Swimming Against the Stream

Posts tagged “communication

Announcing The Anadromist

      Greetings from Tbilisi Georgia! I would like to announce that I have just started a YouTube channel directly related to the content on this site. This is my response to the polarization and turmoil of the times. I want to do through speaking what I have attempted to do here through writing, to encourage considerate and serious thinking about the times we inhabit rather than than travel down the obvious roads of discourse which have become so scabrous. And so I have launched what is in fact my second YouTube channel called The Anadromist, someone who swims against the stream.

A week ago I uploaded this short invitation, which is a good place to start.. It’s only three minutes long. Give it a watch…

Then once you’ve done that you can go on to the introduction, which is about 15 minutes long. And if you like the concept please do subscribe. I’ve decided to make The Anadromous Life in its different versions a going concern. In my new life in Tbilisi Georgia I find I need to stay connected with the rest of the world. And I also need to see if this will provide some extra resources to keep me afloat down the road. So subscribing to the Anadromist channel is important to me. I have a notion that all of the ideas I’ve been sitting on for years might have some purpose out there in the world. We’ll see. And if you are already following me here it can’t hurt to follow me there as well.

Here’s the introduction where I describe my reasons for starting this venture. I’m not sure how long I can keep it going. But I’m enthused to make these videos and to engage in a conversation with others through YouTube. I have several more episodes already in the can. There shouldn’t be any shortage of topics.

I’ve enjoyed myself coming up with ways to make my ‘talking head’ more interesting. And I have taken my editing skills and put them to work inventing new imagery. Now the big question is how much material can I borrow before I start getting copyright notices?

And don’t worry I will continue writing here and at Gravity From Above. I have several essays that should find their way to the page very soon. Also I will continue using my current channel The Anadromous Life for documenting puppetry, music, dance and other events. So if you want you can join up there too. Watch this one if you haven’t discovered my first channel. This is an extremely short little title piece I made for the site. But click on the channel and explore my content. I don’t do anything to go out of style.

Thanks for being part of this experiment that I’ve been running since 2010. Over 200,000 views have been accumulated over 80,000 individuals have passed through the site. Not bad considering I hardly advertise at all.

If you want to support this work there is PayPal. Or you can just pass the essays along and the videos.

Meanwhile I need to get some sleep here in Tbilisi.

Stay tuned much more is coming.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

12/5/2019

 


21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #3

Untamed Voices

A man rides his horse through flames during the

In my last 21st Century Propaganda essay I mentioned several contemporary figures whom I felt I could trust, whether I completely agreed with them or not. Today we live in times where, to paraphrase Yeats, the center does not hold. There is no public square, as Os Guinness has been espousing. And so while the political and cultural edges eat themselves in Ouroboros fashion I thought I would give you bonafide examples of the kinds of conversations that are happening in what might be a developing public square. And for me (and I’m sure I’m not alone) without this dialogue we will slide into new civil wars, and possibly a New Dark Age. These speakers have very definite positions. I’m sure that Camille Paglia’s praise of drag queens would not find a complimentary echo in Paul Vanderklay’s Christian beliefs. But here is the point, the people featured below show evidence of being people willing to discuss ideas openly and even admit faults in an honest way. I am absolutely sure that Vanderklay and Paglia could have a great discussion, even with their differences. And better this rather outcast assemblage of contradictory voices than lockstep ideologies of the indentitarian right or left. So I present to you a few words to challenge your thinking and fuel your own integrity.

Again I have not tried to make sure I represented every position or ethnicity because I believe that kind of thinking leads us into an authoritarian stalemate. These are just people that I have in some way or another learned to trust, even when we disagree. My suggestion: Find people whom you trust, who are open to dialogue. (Better yet go back and read this whole series.  Or if that’s too much read the last couple of essays.)

You will also notice that several of these videos are over a hour long. And maybe you find that to be a long slog. But consider this, look at the view counts on each lecture. Some are in the hundreds of thousands. And more than one person has commented on the fact that while the mainstream media still hands out sound bites in the belief in the stupidity of the viewer. Evidently there is a hunger for much more. Welcome to the world of solid food. An escape from the fast food sound bites of the legacy media. Save these for later, and trust me, look at how much time you waste, you have time. Especially since most of these don’t really require your visual participation.

The Living

Challenging Thinkers

These are teachers, professors, thinkers who’s work has been, in different ways, grappling this present moment and often directly challenging the assumptions of the monolithic media and educational systems.

Jonathan Haidt is a American social psychologist and professor at New York University. He is author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion and The Coddling of the American Mind co-written with Greg Lukianoff. This video is from the Think Forum.

Christina Hoff Sommers is an American author and philosopher. Her books include: Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. Dave Rubin is a political commentator and talk show host of YouTube’s The Rubin Report. The following video is from the Rubin Report and is entitled Christina Hoff Sommers: Feminism, Free Speech, Gamergate.

Roger Scruton is an English philosopher and writer specializing in art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. Notable books include: The Aesthetics of Music, Sexual Desire, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged, Beauty, Where We Are. The lecture below is called The True, the Good and the Beautiful.

Camille Paglia is an American academic, social critic, renegade feminist and professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her books include: Sexual Personae, The Birds, and Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. In the following video Camille Paglia discusses her most recent book, Free Women, Free Men Sex, Gender, Feminism.

Os Guinness is an English author, social critic whose history included time at L’Abri in Switzerland and a PhD at Oxford. Now residing in America he is a dedicated observer of the times. Books include: The Dust of Death, The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future and Fool’s Talk. John Anderson is a former Australian Deputy Prime Minister of Australia among other posts. This video was recorded in Australia from Conversations with John Anderson.

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He is also the author of Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief and the bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. He is an improbably controversial figure and probably as close as anyone to the core of the crisis of the present moment. Samuel Harris is an American neuroscientist, philosopher, author, atheist critic of religion and podcast host. His books include: The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Although Peterson and Harris take radically different views on the nature of God and belief, both have been called members of the Intellectual Dark Web. This is one of several extremely popular debates they have had on the existence of God. It took place in Vancouver.

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Historians

History is crucial in facing the meaning of this present age. And it is a subject most postmodern folk are entirely deficient in. These are a few prominent historians with valuable insights.

Timothy Garton Ash is British historian, author and commentator. Professor at both Oxford and Stanford Universities. He was present in a special way during the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. His books include: Facts are Subversive, History of the Present, The Magic Lantern, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 1980–82 and most recently Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World. This video is related to his book on Free Speech.

Sir Simon Schama is an English historian specializing in art history, Dutch history, Jewish history and French history. He is also a television presenter and now professor at Columbia University in New York City. Schama certainly has is own unique view of history and it is always worth a listen. In this lecture Simon Schama discusses History Lessons.

Ken Burns is an American documentary filmmaker focusing on American history. His documentary series include: The Civil War , Baseball, Jazz, The War, and The Vietnam War. The following video is called An Evening with Ken Burns.

Suzannah Lipscomb is a British historian, academic and television presenter. She specializes in the Tudor period. Her books include: 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII, The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII, Witchcraft, The Voices of Nîmes: Women, Sex, and Marriage in Reformation Languedoc. This video is from The Conference 2013.

Niall Ferguson is a British historian and television presenter. He specializes in economic and financial history. His books include: The House of Rothschild, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, The War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred, The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power. This is video from Conversations with John Anderson.

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Mostly Millennial YouTubers

Thoughty2 (Arran Lomas) Thoughty2 should be pronounced in a northern English accent so that it sounds like 42, which is reference to Douglas Adams answer to the question of the meaning of life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arran is an affable, whimsical and sincere commentator on the world as he sees it. This episode is called Why Is Everyone Getting So Offended

Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin) The English Sargon is frankly a controversial figure. He was prominent in Gamergate, and has never been adverse to saying exactly what he is thinking. But Carl will also acknowledge his missteps with alacrity and will challenge all comers to give the reasons for why they say what they say. He rides the line between satire and genuine political philosophy. Scabrously opinionated and fair in equal doses. You’ve been warned. In this video he asks, How do we Parley with Silicon Valley?

Tim Pool (Timcast & Subverse) Tim Pool is an American journalist of Korean and European descent who came into prominence by reporting fairly on Occupy Wall Street, which meant he also showed the failings of the movement. Later he was found interviewing the Alt-Right or off in Ukraine during the time of their upheaval. He tries to be scrupulously fair and has spent much of his time critiquing the rather biased mainstream media. He is like a millennial version of Edward R. Murrow (if Murrow played video games). This is from his recent piece entitled: We Are At The Gates Of Civil War… And Nothing Can Stop It

Brave The World (Julia Turansky) Julia was a hardcore atheist anarchist with a heart. She made provocative videos seeking to expose the problems of the state. But after the birth of her child she began to ask deeper questions, eventually becoming a Christian. In this video she explains after 20 Years an Atheist: Why I Turned.

Paul Vanderklay is most assuredly not a millennial. He is a Dutch Reformed pastor living in Sacramento California who has spent quite some time trying to figure out what this moment means for Christians and others. He found YouTube a few years ago and began to ponder online along with others whom he began to interview who also have also been arrested by the crisis of meaning in today’s world. This is one of his shorter videos on Jordan Peterson, Owen Barfield and John Vervaeke.

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And The Dead

Some writers and thinkers could see where we would be before we got there. They emphasized different aspects of the age we have slipped into. Some of them have passed away in the last couple of years.

Tom Wolfe was an insightful essayist and novelist who focused his scrutiny upon the nature and foibles of contemporary life. Whether is analyzing the US space program or Ken Kesey’s cosmic space program he was a sharp critic and well worth listening to, even while ensconced in his trademark luxurious white suits year round. This interview is from CBS’ 60 Minutes.

Nat Hentoff was known as both serious jazz critic and as left wing political commentator. As time passed he adopted views that became harder to classify, linking abortion and euthanasia with the slippery slope down to Nazi ideology. And willing to show the authoritarian leanings of those who claimed to be fighting for various indentitarian factions. He spent many decades writing for the Village Voice, yet was eventually pushed aside for being politically incorrect. The following is a short biographical and political piece on free speech and jazz.

Jacques Ellul is perhaps the most underrated and heretical French thinker of the 20th Century. Former Marxist and a Protestant convert he was a sociologist with a rigorous understanding of the issues presented by technology and propaganda. His writing were almost ignored in France, yet through his books The Technological Society and Propaganda he found his way into a subterranean stream of American thinking. My own debt to Ellul is matched only by C.S. Lewis, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and Hans Rookmaaker. The following Dutch film is the only full documentary interview on his thinking made during his lifetime. It is called The Betrayal by Technology: A Portrait of Jacques Ellul.

Paul Virilio, who only recently passed away, is another French thinker who contradicts the postmodern worldview with his questions about the nature of speed, art and architecture. Of all the people represented here Virilio was seeing furthest into the future. His ideas if seriously engaged will challenge much that you know. In many ways he was the successor to Jacques Ellul. This is advanced level thinking about the issues of today and tomorrow. The following presentation is called Perspective and the Obligation of Seeing and is part of the European Graduate School Video Lectures

Hans Rookmaaker was a Dutch Reformed Art Historian who fought to restore meaning in art and a deeper understanding of reality. He clearly saw the end result of the meaninglessness of modern materialism. My debt to his thinking is immeasurable. The following audio lecture was one of his last before his untimely death in 1977. It is called What Is Reality? More Rookmaaker can be found at the L’Abri Ideas Library.

Hans_Rookmaaker

Hans Rookmaaker

Well this was supposed to be an easy essay to write… But it ended up being much longer than I thought it would. But you know what? These things are important. And I wanted to leave this 21st Century Propaganda series with a few practical solutions. They can be found by listening to these people. By listening. Disagreeing. Wondering. And getting busy. Time for reality. Time to swim against stream in the Anadromous style.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

16/4/2019

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A personal note:

The Anadromous Life has been running a YouTube channel for several years now. It has accrued some interest, with a few videos receiving many thousands of views. We would like to take this moment to say that we will be starting two more channels in the very near near future. One is entitled The Anadromist and this one will be closest in content to this site. I’ve felt I needed a place to ramble on about the many kinds of topics that I won’t have time for here. The other will be dedicated to my new life in Tbilisi Georgia.
And yes indeed I am now happily living in Tbilisi Georgia. It has been quite the time. I am learning Georgian (Kartuli) and I work for Union of Tbilisi Museums. I have made good friends. Yet things are not quite as I expected, and that includes financially. My Gravity From Above documentary has stalled again. And I am wondering how I will be able to ship my full container to Georgia within the next year. If you wish to help us out with Gravity From Above you can do so through PayPal. You can choose between a a one time gift or you if you wish you can contribute an amount every month for a year. PayPal is probably the most cost efficient way of helping us with Gravity From Above and moving to Georgia. Thanks for helping me stay afloat with this dream. I couldn’t do it without you.

DONATE HERE.

Thanks

Byrne


21st Century Propaganda #9: Can You Trust Anyone?

Damned Kids
Whom can we trust?      (Image The Village of the Damned.)

So here we are. Propaganda has taken over most of our communications. An atrocious incident in New Zealand suddenly escalates the psychic war. The Left shrieks that this is the fault of everyone not aligned with them. The Right digs in pugnaciously. And no doubt there will be more events of a similar kind from different factions in the not too distant future. Interestingly the old school media have completely overlooked the many Christians thus far killed in early 2019 by Muslims in Africa, the Philippines and other locales in their own drumbeats of suppression. Because clearly Africans (280 in Nigeria) and Filipinos are not on the list of people anybody actually cares about. They don’t figure in our propaganda wars. And yes real life massacres and violence are certainly part of this largely mental battleground.

austin_zombies

The Signs Are Everywhere.

There was a January attack on a church in the Philippines by Muslims that killed 20 and injured 80 people. Suddenly that becomes worthy of news because the media largely ignored it. In the wake of the Christchurch Massacre rightish media suddenly brings this incident out to say ‘Why do you spin things only one way?’ But then the numbers get inflated by angry propagandized right wingers. The dates change from a month or so ago to yesterday. And thus the massive propaganda trash fire continues to burn. Then someone in the leftish media says your numbers and dates are wrong. So therefore you are completely false. We saw a similar back and forth about Charlottesville. But truthfully everything is an info shuttlecock in this savage game of propaganda badminton. And this reminds me of what Joseph Goebbels said. “The truth is always stronger than the lie.” essentially all propaganda must be based on facts. Which is how the National Socialists took the assassination of a German by a Polish-Jew in Paris France and blew it up into Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when the cruel violence of the Nazis against the Jews was fully unleashed. Remember this when you are convulsed by an isolated event and want immediate political action. That is exactly how propagandists ratchet up the tension. An event sparks reaction before the event is even known or understood.

North Carolina SNow 2014

The Current Mediascape.

And so in this moment of heated tension the question then remains where can one go to get information that is at least less tainted by the all consuming maw of Propaganda. This is a much trickier question than it at first seems. One thing that is clear is that all of the mainstream sources are fairly difficult to trust now. One is completely immersed in Propaganda in the guise of news as one listens to CNN, the Washington Post, even respected sources like the BBC, NPR and New York Times all in their turns have fallen ill to varying degrees of this contemporary sickness. Gone are the Walter Cronkites and the Edward R. Murrows who while not being purely objective bystanders did their level best to give a middle-of-the-road perspective on the news of the day. Interestingly both worked for CBS News. And while CBS is not what it used to be it still seems to be fairly reliable when contrasted to the disinformation sideshows that the Washington Post and CNN have become.

3_BEYOND-THE-BLACK-RAINBOW-_-52212

What to Believe?     (Image from Beyond the Black Rainbow)

And other sources? The New Yorker, MSNBC, Vice, the Huffington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Daily Beast and on and on. Pretty much it’s a pox on all of their houses when it comes to really trying to serve all of the public. I mean Russia Today and Al Jazeera seem to be in the same league as they are. The biases drain out from under them like contaminated water from a defrosting refrigerator. For instance, when a writer compares Trump to Hitler you know you are in the presence of seriously distorted Propaganda, with no concern for history or truth. And when these same media pretend that there is only one point of view? Welcome to the Propaganda wars. And you may notice that all of these sources are slanted, in some cases heavily, to the Left. That’s not an accident.

Is the Right any better. I’m certainly not shilling for Fox News, yet there are times when due to their obvious biases they are less affected by certain forms of hysteria infecting the other media. Having said that I also would not trust them any farther than I could spit. Even more so with Breitbart News. Or the New York Post. And the Wall Street Journal must always stay in the realm of economic propaganda. While occasionally doing bizarre things like accusing Youtuber Pewdiepie of being a neo-Nazi. Only to eventually have to retract it much later. And curiously the right wing sources are much less name brand recognizable than those tilting left. And thus those on the obvious Right sling their propaganda mud with alacrity.

A Rope tied to the Left Hand

And if the Center Does Not Hold?

But the center is not holding. The Left has drifted continually into extreme territory until they are casually redefining the nature of male and female, what makes a country, and the meaning of democracy. What a few years ago would have been taken as obvious by most folks, that men and women are different biologically, that a country has borders, that a legal vote reflects the will of the populace, have all been dragged severely in the last few years to the synth drumbeats of so much propaganda. People have even forgotten what they used to believe. And I mean five years ago. And the vanguard of these new ideas, media figures and university students, will often act with complete shock and hurt that anybody still believes such shameful hateful ideas as biological sex, the nation state or elections, such as the Brexit Referendum or Trump’s victory, that go against the will of some of the people. And so these areas have, like a California wildfire, become a burnt over zone. All that’s left it seems is rage.

Man on Roof Wild Fire

California on Fire.

Meanwhile the illusion in the antique media is that the rather minuscule Alt-Right, whom, without fact checking, they conflate with Neo-Nazis and the KKK, are taking over. And so they take a figure like Canadian professor Jordan Peterson and vilify him as some sort of ‘far Right’ extremist because he is saying things which used to be considered liberal leftish opinions not too long ago. The truth is he is center Left. Yet he knows how to speak across the spectrum as many public intellectuals used to do. And when the Left media pundits try to trap him they, like the BBC’s Kathy Newman did last year, blunder into a dialogue they can’t win, because they are only feeding on the surface level frenzy of issues while Peterson actually has a grounding in the much wider and deeper cultural arena of history and science. Now I say this not agreeing with everything Peterson says, yet having a lot more respect for him than I do the majority of opinion makers that decorate the dying mainstream and digital media.

And that is the point. We have to get out of our slanted boxes and listen to people with differing ideas from our own. However I must immediately remind myself of a serious dilemma posed by Jacques Ellul. It is not enough to simply start listening to the ‘enemies propaganda’. In any set of ideas there are honest commentators, historians, journalists, thinkers and then there a multitudes of propagandists, who are usually getting the most ‘Likes’. Ellul points out that caught between two conflicting propagandas one doesn’t come to know the truth. Rather like being caught between two prizefighters one ends up getting slugged senseless. Or worse, simply converting from one form of propagandized belief to another. Which is why I’ve been aghast to see young people who begin to question the intersectional beliefs of third wave feminism then start moving towards a white genocide belief. As though there was nowhere in between. It’s like saying all that there is are Communists and Fascists. So avoid the propagandists!!!

Cannibal Women

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

The good news is that through people like Jonathan Haidt, Jordan Peterson, Tim Pool, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, Paul Vanderklay, Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers and many others an alternative network (the Intellectual Dark Web or IDW) that does allow real open discussion and disagreement has started to form. One of the best aspects of the insanity of the present moment is that there are some people truly talking again, not only on YouTube, but in lecture halls and seminars. It’s strangely refreshing to here atheist Carl Benjamin (aka Sargon of Akkad) defend Christianity. Or to know that atheist Sam Harris and Jordan B. Peterson, who is some sort of Christian, had a series of epic discussions on the existence of God, where the audience didn’t even want to stop for questions so fascinated were they by the conversions. Gay and straight folks are having the kinds of dialogues they should had for the last 30 years, which allows all questions and challenges on the table. Journalist Tim Pool is attempting to start an alternative news source called Subverse practically alone. And this sort of thing is being completely ignored by what YouTube commentator and occultist Styxhexenhammer666 calls the ‘lame stream media’. And these discussions and videos go on for hours. Where is the soundbite mentality? Well it’s still there on CNN, the BBC, on clickbait Buzzfeed posts. But I do believe people are hungry for the intellectual nutrition that our global commercial networks have denied them to the point of malnourishment.

Hitchhiker

Be Careful of Who You Pick Up.

How then to detect a person with ideas worth taking seriously from any stripe? First of all, do they acknowledge the messiness of every interpretation including their own? Can they see why a person would believe something other than what they believe? Do they respect opinions radically different from their own? Do they have a real sense of history? Do they point out when they get their facts wrong? Are they humble about their knowledge? Do they believe in truth? Of any kind? Do they know that others outside of their belief structure can also understand truth? Do they agonize over the state of humanity with compassion and not accusation? These kinds of questions to me all point to the kind of person you can learn from no matter what their belief. Nobody can be perfect in these things. But do they have these as some sort of goal? If so the you are in the presence of someone who lives in this world, and not a fictional propaganda echo chamber. If you are arguing with them when you read, listen or watch them you are at least arguing with someone living in the same world that you live in. And while you might see things differently and have come to different conclusions they are different conclusions about the same reality.

Deep Thoughts

Time for Reflection Not Reaction.

Now I can’t tell you whom you should trust. But I can tell you some of the people I have been listening to myself. They come from various perspectives. Some of them I radically disagree with. But they are honest in their opinions and worth wrestling with if you are a thinking human being. In other words this is not a list for the immature, whether they be 12 years old or 75.

