One of the small pleasures I enjoy is reading the morning newspaper with my breakfast. I know that it’s been predicted that the printed newspaper will become as extinct as the saber-toothed tiger within a short period of time, thanks to all the electronic gadgetry available, but I hope they hang around for a few more years. As I get older I especially enjoy reading the obituaries every morning. One could say I check the obits to make sure my name is not on the list. (An old joke from vaudeville days.) What really strikes me, though, when I read these obits, is how saintly and benevolent each dead person was during their lifetimes. Every obit recounts how loving and generous and humane each grandfather/grandmother, husband/wife, father/mother, etc., were when they prowled around this planet above ground. There is never a low-life in the bunch. My question is, however, how come I never seemed to run into any of these saintly figures, who would have undoubtably been more than eager to shower me with their benevolence once they got to know me. I guess it’s like the title of this piece, and the old song says. But reading the paper every morning got me to thinking of the power the printed word, and media in general has on society.
One day when I was in college I was having a political discussion with my father who was a Franklin Roosevelt democrat until the day he died. The topic got around to hate groups, and suddenly my father came out with the strange statement as to how the Ku Klux Klan saved America right after the Civil War by repelling angry mobs of former slaves who were bent on destroying this country out of revenge. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Dad,” I said, “you do know that the Klan hates Jews as much as they hate blacks.” “Yeah” he replied, “that’s now. But back in Civil War days it was different.” It was different? Where did he get such a cockamamie idea. Well it turned out he got this notion from a movie-maker named D.W. Griffith.
D.W. Griffith was a silent film director and producer and was also a master propagandist. He was the son of a Confederate soldier killed during the Civil War and in 1915 he produced a movie called “Birth of a Nation” which, although it looks primitive by today’s standards, was considered a masterpiece at the time, and was seen by nearly everyone. ( It’s still shown every now and then on the Turner Movie Channel and still worth seeing.) Taken from a book called “The Clansman” it shows the southern confederacy in the most favorable light, and sure enough there are vivid scenes showing former black slaves in a state of manic rage burning down cities until the KKK comes together and rallies to put an end to the rampage. As I said, a masterpiece in bigotry and propaganda. But the point is that if my father believed this tripe, millions of other Americans were probably brain-washed as well. The KKK had a huge increase in membership and activity in the 1920s and early 1930s, existing in large numbers in virtually every state in the union, and I think “Birth of a Nation” had a big part in that activity.
Of course, the evil that media propaganda can wreck reached its zenith during the 1930s in Nazi Germany. Josef Goebbels, who was head of the Ministry of Propaganda was considered the third most evil person in the Nazi regime (after Hitler and Himmler) and yet, to my knowledge, he never personally killed anyone, or even gave the orders to do so. Yet he surely would have swung from the gallows at Nuremberg if he and his wife had not murdered their 6 children and then committed suicide, because they couldn’t bear to live in a world without Hitler. His evil stemmed from the prodigious anti-semitic propaganda his Ministry put out all across Europe, which opened the gates for the ensuing death camps and the murder of 6 million innocent people. It should be noted that the Holocaust could never have succeeded without the labors of tens of thousands of Germans and other Europeans who built the death camps or the railway cars and tracks to the camps, provided the food and other supplies to these camps, built and transported the poison gas systems, and on and on. A prime motivator for the thousands of participants or cogs in this machine of death was Goebbels propaganda.
On a somewhat less virulent scale, propaganda goes on today in the social and political arenas, especially in this political year. As I’ve written before, it’s estimated that about $2 billion will be spent on the Presidential campaigns. Throw in another billion or so for Senatorial, Congressional, and Governorship races and you’ve hit the perfect trifecta. Almost all of this will be spent on radio and TV advertising trying to convince you that the candidate’s opponent is pure scum. It’s called the politics of personal destruction. As obnoxious and demeaning these mudslinging ads are, they apparently wouldn’t exist if people didn’t buy into and use them as the basis of their voting decisions. That’s called brainwashing. The other day I went on YouTube to listen to some recordings, and all of a sudden, up popped this particularly obnoxious anti-Obama smear job advertisement. And it’s not even spring. Wait until summer and fall. Can’t you just feel the love.
P.S. If you want to hear perhaps the saddest and most tragic song ever written, go on YouTube and click on a recording of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” (as differentiated from the song “Waltzing Matilda.”) Click on the version that shows the lyrics because the song is sung by Aussies who could be difficult to understand. I can assure you that what ever problems you may feel you have will pale in comparison when you hear this song.