Blesok no. 76, January-February, 2011

An Essay on Manipulation
(from "The Essay as a Training Ground", Blesok, 2010)

Jelena Lužina

Manipulation is, undoubtedly, a vicious and destructive category. On top of it, it is also a category of dark origin, but of a strong, almost tectonic potential. We all recognise it at the first glance, we all think about it, we all have direct experience with it and we have all felt it, more than once, in our own lives. In short, we can all say something about it! Because of its persistent and unavoidable “involvement” in almost all moments of our lives and its imposing presence everywhere, even in our dreams, we have felt many times not only powerless or enraged, but also – directly manipulated! By whom or by what? I fear that such a question, only seemingly simple and rhetoric, hardly implies a simple answer. I think, of course, about an answer that would be direct, short and clear.  
    Do you ever think that the manipulation itself – an apparition floating everywhere – has managed to impose itself as one of the last “great topics” that our confused culture still knows how and can deal with? In these not-very-joyful postmodern times of the general deconstruction and fragmentation, times at which – allegedly – everything has been swept under the big globalization carpet, but really everything that, as much as yesterday, seemed relevant to everybody (or worthy of serious involvement), all other “great topics” have become hopelessly worn out and completely wasted, and they unavoidably led to general marginalization. To their own end. If we are to trust the connoisseurs and those who consider themselves as such, all of us have for a long time – not since yesterday! – lived in the famous end of the world pandemics, on which Fukuyama and his company have already said and written almost everything. Whole legions, cohorts and phalanxes of the postmodern theorists and prophets – we all know it, because we could not by read their loud texts! – this cataclysmic science of the end of the world (which now conditions our small lives) was elaborated long time ago, not only in detail, but also very effective. All of its themes, modalities and varieties have been described until now: the end of ideology, the end of history, the end of metaphysics, the end of art, the end of big corporations, the end of the economic, political and educational system… And the end of the world, of course!
    The end of everything, including man himself, the misfortunate hommo sapiens, who has managed in the meantime to multiply on this small and more and more endangered planet up to the incredible seven and something billion.
    If we are really to believe those proponents of the disaster that has happened to us, especially some of them – maybe those hyper popular, in the media sense of the word hyper exposed convinced end of the world scholars, our dear Nostradamuses of the XXI century… – once should immediately take into consideration the several most critical facts that they suggest as definitive.
    That everything humane around us and inside us has gone to hell (definitely and irrevocably); that, as a consequence, our humane/humanistic perspectives have thinned out completely; that, as human beings and thinking units, we have reached the luring border of our sane mind, after which there is barely anything. Especially hope.
    I have read, recently and not without any interest, several of these people. One of them looked especially indicative. I almost wrote: bizarre. His name is Gerald Celente, an American with Italian roots.
    This Celente looked quite ambitious and appropriately clever. A real career prophet, who managed quickly and easily to become a manager of something that he himself invented and established, and it is called “The Trends Research Institute”. Can you imagine any more prestigious, trendier or more needed company at all? As it goes, Celente anchored it at the super prestigious New York address (Park Avenue), because – for God’s sake! – everybody should know that one can not imagine a better and more appropriate place for one of the best and most precise analysts of the recent reality to preach. And there is none.
    If you open his well packed web page, I don’t doubt that you would be immediately charmed, and them flabbergasted by the style of the above mentioned prophet-analysis used to (self)advertise himself as the most secure and most reliable visionary of our future. The one that is more and more uncertain! The page can not but impress you. There you will find out that he only hangs out with the world elite: he has lunches and dinners with the former presidents, he likes to be on photographs with the State Secretary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey calls him to her shows… His virtual kingdom, properly singing and dancing, shows all of this with words, pictures and music.
    Because he is (allegedly) considered the most well known world trend forecaster, and he (allegedly) enjoys a superstar status among his other disaster-forecasting-colleagues, this Celente – at least that what his web page states – managed to foresee a whole pile of fatal events that significantly influenced the overall world fate. Some of them are: the break-down of the Soviet Union, the fall of Yugoslavia, the global financial crisis, the global capitalism disaster that started to roll a year or two ago…
    By the way, a digression, which is not irrelevant:
    I am not trying to be cynical when I say that I am not very impressed by foreseeing the break-down of the Soviet Union or the sad socialist Yugoslavia. I dare guess that I am neither lonely nor the only one in this “unimpressed” feeling. I am almost sure that this “unimpressed” feeling is shared by all of us who lived our usual/small lives in those unhappy states, managing, as the Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulić states, not only to survive socialism, but also to live it laughing. Actually, such a survival, personal and collective, made Kundera and Havel compose a complete library, full with laughter and forgetfulness. Everybody who has forgotten this should re-read their books again. To see that the so-called reality does not always have to be indicated/spied by the stupid politicians and/or completely destroyed economy, but it can be done – even more successfully, funnier, and for sure more convincing – by the well written literature.

