The influential power of narrative story telling throughout human history was a topic I touched upon in the first essay of this series. In the following installments I examined how the Nazi’s methods of mass media communications directly influenced much of what we consider ‘normal’ media relations today. That was followed by an examination of the figures in American Intelligence who spearheaded bringing that style to the American controlled theaters during WWII and throughout the Cold War.
This essay will examine an example of the means by which the e-State went about gathering the data they would use to craft images and narratives that burrowed right to the heart of human cognition. Employing a mixture of advertising, marketing, and psychological warfare techniques the powers that be have raised a Tower of Babel using fiber optics from which it broadcasts its soliloquies 24 hours a day in every direction imaginable.
“The e-State is the transnational collective consisting of powerful financiers, media companies, “mainstream” elite academia, globe spanning political networks and the military industrial complex.”
Key Words: Mass Observation, Sociology, Psychology, Edward Bernays, Ministry of Information, U.K history, US history, Public relations, Public Polling, Gallup, Cold War, WWI, WWII, Mass Media Communications, Propaganda, Narrative history, Media analysis, Social analytics
“Only mass observations can create mass science,” – Charles Madge
True knowledge of an object requires touching it. True understanding of an accomplishment requires experiencing it. True sympathy requires literally having had a similar experience. That said there are no pure truths and no experience feels exactly the same to any one of us. We search to assemble similar versions of feelings with others in order to find solace in a ‘shared truth.’ This is seemingly natural to the human animal. The subjectivity of individual human experience is actively and passively intertwined with invisible models mental and cultural ‘models’ that coalesce into a group perspective that we call reality. Reality is an agreement. We all still accept our own personal experiences to be true. Our true experiences can’t be denied, replicated or manufactured. They are ours. Right?
Imagine if the extent of your knowledge about life was limited only to things you’d physically seen or heard. You would have had no major input on how life was in other countries or even how people ten states away dressed or acted, besides the occasional stories by travelers. Most of recorded human history has lived under the above conditions. Speaking of stories, reality is a story. Reality’s borders are created through a narrative process that consists of interlocking elements, parallelisms, analogies, and numerous subplots all of which could have done with some more attention. Once you’ve been socialized into what we are supposed to consider reality, it can be difficult to see things any other way. Our ‘image’ of reality has been provided for us.
A disconcerting amount of what we all ‘know’ about life is experienced through images on screens. Those images are arranged in a narrative form, be it sitcom, play, movie and especially, if not counter intuitively, in documentaries. You have a ‘mental picture’ of what Africa ‘might’ look like, from movies. You’ve seen New York and ‘kind of know’ what it is like is because of television and movies. You imagine you know what L.A. or New Orleans is like, especially if you have never been there, because of television and movies. Image-makers have always been keenly aware of the interplay between video, human memory and emotion. The images in our heads have been bestowed upon us by the advent of mass media communications and video technologies.
“Cinema’s power, then, is not merely located in the contents of it imagery, however moving, luring or explicit, but in the exchanges, repetitions and relays that take place between the movie machine and our nervous systems and brains. Cinema is a machine for controlling and regulating our impulses, sensations and emotions”(10).
-Cinema, Trance and Cybernetics by Ute Holl
Our internal world ‘view’, and blamelessly so, is in fact a type of life-extension through virtual experience provided by mass media communications. We “know” how (ENTER COUNTRY HERE) is because, we’ve read (maybe ½ an article) and watched (INSERT NUMBER HERE) “documentaries” with moving emotional images to gain our insight into the plight of (THESE PEOPLE OVER THERE WE KNOW SO WELL.) The power of the internal image is so strong that people can be disappointed by an experience in real life compared to how it’d been portrayed in media and existed in their imagination. Their imagination -which at this point- is largely the domain of image-makers, has been set up in ways to expect and accept future images due to the cognitive conditioning.
“There are other reasons for this hegemony of the psychological, too, among them the reluctance of governments to risk nuclear war in pursuit of their national objectives, the extraordinary new efficiency, range, and speed of mass communications, and the rapid rise of literacy rates in all parts of the world.”
