Trump is the end result of the WWE: a world where fiction triumphs over fact


Don’t blame Donald Trump. Blame Edward Bernays. He was the original marketing genius who appropriated his famous uncle’s— Sigmund Freud’s—psychology to literally invent modern propaganda. The rest, as they say, is marketing history.

Bernays may have been well-intentioned—at first. He was hired to help Woodrow Wilson to convince the American public to enter and support World War I. So marketing and politics have been bedfellows from the very beginning. And marketing takes money, which explains why hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on marketing during every US election cycle.

We’ve been in this marketed reality for 100 years now. Bernays, God bless him, figured out a way to use marketing and PR to get women smoking back in the 1920s. He helped the aluminum giant, Alcoa, convince special interest groups that adding their toxic product, fluoride, to drinking water was a good idea. (He did it by convincing the American Dental Association to support it.) Bernays never worried about mixing business and politics. He helped the United Fruit Company protect its interests in Central America by enlisting the CIA to overthrow the president of Guatemala back in 1954. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Here’s how Bernays describes his approach in his own words: “Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” Think about that as you read one of the Irving newspapers or watch CNN.

Bernays spent a lot of his time bending the truth, and leading the way for a whole industry, all the way through Mad Men to today. But to be clear, there was always an element of truth—based on real facts—in the message. That is no longer the case.

Somewhere around 1960, television began to change marketing as dramatically as social media is doing today. A new kind of entertainment began to emerge that blurred the lines between sport and theatre. Leading the charge was a company that turned into the World Wrestling Federation. It’s now called World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., or WWE. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

“WWE shows are not legitimate contests, but purely entertainment-based, featuring storyline-driven, scripted, and choreographed matches, though they often include moves that can put performers at risk of injury if not performed correctly.”

Since then, several generations have grown up watching this stuff, rooting for their favourite wrestling stars. This pattern of scripted fake reality has evolved into reality television. Of which Donald Trump was just another one of the actors. This blurring of lines between reality and fiction has extended into every aspect of communications. You can see it for yourself if you care to tune in to mainstream TV. The majority of news is now discussed to death by ‘pundits’ as if we need experts to interpret the already pre-sterilized news we’re being fed. But they’re there to add legitimacy to the messages.

The real question is, are the messages real? So far the news, as we know it, has become a lot like Bernays’ PR. There’s an element of truth to most of the news we take in. The whole truth is what’s not included in the news. In the rush to war, we’re no longer shown the atrocities we help perpetrate through our involvement. As Canadians, we don’t get to see the end results of our armoured vehicles being used by the Saudis in Yemen. As customers, we don’t see the effects of sweatshop labour in foreign special trade zones. It’s just not news—because none of us wants to see it. So we’re in denial. Yes, we know our cars are killing the air and the oceans, and melting the polar ice caps, but damn it, we have to get to work in the morning.

And denial leads to something worse. We end up denying facts, and denying reality itself. Having normalized half-truths and fakery as “real entertainment”, we’ve now managed to normalize total fiction as reality. We’ve truly become Orwellians, living in a world where war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.

Enter Donald Trump. He’s not an anomaly. From Nixon to Obama, he’s just another marketer selling a bag of half-truths and undeliverable promises. Except Trump doesn’t even bother with half-truths. It’s all just BS. And the poor get poorer. The middle class gets smaller and more fearful. The wealthy get wealthier. Now I see there’s a move to draft Oprah Winfrey for a presidential run. Oprah? Seriously?

To repeat what Bernays said so honestly and clearly, “Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government.” The question is, who’s actually running things? And why are we letting them?

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