The Subtle and Manipulative Programming of the Mass Media

Six corporations control 90% of everything we watch, listen to and read in the United States. Go ahead and let that sink in. Never mind the monopolizing of business, but focus more on the monopolizing of your views.

The gentle programming beat of the mass media goes on, ever so slyly, that it’s nearly unrecognizable. Perhaps the “illusion of choice” or the idea of free will are both euphemisms of mental manipulation. A sophisticated assault on our psyche disguised as news, music, social media and the like. If someone were to tell us that we were partaking in a large mind control scheme, it’d probably be met with some hesitancy and denial. Even if we take a critical look at the role that the mass media plays onto our conscience, something we must be reminded of every so often, you might be a little more skeptical on the indoctrination and propaganda hammered into our collective brain. As plain as the nose on our faces, we as a society cannot even recognize the writing on the wall. Until now.

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Four deliberate tactics performed by the mass media will be outlined and dissected here. There are several others; however, I’ll just highlight these four today. If you don’t think you’re influenced, brainwashed and manipulated by the mass media, consider the following points and perhaps have a discussion with others about it.

TACTIC #1: REPETITION
There are several mass media theories (Cultivation Theory, specifically) that essentially state, you can only go so long with seeing a message before you accept it. Some of the most malleable are our children, who consume the mass media through television, movies, video games, print media and now social media.

Some of the programming we see through repetition are images of McDonald’s, Walmart and Coca-Cola. We see facilitations and instructions to support the military, watch sports, go to church, buy American cars or be seen as unpatriotic. In the same breath, sex, violence and alcohol are glorified. We are reminded by pharmaceutical companies, gyms and doctors that we need to lose weight. We’re taught that bigger and more is better. We are smothered and reminded of these images every where we go.

Consider the push for the current movie, “American Sniper.” We see print and television ads for a movie about the glorification and support of our troops as heroes. If we see these ads in popups on our computers, during commercials of our favorite television programs and on billboards while we drive—literally everywhere you turn, when someone asks you about a movie currently playing at the theaters, I’m willing to bet I know what movie you’ll mention. Repetition works.

Also consider the 2014 blockbuster song, “Bend Ova” by Lil Jon and Tyga. To say that we willingly exposed ourselves to this song in 2014 would be a misnomer. In actuality, we couldn’t go to a sporting event, nightclub or turn on the radio or television without having the song shoved down our throats. Even if we didn’t know it was there, perhaps going unnoticed, it was still there playing in the background. Catchy beat and dubstep were the thing, though, right? There’s a reason why this song, along with “Turn Down For What,” received so much airplay. And while I was never a fan, this music is symbolic of songs we hear every day that shape our culture. Then there are the lyrics.:

Put it on a n*gga ’til his *ss can’t take it
Bend ova, make your knees touch your elbows!
Stop playing girl, shake that sh*t
Stop playing girl, shake that sh*t
Wiggle that *ss make it shake like Jello-o

Head baby on the fly ain’t sh*t really
I get p*ssy so wet that’s a free willy
P*ssy on the pedestal watch ’em pop a wheelie
Pop, pop, pop b*tch feel city

If you’re wondering how this is even considered music, think about how music executives fuel the destruction of a culture. And trust me when I’m say I’m one of the biggest Hip-Hop heads there is. I’m not picking on one song to defame a genre, as tacky of an example as this is. But do you ever wonder why this song was pushed so hard? And even if you’re not a follower, you go from ignoring the song, to hearing it, to disliking, to loving it to hating it and liking it again. Radio stations play it over and over again. There’s a method to the madness: the corporations (the 90%) have inked deals worth millions to have the song aired on the soundtracks of movies, at the mall and all of the major radio stations. And I don’t find it coincidental that the lyrics happen to be misogynistic. Do you notice why socially conscious, uplifting, positive music is never played to the masses? What are the long-term psychological effects of this? Perhaps, in this case, misogyny?

A “mainstreaming” theory of communication is to speak to the middle. What is the middle? The average person. If you speak to the person in the middle, you’re marketing to the majority of people, those inside the bell curve so to speak and the rest of us convert. Ask yourself: are we more concerned with football, Kim Kardashian and “Sons of Anarchy” because these are our interests or because we are told to like it? Do you watch the Super Bowl because you love the game or because everyone else is watching it? Do you eat McDonald’s because you like it or is it because you’re in a rush and the food is inexpensive? Do you purchase a ticket for “American Sniper” because you’re genuinely interested in the subject or because the machine is ingraining it into you mind. There’s a reason the television is called “the idiot box.”