-John Brockmiller, “Psywar in Intelligence Operations”
The 20th century will go down not only the ‘Century of War’, but as the century that the wool was digitally pulled over the eyes of the public. That feat was accomplished by the consolidation of political, technological and economic power centers that arose from the ashes of the world still smoldering during WWII. The rise of mass media communications is directly tied to global governments and its coercive power has always been known and employed against the public. One of the methods used in the past seventy years to social engineer the public has been mass media communications combined with psychological techniques and marketing rhetoric. Understanding the operation of the human mind and its susceptibility to influence has been a field of importance to rulers since time immemorial. We live as the descendants of many generations that have been born, raised and died, in a facade of reality that has been purposely created to distract and coerce them.
Prior to WWII the Allied nations openly bestrode the world as imperialist monarchs who were ‘civilizing’ the world while playing a grand game of chess between their intermarried aristocracies. The stunning blow dealt by the onslaught of the Nazis and later Stalin’s Russia, coupled with the sheer uncivilized carnage of the war, shook the confidence of Allied leaders. Ceding various portions of their previous empires as a result of the conflicts they refashioned their mythical national images with a new embellishment. They had placed the laurels of moral victors upon themselves. Having vanquished the Nazi’s and the Soviets, in their minds, they had gained the moral right to resuscitate and govern the planet. The bullet and bayonet have always been the Allies metaphorical sword, now their shield was emblazoned with a torch of freedom.
Many remain averred to examining the possibly dark or conspiratorial seeming logic behind government intervention into communications but those people are behind the times. The unveiling of the CIA’s media manipulation operation in the United States, Operation Mockingbird, was uncovered during the 1970s. Books have been censored ever since print was available. Stalin utilized what we’d consider Photoshop techniques at the turn of the 20th century.
In the 1990s we witnessed the power of the e-State as they ginned up support for the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq. One case utilized the daughter of a Kuwaiti ambassador who told a bold faced lie about Iraqi soldiers throwing babies from incubators at the U.N. Colin Powell going to the U.N. during the days after 9/11 and holding up a vial of what was called uranium surpassed this act. Powell himself later admitted that he had been misled into delivering that speech.
In a 2005 article released by the New York Times it was learned that the Pentagon produced and had aired ads and snippets which were presented as ‘news.’
“Some of the segments were broadcast in some of nation’s largest television markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta.”
An examination of government-produced news reports offers a look inside a world where the traditional lines between public relations and journalism have become tangled, where local anchors introduce prepackaged segments with “suggested” lead-ins written by public relations experts.
It is a world where government-produced reports disappear into a maze of satellite transmissions, Web portals, syndicated news programs and network feeds, only to emerge cleansed on the other side as “independent journalism.”
THE SPOOKS GO TO THE MOVIES
The U.S. military has been and is frequently involved in giving direction as to their appearance in narratives everywhere from cartoons, to Hollywood films, to network television shows. We also have very recent examples of the CIA spying on the Senate Intelligence committee designed to provide oversight, the CIA involved in production of the contentious dramatization of Osama Bin Laden’s death, Zero Dark Thirty, the imperialistic and violent series, Homeland, and the retelling of events surrounding Americans escaping from Iran during the revolution – using a fake crew movie crew no less – in the film, Argo starring Ben Affleck.
Instances of the e-State producing, monitoring or altering news and film products number into the thousands at this point. To argue against this reality is a choice of each individual but not one made on the facts. The government does attempt to influence the population through the mass media. Mass media itself is a business based upon creating images and themes, which the viewer internalizes and acts upon. Propaganda as a means of public coercion is as old as society itself. Statues, hieroglyphics and stele emblazoned with scenes of enemy defeats or idealized versions of rulers and populations were also methods of influencing the public. The tactics may change with the times, but the motivation to promote a certain way of thinking in one’s subjects has always been a fascination of rulers.
INVERSION OF THE COERCION PARADIGM
Viewed through the lenses of those living in liberal nation-states, the underlying mechanism used in totalitarian, fascist and communist states is forced coercion. Being asked for one’s papers, having a relative arrested, or waiting for rations are the clichéd examples taught to us in school about how life works under such regimes. The consent, as far as the West is concerned, is never freely given.
During WWII the UK and US, as hegemons had done for millennia before them, grabbed the reins of totalitarian power in their home countries under the auspice of the need for centralized government control during wartime. Curfews, check points, rationing and other restrictions were instituted under the pretext of defending the homeland. In addition, such methods would be espoused, as a way to root out would be infiltrators and terrorists. The centralized power within a nation state is never displeased with its increased influence during wartime. In fact, it has always been a way to force change in societies and prepare them for the world the rulers have in mind for after whatever war is being fought. Once the reins of power have been seized the question generally turns to how to best keep the reins clasped tight on the brains of the population during peacetime.
