I'm guessing a lot of adults skipped, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” I didn't. Maybe you thought, "Why watch a movie about a bunch of poor people fighting for the amusement of the rich when I can watch Black Friday videos of people fighting for free?" But I'm glad I watched it, because it reminded of some important lessons about persuasion.
(Side questions: Do rich people camp out overnight in front of the high-end retail stores for Black Friday sales? Is there video of people fighting over the last $3, 395 beige lizard Clara convertible clutch?)
Mick LaSalle, my favorite writer of movie reviews didn't like it, but points out a key part of the movie, the focus on making propaganda and selling war.
The rebel leaders know they need to rev people up for a fight, so they create a propaganda video or "propo" staring Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence's character. The first attempt is forced and inauthentic. One character asks the assembled propo makers. "When did Katniss make us feel something?" The fashionista says, 'When she volunteered in place of her sister." Another says, "When she allied with Rue."
Woody Harrelson asks, "What do these have in common?" Someone in the group suggests it is when she is out in the field. Because of that, they then decide to get her out in the field to make propaganda films.
I turned to my movie companion and whispered. "The real connection is that they are both about Katniss being the protector for younger women."
When they get her out in the field she visits the wounded and they see her as a symbol of their fight. She is asked to fight with them and she agrees.
Then the people she just pledged to fight for get blown up by the authorities from the Capital. They hit the hospital filled with unarmed, wounded men, women and children. Even the evil President Snow must know that killing innocent children is bad PR. However, since he controls the media, he knows that video of defenseless kids being killed, which might evoke empathy or sympathy for the victims, will never get to the people in the capital.
However, the rebel propo makers know this destruction footage can be used to rev up their district viewers, who identify with Katniss and want active revenge. Katniss turns to the camera and shows her anger--and a desire for revenge.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman's media savvy rebel character knows that there are multiple components to persuading people and creating a symbol that motivates people. So does President Snow, Donald Sutherland's character. Snow uses people's fear of death and destruction as a lever and then their love for others as a trap.
One character, who previously was driven by love and a desire to protect, has his mind manipulated using fear and anger. This character then attacks the person he previously loved. Can his twisted mind be put back to normal? One of the rebels says that fear is one of the most powerful emotions, and it will be hard to undo the programming.
What Undoes A Long Propo War Campaign?
Walking home from the movie I pointed out to my movie companions that Bush/Cheney government used fear, lies and people's desire to protect loved ones, as tools to gear up the Iraq war machine. They used the emotional link to 9/11 to drive an attack on Iraq. They used fear of death and mushroom clouds to justify being pro-active.
Suggestions and protests to not attack were ignored, shouted down or dismissed as un-serious.
While this was happening, who was creating the propaganda against it? I use the word propaganda intentionally because many like to believe that the truth will be enough. My rational Vulcan side approves, but I also know that my emotional human side needs to be addressed too. To ignore its power to influence is to ignore reality. Combining both emotional and rational reasons are a powerful combination.
I remember specifically a few emotionally charged videos by Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink, and a few actor celebrities like the Dixie Chicks and Janeane Garafolo speaking out against the Iraq war on TV. I also remember how viciously they were attacked for speaking out against it.
Which anti-war propo videos or people made you feel? Who did you identity with? Might you have identified with innocent men, women and children killed in Iraq if you saw more videos of them?
When the US media were in Iraq covering the war, they were embedded with the troops, not with the families of the people being bombed. Opportunities to identify with the innocents were curtailed. The media feared for their lives and bonded with their military protectors, that's a strong emotion, easily conveyed to people in the US.
What Happens When Emotion Fades?
In the movie, one character understands that the rebels were starting to lose momentum and needed a rallying point. They needed a reason and person to help them overcome their fear and act.
What if you want to keep an active war machine going with an audience that is bored and disengaged? You need emotion, people to identify with and a way to trigger action in people.
Enter the ISIS beheading videos. No, I don't think they were an "inside job" by anyone in the US government. But, as the Project for the New American Century showed us, groups prepare for the circumstances they hope will happen, and then act if/when they do.
The beheading videos put Americans in the position of feeling for the victims they could relate to. The group of people tasked with covering the story, journalists, are especially engaged. "That could have been me!"
If I'm a journalist and I want to see the attackers of an American journalist brought to justice, what do I do? I might not want to inject my opinion or emotion in the story, so I find people to talk to who reflect multiple options and opinions: military action, a police action, and non-violent actions. Next, I look for people I can get to talk about how to carry out these various actions,
The TV producers have lots of people to call to talk about military actions, some for police actions and maybe a few for non-violent actions. One way of rigging the game in favor of one course of action vs another is line up powerful spokespeople for one action vs. weak or no spokespeople for another.
Not all Spokespersons Are Created Equal
I've been asking people lately, who could go up against the well-honed media trained war propo machine? I get head scratching to that question. Then I ask, what would it take to get them on the Sunday talk shows or the nightly news?
I'm interested in talking to the journalists and producers who put on these shows. Who would be an anti-war "get" they could explain away to their military contractor advertisers? Are there anti-war guests that they know are safe because they aren't taken seriously? What price do network news divisions pay if they have on someone who is anti-war? What benefit do they get?
The pro-war PR machine actively uses the weakness of the media to help them spread their pro-war propo. They understand the use of and need for symbolism and emotion to scare and engage people. There are ways to challenge that.
Code Pink recently sent out a note to their supporters suggesting that ABC's George Stephanopolos they have on two millenial women to talk about anti-war options. This kind action is a great start, and might be the beginning of undoing the one sided flood of pro-war propaganda we see today.