Speaking of the media (as I was at the end of last week). Harry Potter is very easily dismissed as a series of children’s books. It’s very easily dismissed as a lot of things- after all, anything that becomes that much of an international phenomenon is a prime target for mockery. Especially when one of your main characters is named Dumbledore. I mean, think about it. It’s kind of a silly name. (If anyone else is thinking RUMBLEROAR!! you get bonus points.)
And Harry Potter is primarily for kids. You start reading Harry Potter because you’re taken in by the magical world of wonder and a burning desire to go to Hogwarts. I would be a Ravenclaw, by the way.
But when you get past all that there’s some seriously subversive stuff going on. One of the things I love the most in the books (and yes, I’m talking about the books, not the movies) is the portrayal of the media. It doesn’t really come through in the movies- they kind of skim over that whole Daily Prophet being corrupted thing with a vague reference to the government putting pressure on them not to tell the truth. But in the books you get the delightful Rita Skeeter (after which my chicken is named) telling Hermione, “the Daily Prophet exists to sell itself, you silly girl.” And yes, it does. The Daily Prophet wouldn’t print something that readers didn’t want to read. It would cease to exist. It will print whatever it needs to print to get people to continue buying copies. And if you think our media is any different, you’re really missing out. (As an aside, has anyone ever wondered why there’s no TV in the magical world?)
Yes, even the glorious NPR has to stay in business. I stopped listening to NPR long ago because I got tired of scoffing at half of what they said. Yes, I know this is criminal, and most of my friends still assume I listen to it as much as they do. But truth be told, NPR has an agenda, and that agenda is to stay in the media business. The individuals who work there I’m sure have other agendas- bringing news to people, transparency, whatever they tell themselves on a daily basis- but like any other business (and yes, non profits are businesses), if they didn’t get money in return, they wouldn’t be doing it anymore, no matter how noble the cause.
This always has fascinated me. For many years I’ve watched people, liberals or whatever, go off about how corrupt the media is, how they all have these corporate agendas, and then turn around and spout some shit they heard on NPR like it’s the absolute truth. If you’re a radical, maybe you spout the stuff from indymedia or something. Whatever. Regardless, all media has an agenda, and that agenda does not start off with “tell the truth.” No media is objective, everyone has an angle. And this, I think, goes back to what I was saying last week- I don’t think it’s entirely “media control” that has got everyone brainwashed.
I’m not saying “the media”- by which I think we all mean newspapers, tv, commercials, movies, the news, the internet- doesn’t have a part in it. You can’t have watched Mad Men and not seen the amazingly subtle ways that they come up with to sell people shit they don’t need. But- and this is important- they’re not telling you anything you hadn’t really thought of yourself. The most important aspect of successful advertising is to play on your own thoughts, your own fears. They’re not wiping your brain and replacing it with messages of “buy, buy, buy”- they’re very delicately pushing your already existing impulses in the direction they want.
Mad Men actually demonstrates this in an intriguing way. People will often accuse Don Draper, the main character, of brain washing people into buying things or some such. That there’s this whole system behind forcing people to be consumers. But he always makes the argument that people have wants, have deep desires. They want security. They want to feel happy. They want to know that everything is going to be ok, and that it’s all right for them to be happy, especially as the world falls to pieces around us. And by and large, that’s what advertising does. Pay attention when you’re watching commercials. It’s very rarely “sex sells.” That’s so trite. It’s the underlying message- everything is ok- that’s what people really latch onto.
Of course, everything is not ok. It’s one of the conundrums of the environmental movement. There have always been accusations leveled at environmentalists that they’re all doom and gloom, and that they’d be more successful if they talked about what people could get if they saved the environment, instead of what they’d lose if they didn’t. Most environmentalists protest this tactic, calling it dishonest, to avoid talking about the “hard truths.” But the “capitalists” clearly have it right, considering they’re winning.