Edward Bernays famously said, “The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.” The Allies were now saviors of the same world that they had colonized and subjugated.
In the face of possible physical subjugation to the Germans the Allied nations had become enraptured with the promotion of civil liberties and freedoms around the globe after the war. Certainly this was in response to the global uprisings connected to the politics awakened by massive conflict. However, the liberal nations were acting out of a desire to interdict, what they believed could be, a massive Communization of the globe, namely their former colonies, and not some altruistic sense that people needed to be free of tyranny. The needs of the state to influence its population did not change simply because their new enemy had forced their hand. As we shall see the manufacturing of consent was a major point of focus for research and application by the liberal nation states in the 20th century. Instead of the decidedly heavy hand tactics employed by the totalitarian states the Allied choose to use subtler, more covert means of influence and indoctrination.
THE OPENLY HIDDEN HAND IN YOUR HEAD:
“M.-O.’s object was to develop new approaches to the study of the habits, lives, and beliefs of the British, and to use the technique of anthropology, hitherto used in studying distant and little-known races, on the people at home” (Willcock 1).
Mass Observation was a social research project run in the U.K. – from 1937 to the early 1950s, with new material being procured consistently since 1981 – which consisted of anthropologically based monitoring and surveying of the British population. Utilizing a team of volunteers who maintained diaries or answered questionnaires the project aimed to create “weather-maps of public feeling,” from the data they collected on matters ranging from beards, taboos, racism, goals, to civilian feelings about pub life, war and nationalism. The program’s origins, possibly more than its execution, point to the ideologies and worldviews too often held by the elites in power about the “average person.”
“The inventors of the new science were Charles Madge, a poet, journalist, and card-carrying Communist; Humphrey Jennings, a Surrealist painter and documentary filmmaker; and Tom Harrisson, a renegade anthropologist more at home with cannibals than with academics. They were a fractious triumvirate from the outset, never even agreeing whether their group’s name meant observation of the masses or by them, but between 1937 and 1945 hundreds of people mailed in regular reports of their daily lives”
– Surveillance Society: The Mass-Observation movement and the meaning of everyday life, by Caleb Crain (2006)
While done as a means to procure “real” data on people’s daily lives Mass Observation fell into a practice used by Intelligence wherein it paid investigators to anonymously record people’s conversations and actions on the street, at work, during public meetings, religious gathering and sporting events. This society of surveillance would mimic the future imposed states in fascist nations during and after the war.
M.- O. AS A PRECURSOR TO
FOCUS GROUPS AND PUBLIC OPINION POLLS
The desire to control people had long realized the power of messaging and image control. The desire to “understand” the public by the State works cooperatively with the understanding of the consumer by corporations. Political campaigns are a form of mass media advertising whose product is a ‘person.’ Consumer ad campaigns appeal to emotional, social and political desires within the consumer base in order to engender buying, brand loyalty or to grab a greater market share of public attention. In the end, nearly everything we see is a product for sale. A good citizen is a consumer who listens to what the government/PR complex directs them to do.
“The emergence of Mass-Observation coincided almost exactly with the arrival of opinion polling in the United Kingdom. Henry Durant’s British Institute of Public Opinion (BIPO), the British wing of the American organization founded by George Gallup, opened on 1 January 1937, a few weeks before Charles Madge, Tom Harrisson, and Humphrey Jennings’s joint letter in the New Statesman inaugurating the Mass-Observation project. From 1938, using the then relatively new technique of random sampling, BIPO produced a monthly digest of political opinion for the News Chronicle” (Moran).
While Mass Observation was not a government-sponsored program it serves as a good example of how the e-State conducts its business. Mass Observation’s techniques of polling, and interviewing the public both came from and later influenced the fields of market research and public opinion polls.
Joe Moran, writing in his article, “Mass-Observation, Market Research, and the Birth of the Focus Group, 1937-1997,” states, “The cognate area of market research was an American innovation that was used in Britain from the early 1930s onward in the three major advertising agencies: the London Press Exchange, J. Walter Thompson, and Lintas. From the beginning, it was never simply limited to the study of markets; it had a socially progressive reputation, and its practitioners often worked closely with government.”
