Narrative Wars: Slap the Honey Boo Boos with Truthaganda
Memo to non-leftist bloggers, reporters, and culture-shapers: TAKE THE GODDAMN GLOVES OFF.
This campaign just got real. From right now until election day, no holds are barred.
The mainstream media has dropped all pretense of impartiality. Their behavior in response to the latest Mideast crisis was blatant, outrageous — and effective. When the world erupted on September 11 and the Obama administration groveled at the feet of our barbarian attackers, the major news outlets — knowing that this was a disastrous turn of events for the Obama campaign which could not be spun in his favor — decided the only solution was to brazenly change the subject to a fabricated peripheral side issue: that Romney had committed some kind of "gaffe" by criticizing the government's weak-kneed response.
As Obama's dithering threatened to ignite a world war, a significant percentage of mainstream news outlets blared headlines like ROMNEY GAFFE DERAILS REPUBLICAN HOPES and ROMNEY WON'T BACK DOWN FROM FALSE CLAIM. Of course neither of these headlines (nor countless similar headlines over the past two days) was factually true: The only thing that transformed Romney's rather mild criticism into a "gaffe" was that the media itself declared it to be so.
The MSM knows full well it manipulates The Narrative, and invariably does so to the benefit of Obama, the Democrats, and "progressivism" in general. And people like you and I know this full well too. But until now the media has at least feigned impartiality, not to trick us but in order to maintain credibility and influence over the Honey Boo Boos.
Who Are the Honey Boo Boos?
Honey Boo Boos is a term I just made up for the last remaining undecided voters in America. As you may have read at the time, the infantile and atrocious reality TV show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo either surpassed or tied the viewership totals of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. That means millions of people are so tuned out of politics and so uninterested in current affairs that they'd rather watch a family of obese rednecks abusing their young daughter than learn even the most basic facts about the next president of the United States. These Honey Boo Boo viewers are what pollsters like to call "low information voters," but that descriptor is not complete: Honey Boo Boos are also low interest voters whose political ideology is either easily malleable or absent altogether.
To that extent they can be easily manipulated — if you can get their attention. But getting their attention is not so simple.
Since about 90% of the evenly split electorate has already chosen their candidates, and are exceedingly unlikely to ever change their minds, the Honey Boo Boos are the only remaining pool of potential voters worth targeting. And the media thinks it has figured out how to target them.
Since Honey Boo Boos barely pay any attention to the "news," they get their information through a sort of unconscious osmosis of the general national zeitgeist. If enough half-read headlines and talking heads droning in the background say the economy is in the dumps, then the Honey Boo Boos eventually internalize that the economy must be in the dumps. If candy canes and wreaths start appearing in store windows and a few notes of muzak "Jingle Bells" remain audible above the screaming toddlers, then the Honey Boo Boos figure Christmas must be coming up soon. And if a sufficient plurality of media outlets scream that some guy named Romney did something stupid, then this Romney guy must be an idiot.
Really, that's about how deep it goes.
The media knows that at this stage in the election, the headline is all that matters. And the headline need only be barely supported by some underlying veracity. If you can find some cooperative Democratic staffer to mouth the word "gaffe," then you're off to the races with a deceptive headline whose only purpose is to impact the retina of a distracted Honey Boo Boo if only for a second.
Truthaganda vs. Propaganda
Conservatives and libertarians spend far too much time having apoplectic fits over this relentless media bias, even though it isn't really directed at us, nor even at liberals. If we want to impact the Honey Boo Boos in the same way, then we've got to start playing the media's game, and playing it NOW, since time is running out before November 6.
Too often we non-leftist bloggers, editors and pundits fashion our headlines to appeal to fellow non-leftists, or at least to well-informed "reasonable" readers. But those people have already irreversibly made up their minds, long ago. We've got to consciously start targeting the Honey Boo Boos. Metaphorically slap 'em upside the head.
The goal is to create an enveloping data matrix which gives the Honey Boo Boos a sort of half-aware impression that the narrative we've concocted for them is not simply a partisan narrative fighting for their allegiance but rather is simply the way things are.
To that end, the headlines need to be as unsubtle as possible, but still hewing to reality -- reality through our lens.
I call this approach "truthaganda," to contrast it with the leftists' more traditional and more mendacious "propaganda." The progressives have a massive advantage over us because their Gramscian predecessors have gotten a hammer-lock on the mainstream media which they have no intention of ever letting go; but we at least have truth on our side. All we've got to do is turn that truth up to 11. Perhaps even 11.5.
Examples From Today's Headlines
Let's look at two stories from today's news stream as examples.
In the first, various outlets reported that the Obama administration has asked YouTube to censor and take offline the goofy anti-Mohammed film, since it offends Muslims.
Now, a fair number of right-minded pundits and bloggers wisely jumped on this story. HotAir, as a typical example, titled their version "White House: Yes, we asked YouTube to consider removing that Mohammed movie." Most other headlines were similar: Accurate, moderately concise.
But no Honey Boo Boo could get even halfway through that headline. It was directed at pre-existing news junkies. I propose that we emulate our MSM betters by incorporating the next level of assumption into the headline itself; a truthagandistic headline for this story would be
OBAMA IMPOSES NEW BLASPHEMY RULES
Making it big and red like that helps too.
Just as the MSM leapt over the baseline facts and trumpeted in the headline the presumptive opinion that Romney had committed a "gaffe," so we too will leap over the baseline facts and jump to the the second-tier analysis that this amounts to a unilateral imposition of blasphemy laws through executive intimidation. It's just as true as, if not more true than, any number of biased headlines that appear hourly without shame in progressive-friendly media outlets (i.e. most of them).
