Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Episode 45: A Season Stuffed With Reasons

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Have two Holiday Seasons passed since I launched the Attack Ads! Podcast? Time flies when you're ranting against forces over which you have little control, I guess. Remember: Time flies like an arrow; but fruit flies like a banana.

This, the podcast's second late December episode, is Number 45: A Season Stuffed With Reasons, where I give you Dear Listeners a book report on Kevin M. Kruse's One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015). I do hope to introduce you to Mr. Kruse's material, all about the money and effort that went into redefining the American religious tradition into one more business-friendly, with the appropriate amount of head 'splodey-ness.

In that light, I play selected portions of Tenacious D's "Master Exploder", a song from the movie Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny. I also open and close this holiday episode with two pieces from the Vince Guaraldi Trio, "Skating" and "Linus and Lucy", both from the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Very briefly you will also hear the National Anthem for the former Soviet Union. KMFDM and Bernie Sanders open the show.


  1. Howdy! I dived into your podcast after KMO (of the "C-Realm" Podcast) mentioned you on his forum, and I'm loving it so far. I've only listened to the first 20 or so episodes of your podcast in sequence, but I plan to listen to them all. So I don't know if you've addressed this topic in a recent episode I haven't heard. Please forgive me if so.

    Matt Taibbi posted a great article yesterday about fear. ( http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/this-christmas-tune-it-all-out-20151223 ) He notes that advertisers used to play on minor fears, such as social embarrassment (he cites the classic "ring around the collar"). But nowadays, both news and politics are recognized as Products which must be Sold, in the same way as advertisers sell, and in close co-ordination with them. It used to be that advertisers were afraid of selling product by means of real existential fear, because that would make people hunker down and not buy anything. It appears that news media companies, at least, are in the early stages of surmounting that hurdle, with a lot of people seeming to make money off of the prevalence of fear messages these days. The paid news media itself is one example -- Taibbi expertly notes that nobody gets paid money for a news report that says "'Mexican [immigrant]s Are Basically Nice People Just Like Us.' CNN isn't going to grab eyeballs showing videos of Muslim immigrants in New Jersey just hanging out watching soccer."

    But there have also been articles about how gun sales skyrocket when politicians talk about gun control, and we remember duct tape being sold out when Donald Rumsfeld advised us to keep duct tape and sheeting for our windows, and George Bush telling us to keep on shopping or else the terrorists win. Parents, as still another example, are being intimidated into buying huge piles of safety equipment for their kids, from car seats and cribs that both must be bought anew every six months for the perfect safety fit, all the way up to RFID chips, for fear that something bad will happen to the precious little ones.

    Could you do an episode about the role of fear in advertising, its complex inter-relationship with fear in the news, and how corporate use of fear has been changing lately? Do you think the world is really getting more dangerous, and/or (not mutually exclusive) are corporations using fear more adroitly these days in order to boost sales?

    1. Howdy, New Listener! Thanks for the props and the feedback!

      That Rolling Stone article does sound like a must-read. I'll get on it after the Holiday Celebrations. And yes, I have been thinking about the various ways the advertisers collude with (what is left of) news outlets to boost revenues for both. You'll find a few episodes that address that, though not necessarily by invoking fear.

      In fact, I have in my stuffed "For Future Consideration" folder a proposed episode called "Formatting Fear," where I address fear as it is used in programming, though not necessarily in ads. To do the deep, deep topic justice, I feel I would need to split that topic, perhaps addressing the fear in one and then the other. No matter, of course; more episodes, more fun!

      As to my opinion about the world and its more/less danger content, I feel that is about the best side effect of going cold turkey (as much as I can) from ads: I'm not longer nearly as anxious about the state of the world now than I used to be. And I buy less as a result!

      If you don't hear about fear from me soon, not to worry. That folder I mentioned for future episodes is stuffed, and I'm trying to plow through it as quickly as possible. I will, though, give your comment a shout-out in the next episode, if that's alright with you. Let me know, and thanks again!

    2. No problem citing me! My name is Kevin if you don't want to stumble over KWohlmut. Great to hear that you've already got the topic under consideration! I will be patient!

