25 November 2003

America gets imperial in Iraq

GNN: Obviously Murdoch has been very powerful in jumping people's passions. Have you seen American media lately? I'll tell you about it, it's very jingoistic, it uses the word patriotism, flags are flying in the base line of the screen. Can you characterize that phenomenon? Is that typical to empire building?

FELIPE FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO: I don't watch these shows. I prefer to keep my lunch in my stomach. I don't watch that stuff, and therefore what I say is very much subject to correction by those who have. But I think, in the case of Fox, it's essentially a commercial decision. Murdoch's a benefactor of mine. I do a lot of work for the Murdoch press myself, but I don't mind saying frankly that I think his guiding principle is good old-fashioned capitalism. He's in the media to make money; he's not primarily there to change the world. The political agendas that he imposes on his media empire, are the agendas that he thinks will be commercially successful, that are going to resonate with the public.

In the case of Fox, it's niche marketing. Fox News programs are exploiting the public that is there for a very upbeat, patriotic, jingoistic, religiously aggressive message. And in a country like America we know there's a very large number of sad, middle aged guys who never really grew up, who sort of like playing with planes and tanks and stuff. I think there's a big constituency for that kind of programming and that kind of entertainment. We shouldn't kid ourselves that it's information - it's entertainment being sold to a public that's up for it. I'm not going to moralize about that. If we've got any sense we know that these guys are in business and what they do they do to make money.

GNN: Can the media be, and has it historically been, a crucial element to driving expansionist empire agendas?

FFA: I don't know any society (this is not peculiar to empires) that hasn't tried to communicate with its citizens or subjects by means of propaganda. I have a really amusing example of imperial propaganda from the empire of Ashoka, the ruler of most of India in the second century BC who was a Buddhist. He embraced Buddhism; he used some Buddhist clergy as bureaucrats. The viability of his state depended to a great extent on its alliance with the Buddhist establishment. All over the empire of Ashoka he erected these rock inscriptions which survive to this day, all about how he was observing Buddhist doctrine. And these were rock inscriptions which you'd find all over the empire to influence public opinion. Even more interestingly, he also uses Buddhism to justify imperialism. He talks about the conquests of dharma. He's actually pursuing a policy which is flatly against the ideology embedded, literally engraved, into these rock inscriptions. It's a classic case of spin. You take the message and massage it.

The whole thing is a must-read. Fernandez-Armesto also talks about the moral impact of empire on the footsoldiers who have to carry it out and suggest My Lai as an example where otherwise normal individuals carry out the gravest crimes. I suspect the difficulties of getting the US into Iraq have another kind of moral impact - degrading the leaders who adopted untruth as a tool of state.

No comments: