Simply saying propaganda is neutral and we only need to use it for good fails because much of what constitutes the “good” is contingent upon any number of factors – preconceptions and ideology, social class, education, political and economic power – that must be examined in order to understand propaganda as a social force actualized in the real world. Propaganda is embedded with value and largely becomes, due to unequal social relations which exist, a tool for the powerful, who are the principle operators and owners of the channels of mass communications, if not the primary influencers of them. The value-neutral approach overlooks this social (mal)distribution of power and, in doing so, helps to reinforce and reproduce this reality of inequality.
In the following examination, I will relate the stories of three Englishmen, each from different historical eras, who made the annual pilgrimage, forbidden to all non-Muslims, and entered the city of Mecca in the heart of the Hijaz. This pilgrimage is known in Arabic as the Hajj, and the travels of the men, separated by two hundred and fifty years, reflect an evolving and interconnecting relationship taking place between England and Arabia in particular, and Europe and its developing notions of the Orient in general.
Stephen K. Bannon is a public figure shrouded in mystery. He’s arguably the person most responsible for the Trump presidency. He is to Donald Trump what Karl Rove was to Bush’s brain. Being the executive chairman of Breitbart News and soon-to-be Counselor to the President, his impact upon our culture is undeniable.
Here’s a new song I produced for The Georgia Handshakers. It’s written by my friend Mike Bynum. He’s providing vocals and playing rhythm electric guitar. All other instrumentation is me.
In the pre-dawn hours of February 26, 1860 a small group of white men, using axes and knives, massacred over 50 women and children of Tuluwat, the Wiyot village that had existed on Indian Island (Gunther Island) for over one thousand years. Concurrent attacks took place at other Wiyot settlements around the bay, resulting in the death of over 150 people, mainly women and children. Bret Harte, serving as editor of the local paper in his employer’s absence, wrote a scathing editorial decrying the massacre. His resulting expulsion from Humboldt County within the month was reported to be in response to threats from civilians who supported the murderers. A number of editorials that followed denounced the crime and hinted at guilty men, but refused to name them outright, perhaps for fear of retribution. A grand jury was called in April 1860 to investigate the matter but no one was named and the crime went unpunished.
Everything was produced on Kxstudio, a Linux audio production distribution. I used Ardour as my workstation, Calf creative suite plugins, and the fantastic epicVerb VST plugin from Variety of Sound. For drum programming I used Hydrogen Drum Machine.
Please excuse the mix quality. I don’t have even the most basic setup for home monitoring and mixing. I mix using a pair of cheap Sony headphones. It’s a bit of trial-and-error; I tweak a few things, finalize everything, then check it on my Cowon J3 and in my car. Then repeat.
Listen & Download:
This is the film Mad River: Hard Times in Humboldt County by Mark Freeman, Claire Schoen and Jack Wilson about the early-1980s timber industry in Northern California and the growing conflict with environmentalists. Mad River: Hard Times in Humboldt County is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
It’s essential for the historian to understand and analyse the intent of any author, yet always within the broader historical frame of reference. However, I’m also aware it’s impossible to know completely the context and intent of any ancient text. We have enough problems grappling with contemporary world events as they happen, with cameras rolling. So absolute familiarity is off the table.
Certainly the task is to come as close as possible in our interpretations, but we must be humble and acknowledge our limits, accepting the past as a forever-partial reconstruction.
But the blur of history has been brought into better focus through new techniques of analysis. For example, as more data — some new, some old yet unexamined — from the past are investigated over time, the historian’s tools from which to work and test ideas expand.
Using textual analysis we can recognize common definable forms. These forms might be sayings, epics, prophesies, histories, etc. Most biblical scholars have long-taken Revelation of John to be an example of a common and widespread literary form.
Here’s how scholar Robert M. Price describes this canonical Christian prophetic work:
There are many such ancient and medieval books, mostly in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, though they are not altogether absent from other religions. John’s book lent its name to the collective genre; hence, all are called ‘apocalypses‘ even though John’s was by no means the first. (The Pre-Nicene New Testament, 747)
Using this as a starting point to look at Revelation, we gain a greater insight into how and why the book was written. Notice how this interpretation doesn’t rely on the original intent of the author. John of Patmos was almost certainly intending this for an ancient audience, using symbolism obviously referencing ancient Rome.
From John’s perspective he intended the writing for his own, long-dead contemporaries, not an audience thousands of years into the future. We understand this better because we can locate his work (Revelation) within a broader literary context (apocalyptic form). The scholar utilizing form criticism here
So form criticism in this case gives us the added bonus of not only knowing the author’s intent, but also nestling it within a greater context of ancient history.
That being said, always strive for humility when arriving at such historical conclusions, and always be prepared to change if better evidence is presented.
Here are a couple of videos I’ve put together for the band I’m in The Georgia Handshakers. We recorded the first track on 21 June 2013. It’s a live performance of an instrumental I wrote titled “Figs From Thorns.”
Brian Barfield (Bass)
Mike Bynum (Rhythm Guitar)
Jeff Morgan (Lead Guitar)
John Newmer (Percussion)
Rob Robinson (Drums)
Video used: Flip The Frog – Fiddlesticks (1930)
Video is in the public domain.
“Spain” was recorded the next day (22 June 2013) at Redwood Curtain Brewing Company. Same lineup.
“Spain” written by Chick Corea.
Video from The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Video is in the public domain.