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Kindly Grandpa Must Die

October 29, 2010

If someone were to ask me, what single book would you make required reading in high school, I would say Doris Lessing’s Prisons We Choose to Live Inside.  Lessing has made it the work of her later career to fight against the great evil of our time, the “psyops” used to such deadly effect in modern politics.  She asks us to look beyond the “undulant rhetoric” and ask, as the old Romans did, “cui bono” – who gains?  When rich Republicans galvanize and mobilize poor people to go to the polls to vote against gay marriage, is it because the string-pullers themselves really fear and hate the gays as much as they claim, or is it because by getting the fearful masses to vote anti-gay, they by default are electing candidates who are also pro-business, anti-tax, no-bid-contract friendly – who will dissolve the net of worker and social safety regulations from which those self-same poor people benefit most?  The Republican party points at the sky and shouts, look up, The Lord, The Lord…so that you don’t see them picking your pocket.

As Jaron Lanier said in You Are Not a Gadget, the one “form” with a sacred exemption from remixing is the advertisement – you may mash up a thousand torrented songs to create your site’s “original” content, but you would never dream of fucking with the sacred scroll of Adsense text that makes your remix profitable.  So it is in education – we teach our children everything they need to succeed in life except how to resist the messages of politicians and advertisers. 

Election advertisements are the least subtle and most heavy-handed instances of mass manipulation, and an ideal text for a Psyops 101 class.  Hal Riney was one of the most evil men on the planet, for he used everything he’d learned from selling beer and trucks to sell us every Republican president from Reagan to George II.  His deep, crusty “Grandpa” voice exploited the American subconscious and its attachment to the love and respect ingrained in us (if only by television programs) for that authority figure, and mined it for votes.  Why, if kindly Grandpa with all his seasoning and experience of good times and bad has come down on the side of Ronnie Reagan, who am I to disagree?  Riney is long dead but his easily-imitated voice lives on, and on, and on.

Over time, “kindly Grandpa” has morphed from a positive to a negative figure.  Listen to his voice now in campaign commercials – he’s no longer the voice of feel-good “Morning in America” commercials, but rather that of an injured and upset party.  He makes you want to cry out, “Oh, Kindly Grandpa, what has Harry Reid done to upset you now?”  Well, he’ll tell you.  Grandpa is hurt and distressed and you want to comfort him, and the only way to do that is to vote for the crazy lady who sees fluoride conspiracies beneath every black helicopter.

If only we were to teach children how they were manipulated, while their minds were still plastic, to immunize them against…well, no politician would every allow the funding of such a program in a public school.


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