I am a product of history, as my father was born in 1917 and served in the Danish resistance during World War II. My mother was from Aalborg in the north of Denmark and lived her formative childhood years during the war. I grew up listening to tales of the second world war and where Hitler went wrong. Of what life was like in an occupied country. You made your own soap from lard. School was 3-4 days a week. There were always German soldiers on the streets. It was in hindsight an interesting upbringing as I grew up in an era where the backdrop was Vietnam and the human toll that the controversial war took on young lives. The role the media played in changing public opinion. You look back on these years from WW I to today and one thing is common is the role of media and how it shapes and influences war. What perhaps is most frightening is how some groups utilize new media to influence and corrupt civilians in search of a false glory built on a misguided view of the future and how it is there to serve but a few, not the masses.
We often ask in WW II how did it happen that a country was seduced by Adolf Hitler, which led to more loss of lives ever in history? It is a common question and one of the most researched and discussed topics in human history. There were many reasons, many stemming from the Treaty of Versailles, following WW I. However one of the driving factors in creating this mythical status of the Third Reich was a relatively new form of media: film. It would be easy to say film had been around for some time, but the pace of innovation was much slower in the early 20th century. The Nazi’s early on used film to meet their purpose: propaganda. They had a well-educated man led the efforts, Joseph Goebbels (there was a sickness in his mind but that is another story). Starting in the twenties and through their rise in the thirties the Nazi’s used film to frame their arguments of the German race as the superior race. It would portray Jews as the scourge of German society and responsible for many of the economic issues of the day. It culminated in 1935 with Leni Riefenstahl’s classic “Triumph of Wills” filmed in Nuremberg in 1934 during a Nazi Party Congress attended by 700,000 supporters.It is a classic not for its cinematic beauty or content, but how it was used to glorify the Nazi regime for an evil end purpose. It was very effective. It is often cited as one of the greatest propaganda films ever made. It is hard to argue.
What followed is a cornerstone of the global history in the 20th century. The loss of lives too many, atrocities like the Holocaust and Nanjing footnotes in history that still impact us to this day. But it was that ability of the Nazi propaganda machine to spread fear to its own civilians that played a major role in setting the table. It was still relatively new to a generation of people and not fully understood so it was accepted as truth. Information traveled much slower in that era and in hindsight was more easily controlled. People were eager to consume and the Nazi’s were there to oblige, to fill a vacuum. It seemed as if a whole country went temporarily insane, but it was all very carefully messaged and staged.
But this could never happen again? I mean what possible form of media could be used in this fashion to seduce and manipulate? Enter the social media revolution and evolution. Not a day goes by on Facebook or Twitter where I am left dumbfounded by the hatred in print I have to read and wonder who is telling the truth, where do these attitudes come from. Whose source are goo?. Who is politicizing social media for their own gains? To beat their chest and say, “My views are holy, while your’s are a sin”. Many do so in hiding. Choosing anonymous names, which is to say they are not accountable for what they say. That is the beauty of the internet. I can say what I feel and not be accountable if it is right or wrong.
We now talk of fake news. The idea of making up a news story to create an emotional response. Our President calls it fake news when he does not agree with what is being said. How is this any different from what the Nazi’s did? It is similar but it is very different. In Nazi Germany information could be readily and easily centralized. Joseph Goebbels was the end point who made the decisions. Social Media acts in much the opposite way. It is not a centralized systems but instead has thousands of end points. Social Media enables these myriad of voices. It creates a lot of noise. It creates so much readily available information that it is not humanly possible to consume it. At times it seems overwhelming and are heads are about to burst, sometimes with joy but often with anger. What does one do? People gravitate towards sites they agree with and disdain those that they do not. Fake news than enables some to increase the volume on whatever and whomever they want. If you do not agree with someone you are an ignorant fool who is not well read on the subject. You are belittled and your anger becomes toxic.
Our political system in the US has devolved into this system. Every day I hear about the liberal media (usually on Fox News which I find ironic) or racist web sites like Breitbart harking back to a bygone era but appealing to many white males. Two extremes straddling the divide. Everyone claiming they are the truth. Asking us to follow them, how blind we have become. We crave honesty, it’s a human desire but we are taught by mainstream and social media not to believe anyone. Unfortunately in today’s society we all seem to suffer from some form of Attention Deficit Disorder. We are bombarded with media and really have little time to read much more than a headline. Thus the beauty of a 140 character Tweet. At 140 characters it is not really constructive though but emotional outbursts, designed to create a response at a louder volume.
Part of America is going though an economic boom, my hometown of Seattle may be at the top of that boom. With companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, Starbucks etc..Other major players like Google, Apple and Facebook expanding their presence in Seattle. A robust startup economy. I a city that seems to have it all and yet you do not have to go far to see the other America. Go out to the coast and visit Aberdeen (birth place of Kurt Cobain) a former logging town and corridor to a strong fishing industry in the seventies, starting with the eighties it has witnessed a slow spiral down. A dive into despair. It is like many towns across the country who have experienced a slow death. They are willing recipients of great change and do not need the media to tell them of their problems, they just want a solution. Often that solution looks to the past of a strong manufacturing base. A fondness of glorified memories. It is dangerous to look to the past for the glory of the future. It is a view that is mired in futility and will ultimately lead to defeat.
The latest revolt is a fake revolt, intentionally called fake news. Used to seduce a public into believing only a few, only those that are approved. Those that align with a certain moral compass. Designed to make us distrust the mainstream media and turn us on each other. To slander history and rape us of its learning. To give into the worst of our emotions that then cause us to blindly lash out in an uncontrolled fury. Part of this is the result of the “politically correct”, which caused us to repress some of the cancerous problems that still exist in America. Of economic inequality, an underlying racist view, anti-Semitism ironically married with a strong anti-muslim view, homophobic leanings and other views that all result from a lack of understanding, of caring.
Am I cynical about the present and the future? I am probably a bit. We stand at the cusp of radical social change, which will lead to a prosperous future for some. Technology is about to make leaps forward on multiple fronts from AI to Robotics to Quantum computing. We will cure cancer and 3D print human tissues from your own DNA thus simplifying and improving a liver, heart or kidney transplant. However our self inflicted anger may delay and condemn our success. As those tied to the future have made fortunes we have left the backbone of our nation behind, small town America has been destroyed. There is no sense of community. No white picket fences. We have become a divided nation. Separated by the success of the coasts and the desperation and desolation of the interior between Interstate 95 and Interstate 5. We are angry, which historically leads to the warmth of dictatorships. Having a strong media to provide an alternative voice is a strength of our republic. It is important for our past and for our future. Ronald Reagan referred to as “a shining beacon of light on a hill, that will carry us through these dark times. A light for the freedom of all and not just the few”. He had immense respect for our institutions, are branches of government, of our free media. If we fail now how will history remember us?
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 26, 2017