The nexus between the state, business and PR industry tends to narrow down the agenda for political discourse. Usually, since the business elites and the political establishment espouse a conservative ideology the consumer marketing campaigns also reflect this. Apart from explaining the corrupt structures and interrelations upon which the PR industry is based, Toxic Sludge is Good For You gives several shocking illustrations of the industry’s power to manipulate. The comic case of the fake housemaid to George Washington is just one example. The danger to democracy comes from the fact that the PR industry is adopting the same tactics and strategies as high-level espionage. As a result, democracy is gradually getting reduced to a battle of strategies between political parties rather a reasoned evaluation on the basis of policy positions.
PBS Frontline’s documentary The Persuaders is an eye opening account of democracy in our time. The film shows how the marketing and advertising industries are increasingly being deployed for political propaganda. Drawing on interviews from industry leaders and media critics, the film explains the new meaning of ‘brand’. Unfortunately, even political leaders are being promoted as brands. In our culture of consuming commodities, creators of brand value strive to promote politicians after certain ideas and images. But their actual accomplishments diverge from this idealized image.
During election campaigns the role of these persuaders assumes a new avatar. They attempt to enforce an emotional connect between the leader (the product) and the public (consumers). Emotions are appealed to because they short-circuit logic and rational analysis. It is a sad fact that today we no longer have any serious political debates in mainstream media. The persuaders make sure that real issues that affect people are set aside. In its stead much media space is devoted to discussing trivialities of image or brand perception.
In conclusion, the three documentaries chosen for analysis converge on certain basic points. They all point out that media is increasingly being used for political propaganda. Democratic processes suffer as a consequence. This is a deviation from media’s idealized view of serving as the fourth pillar of democracy.
Century of the Self, retrieved from <http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-century-of-the-self/>
The Persuaders, retrieved from <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/>
Toxic Sludge is Good for You, retrieved from <http://vimeo.com/80599109>