Blogger Ace of Spades came closest, as he often does, to the truthaganda ideal, with his headline:
US GOVERNMENT NOW ACTING AS CENSORSHIP ARM OF ISLAMISTS
Very good. Halfway there. Seven-Eighths of the way there. But perhaps still directed a little bit too much toward the already-convinced, those who even know what an "Islamist" is.
In our next example from just a few hours ago, Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter tweeted that Americans should read an article from the Xinhua News Agency bashing Romney. Left out of her tweet is that Xinhua is the propaganda division of the Chinese Communist Party.
Now, the Weekly Standard's headline (in the link) is pretty good:
Stephanie Cutter Uses Communist Propaganda Outlet to Hit Romney
But that creates too much distance between the outrage and Obama. Cutter, after all, is one of his main spokespeople. I propose something much more direct:
OBAMA TEAM TWEETS COMMUNIST PROPAGANDA
Again, this is truthful, albeit heavily filtered. But each element is demonstrably true: Stephanie Cutter is central to the Obama Team, and her actions speak for the whole team; tweets are tweets -- no dispute there; and Xinhua News Agency is, literally, pure communist propaganda. Hence, Obama Team Tweets Communist Propaganda.
Now, even a Honey Boo Boo can get through those headlines; they're short enough to survive the three-second attention span. And they're truthagandistic enough to be defensible should they be critiqued (not that critiques will even matter — the media utterly ignores our critiques of them, and no Honey Boo Boo ever looks at secondary critical analyses).
The one site that currently comes closest to consistently practicing truthagandistic principles is, of course, the Drudge Report; its headline writers know how to go for the jugular. And it pays off: the Drudge Report attracts more traffic than any other blog and most other news outlets in the world. Think about that for a moment. The Drudge Report never has original content — the entire site consists of nothing but snappy headlines for links to outside sites whose own dreary headlines otherwise failed to previously garner much public attention. And those snappy headlines are all by themselves sufficient to make Drudge top dog.
Drudge can influence the national discussion. One site. Now imagine if there were a thousand sites just as effective.
If enough headlines of this sort bust out all over for a long enough period of time, it may begin to subtly alter the tone of the Honey Boo Boo datascape. And somewhere in the back of a low-information, low-interest, non-ideological voter's mind, the germ of an idea may emerge: That Obama has totalitarian tendencies. And that might, if we're lucky, affect one or two votes come November.
What else can we do?
Counter-Argument: Don't Be So Abrasive
Now obviously, there will be plenty of naysayers on the left who object to my proposal. But following my new strategy: I don't care about their opinions.
Even so, people who otherwise may agree with me politically on various issues could object on the basis that my truthaganda concept is too extreme and too aggressive. A recent focus group with undecided voters (please don't make me dig out the link) suggested that many of them expressed ambivalence toward Obama — up to the point when Obama was accused of being a socialist by the other participants, at which point the previously ambivalent voters rushed to Obama's defense. In other words, they only sided with Obama at those moments when he looked like a victim and an underdog. And the harsher the attacks on him, the more like a victim he looked.
Now, I suppose this type of voter exists — the bleeding-heart middle-of-the-roader who follows the news closely enough to get drafted into a political focus group, yet who professes no ideology. But I posit that they are a much smaller group than the Honey Boo Boos: For every bleeding heart MORer we lose, we gain the attention of ten Honey Boo Boos, who only perceive things at the surface level.
Another critique might be that, with these truthaganda headlines, we are veering too close to "extremism" — i.e. the further out we go on the bluntness scale, the more dismissible we will be by "reasonable people."
And again, that may be true — to some extent. But it's not "reasonable people" (all of whom have made up their minds already anyway) we're aiming for. We're trying to get the attention of people who staunchly resist all normal stimuli. If you're up on stage at a dance and manage to get everyone's attention with just a few gestures, and note that some drunken bozo at the back of the crowd still doesn't realize that everyone has fallen silent and turned to face the MC, you are allowed to yell, "Hey you in the back! Pipe down and pay attention!" And if someone in the front row says "You didn't need to yell, you already have our attention," you can legitimately point out that although all the reasonable people were already facing the stage, you needed to yell to get the attention of the last unreasonable person in the room. In other words — the Honey Boo Boos.
The mainstream media has no problem whatsoever with exhibiting bias so extreme that if it weren't so commonplace it too would appear outrageous and kooky if each instance was analyzed in isolation. They achieve immunity through ubiquity.
So yes, truthaganda headlines are like yelling. But unlike propaganda, they're rooted in reality, not fabrications.
How Can I Participate?
There's nothing to join, nothing to sign, no rules to follow, no guidelines to abide by. To become a truthagandist (at least for the next seven weeks), just keep repeating over and over in your mind:
Change the Narrative.
Turn it up to 11.
My filter trumps their filter.
Do not self-censor.
Do not play defense, or even offense: just spike the ball, over and over.
Aim to convince strangers, not entertain friends.
This is not a drill.
Commenter Bill R. suggests the term "HoneyBs" as an even more concise and memorable name for those low-information undecided "Honey Boo Boo" viewers. I agree. HoneyBs it is.
I forgot to mention that each blogger or pundit should feel free to exercise his or her own personal style when reframing the narrative; I didn't mean to suggest that everyone should emulate me or my approach. If humor is your thing, go for it; graphics rather than words — great; let a thousand truthaganda styles bloom!
I just want to clarify that a "Honey Boo Boo" (or HoneyB) is not a term referring to people who resemble the cast members of the show "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," but rather it refers to the kind of people who might watch such a show. The audience likely includes all sorts of people completely unlike the cast members, and presumably a substantial number of viewers tune in to mock and make fun of the rubes on the show. This may include disaffected urban hipsters, bored housewives, stoners looking for something to laugh at, grouchy seniors aghast at the cultural decline, basement dwellers — all sorts of people on the fringes of the political spotlight.