Back in 2008, the political hype was centered on how well the Obama campaign had used the Internet to rally troops for the Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency. The action is considered historic on several levels.
Four years later, the dynamic has taken on more interesting dimensions as the political drama for the 2012 presidential election weaves its way inextricably into social media outlets. Sure Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are great forums for supporting one’s political favorite and flaming one’s opponent, but part of that fun is well, actually, fun.
That’s the humor component, for one. No longer relegated entirely to the political cartoonist, images of candidates abound across the Web, and in the hands of the clever contortionist, they become new tools of persuasion and dissuasion beyond their intended propaganda messages.
It’s not enough to alter an image’s main message. And it loses high credibility when either the new message shows errors in grammar and visual correctness or when its content is either 1) too profane for sensible civil tastes, or 2) lacks evidence of having critically thought through its issue.
What I am getting at, is that what we are seeing is a new phenomenon that has heretofore unrealized rhetorical power in it. And, as noted above, that strength is diminished through weak quality aesthetics. It only takes one poor error to ruin an entire piece and render it worthless.
So, in the battle for our hearts and minds this political season, the heat is on in the social media realm. Without delving deeply into Twitter or other social media outlets, but staying true to where the extended family is for practical propaganda, which is Facebook, there is a burgeoning movement to say what one feels s/he must in an attempt to influence others for the upcoming election in November.
Since I follow in the steps of Noam Chomsky and his revelations in what we have as “Spectator Democracy,” I remain apolitical, believing it doesn’t matter which party goes into office in a two-party system. So I have no ax to grind from that standpoint, though, admittedly, I abhor hypocrisy and appreciate when it is exposed.
A guy the other day who was telling me about his church said, “We’re all hypocrites.” Uh, no we’re not. We’re not all pretending to be something we are not, some of us actually go out of our way to render our lives as transparent as possible. That does not mean we are perfect or have no skeletons in our closets. It just means as an overall lifestyle we prefer to be honest with ourselves before God and man. There are even people who seek to leave God out and strive for this type of honesty believing they owe it to themselves as decent human beings to be as genuine as possible. So, no, we are not all hypocrites, as hypocrisy is not a one-time event, it is a lifestyle choice.
So there is the duality that we are addressing here, in some respect. Corpiticians pay zillions for their propaganda ads as they seek to buy their political offices, and what better way to render their message intended to persuade than to defuse it by rewiring it? And for a seemingly ubiquitous audience, far beyond the reach of television. Potential implications from this process are astounding. Let’s consider what transpires some:
1. The initial message — for which a fortune was paid to conceive and construct and deploy — is no longer seen and heard. The newer message not only takes precedence over the intended propaganda message, but it shows just how weak the propaganda effort was, how vulnerable and shallow the efforts to persuade were.
2. This in itself is nothing new in the realm of propaganda. What makes it new and worthy of study and evaluation is the promulgation of the manipulated rhetoric over digital channels, especially social media, and here, specifically Facebook.
3. Let’s not forget the element of surprise, both as delight or terror at seeing the new rhetoric, and at how that new rhetoric steals more than just the thunder of the original message, it steals chunks of the candidate’s huge financial investment. Turns out they bought a white elephant.
4. Is there a valuable impact? Perhaps not in the eventual vote cast in November. Then again, perhaps with enough doubt injected into the system, there is. Why spend millions on repetitive TV ads if not? So, there is impact, even if it is painful acknowledgment that the person one is putting in office is problematic, but still gets the vote, for whatever reason.
5. It acts as the weapon that propaganda intends to be, because in a sense, what is really happening here is a swap of propaganda: turning the intended message in on itself so that it is no longer possible to hear that message as intended, a form of detournement. Instead, one gets a louder, clearer message that screams:
It shatters ambiguity with rhetorical acuity.
It will be interesting — and distressing, albeit — over the next few months as the visual rhetoric exponentially abounds on Facebook and other social media channels. Where the power of the political propaganda initially lies in the wealth of the candidate and a bevy of available, hungry mass media outlets, the strength of the message in the hands of a skeptical citizenry reticent to be deceived may render an intended message impotent as that citizenry renders everything anew, and when successful, disarms any overlooked hypocrisy or intended propaganda with a bold honesty that rightfully belongs in the uncontested politics of a democracy that is of, by, and for the people.