While OpEdge is on a two-week hiatus, we are running some of the more evergreen columns from past years. This blog entry originally appeared on August 11, 2010
Of the several definitions of ideology in Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, one is relevant to a discussion of communications and propaganda: “a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture.”
What I call the ideological subtext of communications, be it in a TV ad, a news article, a billboard, a website or a movie, are the unspoken “content of thinking” assumed to be true in these media. We can also call them the basic beliefs and values that the mainstream media share and advocate. These assumptions color the selection of details of virtually all the media that we experience. They are hammered into us from childhood to the point of brainwashing.
Over my first year of blogging, I have uncovered eight ideological principles that writers, advertisers and other “media workers” want us to take for granted. Often asserting one or more of these tenets is the true purpose of a story; for example, all those articles a few months ago advocating that people with money walk away from underwater mortgages were really thinly veiled attempts to uphold several of these core assumptions.
I’m not pretending that these eight core tenets represent the entire American ideology. These are just the ones that I have discovered time and again in the news and entertainment media and have discussed at length in my blog entries over the past year. If anyone knows some others, please send them along to me, either as a response to the blog or to the OpEdge page on Facebook.
And just in case it does not go without saying, I want to be clear that I in fact disagree with all of these core tenets, which may be the reason I have identified them so easily.
Eight Core Tenets of the American Ideology:
- The market solution is always good, whereas solutions to social problems involving the government are always bad.
- The best solution always is acting selfishly in one’s own best interest, whether it’s telling your kids to pay for their own college or walking away from a mortgage when you can make the payments; often called “the politics of selfishness.”
- The commercial transaction, that is, buying something, is the basis of all relationships, celebrations, manifestations of love, respect or all other emotional states, and every other emotional component of life.
- All values reduce to money—if it makes money it’s good and the only measure of value is how much money you have or earn.
- Learning and school are bad and all intellectual activity is to be despised or mocked.
- The most admirable people and most worthy of emulation are celebrities, especially movie, Internet and television entertainers.
- Suburbs are good and cities are bad.
- As a nation, we need the guidance of experts before making virtually all decisions, but only those experts whose advice is always the same: to buy something.
The fact that most of these core tenets have to do with money probably results from the source material: the news and entertainment media which to a large degree have dedicated themselves to selling the products and services of their advertisers and sponsors.