"You Can Polish a Turd, But it's Still a Piece of Shit"


For as long as there have been media literacy courses in colleges and some high schools, there's been a way to inoculate one's faculties against the most blatant displays of propaganda. In a small way at least, courses on how to read film, identify lies by omission and other common tools of the advertising world, make up for the woeful absence of education in critical thinking.

Sadly, as elective courses even in high schools with the resources to allocate time and staff, such a tiny percentage of the population will receive any form of critical training that any hope of "herd immunity from gullibility" is pretty slim. This is the environment in which the stuff of election campaigns are made.

The point I'm trying to make is that even with the cynical scalpel of the internet peanut gallery, it's breathtaking how dangerously persuasive any kind of nonsense, pseudo science, or supernatural hokum can appear to the untrained eye when it's edited into a slick HD Youtube video with some Hans Zimmer stock music thrown over top.

Propaganda is nothing new and the ingredients are the same since time began: make your claim, which having been expressed is proof alone of its validity, then attack any criticism as heretical and appeal to the emotions of the audience. In film, examples stretch back to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 Battleship Potemkin for appealing to audiences' emotions to ignite passions of political solidarity against a common enemy, in this case the Russian Tsar.

From 1972's Patton, timed to rally waning public support in Viet Nam, to even James Cameron's Avatar, these films are not just didactic, they either beat you over the head with the message or wrap it up in cartoonishly obvious straw men.

And the most depressing part is a cursory glance at the Youtube comments, on trailers or other short videos meant to imply equivalencies where there are none, generates "debate" or even worse, sympathy. This idea that there are two sides to any issue regardless of the facts, and that we have to respect the opinions of others even when they're spouting complete nonsense is so pervasive that it can illicit this comment on a video about a Geocentric universe:

This is a comment on a video proposing that THE EARTH IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. And this is how accommodating some people believe they have to be when someone says the SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH. This is the kind of intellectual pacifism that surrenders before the debate begins by asking "why not have equal time for creationism in science class?"

That's the real danger of failing to equip children with the the tools of critical thinking, they grow up into media illiterates. Videos like the trailer for a geocentric solar system or the infamous 9/11 conspiracy clip-show Loose Change are no worry to someone who can identify a false premise at the start of the fucking video. Nor are they anything more than another scrap of confirmation bias for those who have already made up their mind to agree. They're frighteningly evocative to the pseudo-intellectual, or fence-sitter who's been raised to "consider both sides" and not the evidence.

The old saying applies that it's good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out. And that sexy music and sweet camera moves are not an argument ad verecundiam. Fuck, at least the geo-centrics acknowledge the Earth is round.

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