Once we speak about the forecasts where the respected Celente deals with the current global economic disaster, I thought – who knows why – that maybe I should treat them with a bit more respect. Try to read and interpret them decently, not to say cooperatively, even deadly seriously. Maybe the knowledge and skills of this man could be useful for me, especially to me and to us who feel quite inferior in globalist issues, and hereditary scared of the economic Scillas and Haribdas, aware that we understand them only as much as it is necessary for bare survival. Or, to say it simply, to plan the simplest home budget, that should keep us from the first to the first in the month. Those of us who really feel fiscally and formally and legally insecure, not to say helpless, are told by our sane mind that we – nevertheless! – need to unavoidably rely on some proven international authorities, able to advise us how to deal with the hardship that we encounter in these unstable constellations that we live in at the moment. To survive, eventually, with a saving dose of laughter and forgetfulness.
    There, I admit that I read the famous Celente with such serious intentions. And with full confidence. I almost said: with idolatry. I read and I deeply contemplated his Ten Commandments for the Common Man¸ which I understand as some metonymic ten commandments. If I firmly grab their steering wheel, I might manage to outsmart the disaster that rolls down our streets threatening.
    What is hidden in Celente’s saving Decalogue?
    Reading him, I noticed that as many as half of his firm maxims ultimatively prescribe strict and full saving: don’t spend, don’t go for summer and winter holidays, don’t shop, don’t generate debt… OK, I said, I know this. I learnt it when I was a child from my practical and rational mother who (however) never studied economy. If I am not mistaken, I used to live like this – saving and disciplined. As much as I could see, all of my close friends lived in the same rational way, but it still did not help them completely prevent the disaster that we are all facing now.
    What is then the secret? Most probably in the second five maxims. They must be the key. I should fully concentrate on them.
    This is what Celente wisely says and advises there:
    I should move as close as possible to a drinking water source because – very soon, maybe tomorrow… – our postmodern world will stop waging wars because of oil and gas and start to wage a war for water.
    That I should have my own piece of land and urgently turn it into a garden where I will produce organic food, because – very soon, maybe tomorrow… – the world will remain without any healthy food.
    That I should direct my children (OK, my grandchildren) solely to medicine studies or to those studies that educate in alternative energy sources, because only medicine and alternative energy can save the humanity.
    That always and in all situations, but really in all, I should think positively, because it has been confirmed and proven that every great depression is followed by a time of general boom, for certain.
    That, in the meantime – until this general boom starts – I must invest all of my money (what money?) into buying gold bars, because, due to the speculation policies of the incompetent world governments, all the paper money will soon become less valuable even from the paper that they are printed on. Thus, the whole world economy will have to redirect to gold. Solely and exclusively.
    Yes, I almost forgot the most important.
    Celente is certain that the current crisis will not only stop, but that it will escalate. It will then culminate in year 2012, which he calls The Year of Bottom. Or, more precisely, the year of the end of the world as we know it. This year can not be anything else, but fatal, because it is on its end – 12 December – that the Maya calendar cycle ends, and the whole galaxy should be balanced and reordered. The New Age followers say that it is at that moment – 12 December 2012 – that new and still unknown/unresearched channels of awareness will be open, and the humanity, whether it wants or not, will have to undergo an unprecedented transformation. More or less it means that already in two short years we will all experience some real and absolutely radical renaissance, which should find us digging our garden, drinking the water from the clear mountain springs, and – most importantly – buying gold bars.
    I don’t know about you, but this smells like an ordinary media manipulation to me. Is it because – informed and well read by profession but (precisely because of this) suspicious/sceptical by birth – I have a slight feeling that Celente and his learned colleagues-prophets collectively pull our leg? It is not only the most awful, but also the most insulting that they shamelessly underestimate our collective intelligence when doing this. Or, let me be more objective, the intelligence of at least some of us.



