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The International Writers Magazine: Politics and Religion South American Style

Santo Che
• Dean Borok
I would suggest that the monolithic ascendance of the left developing in Latin America is almost entirely the result of the rise of Internet populism. Prior to the current era, almost all of the means of communication were locked in by the reactionary power structure of multinational corporations, regional oligarchies and the military.


This is an aspect of the story that nobody in the U.S. seems to want to discuss, maybe because the same situation is developing here too, though at a more moderate pace. Sure, there is right-wing pandering on the Internet, though that tendency has always been prevalent anyway, because it was the approved societal line. The difference today is that individuals and groups that had previously been excluded from the discussion are now able to express themselves unfiltered to a mass audience and to form communities.

NO There is a whole new field of Internet sociology to be opened up. My approach in this instance is to study the most effective way to communicate ideas to people. In terms of politics, my model is a Chilean feature movie called “No”, where an advertising company in Santiago developed a media campaign to reject continuation of the Pinochet dictatorship in a referendum called in 1989 at the insistence of the international community, which they accomplished by rejecting ponderous speechifying in favor of bright, cheerful snippets of how fantastic life would be if everybody voted “No” to retaining Pinochet in power.

I feel that this innovation of creative political advertising could have a major impact on public thinking, but that the benefits of such an approach are ignored because the wonkish types who are attracted to politics do not have the elasticity of spirit to embrace this brave new world of political styling.

The power of advertising totally shapes modern thinking, and if it teaches anything, the one thing that comes across loud and clear is to bypass the thinking process and proceed directly to the visceral feelings of a public that is mostly illiterate. Totally deprived of any intellectual or cultural stimulation, the public mind has a vast, empty space to be filled up with gaseous nonsense, and not enough product to fill it.

What they should be focusing on would be the subliminal appeal of a great song like what “Don’t Worry - Be Happy” that worked so well for George H.W. Bush, or a fifteen-second humor slot featuring professional comedians. As Frank Zappa once observed, “Anything More Than A Mouthful Is Wasted”. In an age where an Andy Warhol silkscreen of a Brillo box, totally bereft of any kind of artistic interpretation, shading or perspective can fetch a price of $23million, it should be obvious by now that even the smart set is entirely vacant from the neck up, duh! Nuanced treatments or even elementary artistic skills are not currently in vogue, to the point where a guy can paste diamonds to a human skull and sell it as art for sixty-five million bucks. People will pay good money not to be burdened by thinking too much. I would suggest that the art of political campaigning is still in its infancy, and the truly successful politician will be content to be the tail of the media comet and let the medium be the message. People want to vote for synaptic impulses and not a complicated mess of a person.

If ever I saw a rich example of the possibilities of subliminal advertising, it would be the pastoral message issued yesterday by Pope Francis, wherein he adopts the tone and message of what used to be referred to as Liberation Theology. This coming from a pope who, while Cardinal of Argentina, worked closely with the military dictatorship until its collapse during the Falkland Islands war. If you believe the written declarations of his victims, which have been part of the public record since way before his ascension to the Vatican, Cardinal Bergoglio, as he was known at the time, allegedly asked the junta to arrest some radical priests who were annoying to him and “lean on them” a little. Presumably, he asked that they not be killed. The priests were arrested, beaten and tortured and left naked in a country field, after which they promptly fled into exile. Whether there were any more cases like these that have not come to light, I cannot say. If I personally had ever committed an act like that, it would torture my conscience with guilt for the rest of my life, but people at the top just regard individual victims of their acts as collateral damage.

An economic historian might be tempted to interpret the Catholic Church as an extension of soft power on behalf of the Italian state. It was established as the official church of the Roman Empire in AD 380. Later on, an eastern extension of the church was founded in Byzantium by Pope Justinian I. These two branches of Catholicism ruled Europe in tandem for a thousand years, not by means of military force but by being the brains behind the brains of European civilization, The Wizard of Oz, in a sense. Hitler once joked derisively, “How many [military] divisions does the Pope have?”, but the Vatican has ruled many countries and empires for thousands of years not with armies but by utilizing the great wealth of culture and diplomacy that it possesses.

Looked at as a corporation, the Church is losing market share in its core markets, Europe and Latin America, because it is not keeping up with changes in consumer attitudes. Its last stronghold is Latin America, which is also gaining in population and wealth. When the College of Cardinals meets to elect a pope, it can be equaled as a board of directors meeting or the congress of the Communist Party Standing Committee in China. They are there to discuss strategy. Pope Francis’ pitch to the Cardinals: “Just like the focus of the Church shifted to the east in the Middle Ages, we must consider moving more forcefully in the direction of Latin America, which represents the logical growth area for our message”.

The marketing solution? Find a program that resonates with a better informed, more sophisticated population, and, since the core principles of the Church in terms of belief are immutable, co-opt the message of the radical priests and appeal to the public in terms of social justice, which does not really conflict with church concepts of morality. Geez, imagine what kind of advertising campaign a cool Sao Paulo ad agency could build behind a pitch like that to appeal to the teeming, desperate masses who inhabit the cities and countryside of Brazil! “Jesus Is On Your Side!” Could it happen? Remember, this story began with an ad agency that overthrew the dictatorship in Chile.

For the Argentine Italian pope to embrace what is basically the same social philosophy advocated by Che Guevara highlights the tendency of Latin Americans to adopt the Church to their needs, as well as incredible versatility of the Church. The time might yet arrive when you’ll go into a church and see an icon of Che Guevara or Hugo Chavez, who was a devout Catholic.

If you count in the Catholic Church and the affluent Italian worldwide diaspora, it becomes clear that the Italian nation is still a potent world power, the Roman Empire, which has morphed into a different form, the dichotomy existing only due to the lack of imagination that defines the intellectual class. The Church has its capital, the Vatican, located within walking distance of the Italian presidential palace, and the symbiosis between the Church and the State is so ancient and entrenched that it is organic. I would basically state that the interests of the Church and the Italian state are virtually identical. It’s the Roman Empire, updated to the age of soft power.

© Dean Borok Dec 1st 2013

New York Promises
Dean Borok

New York has a long history of decimating politicians with humor, going back to Thomas Nast’s caricatures of Mayor William Tweed in the 1870’s.

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