Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Propaganda Nation

Canada's zombie-eyed Dear Leader
During U.S election campaigns we Canadians to tend get all smug and finger-wavy on the subject of those egregious TV ads in which American politicians make apocalyptic statements about the venality and incompetence of their opponents; the kind of ad in which a Sen. Leghorn will hint that his opponent is in favour of mandatory abortions for NASCAR fans, while his rival, Rep. Foghorn, will assert that when Leghorn was at college he defecated on an American flag as part of an art project for his French class. U.S. election ads actually are almost this bad, but at least their aim and purpose is out in the open, and by this point it's doubtful that anyone takes them very seriously. All but the most credulous accept these ads as shouty, witless examples of black propaganda. Canadians like to think their politicians are better than this. They're worse, or at least one in particular is.

The federal Conservative party, now emboldened by their status as a majority government, has been running a white propaganda campaign for the past several years. Their TV ad campaign promotes "Canada's Economic Action Plan", which is simply the thinnest of smokescreens for touting the joys of living under a Conservative government. The ads are a laundry list of economic initiatives and programs undertaken by the government, all of them described in glowing terms. The message in these ads is that Canada's economy is healthy, headed in the right direction, and being more than capably handled, and fossil fuels, God love 'em, are our very special friends. If these were straight up election ads there would be no problem with them, but they're made and paid for by the federal government. A portion of my leftie, anti-Conservative tax dollars, in fact. To add insult to injury, the Conservatives pile the ads on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster. The CBC would be within its rights, as a public, tax-funded broadcaster, to question whether it should be airing ads that are such blatant examples of political propaganda. The CBC, however, is highly sensitive to the fact that the Conservatives have a visceral loathing for them, and would, if they could, eliminate them. So while the ethical thing to do for the CBC is refuse the ads, self-preservation dictates that they hold their nose and run them.

And the propaganda doesn't stop there.The federal Natural Resources ministry has a TV campaign promoting "Responsible Canadian Energy" that's nothing more than an attempt to buff up the image of the oil sands industry. On top of these ads are the spots made by various oil sands lobbying groups, oil companies, and pipeline promoters. So an average evening's TV viewing for Canadians includes a staggering amount of propaganda disguised as wise and kindly information passed on by a benevolent government and their friends in the oil and gas industry. This volume of government-created propaganda is unusual outside of a totalitarian state, but then that's exactly the way the Conservatives have behaved under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper is notorious for avoiding the press, and during the last election campaign his staff only allowed the press corps a set quota (meagre) of questions per day. The Harper Conservatives despise the press, and this propaganda campaign is their snake oil salesman way of controlling their image without the influence of pesky journalists.

The roots of Harper's loathing of the press run very deep. Like many hardcore rightists he lives in a famtasy world in which the mainstream media is, in his words,  "monolithically liberal and feminist". That last quote comes from a statement he made in 1997 approving of Conrad Black's takeover of the Southam newspaper chain, and we all know what a classy guy Black turned out to be. Underlying Harper's obsession with propaganda is his desperate need to be proven a winner no matter what the cost. A quick look through Harper's bio reveals that he's a careerist who has done and said anything as long as it gets him further up the right-wing ladder. He started out his political career as a quasi-Alberta separatist, and then as he got closer to the brass ring of the prime minister's office he ameliorated his previously reactionary views in order to make himself palatable to the general population. And like so many rightists of recent vintage Harper's rabid pursuit of power seems fueled by a desire to bolster his fragile self-esteem. At Harper's insistence official government communications use the term "Harper Government" rather than "Government of Canada." Is it possible his real last name is Kim?

So none of us should be throwing rocks at the Americans with their laughable, venomous, hysterical campaign ads. We voted in a government that now bombards us daily with a type of propaganda most people thought had gone out of style shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And at least when the dust settles after the U.S. elections the attack ads are put away in the armoury for another day. Here in Canada we have to put up with the constant drip, drip, drip of polite, smiley face propaganda. How Canadian.

Related posts:

What Makes a Conservative Conservative?
Worst of Breed

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