All Art is Propaganda

One of the most attractive concepts of the base-superstructure dichotomy in Marxism is that some things hold traction and permanence, while others are constructions (rather than everything being a construct). Of course, this is a simplified version of Marxism, of which I am by no means an expert, but I find the distinction revealing. Propaganda, the art of a crafted message, is one of those most malleable things, , but while the most obvious propaganda is political, most propaganda flows implicitly from the individual–everything from clothing to food, to what beer or liquor you drink. I called this implicit propaganda because, often, the choices are not deliberate messages. I choose my beer by some combination of taste and cost, but in the beer summit hosted by President Obama, the brands were more traditionally politicized. Likewise with clothing–there is a message in each outfit–even if that message is “I don’t care” or “I want you to know that I don’t care.”

Orwell singled out art alone as propaganda because the audience for art is larger than the audience is for each clothing choice. Likewise, art is much more likely to be explicitly propaganda as the result of deliberate choices by the artist, while in personal propaganda there are more likely to be ulterior motives for the choices and some people will be more deliberate in crafting their message than others.

In the internet age, there is even a service, Reputation dot com, that promises to help protect your reputation online. The need for this service stems from the issues of permanence, legitimacy, and the speed of change online. The first two are what the sites advertises on, stressing how hard it is to remove malicious rumors online, and also that, online, anyone can post anything, which makes it difficult for users to determine truth from fiction (though the site does not seem to care about the truth of the matter so much as creating a positive image for the client). I have added the speed because news, information, and communication is happening at such rapid speeds that it is difficult to keep up–and easy for people to write a review in a fit of (any) emotion. Sometimes, it is easier to post online than it is to remember what you have said. But Reputation dot Com is correct that the internet has a lengthy memory.

Thus, there is a curious mix of new ideas, thoughts, and arguments, with many crackpot ideas still floating around and popping up. And all this has only limited policing or oversight. This means that publishing is much easier (note the self-publishing boom and the proliferation of blogs, particularly on websites of traditional news outlets). So, yes, the internet is a wonderful way of spreading thoughts and opinions because there is almost always an audience (for me: you!), but there is also a lack of authority to much of it (sorry, I’m just a graduate student who feels compelled to write from time to time–I am author, (sometimes) editor, and publisher). At the risk of sounding hypocritical and offending self-publishers everywhere, I often feel that self-publishing, while it serves to get some authors published who are truly excellent and find audiences, is more about a culture more interested in self-promotion and their own egos than about quality. Sure, crowd-sourcing novels can sometimes result in excellent books, but my gut instinct is that the amount of rubbish has increased out of all proportion.

In this, I am a snob. I have my own reasons for writing and publishing online, and some of it is that I feel that I have things worth being said and also that a self-published blog on my own site is different than publishing a book or working for a news outlet. I will stop here as I do not control the other actions of other people and people certainly have the right to publish online, but I fear that they are doing so at the expense of the authority of traditional publishing and print publishing (sometimes for very good reasons), and has helped bring about some of the journalism issues that have come about in the last few months.

I prefer writing on paper because edits and changes have permanence. I just crossed out four lines , something that would not appear on a typed file (though the paragraph and a half I added in the actual post do), but here and now I see where I had an issue with my though and/or writing. On paper there are necessarily drafts and edits; typed, everything and nothing is in a final form. Perhaps this is fitting for a generation that often seems to have an innate understanding of postmodernism.

One of my concerns here is that the internet enables this uncertainty and enables one or more shell personae (in my younger years I went online and engaged people under a variety of aliases, particularly for some online games). It has not yet reached anything like Neal Stephenson’s digital world in Snowcrash, but while the internet is transparent to tech people, for most people it is easy to put up that shell and to be someone who they are not offline. Everything is propaganda, and nowhere more so than the internet.

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