December 06, 2002
overflow & overboard

I was thinking about how best to write this, but I think in the end it's just the description of what I was thinking about writing, which is from an email to Mr. Brown this evening. I'm meta like that.


I'm working on a longer post on propaganda, since I spent some time today looking through psyop stuff from afghanistan. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to say about it, the crazy part is that it's so bad somehow, so base and stupid. Like we have this image of western propaganda as being sophisticated and clever and stuff -- I think in part because of our imagery and understanding of western advertising. You want it to be strategically sophisticated like an Ikea ad, but it's base, like direct mail. It's more about the challenge of "open this envelope now" than the challenge of a complex perceptual shift.

But then, these are experts, with a lot of war behind them, you have to assume that these guys know what they are doing and that this really base stuff is really what makes propaganda effective. I just keep thinking of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's David Ogilvy. Goebbels' thing about how everyone thinks propaganda is when you distort the truth or exaggerate or lie, and that they are immune to that. He said in a way, people are immune to that, because you greet such things with either confirmation, yes I thought so, or denial, that's just bullshit. Effective propaganda, said the clubfoot'd Joseph, is when you come up with an action or an image that is so shocking that the mind simply boggles. That you see something that you simply can't believe and the mind sort of shuts down, and then you are vulnerable to whatever comes next. It's like a buffer overflow attack on your OS. Actually, it's really like a buffer overflow attack. Funny, that.

So looking at this recent psyop shit today I thought, man, we humans are just so easy to fucking take apart. I remember too, a study about a year ago that showed how very very few decisions we make in a day, that most all of the things that we decide, we decide on autopilot, they don't involve a certain kind of complex cognitive processing. It was a study that confirmed, yes, we would go crazy if we had to process every decision (walk/donít walk) at some higher level. That thereís a set of decisions that we have always already made. And that's where the persuasion industries enter, I think, it's to get certain kinds of choices and decisions into that root level directory.

There's a popular idea that commercials are supposed to make you think, yes, I'd like a Pepsi right now, but if you think about it in relationship to that study, it's more about making the [decision of what to drink] less of a [decision]. Combined with the recent articles on MRI "neuromarketing" and cognitive-science connections to advertising, it seems like we simply aren't as complicated as we thought. Which is the first mistake that any sentient complex system makes, right? Mistaking itself for simple?

Posted by at December 06, 2002 03:05 AM

while we're on the subject of propaganda, turn to this week's new yorker and read sontag's piece on war photography. there will be a test.

Posted by: dbrown on December 7, 2002 12:02 AM

File the "bombed out dollhouse" in the Goebbels Box.

Posted by: Kio on December 9, 2002 02:24 PM
Post a comment

Email Address:


Remember info?