So take this for what it’s worth. In a future addendum to this series I will add clips of YouTube vlogs, speeches and interviews. As of this writing all of these people are living and still contributing to the discussion. There are many more I could add, but this will be a good starting place. And YouTube searches would be the best introduction. I have not tried to represent every possible ethnicity or viewpoint, because my feeling is that that sort of empty gesture is part of the problem not the cure. This is what I found helpful for myself. You will certainly find others.

Besides the living, the dead having even far more to say to us. But I have rambled on too long for now.

bosch hell

Bosch Understood What Happens When You Move With Entropy, Not Against It.

And so this will be the official end of this series of essays. If you been following my main thrust you’ll see that my view is that the primary issue confronting humanity in this time of chaos does not come from any specific political issue or ideology. Rather it can be seen this way; while fewer people have died in wars in the 21st Century as died in the last century by this same point, most folks today are far more fearful of and confused by where we are now than they were then. Why? Propaganda. We live in it as it invades our consciousness from every orifice of technology. And yet there is hope if we can start to enter the conversation with real creativity and with real people.

I will give the late Canadian media critic Marshall McLuhan the last word.

“Jacques Ellul observes in Propaganda: ‘When dialogue begins, propaganda ends.’ His theme, that propaganda is not this or that ideology but rather the action and coexistence of all media at once, explains why propaganda is environmental and invisible. The total life of any culture tends to be ‘propaganda’, for this reason. It blankets perception and suppresses awareness, making the counter environments created by the artist indispensable to survival and freedom.”

Foggy Woods

Finding Our Way in the Fog

And finally just a few names of living people that I trust in different ways. These folks have ideas worth hearing even if you or I disagree with them.

Camille Paglia – American Art Historian, Lesbian, First Wave Feminist, Atheist (Center Left maybe)

Christina Hoff Sommers – American Historian, Philosopher, ‘Factual’ Feminist, Author, YouTuber (Center Left)

David Thomson – British Film Critic, Author of many books and essays (Center Left)

Jonathan Haidt – American University Professor, Social Psychologist, Author (Center Left)

Jonathan Pie – Scabrous British Satirist, Socialist (real name Tom Walker) YouTuber (Left)

Jordan B. Peterson – Canadian University Professor, Clinical Psychologist, Jungian, Author (Centrist)

Julia Turansky – Canadian Anarcho-Christian, YouTuber (Channel Brave The World) , Mother

Ken Burns – American Documentarian, Author, TV Producer (Center Left)

Ken Myers – American Radio and Podcast host Mars Hill Audio (Center Right)

Niall Ferguson – British Historian, Television presenter, Author (Center Right)

Os Guinness – British Author, Christian, Lecturer (Center Right)

Paul Vanderklay – American Dutch Reformed Pastor, YouTuber (Center)

Robert D. Kaplan – American Historian and Journalist, Machiavellian, Author (Centrist)

Roger Scruton – British Philosopher, Television Presenter, Conservative Commentator, Art Historian (Center Right)

Simon Schama – British American Historian, University Professor, Television Presenter (Center Left)

Slavoj Zizek – Slovenian Marxist Postmodern Philosopher, Author, Television Host (Left)

Stanley Crouch – American Jazz Historian, African American Social Commentator, Novelist (Center)

Suzannah Lipscomb – British Historian, Television presenter, Author (Center)

Tim Pool – American Journalist, YouTuber Trying to Create an Honest News Source (Center Left)

Timothy Garton Ash – British University Professor, Historian, Journalist and Author (Center Left)

Timothy Keller – American Presbyterian Pastor, Author (Center Right)

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The addendum will come very soon.

Thanks for reading this and pondering these things with me.

….

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

24/3/2019

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Hey I really could use some help with what I am doing here in Tbilisi. My Gravity From Above project has stalled and my resources have become limited. Anything you choose to contribute can be done through PayPal. Click this.

And if this essay was of value pass it along.

 

21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #1


21st Century Propaganda #8: Infection and Diagnosis

Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.

Jacques Ellul – Propaganda

Pontypool

An Infection of Words spread through the Media in the Canadian ‘zombie’ film  Pontypool.

So then Propaganda surrounds us. (The series starts here.) What can we do to at least find a reasonable way of weighing the details of life surrounding us in this virtual bubble? There are two answers lodged in one question here. First: What practical steps can we take to make sure we are as little effected by the all consuming maw of illusory communications as is humanly possible? Second: Are there any ways of identifying voices we can trust from the various perspectives of this fictional panorama? No easy task. We shall deal with this in our concluding essay next time. Let’s tackle the practical issue first.

The main principle is this. We are all infected by today’s Propaganda. As Jacques Ellul points out intelligence is no defense. The very people who think themselves most up to date are often the most heavily propagandized. So the question then is not how to avoid propaganda, but how to recognize the depths of our own infection. In a way our situation is quite similar to the only Canadian postapocalyptic film I have ever seen: Pontypool. Which has the end of the world coming through an infection of words. And this is brilliant for being a direct correlation to propaganda and for it taking place in Canada one of the most politically correct hot spots on earth, complete with legislation to back it up. In Pontypool the radio station at the core of the film is also a source of this lethal infection. All communications media spread the infection. Conversations also spread it. And this verbal virus effects people by driving them completely murderous. It’s a excellent analogy, if a bit too extreme to help us to understand our own level of propaganda infection.

Knee Jerk test

Allow me to suggest a better indicator: The Knee Jerk Reaction.

Obviously the concept of the Knee Jerk Reaction is related to the reflex test where a physician taps a specific spot on your knee to see if your leg moves involuntarily. But there is a big difference between this physical test and our propaganda test. When your knee jerks that’s a very good thing. It means your reflexes are working correctly. But emotionally the knee jerk reaction means something exactly the opposite. It means when you hear certain words, concepts and names you react instantly, and usually it’s not very pleasant. That’s the Knee Jerk Reaction. And that’s a serious problem.

Now we all have them, Knee Jerk Reactions. Someone is talking about something and as soon as a word or possible thought passes through the air you are immediately disturbed. So you hear words like Trump, or abortion, or gay, or taxes, or war, or trans, or Clinton, or Macron, or Merkel, or Putin, or Obama, or Thatcher, or Reagan, or Republican, or Democrat, or feminism, or Muslim, or Christian, or atheist, or God, or witchcraft, or Satan, or Marvel, or DC, or Star Wars, or Harvard, or Yale, or Texas, or Russia, or China, or Africa, or blackface, or liberal, or equality, or free speech, or nationalist, or socialist, or vegan, or McDonald’s, or Starbucks, or T-Series or anything else that instantly changes your mood and there, my friends, lies your propagandized soul exposed for the world to see. And to the degree you find yourself at a loss of control in your anger, hatred, disgust, or fear that is the degree to which you can reckon yourself fully propagandized by something. And we all have these Knee Jerk Reactions. Don’t bother to deny it. Because that too will be a sign of the same.

Let’s Look For Your Jerking Knees. (Click to Expand)

 

 

Did You Figure Out What Causes You To Lose Your Mind?

Now I’m not saying there aren’t reasons for reactions. Oh there are… Except, once said, we have to then come straight to this point: How can we trust the sources of our news and information. When I first started to understand the depth of our envelopment in Propaganda we weren’t yet living in THIS world. Yes each news outlet had its viewpoint, but we hadn’t been bogged down in endless conspiracy theories yet. There was no Internet to spread the immediate reactions. If a pastor in Florida burned copies of the Koran in Florida no one even knew about it, let alone died in Palestine. And so I would say to folks then when I read Time Magazine or watch CBS News I know that something has happened, but I don’t necessarily trust that media’s interpretation of the facts. I came to understand this early because I was in a primary Jesus People group when I was young. Reporters from national news services occasionally wrote stories on us and I was always impressed by how little they really understood of what they had seen. Their stories were usually skewed by the reporters bias. Good reporters I learned sought to be fair, acknowledging their own biases, and working to put them aside. Not only are very few reporters today that good, but the idea of putting aside your biases today is nearly a lost art. (I say nearly, but fortunately not totally.) But today’s reporters proudly display their political biases and completely skew their news accordingly. Then again in these late postmodern times truth is seen as a relic of dead Western Civilization. Resulting in a new phenomenon, not merely changing the narrative, in which the word ‘narrative’ equals the word ‘spin’, but removing the veracity of the event at all. Fake News

Now when I see news I wonder if the event even happened? Is it Fake News? And even that phrase ‘Fake News’ is a hotly contested neologism. The Left claims that all Fake News is Right slanted. The Right claims the same about the Left. But I think its use points out the exact reality we find ourselves in. Not only is it the interpretation that is at stake but now the actual reality is in question. So what to do? How do we avoid being dragged into these propaganda wars within our own minds? And across the fiction of news as it has devolved in this hysterical age? We will talk about sources in our last essay. But for now let’s work on developing our powers of observation.

So a sudden story erupts. It’s not a hurricane in Florida, an Earthquake in Chile, but rather it’s one of those many events that have gripped us one after another for years now. There is a photo. A short video. A protest somewhere. A march. Suddenly it’s politically hot. Everyone’s talking about it. People pass stories, interpretations, memes on social media. You are meant to feel stupid if you don’t agree with the dominant and instant media interpretation. It’s ‘trans bathrooms’, ‘Grab ’em by the pussy.’ Charlottesville, Jefferson, Portland, Berkeley, it’s the MAGA hat kid with his ‘smirk’, it’s Jussie Smollett and his ‘noose’, it’s comments at the Academy Awards, or by a rising political star. What do you do?

How an Online Propaganda Mob Forms

First of all, Back the hell up! Do not form a opinion on the first day or three. Because, as we have seen, what actually happened isn’t even known yet. When the Covington Catholic boys incident was at last known everyone had to apologize. Because full videos from the day, uploaded on the day, were completely ignored by folks who interpret these events for us on television. And the event that supposedly got everyone so worked up… never happened! And yet there are still folks who will swear they ‘know what they saw’ without ever having watched the full video. And that, my friends, is the most egregious effect of Propaganda upon us. It can change the reality of what we see into what we wish to see.

Edinburgh Bookstore

These are called Books. They slow you down. Allow you to think before you react. Read them.

So back off! Have courage. Don’t share your opinions, your conclusions, your accusations, your anything! about these things on social media. Don’t pass on articles proving ‘the point’. Don’t assume you know. Because you know what? You probably know nothing. And how can you? The event is still unfolding. There are those who still don’t understand what the presence of Antifa meant at Charlottesville. Why? The mainstream media omitted them from their narrative. Yes it was absolutely frightening to see the presence of this new White Nationalist movement. But it was just as blood curdling to see honest to God Communists there as well. And the authorities let them come together. So what actually did happen? And will you over react to what I just written? And yes, I fully realize these things are molten hot.

ChanaSue Lang

Learn to talk, even to disagree.

So my advice: STOP. Stop passing on your pet Propaganda on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. That doesn’t mean stop thinking. Au contraire! It means start thinking and stop that jerking knee. Reacting is what the goal of all Propaganda is. Stop with the pointed jokes against (fill in the blank). Stop spreading pro/anti gun, PETA, Christian, LGBTQ+, Atheist, Trans, etc. Propaganda. Dehumanization and real hatred are the only things spread that way. Stop with commentary on things that happened this morning that quite literally you can’t know anything about yet. Stop getting newsfeed alerts on your phone. Stand back from it all and get your breath and mind working again. Stop fantasizing about doomsday and revenge scenarios. Learn to read again, not merely to skim. Read books. Make no phone zones. Try to understand history in order to understand the current hysteria. Find trustworthy sources. Don’t listen to movie stars, sports stars, television stars about politics. What they say about the craft of acting is valuable. What they think about current politics is usually just Knee Jerk Propaganda.

Matilda Lost

Get Together with Real Humans in Real Time. Play Physical Games.

And finally get back to reality. Have people over for dinner. (I’m extremely serious about this.) Remember all those people you hate so much, who believe that tripe that you would never swallow, they are humans too. And if you sat down to dinner with them you would find that out. Unless you are so propagandized that all you can see is the shallow symbols of opposition. Very few conservative folk are actually that dreaded Far Right ogre you imagine. Most Left leaning souls are not the mindless SJW’s. But you may indeed meet those with whom you disagree. Then talk. Have a real conversation. Perhaps the most salient quote from Jacques Ellul is this Discussion ends Propaganda.” Don’t be afraid. Just do it. Even with the most polarized people you encounter, if you can, if you dare. For it is only by learning to do so that we can avert the true disaster of a new American Civil War.

Fortunately there a few signs of hope.

In our conclusion we’ll examine the possibility of trustworthy sources. And examine the hope embedded in this moment.

Come back soon.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

9/3/2019

Finally you can support us out here on the edge. And it will truly be appreciated. Use this PayPal link. I can access it from anywhere. Even here in Tbilisi Georgia.

Thanks! CLICK ME.

Oh and if you haven’t read the rest of this series you can start here.

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/21st-century-propaganda-1/

And for more practical advice on finding reality again try this essay.

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/salvaging-reality/

 


21st Century Propaganda #7: Christian Propaganda

Her+name+is+chrischan+pronounced+christian+really+shes+the+personification+

I’m sold. SOLD being the operative word here. This imitation anime/manga style message completely eviscerates the gospel message.

So let me put this card on the table. I am a Christian. And then let me put this one down. Nothing disturbs me more than Christian propaganda. What do I mean? As Jacques Ellul points out in the quote below, Christianity, which claims to be truth, after being put through mass media propaganda, ends up merely as an ideology. And as such “It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax.” And it is this hoax that many believe to be the truth. And it is this hoax that those who have rejected Christianity tend to believe defines it. But I am not here to defend the message of Christianity.

It is ironic that Christians invented the term propaganda, through the Roman Catholic Curia, to define the means of spreading the gospel. Something more like missionary work. Originally it meant something much closer to propagation. And propagation is the natural spreading or multiplication of an idea. Propaganda is definitely not natural. Now I can hear some people saying ‘Well missionary work certainly isn’t natural.’ But I would disagree. When Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark (chapter16 verse 15) “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” He certainly doesn’t mean doing so by impersonal and all surrounding means. He isn’t imagining mass evangelistic rallies in 80,000 seat sports colosseums, “Christian” Movies, pop music, comic books, video games, television channels, websites, social media, etc.

christian-posters-18

A Truth made stupid and sentimental.

(And if you are wondering why I’m lumping all of these mass media together and calling it propaganda I suspect you haven’t read the entirety of this series which started several years back, where, following Jacques Ellul’s definition of Propaganda, we pointed out that much being disseminated by mass means is by default already propaganda. Go ahead. Stop. Go back. Catch up. Then come back when you can. I’ll wait. Click this to begin.)

A brief outline of Christianity and the developing system of Propaganda might go something like this. At the dawn of Christianity Jesus and his disciples had no access to propaganda techniques. Jesus emphasized personal human communication and consciously rejected the means of power. Christianity was seen as a powerless sect of Judaism by the Roman Empire. Yet the message spread as the absolute counterpoint to Roman propaganda, which was developed through the minting of money with Caesar’s image, the gladiatorial games and most of all through the unconquerable power of the legions. There were periods of violent persecution. And this persecution not only didn’t stamp out the sect, it caused the sect to grow. But there came a day when the Emperor Constantine legitimized Christianity, even converting to it himself and eventually in it’s closing days Christianity was made the official religion of the Empire. And this is the moment when things began to change. The Roman government turned the Christian faith on its head by using persecution and censorship created forms of propaganda to convert the decadent Empire in its waning days. Christianity survived, but Rome was already too far gone it fell. But the damage was done. Christianity was aligned with power now, which perverted the message of Jesus in many ways, though as long as the scriptures were there it couldn’t completely distort the humbler message contained in the Bible.

Caravaggio SupperatEmmaus

Caravaggio’s Supper At Emmaus. Baroque Era paintings were specifically commissioned as Catholic Propaganda.  But they never stinted on the quality of the art nor the depth of the message.

But distortion did occur whether through Crusades (a Christian imitation of Islamic Jihads), the selling of indulgences (which provoked Martin Luther and helped spawn the Reformation) or worst of all the Inquisition (in which power was grafted so deeply onto the Christian vine that it nearly killed it). All of these were also accompanied by successive waves of propaganda. But this propaganda, though fierce at times was much less total than propaganda had become by the mid-20th Century. After two world wars and the rise of totalitarianism and the propagandas used to combat the fascist and communist the world of the 1950s and 1960s saw Christian propaganda grow stagnant and completely ineffective. It is at this point that Jacques Ellul’s book Propaganda was published. Ellul too was a Christian. But he certainly didn’t spare his fellow believers. He knew what was coming. Allow me to quote at length from his book on the subject.

Jesus-at-the-United-Nations

No Comment. Late 1960’s.

Obviously, church members are caught in the net of propaganda and react pretty much like everyone else….

Because Christians are flooded with various propagandas, they absolutely cannot see what they might do that would be effective and at the same time be an expression of their Christianity. Therefore, with different motivations and often with scruples, they limit themselves to one or another course presented to them by propaganda. They too take the panorama of the various propagandas for living political reality, and do not see where they can insert their Christianity in that fictitious panorama….

At the same time, because of its psychological effects, propaganda makes the propagation of Christianity increasingly difficult. The psychological structures built by propaganda are not propitious to Christian beliefs. This also applies on the social plane. For propaganda faces the church with the following dilemma:

Either not to make propaganda — but then, while the churches slowly and carefully win a man to Christianity, the mass media quickly mobilizes the masses, and churchmen gain the impression of being ‘out of step’, on the fringes of history, without the power to change a thing.

Or to make propaganda — this dilemma is surely one of the most cruel with which the churches are faced at present. For it seems that people manipulated by propaganda become increasingly impervious to spiritual realities, less and less suited for the autonomy of a Christian life….

I already have stressed the total character of propaganda. Christians often claim they can separate material devices from propaganda techniques — i.e., break the system. For example, they think they can use press and radio without using the psychological principles or techniques that these media demand. Or that they can use these media without having to appeal to conditioned reflexes, myths, and so on. Or that they can use them from time to time, with care and discretion.

The only answer one can give to these timid souls is that such restraint would lead to a total lack of effectiveness. If a church wants to use propaganda in order to be effective, just as all the others, it must use the entire system with all its resources; it cannot pick what it likes, for such distinctions would destroy the very effectiveness for which the church would make propaganda in the first place. Propaganda is a total system that one must accept or reject in its entirety.

If the church accepts it, two important consequences follow. First of all, Christianity disseminated by such means is not Christianity. We have already seen the effect of propaganda on ideology. In fact, what happens as soon as the church avails itself of propaganda is a reduction of Christianity to the level of all other ideologies and secular religions.

“Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax. In such times there are innumerable sweetenings and adaptations, which denature Christianity by adjusting it to the milieu.”

And obviously Ellul’s words can be applied across the religious and political spectrum, which is the point of his book Propaganda.

Jesus Knocks

The White-bread Jesus is still knocking.

Now I as a Christian first read these words around 1982. I had been deeply troubled by developments in culture at that time. These developments included the rise of a Christian music industry (known as CCM – Contemporary Christian Music, though I felt it really stood for Commercial Christian Music) a rising Christian movie and television industry, and most troubling of all a kind of conservative political movement that equated Christianity with then current right wing political issues. And I’m not saying there isn’t an overlap, but it’s also clear that at that time there was also overlap with the liberal spectrum as well, which was why many Christians voted for Jimmy Carter for president in 1976. Since that time the lines have been drawn much sharper. And that is a direct result of rising propagandas from that time. Today’s polarizations are the direct ancestors of the propagandas of the 80s, both left and right.

TheLateGreatPlanetEarth

A Christian Propaganda ‘Classic’.

If one was to be transported back to America in 1970 one would find confused weak churches unable to really understand what was going on the steaming hothouse of the Sixties. Conservatives and fundamentalists not only had little voice propagandistically, they didn’t crave that kind of voice. They were reading Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and digging in for the coming Antichrist. They just assumed it was all over. But the Jesus People, a now forgotten movement, sometimes erroneously called Jesus Freaks, were beginning to reap a bounty of new but less conventional converts from the cultural debris of the Hippie Movement in California. And they made underground Christian newspapers, Christian T-Shirts with slogans like ‘Christ, He’s the Real Thing’ complete with imitation Coca-Cola logo, bumperstickers, and most importantly Jesus Music.

 

 

Now there was about five years when this new Christian music had a fresh feeling to it. But by the end of the Seventies the music had been contained by the very newly dominant CCM industry. That combined with the new political consciousness, a product of a wing of the Charismatic Movement, created the new Christian propaganda which haunts us to this day.

 

 

And so whether in the highly repetitious music of 21st Century Hillsong churches, the more sophisticated pop music of so many imitative Christian bands, manipulative movies like God’s Not Dead, the theatrical megachurches, prosperity teachings, the dumbing down of so many Christians in favor of a feel good message.

 

 

Also there was a justifiably nervous attitude towards the developments in the secular world. And so many Christians backed away from engagement with that world, with the full support of the powers that be. And so a separate propaganda sphere was created. Christian girls could read Christian romance novels usually stuck somewhere between old school Harlequin novels and Little House On The Prairie. Although by the early 21st Century it was just as likely they would be encouraged to read Young Adult sub-Tolkien or CS Lewis Christian Fantasy novels that, while slowly growing in quality since the 70s, encouraged the newer generations to avoid reality and maturity in favor of a Christian version of the current regnant era of delayed adolescence. (By the way I think Lewis and Tolkien are both turning in the graves over this development.)

Christian Fantasy 101

Christian young adult fantasy novels, another cottage industry, tending towards the juvenilization of the faith.

