This Just In: Almost Universal Shrug as Fiction Writers Become an Endangered Species

Do not, under any circumstances, read this subversive post.

When Lenin and Hitler assumed power, they both immediately set up film studios. Why? Because film is a superb medium for emotional manipulation and thus for propaganda. The secret of its power lies in the AUTOMATICITY of its emotional effects combined with the ease with which auteurs can achieve those effects. Film is really good at making people feel whatever you want them to feel and at making them do this REFLEXIVELY–that is, automatically, in the absence of REFLECTION. So, film is a propagandist’s dream come true.

The immediacy of the entertainment value of electronic mass media led social commentators in the mid-20th century to observe that media were becoming the message: consume, enjoy. In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan took that one step further. The medium wasn’t even a message, in the conventional sense, because “message” implies the communication of thought. No, McLuhan said. The medium is the massage.

Of course, fiction can be used for propaganda purposes, but because of its relative length and complexity, fiction invites reflection. It can be used to present detailed critiques of common notions or of the status quo. Check out Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Or it can be used to present detailed warnings about present tendencies, amplified into the future. Check out Orwell’s 1984 or Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

In fiction, the medium is a vehicle for a message. BIG difference.

Oh, sorry, my bad. You can’t just “check out” those books I mentioned. You actually have to take the time and effort to read them. And then you might start having ideas, and then you might have to be hauled off for reeducation.

So, propagandists typically make films and suppress novels.

Even something as innocuous, on the surface, as the Marvel Universe series of movies serves a propagandistic purpose. That series causes young people to acquire the notions that the world is neatly divided up into good guys (us) and bad guys (them) and that the way to fix things is to arrange for a climactic scene in which the former blow the latter up.

Acquisition differs from learning. The former is automatic. The latter isn’t.

We live in a good time for would-be totalitarians because increasingly even people who are nominally educated don’t read, and electronic media, such as social networks and cellular telephone systems, make surveillance easy. I’ve been, for love or money, a writer all my life. I believe passionately in the power of the written word to keep evil at bay. But I’m coming, increasingly, to believe that people like me are an endangered species. A lot of “educated” people, today, simply don’t read regularly, which raises that old philosophical question,

“Does a story that is never read even exist?”

Please. Please. Please. Turn off the TV occasionally and read. Fading here. . . .

Copyright 2019. Robert D. Shepherd. For all the good that does. Feel free to share, but please retain this notice.

About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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