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?


Leave a comment


  1. Terry Waggle

     /  February 11, 2014

    Oh, Gato, I hardly know where to begin. You have bearded the beast, you will surely have the slings and arrows of the inhabitants of Crazy Town aimed squarely at you. Or as my dear old Dad would say, “Run for the hills, the dam has busted.” No, wait that was when he heard someone peeing. At any rate, bravo for saying what so many of us would if we could write so eloquently and truthfully.
    As for the homosexuality issue I’ve already seen the ugliness that’s going to plague the Missouri U football player as he looks to be drafted. Maybe Toto could nip at the heels of those who still believe it’s a life choice. I can’t imagine why anyone would choose anything considered so vile by narrow minded people.
    Maybe if we all click our ruby red slipper heels together 3 times all will be as it should but I doubt it.

    • Alas, Terry, I fear that if we clicked those heels together we’d end up in Kansas!

      Yes, a real Toto could be useful in so many ways, as you suggest.

      I emailed a couple of my gay friends after Michael Sam made his announcement, and told them that I was so inspired that I’d decided to “come out,” too – as the senior, Caucasian, heterosexual female I really am. They laughed their heads off! I’m glad.


  2. dcg

     /  February 11, 2014

    Well, now, Carol, how right you are. “People are inclined to buy into what things are named, not what they obviously are.” So does that explain why every Democrat in Congress voted for the “Affordable Care Act,” almost certainly without having an idea what was in it, without ever having read it completely, even now? Your argument in this piece is so open to criticism that it would take days to spell out some of the reasons why.

    Are you happy with what is in the ACA? Do you still think it’s a good law? Do you have any problems at all with the alterations the president has made to it without the Congress having approved them via additional legislation?

    Is there anything about what this administration has done that seriously troubles you? Or do you worry about being accused of racism if you so much as criticize?

    “Affordable care.” Surely not everyone would agree with that branding.

    Hugs to you,

    dg (who else?)

    • HI, there, dcg…

      My primary “argument” in this post was intended to be simply what you quoted in your opening sentence: that people are often unduly influenced by what something is labeled, even when it may actually be something entirely different. Of course, the Democrats called the health care bill the “Affordable Care Act,” because they thought that would be an appealing name to most of “their” people, whatever the bill really contained – exactly the thinking that led the “other side” to label it “Obamacare,” precisely because THEY knew it would be a repugnant – and derogatory – label that would appeal to THEIR core voters. Same tactic, for entirely different goals. Any number of Democrats probably voted for it simply because they’re Democrats, and it’s likely that a similar proportion of Republicans voted against it because they are Republicans. (I don’t think we have any stats on the precise number of people in any party who actually read the entire thing and made their decision based solely on their careful evaluation of its content.)

      Personally, I’d like to see a single-payer health care delivery system in place here, and I’m sure we could debate THAT for days and days. However, I humbly suggest that making an unassailable case against the premise that this kind of re-branding is done all the time, in many areas of debate and/or commerce, would take some real doing – even by you, Oh, Favorite Conservative of Mine!

      Labeling and branding are powerful tools of persuasion, as anyone on Madison Avenue is likely to admit, even if not publicly. Anyone who buys an athletic shoe thinking it will transform him into Michael Jordan, or who chooses a particular lite beer in the hopes that she’ll be seen as one of those fun-loving adventurers at the top of a mountain at dawn, is influenced by branding – not so much by footwear or hops. And I’m willing to be bluntly honest and admit that I am no exception to being receptive to this kind of thing, myself. One of the reasons I have the computer I do is because I “identify” with the Apple “branding” of itself as monumentally cool and preferred by creative people, just to name one example of my own culpability in this area.

      Are companies that lay off workers and outsource as much as possible, in order to increase profits, really “job creators”? It is the “job” of any company to make as much profit as possible (at least around here it is considered so). There’s hardly a company, anywhere, that doesn’t do everything it can to minimize costs, and increase profits. The question of the “morality” of their doing that is not the issue here; the truthfulness of their being called “job creators” is. Was the legendary “Emperor” really resplendent in his new outfit, because he and his sycophants repeatedly said so, or was he actually stark naked, as some brash little kid pointed out he was?

      There is plenty I can find to criticize with this administration, and I don’t worry one whit about being labeled a “racist” for stating those objections. When somebody refers to the First Lady as “Moochelle,” THAT’s racist. Being ticked off because Guantanamo is still functioning is not. I know you know the difference.

      Believe it or not, even Bruce said that he found nothing much with which he could disagree in this. As you can well imagine, THAT blew me away! He didn’t even find it particularly “political.” It’s interesting that you apparently did.

      Hugs back to you, too…


  3. Unfortunately, as long as there are sides to be taken and power to be had and fortunes to be got, there will be the impetus to rebrand and throw up smoke screens.

  4. Way to go Carol! And a wonderful reminder to us all that NOTHING is as it seems on the surface- we need to look inside the package to see what is there.

  5. I am pleased to nominate you for the Versatile Blogger Award. The rules are here: Congratulations! — Jen

    • Jen: Champion blogger lady… I’ve got to get back to you on this. I’m honored! I’m such a slacker blogger. But I’ll get on it soon, promise…



  6. Gato, after seeing your posts on Margaret and Helen, I just had to get to your blog. this is the first I’ve read – but it won’t be the last!
    Onward, Woman!


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