Propaganda v. Propaganda

by R.G. Davis, August 4, 2010

Comments on the Oliver Stone film “South of the Bor­der” accompanied by a Carmen Miranda tune, at Berkley’s Elmwood Theatre, July 17, 2011, with econo­mist and scriptwriter Mark Weisbrot (with Tariq Ali-in the film) fielding questions.

The film originated when Oliver Stone decided to interview Hugo Chavez to counter the general distortions in the US media. While in Venezuela Stone apparently took off with the film crew to interview South American Presidents who are the new wave of elected social democrats, who did not come to power via a revolution as in Cuba. Chavez -Venezuela, Correa-Ecuador, Morales-Bolivia, Lugo-Paraguay, Lula-Brazil, Fernan­dez- Argentina, and a snippet of Raul Castro, the only one who came to power via a legitimate revolution.

It looked like three cameras were used for interviews, one to shoot the whole camera shoot, two others for ugly up the neck shots. The film crew crisscrossed South America not as Che Guevara did on his motorcycle, since Stone didn’t go to the conservative nations, Chile, Peru, and Columbia, Uruguay or to interview Ortega in Nicaragua.

What are we to make of this interview-run-on-film of elected officials opposed to the old US colonial policy now in the form of the IMF and World Bank? Stone shows them as human, Morales kicking soccer fall, Cris­tina Fernandez, (de Kushner) reprimands Stone for ask­ing about her shoes, (Would you ask a male president about his shoes?) Chavez riding a bicycle that breaks. Such scenes humanizes the figures, but they are also less useful, whereas we need to know more about what they are doing, in order to counter the distortions made by right wing media.

Fox News is mostly ridiculed with selected bloopers of their coverage of South American “dictators,” while one or two references to the NYTimes are had. I think it’s an easy target and politically distracting even for a propaganda film, the greater problem is the liberal press, those who pose as objective reporters, since our centrists voted for Obama whose military and Latin American policy is not much different from the Clintons and Bushites. Obama was in on the Honduran Coup, when elected President Zelaya was seized and deported, June 28,2009.

Somewhere towards the end of the film I mumbled “propaganda.” During the question period an older women (mostly older folks in the Berkeley audience) said to Weisbrot, “Why don’t they just take over the newspapers?” It was the first wise question since Weis­brot had said the news media in all these countries was opposed to the elected officials. Thus we begin to under­stand the dilemma of a democratically elected socially progressive official having to deal with “free speech” press owned by major corporate millionaires who oppose all socially progressive parties. It could have been the thread that connected all the interviews even the one with R. Castro — in that the Cuban press is controlled entirely by the government. Now, there is a subject for liberal leftists who also believe in free speech since the discussion would have included the delusion of the free-objective- media in the USA.

What then do these elected progressives do in their countries? We know they revise the constitution, put in place laws that will limit the millionaire-billionaires from owning multiple news papers, radio, TV stations (whereas here, Clear Channel owns hundreds) but it is not enough since funds flow from the US into those media outlets, as it did when the Sandinistas were in power.

So this is a propaganda film from the social democ­ratic (lib left) point of view to counter the US media right wing propaganda. A similar approach was used by Air America: “Let’s do what talk radio does, only from a liberal perspective.” How could one do that? The irra­tionality and contradictory rage in talk radio is so bizarre that a liberal view could match it only by being contra­dictory, dumbed down, or sidewise hysterical.

The response to propaganda unfortunately requires extra work, engaging at least four elements; it has to be intelligent, historically reflexive, dialectical and artistic in its representation — not a one-dimensional kids fight — “I’m telling the truth you’re lying.” Propaganda also functions as a palliative for left liberals, like a “shot of hope” that one agit prop theatre group advocated in their pandering to audience’s delusions. However, to create a complex response, liberal jargon based on a body of capitalist practices will only produce more jabber. To understand Chavismo one would have to explain Vene­zuela’s history, its connections to other nations, as well as the roots of opposition to the Bolivarian socialism, in class terms (oops) and reasons “El Chefe” has been elected so many times. It might also explain why the others were elected to offices once run by business moguls, Generals or their “running dogs.” (Oops).

Propaganda in the US is called advertisement so it doesn’t sound like Goebbels of old, rather just a good sell — of a product — that is perfect: Proctor and Gam­ble sold Ivory Soap about the time Carmen Miranda sang her song: “South of the Border, down US way,” (sing along).

(RGDavis spent a good deal of time in radical thea­tre, studying Brecht and directing plays, went back to school to obtain two MA’s and a PhD with a final dis­sertation on “Ecological Aesthetics.’ He also founded the SF Mime Troupe —the first Guerrilla Theatre in the USA.)


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