Debate Magazine

Channeling National Religion

By Cris

In a recent Foreign Affairs article the author analyzes a propaganda television channel in one country which reminds me of a propaganda channel in another country. I have removed all references to the first country and inserted bracketed references for the second country:

Once the television audience’s attention has been grabbed, [this channel] sets about reshaping its perception of the world. The process starts with an assault on critical thinking. [This channel] is full of conspiracy theories and mysticism, not just about the nefarious [traitors and foreigners] who stand behind every public protest in [the country] but also about countless other threats lurking everywhere. Bizarre pseudoscience programs warn viewers about impending deadly fungi epidemics and introduce them to psychics who can enter their minds. Any sort of rational debate is rendered impossible by a constant stream of false assurances—illogical connections between two associations where two random facts are fused to create a distorted whole.

“A coincidence? I don’t think so!” — that’s the catch phrase of the popular talk-show host[s]. [These hosts have] famously asserted that a[n] education program that teaches children about bodily functions demonstrated the West’s appalling moral decline. [These hosts have] also attributed [Muslim] criticism of [the West] to a historical grudge that he said the [they] have harbored since suffering a military defeat [during the Crusades]. 

Having drawn in the viewers and disabled their critical defenses, [this channel] reaches deep into the nation’s emotional traumas. Politicians and presenters feed the audience nonstop reminders of the difficult [Cold War era], when, they argue, [Communists] cheered at the sight of a weakened [Homeland] and of the tremendous human toll of the two world wars. Saying that [this channel propagandizes] the past wouldn’t be quite correct; rather, [the channel] engages with history in a way that inflames traumas instead of healing them.

These kinds of tricks are not aimed at helping viewers achieve closure — in fact, they serve the opposite purpose. Coming to terms with the past requires that people bring their traumatic experiences into the realm of critical thinking in order to grapple with them—an approach used in psychotherapy. [This channel], by contrast, works more like a cult—heightening the vulnerability of its followers by forcing them to relive bad experiences without ever making peace with them.

Once viewers have been turned into emotional putty, [this channel] makes its final move: lifting the audience up with tales of glorious victories achieved by national leaders, from [the Founding Fathers to Ronald Reagan], thereby tying the viewers’ emotional uplift to [patriotic] heroics. The necessary [myth] is added as the icing on the cake—and by that point in time, the audience is ready to swallow almost anything.

The original article is about “Putin TV” or Russia’s Channel One, though it well describes the ways in which Fox News works. While I watch Fox only occasionally for academic reasons, it’s like entering another world, one in which everything is falling apart, enemies besiege us, our countrymen betray us, and only God and guns can save us from the coming political, military, and religious Apocalypse. In this television netherworld, anxiety, fear, and crisis are manufactured or kept at fever pitch so that calls to salvation will have maximum effect. While Fox makes for fascinating study, its national religion hold on the faithful is insidious.


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