  2. Great episode. And funny (the stinger was great)!

    You've quite possibly seen this before, but if you haven't (and for those listeners that bother to read the comments), Brad Hicks's essay Christians in the Hand of an Angry God covers very similar ground from a perspective that's a bit more focused on party politics than commerce, and it's fantastic reading. (The essay is in five parts, but the posts are all in sequence, so click "Next Entry" to advance.)

    It's interesting how much of the War on Christmas bit of "the culture war" is in the commercial realm. Despite all the "putting the Christ back in Christmas" rhetoric, the push isn't to get Christians out of commercial/materialistic/secular celebrations, it's to get more Christ-y decorations on [major cafe chain]'s coffee cups and more Christ-y greetings on the lips of [big box store]'s employees (the sort of thing taken to extremes in this parody). Not that there isn't agitation suggesting that public holiday decorations or school celebrations should be more Christmas-y. But most of that sentiment is focused on the cultural mainstream, that is, the very materialistic commercial realm.

    It seems to me that the sort of Christians invested in this "War on Christmas" narrative have found a way to have their cake and eat it too: They're both a marginalized group righteously fighting against an omnipresent and oppressive liberal elite, and residents of the "real America" where their kind of people are the default and everyone should (and generally does) cater to their preferences. All the self-righteous joy of calling out the decadent mainstream culture without any of the inconvenience of distancing yourself from the decadent mainstream culture.

    1. Hey, L33t,

      Thanks for the compliment! I aim (as I mention in my latest) to insert as much of the funny as possible. I'm glad the closer brought a smile.

      I've not only seen Brad's content before, we've discussed it, you and I (years ago; you pointed out that there was a fifth section that I somehow missed over the years). And yes, there were details from his essay that nagged me as I made this episode.

      Sadly, those details—specifically the timing of his evangelical church's shift from Dems to the GOP, and as a stated result of communist atrocities perpetrated against missionaries, rather than as a business imperative—added nuance rather than reinforce the Kruse narrative, nuance that could have brought skeptics of Kruse's well-researched thesis ammunition for complete dismissal.

      (Have you heard the "Fresh Air" interview Gross did with Kruse? Even she uses elements from his book to get him to possibly dismiss his own argument!)

      I was well prepared for weighing Brad's observations, but yet again, that would have added at least ten minutes to an already fat episode. I'm sure you'll agree, though, that Brad's church and its leaders are, as he described them, quite the outliers statistically with their theology. In the end I therefore chose to focus on the far more mainstream efforts on which Kruse focused.

      It seems to me that the sort of Christians invested in this "War on Christmas" narrative have found a way to have their cake and eat it too....

      Exactly! It's one thing to be a marginalized minority; it's quite another to take arms (as I suggested they do last Xmas season) at the commercial element contaminating the religious message, for that would make them *truly* marginalized and oppressed!

    2. Oh, and one more detail, this one a bit newer, perhaps pertaining to Brad's church. He said the church was new to the GOP, formerly regarding it as the party of Satan; but that they switched in the early 1960s when information about missionary atrocities from the communist block Asian countries started to worry the leaders. I do remember that bit.

      It might not, though, be true. The switch might rather have been a reaction to the Democratic Party's affiliation with the Civil Rights Movement:

      "Informally, qualitatively, historians and others clearly understand when the Democrats emerged as the party of civil rights—it happened in the early 1960s, when first Kennedy, then Johnson, allied with the Civil Rights movement, introducing and passing both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The significance of this alliance was dramatically visible in the presidential election map of 1964, when Barry Goldwater—who voted against the Civil Rights Act—lost every state in the nation outside of his native Arizona, except for five Deep South states, all but one of which had gone Democratic just eight years earlier, when Dwight Eisenhower had swept almost all the rest of the country. The electoral maps of 1956 and 1964 are almost mirror images of one another, a dramatic reversal unique in American history, and a stark indication that the transition the authors are looking for took place before the 1964 election."

      Brad was from Missouri, right?

      Not a detail about advertising, but I found the article interesting and revealing.