Television by Frank Okay via Unsplash

Corporate Biopower as an Instrument of US Oligarchy

An essay titled FEAR & UNbalanced: Confessions of a 14-Year Fox News Hitman by Tobin Smith offers an explanation of the ratings success of Fox News. Smith says he asked Roger Ailes, the then head of Fox News, about the target audience of Fox News. Ailes said it was men aged “55 to dead”, who look like Ailes, “… white guys in mostly Red State counties who sit on their couch with the remote in their hand all day and night,” and “They want to see YOU tear those smug condescending know-it-all East Coast liberals to pieces . . limb by limb . . . until they jump up out of their LaZ boy and scream “Way to go Toby…you KILLED that libtard!”

Smith says this is addicting: “…Visceral gut feelings of existential outrage relieved by … the thrill of your tribe’s victory over its enemy…” The technique for achieving this addiction is the same as in pro wrestling, where there are two characters, the Baby Face and the Heel. The Heel seems on the verge of winning, but the Baby Face triumphs in the end. At Fox News, there are two characters, the Libtard and the Hitman, both totally scripted.

The Libtard’s goal is to enrage the viewer by reciting liberal or progressive ideas in a predictable, smug superior way. The viewer already hates these ideas and the people who espouse them from listening to thousands of hours of right-wing radio.

Key Point: the viewer’s rage set their brain’s pleasure giving dopamine delivery system into high gear . . .and when their fellow conservative protagonist/tribal hero (aka me the hitman) turned the liberal’s own words against them and vanquished the sniveling apostate into living hell on live TV…WOW…the pleasure chemical rushed through the Fox viewer’s brain like a deep hit of crack cocaine (btw its the dopamine system in the brain that cocaine stimulates and makes it so addictive).

I’m pretty sure this isn’t just pop psychology, although I’m not quite sure he’s got the chemistry right. Here’s an article from Psychology Today, with further links for those interested. This paper says that dopamine/serotonin systems play a role in control of anger, as well as addiction.

Fox News isn’t the only entity out there dishing out tension and release. It’s a staple in the movies. Recently I saw a fragment of a 2008 Clint Eastwood movie, Gran Torino, in which three tall Black guys were pushing around a Hmong girl whose white boyfriend was spineless. Fortunately Eastwood drives by and intervenes with what looked like a .45 caliber pistol he just happened to have in his belt. The tension was palpable as the pushing around and threatening continued for several minutes with pulsating music, then was increased as the old white guy strode up and confronted the three guys, and then was released with the sudden appearance of the gun. This ridiculous movie grossed $272 million worldwide.

Another anecdotal example: how many of us have watched our dads get hooked on Fox News, like my dad did. His hearing and vision were bad, but he wouldn’t let anyone change the channel away from the Fox. He was always a bit angry about politics, but in his old age, he was remorseless. Here’s another anecdote.

We say movies like Gran Torino keep us glued to the edge of our seats; we mean we are waiting for the next tightening of tension and the sudden release. It helps me understand why Tobin Smith says that these old guys on couches hold that remote with a death grip; they want that fix.

Of course, media have always manipulated public opinion. But that at least was done with words, and could be countered, at least potentially, with smarter words. This is a simple manipulation of brain chemistry by a corporation for its own ends. It’s a psych experiment that would never be permitted by an Institutional Review Board.

Let’s put this in a larger context.

Bio-power and bio-politics are terms used by Michel Foucault to explain the way the state controls and defends its population. This recent essay by Rachel Adams posted at Critical Legal Thinking is a good introduction to Foucault’s thinking. For starters, recall that for Foucault “… power ts a relationship in which one person has the ability to guide another, to influence the behavior of another. This is an unequal relationship, but it is in itself neither good nor bad.”

According to Adams bio-power is the power of the State to influence the lives of the people it controls in a positive manner. She says Foucault describes two poles of power in the current era. One is the disciplinary pole, jail, mental hospitals; also, training the young in schools, banning noxious chemicals, and enforcing open spaces in cities. She quotes this from Foucault’s Will To Knowledge:

The second, formed somewhat later, focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and longevity, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population. (Italics in original).

I interpret this to mean that issues of births and mortality, health, life expectancy, and the conditions that cause these, are properly the subject of politics in the current era, and that it is appropriate and necessary that the State provide a framework for making decisions about those outcomes and conditions. In other words, they become a proper subject of practical politics and of theoretical and scientific study. In a democracy, at least theoretically we all have a role in making decisions about these matters. Foucault makes it clear that such decisions should be made rationally, considering the possible outcomes of possible choices and selecting those that advance the values of the society.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible that the decision-making processes can be hijacked by people furthering only their own personal interests. This is how I view the Fox News crowd. The addiction practiced on their audience makes the target audience suckers for whichever candidate multi-billionaire octogenarian Rupert Murdoch chooses. That addicted audience is the people who now rejoice at the dismay of the libtards at the gutting of government and of health care and of all our international relationships.