Watch what you’re watching
Stop sleeping
Start thinking outside of the box
And unplugged from the Matrix stopped you
But watch what you say, Big Brother is watching
-Nas

Television is one of the biggest mainstays in our inner-city, impoverished communities. We’ll be damned if we have no food on the table, lights cut off and no heat in the house before we go without television. Cable television runs 24/7 in the hood and in our barrios. What’s our need? What’s our demand? We’ve been hypnotized by it. We’re addicted to it. If you don’t believe that, step in front of the TV when the telenovelas are playing and see if you don’t get a chancla thrown at your head.

The repetitive nature of taking in these messages has consumed us. And it’s standardized our thoughts.

TACTIC #2: PUSHING AGENDAS
The media creates stories while ignoring others to push an agenda (selective reporting), amongst other reasons. If you want to know who’s controlling your favorite primetime television program, watch the first commercial break: the ads that run during this break have been strategically placed, costing millions of dollars to tap into your brain. Businesses use their bottomless marketing budgets and directly influence programming. The television companies’ relationship connotes some sort of loyalty to each other, so they don’t have conflicting interests (so much for freedom of speech). It’s a regular business deal where both sides do a little back scratching. Next, Internet will be for sale. So while the corporations shape the mass media, like a secret affair, and also shape our minds, we become pawns of manipulation. It sounds unrealistic… if we didn’t have proof. Consider Operation Mockingbird, when the Central Intelligence Agency used the mainstream media to manipulate the minds of American citizens.

Or how about the Facebook mind control experiment? These are real strategies used in the mass media to control your mind, your thoughts and your actions. Scary, right? It happens more than you’d think.

The news is also a tool of manipulation. The fact that your main news source has sponsors should be a huge red flag. There’s no such thing as the free press anymore. I guess the freedom of information isn’t free, especially when your favorite news media outlet is a business. A corporation that is concerned with making money, creating ratings and sustaining sponsorships. As much as these organizations try to make you believe they’re fair and balanced, know that they have bosses and viewers to appease, payrolls to maintain, quotas to meet, etc. And with revenues in the hundreds of billions, who cares about the truth? The message will always be spun, twisted, slanted to whatever direction the almighty dollar wants. It’s easy to hide an agenda when necessary. Other messages are more overt: one of the biggest examples of this scripting are political smear campaigns.

For the right price, we see and hear nearly unverifiable mud-slinging political ads appear on television, radio and online. During election season, we see these ads over and over (repetition, again) and they’re full of omissions, cherry-picked “facts” and distortions. This is programming that confuses our reality, sways our opinions and controls our thoughts. The truth is lost in the fray. And with clever imaging, stylized graphics and savvy broadcasting, who knows what’s real?

Not only do they control what you see, they have the ability to symbolically turning up the volume on some issues while muting others.

We’ve recently seen several high profile incidents that the mainstream media has failed to report on. The shabby coverage of the NAACP building bombing comes to mind, but this is only one of many. Lennon Lacy’s death should have been the biggest story of 2014, but instead it was Michael Brown’s. That’s power—having the ability to dictate what people care about.

When you watch television, particularly the news, question everything.

TACTIC #3: FAKE REALITY TELEVISION
We’re so confused about reality that we need a genre of television to tell us what’s “real” and what’s not. “Honey Boo Boo,” “Dancing With The Stars” and “Basketball Wives”—is this really what’s important to us? A good portion of reality television is scripted. We’re inundated with mainstream images of smut television and it’s left us infatuated. Not only is this aimed at the middle, but it’s used as a tool to keep people in their place. There’s a war against consciousness going on in the mainstream media right now, with exploitative and fake reality television? Even on the History Channel or TLC, will you find fake stories.

Consider the programming on the Discovery Channel: “Mermaids: The Body Found,” a docudrama that we all swore was real. But wasn’t some of it true? The documentary claimed to show scientific evidence of mermaids, however the entire show was fake. There was a brief disclaimer in the end credits that read, “Though certain events in this film are fictional, Navy sonar tests have been directly implicated in whale beachings.” Again, if you’ve seen the documentary, you’ll be able to decipher that these sentences couldn’t be more distracting and unrelated.

There have been several instances where reality TV and contestants of the show have been completely debunked as hoaxes and liars. But in the moment, a little stretching of the truth can’t hurt, can it? Not only does the glorification of reality television skew our perception of reality; we give some folks fame that they don’t deserve and for all of the wrong reasons. I saw this photo the other day and it made me think of the damage we can do to ourselves but not without the help of the mass media machine.

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The lines between fact and fiction are blurred. They sensationalize and make stars out of people, our brains make us believe what we see. If it’s on TV, it must be true. Right?

