Hitler. Mussolini. Perón. Botha. Nixon. Ho Chi Minh. Milosevic. Besides infamy, there’s another thread that weaves these winners together in fraternity. They all came to power in free, democratic elections that teenagers around the globe are so liberally trading their blood for these days. Makes you wonder if they wouldn’t be better served by a history book than a Twitter feed.
Amongst the many wonderful things that sitting in a rent-controlled prison cell for two decades affords you is time to think. So, lately I’ve been pondering the power of propaganda. Webster’s defines it as “information, rumours, etc. deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.” By that ocean-wide definition, almost everything that TV, magazines, newspapers, and the Internet delivers to the frontal lobe – including this post – qualifies. Yet who wants to be the first to stand at the head of the class and confess that some of the biggest decisions we’ve made in our lives have been based solely on the manipulative propaganda of others?
Maybe I do.
When I was sixteen years old, I saw a movie called First Blood. In case you’ve been living in a sensory deprived cave (or a Church of Scientology cell) for the past thirty years and somehow missed it, the story line was simple enough. Take your basic “good guy” drifter who “just wants to be left alone” and add one authoritarian police officer who believes he smells trouble. Now, most upstanding citizens (a.k.a Fox News viewers) would say that’s a police officer’s job – to sniff out trouble. But when John Rambo refuses to answer officer friendly’s reasonable questions – a show down ensues. A showdown that splays an unprecedented body count of U.S. servicemen and police officers across the boreal forest of the Pacific North West (the movie was shot on location in the north end of the Fraser Valley). If there was any doubt that Rambo was the good guy in all this it was quickly erased by an almost unending number of sequels – movies that would eventually turn his name into a household verb. Watch Rambo take no crap. Watch Rambo deliver the killer line – and then the killer blow. Watch Rambo get laid. Watch the hormone-fuelled teenager who identifies with Rambo go to prison for the rest of his life.
In 2008, Stallone dusted off the First Blood franchise again, this time with the creatively named Rambo – another blood and guts groaner that should only have appealed to hormonal teenage boys and postal workers. Except that this installment, billed as an exercise in post-Iraq humanitarianism, featured a kinder, gentler Rambo guiding a group of pro-democracy preachers into – wait for it – Myanmar. Watch Rambo seek peaceful coexistence in the world. Watch Rambo introduce the ruling Burmese junta to the finer diplomacy of machetes, mantraps, and a ubiquitous 50-calibre machine gun. Watch Rambo save the girl. Watch CNN thrust democracy deity Aung San Suu Kyi onto the top-ten list of greatest global injustices.
I thought about that last week while reading an article on the prisoner cum parliamentarian and how she is now the “best hope for a free Burma.” Evidently the corporations who have been patiently waiting their turns to rape Myanmar of her rich timber, gem, and natural gas resources, have also decided that the country’s name will revert back to the good old days of the British Empire, after “Mama Suu’s” (the name Aung San’s base has given her) coronation in 2015. What is less clear is how the then 70-year-old Politico – who served out her state-sanctioned exile in a mansion while her worshippers took the sanctions she begged Western nations for right in the gut – will be able to free Myanmar from its place at the bottom of the per capita income, health care, and education list in south East Asia. Or how the ability of the Burmese to cast a ballot will solve their crushing rate of infant mortality. Equally foggy is how her trip from house arrest to the house of power will strip the Generals of their quarter million dollar sports cars, their sprawling golf course villas, and their ability to put Mama Suu back in the birdcage whenever they feel like it. Maybe she’s got Rambo on speed dial.
Last fall I heard an ”Occupy” advocate mewling on CBC Radio about the “death of democracy.” His basic premise was that through control of the markets, the media, and the military, the mega-rich now control everything. Elections are now a meaningless choice between brand A and Brand A. “Something must be done” was the official call to arms. What nobody cares to mention is that, far from dead, democracy has finally succeeded. When Athenian legislator Solon laid the foundations for democracy in the 6th century B.C.E., it was presented a s a social, political, economic, and judicial structure “for the free.” Yet, Athens (then as now) was a city comprised largely of slaves. Democracy was the foolproof plan to keep it that way. Try explaining that in 140 characters or less.