Christian boys could what? Listen to Christian commercial white-boy pop rap? Buy guns? Or more likely simply join the ranks of forgotten men everywhere. But one thing everyone could do was to express themselves with Xtian slogans on T-shirts, posters, tattoos.

CCM Encyclopedia

This massive tome contains over 1000 pages of CCM entries. One could easily whittle these imitative musical entries down to 200 pages and still gag on the excess.

Meanwhile Christian cable channels, YouTubery, radio stations and above all websites allowed the faithful to be completely surrounded in a sweet propaganda bubble. People sang and swayed in megachurches and little dying denominational churches. The cutesy imagery from Vacation Bible School classes for the youth only reinforced the cuddly Christian message. And as I’ve pointed out before the gospel of Christ became the gospel of Fun. Meanwhile the overall positivity was giving way to Christian accommodations with ‘tolerance’ in its new totalizing definition in several quarters. And those who didn’t understand the shift were left in confusion supping on the tepid remains of late 20th Century Christian propaganda.

gods-not-dead-3

Is this light? Sadly I think NOT.

God Quotes Poster Half White

It’s interesting how somewhere in the early 21st Century Christians stopped talking about Christ so much.

Now I know not all Christianity is like this. I know this better than many of you. And there have been those who have questioned these developments through the years. A few are only just now beginning to question these things. They are questioning the hoax that sadly too often the faith has become. But that’s not my subject here. What I have wanted to point out is simply that those who in some measure believe as I do are no more immune to the scourge of propaganda than anyone else.

But it does lead me to a serious question: What can any of us do to live in a time like ours when the locusts of propaganda infest our deepest hopes and dreams. Well there must be more to say.

Come back soon for some possible partial answers.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

2/9/2019

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Georgian Lessons #11: Why I’m moving to Georgia

Shoba Crowd 2

Georgians during the Alilo Procession on Shoba (Eastern Christmas).

And so since I began writing these Georgian Lessons, and until very recently, I had no idea that I might find myself moving there. And yet that is exactly what is going to happen. (The whole story can be found at Gravity From Above.) By the end of 2018 I will be back in Tbilisi to stay. I will finish up the editing of Gravity From Above there and then just stay to start work on a puppet and doll museum. Friends back in Alaska knew I was going back to work on my documentary last year. A few asked me if I was planning on moving to Europe. And what I would tell them, in all honestly, was that I wasn’t planning on it. But then I would add that I wasn’t planning on not moving there either. I just didn’t know. Life in Alaska seemed to be changing for me. I was open to possibilities. For a short while France appeared as a possibility. My French is passable and I have a few friends there. And in all truth I will always have France as a place to return to for certain things I can find nowhere else. But I somewhat suspected it might be Georgia calling me.

Paata

Paata a hand shadow puppeteer at Budrugana Gagra.

When I first arrived in Georgia at the end of December 2017 I was a little puzzled. I had thought I might be invited to experience more of the holiday season with some of my Georgian friends. But that didn’t really materialize. (I didn’t even know how they celebrated their holidays.) And so I found myself in a very different situation than in my first journey to Tbilisi in 2016. I was keeping myself busy. Yet I felt isolated by the very holidays I had half hoped to experience. But I need not have worried. Georgia isn’t like America that welcomes you with wide open arms immediately, only to forget about you later. It is slower sense of acceptance. And then it feels much more solid. So whether with my hosts who rented me my three month apartment in the Saburtalo area. Or my friends in puppetry. Or the many singers, dancers, and musicians of Erisioni. In each case I realized that a slower approach would work better. At Erisioni I was content to remain in the background quite a while, hardly moving, eventually becoming more and more a part of the troupe until at the end I definitely felt accepted in a fairly deep way, even though most of the members didn’t speak much English.

Lika C Bowed

Lika Chikhelidze a graceful dancer at Erisioni.

But where I could speak English I soon discovered levels of conversation I had rarely seen in America since I was young. For you see Georgians, even the hippest of them, haven’t really been very influenced by postmodernism yet. Modernism? Yes. That desire to pull things apart, to reinvent things from zero? Yes. In a way. That’s there and in some of it’s darker forms. But the irony of postmodernism? Hardly at all. And so my conversations were all quite earnest. And with depth. Even though big budget Hollywood films, video games, electronic dance music are all there I didn’t have one conversation that could be construed as postmodern. No snarky references to traditional culture, no geeky discussions about Marvel superheroes or Star Wars, no obsessive gamers. I mean I’m guessing that just given the nature of these beasts they must be there somewhere. Maybe I just got lucky. But they just seemed to take these forms as just that cultural artifacts. But they didn’t seem to live in them. At least not yet. And I certainly wasn’t going to encourage them to do so.

Sophiko

Sophiko Khachidze a noble Erisioni dancer.

The truth is that except for the youngest generation most Georgians have reminders of the serious side of life within their living memories. Older folks remember communism, people in their thirties and forties remember the civil wars of the 90’s. Nearly everyone remembers the five day war with Russia in 2008. And most still remember the electricity being very undependable. And even now there are still many problems. Reality has a way of chasing away the fluff. The West has had it so good for so long that our interests and problems reflect the strange unrealities of our lives.

Georgian Young Man

A young Georgian man sitting across from me on the metro.

Conversations in Tbilisi among my new friends reminded me of conversations I had had in the 1970’s when I was much younger. That was the last period I remember when people seemed open to dialogue with people of any sort. People would try to prove their points to each other. Which I’ve always taken as a sign of openness and care even when the disagreements were strong. The way conversation has developed in America and Western Europe after that period has led to more and more division, with the internet finally separating people from each other in near totality. Leading to our current stalemate. Not that Georgia doesn’t have people with radically different ideas. And not that those ideas are all healthy or wise. Rather I felt a kind of humility to discuss things in a way that sadly is almost impossible further west.

Nino

Nino my dear inquisitor.

One new friend grilled me about my ideas. And seriously. She was looking to poke holes in my arguments about the meaning of life. She was coming from a science background and had begun to adopt what I felt were premature conclusions based on neuroscience. I elaborated my thoughts as best as possible. Finally after several lengthy discussions she turned to me and said “I can’t find a problem with what you believe. You prove yourself very well.” Even among my very good friends in America who often agree with me on a foundational level I rarely find that kind of remark. (Not that I am wanting everyone to agree with me.) That is mostly because they don’t chase my rabbit all the way back to its hole. I’ve noticed that when Americans find a point of disagreement, which is inevitable, they are not willing to continue the discussion too much farther. They’ve gone over the years from a we-just-disagree sort of fatalism to an immediate ‘unfriended’ mentality. Which I do feel is a shame. Because as I have said I do remember those all night long discussions when I was younger. I remember endless conversations while working. But now say the wrong thing and that can become the end of the relationship. (There are fortunately a few exceptions to this in America. You know who you are.) And I have seen that too many times in my life. It’s a definite lack of courage. And compassion all round.

Natia Talks

Talking with Natia Vibliani ‘star’ of the film Dede.

I’m not saying every discussion was deep. Nor am I saying Georgians have no sense of ironic humor. One of the traits I saw that really touched me was the Georgian tendency to say what they feel profoundly. When I was invited to a supra, the traditional ritual meal, I watched the toasts carefully, because I knew it would be my time to add to them soon. And Georgians take toasting at a meal seriously. And so when my turn came around several times I spoke, and was translated, giving my most thoughtful observations and hopes. I was told by the father of the friend who invited me over, that I toasted like a Georgian. And I took that as a very high compliment. Another friend musicologist John Graham told me that he had brought a couple of British men to a supra. They were incapable of speaking without irony or from the heart. And the Georgians notice things like that.

Otar

Otar Bluashvili manager and friend at Erisioni.

My discussions covered a wide range of subject matter. We spoke of the art of filmmaking, puppetry as an art, music from so many different perspectives, issues related to architecture, the meaning of emotions in Georgia, the effects of communism, the traditions of art, the problem of pollution, religious devotion pro and con. And it went on and on. And I felt at home. I could stretch out enjoying the serious possibilities of conversation that I have always thrived on.

Daro 2

Daro Sulakauri photographer and granddaughter of the great animator Karlo Sulakauri.

It’s not that my American friends can’t talk. But there is often a distinct lack of reality, of historical understanding. Georgians are still trained to know their history quite well. Americans in these days often stop short because they can’t enter in much deeper than the surfaces. Because that is what we are trained to do in order to get along. Whenever people tell you those three things you are not supposed to talk about in American society I feel the immense poverty of our discourse. And we are happy enough when any event feels good. We are not willing to take it further to that sense of profound emotion. Of course, there are exceptions to all of this. There are deep Americans and shallow Georgians.

Shoba Crowd 3

The faces of Georgians at the Christmas procession.

The conversations I had in Georgia convinced me to consider living there before I was ever offered the job which I couldn’t refuse. And I understand something very clearly in this life. Something serious in life can be accomplished by a relative handful of people who can commit themselves to a task. As opposed to the American condition that more and more resembles everyone going solo. I believe serious (and imperfect) commitments can be found in Georgia yet held with a lightness and humor while holding onto the understanding that life is very difficult. I didn’t meet one person in three months relentlessly trying to be positive. And that is an excellent thing. Not that everyone I meet will be like what I am describing. But if just a few are like that, which is what my observations show me, then I will not be spinning my wheels in the mud. And that is why I can commit myself to living in Georgia. It is hardly a perfect place. But there still is courage on a very humble level. When Georgians say hello to each other they do not say ‘Hello!’, they say ‘Gamarjoba!’ which literally translates into ‘Victory!’ And what I understand by this constant greeting is that life is hard, we’ve been through many many difficulties, including war and death, but somehow we will fight on. That attitude meshes with my own.

We’ll end our Georgian Lessons here. For now.

(Eventually I’ll have a separate site for my Georgian observations.)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

7/2/2018

 

And remember you can help support me in this endeavor through PayPal if you wish.

 

You can start the Georgian Lessons series here:

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/georgian-lessons-1/

And you can find my original Georgia series here:

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/georgia-sakartvelo-%e1%83%a1%e1%83%90%e1%83%a5%e1%83%90%e1%83%a0%e1%83%97%e1%83%95%e1%83%94%e1%83%9a%e1%83%9d-1/

And don’t forget to look up my travels in Georgia over at Gravity From Above:

https://gravityfromabove.wordpress.com/

 


21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #2

A Glossary of Propaganda Jargon 2017

America 2017

Whither America 2017? Or is it Wither America 2017?

This is a rather random list of propaganda words used in the last two years. A majority of these words are found online and universities more than in standard speech. Yet they are certainly invading reality. I have purposely not defined these words since even definitions of them can give away political leanings. And it is decidedly not my goal to engage in this kind of political wrangling here. Instead my objective is to point out the sheer number of them. Now many of these words are not exactly new. But the spin being given to them is. The majority of these words, or the meanings now given to them, were almost off my radar about three years ago. You can conduct your own investigation to discover their many meanings. A few of these words are actually useful. Most of them are of less use in everyday life, but will help you understand the mindset developing out there. And it ought to give you pause to shudder.

And here’s a challenge. How many of these terms do you know? My thought is this: If you don’t know any or many. You are a human being. You live in a world blessedly free of these concepts. You may be a bit on the naïve side. But your humanity is not in doubt. If you know some of them here and there you are probably influenced by them but not in too strong a way. If you know about half of them. You have very serious problems. Chances are you only know your interpretation of reality. If you know most of them and find half of them to be funny well I have a pretty good idea where you are on the spectrum (and you’ll get the pun). If you know most of these words and find half of them to be really scary, I just want to apologize. If you know them all you are either spending way too much time in social media or you are a historian of the moment like yours truly… and sadly.

If you are just coming across this list in the abstract I’d recommend going back to the 21st Century Propaganda series and start reading.

Thanks for stopping by.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
9/26/2017

Cthulhhu_edit

Once upon a time it was a fish symbolizing secret Christian meetings in ancient Rome. Then it became a casual bumper sticker for Christians too lazy to talk. Then it grew legs with the slogan ‘Evolve’. This Lovecraftian tentacled Elder God of destruction sums up where we are now: Sarcasm and nihilism.

The Glossary

Agender
Alt-Left
Alt-Light
Alt-Right
Antifa
Asexual
Black Lives Matter
Body Shaming
By Any Means Necessary
Cis
Cisgender
Cisgendered
Cis-Het-Male
Creepy (Used of men, mostly older men)
Crybullies
Cuck
Cucked
Cuckservative
Cultural Marxism
Deplatform
Doxxing
Echo Chamber
Fandoms
Fat Acceptance
Furries
Gamergate
Genderfluid

Heteronormative
Hugbox
Identitarian
Identitarianism
Identities
Intersectional
Intersectionality
Invalidating My Existence
Kek
Kekistan
Kekistani
LARPers
LGBTTQQIAAP
Libtard
Mansplaining
Meme
Meme Wars
Memes
MGTOW (Pronounced Mig- Tow – rhyming with cow)
Microaggressions
Misgendered
On the Spectrum
Otherkin (Dragonkin Wolfkin Catkin etc.)
Patriarchy. The
Pepe the Frog
Privilege
Pwned
Rape Culture
Red Pilled
Regressive Left

Safe Space
Shaming
Shitlord
SJW
Slur
Slutshaming
Snowflake
Social Construct
Sperg
Sperg Out
Sperged
Sperging
Sperglord
TERF
Third Wave Feminism
Tism (Autism)
Trans
Transgender
Transman
Transphobe
Transphobia
Transphobic
Transtrender
Transwoman
Trigger
Trigger Warning
Virtue Signaling
White Genocide
Woke

KKK vs BLM

Nobody Will Win the Propaganda War


21st Century Propaganda #6: The Synth Drumbeats of War

Propaganda proceeds by psychological manipulations, character modifications, by creation of stereotypes useful when the time comes – The two great routes that this sub-propaganda takes are the conditioned reflex and the myth.                             Jacques Ellul – Propaganda

Anon

The eerie Guy Fawkes mask, Propaganda symbol of hacker vigilantes Anonymous, were an early sign of this new world we have moved into with such ferocity.

Back in the early 90’s, before most people were converted to anything called the Internet, just after the Soviet Union finally collapsed, I noticed that a very high percentage of Americans hardly even noticed the end of the Cold War. And except for new European tourist possibilities the reality of an end to this monumental ideological struggle barely impinged upon the waking consciousness of the majority of US citizens. There were no bells ringing. People did not dance in the streets. In 1989 we did watch on television as Berliners danced on the Wall, but after the 1991 coup in Soviet Russia, which spelled the end of the very real Cold War epoch, people generally hunkered down and went about their business. Why? (And what about China, Cuba and North Korea?)

 

I quickly came to realize that most folks in North America had already found a new enemy and a new war to fight: What we now call the Culture Wars. Interestingly enough, at the time, the mainstream pundits in newspapers and on television even disparaged the term as Conservative Propaganda. I seriously doubt many folks do anymore. If the last election proves anything, it certainly reveals the radically divergent viewpoints that have festered since then.

Aids Harring

One of the early Act Up Propaganda Posters by Keith Haring that would help foster the Culture Wars. A Pro-Life Poster would have had the same effect.

Back in the early 1990’s a thought came to me as I walked through Soho in New York City one afternoon. I realized that we had entered a new troubling realm. That, as we had increasingly come under the influence of Propaganda as our window to the world, we had become more divided than ever. More ominously it was inevitable that, following Jacques Ellul’s logic, in the future PROPAGANDA, in a very real sense, WOULD BE THE WAR. In other words that war would be take place in and for our minds first and foremost. This warfare might lead eventually to real war, but long before that there would be mental and emotional battles causing deep psychic damage amongst vast swathes of the populace. Sadly that is exactly where we are today. We are in the midst of the Propaganda War. And it is vicious, ugly and irrational on all sides. It is chaotic, noisy, infesting the mind with arguments and hatreds, with deprecations and scorn, with fear and neurosis. The chaos of the mosaic wall of cultural noise has become deafening and is transforming itself into something lethal. And we are all wrapped up in it.

Zero Tolerance

And whatever happened to the classic definition of Tolerance?

And apart from all of the obvious clutter, and in even more insidious ways, it has become far too commonplace for each of us to give into the fire hydrant flow of Propaganda blasting from today’s polarized ‘news’ sites straight into the open mouth of social media. It is a gusher so intense that people simply react without even a pretense of concern for something as obvious as facts, fairness or logic. And I do mean all of us (no one is excluded here). I feel it within myself. Folks are hysterical about politics these days. It reminds me of nothing less than Weimar Germany. The dark fluctuations between extreme Left and Right. People jump straightway from event to demonization without a second’s notice. The filters for deliberation seem to have vanished altogether. The time it takes to process anything seems to take as long as it takes to type this sentence down and make a snarky comment.

Fake news

And so is this… In this time of accusation.

But here is the truth. All of these people we demonize are still human beings: Trump is a human being, though he often acts as a caricature. Neo-Nazis are still human beings, repugnant as their ideologies are. Social Justice Warriors are still human beings, though they seem to have gone out of their way to insist that any traditional notion of humanity is obsolete. Black Lives Matter are human beings even though the perpetually play the victim role while snarling at those who don’t understand. Muslim terrorists are still human beings no matter how many lives fall under their rage. Antifa are human beings though they openly evoke a serious variation on Communist ideology and perpetrate hatred on those who they say are haters. (And what does the word hate mean anymore? When if you merely dislike a Marvel movie you can be considered a Marvel ‘hater’.) Everyone you disagree with and find to be useless and vile are still human beings, and deserve to be treated with humanity and compassion no matter who they are and what they believe. But as Jacques Ellul said in his book Propaganda: ‘Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.’

 

I have been monitoring these things much more seriously in the last year and the words Civil War have started to appear more and more on both Left and Right wing sources. Wait a minute let me stop and say that again. Civil War… Do you have any idea what that means? Can you see the piles of corpses and smoking ruins? Do you realize what the body count was from the last Civil War? Does your political correctness or mockery demand we feed Moloch with our children? Or adults? Our future? In order to create the world you imagine?

Anonymous Rebels

What is the distance between protest and war?

And the Middle which held things together has become scarce indeed. As the generations of World War 2 remembering souls shuffle off the stage forever, that is folks who dealt with actual Fascists and Communists, we have replaced them with American citizens with no real grasp of history. Even the most educated among us are quite thin in historical understanding. To call Trump a Fascist is to have no understanding of what Fascism truly is. This is not to praise Trump. Populism and Fascism are two very different things. This is obviously a low point in American history. There are indeed elements on the extreme Right that are metastasizing. Does it need to be repeated over and over that not everyone who is right wing or voted for Trump can be tarred with the vitriol spewing from the Left and their general lock on the media. There is bile enough on both sides to go around. And most of it is spread by means of social media in one form or another. I don’t even trust my good friends when they give in to the heat of this Propaganda moment.

 

One of the scariest experiences I had in the last year occurred when I watch one of the presidential debates through YouTube. Now all of the media live-streaming this ‘event’ had comment columns, which whizzed by insanely, making the notion of commentary a ersatz farce merely due to the blinding speed of it before one could actually attempt to read the messages scrawled on what essentially has become the bathroom walls of our culture. That same speed-induced vertigo is evidenced when an author or YouTuber conducts a LIVE Feed. You see the well meaning host trying valiantly to catch up even to reading the hundreds or thousands of comments. Comment is reduced to hand waving or Sharpie scrawls.

 

But the dire nature of the problem smashes you in the face with a sledge hammer when you take a moment to read the comments on a political forum. It’s strange we live in times where the mantra has for far too long been ‘Be positive!’ And it is my observation that this childish slogan has produced its exact contrary opposite. It has created a violent beast. And that is America 2017. A frightened ill-informed populace of citizens who no longer have the character to weigh issues, to delay judgement until the facts are in, to measure events against history. And I mean the leaders as well as the voters. It’s as if the Cold War, World War 2, the Civil War, and American Revolution had never occurred. One sees people carrying torches in emulation of Triumph of the Will, or another group insanely chanting ‘Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!’ rather than allow a centrist speaker to talk, one sees lesbians castigated for refusing to consider romance with trans ‘women’, light skinned black folk sidelined for the color of their skin by darker hued more politically charged comrades, and that word (!) ‘Comrade’ is coming back into Left wing fashion, as if the bodies of 100 million people hadn’t already been slaughtered to the cause of perfect identical equality. And I mentioned earlier the rise of antisemitism on both the Right and the Left. All in all we are seeing the forces dehumanization everywhere… and that is should freeze the blood of anyone truly conversant in history or actual politics. (But how can you see people as human beings if most of your contacts are made online?)

Expand this to full page. Then watch the comment scroll here if you dare.

And the comments? They scrolled by like the droolings of hell. From Alt-Right Kekistani mockery to Left wing crybullies. To read them as an outsider, as someone who lives in the real world, was to peek into the pathological heart of America and our 21st Century heart of darkness. There was no entrance of human language into this maelstrom of political psychosis. To write anything was to indulge in the fantasy of that the Internet has allowed one’s words to speak meaningfully into this chaos of visual and aural noise. The only thing one could say is to paraphrase Jeremiah, later quoted in the book of Revelation, where we are instructed concerning the nightmare city of Babylon to “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or contract any of her plagues.” Come out of cyberspace! Retain your humanity. Stop living in this virtual lie. Flee the political Propaganda boiling on all sides and shared by your ‘friends’. Remember your human neighbors, left and right. Use the computer with great skepticism, but live offline. Because if we don’t then the vitriol of minds poisoned in this Propaganda War will spill, as it already has, onto the streets. If you stare into your palms long enough you will see this. And it will rivet you to the spot. And you will have no answer but more Propaganda. Come! Live out here with those of us that strive to retain the physical world. Those who attempt the difficult task of caring for humanity, even those we completely disagree with.

Red Pill

A Right wing ‘Meme’ against the SJW’s and Normies.

(But wait Byrne! I hear a possible Christian friend saying. I know you’re a Christian. Doesn’t Christ have the answer? Oh yeah. I forgot. Much as I hate to say it, we Christians, likewise, have simply colluded in this whole process just like anyone else. Don’t believe me? Come back next time… Well on second thought… maybe you shouldn’t. It’s not going to be pretty.)

(Now I have to get off line again. I’ve already spent too much time typing away in the virtual dark.)

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
9/19/2017

 


21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #1

Social Media and Horizontal Propaganda: A Lecture

Socail Media Propaganda

A little Social Media Propaganda for you.

Following on from the last 21st Century Propaganda essay, ‘Propaganda and Social Media’, I wanted to add a lecture that I gave at L’Abri Fellowship in Huémoz, Switzerland, back in February of 2016: Social Media and Horizontal Propaganda. This is a video version of a lecture that did NOT have visuals with it. But included in this video is a full array of propaganda posters.

If you live online I hope this raises questions for you. It’s about an hour and a half. So maybe download it and listen to it later. And do please let me know what you think.

 

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

9/7/2017

 


21st Century Propaganda #5: Propaganda and Social Media

Again I want to emphasize that the study of propaganda must be conducted within the context of a technological society. Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into a technological world. – Jacques Ellul

Prop as prop

In the spirit of Anti-Propaganda Propaganda, a sarcastic ‘meme’ featuring the late Gene Wilder from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory having essentially the same effect as a bumper sticker saying ‘Bumper stickers are stupid.’

People have often reacted in a utopian manner as new technologies burst onto the scene. The automobile promised the endless joys of travel, and without having to feed a horse! We now know that the car and the highway are not anything resembling unmixed blessings. Traffic, commuting nightmares, highway fatalities, pollution, the entire social fabric of many communities being completely enveloped by the spaces created for the automobile. It would be easy to argue (and to win) that the car is one the greatest devil’s bargains of history. As Paul Virilio has pointed out: When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution… Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.

And thus the utopian hopes of the internet as being a mode of open communication and knowledge, have now given way to the realities of commercial control, spam, invasion of privacy, trolling, endless payments, and most sinisterly, the constant monitoring of our activity below the horizon of our intended purposes. Visit a clothing website and then see an ad for the same product you just searched for on your Facebook page. Pay for an item in another country and have your bank shut down your card through their fraud detection services. (Both of these things have happened to me.)

social-media-should-not-be-censored

Again more Propaganda disguised as Educational choice. Make a ‘Choice’.

Not many years ago people were naïvely and insanely lauding the glories of social media as though there could be no problems attached with same. I’m imagining the reader will already be aware many instances of issues related to cyberbullying, texting nightmares, even Facebook depression, when you see your friends supposedly wonderful lives of headlines and captions and realize that your own life isn’t like that. Recently I have been made more aware of the neurotic result of connecting one’s Facebook notifications to your smartphone, as it has negatively impacted at least one friendship. But I’d like to discuss the growing dilemma of social media as perhaps the best platform for spreading Propaganda that has ever existed.

social-media-should-be-censored1

And if you Vote for this what does it say about you? Perhaps that you are a lab rat pressing a lever to obtain the food of imaginary Choice.

A word before I proceed: Jacques Ellul discusses two directions of Propaganda, the Vertical, what is often top down messaging, and the Horizontal, what we pass along to each other. Vertical Propaganda is what we are more familiar with; government statements, corporate slogans, public health warnings, political campaigns, etc. But I would say in these times Horizontal Propaganda is what has the biggest effect upon us. Horizontal Propaganda effects us much like the old illustration of crabs in a bucket. No one crab is allowed to crawl out because the other crabs hold the individual down when it tries to escape. Likewise how easy it is to live within the walls of one’s favored ideology without being allowed to raise serious questions about those same ideological presuppositions.

Smartphone

Do these Branded Icons make you free?

Now you may not notice this issue much if all of your ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ are in the same air bubble you are. That is you don’t see the ‘meme wars’, because to you all of those snide jokey little images with words imbedded in them are just humorous little moments crushing the opposition. Just press ‘Like’ and LOL along with the flow of friends all the while feeling superior to the idiots out there who voted for ‘them’, or ‘him’, or ‘her’. Or maybe suddenly you’ve discovered a cause? Here are a few causes that suddenly seemed to overshadow the humanity of various friends of mine: PETA, Gun Rights, Gun Control, Pro-Life, Gay Marriage, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Personally I’ve got to tell you this: If anything starts to infest my Facebook page I immediately ‘unfollow’ you. I keep you around as distant background noise, but until I see evidence of genuine human sharing I don’t need the clever little film with the ironic music tearing down yet one more political figure. And I feel exactly the same way about online game invitations, quizzes and surveys (really these are just clickbait sites for monitoring your cookies), product recommendations, jokey sites (often more clickbait with motives other than spreading humor) etc. and again I repeat ad nauseum.

christian-posters-23

If this verse from the Bible is true, then what shall the creator of this poorly made, badly conceived, out of context ‘meme’ reap from God?

These ‘shares’ eats into our human time as we swat away the technological flies. And then there is that most egregious symbol, the changing of your profile avatar image to coincide with some recent political event. Suddenly your photo is rainbow tinted or painted with the French flag or an anti-abortion campaign. And here’s what I know… These people usually have little direct connection to these things, they are merely ‘virtue signaling’. In the French case I’m pretty sure I had far, far more direct connections to Paris or France than 99.9% of all of the folks that posted French flags after the terrorist bombings. And does anyone even think about France anymore? (I do). Or are we now just thinking about Trump and Charlottesville, Virgina? Or have we moved on to hurricane victims? Or maybe Muslims in Myanmar? Or wherever we are when you finally read this?

Awesome Muslims

Above or below. Choose your narrative. (Read Slant.)

muslim woman

These two images give us a good idea of what the ‘meme wars’ have been like. You pick your image based on temperament rather than research and verification.

In the wake of the Charlottesville fracas I’ve been astounded at how quickly people have simply reacted. And immediate unfiltered thoughtless reaction is the key to this new ‘public’ life of ours. The idea of trying to understand the event seems to be an impossibility. For too many people there can only be one version of the event. And yet I’m pretty sure that if we sat down together as human beings I could show anyone enough raw feeds, without interpretation of the event, to convince you that this was not a simple narrative. And yet the frightening thing is that to ask any questions at all about the dominant interpretation of the event is to instantly invite a witch hunt of, again, immediate reaction without the benefit of research or meditation. We create precisely what we fear because we push those with differing opinions away into extremes. I am convinced that many folks today are considering white nationalists ideas who would never have done so if the extreme left hadn’t been allowed to dominate the interpretation with their own version of identity politics.

Think Different

Just make sure you stay connected technologically. It’s fantastic how many untruths can be contained in one slogan.

The sad thing is this: I had a friend, not too close, but with whom I once had meaningful real world conversations years back. This person mentioned something in a post that seemed to invite reflection and comment. I commented in a mildly questioning manner of the dominant ideology. I was ‘unfriended’ instantly. Since then I have learned that it is not important to post political topics at the expense of human friendship. This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. I do. I most certainly do. I can also guarantee that they do not tick off neatly on the right or left side of the page. I have tried to be thoughtful. (And sometimes I am so tempted to reply to some ill considered idea posted somewhere and add to the Propaganda morass, but my convictions won’t let me.) It could be argued that my friend was not a good friend and, well, good riddance. Or it could be said that she was in the grip of ideological Propaganda as many others are in these days. Should I reject them out of hand? Or should I attempt to show them in some insignificant way what it means to be human. I choose the latter. But I am under no illusion about these folks. They are under the spell of something intractable, fearsome and unforgiving. Yet I still believe in compassion, courage and forgiveness.

So where are we now? That will be the subject of my next essay. Come back again. You probably won’t want to know what I need to say. Nevertheless, like a car crash on the side of the highway, you will have to look and ponder.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

9/12/2017

 


21st Century Propaganda #4: Us Versus Them

Antifa

Classic Us vs. Them Propaganda.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? –
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

Besides being the all-encircling communication finding us alone in the mass and giving us essentially what we want, nay need, to hear, while moving us into its own direction, Propaganda must always contain an Us vs. Them. This is a salient feature. That is there must always be an enemy of some sort to define ourselves against. So if you are a vegan it is the meat industry. If you are an anarchist you have the state. If you are a feminist you have the patriarchy. If you are a right wing Christian you have the liberal government. Etc. Etc. Now the complexities here go far beyond one Us versus one Them. At any given point America can be suspicious of Russia, China or the Islamic Jihadists. And calling someone else a Nazi or a Fascist is always useful in dehumanizing the opposition. It’s always been interesting to me that the insult Communist doesn’t have the same transgressive weight, though it should. The Communist death toll of the Soviet Union and China alone is perhaps upwards much higher than 50 million, not including war deaths. Yet again that strangely silent condemnation too is a result of the Us and Them of Propaganda.

fightwithenemy

Soviet Russian Propaganda encouraging citizens to Fight the Enemy.

It is commonplace now to admit that we have arrived at a time of extreme polarities. And likewise it is commonplace to blame Them for doing this to Us, when we ourselves, whomever we are, have a big stake in the proceedings. And the new 21st Century forces of Propaganda have upped the ante through the internet and social media. The new Propaganda infests our thinking in a way Orwell couldn’t have imagined. People live lives peaceably for the most part. Then a news event from thousands of miles away will suddenly call out to us, will rattle the organs of comment, or dissent. Within a couple of hours the spin will be at tornado strength. Memes and articles will be shared, wrong word, ‘share’ sounds far too friendly, disseminated, yes much better, disseminated on a multitude of social media accounts. And yet most of this, except for those few people actually touched by the event physically, is just pixels on a screen. They come and go everyday. We get little rest. Our nerves are frayed. And yet we know without a doubt who the enemy is. It is one of those clusters of digital information. Because in daily life we don’t actually see the other as the demon we encounter online. But Propaganda creates the force behind the paranoia of Us and Them.

 

PropagandaNaziStabsBible

Curiously this Nazi Propaganda is used by a Christian site to drum up fear against today’s secular enemies. Propaganda is often turned back on the propagandist.

Now obviously if you go back into history a Them have always existed for an Us. It’s hard to avoid. It’s not just the other race, it used to be the people in the next valley who made terrible cheese. The Romans had the Barbarians and the Christians. The Medieval Church had the Moslems and the Heretics. Islam had the Infidels. Enlightenment Progressives had the Superstitious and the Ignorant. The Communist had the Bourgeois Capitalists. The Nazis had the Jews. The Americans had the Soviets. The Chinese had the Americans, then the Russians. The Jews have the Arabs. The Fundamentalists have the Secular Government. The New Atheists have the Religious. The Alt-Right has the SJWs. Antifa has the Alt-Right. And it goes on forever. And the situation is completely inflamed. Though fewer people are dying in wars and diseases than at any point in recent history. The level of complete fear in the early 21st Century is off the charts.

GoT Propaganda is Coming

Is it a warning about Propaganda or is it cynical Propaganda itself?

How did we get here?

It was during the prelude to World War 2 that the propaganda machines revved up with an excruciating din. Nazi Germany set the bar high with a total encirclement of the German people. But Soviet Russia was not too far behind in the winner take all sweepstakes. America was still fairly provincial at this point. Purposely living behind its oceanic moat. There was however a fair amount of New Deal FDR propaganda during this era. Then the war came. And not only did the countries of the world have to get on the ground to fight but with the technologies of radio, newspapers, even comic books, the propaganda war had to be engaged as well. Even cigarettes were rebranded and sent into war. Ever heard of Lucky Strike Green? And so war propaganda encircled the people of many countries, especially the United States.

Lucky Strike Green

Cigarettes as War Propaganda.

When the war was over you’d think the propaganda war would have ended too. But the war, as in all wars, did not end neatly. And so began the Cold War, which was first and foremost a propaganda war. It was as though someone lost the key that had accelerated the Propaganda Machine. Whether it be the Gulags or the McCarthy anti-communist hearings, propaganda remained at fever pitch, dividing Us from Them. The space race, the nuclear arms race, proxy wars, continued the east/west war. In America the fearful conservative forces were so strong that for many years no one would dare openly identify as left leaning. But the tactics had been too ham handed, too transparent. And then everything changed.

I Married a Communist

Even the movies in the 50’s had to be against Communism during what is now being called ‘The Red Scare’.Yet even that phrase ‘The Red Scare’ is left wing propaganda in opposition to the right wing propaganda of the times.

By the late Sixties a generation of youth no longer afraid of the American propaganda arose. And they rebelled. Now on the left this was seen as a glorious moment of liberation. Finally people could say and do whatever they wanted. By the time of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation there was a sense of leftish superiority that spread throughout the media. New ideologies came to overturn not only the enforced Americanism but soon it would call into question much of the bedrock of Western Civilization. It is almost impossible to imagine something like Lord Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization being produced on PBS or the BBC today. Second wave Feminism, Queer Theory, Deconstruction, Identity Politics would eventually call into question the very soul of all that had been a part of European and Western history. And the new propaganda would prove to be just as encircling as any other. Unless you happened to be a member of one of those institutions still connected with the historic past, and especially if you were a conservative Protestant Christian.

And so by the late 1970’s the Evangelical Christians, too, had joined the ranks of the propagandized. Not that they lobbied for anything resembling traditional Christianity. With their Christian music, movies and television they again appeared by the mid-80’s to be one more bizarre propaganda bloc. Eventually the left and right in America would be heavily influenced by the Sixties Era radicalism and the 80’s Era conservatism. And so insanely loud did these culture wars become that by the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Soviet Union, not many Americans actually noticed. They’d actually found a new enemy… each other. I remember walking through New York City with a Russian friend, Sergei, during the 1991 coup that ended the Communist Era. We had many intense discussions about what it meant. Most of the New Yorkers I bumped into during that moment hardly even knew what was going on. The Cold War was already so over. But the roots of today’s polarization were coming along quite fine: Thank you very much.

antiantifa

One cruel turn deserves another?

In the 90’s conspiracy theories became the order of the day. Some unseen force was always responsible for our problems. The Oppressors, the Patriarchy, the Fundamentalists, the Liberals, the Gays, and eventually more and more cryptic names began to appear: the Freemasons, the Bilderberg Group, the Neo-Nazis, and of course the Illuminati. Interestingly enough in a book called The Fifty Greatest Conspiracies of All Time: History’s Biggest Mysteries, Coverups, and Cabals, the authors take great pains to explain in the forward to the book that they wouldn’t give credence to Jewish conspiracy notions, since for some odd reason they felt that somehow they weren’t legitimate, unlike, say, Illuminati or David Ickes reptilian theories. By now those folks have had to eat steaming casseroles of baked crow. Antisemitic notions and conspiracies have since returned with a vengeance infiltrating both the left and the right.

nazi-propaganda-poster Jews

Anyone who thought that antisemitism died after the Holocaust is severely mistaken.

And in the 21st Century Propaganda continued to spew forth as terrorism grew to unbelievable proportions requiring much more propaganda just to manage the chaos. And into this reality void stepped social media…

Come back next time if you dare. I’m bringing this down to your digital doorstep.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
7/9/2017

 

21st Century Propaganda #5: Propaganda and Social Media


21st Century Propaganda #3: Alone In The Mass

Alone in the Mass

The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass. It is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. Jacques Ellul

And that is exactly where we all are now. As you read this on some device, right now, you are alone. Alone in the mass of others reading websites, scanning pages and files. You are alone as you watch television, play video games, watch DVDs, listen to music through your ear buds, create content for YouTube to be passively digested, alone with your email, Kindle, sitting in dark movie theatres, listening to radio while driving your car. With very few of these devices are you actually doing something with anyone else.

And don’t let the term social media confuse you. There is not, nor ever has been, a true internet community. Six people playing an online game together are alone in the mass. People typing at each other through a message system are isolated from each other. Even the telephone, which used to sell itself as a way to reach out and touch someone, is a way of retaining the alienation inherent in the technology while using the language of touch and the senses. The notion of interactivity through computers is a phantasm, a pure illusion. True community, social interaction, and touching only take place in the flesh. And one could argue quite convincingly that one of the more recent aspects of inviolable 21st Century Propaganda, is in fact the substitution of real presence for the highly mediated world we now find ourselves inhabiting. Who ‘Likes’ what on Facebook has far more significance than it in any way deserves. And yet we are completely immersed in these virtual signs and symbols. And we accept it all as real because we are alone in the mass. As prescient media theorist Marshall McLuhan said “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage.” And yes he meant massage, not message. Tenderizing us to receive the Propaganda we addictively need to feel a sense of purpose in this fictional landscape.

Jacques Ellul, in his book Propaganda, points out that It is the emergence of mass media which makes possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. In other words that world of technology that we often celebrate has also opened the door to the total Propaganda that we now find ourselves drowning in.

Revolutions Paris
The stately old propaganda of the Revolution is plastered over by the Revolutionary propaganda of the moment, ca. April 2016 Paris. My question is this: In what way do the teddy bears and plush toys have to do with this epoch in history? And they most certainly do. There is no more innocence in cuteness.

On some level wherever there is a large power structure there must be a kind of propaganda to connect us to it. The Romans had coins with the image of Caesar, bread and circuses, and the fearsome legions among their propaganda arsenal. The Renaissance Catholic church had stained glass windows, fine arts, and when all else failed, and in complete corruption of their faith, the Inquisition. America has always had its education, its mighty industries, its armed forces and later its television and its senatorial committees. But all of these institutions now seem quite obvious to us. If you tell many of its citizens that “America is the greatest country on earth” they will see through the old school propaganda instantly and roll their eyes back in ironic superiority. And yet these people are swimming in a morass of contemporary Propaganda.

Poison Girl
We have reached such a moment in time that Truth in Advertising can now be used as propaganda against us since we will ironically feel superior and smirk in knowing way.

So then it might seem logical to become the most informed person you can be to ward off the effects of this all encompassing Propaganda. Au contraire. For one thing, there is the problem of being caught between propagandas which I mentioned earlier. But more to the point… Being intelligent, an intellectual, keeping up with issues etc. often has exactly the opposite consequence of making us even more susceptible to propaganda. Ellul writes about the problem this way:

It is only normal that the most educated people (intellectuals) are the first to be reached by such propaganda… All this runs counter to pat notions that only the public swallows propaganda. Naturally, the educated man does not believe in propaganda; he shrugs and is convinced that propaganda has no effect on him. This is, in fact, one of his great weaknesses, and propagandists are well aware that in order to reach someone, one must first convince him that propaganda is ineffectual and not very clever. Because he is convinced of his own superiority, the intellectual is much more vulnerable than anybody else to this maneuver.

One sees this problem endlessly. I referred to it when I mentioned Noam Chomsky earlier. It’s astounding how many musicians, writers, artists, broadcasters, other media figures, are essentially propagandists for their worldview rather than honest communicators. And they speak in such a way as to be mockingly aghast that anyone could possibly have another opinion. And they convey their messages to the masses. One can see whole careers that suddenly turn into campaigns for an ideology, and this is especially sad when it is someone who starts off as an honest artist. Consider Bruce Springsteen’s trajectory from songwriter and artist, capable of such pieces of art as his whole Darkness At The Edge of Town album, which shills for no causes whatsoever, to his becoming a global superstar during his Born In The USA era, the endless remixes of songs give a sense of some loss in authenticity, to his becoming a mouthpiece for various causes as a kind of surrogate for a middle America he no longer represented, to finally cancelling shows in North Carolina as part of a massive skirmish between competing propagandas. I do not discuss the issues (nor will I print comments on these issues since they are not the subject of this essay). I am pointing at the process which turns a singer, artist or any figure from honest communicator into a cog in the propaganda of the moment. It doesn’t matter which issue. (And have no fear I plan on taking a scythe to trim the heads of my fellow Christian propagandists not too far down the road here.)

denirobrucebarack
No comment. The notion of wearing colored ribbons and other signifiers of causes and beliefs is exactly the kind of encirclement that Propaganda specializes in. It doesn’t matter the cause.

The point is this: the rich, the talented, the beautiful (or at least those who have gone under the knife to appear that way) and the famous are mass figures enlisted to provide a propaganda push to every cause. They are the authorities used to convince us to submit. So we line up our celebrities, the Christian football player, Madonna against Trump, this television star, that YouTuber, we want to know that what we believe is better than what they believe. Recently some wag released a series of photos of women on the Right and the Left. By the purely visual standards of beauty alone the Left is deep trouble, at least by the lights of this compiler. Of course they left off practically every film or music star imaginable which would have evened the playing field considerably. But certainly in recent times the Right has stolen some of the Left’s caché in the requisite categories needed to show strength in this appearance obsessed society.

Right Wing vs Left Wing Women
If image has anything to do with it the Right Wing is winning at the moment.

Meanwhile as this propaganda battle continues the rest of us are alone in the mass looking to emulate someone to help give words to our frustration. And it is in this state that we are slugged, worked over, beat up, harangued, pressured, and especially these days, shamed into believing the only thing we should believe in. And here is where it gets nightmarish. It is no longer coming from the top down. It is no longer Orwell’s Big Brother that is the primary source of the propaganda. Nor is it our larger than life media siblings who invade our thoughts most deeply and effectively. Rather it is our ‘friends’ and ‘neighbors’ who now keep us in line through a little system we call ‘social media’.

We’ll look into this soon, but first let’s examine another salient feature of Propaganda: Us versus Them.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

6/1/2017

 

21st Century Propaganda #4: Us Versus Them


21st Century Propaganda #2: A Working Definition Of Propaganda

Propaganda must be total. – Jacques Ellul

Headwork

Propaganda does not aim to elevate man, but to make him serve.

And so after throwing the word propaganda out there we still need a some way of defining it so that the word doesn’t descend into the cruder sense of ‘their lies, our truths’.

As I mentioned earlier I have based much of my thinking on French sociologist Jacques Ellul and particularly his 1961 book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes.

Propaganda Book

Let’s pull out a few quotes to give you a taste of his thinking here.

Propaganda tries to surround man by all possible routes in the realm of feelings as well as ideas, by playing on his will or on his needs, through his conscious and his unconscious, assailing him in both his private and his public life. It furnishes him with a complete system for explaining the world, and provides immediate incentives to action. We are here in the presence of an organized myth that tries to take hold of the entire person. Through the myth it creates, propaganda imposes a complete range of intuitive knowledge, susceptible of only one interpretation, unique and one-sided, and precluding any divergence. This myth becomes so powerful that it invades every arena of consciousness, leaving no faculty or motivation intact. It stimulates in the individual a feeling of exclusiveness, and produces a biased attitude.

AND

Propaganda must be total. The propagandist must utilize all of the technical means at his disposal — the press, radio, TV, movies, posters, meetings, door-to-door canvassing. Modern propaganda must utilize all of these media. There is no propaganda as long as one makes use, in sporadic fashion and at random, of a newspaper article here, a poster or a radio program there, organizes a few meetings and lectures, writes a few slogans on walls: that is not propaganda.

AND

The aim of modern propaganda is no longer to modify ideas, but to provoke action.

AND

Propaganda does not aim to elevate man, but to make him serve.

That’s enough for now.

Fashion Church

Then again there is a certain kind of postmodern propaganda which is knowing and ironic.  

So Propaganda is an encircling totality. It is the place we live where we gather all our information, our entertainment, our education. We must surround ourselves within it. We speak in propaganda as we share our factoids. We cut ourselves off from those who have a different worldview. Or when we do venture into enemy territory, we look at their propaganda, always an exaggeration of beliefs and meanings, something easily mocked and scorned. And that’s another aspect Ellul points out. There must always be an US versus THEM. And they are always wrong, suspect, stupid, dangerous, or evil. The 2016 election cycle in America became a farcical, unreal, and disturbing battle of Propagandas.

Choose Your God

Paris 2016, a clever museum exhibition becomes postmodern propaganda.

And Propaganda must always be unbending and all encompassing. You can’t give ground to those ideas, otherwise you are starting to become them. So it’s not enough to make up your own mind about abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, transphobia, animal cruelty, feminism, global warming, racism, capital punishment, globalism, immigration and the rest. Once your side adopts a posture you must keep in line with the whole program. Heaven forbid a leftish person would opt out of the proper stance on reproductive rights, while holding the rest of checklist in order. Or that a right wing soul would be favor of gun control while holding most of the other appropriate positions. It’s pretty much all or nothing… Or at least that’s how we are made to feel. If you question one tenet you are in danger of questioning it all.

You can see what happens if you look at a subject that is not yet polarized but could conceivably become so one day. Let’s think about pets for a moment. Let’s say you’re talking with someone and they happen to mention that they think that having and feeding pets is a waste of resources and the time and effort would be better put into caring for humans who have so many problems that to distract from that might not be such a good idea. Then that person responds by telling you that you aren’t seeing the whole picture. That dogs and cats, though a cost to raise and a responsibility that perhaps some people don’t have time for, bring much joy into the owners’ lives. And that if you care about human beings then part of the health of being a human in the world is to interact, and closely, with its animal life. Now since that’s just two people discussing a subject that hasn’t yet been given the full propaganda treatment the conversation might go in any number of directions. Although if you listen closely you can already hear subjects creeping into the mix that are from very heavily propagandized terrain.

Cats Against Humanity

Feral cats in Tbilisi Georgia. Certainly an ‘Anti-Pet’ image.

Now suddenly there is a movement that evolves out of the animal rights and ecological systems that begins to seriously question whether a human, just another species of animal after all, has the right to own another. This isn’t far fetched and is already circling our society as I write waiting to land. And so then what happens is we get two sides. Owning pets would obviously then become an individual rights issue with deep traditional roots. And now you have two sides. But how shall we label them.

‘Anti-pet’ obviously isn’t going very far, though that will be what the opposition calls them. So what about ,’pro=human’ or ‘pro-world’, since this will be considered an ecological issue? And maybe ‘pro-care’ or ‘pets rights’ for the other side. Don’t get too hung up on what to use right now. The new brand names just have to be non-negative. And that’s another serious propaganda point, in this age everything has to cloaked in positive language. Then there will be documentaries made. The pro-human folks will show the enormous waste of food resources, the brutality of certain owners, dog fights, cats in the cemeteries of Paris, old folks living on pet food, etc. The pro-care folks will have to counter that our pets love us, they will show psychological studies showing how pets affect humans for the better (no dog attack or cat parasite news whatsoever), interviews will be made with people who say that their only companion is an unselfish pet. You get the idea. There will be websites dedicated to these positions, TV stations, newspapers will array them along side of other ‘obvious’ issues of the day. And then when our two friends meet again to discuss the subject they won’t be able to believe that anyone could be so cruel, regressive, idiotic or whatnot to believe the lies that they have been spoon-fed by their respective media.

IMG_2785

Looking for real discussion at L’Abri in Switzerland.

The difference between a discussion among friends who disagree on some topic and a propagandized discussion perhaps involving the same two people is that in the first there are personal reflections and thoughts. The ideas are unique and quirky. And in the second, the responses completely conditioned by ones of each propaganda web, which will want to keep out anything from another propaganda system. So I can very well imagine two friends discussing the origins of life on earth. One says there must be a creator the other doubts that and they present ideas to each other. What about this? Well what about that? Well you make an interesting point that I’ll have to reconsider. I think I understand why you feel the way you do but I still disagree. Now the same topic among the propagandized. God made the world in seven days and that’s all there is to it. No I’m sorry that’s pure unscientific bullshit. Then how do you explain the fact that there is meaning in the world? There isn’t, everyone just makes their own meaning. And so it goes ad nauseum. They can’t communicate because everything they say provokes a knee-jerk reaction in the other.

PROMO

Mannequins in Paris. Propaganda surrounds us at every turn.

Ellul also points out that listening two different propagandas doesn’t help either. For in getting both sides of an issue what you really get is slugged from both sides and feeling woozy and beaten up in the middle.

Now how did this happen? And I have seen this my whole life. People I have known who once had their own opinions come to ape the media they ingest. I’m talking about people who really should know better. How does it happen? What makes us succumb? And I include myself. For I have certainly caught myself in those very situations as I look at my life.

Jacques Ellul points out one key ingredient. We find ourselves alone in the mass. And that is what mass media, mass communication does to us.

But let’s really dissect what happens. Next week!

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
5/29/2017

 

Part Three: Alone in Mass


21st Century Propaganda #1: Pickled In It

 

21st Century Ghost Show

The orchestration of press, radio and television to create a continuous, lasting and total environment renders the influence of propaganda virtually unnoticed precisely because it creates a constant environment.” Propaganda – Jacques Ellul

Things are getting weird out there. Although maybe by ‘out there’ I mean ‘in here’, in that moment when a reader slides eyes across these digital screens and then following that comes a reaction. And yet what happens in this cyber world (Does anyone use the word ‘cyber’ anymore? Or ‘virtual’? Has it all started to seem like actuality now?) has serious ramifications across the real globe. (But is it a globe anymore? Maybe the flatness of our screens has finally created what we mistakenly believed about the ancient people, that they, the ignoramuses!, actually believed the world was flat. But for us it is! This map of contextual geographies is now blindly being accepted for reality. But whose?) So yes, things are getting weird in here, and in turn out there. And people seem to be walking around in a concussed daze. And everyone has their pet theories as to whom is the culprit, which group, what viewpoint, which Weltanschauung, which bunch of absolute evil idiots is responsible for the state of this exhausted mind-numbing gut-wrenching time we live in.

Now if you’ve been following my words at all for the last few years you’ll realize that I rarely touch directly upon what be could construed as political topics. This isn’t an accident. I certainly have opinions on many issues. Some may even be correct on some level. But it is not my wish to add to the chaos of noise emanating from the glow of these screens. I also believe that most what passes for political opinion in these days is not politics in any good sense of the word. If I don’t think all of the hot topic issues of the day aren’t by and large politics then what do I think all of this palaver is? That, my friends, is the what I am intending to write about here, to try to elucidate. If possible, and mostly it is not. What passes for political opinions these days is predominantly Propaganda. And I am not using that phrase in its standard usage, which comes across as “The lies they tell, versus the truths we know.” I have other fish to fry. In fact were going to cook up the whole lot. Let’s make a meal out of them. Not only the lies they tell but also the ‘truths’ we believe, whomever ‘we’ and ‘they’ are. So I warn you if it seems like I’m coming after your beliefs it’s because I am.

American Way of Life

Here’s a photo with double propaganda value. First and most obviously the American Way billboards were the democratic equivalent to the totalitarian propagandas across the seas. But, more seductively, this photo can now make the propaganda of those questioning traditional American values of the past and feeling a sense of superiority over them. Two for one.

Now before I get started with this subject, and so that you don’t suspect that what I’m really trying to do is some clever form inverted propaganda to subvert your ideas while pumping up mine, let me put my own cards on the table so that you know where I stand and you can see when I’m going after my own folk.

First of all I am a Christian. What kind? Neither fundamentalist nor liberal. Hopefully a Christian in line with the historical faith and brain intact. Next… politically? Extremely independent. I can safely say no party represents my thinking. I wouldn’t mind if there were. But I’m not going to put a checklist here of hot topics and where I fit in. But trust me I’m all over the map. Yet even that is a complete oversimplification. If I ever write directly about some pet subject you’ll know. And who knows maybe I’ll spill a few mung beans here and see if they sprout. I generally shy away from any party politics and the demonization of ‘them’. Which of course is the point of this whole series on propaganda.

I’ve lived in Hawaii as a child, in California in the San Francisco Bay Area as a teen, in New York City during my 20s and 30s and finally in Alaska for my 40s and 50s. Plus I’ve spent quality time in Europe from England and France through Switzerland, Poland and all the way to Georgia. And so my view point is shaped by all of these environments. Plus I’ve been researching popular music and film culture since the 70s. I’ve hung out with Jesus people, hippies, punks, vets, pomo-hipsters, conservative Christians, Asians, Europeans, etc. etc. Needless to say I do not have simplistic opinions. I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying it so that you, the reader, know that I am not going to have an obvious set of dogmas to respond with if you wish to ask questions.

iraq_oil_fields

Often when people think propaganda they are imagining war propaganda, a very specific aspect, instead of the daily dose of Propaganda they need to function everyday.

So let’s get down to business here.

The first thing we have to get is a working definition of Propaganda. As I mentioned above, the standard way people seem to think about propaganda is as the ‘lies they tell versus the truths we know’. I have a CD of the influential Noam Chomsky talking seriously about propaganda, corporate propaganda, big biz manipulation. Somewhat accurate as far as he goes. But he doesn’t go nearly far enough. For instance he doesn’t for one second acknowledge the fact that he too is in danger of making propaganda every bit as encircling as that made by states and corporations. And by NOT making that clear he actually becomes without a doubt a very serious propagandist. In other words there is not one moment when he scrutinizes his own side for Propaganda. Thus he isn’t really exposing propaganda he is talking about ‘us and them’, which is the essence of Propaganda. But not the definition of Propaganda. (To be clear I am capitalizing the word propaganda when I refer to the thing not when I refer to the practice.)

soviet12

A beautiful Soviet soldier. You can be sure her image was used as Communist propaganda. The beautiful are always used to convince us, as are the talented and the intelligent.

Before I attempt that working definition of Propaganda let me give you a few sources for my own thinking. Source ‘A’ Number One is the French thinker Jacques Ellul. Around 1982 I first read his 1965 book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (first published in French in 1961 as Propagandes). And frankly even though I was around 27 then I wondered why I hadn’t read his book much earlier. Few experiences in my life have been so illuminating. It was as though someone had simply unblindfolded  me. I had been wondering why so much in our society had been moving the way it did and here was a solid chunk of the answer. We all in our advanced technological society had been pickled in Propaganda for years. So much so that we could hardly distinguish the contours of our prison distracted as we had become. How good is his book? Well let’s put it this way, read from one perspective the book could be seen a propaganda manual. One could easily take the principles he uncovers and become a successful propagandist. But, of course, that is not his aim. His aim is to expose the beast as nakedly as possible. It is not an easy read. But once you wrestle with it you can no longer plead ignorance. The panoply of techniques for adjusting us to our milieu are staggering. And there is no way I can do justice to his work, which remains as valuable today as when it was written, though it requires some historical knowledge to really make it come alive. That was also just as true the day it was published. But I will dip into his ideas freely as I write.

French Historian Jacques Ellul Talking

Jacques Ellul Author of The Technological Society and The Political Illusion.

Other folks who have in one way or another contributed to my thinking on the subject include: C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man and a few other scattered essays. Daniel Boorstin’s The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America. The works of French thinker Paul Virilio. Marshall McLuhan’s writings on the nature of media. Anthony Rhodes’ Propaganda, The Art of Persuasion: World War II. Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. And various works by many other writers, Susan Sontag’s On Photography was helpful, likewise Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Kalle Lasn’s Culture Jam, though here as with the whole Adbusters mentality, like Chomsky, we enter upon Propaganda disguised as anti-propaganda. And I have also of course studied the real Propaganda itself. Joseph Goebbels and the  Nazis, Communist propagandas from various eras and countries. (I highly recommend the documentary East Side Story about Communist musicals.) And of course there is American, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Advertising, Pop Music, Feminist, NRA, LGBTQ, Alt-Right, etc ad nauseum. Everyone makes propaganda these days. The real issue is who doesn’t?

Nazi Girls

When we hear the word ‘propaganda’ we tend to think Nazis and Communists first. And since we aren’t them we put away any thoughts that might implicate us in our own propaganda.

But that still doesn’t answer the question: What is this thing? Propaganda. And then there is another question lurking in what I’ve already said. If everyone is already making it maybe it’s not so bad. Why even bother?

A quick answer to the second question first, which we will return to in more depth later. I do not believe I am alone in feeling the viciousness of the divisions of the present age. More than one soul has pointed out the fact that we all seem to be shouting, nay screaming, at each other in this time of polarization. Whether in scorn or fear people are walking around separated and isolated from those holding divergent opinions. (Or is it that Propaganda has actually isolated all of us from each other?) And it is NOT going to get better in the continuing course of events. Nor through anything that might call itself a Revolution. There are a few, very few, good signs, and they do not at present constitute any remotely optimistic forecast for the future.

Why?

Because as long as we remain pickled in our Propaganda marinade we shall continue our downward slide.

But I haven’t defined this Propaganda thing yet? What am I really talking about?

Well I’ve run out of space… You’ll have to visit again for our next essay, A Working Definition of Propaganda.

Swim Against the Stream

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
4/10/2017


Georgian Lessons #5: The Temptations Of Hypermodernity

the-new-horrors

An old Lamp, a Postmodern Monstrosity and a Radisson Blu, built in an Old Reburbished Soviet Intourist Hotel.

I have been writing mostly about what I saw in Tbilisi Georgia in March and April 2016. And in these observations I have been mostly noting what challenged my perceptions. These ‘Georgian Lessons’ have been primarily about what I learned. But now I’m going to flip the rules inside out and write a little something about what the Georgians might be able to learn from an outsider, a representative of a world that they both aspire to and wonder about. These will not be sweet little tidbits of practical knowledge. And some of these observations will be sharp. Again I am not romantic about the country. Since much of what I say deals with Georgia moving into the future it might be tempting to treat the country as a quaint land of happy peasants with their folk dances and songs with a desire to keep them as folksy as possible. But you’d be wrong. I want them to face the future squarely, but also to realize the many tragic errors that have already been made in the name of hypermodernity. I do not set myself as an expert on geopolitics, economics, legal reform et cetera. These are predominately cultural observations from one who has spent a good healthy chunk of his life weighing the nature of the cultural changes of our times. And mostly it friendly concern, for what I still find in the uniqueness of Georgian culture far outweighs its problems. Consider it advice that can be applied if it is found useful.

fun-future

The Name of this Temptation is the God of Fun. At an American Style Amusement Park for Georgians and for the Russian Tourists..

First a speck of history, Georgia as a country was buried in Russia, then the Soviet Union, for nearly two centuries. Many Western Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and the like, still consider it a Russian speaking country. Georgia for them is more obscure than Barbados, Vietnam or Fiji. Georgia was only released from its Russian servitude in 1991, which was then followed in quick succession by a corrupt government, a civil war or two, a revolution and finally, in 2008, a five day war with Russia. And most of that is also as unknown to outsiders as the 20th Century conflicts in Laos or Angola. But the main point is this. Georgia didn’t really opened up to the non-Russian world until very recently. And this is reflected in two main areas: First in the Georgians’, particularly the younger Georgians’, desire to be like other Europeans and Americans culturally. And secondly in the looming discovery of Georgia by the outside world, which will result in the descending vulture of tourism, with its truck-fulls of tempting hard cash.

women-of-the-future

The Alienated, even Alien, Women of the Future in Tbilisi Today.

My meeting with younger Georgians revealed a kind of wide-eyed fascination with the results of pop culture and technology. And this is only to be expected. The Soviet system certainly brought in certain kinds of modernity. Georgia is a very educated country as far as scholarly standards go. What is not realized though is just what this postmodern tide will bring along with it. Take the Smartphone, nearly ubiquitous in Tbilisi. The Smartphone may connect you all the time and everywhere. Yet it completely changes the habits of its users. Riding the Metro one did not see much in the way of reading anymore. But one did see the usual scrying into the palms, the games being played, the neurotic gazing at email and Facebook, the endless selfies. In other words though the Georgians have some cultural features, more conversation, even musicians playing for friends on the train, that help to fight against this particular curse, they still aren’t that strong. Because no one is. The Smartphone is stronger than those that use it, without exceptional choice.

smartphone-georgians

In Only a Very Few Years the Smartphone has Conquered the World and Changed its Mode of Living Completely. Tbilisi Bookstall Near the Metro Entrance.

Likewise when it comes to one of the prime features of Georgian culture, its music and dance, that hasn’t really stopped the arrival of the dance club. A short British documentary on the subject celebrates the electronica being produced in Georgia as a step towards cultural liberation. Which I find about as honest a thought as recommending cages to tigers. As a former sixteen year resident of New York City I think I can safely say that the dark deafening pulsing womb of club life has never led to freedom, unless your idea of freedom is to shake off the past and bath only in a perpetual now. Yes indeed the discos, raves, parties and clubs will make you more like the Europeans. But is that a worthy goal? The night life produces alienation first and foremost. Yes you can experiment sexually. You can add various chemicals to the mix. You can flee from the philosophies of the Orthodox Church. But where will you end up? It ends with people having atomized relations all round. They no longer sing together except as a joke. They live alone. There is no meaning to anything. Along the way there is a lot of laughter and fun. As well as a lot of hurt and emptiness. No matter what it seems like now, the club life, which late rising Georgians are quite tempted by, will end in a void. I am reminded of a song from Italy in the 1980s and a big American hit for Laura Branigan in 1984: Self Control. The chorus went like this. “I, I live among the creatures of the night, I haven’t got the will to try and fight, Against a new tomorrow, so I guess I’ll just believe it, That tomorrow never comes.” And that sums up that world perfectly. 1984. That’s how long we have understood the problem. The electronica and DJs may seem new and cool, underground, rebellious. But it is a well-paved overused  road. It doesn’t have a gram of the integrity of real Georgian music and dance. But I understand. I really do.

rebuilding-tbilisi

Quickly Ripping Up the Old to Make Way for the New.

There are many other ways in which Georgians are encouraged to seek parity with their Western cousins. Most damaging of all are postmodern cultural and philosophical choices and institutions, which if taken straight would drain the soul from the rich fountain of Georgian traditions. And one of the most threatening of those institutions is Tourism. And the eye of tourism is slowly turning its gaze upon this most unusual of countries. Georgia is still quite underdeveloped for tourism. I would say as of 2016 they still haven’t developed a real structure to support the kind of industrial tourism that feeds many corners of the world now. And I’m not against people coming to Georgia to visit. Not at all. Right now Georgia is getting many thoughtful tourists, the people who are more adventurous. (I don’t know if this assessment applies to the Russians who have been visiting for centuries and are still the most common tourists.)

tourism-lite

A Young Amateur Tourist Industry Growing in Tbilisi, while the Big Fish Circle the Bait.

But here is the problem: As the Germans, English, Australians, even a few Americans go home they spread the word to others. So far so good. And so more folks come, as they have been in the last six years. Then more hotels are built. Fancier hotels. (I hear Radisson Red is on its way, after the success of the Radisson Blu.) More infrastructure changes. A massive chunk of Tbilisi was being polished and renovated as I visited, at the expense of the people who used to live on that street.) That’s where Georgia is now. They are still a bit out of the loop. (Try mailing a postcard home? Nearly impossible.) Transportation is still quite a pain. And these are the kinds of things that keep foreigners happy when they come. But here is what the Georgians may not understand yet. When tourism as a postmodern entity finally arrives in full. Great pieces of Georgian culture will become imitations of what they once were. Everywhere that industrial postmodern tourism shows up it turns whatever remains of traditional culture into simulacra of what they once were. People want to see Georgian dancing and hear Georgian singing. And so shows will be set up just for them. (This has happened in Alaska with Native American culture and the Russian culture of the past.) This effect is nearly universal. And when you combine that with the youth exodus towards postmodern pop dance culture. The past becomes a bad museum. And the present is trapped in the sensations of this eternal moment The Big Wow.

singing-for-your-supper

Musicians Playing for me Alone at a Restaurant in the Small Tourist Section of Tbilsi. The Georgians are Mercifully Still Unable to Truly Fake Their Culture.

Now I don’t think that it will happen that way in Georgia for a variety of reasons. But I give you my friendly concern as one who has the watched the process replicate itself over and over. At the moment Tbilisi is where Prague was in 1991. Tourists are coming. But the infrastructure still won’t hold them efficiently. TripAdvisor just recommended Tbilisi for hot new destinations for 2017. My dear Georgian friends do you know what that means? Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

statue-climbing

Children Climb Unselfconsciously on a Statue Portraying Traditional Georgians at the Outdoor Folk Architecture Park.

Next time, to wrap things up, I will be returning to the lessons that I learned from the Georgians I met on my travels. And why I really have to get back again.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
12/26/2016


Georgian Lessons #3: Mystery And Truth

april-9th-martyrs

April 9th Commemoration – Secular Day or Orthodox Ceremony? Both.

Here then are the observations that began to accumulate around me after my journey to the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Tsminda Sameba) in Tbilisi Georgia. I don’t mean these to be anything definitive, nevertheless I did begin to comprehend something that had been tickling my eyes and ears for a couple of weeks.

samba-tram

Tsminda Sameba rising above Tbilisi.

First of all there was this: If in an Orthodox Church the actual times do not matter the way they do in America or Northern and Western Europe, to different degrees, then that helped to explain the rather casual attitude towards work and punctuality. Why only this week I stepped into my local Presbyterian Church and they were discussing whether it was exactly 10 o’clock or not. (‘No we still have a minute to go.’ ‘Well my watch says 10.’) This attitude would be positively incomprehensible in Georgia and I suspect many Orthodox countries. And this would make it quite difficult to enforce Western or East Asian standards of business production. Thus anyone coming from outside Eastern Orthodoxy expecting a certain kind of timeliness would feel very disappointed. But I adjusted my own expectations accordingly. When I went to see Nino Sukhishvili I was constantly playing tag with the times. I didn’t really lose a beat over this. People seem to come and go. And when I went to the theatre or the ballet the shows did start generally, though never precisely, on time.

orthodox-ins-outs

Just a Wednesday afternoon, people coming and going… to church.

Next and much more to the point. The Orthodox church service did not revolve around the sermon. In an American church, Protestant or Catholic, in many ways the liturgy builds up to the message. It’s a little less with the Roman Catholic Church who focus upon Communion, but it’s certainly still there. And when one leaves you discuss the message to compare what one already believes with the words of the minister. Did the sermon stick with the Bible? Was it delivered well? Did the words ring true?

Now what this means is that not only is the emphasis upon the truth of the message, but in fact this weighing of the message for truth is a hallmark of Western Christian culture. And it is also a fact that although the vast swaths of Europe and America think about God as much as they do the country of Vanuatu they nevertheless have inherited the same approach to ideas. So that an atheist judges the truth of a thing the same way. A third wave feminist who blames the Christian patriarchy for the sins of the world still will react with a miffed ‘That’s not true.’ Or perhaps ‘That’s just so wrong!’ So our churches have grown stale over the years but the assertions of truth don’t end, even if the speaker claims that Truth doesn’t exist.

grapevine-cross

Someone found pruned grapevines shaped like the cross and tied them to a very random spot. Grapevines have a special meaning in Georgia.

Now look at Georgia and the Orthodox Church. I’m sure people care about the Truth in Georgia. But not in the same way. In fact, unlike the western branches of Christianity, the Orthodox Church believe the Bible is true and yet don’t really try to harmonize science and the Bible. In other words the Bible is true AND science is true. And I see no force trying to reconcile the differences. Now again I don’t see everything going on, but I do know that is a feature of Orthodoxy. In other words there are no ‘creationists’ in the Orthodox faith. There is paradox. Two truths held together. Looking from my position on the West Coast of the USA that strikes me as, well, radically different. So what this means in practice is that there is a lot of leeway in belief. But God created the world and Christ died for us and was resurrected. And maybe things most likely evolve or maybe not. It’s just a human idea.

What this means practically in international relations is this. Remember Russia is an Orthodox country. Even if that Orthodoxy is suppressed as it was during the Soviet Era. What happens when Americans come over with their true or false mentality? It just seems rather silly to them. Especially since publicly we change our truths like we change our socks. One minute, after World War 2, one must be a good member of the Christian Democratic world. The next they see us haranguing them about homosexuality, which only a few years back we weren’t in favor of. Is it any wonder that there are major conflicts? Neither side is even on the same page. How to communicate? Now Georgia isn’t Russia. That must be said. But many of these issues still hang over them as well.

church-repair

An ancient church slowly being repaired. (Tsminda Sameba in the background.)

And here’s one last Orthodox observation. The point of the service seemed to be the glorious mystery of God. The words seemed secondary. But the music, the actions of priests, the reverence of the congregation definitely seemed focused upon that aspect of faith. And that affected everything. For one thing the music was not being passed around to amateurs. The five women singing may have been mere congregants, but the sounds coming out of their voices put to shame anything I’ve heard in a western church service for my whole life. Only once in a while have I ever heard a church choir come anywhere near the beauty of that music. In America we value inclusiveness over the quality of the music. It is rare that I hear good music in churches these days. The songs we sing together are again more about collective feelings than anything to construed as depth. Every now and then we sing the old standards, which still are glorious (Amazing Grace, O For A Thousand Tongues, How Firm a Foundation) But even those get updated. (How on heaven or earth is Amazing Grace improved by adding a chorus???)

Or here’s another comparison: If I enter the standard Protestant church, or even many Catholic churches, is there any reminder of God’s mystery, his Otherness? If I walk into that same local Presbyterian church the answer is a resounding no. Not in the folksy/poppy music. Not in the various activities of the church, not in the potlucks, not in the architecture, not in the quilted wall hangings, occasionally the sermon gives hints. And that’s about it. So our inclusive faith essentially makes God into our pal. Make sure no one squirms.

Now again what is found in our churches is found in all aspects of our culture. And it’s a two way street. We’ve just become folksy dorky self-conscious people. Real things bother us. Even the approach to nature among folks who would never step into a church these days is often mostly recreational. We could all stand to watch and understand the great Russian films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Our walks into nature would change immensely. In his very Orthodox films the textures of the environment become alive and mysterious. But again we like to make things casual, cool, no biggy. And thus we live in a neutered world, as we gaze into our hands and make magic swishing motions over the devices at our fingertips. So yes I was overwhelmed to find God’s mystery in the Georgian Orthodox Church.

st-george-on-a-wall

St. George overlooking a street in Tbilisi.

My feeling is that a cross-pollination between Western questing for Truth (capital T please) and Eastern Orthodox Mystery would be a beneficial thing on both sides. But I’m not sure they need our postmodern casualness however. Yet that seems inevitable as the ‘blessings’ of pop culture descend like crematorium ashes across the whole world.

(But we’ll get to that soon enough… Come back again for our next Georgian Lesson.)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

November 14th 2016


The Švankmajer Effect #2

Part Two
The Švankmajer Effect Comes to Life

Pre-Show for the Urbild Remix April 2005 Buchty a Loutky

In 2005 I traveled through Europe tracking down puppet theatres and talking with puppeteers. I spent several weeks in the Czech Republic and in Prague in particular. I was thinking about Švankmajer the whole time, half hoping to run into him. At one point I wandered through the library of the Strahov Monastery on the castle hill. I looked through the shelves and glass displays at objects like a desiccated baby dodo bird when I saw a portrait from hundreds of years ago of a face made of seeds. I knew that Švankmajer had seen this too and found inspiration in its pronounced Mannerism.

I had visited  tourist friendly puppet shows on a earlier Prague visit so this time I was determined to find something a little closer to the heart of Czech puppetry and also if possible to the spirit of Švankmajer.  Jakub Krofta, a director from DRAK in Hradec Kralove, had recommended I look for Buchty a Loutky (meaning Cakes and Puppets in Czech, a parody of Bread and Puppets) whom he said, along with the Foreman Brothers (both sons of the film director Milos Foreman) were making intriguing innovations on Czech Puppetry.

Buchty a Loutky who regularly perform at Prague’s Švandovo Theatre

I descended into the brick walled basement of the Švandovo Theatre in the Smichov district, a 15 minute walk south of the Charles Bridge. Buchty a Loutky performed an absurdist take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tale The Hound of the Baskervilles, retitled Pes Baskervillský. There was no stage as such only crudely constructed wooden boxes and cubby holes. Then I watched many strange things that I had never associated with puppetry before. At one point the puppets request tea. On the  side of the ramshackle assemblage a Czech puppeteer pours liquid out of samovar into a teapot. Meanwhile the small Holmes and Watson puppets are given full sized teacups. The puppeteer steps up and pours the ‘tea’ straight down into the cups, liquid splashes out of the cups of course, yet some of the refreshment does indeed remain within the porcelain containers, upon which two suited puppeteers stand off to the sides of the little cage-like wooden puppet stage as the puppets and their life sized human doubles sip gently as the tiny figures do the talking. This doubling effect serves Buchty a Loutky as a sort of signature style. A puppet has a gun. Suddenly a human hand in another small box directly below the main puppet theatre is holding a gun as well. At another point we hear the sounds of train while a tiny HO scale train circles the aimlessly around the wooden boxes. Even the intermission midway through the show was handled in the most unpredictable way imaginable. One member of the troupe, Tomáš, began to read from a boring scientific textbook about swamps as an eco-system. He read this for perhaps ten minutes. The time it took a majority of folks to ken to the fact that this was indeed the  break and that a small snack bar had opened up. I, of course, was one of the last.

Before the Urbild Remix show the Buchtys rather funky set. Anyone who has seen the Lilliputian Puppet Sideshow, Geppetto’s Junkyard or Reckoning Motions will spot the connection.

In another performance entitled the Urbild Remix, a variation on one their older shows, a tiny, perhaps seven inch tall, crudely made puppet wanders out into a ‘stage’ about ten inches by fifteen, with a teensy beer bottle in his hands. He sits on a miniature bed drinks a little. And then falls to sleep. The rest of the show is his dream. And takes place in the multiple small boxy stages below him. Then all mayhem breaks out as a mermaid breathes bubbles in a large water filled jar, carnal relations ensue, one character is killed and very red stage blood streams off the already red stained set, enlargement doubles with weapons take place in the space below the dream stage, live acoustic music encircles the audience and an American Indian figure plays a sort of heroic role while a skeletal figure brings a warning. And this state of brilliant theatrical anarchy was as funny as could be even for a non-Czech speaker. Especially when Marek Bečka, the Buchtys de facto leader and founder stood up before the show and recognized a few English speakers. He told us he would explain everything. Then spent several minutes talking to the Czech audience who were sitting on bleachers then turned back to us and said “That was important information.” Then continued on in Czech.

The importance of live music. Vit plays the accordion.

In a discussion with Buchty a Loutky’s Tomáš Procházka, the director of Pes Baskervillský, I asked him about the groups connection with traditional Czech puppetry. He replied “We don’t feel such a strong connection between the puppet theatres and stuff. We are very interested in film and in bringing the film style into puppet theatre.” I was fairly certain I had seen a Švankmajer connection. He confirmed that, “Švankmajer is the only name we can say we all love it.” As I was still about to see the Urbild Remix he added, “You will see in this story the Švankmajer style. It’s made of rubbish.” Among the objects that caught my attention was a vortex shaped chunk of rusty iron that looked like it been unearthed in someones’ back yard. This was definitely not standard theatrical gear. Later after Urbild I observed that, like Švankmajer, they must be pack rats of odd artifacts. Procházka explained, “Our office is full of rubbish. When we find something that looks interesting we just keep it.”

Tomáš Procházka, director of the Buchtys version of Hound of the Baskervilles

This approached struck me as something I’d really never seen before in puppetry. And it was clear that that the Buchtys were using the junk and detritus of the past less in a postmodern spirit than in an almost entropic patchwork mode. Tomáš Procházka said “Now is the moment when (Czech) people need to find a new way to get the rich life of puppetry, to find some new way to do puppets, what is the modern theme for puppets, to say what is the use of puppets at all. And there are only a few people who really want a new direction. Otherwise it is very classical and conservative, it’s still the same from the 50’s to now.” That is to say that they were seeking something beyond the Modernism of the mid to late 20th Century. To me there was an affinity to Punk rock; not the rage, but the D.I.Y. aesthetic.  Procházka concurred “It’s nice to say it. Because then we can say we do Punk. We do Punk Puppetry.”

The backstage chaos. This is really D.I.Y. puppetry.

In an age of artificial surfaces, hollow objects, virtual screens on every angle of perception, Buchty a Loutky had taken hints from Jan Švankmajer about the importance of the dense inhabited tactile object, perhaps what Polish theatre director Tadeusz Kantor called the l’objet pauvre, the poor, ruined, or miserable, object. Švankmajer’s film work and experiments in tactility open up the possibility for a breed of puppetry that is not interpreted through the artificiality of theatrical tropes. He not only breeches the fourth wall but the other three as well. It was seeing Buchty a Loutky’s version of this as well as coming across the works of some of the students of l’École Supérieure Nationale de le Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières in France that convinced me to hijack this style and to apply these principles to the puppet troupes we would soon form in Haines Alaska. But that is another story.

Rocky IX by Buchty a Loutky a satire of the interminable Rocky series.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

7/13/12

For more information about Buchty a Loutky read this:

Journey into European puppetry #7

Or to visit them in Prague:

Buchty a Loutky

or to find the Divadlo Švandovo:

Švandovo Theatre


The Švankmajer Effect #1

Part One
Explorations in Texture

The Inexplicable Automaton Monkey’s that Open Jan Svankmajer’s Rakvičkárna – Also known as The Coffin Factory or Punch and Judy

In 1989 I first came across the puppet films of Jan Švankmajer at the Film Forum in New York City. I remember feeling an oddness popping through the screen. I couldn’t put my finger on it. A little later I also discovered the films of the Brothers Quay, which also touched a similar, if indefinable, nerve. (Someday I’ll discuss the Quays in more depth.) I wasn’t consciously interested in puppetry then. My interest was primarily in film. But over the years I kept returning to the works of Švankmajer. I eagerly bought my tickets at obscure venues to watch Švankmajer’s Alice and Faust as they were released. These works were bellwethers for me.

Jan Svankmajer Still Vital in his Late Seventies as this is Being Written

Švankmajer’s films, with their manic crosscutting and hyperreal sound effects, reflected the preoccupation of the filmmaker with his pet obsessions; childhood nightmares, food, the difficulties of dialogue and, certainly, puppets. As an American I saw puppets mainly as a folk art relegated to the nursery where fluffy Muppets amuse toddlers. Švankmajer’s use of puppetry was a revelation. Yet throughout the early 90’s only slowly, dimly, did it occur to me to seek out puppetry in New York. A little diligence would have amply rewarded. Yet in a way I’m glad that it was only in my last year in the city, before moving to Alaska, that I began to realize that much of the strength of the Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay lay in their puppets. In 1994 I discovered their VHS tapes at Kim’s Video. Only as I began to closely examine these films that I began to understand what I was seeing.

Arcimboldo Techniques Come To Life in Svankmajer’s Dimensions of Dialogue

But even before I lay hold of the videos I knew what it was that really grabbed me in Švankmajer’s works. In a word it was texture. By the late eighties I was already convinced that something was off in the modern preoccupation with flat empty surfaces. Whether it was the white walls of galleries, offices and apartments, or whether it was the flatness of of our appliances, fixtures and electronic gadgetry, it occurred to me that humanity was not meant to live in sterile empty environments. Nature was a system at once soothingly simple and extremely complex. Their was the visual sweep of the forest and the unique singularity of the bark on one tree. Traditional art and design had many of these elements as well. But Modernist aesthetics, say Bauhaus or minimalism, had been commercialized and sold to people in a variety of packages. Take a walk through the average postwar office building; look for the cheese in the sterile rat trap. What would be the effect upon humanity living in an environment as dead as the surface of the average refrigerator? While it would be almost scientifically impossible to calculate I think we already know the answer.

Švankmajer’s puppet films fly in the face of the sleek modernist ethic by pushing your face directly into the path of dense textures. There are few simple textures in a Švankmajer film. Instead you get a riot of corrosion, fracturing, old wood grain, rotting food, vegetation, dank metal and dry bone. He even animates cow tongues and pieces of raw pork.

In the Textural Flood of Ravickarna Svankmajer Trumps All with the Living Fur of a Guinea Pig

In Rakvičkárna (known in English as Punch and Judy or it’s more literal translation The Coffin Factory) textures and puppetry go hand in hand. From it’s opening shots of decaying musical automaton monkeys it pushes texture to the foreground. The textures that then assault us include mechanical toys and carousel horses, a dead animal eye suddenly slipped in among the painted. Then we are forced to observe the ripped patchwork of gunny sack burlap that makes up one of the backdrops. And then come the two puppets, each a masterpiece of textural complexity. While called Punch and Judy, there is no Judy figure represented. Instead we have Punch and what seems to be Harlequin (which touches of Pierrot). Punch is fashioned in an antique manner a la the 17th Century. But this is not an antique puppet, it is purposely aged. The face of this punch is like a painted moonscape, designed to appeared cracked and dented. Likewise the Harlequin wears an extraordinarily colorful ragged patchwork gown. Then to really up the textural ante, as if it wasn’t already thick with cracks, crevices and features, Švankmajer throws in a live guinea pig then proceeds to show us its fur, eyes, teeth, and moving tongue. All of this is still only the opening salvo. There is a strange house wallpapered with antiquarian clippings from books and newspapers. There is a coffin papered in a puppet sized engraving of a skeleton. The coffin is then hammered, nailed and dripped upon by candles. Finally in a frenetic battle holes are drilled in the wooden floor and carnivalesque paintings are punctured as we are reminded that at the beginning these puppets were merely the extension of fleshy human hands.

Jan Svankmajer Working on the Oversized Puppets for Don Juan

Similar textural studies can be found in Don Šajn (or Don Juan) where the Švankmajer thrusts us into further conundrums: Are the puppets old or merely painted that way? Are the puppets real or are they actors in puppet garb? Is that a set or is it a very non-theatrical reality? Švankmajer distinctively blurs such distinctions. At one point two human-sized puppets are sword fighting in a decayed medieval setting, which is overgrown with weeds and shrubbery, when they pass a wing of the Baroque stage they have also been seen on. And it isn’t the front of the stage. We instead get a casual sidelong glances at the back of the painted set. No attention is paid to this detail. This breakdown between the theatrical or the filmic illusion and the grittier denser textures of reality are a hallmark of Švankmajer’s work. It doesn’t matter if you see the hands or the back of the set. He does this without breaking the illusion of the piece at all. What matters is to bring the animated figure or the object freely back and forth across the borders of our reality, much as messages, books, music, etc had to be smuggled in and out of the old Communist world. And texture is one of his chief means for accomplishing this feat.

You can be sure that’s real fur! The White Rabbit from Svankmajer’s Alice

And so Švankmajer uses real bones in Neco z Alenky (or Alice), his version of Alice in Wonderland, and stuffed rabbits, various socks, actual false teeth, glass eyes and many other objects not generally associated with puppetry or animation. In Moznosti dialogu (Dimensions in Dialogue) he uses most of the objects found on a desk, in a kitchen, in a refrigerator, not to mention shoes, butter and toothpaste. And not content to merely use these things he crushes or destroys each in its turn changing the textures from the rather hollow items purchased in stores into symbolically charged objects.

Alice, Dolls, Bones, Socks, Wood, Leaves, and an Endless Textural Feast.

People sometimes use the phrase object theatre. And just as often they mean something which is taken from the outside world and treated theatrically. The object in Švankmajer’s hands retains the mystery of the thing in itself. He points us away from the slick surfaces of modernity towards the haunted characteristics of older inhabited used materials. In doing so Švankmajer displays an aspect of his professed Surrealism. And old school Surrealists valued the displaced object highly.

(To be concluded next time.)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

7/1/12

For more Anadromous puppetry essays:

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/antidote-art-1/

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/antidote-art-2/

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/journey-into-european-puppetry-1/

And then there is the edgy topic of modern dolls.


The Feral Life #3: The Reality of the Feral Child

Pollyanna McIntosh staring into the dark heart of 21st Century Barbarism in The Woman (2011)..

The Scottish actress Pollyanna McIntosh is a statuesque elegant brunette and evidently in interviews she is also quite intelligent, even witty. The Woman she plays in Lucky McKee’s eponymous 2011 film could not be more of a contrast. One of the younger actors in the film said that it was quite odd on the set. She would one minute be jocular, pleasant company, then the moment would come when she would hit some interior switch and you wouldn’t want to stand anywhere near her. In a brilliant performance, the kind never recognized by the gatekeepers of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Pollyanna turns herself into the embodiment of the feral being.

The film itself is filled with unresolved ambiguities. The family that ‘takes her in’ is eventually revealed to be a repository of psychotic dysfunction to the extreme. The father’s desire to civilize her would be comical if the mission were not taken on with such edgy sociopathic verve by actor Sean Bridgers. There is a scene where the Woman, is being baited and restrained in a dark shed. Pollyanna’s unnerving, tearful, tortured stare at the man, her captor, and his humiliated, yet enabling, wife (another stunning performance by Angela Bettis) is laced with pure venom with slightest trace of something that looks like sympathy for the battered spouse. But commiseration it is not.

But that nightmarish glower turns out to be the central image of the film. This Woman is powerful. But she has also been detached from civilization, completely. While the film clearly states that she is still human, yet in her feral nature she has reverted to a truly brutal state. Her language reduced to snarls. Her actions nearly all based on the purest animal instincts. When she is freed by the molested daughter, she surfaces into the light of day, meanwhile a hitherto unseen daughter caged as a feral dog girl, is torturing, and eating, a woman who has tried to intervene in the molested daughter’s situation. One half expects the Woman to rescue the other damaged females. This would be the false empowerment message so prevalent in pop culture. But the resolution is far more ambiguous than that. One thing becomes clear: Once you lose the civilizing of humanity it doesn’t come back. Or as in Apocalypse Now “never get out of the boat”.

The Woman is Freed to …?

And this observation holds up under deeper scrutiny. Jack Ketchum, the screenwriter of this stark opus, Lucky McKee, our director, and Pollyanna McIntosh have all done quite a bit of homework. There have indeed been feral humans, wild children who have lost their language, lost and found derelicts of humanity. As much as I enjoyed the film Road Warrior (Mad Max 2), one flaw was the conceit that that the snarling feral child would end up as the polished narrator of the film. As we now know such a thing is impossible. We have since discovered that there is a window in childhood for learning speech and and grammar, and if something interrupts that process you may learn words later, you may be human, but you will not be delivering a valedictory speech any time before your headstone is prepared.

Perhaps the most famous feral child was that of Victor of Aveyron; a boy of around 12 years old who was discovered in the woods of southern France at the end of the 18th Century. He had obviously been abandoned at some point and had been foraging in the wild. He was taken in and attempts were made to educate him. He eventually learned to live again among humans in a manner approximating standard living. But he could never really speak grammatically, though he could communicate in a form of sign language.

From François Truffaut’s version of the Story of Victor of Aveyron, L’Enfant Sauvage – or The WIld Child

Another recent case had a sadder outcome. This the story ‘Genie’ (real name Susan Wiley), a girl discovered in suburban Southern California in 1970 at the age of 12, imprisoned in an empty room by her father and mother and strapped to a potty chair for her entire life. The father, who immediately committed suicide when the mother finally brought the girl into the open, would not allow the girl to be spoken to. Hence she lived in a strange decivilized, socially isolated state.  Again she was nearly mute. Yet she radiated a certain kind of empathy, and had a great effect upon those that came into contact with her, even though her sanitary habits were quite appalling. Unfortunately most of those people were researchers who realized that they had discovered a rare specimen of what scientists call the forbidden experiment. For you see you can’t really experiment on children to see what happens when…

A photo of ‘Genie’ close to the time of her release into the larger world. Notice the strange walk.

But here was a child raised without language. And who was adopted and abandoned by the scientific community, who I’m sure told themselves they had the best of intentions yet used her to receive grants to study human language. And when the grants ran out so did the commitment. The mother, not exactly a trustworthy individual, then resurfaced and took her back. Eventually Genie was placed into a home, where she remains today. To watch the old documentary on her or read a book about her is to feel both the sting of regret for her pitiful treatment and to briefly come into contact with a strange luminous creature who sadly was dropped and discarded.

The haunting face of ‘Genie’ (Susan Wiley) after she had begun to experience human interaction

(Interestingly there is a girl who recently made a set of photographs of herself as Genie. She claims to not want to offend anyone. Yet in her erotic fetishization of Genie she clearly is romanticizing the wild child once again. Trying to tap into the unearthly purity of this misused human being.)

Another feral case from the 1990’s is that the dog-girl, Oxana Malaya of Ukraine, who was the product of such an abusive, rural, impoverished, alcoholic home that she simply crawled out of her home and lived as dog in the dog pen for years, and she took on many canine characteristics. A video shows her canine behavior in what at first glimpse seems kind of cute, then really is quite disturbing.

Dani Crockett: Another unusual child. This time someone did the right thing and adopted her with a great deal of patience and love.

The most recent story from 2007 is the only one that might have a good ending. It is the story of Danielle, who was found in a suburban Florida home, locked in squalor for the first seven years of her life by a really stressed out single mother. She has since been adopted by a family that really tries to give her the love she needs, though the mother has protested that she was indeed quite fit to raise her. Again the speech capacities are severely diminished, again the sanitary habits beyond human tolerance. And again there is some mysterious kind of communication that is quite unique. Yet this family has really striven to show this wild child love, the crucial ingredient. Dani has been ‘house trained’ and is slowly learning to communicate. We will have to see if that makes a difference. I suspect it will.

There is much more to each of these stories and I recommend investigating them more thoroughly. Each story highlights what happens when a human is truly left to the wild, beyond the pale of humanity. Lucky McKee’s film The Woman clearly has reference to these, and many more stories. And while The Woman is a seriously intense horror film, it makes some very subtle points about human nature and our dream of a wild life.

Confronting the Meaning of Barbarism in The Woman

Since the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, there has existed a dream of completely instinctual freedom and freedom unconditioned by civilization. In a recent book of edgy eco-politics, Derrick Jensen’s Endgame, he argues for the eventual destruction of civilization. He sees this as a good. Yes it will cost something. But it is a necessity to free ourselves from all of the corporate greed and technological enslavement. The book is fully supping at Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s table. He points out that we fear the end of civilization because we have been presented false fears of total barbarism.

Well breakdowns may come. But what Jensen has done is to equate the world we now inhabit with civilization. Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum were much more equivocal about that. Essentially the question one is left with at the end of The Woman runs something like this. Can this family, the ‘civilized’ folks, in any way really be considered civilized? And fortunately the film does not present us with a romanticized view of Pollyanna’s portrayal of the Woman. Like the pied piper she leads the damaged children off into the woods. But whatever happens… it will not be pretty. The answer isn’t in the woods either. Humanity fled the darkness of the woods for a reason. Then we created the darkness of the cities, but we hoped they would provide security. And so we created the internet to help us mollify the perils of human society, and we created another stranger darkened realm. (Although one painted with smiley faces.)  :)

What passes for Civilization Staring into their own Barbarity. The Cleek Family from Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011)

Is the human being staring alone at the screen a ‘civilized’ person? Maybe the real question is this: Can the alienated 21st citizen, denizen, netizen, whatever we are in this 21st Century postmodern society, still find the means to be civil in the loneliness of cyberspace? C.S. Lewis is his book A Preface to Paradise Lost thought not. In 1942 Lewis wrote that indeed already by his time we had lost the decorum and dignity of true civility. That we had instead become the barbarians outside the Wall of true civilization. “Some are outside the Wall because they are barbarians who cannot get in; but others have gone out beyond it of their own will in order to fast and pray in the wilderness.  ‘Civilization’ – by which I here mean barbarism made strong and luxurious by mechanical power – hates civility from below; sanctity rebukes it from above.”

Indeed too much of our civilization is a kind of high-tech barbarism. And yet to learn to read, to cultivate a sacrificial sense of the arts, to build more than sad bleached suburban huts, to have manners and a sense of real civility; Can we afford to dream of losing these altogether to remedy our ills? There is no remedy in the feral return to the wild. And there is little wilderness to actually return to. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s dream of a return to nature is over. The anadromous answer lies in the humble recreation of real civilization, a civil world in the small cracks of disorder.

John Donne said something in the early 17th Century in Meditation XVII from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.

“Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? But who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

And it is not only the toll of death we must attend to. The bell reminds us of a past when the sound of a bell itself held a very deep meaning.

Andrei Tarkovsky Reveals the Meaning of Bells in Andrei Rublev (1966)

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
6/23/2012


Recipe for a New Dark Age

An Old Truck full of Sweaty Dynamite on a Decaying Bridge. (Sorcerer 1977)

Ingredients:

Historical Events (the larger the better)
Radical Doubt (it helps if this is quite philosophical)
Religious Irrationalism (this can be quite stale)
Nihilism (there’s nothing to be said about this)
Pop Culture ( the more commercial the better)
Nostalgia (see Pop Culture)
Technology (you can’t find enough of this!)
News (easily obtainable 24/7)
Entertainment (see News)
Economy (see Conspiracy Theories)
Propaganda (not what we believe)
Conspiracy Theories (see the Internet)
Fun (the fresher the better)
Positivity (this is good)
The Internet (information that meets your needs)
Social Media (maybe it will even be viral?)
Human Beings (wherever you can find them)

Preparations:

Take several large historical events, these should be events so large that they cannot be understood without diligence, but are easily incorporated into Conspiracy Theories (see below). World War Two, the Cold War, the Social Upheavals in the 1960’s, the Rise of Computers will all do nicely. (Others can be added.)

Sprinkle Generously with Radical Doubt (particularly in the University setting), Religious Irrationalism, Nihilism

Whip in 50 years of Pop Culture with the predominating message of personal freedom, following your dreams, living on your feelings, acting upon your desires, doing your own thing, listening to your own heart, living instinctually or simply being intuitive. Make sure you strip from Pop Culture any messages anything that suggests using one’s intellect, caring for others at the expense of the self, fighting for Truth (don’t even think capital ‘T’). These bacteria of misguided Pop Culture might spoil the Dark Age we are trying to make. But don’t worry about the sad songs, the endless stream of broken relationships, the depressing movies. All of these can add a pungent spice to our eventual New Dark Age. Also religious messages in various media are perfectly wonderful as long as they are strictly personal and deal exclusively with what seems to work for the individual in a confusing world. Also anti-religious messages are to be encouraged, especially if they are said religiously.

This Should Probably Be Seen as a Study in Colors.

A word of caution about adding books: Stick with the books most reflective of current Pop Culture (self-help books, lavishly illustrated books, pop fiction, crossword puzzle dictionaries, trendy subjects), although certain philosophical books might also help as well. Any book that suggests that there is no point to learning, no matter how densely written, is certainly worth adding. They are like fine ingredients with a fragrant truffle scented Nihilism. But it’s probably best to add the popular, more cheerful versions of these ideas. So in other words: Nietzsche? Yes, but watch out for shards of reality that might taint the texture. Dawkins? Perfect. Simple overstatements that allow the reader to feel superior. But anybody’s oversimplifications will do.

Continually add new modes of Technology for personal listening, viewing, reading and general consumption.

Now put into a mixer and blend thoroughly. As time passes add more and more Nostalgia to disguise the taste, which inevitably leeches out during the cooking process.

Pour into a pot with portions of News and Economy. (Make sure you save enough News and Economy to use later.) Simmer for several decades.

Now while you are waiting for the pot to boil you can begin preparations for next phase:

Lets start working on our Propaganda crust.

First of let’s start with the News. Make sure that the News is first and foremost largely bits of repeated information marinated in Entertainment. Let’s make sure that the graphics of magazines completely obliterate the line between editorial and commercial content. Make sure that the News is primarily visual. I can’t stress this enough. It doesn’t matter what is believed as long as it pictorial. Avoid adding meaningful language! (It’s even better if you have a theory stating that all words are essentially worthless.) Make sure the News is full of images. It doesn’t matter if they seemingly contradict each other. As long as we find News with a low word content. The perfect use of words can be seen in advertisements: Words rendered vacuous and turned into pure graphics. Let’s make sure our News whatever the source is like that as well: Headlines and captions.

Now let’s add more Entertainment. Really you can’t add enough Entertainment. In fact let’s simply make everything entertaining. Let’s make old high school photographs entertaining. Let’s make politics entertaining. Let’s televise everything we can. But avoid old books!!! Don’t go near them. Unless we can suggest through a movie based upon an old book that the past was identical to the present. And that the past was Fun.

That’s the next thing! Let’s add some real Fun. (Let’s not define this word though, let’s leave it as a teleological abstraction.) Let’s make sure that people think having Fun is the number one reason to be alive.

And let’s make sure to add Positivity. This corruption of certain old religious principles is a wonderful additive. It will fit in quite nicely with more Religious Irrationalism. (Remember that Religious Irrationalism can be of any persuasion including Atheistic.) And the overall benefit is that in public people will value getting along together over anything resembling intelligent discussion. It will actually make people more sensitive and envious and will help fuel their not so hidden desires to rip into  anyone who disagrees with them in the virtual media.

Dare You Disagree? London Rioter ca. 2012

Now we add our well seasoned Propaganda. The best Propaganda has been fermenting in different forms since World War Two. The content doesn’t really matter as long as we make sure of two things. One, that people should always be sensitive to the Propaganda of other groups. And Two, never become aware of their own. Always keep in mind that we must have an Us and Them. We are the honest ones. They are stupid inhuman fools. In other words the best Propaganda is always disguised as truth, our truth. (Disguising it as truth will also help us to keep any stray strands of actual Truth out of this recipe, which could spoil much of our New Dark Age.) Make sure that Propaganda surrounds us at every orifice.

And the best way to do that is to add more Radical Doubt, more Nihilism and now let’s add our Conspiracy Theories… to taste. (You know who is responsible for this mess. That’s right Them!)

Add lot’s more Technology. Keep people swimming in new technology. Don’t let them fully get the hang of the present. But always hold the present out as a goal. Avoid ANY serious historical research of the past. Keep the future vague but ominous, unless our Propagandists are right.

Mix seductively with Social Media. In the past we used to get our Propaganda from large media organizations. But we have perfected this with the Internet. Now we can simply stay immersed in our own Propaganda bubble. Our eyes go blood red when we hear anyone speak a syllable we disagree with. Since there is very little dialogue in reality anymore Propaganda comes not only to us on the Internet, but through us. Perfect. While people still fear their own versions of Big Brother (Big Government, Big Corporations, Big Media, Big Money, etc.) in fact they have become Little Sister and Little Brother. They post endless pictures, photos, cartoons, videos, articles, at each other on Facebook, never realizing that in doing so they further substitute Propaganda graphics for real life words.

Finally we shape our Propaganda crust into personal sized pies and fill with the simmering ingredients.

Oh! And add what’s left of your Human Beings.

To keep things simple. Let’s not make anything else. Let’s consign all of our words, images, sounds, films, data to the Cloud. Let’s not own these things. Let’s consign them to the days of a past, and goofy, materialism. Add more Fun. Press Like.

This is a man-made underground gas fire that has been burning about 40 years. It’s called “The Door to Hell” in Darvaz Uzbekistan.

Now cook.

We suggest a decade, possibly two, on a fairly consistent heat. Keep sprinkling with bad environmental and economic News and lots of Positivity and Fun. DO NOT ADD any real dialogue between people of differing views. Protest? Absolutely! Talk? No.

Now unplug the Internet with a prolonged attack by Anonymous hackers, wretched Spammers, other fed up souls pickled in Nihilism and sick of the Virtual World we have all (Us and Them) created.

And voila! A perfect New Dark Age!

There are other recipes, but if this is what you are craving … Bon appétit!

We’ll be lucky if the New Dark Age look like this.

Does anyone know how to make shoes anymore?

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
3/8/12


Journey into European Puppetry #8: Staring into the Dark River

Notes from European Puppet Explorations in 2005

Part 8 – Staring into the Dark River

The Salzburg Marionette Theater, Salzburg Austria

 

I was awakened in my converted medieval hotel room by bells pealing loud and long enough to wake the dead. I’m not talking jingle bells either. These sounds were deep, rolling, earthshaking. It was Ascension Day in Salzburg, Austria. Ascension Day? Evidently the day of Jesus’ ascent back into heaven is celebrated pretty widely across secular Europa while we more religious Americans hadn’t even been informed that it was a holiday. I felt gypped. (Hey wait a minute isn’t gypped from gypsy? Uh oh I feel something politically correct hovering about. Down damn you!)

This baby puppet was found in the Salzburg Marionette museum. It serves as a good reminder that the differences between dolls and puppets are not that great.

Meanwhile back in Salzburg everything was closed except the Hohensalzburg Castle, which fortunately contained the small puppet museum of the Salzburg Marionetten Theater. I also discovered there that it would be impossible to interview any of the Salzburg puppeteers because the office was closed for the holiday. But I did have tickets for the theatre that night.

A Baroque Woman in a Baroque city. From the Salzburg Marionetten Theater’s museum at the castle.

I found my seat in the Salzburg Marionette Theater, amid children and Japanese tourists, for an unseasonal (to my mind at least… Or maybe it fits the Ascension Day festivities?) performance of The Nutcracker. This was the most expensive puppet show I had attended on my entire trip through European puppetry: 28 euros (nearly $40 US) and hardly the best seats in the diminutive antique theatre. But after all the Salzburg Marionettes had toured the world. And when I saw their show I knew why. Their technique was elaborate, flawless. It was like watching a three dimensional film without the glasses. The use of lighting was particularly good. But it was the actual movement of the marionettes that was stupefying. Whether it was a parade of snowmen or a Middle Eastern dancer, the performance was truly lifelike. The puppets appeared to be actual miniature beings rather than mere pieces of wood, wire, fabric and paint.  As the ballet concluded the possibilities of puppetry appeared nigh endless to me. Although it was curious that the group with the most refined style moved about primarily to prerecorded music.  If Buchty a Loutky in Prague had this kind of technique what would they do with it? Indeed many of the students at Charleville would eventually have this level of technique and they were already beginning to move far beyond traditional concepts of puppeteering.

A postcard showing the antique interior of the Salzburg Marionetten Theater. My own seat had a similar perspective.

As I walked back to my hotel in the darkness over the Salzach River I stopped on the bridge and looked across to the lights Salzburg and the castle reflected in the dark water. I reflected on what a journey it had been. I could see that puppetry was still an untapped artistic treasury, from the folk art of Guignol to the philosophical experiments at the Institut International de la Marionnette and ESNAM, from the savage comic timing of Der Weite Theater to the gentle humor and earnest ideas of DRAK, from the pure displays of light and shadow at the Fuguren-Zirkel to the dark seriousness of play’s like Groteska’s Balladyna and from the perfect professionalism of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre to funky absurdism of Buchty a Loutky. And I could also easily see how much was left, acres, countries, galaxies to be explored in the puppetry matrix, including masks and objects. Puppetry had been a folk art for so long, with only tentative steps towards art having been made in the 20th Century. It was as though though this art form was still in its glorious silent movie stage awaiting the advent of sound.

Another postcard, this time showing the same Nutcracker show that I watched:      The dance of the sugar plum fairies.

I also had another reflection: I remembered back in Berlin going to a rock club to watch three indie bands play. I left before the third one started. Why? Well I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen a lot of music in my lifetime. And these bands were doing what so much music does these days. They were providing a rather predictable experience for the people who like that sort of sound. The club was full of the usual suspects: hipsters standing around looking coolly bored or the folks who invariably bob their heads in approval of the beat. But nothing surprising was occurring. And without some element of surprise nothing new can be said. The musical conversation that had stretched back into the mists of the 20th Century and before now looked to have become stale. (Yes I’m well aware that there is plenty of good music out there. The problem is that it has ended up as our personal portable soundtracks.)

But in puppet theatre after puppet theatre my mind was being blown all ways from Sunday. Puppetry, by retaining its tangible, tactile character, had stepped up to the artistic task of confronting the infernal virtuality of the 21st Century. The European puppets that I saw raised questions that most of the other arts could no longer confront in our maelstrom of hi-tech simulacra. Puppetry can be used effectively in films, but it is barely contained by them. And the best puppet films by Wladyslaw Starewicz, Jan Švankmajer, the Brothers Quay or Genevieve Anderson throw us back upon the textures of the real world with its mysterious essence. But the only way to truly know why the once and future art of puppetry is able to speak into our dismembered reconstituted times is find a real puppet show (not some muppety kiddie show either) and get thee henceforth. And that’s the point puppets require our presence, which gets us out of our isolation.

A postcard from the Nutcracker featuring a marionette ballerina. Most Salzburg marionettes are controlled by nine strings.

As I stood on that bridge crossing the Salzach River watching the lights of Salzburg it occurred to me that everywhere you go there are endless musical bands, singers, organizations. But where were the puppet troupes? Why shouldn’t there be just as many? The punk puppets of Buchty a Loutky provided an excellent model. But why not shadow puppets? Marionettes? Toy theatres? Rod Puppets? Puppet films? Crafty automata? Reconditioned action figures? Recycled junk? And not just to make kids laugh either? (But then again why not?) And not just to make adults giggle? (And again why in the name of heck not?) But why not make versions of Shakespeare, Faust or Alice in Wonderland? Why not make versions of movies? Buchty a Loutky did Rocky IX why not The Maltese Falcon or Night of the Living Dead? Or my own personal dream – a live outdoor version of Tarkovsky’s Stalker with a small audience following the Stalker puppet to the Zone. Puppetry is an ancient art with a deep past that ranges from Punch to King Kong, from Captain Pod to Michel de Ghelderode. But it is also an art that is still discovering its grammar, especially since it is not just a language of homunculi and funny animals but of all objects. On my journey I saw stones, grapevines, electric trains, water and light all used as puppets.

And so I determined right there on that bridge that I would take on this art myself and see if I could get it to work back in Alaska, back in North America. And take it I did. And I believe it has worked… But that is another story.  It was time to leave Europe and the rich panorama of faces and characters, both human and animated, I had encountered on this astounding journey.

A mannequin on the streets of Salzburg… Again the distance between the mannequin and the puppet is infinitesimal. And in the hands of Czech puppet filmmaker Jiří Barta… non-existent.

In early May during my last stop in Europe I had one closing benediction related to puppetry. At my hotel in the Latin Quarter in Paris the desk clerk, whom I had known for years, told me that the man on the night shift, Jorge, was a Bolivian puppet master. He introduced us and I interviewed him. As he discussed puppets made out of paper in the shape of condors I realized how much more of the world of puppets I had yet to encounter. There were indeed puppet shows all over the world. I asked him if he thought puppets would have problems surviving in a world of televisions, computers, video games, etc. “No!” He replied with passion. “People need puppets.”  “Why?” I asked him. For him all of puppetry came down to one word “Simplicity.” And after all I’d seen I couldn’t help but agree with him: simplicity and a tangible reality.