Here we have one leg of the program intertwining with the state. Going forward we’ll see how the other legs begin to connect to the body. Public opinion polls are one of those contradictory things in social life that are both important and utterly meaningless. In peoples’ personal lives poll results may be used as ammunition in debates. Poll results can also be sloughed off if they happen to disagree with your position. ‘What does it matter? Who did they poll anyway?’ At the mass media and government level poll results’ power of persuasion are multiplied dramatically. Using poll results as support for an argument lends credence to sophist arguments being promoted without thinking.
“Mass-Observers the first people to interview Britons in the street using questionnaires they were often criticized in the press as “busy-bodies,” “snoopers,” anthropologic nosey-parkers.” But, as Judith Heimann argues, they prepared the public for the greater role of market research in the postwar normalizing questionnaire-taking as a feature of daily street life.”
– Joe Moran
Over the course of time polls were used not only to record public opinion but also to shape it. Use of polling data rose to the level we see it used today by the news media where polls are shown in order to imply support for or against whatever the topic is. This is the premise of touting the results of “national” polls, which are anything but. Polls tend to question small apertures of the population on hot-button issues. But anyone with common sense could tell you that there is no way 1,500 people somewhere in America are actually indicative of what 300 million think. This link is ignored and the results of polls are used as products. There is an indelible connection between the methodologies and aims of opinion polling and consumer market research, and advertising. In truth, they spring from the same fountain of inquiry.
AND THE CORONATION OF KING GEORGE VI
In 1936 King Edward VIII abdicated the throne so that he could marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American woman. This event caused great consternation and rebuke within the British royal community as it was deemed unsightly for a queen consort at the time. Edward would become the Duke of Windsor and go down in history as Nazi sympathizer.
Seeing a chance to apply their study techniques the creators of Mass Observation paid special attention to public discourse surrounding the coronation of the incoming King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on May 12, 1937.
“May 12, 1937, was the date of George VI’s coronation. As Madge and Harrisson explained in one of their manifestos, when George’s brother Edward abdicated, in December, “millions of people who passed their lives as the obedient automata of a system” were suddenly left to decide for themselves what they thought of its breakdown. The coronation was designed to put their anxiety to rest by means of a grand show. But it was a delicate moment for manipulation of the British people— given the use that European Fascists were making of nationalist spectacle at the time— and thus an ideal one for Mass-Observation.” – Crain
A book that was later produced about the day showcased a myriad of opinions and observations and in many ways relegated the nationalist and imperialist undertones to the background. Crain writes, “The reader feels as if he were eavesdropping on an enormous, citywide party, all the more appealing because the typical partygoer is both in and out of the game—playing along with the mass-produced artifice around him while a practical, ironic self survives inside.”
The group heading M.O. in London had it’s differences and over time they split up into different factions. What’s interesting to our examination of the idea of media, narrative and images is how Humphrey Jennings, who was in charge of presenting the results of the surveys felt that it should be done. Crain writes, “He began to collect descriptions, in poetry and prose, of machines and the changes they had wrought in human life throughout history. He called the descriptions “Images,” and, as he assembled them, he came to believe that they could be read as “a continuous narrative or lm on the Industrial Revolution,” much as he had meant “May the Twelfth” to be read as a film of the coronation.
“…one of Mass-Observation’s main strategies, which was to turn its human correspondents into ‘cameras’ that would record the close-up, detail and ensemble variations of themselves and others. They thought that people were unknowingly conditioned to operate like automatons and that only through the recognition of themselves as inseparable from the apparatus – the need to become the ‘camera’ – could they observe and understand human behavior.”
– May the Twelfth, Courtney Martin
The idea of a written “film” is something to ponder. It hints at the replacement of imagination and narrative with new forms of information processing which intrinsically link fields, which are separate. To imagine a story surrounding the words you are reading is different than reading words meant to create a specific feeling of narrative as in a film, from a book. The book it seems was unable to transmit the ‘image’ that was desired. In the end it served better as a collection of what the people were truly thinking, which included lamentations that Edward was not being coronated, thoughts on the attire of other attendees, and other details.
MASS OBSERVATON IN WAR TIME
“In September, 1939, Britain declared war. Mass-Observation asked its volunteers to keep diaries of the experience, and the government hired the group to find out whether its posters were improving morale. “Your Courage / Your Cheerfulness / Your Resolution / Will Bring Us Victory,” one poster read. Mass-Observation reported that the pronoun shift was disastrous.”
