Wednesday, 23 February 2011


"Never has anyone ruled on this earth by passing his rule essentially on any other thing than public opinion,” wrote Jose Ortega y Gasset in *Revolt of the Masses*. While modern secular man presumably ought to base her/his view of leaders on the prospect of a brighter future for society’s welfare, politicians, businesspeople, professionals of all sorts, image-makers, and the media cultivate a public image on populist personal ‘character traits,’ as though the politician, businessperson, or professional is a marriage candidate instead of someone performing a service in the public or private sector.

The age of mass media has created what mass politics requires and voters have been duped into believing that the criteria ought to be based on 'personal character traits' that transcend policy issues. This is not to suggest that voters should overlook character, but should such traits that can easily be molded and packaged by 'image makers' be the dominant criteria? Whether U.S. or European presidents, or leaders of less advanced countries, image makers advise that the leader must be a ‘man or woman of the people’, close to the people with a ‘personal touch,’ regardless of whether policies only strengthen established interests to the detriment of society’s welfare and social justice for the vast majority.

Things are not much different in the realm of business, especially corporate world where image transcends substance in a cruel Machiavellian sense. Whether in politics or private sector, merely looking the part is 90% of the effort in 'winning the game'. And there is no shortage of consultants to make people both in politics and private sector 'look the part' - everyone from wardrobe/stylist advisers to speech advisers to acting/communication coaches/consultants. There are seminars, books, articles, advice columns, web blogs, etc. all devoted to image making because today more than ever you are what you appear and people behave accordingly toward you, until and unless they find out differently.

To distract from essential issues related to the widening rich-poor gap, the corporate-owned mass media throughout the world constantly molds public opinion and shapes the images of leaders for the masses who are conditioned to accept hollow appearances and not ask questions; focusing not on policies affecting the interests of social groups, but on sensationalized stories, personal lives and lifestyles. Talk radio, TV shows, news programs modeled after talk shows designed to entertain the audience for ratings so the show can remain on the air, project the 'lighter side of life'. Blogs are not much different for the most part. No matter how difficult and heavy reality has become, the focus is 'light everything' just like a soda pop designed to give you the illusion that 'light is good for you', at least it will make you feel better temporarily like a narcotic. 

Because human beings yield to irrational impulses, because the mass media cultivates peoples’ voyeuristic proclivities, and because most voters accept image as a substitute for substance and love to receive it in entertaining doses of incredible 'lightness', politicians have a free reign to serve elite interests while presenting themselves as personable leaders with ‘good’ character traits that the average person can feel good about and identify with.

Illusion works as long as people feel good about it. In identity politics and corporate business what matters is that the average citizen believes that the politician and corporate manager share the values of the common person. This belief - the illusion - leads the individual to conclude that sharing of common values between political (of business) leader necessarily furthers the interests of society as a whole. Whether it is true or not that the politician and/or corporate president actually serve societal interests is not important, only that people believe it is so and act accordingly. But how to convince them amid so many sources of information in the 21st century?

Sensationalized scandals, including ‘human interest,’ sex and crime, celebrity, and ‘reality-show’ programs along with organized religion that is more politicized than political parties, befuddle the average voter’s mind to the degree that internalization of societal problems means the absence of grasping complex problems regarding social justice. During the late 1970s, a Holocaust survivor explained to me that people living near Nazi concentration camps who were able to help were generally satisfied as voyeurs, rather than acting to help those in need inside the camps. In today's world, many reporters, photographers and camera crews are more interested in capturing the story for broadcast than of helping a victim in need.

We have failed to realize that we live in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where we need to look beyond image and take action to foster social justice and build a more humane world. Thanks to bourgeois institutions and the mass media that foster individualistic cash-value systems as the pillar of modern society, we are deluded into believing that we live in Hitchcock’s Rear Window that offers the psychological satisfaction, immediate gratification that the individual thinks he/she needs as though passing through a fast-food window for a sandwich and a soft drink.

Other than the financial and political elites, as well as the many who work toward that goal for the elites, who benefits from illusions and image-making? Where is society headed if illusion and image-making lack substance behind them? Where is society headed when people conform and believe that 'democracy' entails distributive political power among all citizens able to freely determine their own destiny when in reality 'democracy' as such is an illusion that the media and all mainstream institutions promote, an illusion or dream from which once people awake to stare at reality in the face, they discover concentration of power from political to economic in the hands of the elites hiding behind image-makers.

No comments: