Tearing the Veil: Mass Media Misdirection, Manipulation, and Mythology
Part Three: Mythology – The Key to Hacking Counterfeit Culture
“I found that [symbols] are an integral part of the unconscious, and can be observed everywhere. They form a bridge between the ways in which we consciously express our thoughts and a more primitive, more colourful and pictorial form of expression. It is this form, as well, that appeals directly to feeling and emotion… Because, in our civilized life, we have stripped so many ideas of their emotional energy, we do not really respond to them any more... Something more is needed to bring them home to us effectively enough to make us change our attitude and our behavior.” [Emphasis added]
- Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols, pps. 32-33
In the first two installments of this article , the intention was to explore the reasons and means by which ideas are propagated through the mass media to persuasive effect in what is commonly referred to as the ‘war on terror’. The thought of early masters of public relations and propaganda, aspects of contemporary and wartime psychology, and investigations into the ultimate beneficiaries of these ideological campaigns were woven into the service of an argument which may be most easily summarized as follows: the feelings of both attraction to the familiar, and antipathy to the unfamiliar, are readily manipulated since these feelings strike close to the root of what it means to be secure.
Like the good cop playing off of the threat of the bad cop in some cinematic interrogation, or the stage magician that directs the attention with banal chatter on the one hand – only to spring some surprise upon the darkened theatre from within the other – real proficiency in persuasion depends upon immersion in the familiar before shocking the mind by offering it something to which it is unaccustomed. It is at this point at which we are prepared to be amazed, and we're open to the show, waiting for the resolution of the third act. The stage sets the scene, and offers the familiar frame within which we interpret the events that unfold. We suspend our disbelief and we are entertained as, from underneath a white kerchief, a single white dove slips into view – a winking secret, an understanding shared between the performer and the audience.
What power, then, the masters of stagecraft have over our perception: as we sit in the theatre, we are unaware of the walls to our right and left unless we make the conscious effort to turn and look. The ornate murals and chandeliers go unnoticed also, if we are in one of the reliquaries of the stage. In the more mundane movie house or cineplex, the stickiness of the floors and the muted trill of a phone may barely enter our attention. All that matters, for the moment, is on the stage or screen – and the collective experience of viewing the spectacle is itself mesmerizing, for that which lies outside the glow of the limelight also lies outside of our shared experience.
And what an appropriate metaphor the stage is, for our fully stage-managed media. Scripted and honed, we are entertained nightly by staged wrestling matches, staged 'reality' television, and staged news, all of which we consume voraciously. One recent example of stagecraft involved a 'spontaneous' White House press conference in which soldiers were prepped with the questions they were to ask:
“'for 45 minutes prior to the President's involvement, the soldiers practiced their answers repeatedly with a Pentagon official who stood where the President would later address the troops and, in her own words, quote, 'drilled them on questions he was likely to ask,' along with what she called their own, quote, 'scripted responses.'” 
The article, from the Accuracy in Media site, goes on to state that “staging the news is commonplace”.
In his landmark 1994 book “Media Virus”, author and media analyst Douglas Rushkoff compared the content of such broadcasts, of any broadcast in fact, to a virus:
“Media viruses spread through the datasphere the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community ... The protein shell of a media virus might be an event, invention, technology, system of thought, musical riff, visual image, scientific theory, sex scandal, clothing style or even a pop hero as long as it can catch our attention. Any one of these media virus shells will search out the receptive nooks and crannies in popular culture and stick on anywhere it is noticed. Once attached, the virus injects its more hidden agendas into the datastream in the form of ideological code”
If this is so, and if (as it seems) more than a handful of reasonably intelligent people are aware of this, then why do we pay any attention to the media at all? And what is the nature of the revelatory payload hidden within the sticky shell of the event we witness before us on the stage, on the screen, or in the daily headlines?
Tell Me a Story: The Necessity of Myth
“'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” 
This quote, typically attributed to Karl Rove (the ‘senior advisor to Bush’ in Ron Suskind’s New York Times expose of fundamentalist thinking in the White House) neatly summarizes not only the arrogance of power but also a dynamic which any performer understands – the necessary reciprocal relationship between the performer and the audience. It is one of the first relationships that we experience, and is bound up in our nature – the need to relate to each other and to reality through stories. As seminal American author and essayist Reynolds Price put it:
“A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo Sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths.” 
Stories are as pervasive and as vital as the air we breathe – they are not merely the media, but the medium in which human consciousness exists. And like fish in a vast ocean, this medium flows around us and through us without any necessary conscious awareness on our part.
Air and water, once viewed as irreducible, may be analyzed in terms of their constituent parts, placed in bell jars, subjected to reactions and tests. Similarly, we may dig beneath the surface of stories and unearth patterns, themes and symbols. It is common knowledge that water reduces, via the process of electrolysis, into the highly reactive elements hydrogen and oxygen.  The constituents of stories, of myth and legend – the themes and symbols common to and reflective of the sum of human experience – are no less explosive in the wrong hands. We have already touched upon the place of Gustave Le Bon in the development of public relations theory. In 1896, he wrote:
“The great upheavals which precede changes of civilisations such as the fall of the Roman Empire and the foundation of the Arabian Empire, seem at first sight determined more especially by political transformations, foreign invasion, or the overthrow of dynasties. But a more attentive study of these events shows that behind their apparent causes the real cause is generally seen to be a profound modification in the ideas of the peoples. The true historical upheavals are not those which astonish us by their grandeur and violence. The only important changes whence the renewal of civilisations results, affect ideas, conceptions, and beliefs. The memorable events of history are the visible effects of the invisible changes of human thought.”  (7)
In regards to the personal sphere, McLuhan might agree: “Radical changes of identity, happening suddenly and in very brief intervals of time, have proved more deadly and destructive of human values than wars fought with hardware weapons.”  (97)
Ideas wrapped in stories change history, and this has been known for much longer than Le Bon's work, though his restatement and expansion of known media theory was felt in the tectonic shifts of the twentieth century. Before the advent of the mass media, the carriers of news were the aoidos, the oral epic poets of ancient Greece and the bards of medieval Europe. Highly trained, these individuals fulfilled what we would regard today as a stunning multiplicity of roles – journalists, entertainers, chroniclers and genealogists; and yet at root their role was to promote social cohesion, for their stories travelled with them and were shaped by their audiences.
One of the existing repositories of this ancient folklore are the stories that we tell our children. In the collections of the Brothers Grimm, for example, the “Children's and Household Tales”, we find the story of Hansel and Gretel. In this story, two children are abandoned in the deep woods by their parents. Encountering a witch with cannibalistic intentions, the brother and sister discover that they must work together if they are to survive. After a period of incarceration, they turn the witch's plan on its head, cooking her in the stove, and attain their freedom (but not before looting the witch’s house of treasure). 
Many such 'fairy tales' follow a similar pattern. They are concise, they offer simple themes, and, like a three act play, are structured with a well defined beginning, middle, and end. The reason for this is that they fulfill a specific teaching role:
“Children… live in a world of terror in which the fragile illusion provided by the safety of the family is always at risk… Bruno Bettelheim (1977) suggested that fairy tales provide the opportunity for children to experience evil and terror as a part of life. A child can identify with the characters in a fairy tale and feel reassured that although evil and feelings of terror are an integral part of life they can be controlled.”  33
Here then, we may begin to see some of the symbols of the story and the way they are interwoven to contrast the familiar with the unfamiliar. The theme of abandonment, the symbols of the stranger and the woods, even the bread which the children scatter to leave themselves a trail home – all are recurrent in myth and legend. See: Little Red Riding Hood, the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur, and Snow White for other examples of the symbolism of the forest, the trail home, and the witch – for starters.
Though some of us may be all grown up now, it is still possible to identify with the plight of the children, for adults, too, have quests and obstacles to achieve every day before the journey home. In his book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell outlined the proposition that world myths of the heroic self share an underlying structure, beginning with the call to adventure:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”  (30)
Through his work in comparative mythology, Campbell sought to abstract away the differences that exist in individuals and the specifics of the cultures in which they live, in order to lay bare the shared aspects of psychology that are common to each and every one of us. These are the themes and symbols that resonate at the deepest level of our psyche.
The Greatest Show on Earth! Our Complicity as Symbol Consumers
What, then, is a symbol? In Carl Jung’s words, “A word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. It has a wider “unconscious” aspect that is never precisely defined or fully explained.”  (4)
The reason that a symbol’s meaning cannot be fully defined in practical terms has to do with the dual structure of the human psyche itself. In broad terms, one may view the mind as being subdivided into two sections with overlapping boundaries – the conscious mind, which is the set of all those experiences presently in the limelight of one’s current awareness, and the unconscious mind, wherein your memories and the sum of your past experiences reside.
But this, too, is a simplification. Your unconscious is not merely a storehouse for forgotten events like some dusty attic of the mind. It also captures things half-seen, things half-heard – nearly everyone has had the experience of being in some crowded, noisy area in which a number of conversations are occurring, only to be alerted to the fact that someone has said something interesting or vital just after they have finished speaking – in which case you are compelled to ask them to repeat it. Your unconscious is a massive filter for experience and a processing powerhouse without which we would be unable to accomplish anything more demanding than the simplest tasks. Jay Ingram, host of the Discovery Channel’s science magazine show Daily Planet, offers this example:
“Think back to when you learned to drive: every single step had to be considered. Put the key in, turn it that way, take off the parking brake, look carefully at the automatic transmission to be sure that you’re about to shift into drive and not reverse or neutral, check both mirrors – have you done everything you should? Ease your foot off the brake – it was endless and harrowing. And that was before you even pulled out into the road! After driving for a few weeks or months, the process was totally different… you no longer paid conscious attention to [the details].”  (65)
And so it is with the dexterity of the pianist, the balance of the bicyclist, and the sudden insights of great mathematicians. In many ways, your unconscious mind is a great undiscovered country lying in twilight, teeming with activity, and you have but one small flashlight – the light of your reasoning consciousness – with which to explore it. Or, like the shifting landmasses of the living alien world in Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction masterpiece ‘Solaris’, we can only see the shapes of our mind’s terrain when they break the surface of the deep unconscious ocean. They remain in our view for but a little while then, having exhausted whatever power keeps them afloat, they sink beneath the waves once more. 
We’re familiar, each to one’s own degree of ability, with the way that our conscious mind processes ideas. But does the unconscious mind operate on the same principles? This would not appear to be the case. Rather than categorizing objects based on their specific similarities and differences of type, the unconscious mind deliberates in its own peculiar, associative dream language. Julian Jaynes, the freewheeling intellectual and psychologist responsible for the idea that the evolution of consciousness may have occurred on far shorter time scales than we may like to think, put it this way: “It is by metaphor that language grows… In early times, language and its referents climbed up from the concrete to the abstract on the steps of metaphors, even, we may say, created the abstract on the basis of metaphors.”  (49-51) For evidence, Jaynes directs the reader to the pages of any etymological dictionary, or offers a wealth of his own examples: the leaf of a book, the tongues of shoes, the teeth of a comb. Notice that, with the metaphor, we are also relating the unfamiliar to the familiar.
Jung speaks of a similarly associative quality of the unconscious mind in its generation of the dream image. “The unconscious… seems to be guided chiefly by instinctive trends , represented by corresponding thought forms – that is, by the archetypes. A doctor who is asked to describe the course of an illness will use such rational concepts as “infection” or “fever”. The dream is more poetic. It presents the diseased body [in the dream of one patient] as a man’s earthly house, and the fever as the fire that is destroying it.”  (67) Further, Jung connects the underlying patterns of archetype to the images produced in dreams, poetry, and art by generating his own unique metaphor: the symbol is the flower, the unconscious archetype its root.
“As a plant produces its flower, so the psyche creates its symbols. Every dream is evidence of this process.”  (53)
Symbols, then, are something that may, at least for now and for the purposes of definition, only be glimpsed out of the corner of the mind’s eye. Their full meaning is highly contextual and depends upon an understanding of the individual and the particular ways in which their unconscious mind gives rise to the symbol. However, this is not to denigrate the universal aspect of symbols – and so I feel compelled at this point to introduce you to a metaphor of my own devising. Allow the author to be your temporary guide, and I will take you on a magic carpet ride – to a different kind of stage right here on this page; a circular bullring in Sevilla, jewel of the Andalusian province of Spain.
You are in the top level of the stadium, and beyond the heads of the crowd, you see a maze of narrow, twisting streets full of homes in the Moorish style. In the distance, the sparkling ribbon of the Guadalquivir glistens in the sun. You feel moderately dazed, displaced – could it be the heat? – but you decide that this disconcerting feeling will pass in time.
Suddenly, a trumpet sounds – the matador and his procession file into the arena, followed by El Toro – the bull – an elemental force, a burly, stamping dynamo of power and confusion, moving like the wind from one side of the arena to the other, confused of its whereabouts.
And so the game begins, wrapped in the now-familiar three act structure: the lances third, the flags third, and the death third. In each, the human combatants emerge from their protective barricades and seek to pierce the mass of muscle in the withers of the beast, the place from which the mighty head of the bull gains its power. Weakened and bloodied but unbowed, the bull increasingly seeks a place of refuge in the ring – you, a resident of Sevilla, call it the querencia.
(Sorry this doesn't fit as a forum post: to read the rest see...)http://tehowe.blogspot.com/2007/10/tearing-veil-mass-media-misdirection.html