Do you ever get the impression you/we are being deliberately manipulated by media – images, narratives, and advertising?
From an early age I have been interested in communication and the creation of meaning. Having whet my toes in the world of ‘media studies’ and ‘visual culture’ I have come to believe media literacy helps promote freedom of thought and action. I’ve also observed the stark difference between the state of questioning vs non-thinking acceptance. During the ‘Laboratory of Dissent’ I have begun to suspect that you can’t force ‘seeing’ upon someone, the someone is either ready to see beyond the dominant consensus, or not. And yet, without being equipped with the tools of questioning and cultural awareness, individual freedom is removed along with the ability to make a conscious choice. This fact affects our personal (private/inner) and social (public/outer) life.
Our susceptibility to manipulation and making unconscious choices varies by degrees. There is the unconscious viewer whose eyes alight on a news headline and accept it without becoming aware of any alternative agenda. There is the conscious viewer who sees an advert on t.v, recognises the tactics of psychological manipulation and yet feels caught in its web. Lastly, there is the person who repeatedly notices the snares of a dominant norm or narrative, and consciously re-commits to considering alternatives. In this post I want to highlight that psychological manipulation through images, narratives, and advertising is in fact deliberate. (Until now, I was holding out hope that it was an unconscious power play not deliberate skulduggery). But then I found out the British government has a name for deliberate deception and manipulation of its citizens.
Propaganda has come a long way since World War I and World War II when leaflets (flyers) were scattered in the air, often dropped into enemy territory by airborne military forces. Today it is used not in war but found in the media we consume every day. Propaganda techniques include: using stereotypes; systematic selection of information; repetition; assertions without arguments. In addition different types of advertising can increase people’s awareness of a viewpoint, their liking and support for it, and encourage behavioural acquisition of it. This form of controlling the narrative and perception of issues is a rampant influence in our society.
In the film ‘Art of Dissent’ artist Ai Wei Wei says to Jacob Appelbaum: “Who’s doing that?”
Jacob: This is the British Government, they call it “Full Spectrum Cyber Effects”
“Full Spectrum Cyber Effects” is the deliberate manipulation of the populace through:
- mass messaging
- pushing stories
- alias development (aka online trolling) and
- psychological manipulation
Ai Wei Wei: But who’s going to use it?
Jacob: These people use it to disrupt us.
Ai Wei Wei: Because in China they have this, so I thought only the Chinese have this.
This is the dark side the hegemonic struggle. Governments understand that in order to maintain control through unthinking compliance they need to create a consensus amongst the populace. Once a consensus is established it appears normal, common sense even.
Deliberate manipulation warrants active resistance.
I propose learning to see beyond the intended impact of pre-packaged messages.
Are you interested in learning this skill?
Having considered the reasons one might become interested in seeing beyond the ‘pushed narrative’ and accepted norms, the startling evidence of active manipulation strikes me as a strong reason.
I believe we needn’t be powerless. Instead we can empower ourselves to play an active role in co-creating the world around us.
I propose we ask questions.
Curiosity has power in it. The Laboratory of Dissent is the perfect place to practice!
In The Laboratory of Dissent we are looking for the opposite of consensus: a dissensus. That is, the visible presence of multiple, conflicting viewpoints. Through dissent (aka questioning) artists at CAS hope to improve our understanding of the structures and systems acting upon us, as well as our power to imagine alternatives through collective and collaborative dialogue.
Maija Liepins is collaborating with Kirsty Smith and Isaac Whitcombe during the Laboratory of Dissent project, an experimental 5 week project at The Winchester Gallery. You are invited join the discussion about dissent, and its associated themes at the Laboratory of Dissent Symposium on 23 – 24 September 2015.