TACTIC #4: DISTORTION

Distortion: (noun) the action of giving a misleading account or impression. In medicine: 1.) a twisting out of normal shape or form. 2.) A psychological defense mechanism that helps to repress or disguise unacceptable thoughts. In music: compressing peaks of electronic music instruments’ sound waves, which results in a large number of overtones. Synonym: warped, bias, exaggeration, twisted, misrepresentation.

Our image of the world, beauty, selves and reality is completely distorted. And the media facilitates this: Photoshopping pictures, synthesizers in music and clever/subtle packaging. These practices tell us obvious lies, fabrications, misquoting, minimizing, misleading, withholding and generalizations. And if this is all we’ve ever know, how can we recognize it? Should we believe everything our favorite actor, athlete or personality tells us?

I find it funny that young kids are surprised when they find out their favorite rappers aren’t killers and drug dealers. Truth is, honest and simple doesn’t always make entertainment. Nor does it often fit into sound bites. People want sensationalized stories that are quick and easy. On the homepage of CNN.com this weekend, I see an article on body parts found in a suitcase in San Francisco. What’s the motive behind this story? Is it truly important? Does the placement on the homepage decipher its urgency and substance? Who reported on the story? What’s being left out of this synopsis? Is there an agenda behind this news?

Millions of dollars will be spent on today’s Super Bowl commercials, to create crafty and innovative schemes around their product that will leave viewers wooed. But how many of these ideas are actually accurate and true to life? They’re mostly lies. Horses playing football, frogs singing, giant M&M’s exercising and Kim Kardashian mocking herself. Sure it’s cute, but it ain’t real. This sort of distortion on reality takes a toll on our psyche—we want something to believe in. Something to take us away from the monotony of our lives. Something to make us laugh, give us hope and the like. These commercials will win you over with a good-natured, heartfelt, inspiring message; but in actuality, the product is lost in the commercial. Consider a beautiful image of whales swimming in their natural habit: the commercial is about insurance, annuity and investments.

Don’t be fooled or misguided.

The truth often gets distorted. Consider Hurricane Katrina’s images and reporting of looters. Another instance of selective reporting. Or the 2016 Republican primary debates debates not being aired on Univision. When a network is not allowed to present information to their market, misinformation rears into the picture. So how can we as the public be able to make informed decisions, teach our children about the world and learn from the changing world?

Moreover, all of these media outlets contribute to the “dumbing down” of society. These images contribute to an era of anti-intellectualism, ignorance and gullibility. Our cell phones have the capability to obtain information on nearly everything from language and history to climate change and policy. Yet we watch videos of people fighting, exchange pictures of cats and argue with one another. This generation may be the dumbest in the history of the world yet we have the most technological resources ever. And I’d like the blame the capitalistic system we live in for facilitating this.

I wonder if it is fair to discuss freedom of expression and thought in a region where the immense majority of the people are either totally or functionally illiterate. It sounds like a cruel joke, but it is much worse. Many people in the world not only lack freedom of thought but also the capacity to think, because it has been destroyed. Billions of human beings, including a large percentage of those living in developed societies, are told what brand of soda they should drink, what cigarettes they should smoke, what clothes and shows they should wear, what they should eat and what brand of food they should buy. Their political ideas are supplied the same way. Every year, a trillion dollars is spent on advertising. This rain pours on the masses that are deprived of the necessary elements of judgement to formulate opinions. This has never happened before in the history of humanity. Primitive humans enjoyed greater freedom of thought. Jose Marti said, “To be educated in order to be free.” We would have to add a dictum: freedom is impossible without culture. Education and culture are what the revolution has offered in abundance to our people, much more so than in a large number of the developed countries. Living in a consumer society does not necessarily make people educated. It is amazing, sometimes, how superficial and simplistic their knowledge can be. … No one can prevent our people from becoming the most cultivated, or from having a profound political culture that is neither dogmatic nor sectarian, something that is severely lacking in many of the world’s wealthiest nations. … It would perhaps be better to wait a while before talking about true freedom of expression and thought, because that can never be reconciled with a brutal economic and social capitalist system that fails to respect culture, solidarity and ethics.
—Fidel Castro (from the book War, Racism, and Economic Injustice: The Ravages of Capitalism).

The combination and culmination of the worst images are going to destroy us. And until we demand society relinquishes us from the Matrix, we’ll forever be plugged into the machine.

Stay vigilant.

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Máximo Anguiano is a creative, scholar and personality based out of San Antonio. Follow him on @blurbsmithblots on Twitter.

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