Monday, 5 September 2011

Cinema was the main vehicle for social engineering in the 1930s - now it's TV

Regular commenter, DM, recently made the point that war is the true driver for punitive taxation and increasing government power over most aspect of our lives. The day I read his comment, I watched a recording of the second episode of a wonderful series, The Story of Pathé, on BBC4.

This particular episode, “The Voice of Pathé”, (currently available here on iPlayer) covered the increasing use of cinema newsreel shorts featuring a succession of Miles Cholmondley-Warners by governments and editors to change our behaviour . 

It all started, it seems, in the 1930s, when, as the Germans geared up for war, the government became alarmed at the number of Britons who were unfit for active service. A mass physical fitness cult was manufactured to make sure Hitler’s barrel-chested sausage-noshers wouldn’t end up laughingly brushing aside an army of pallid, pigeon-chested, tubercular 40-a-day types. (Perhaps too much exercise was the reason young servicemen in WWII always looked about 53 years old.)

After that, the social engineering floodgates opened wide – albeit necessarily, given the circumstances: reuse old clothes, don’t blab secrets in public places, save food scraps for chicken-feed, donate animal bones to be turned into bullets, don’t hang around in the street staring up at the sky when you hear German bombers approaching (I doubt I’d have needed telling twice!).

When the war ended and Labour came to power, there was a blizzard of information films explaining rationing and the new health service and how to claim benefits (well, that one certainly worked!) and extolling the virtues of prefabs (I had relatives who lived in a prefab into the 1960s - quite cosy, I seem to remember): there were even films to teach demobbed young women how to run a household (this explained my mother’s hatred of domestic chores – she carried them out dutifully, but always loathed cooking, hoovering, ironing etc:  having spent the war in the WAAF after a career as a model, she’d never learnt how to do all that boring stuff). The zenith of filmic nanny-statism was reached with an item telling mothers the right time to put their children to bed (about 30 minutes after they wake up, I reckon).

Then the left-wing government biter was bit. Pathé appointed a socialist editor who churned out films sneering at the rich and extolling the virtues of the working classes. In 1947 he made a film about the plight of old folk which ended by urging cinema-goers to contact their MPs and councillors to demand justice for coffin-dodgers. The audiences didn’t like it, the cinema-owners complained, the lefty was demoted, and Trotskyist agit-prop was off the agenda. After the Tories ousted Labour in 1951, the number of information films was massively reduced (as was rationing, leading to the disappearance of government-created shortages). 

The irony in all this is that we’re still being bombarded by social engineering messages (via Television this time) – but they aren’t produced by the Central Office of Information. The messages are embedded in documentaries, dramas, comedies and news bulletins. The point was powerfully made by a recent contributor to the excellent Biased BBCwebsite. I’ll quote at length – but unfortunately, I can’t find the name of the writer (he may, of course, have posted anonymously):

"Watching any BBC programme whether drama, comedy, science or nature you soon become aware you are not merely learning about the history of the Roman Empire for example but are also being subtly lectured on the evil done under the British Empire, a programme about hedgehogs might, will, end up with the message that we need more wind turbines, a programme about a town's history will be a lesson on immigration and so on and on and on...

Most writers seem to be of the left wing persuasion and the BBC seems unconcerned about what favourite hobby horses they flog in their scripts.
'New Tricks' is a deservedly popular programme but is often used as a vehicle to peddle ideas on feminism, the evil of Israel, capitalism and now government cuts in the police service. Similarly in 'Doctors'.....a story about a mix up with handbags and frog spawn ended up with a political comment on NHS cuts…

The BBC uses its everyday programmes to quietly and surreptitiously insert its propaganda, its own ideas about the world into your mind. It is attempting to manipulate what you think and how you is an exercise in thought control.

Does it work? Yes it does. After 13 years of Labour corruption and incompetence the BBC manages to avoid talking about those lost years....they talk more about the Thatcher years than the unlucky 13.

Discussions on immigration, Europe, Islam and the economy are either non- existent or strictly controlled....and the majority population views of these things are suppressed…”

There isn’t a word of that I’d disagree with (you can read the whole thinghere), apart from the implication that this is all somehow organised. 

In the build up to WWII – and during it - the government of the day tried to change our behaviour so that Britain would be ready to fight a system that demanded everyone think the same way - or die. After the war, a socialist government set about trying to ensure that most people did think the same way (but stopped short of killing the independently-minded).  But at least the propaganda was blatant back then, and easily identifiable. As soon as Pathé tried to introduce it where it didn’t belong, audience reaction forced the company to change tack. Nowadays, BBC propaganda is a lot more subtle – and even more pervasive, because 95% of my former colleagues share the same political opinions, and are convinced that only a tiny minority of Anders Breivik-style maniacs could possibly think that what they’re doing is wrong.

But it is. Shamefully so.

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