaders and followers is to drive [our] knowledge ever deeper into the hearts of our shattered nation. 
This flexibility is mirrored by the diversity of deeply aestheticized and idealized racial, ethnic and class images, coupled to equally idealized narratives, targeted to different audiences on the Foundation's values sub page. As Guillermo Gomez-Pena notes, they clearly echo
a 'benevolent' form of multiculturalism [that] has been adopted by corporations and media conglomerates across borders, continents and virtual spaces. And our major cultural and educational institutions have followed suit. This global transculture artificially softens the otherwise sharp edges of cultural difference, fetishizing them in such a way as to render them desirable. 
And, as Gomez-Pena laments, the propagandists of this "new" capitalist multiculturalism have outsmarted "us" by so cleverly disguising the serious social contradictions and covert violence under the surfaces of these images and intended messages. It is equally obvious that the Foundation's hired and pro bono spin meisters have also learned from them. The Foundation appropriated, in the billboard portion of the campaign, some of the best recognized and diverse icons of 20th Century and contemporary millennial culture: Winston Churchill and Shaquille O'Neill; Mother Teresa and Whoopi Goldberg; Abraham Lincoln and Muhammad Ali; the 1989 photo of an anonymous Chinese student trying to halt a line of tanks into Tiananmen Square and hockey great Wayne Gretzky. In some of these, historical images of defiance to a repressive state apparatus (Tinanamen Square, Ali's refusal of the Vietnam-era draft, for example) are recoded as embodying consensual, conventional and "prosocial" values. The recoding of icons (the reframing, and often the inversion, of denotative and connotative meanings) is a constant, even a defining feature of the Foundation's website. But beneath the inscription of structural-functionalist themes onto postmodern life lies a genealogy of money, and power.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Ten months ago, I wrote a piece
about something I had noted
about television "service spots" from "The Foundation for a Better Life". I couldn't figure out who or what would be paying for these innocuous, sweet little spots.....virtual pieces of fluff without any real need for their message. It really puzzled me and I wrote this:
"My husband was walking out the door today and the television was playing that public service announcement about the big, burly hockey player singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to his little girl on phone, as his teammates laughed along. My husband said, "I like this one." Then, I thought about the one I like.... the little boy playing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" with a concert pianist assisting in front of a large audience. There is also one about a Downs Syndrome teen being elected Home Coming Queen. A little voice niggled about in my pea sized brain....Who or what is "The Foundation for a Better Life"? I've been wondering who would want to pay for these lovely little blurbs every day and what would they expect to get out of it? What group could be financing this? So, I Googled it and found this:
Oh, holy cow! Here we go again! This is something everyone better try very hard to understand, because it is another threat to our way of life and it is being put to us in such a lovely way that we will be buried from within....without murmuring a peep. Imagine that I have only begun to wonder about this and it has been organized and orchestrated since 2002, at least. We are sheep being led to the slaughter. God help us!"
Well, that was last January and since then, I have packed up in Florida and unpacked in Ohio and both of us have had lots of medical and dental care from our home doctors. I haven't blogged or accomplished much of anything, but now we have packed up and driven back to Florida. I'm actually looking at the television again, instead of just listening to it. Those sweet little service announcements are continuing, but now, while they remain from "The Foundation for a Better Life", we are being directed to:
Please look at the differences between these two sites and tell me that there is not some hidden agenda to draw us into a sinister web that will change our entire way of life without our knowing what hit us. It is odd that fascism and radical change is no longer mentioned at the new site, just sweet, airy values. There are even spots for school faculties to go and find ways to subvert our kids! Help! I wish someone of importance would look into this campaign and do something more than one little old lady can accomplish with a few words.