Smoke and Mirrors, “Re-branding,” and That Little Guy Behind the Curtain…

Spoiler Alert: This is political. I try not to do much of this, which is pretty strange of me, because I AM a political/social creature, and I care a lot about this kind of thing.

The following is based on a post I did recently on one of my favorite other blogs, I wrote it in response to someone’s wondering why a health care “mandate” should be considered a different animal from any number of the many other legal “mandates” with which the majority of us manage to live, even if we don’t always like them. We usually accept them because we believe they generally serve the well-being of most of us. Taxes. Drivers licenses. Homeowner’s insurance. Folding up our tray tables for takeoff and landing. And so on… She didn’t think it should be, and neither do I.

We are a huge and diverse country, and we like to think of ourselves as a just nation, a fair nation, a nation that welcomes the oppressed and downtrodden, a unique land of vast opportunity for all. We look, with no small amount of prideful disdain, on countries where the rights of some are severely restricted; where innocent people are hounded, tortured, incarcerated, or even slaughtered, simply because of their ethnicity, their faith, or because of whom they love; where voting is difficult or even life-threatening; where industries treat their workers like so much disposable chattel; where a small percentage of very wealthy people indulge themselves while children go hungry… We call those countries “backward,” or “Medieval,” or “repressive.” And indeed they are. This is America, and when we see these things happening in some other country, we scorn them, and we scorn any “justification” for them, as well. But when laws are proposed, and even passed, that encourage and allow such things to happen here, something very interesting is usually involved…

In an attempt to make these mandates more palatable to the citizenry as a whole, they are frequently justified, and their real intentions obscured, by “re-branding” them, by draping them generously in the cloak of some long-standing, and widely-accepted, “American value” – something unassailable – something like the sacred vestments of “the free market,” or the armor of “homeland security,” or the costume of “individual liberty.” And then they are packaged and aggressively marketed, in their new outfits, like so much sugar-laden, fat-packed, “all natural,” breakfast cereal.

If you happen to feel that access to reasonably-priced medical care should continue to be an optional luxury, so be it; you are welcome to object to any sort of “affordable care” for anyone, including yourself. However, if you object not to the concept, but purely and simply to the individual to whose name that concept has currently been (correctly) attached, it is my humble opinion that you have been led astray, and on purpose. It was difficult to convince people that something called the “Affordable Care Act” is, in fact, a direct and overreaching governmental assault on their personal liberties, but “Obamacare” is an easy target, for reasons most of us know, and which don’t need to be enumerated, once again, by me – even though I’m tempted!

Here’s what I consider to be another good example of this kind of thing: Not long ago, the “patriarch” of the “Duck Dynasty” (a show I’ve never seen, and don’t plan to see, although maybe I should, just because…) incited a few moments of Public Outrage by making some pretty inflammatory remarks about homosexuality, and his personal opinion about the subject. Then, a few weeks ago, while checking out at my local grocery store, I saw the cover of one of the weekly tabloid mags, featuring a smiling photo of said “patriarch” and his wife, with the headline, “Defending Our Beliefs.” With just those three little words, homophobia was dressed up in the red, white, and blue, star-spangled, “American values” outfit, and a bigot was presented as a Great American Hero.

A majority of Americans find homophobia unacceptable. But what Real American can possibly argue with the idea of “defending our beliefs,” no matter how repulsive those beliefs might be? So the issue of what was actually said was quickly obliterated by subsuming it to a grand premise with which no Real American could justifiably argue.

Impressive, isn’t it? “Re-branding” at its finest. It works to make mixed-breed shelter dogs more acceptable to potential adopters (“Congratulations! You’ve chosen our very finest Franco-Germanic Sheltiepiterrier!”), and it too often works for prejudice and repression. People are inclined to buy into what things are named, not what they obviously are. Laws designed to prevent union organizing are called “right to work” laws. Brilliant. The “Heritage Foundation” has little to do with our “heritage,” unless you happen to consider our “heritage” to be one of justifying and protecting plutocracy. And, just to be fair, the “news desk” at The Daily Show is a platform that uses “news” only as the starting point for comedy and opinion. (At least the fact that the program is carried by Comedy Central gives us a fairly broad hint about that…)

This kind of “re-branding” happens ALL THE TIME. Universal health care is called “communism,” or “government overreach.” Corporations are ruled to be “people.” Spending money is determined to be a form of “speech.” Domestic spying is labeled a necessary component of “homeland security.” “The Market” is consistently declared to have “wisdom,” a trait formerly associated only with living human beings. And the more these things are repeated, the more we begin to feel they just might, possibly, be… “true.”

We are told, essentially, that we should “…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” as the scowling disembodied head continues to growl through the billowing smoke… But isn’t that little guy the one who’s really pulling all the levers…? Isn’t he?

Where, oh where, is darling Toto, when we really need him?