    That similar manipulations have already happened in this world of ours – in far more innovative and creative forms – can be confirmed, I think, by piles of respected works of art from the past. Not only literary works of art.
    I will remind of one of them, ingenious in its idea, manipulative in its result, but also absolutely artificial/aesthetised in its being.
    Some seventy years ago, on 30 October 1938, the young actor, director and script writer Orson Welles (1915-1985) upset the Americans (millions of Americans!), still naïve with respect to the media at that moment. They, the naïve ones, swallowed his strange dramatization of the legendary science fiction novel The War of the Worlds on their radios. And they were petrified.
    Written as early as 1898, as an authentic product of the imagination of Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), this ingenious novel in which the Martians attack the planet Earth has been adapted and screened many times. If I am not mistaken, the latest one was signed by Steven Spielberg some five years ago (2005). Of course, none of these later media transpositions managed to produce the scary (and spying) real-effect that will be a permanent feature only of the first one, Orson Welles’s.

On 30 October 1938, the then 23 year old Welles managed to literary horrify the whole America. Why? Not only because of the already mentioned media naïveté of the then Americans, but (most of all) because his radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds was based on the most radical possible combination of fiction and facts (always a winning combination!), which could not fail. On top of it, this adaptation also properly dosed but also skilfully inducted the most powerful of all dramatic effects – the effect of the betrayed expectation. Hit by this mixture of the aggressive author’s invention, the surgically precise procedures via which it was operationalised, the strong media pressure and the absolutely “unbearable” effect of the collective psychosis as they had never felt before, the poor Americans believed that they were doomed. They could simply not doubt what the radio “told” them: that the Martians had just attacked them. And that it was quite clear that the century had come to its end.
    The final result of the manipulation with facts, which Welles opted for then not only impudently but also irresistibly from the author’s point of view (not to say ingeniously), could be no different than what it was: real, realistic, almost palpable. According to the effect that it had caused – panicky. Enormously panicky!
    The panic that occurred even during the broadcasting of the radio adaptation was massive. And fierce. The news of its magnitude was spread around the world in a flash. And it was told for a long time, much longer than Wales himself, then a young and promising genius, could even dream.
    Its power – or its fame, no matter – is also visible in the unusual event that happened several months later. When one of the most skilful manipulators in the history of the media and mass communication in general, the diabolic German/Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), not without envy because of its planetary media glory, decided to use a bit of its shiny aura. I dare guess that it was him, Goebbels, was the factotum who decided to advise his repulsive Boss in one of his hyper-theatrical public appearances (which regularly hypnotised the German masses, so that the Boss and the company could freely manipulate the mass hysteria which was activated in this way) to also mention “by the way” the American “case” with the Wales’s invasion of Martians. Of course, both Goebbels and his repulsive and hysterical Boss shamelessly used the whole story, telling the German citizens the tale of the eschatological fear that was caused with the Americans by – who else – the Germans. The greatest among all nations. The super humans, whose Teutonic origin, actually, could not be from this world. It was maybe Martian.
    I will remind you that it was on this topic – diabolic and very real/truthful theme of manipulating the manipulators – that Orson Wales himself, a bit later, made his most important movie “The Citizen Kane” (1941). The leading world filmologists and film critics often consider it the most important film in the history of the world cinematography.



    As a I write this text, my mind keeps on slipping the bizarre etymological manipulation which is immanent to the term that I deal with.  
    Namely, the root morpheme of the word manipulation directly leads us to something that should be done by hand. Even to the hand itself (manus in Latin) undoubtedly the most significant tool that is “natural” or given by nature. Pages and pages of great essays have been written on this crucial tool that we have by Focillon (in his “Praise to the Hand”), and Krleža (in his “Foreword to Podravje Motifs”, for example), and Ranko Marinković (in his anthological short stories joined under the common title “Hands”)… But also with so many other writers of format and calibre. Those that my students like to call capital ones.
Yes, but the manipulations that I write about in this text are still not done by hands. Nor are the hands the ones that initiate them or move them. They are most probably induced and materialised by some hidden and small glands, pushed in the deepest depths of our secret physicus. Those endocrine points of our anatomy, which – maybe – manage our unconscious being. Including the one that Freud and Jung call the collective unconscious.
    Is it the hypophysis? Or maybe the pancreas, that Krleža so hellishly writes about in his short story A Cricket under the Waterfall?
Skopje/Pula, October 2009

Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska

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