It’s a new form of bio-power: the direct manipulation of brain chemistry for the goals of the people who control the vast capital pools in the private sector. It fits neatly into our oligarchy. Not all billionaires support all the garbage Fox spews about cultural issues, but they all support his economic agenda. And quite a few billionaires don’t really believe in democracy; they think they should make decisions about policy and infrastructure themselves. That’s the basis of their support for privatization, public/private partnerships for infrastructure, charter schools and deregulation, all of which are ways of displacing social control and inserting themselves directly in control.

So far, the people subject to this kind of manipulation aren’t a majority. So far.

9 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    “So far, the people subject to this kind of manipulation aren’t a majority. So far.”

    Problem is, they may not be the majority of population, but they are majority of those that have some disposible money.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Overt sexuality had a small role at Fox, too, also heavily manipulative.  Blonde bimbos, or Ivy League Phi Beta Kappas pretending to be comfy stay-at-home wives/lovers, usually appearing to be barely old enough to vote, were a staple.  Like most “celebrities” on Fox, they were what the English call news readers.  They just sold whatever script the editorial guys came up with that day, repeated endlessly.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Tobin Smith mentioned that too, and I imagine that helps keep the old white guys hooked up.

      It’s also kind of funny. Freud describes the life/love instinct, eros, and the death/destruction  wish, thanatos. So the rage is thanatos, and the tarted-up women with the water-bras are eros. Freud and bio-chemistry: it’s a match made in hell.

      • lefty665 says:

        Attractive young women with nice tits talking in short emotionally arousing phrases to older men. That’s a new form of “Bio-power”?  Wonder why nobody guessed that would be effective in manipulating men before now?

  3. klynn says:

    The new approach to subliminal seduction with some psych ops thrown in. This calls for legislation…

  4. lefty665 says:

    George Lakoff has been trying to explain this to Dems for a couple of decades, but nobody is listening. 

    The issue is framing. It addresses the way our brains are wired. Repubs and Dems have different brains.  Repubs tend to react emotionally to individual words or short phrases. Dems tend to want to have long discussions in detail. In practice that means Dems have lost the communications battle by launching into extended discussion of issues regardless of what they have to say. Think “Make America Great Again” versus a campaign constructed of policy statements pandering in excruciating detail to subgroups of potential voters.

    It is not new or sneaky manipulative. It is understanding what your intended audience responds to and talking in language that communicates rather than putting it to sleep. Pretty simple really, and what communications  is all about. Unfortunately it has been consistently beyond Dems because it is not the way they are wired.

    Lakoff addressed a Dem conference well before the last election laying out the concept of  “framing”. Pelosi responded by telling him essentially “That’s not what our pollsters tell us. Thank you very much for coming and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out”, although at greater length and not that direct.  That worked out real well didn’t it? Dems are showing no signs of learning, and there is another election looming.  It’s especially funny (peculiar, not haha) because Lakoff is an academic and his extended discussions should be right up Dems alley. Go figure.

    Lakoff also identifies Repubs by their attraction to the authoritative father family model, again brain wiring. But that’s a discussion for another day.


    • jawbone says:

      Bernie Sanders got a lot of support from people who eventually went for Trump….  He spoke directly, seemed believable, and made sure he talked about Medicare for All, Improved. And jobs, jobs, jobs.  Free tuition for college.  He didn’t get caught in the tall grass.

      Seems like he gets Lakoff or Lakoff gets the economic messages of the FDR era.

      And the MCM (Mainstream Corporate Media) managed to ignore his messages until so many people indicated they thought he would beat any Repub candidate and the MCM had to give him a wee bit of coverage.  Collusion with Hillary’s Dems.

      And who gets screwed? We the people, the non 99%.




  5. Evangelista says:

    “I’m pretty sure this isn’t just pop psychology, although I’m not quite sure he’s got the chemistry right.”

    It is not “pop psychology” because it is pure propaganda bullshitting.  To identify the propaganda base for the Smith blather look for single-application and to-target direction.  Then review the phenomenon under discussion (being used to form the propaganda ammunition) in relation to wider spectrum application.

    Doing this you will note that Smith targets a single instance appearance of a wide-spread and common human phenomenon.

    Human aggression-venting is not a “repubs vs. libtards” phenomenon, it is definable everywhere from sports-team support to political party advocacy to nationalism to ethnic ‘pride’ to every form and instance of competition, even, as pointed out, aggressive-action film and story lines, and, if you think about it, also horror and scary film and story lines.  It is the basis for appeal of conservative talk-radio, liberal talk-radio  and black rap, which, if you listen to with talk-radio in ind you will notice is variant on the cadence, and the content.

    The driving “chemistry” is adrenalin, not dopamine.  Adrenalin addiction (the boost in energy glandular adrenalin injection provides is the oldest, and most common “high” humans enjoy, being the powering factor of ‘flight or fight’ response.

    Compare TV-watchers’ responses to political competition, sports competition, fiction cliff-hanger and each and every “us v them” sperspective situation.

    You should then see that isolating that common human pleasure-generation phenomenon to a single focus and a single instance, leaving out all, even the close alternatives (Bernie-Boys going to attack Trump rallys, peace activists going actively in peaceful activities, etc., all adrenalin surge inducing) shows the propounded single-focus ascription an assault, and Propaganda.

Comments are closed.