.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

March 4th 2012

……….

And if you are in Salzburg at the right time dig deeply into your pockets and see the Salzburg Marionette Theater. Visit their website:

http://www.marionetten.at/marionetten09/index.php


Journey into European Puppetry #6: On The Czech Puppet Trail

Notes from European Puppet Explorations in 2005
Part 6 – On The Czech Puppet Trail

Classic Czech Faust Puppet from a Couple Hundred Years Ago (Note: the CSSR on the Postcard.)

 

I stole my way into the Czech lands by train. I arrived at the obscure town of Chrudim, looking for the Muzeum loutkářských kultur Chrudim (The Museum of Marionette Culture in Chrudim) in the heart of its medieval core. Passing the central plague monument I eventually found the museum located in the Renaissance Mydlář building. Museum Manager Alena Exnarova, a very knowledgeable woman, and one of her assistants, a spark-plug of a guy named Radek, graciously spent an hour and a half giving me the Czech history of puppets. (A history I’ve already spent some time writing about back in Antidote Art #1.)

Alena Exnarova then Manager of The Museum of Marionette Culture in Chrudim

What was curious to me then was that Czechs had been doing mature puppet plays ever since the 1700s. They had been performing medieval church puppetry before that but were highly influenced by wandering Punch and Judy Men and other homunculoid riffraff drifting over from England and Germany. The traveling Czech puppeteers would give miniature versions of famous plays and novels for people who might not be able to see the real thing or read. It was during this time that classics like Macbeth, Don Juan and Faust put down their puppet roots. And this also proved to be a significant influence in helping to keep the Czech language alive while under a ban from the Austrians after the devastating Battle of White Mountain in1620. This was the battle that destroyed the Reformation that Jan Hus had started nearly a century before Martin Luther. Puppets therefore occupied a very special place in the Czech psyche for while their Austro-Hungarian overlords spoke German, the puppeteers performed in Czech: a language too far beneath them for the Austrians to notice.

In the Chrudim Storage Rooms with some Rather Knowing Puppets

Puppets were sometimes a way of presenting messages that the authorities overlooked. Kašpárek, the Czech Punch, sometimes made salty comments about the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the late 1800s more was being done for children as the trend was developing in many countries. Many children looked forward to getting miniature puppet theatres as Christmas gifts. Yet before World War One there were thousands of roving puppet troupes, some for children many still for adults. They even started a puppet magazine called Loutkář (puppeteer) in 1912… and it continues today.  Later Joseph Skupa invented the characters Spejbl and Hurvinek who actually made such anti-Nazi remarks so as to get Mr. Skupa thrown into a concentration camp. The Soviets, ironically, as they had done in other Iron Curtain countries, encouraged puppet theatres. And yes there were many times when the audience saw something beneath the obvious surfaces, they were used to reading the allegories. I realized that alone of all the countries in the world the Czech Republic was the only country I could think of where puppetry was not just woven into the warp and woof of its history but was positively heroic! Astounding.

The Skeleton has Meaning Beyond Merely Death Imagery in Czech Puppetry

It was a fascinating history from a fascinating museum in an undiscovered little medieval town. They also housed a library of 70,000 multilingual books, magazines and other items pertaining to puppet history. The museum was supported by the Czechs because puppetry is respected as a vital art form by the Czech government. The museum also serves as a focal point and aid to the Amateur Puppet Festival in Chrudim. The amateur festival is held each July for Czechs only, but foreign guests are also invited. It is a pretty big deal and might warrant a return to Chrudim someday.

Radek Shows Me the Back Rooms of the Museum

As I concluded my interview with Alena Exnarova I asked her about the meaning of puppetry. “The puppet has limitations but then again it can do things actors could never do.” She explained that there is a life to puppetry that will continue even with all of the modern digital screenal gadgetry. What were some of the new trends in Czech puppetry I asked? Radek explained that there was a movement translated as something like Illusion Theatre.  It was a return to certain aspects of the roots of traditional puppetry particularly the used the hidden puppeteers. In other words while Americans hardly knew much beyond the Muppets except in a few isolated zones, most of us having not even seen puppeteers standing on the stage with their puppets performing, some Czech puppeteers have already been there, done that and have started to return to the mystery of the hidden hand by behind the puppet.

There is no European spiritual program that allows one to return to states feeling vaguely in touch with the ineffable. It’s not like a trip to Asia. Instead one often just feels as stupid as a laundry bag in need of some real education. (Oh thank you American public school for partially teaching me English and English alone!) And I was hardly finished with my lessons in puppet history. I was now on my way to receive a few more instructions and to tag along with a Czech puppet troupe across some of the most dangerous roads in Europe.

DRAK Puppets at the Museum of Marionette Culture in Chrudim

A short one-hour train ride the next day took me to my next destination Hradec Kralove. My purpose in coming to this town was to visit the DRAK (an acronym that spells ‘dragon’ in Czech) Theatre. And to meet with Jakub Krofta, son of Professor Joseph Krofta, who did, and continues to do, so much to change Czech puppetry. Jakub is the de facto director of the theatre most of the time and was rehearsing a new play with actors in bear costumes. When I arrived I spent the first two or three hours interviewing and chatting with Jakub. After giving me a tour of the facilities, that I must say inspired a little wistful envy, Jakub gave me much of the history of the theatre and so many interesting perspectives that it would be difficult to begin to unravel it all here. As I watched them rehearsing their bear play I felt a need to speak out from the Alaskan perspective. Bears sniff around with their sensitive noses. If you ever see this play you might notice the bruins sniffing around a bit… now you know why.

DRAK’s Jakub Krofta Rehearsing a Play About Bears

Petra Wearing the Bear Suit Without the Head

I was temporarily adopted by the troupe and was even invited to travel the next day with them back and forth to Prague on the crazy Czech roads. I felt honored. I got to know several of the cast and crew, including the petite Petra Cicáková an unusual actress/clown/puppeteer and folk musician Filip Huml. Driving on the narrow Czech roads to the wild music of a Balkan brass band was one of the more disturbing adventures I’d ever experienced. Cars passed each other in waves on the two lane highways. Once a car drifted out into the opposing lane from some three cars back and passed three more in front of us an instant before a semi-truck plowed forward on that same lane. It didn’t comfort me to later read that indeed the fatality statistics for the Czech roads are basically the worst in Europe, all fueled by the incredible (and incredibly cheap) beer. Our able driver passed at least 60 cars on the night time ride home.

The Enchanted Bagpipes Filip Huml on the Gajdy

And the play, The Enchanted Bagpipes, contained a life-size puppet or two and several actors and musicians in devil costumes. The music was curious, rewritten versions of Czech folk tunes while the lead character, Filip Huml, a Czech musicologist as well as actor, played the gajdy, the Moravian bagpipe. Quite an earful! DRAK had over time been moving more into an area that used circus techniques and masks as much as puppetry. This coincided with some of the developments at Teatr Lalka and Teatr Groteska. The message of the piece was intriguing as well. The bagpipe symbolized the Czech soul. The devils tempted Filip to surrender his bagpipes. They used the authority of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the cold uniformity of the communist system and finally the randy cash of the Americanized West. I was happy to see that the old Czech tendency to use puppetry and theatre for questioning the reigning powers was far from moribund.

Petra Cicáková Tempted by the Devils After the Show

Finally in a side note, as I strolled around Chrudim, Hradec Kralove and Prague I noticed something. There is a kind of connection between Alaska and the Czech Republic. Back in the U.K. men often wore a sort of uniform short post-skinhead hairstyle. In the Netherlands a very absurd waxy hairstyle predominated for male fashion. Poland was a bit formal. France a bit more stylish. But in the Czech Republic men didn’t seem involved with any particular hair trend: Short, long, beards, mustaches, shaved headed it just didn’t seem to matter, just like back in Alaska. I felt visually quite comfortable. This has nothing to do with puppetry, or does it???

Hanging Out with the Cast of DRAK’s The Enchanted Bagpipes

Next time we finally enter the puppetry capital of Europe… Prague.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
2/15/12

For more information on DRAK:

http://www.draktheatre.cz/en-home

Go see them in Hradec Kralove!

The Museum of Marionette Culture in Chrudim is remodeling until June 2012

But this website might be helpful until then:

http://www.puppets.cz/

Eventually their English page will be back up.


Journey into European Puppetry #5: Finding the Roman Polanski Puppet

Notes from European Puppet Explorations in 2005

Part 5- Finding the Roman Polanski Puppet

Teatr Groteska’s Balladyna in April 2005 Krakow

I arrived in Poznan, Poland a day after Pope John Paul II died. After spending a requisite amount of time being thoroughly confused by Polish housing numbers I found myself at the main entrance of the Adam Mickiewicz University along with what started off as fifty or so mourners to the late Pope and which eventually grew to a march of what appeared be about twenty thousand people. I was searching for the Teatr Animacji for puppet shows. I passed it and didn’t even recognize it. The building was much grander than I was imagining any puppet theatre would be. Eventually the next day I would find it in a massive colonnaded grey cement building. I also discovered that all cultural venues in the country were closed for a week. This included puppet theatres. I also found that no one in the offices of Teatr Animacji spoke a word of English.

Cannons fire nearby at the Warsaw funeral mass for Pope John Paul II early April 2005

I continued on to Warsaw. And I met my friend Marta Czanik at the train station. Again the city was in mourning for the Pope. I attended one outdoor service that was extremely moving amongst over 100,000 thousand Poles. Although the puppet theatres were not performing that week there were a few people in the theatre. Marta came to my rescue in regards to the titanic bulk of the Teatr Lalka (teatr = theatre & lalka = puppet) and set up some meetings for me. We interviewed the artistic director for Teatr Lalka, a Polish woman with a strong character named Joanna Rogacka. Sitting in her dark office in the Palace of Culture and Science, the massive Stalinist Gothic building at the center of Warsaw, listening to this regal woman unravel the history of puppetry in the communist era, provoked quite a few thoughts. The gray morning light drifted through the windows shading the woman and her assistant Anna Bojarska is high contrasts. The furniture surrounding us was old heavy dark wood. Pani Rogacka explained that the Soviets encouraged puppetry as a form of art, though Teatr Lalka had a more elaborate history. She explained that how back in the forties a man named Jan Wilkowski began to change the presentation of puppets by stepping from behind the curtain to work with the puppets themselves on stage. Also there was clearly an influence upon the Polish style by the Russian puppet genius Sergey Obraztsov. This moved the world of Polish puppets closer towards a more artistic idea. She showed me photos of elaborate stage shows, including some tantalizing images from their version of Homer’s Odyssey. I was missing one performance  because I was on my way to Krakow. But I certainly got the idea. At a certain point the interview, rather the monologue, was over. I had been granted my time. I was brimming with questions. But she was indeed a busy woman, and I was indeed fortunate to have been granted an audience. I watched a rehearsal of a story about a noble bunny rabbit, some strange looking black creatures and shadow plays. I also watched the troupe put on a clown play that reminded me of a cross between Laurel & Hardy and a child’s version of Waiting for Godot. I owe Marta good words for translating the entire interview for me. I couldn’t have done this without her.

THIS is what a puppet theatre looks like in Poland – Teatr Lalka, Warsaw

It was soon time to go to Krakow. The city was thoroughly fascinating and well worth several visits. I also detoured for a day to visit Auschwitz, which left me with conflicted emotions about the nature of our presentation of the tragedies of the past. At last I made my way over to Teatr Groteska, which was housed in another large old domed cement building. Inside, up the four or five flights of wide marble stairs, were housed examples of the theatre’s sixty-year history. I was also allowed into the puppet storage facilities. An usher named Olga told me that she had become so fascinated with the reactions of children to puppets that it had become the thesis of her doctoral dissertation. She arranged interviews for me with one of the actors of a mature puppet play, Balladyna, which I would see later in the day. But first it was time to watch a kooky version of Little Red Riding Hood. The interesting thing about all of the daytime performances was that they were all full. The theatre had made arrangements with schools across southern Poland to bring kids to the theatre. I was told that over 90,000 students a year viewed the various shows.  Now that’s how it should be done!

Again… When visiting puppet theatres get yourself into the backrooms!

The afternoon show, Balladyna, was full of high school students. This was a serious work with some eerie raggedy puppets, puppets that reminded me somehow of Auschwitz, used in a way I’d never seen before. Live actors interacted with the humanoid shapes as they manipulated them. And somehow at one moment they were actors and in the next they were the puppets. The story was a dark Polish legend of sorts from a work of classic Polish literature. It was clear to me that puppets could easily do work as serious as Shakespeare’s plays if they so chose. Afterwards I spoke with one of the actors, Franciszek Mula, about the differences between puppetry and standard acting. This was actually his first puppet work. He explained that puppetry was far more humble than theatre work; that the actor had to give space to the puppets, which actually went against the obvious inclination of actors to be seen. When I asked if he would pose for a few photographs with the puppets he replied with a knowing smile, “Of course, I’m an actor.”

Franciszek Mula demonstrating the difference between actors and puppets in Balladyna

A couple of days later, after seeing one more performance with a Chinese theme and a wild use of masks, smoke and balloons (!), I had an interview through a translator with the slyly sagacious director of Groteska, Adolf Weltschek. He too explained that the theatre started as a result of the Soviet push towards classical culture at the end of World War 2. Essentially the way it worked was that the Russians thought that there were four pillars of culture: Ballet, Opera, Theatre and Puppets. That is why every Polish puppet theatre was so large. They had been financed at great expense by the Soviets. He also explained more of how the censorship issues worked. How the text of the play would be submitted to the censor for approval and then how the images might contradict the text to get another message across. He also offered me his theory that all Polish artistic puppetry was influenced by the Russians. And in fact, unlike the Czechs, the Poles did not have such an involved history of puppetry. There were some folk puppets. But the real burst in Polish puppetry had come after the Second World War. When I asked how this transference might have occurred he said probably during the war when Polish and Russian troops were fighting side by side. Before the war he said puppets were nothing special in Poland, just a folk art, but in Russia… And there was no way to get to Moscow on this trip!

Adam Weltschek, Artistic Director for Krakow’s Teatr Groteska

As I was leaving Adam Weltschek, descending the marble stairs, my translator stopped. She pointed to an older funky looking puppet and remarked with pride, “This is the Roman Polanski puppet. When he was 12 years old he used to work with this puppet.” Teatr Groteska in Krakow had just become yet another crucial element of this poetic topography of puppet history.

Next we travel to heart of puppetry in Europe – the Czech Republic

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
January 25th 2012

For information on Krakow’s Teatr Groteska run this page through a translation tool

http://www.groteska.pl/

And this one on Warsaw’s Teatr Lalka

http://www.teatrlalka.waw.pl/

And get yourself to Poland!!!


Journey into European Puppetry #4: Puppetry Can Do Everything

Notes from European Puppet Explorations in 2005
Part 4- Puppetry Can Do Everything

Die Schaubude, a puppet repertory theatre: One very good reason to live in Berlin

On to Berlin… The name alone conjures up some powerful images: Prussian soldiers, 1920’s decadence, Hitler, the Russians ripping the city to shreds, the Cold War and dances on the crumbling Wall. It’s all there and much more: A city obliterated by the past and a perpetual construction zone preparing for an unrealized future. City workers spend time erasing neo-Nazi graffiti, while the overwhelming Turkish presence raises questions yet to be answered. What does Islam mean in secular Berlin?

My very good friend Millay Hyatt met me at the Ostbahnhof. Millay has an endless curiosity about many subjects. She took me to a Stanley Kubrick exhibit, an abandoned amusement park, rows of endless communist era buildings and a monumental Soviet World War 2 memorial, among other places. She also aided me immensely by becoming my interpreter for two puppet theatres.

The Figure Circle performing elaborate shadow puppets to music.

The first theatre, a shadow theatre called the Fuguren-Zirkel (Figure Circle), was run by an affable Austrian named Georg Jenisch. We watched romantic and psychedelic displays of light and shadow along with the music of Mozart’s Magic Flute. His entrancing figures were elaborately cut from malleable plastic or even flexible plastic mirrors to give an effect of not only shadow puppets but of light figures as well. Strange little figures  danced around in a large circular window, the size of a pair of outstretched adult arms, and it seemed impossible that there was only one man behind the stage. His figures were based partly on Turkish shadow puppets. But he was also clearly influenced by the work of the brilliant silhouette filmmaker and shadow puppeteer Lotte Reiniger. He was also a musician himself and composed music for his performances at times. Georg thought his figures should only move to music and never speak. This was similar in style to the Salzburg Marionette Theater where he had indeed worked. Puppet art had been more innovative in the 90s, he felt, yet he seemed to feel it was regrouping. Overall it was a courteous and friendly interview.

Fuguren-Zirkel (Figure Circle) a magical one man show by Austrian, Georg Jenisch

It was then time to see Das Weite Theater performing a piece called The White Hammer at Die Schaubude Theater, which was the funniest piece of puppet art I’ve yet to see. A small cuddly white bunny hops out onto the stage. It eats what appear to be real carrots. A sinister female puppet slinks out onto the stage and then without warning pounces upon the critter and slices open the rabbits throat in an exceptionally bloody scene of red cloth blood. I know this doesn’t sound funny. But trust me the abrupt U-turn between cute little bunny and mad slasher was outrageously funny. I mean who expects a white rabbit to be mercilessly slaughtered within the first few minutes of a play. (Don’t worry though the bunny’s ghost returns near the end of the evening.) The rest of the play was a comic farce based on whodunnits. Blockheaded puppets carved by Czechs moved in frantically satirical actions. One buck-toothed woman spun around in circles every time some the possibility of danger was even hinted at. The farcical movements were given to them by Torsten Gesser and Irene Winter. It was mostly just the two of them with as many as six large wooden hand puppets at a time. And they turned out to be excellent interview subjects. Millay Hyatt provided  excellent help by translating their predominantly German speech.

The White Hammer from Das Weite Theater

As we spoke I began to piece together the story of puppetry behind the Iron Curtain. The Communist state, through direct Russian orders, funded puppet theatres. For years an artistic council planned the repertoire, which was mostly Russian Fairy Tales and folk tales. Before the Wall fell there were 17 serious puppet theatres in East Germany. Shows for adults began in the early 1980’s, notably a puppet presentation of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper or as it is know in English the Three Penny Opera. (Brecht was known for his leftward leanings.)

Was criticism of the government present in these puppet shows?

“The puppet theatres did not feel as much pressure as the standard Theatre and the Opera did.” said Irene. “There was  always a way to express criticism through puppetry in the GDR. You didn’t do it in a blatant way though, you used subtlety. People in East Germany were used to reading between the lines. So the audience could tell when something was being said.”

Was it done by allegory?

“Here’s an example?” Irene continued. “ We did a version of satirical Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. There were soldiers in the forest watching everything. They were spies for the Queen. You didn’t have to spell out what this meant. Everyone knew it was a criticism of state paranoia. The spies in the forest were even wearing the uniforms of the state police. So we always expressed criticism. And sometimes the audience would read criticism into works where none was intended. And they would be thinking ‘Wow! They are so daring! They actually said that?’ But there were colleagues of ours who did try to speak in a more directly political way. And they did have trouble with the authorities”

Torsten added, “ Then, you did have a feeling that people actually heard you when you were being critical. Nowadays when you are critical they laugh; they don’t listen, nobody cares. But then, you definitely had the sense that criticism was effective.”

Did more people come to the puppet theatres then?

“Theatre was much more affordable back then.” Torsten remarked. “And it was considered a necessity. People were encouraged to go to the theatre from a very young age. The thought was, ‘If we can’t provide them with consumer goods, then we’ll provide them with culture.”

Torsten Gesser and Irene Winter of Das Weite Theater in Berlin

And after the Berlin Wall came down?

“It was a 180º turn.” Torsten said, “We had a professional career. Now we are freelancers.”

“In West Germany they weren’t working with puppets in a professional way.” Irene pointed out.  “There weren’t university courses on puppetry. So West Germans were more self-taught or following older folk traditions. But there was no professional training.”

They had been cut off from puppetry in the West. And so it was a bit of a shock for them to see the accommodations that might have to be made to continue as puppeteers in the Western mode. Irene lamented some of the changes.

“So after the Wall came down the East German style began to become more of a popular entertainment mostly for children, although there was some movement the other way. But in the West is was more of an entertainment and in East Germany it was an art.”

Das Weite Theater Irene & Torsten

When I asked them if they did shows for children they said “No! We do shows for families.” And the distinction was important for them. They didn’t want to be confined to the kiddie ghetto.

“When we have material, we think about what we are trying to convey, we don’t think about age groups.” Torsten explained. “ We try to get across the central idea, what we find fascinating in the material.”

When we did speak of contemporary children and their fixation on screens, they concurred with guignoliste Pascal Pruvost about the tangible reality of puppetry in communicating with modern kids. Irene called it the “live sensual nature” of the puppet.

Finally I just asked them the most basic, yet most difficult question: What is Puppetry?

Irene burst out laughing “Puppetry can do everything!”

Torsten agreed “It can portray thousands of images and fantasies.”

(Next: We travel to Poland to find some of the largest puppet theatres in the world.)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

1/11/12

When in Berlin you MUST visit…

http://www.schaubude-berlin.de/

And Das Weite Theater

http://www.das-weite-theater.de/

And don’t miss The Figure Circle

http://www.figuren-zirkel.de/

And remember to run these through translation tools if your German isn’t up to snuff. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak German, you’ll still find yourself truly impressed.