– Caleb Crain (2006)
The British Ministry of Health received a report from psychiatrists in 1938 that had examined their perceived consequences of sustained bombing of civilian areas. The report anticipated:
“the psychiatric would exceed the physical casualties by three to one, which, on the basis of the government’s estimates of killed and wounded, would mean between three and four million cases of acute panic, hysteria and neurosis during the first six months of war… With these predictions the report confirmed the doxa that had been established in the mental health profession by the mid-1920s, where evidence from the 1914–18 war came to confirm the inevitability of an epidemic of neurosis among civilians as a result of air attack. Faced with these prospects the report called for a complex and extensive psychiatric apparatus to minister to the psychologically shattered. However, preparation for the remedial was not the only strategy anticipating this epidemic. Equally pressing was a consideration of the prophylactic measures that might fortify ‘the public mind’ against an air war intent on breaking civilian morale to the point of capitulation” (Dibley & Kelly 24).
During the war both Germany and the British bombed each other’s civilian areas. While official releases claimed to be focused on taking out crucial infrastructure to conducting war the knowledge that bombs falling on defenseless civilian populations could exact a disastrous toll on morale. As the bombings progressed the idea that populations would become so upset with the inability of their government to protect them from the bombings that it would lead to revolutions and civil disobedience.
“In the event of an invasion it will be essential for the Government to be able to control the civil population absolutely – not through the police or the military, who will be largely on other work, but through the radio, through notices, through word-of-mouth instruction… It is here that propaganda comes in” (Dibley & Kelly).
The American’s exploited similar tactics during the War in the Pacific by dropping incendiary bombs on the Japanese whose homes at the time were predominately made of wood, bamboo and other highly flammable materials. With the true aim of bombing runs being known to the highest ranking officials in armies all over the world the task would be how to defend one’s own country from the psychological impart of sustained bombing campaigns. M.- O. gave the British and their allies a chance to examine the possible effects of these bombings on their own populous and more importantly give them “a consideration of the prophylactic measures that might fortify ‘the public mind’ against an air war intent on breaking civilian morale to the point of capitulation.”
During the War the staff and Mass Observation underwent some changes. Crain writes, “Behind the scenes, Harrisson was campaigning for more government contracts. “I had misgivings,” Madge later recalled; he did not want Mass-Observation to degenerate into “a sort of home-front espionage.” Harrisson sent secret reports on the staff to members of the British government. Madge worked with John Maynard Keynes and was instrumental in lobbying the government to extract taxes from people’s paychecks to help finance the war based on data. Jennings went on to direct a few different soft propaganda films.
PSYCHOLOGY, SUGGESTION, COERCION AND THE MEDIA’S ENFORCED METHODS OF META-COGNITION
When it came to influencing the opinion of the public by elites, at that time, numerous models were already in use. The fields of cybernetics, behavioral psychology and consumer psychology were already in full swing with professors and scientists at top universities throughout the West. Advertising and propaganda were nearly impossible to distinguish during the war period and their new synthesis in the post war period was guided by the work of those professors and scientists. In the end, whether by serendipity or predetermined planning, the Allies settled upon combination of a reality shaping ‘narrative voice’ and a patina of civil liberties driven by mass media communications campaigns bolstered by academic sociological research. Television commercials, documentaries, PSAs, and movies all worked toward spreading this narrative and disseminating techniques of at times unnoticeable persuasion. The liberal states would mask their fascist aspirations in consumerism, scientism, and the façade of infallibility of curated public opinion. That message is still blasted directly in your home today, 24 hours a day; every day of the week.
American Democracy in the Late Twentieth Century: Political Rhetorics and Mass Media by Arthur J. Vidich, International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Autumn, 1990)
Mass-Observation by H. D. Willcock, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Jan., 1943)
“Intersex” and “Dirty Girls”: Mass-Observation and Working-Class Sexuality in England in the 1930s by Peter Gurney, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Oct., 1997)
Mass-Observation, Market Research, and the Birth of the Focus Group, 1937-1997, Joe Moran, (2008)
The Science of Ourselves by Joe Moran, The New Stateman, (Jan 29, 2007)
Morale and Mass Observation: Governing the Affective Atmosphere on the Home-Front by Ben Dibley & Michelle Kelly, (Jan 2015)
Surveillance Society: The Mass-Observation movement and the meaning of everyday life by Caleb Crain (9/11/2006)
Winston Churchill’s “Crazy Broadcast”: Party, Nation, and the 1945 Gestapo Speech by Richard Toye (July 2010)