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Manufacturing Normality

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Sometime circa mid-November, in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat (i.e., the beginning of the end of democracy), the self-appointed Guardians of Reality, better known as the corporate media, launched a worldwide marketing campaign against the evil and perfidious scourge of “fake news.” This campaign is now at a fever pitch. Media outlets throughout the empire are pumping out daily dire warnings of the imminent, existential threat to our freedom posed by the “fake news” menace. This isn’t the just the dissemination of disinformation, propaganda, and so on, that’s been going on for thousands of years … Truth itself is under attack. The very foundations of Reality are shaking.

Who’s behind this “fake news” menace? Well, Putin, naturally, but not just Putin. It appears to be the work of a vast conspiracy of virulent anti-establishment types, ultra-alt-rightists, ultra-leftists, libertarian retirees, armchair socialists, Sandernistas, Corbynistas, ontological terrorists, fascism normalizers, poorly educated anti-Globalism freaks, and just garden variety Clinton-haters.

Fortunately, for us, the corporate media is hot on the trail of this motley of scoundrels. As you’re probably aware, The Washington Post recently published a breathtaking piece of Pulitzer-quality investigative journalism shamelessly smearing hundreds of alternative publications (like the one you’re reading) as “peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The piece, a classic McCarthyite smear job perpetrated by the Post‘s Craig Timberg, was based on the groundless, paranoid claims of what Timberg unironically describes as “two teams of independent researchers,” The Foreign Policy Research Institute, a third-rate, former anti-Communist think tank, and an anonymous website, propornot.com, that no one had ever heard of prior to its sudden appearance on the Internet last August, and which, based on the tenor of its tweets and emails, appears to be run by Beavis and Butthead.

The Washington Post has been catching some flak for taking this courageous “pro-Truth” stand against the forces of Putinist falsehood and fakery. A host of dangerously extremist publications, like CounterPunch, The Intercept, Rolling Stone, The Nation, The New Yorker, Fortune Magazine, Bloomberg, and US News & World Report, have lambasted The Post for its “shoddy,” “lazy,” or otherwise sub-par journalism practices. The Post, of course, is “backing its boy,” and refusing to apologize for defending democracy, as it has throughout its storied history, like when it smeared Gary Webb as retribution for reporting the CIA-Contra connection, more or less destroying his career as a journalist, or when it blatantly shilled for Hillary Clinton throughout her ugly, fear-mongering campaign, notably publishing sixteen negative pieces on Sanders in sixteen hours, or when it ran this piece on how Clinton might have been poisoned by secret Putinist agents … and these are just a few of the highlights.

But I don’t want to single out The Washington Post, or its Executive Editor, Marty Baron, who is clearly a paragon of journalistic ethics. The rest of the corporate media have also been mercilessly flogging the “fake news” hysteria, and the “Putinist propaganda” hysteria, and the “normalizing of fascism” hysteria, and beating the “post-Truth” drum to death. The Guardian, The New York Times, et al., NPR, the TV news networks, the entire mainstream media chorus is barking out the message in perfect synch. So what is really going on here?

As I suggested in these pages previously, what we are experiencing is the pathologization (or the “abnormalization”) of political dissent, i.e., the systematic stigmatization of any and all forms of non-compliance with neoliberal consensus reality. Political distinctions like “left” and “right” are disappearing, and are being replaced by imponderable distinctions like “normal” and “abnormal,” “true” and “false,” and “real” and “fake.” Such distinctions do not lend themselves to argument. They are proffered to us as axiomatic truths, empirical facts which no normal person would ever dream of contradicting.

In place of competing political philosophies, the neoliberal intelligentsia is substituting a simpler choice, “normality” or “abnormality.” The nature of the “abnormality” varies according to what is being stigmatized. Today it’s “Corbyn the anti-Semite,” tomorrow it’s “Sanders the racist crackpot,” or “Trump the Manchurian candidate,” or whatever. That the smears themselves are indiscriminate (and, in many instances, totally ridiculous) belies the effectiveness of the broader strategy, which is simply to abnormalize the target and whatever he or she represents. It makes no difference whether one is smeared as a racist, as Sanders was during the primaries, or as an anti-Semite, as Corbyn has been, or a fascist, as Trump has relentlessly been, or peddlers of Russian propaganda, as Truthout, CounterPunch, Naked Capitalism, and a number of other publications have been … the message is, they are somehow “not normal.”

Why is this any different from the shameless smear jobs the press has been doing on people since the invention of the press and shameless smear jobs? Well, hold on, because I’m about to tell you. Mostly it has to do with words, especially binary oppositions like “real” and “fake,” and “normal” and “abnormal,” which are, of course, essentially meaningless … their value being purely tactical. Which is to say they denote nothing. They are weapons deployed by a dominant group to enforce conformity to its consensus reality. This is how they’re being used at the moment.

The meaningless binary oppositions that the neoliberal intelligentsia and the corporate media are supplanting traditional opposing political philosophies with (i.e., normal/abnormal, real/fake), in addition to stigmatizing a diversity of sources of non-conforming information and ideas, are also restructuring our consensus reality as a conceptual territory in which anyone thinking, writing, or speaking outside the mainstream is deemed some kind of “deviant,” or “extremist,” or some other form of social pariah. Again, it doesn’t matter what kind, as “deviance” in itself is the point.

Actually, the opposite of deviance is the point. Because this is how “normality” is manufactured. And how consensus reality as a whole is manufactured … and how the manufacturing process is concealed. Apologies for getting all Baudrillardian, but this is actually how this stuff works.

The media’s current obsession with “fake news” conceals the fact that there is no “real news,” and simultaneously produces “real news,” or, rather, the simulation thereof. It does so by means of the binary opposition (i.e., if such a thing as “fake news” exists … then, ipso facto, “real news” exists). Likewise, the focus on “not normalizing Trump” conceals the fact that there is no “normality,” and simultaneously manufactures “normality” … which is always only a simulation.

Similarly, the stigmatization of Trump as a modern-day Hitler, or Mussolini, or some other type of fascist dictator, conceals the fact that the United States is already virtually a one-party system, with concentrated ownership and control of the media, an omnipresent militarized police force, arbitrary enforcement of the rule of law, the maintenance of a more or less permanent state of war, and many other standard features of authoritarian systems of government. At the same time, this projection of “fascism” conjures, or manufactures, its opposite, “democracy” … or the simulation of democracy.

This neoliberal simulation of democracy, and normality, and reality, is what the corporate media, and the entire neoliberal intelligentsia, is desperately working to shore up at the moment, as they took quite a hit with this election mess. Trump was not supposed to win. He was supposed to be another Hitlerian bogeyman that the neoliberals could save us all from, but then, well, look what happened. The problem for the neoliberal ruling classes, and the mainstream media, and liberals generally, having gone balls out on the Hitler schtick, is that they pretty much have to keep it up now, which is going to get increasingly weird as Trump turns out to not be Hitler, but, rather, just another Republican plutocrat, albeit one with zero government experience and some certified bull goose loonies on his staff. I’m sure Trump will want to help them out, though (i.e., his neoliberal “enemies”), with the occasional racist or misogynist tweet, as he will need to maintain his “white working class” creds, at least until the “War on Islam” gets going.

In any event, we can all look forward to some serious pathologization of dissent throughout the coming four (and perhaps eight) years. And I’m not referring to Trump and his boys, though I’m certain they’ll be in there slinging it too. I’m referring to our friends in the corporate media, like Marty Baron and his smear machine, and the Guardians of Reality at The New York Times, The Guardian, and other “papers of record.” WNYC is already airing a daily “descent into fascism” segment. And of course the neoliberal left, Mother Jones, The Nation, et al., and The New York Review of Books, apparently (they just can’t get enough of this Hitler stuff), will be monitoring liberals’ every thought to ensure that fascism does not get normalized … which God have mercy should that ever happen. Who knows how America might end up? Torturing people? Attacking other countries that pose no threat to it whatsoever? Indefinitely imprisoning people in camps? Assassinating anyone the president deems a “terrorist” or an “enemy combatant” with the tacit approval of the majority of Americans? Surveilling everyone’s phone calls, emails, tweets, and reading and web-browsing habits?

Imagine the dystopia we would all be living in … if things like that were considered “normal.”

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C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (USA). His debut novel, ZONE 23, is published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant. He can reached at cjhopkins.com or  consentfactory.org.

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