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State of Denial
December 9, 2006 7:46 PM   Subscribe

The Denial Machine. A 40-min Canadian (CBC) documentary about the "denial industry" - think tanks, scientists, PR firms, focus groups, lawyers, etc.. the issue? Tobacco. Global Warming. It doesn't matter - different issues but the same people. How to be a professional denier and profit.
posted by stbalbach (46 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Little red camera right-side mid-way down.
posted by stbalbach at 7:47 PM on December 9, 2006


I just like hearing Canadians say "about." Interesting so far. Thanks.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:08 PM on December 9, 2006


I am ever more astonished by how deeply we've allowed complete bullshit to rule our lives and influence our decisions. It's almost difficult in these times to think of something that we are told -- by our media, our 'leaders' political or religious, the companies who exhort us to buy their crap, 'interest groups' and lobbyists and pretty much everyone when it comes to it -- that isn't the most baldfaced of counterfactual fabrication, self-serving lie, or simplistic blackandwhite fairy tale.

Even as I say it, I recognize that it sounds banal, crypto-hippyriffic. Which makes the simple truth of it easily dismissable, of course.

So, anyway, thanks: I'll watch this.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:09 PM on December 9, 2006


Here's an extract from a book about the denial industry.
posted by homunculus at 8:29 PM on December 9, 2006


crypto-hippyriffic

So then, you deny the charge of hippy-dom do you?
posted by phrontist at 8:32 PM on December 9, 2006


I'm simply mystified by the global warming deniers. Regardless of their personal greed, don't even the wealthy industrialists worry about the future? Doesn't Dick Cheney worry about the fate of the new grandchild his daughter is carrying?
posted by twsf at 8:32 PM on December 9, 2006


So then, you deny the charge of hippy-dom do you?

Why yes, yes I do. I am not now, nor have I even been a member of the Party. Labels obscure more than elucidate, but: hippies (particularly aging ones) are even more pathetic than self-described 'conservatives' (particularly young ones). But it's all part and parcel of the same problem: most people believe what they're told rather than working through the meaning of things themselves. And they're all too often told what they're told because someone is gaining money or influence from it, somewhere upstream.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:39 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]



I'm simply mystified by the global warming deniers. Regardless of their personal greed, don't even the wealthy industrialists worry about the future? Doesn't Dick Cheney worry about the fate of the new grandchild his daughter is carrying?


No. It's an abomination and going straight to hell, duh.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:44 PM on December 9, 2006


stavrosthewonderchicken writes...
I am ever more astonished by how deeply we've allowed complete bullshit to rule our lives and influence our decisions.

The primary piece of bullshit being that the media, etc. rules our lives and have more than a tiny peice of influence on our decisions.

Just to pick an example, let's say eating: The government says that we as a people should be eating less, the news media says that we as a people should be eating less, the entertainment media says that we as a peole should be eating less. Hell, at this point even the food manufactures are exhorting everyone to eat less (albeit more expensive) food.

And yet, people go on doing exactly what they were going to do anyways.
posted by tkolar at 8:47 PM on December 9, 2006


Funny... Denial and vested interests is what the other side would accuse ... you.

"... and the alarmism “has become a very lucrative business for some people.” In short, their motivation is money. And he’s right… its about money." From none other Senator Inhofe himself.

More on this recent assault to common (albeit scientific!) sense, in realclimate. Shameless, self link.
posted by carmina at 8:54 PM on December 9, 2006


Doesn't Dick Cheney worry about the fate of the new grandchild his daughter is carrying?

Dick Cheney was elected by millions of people in denial. He is their leader and their example.
posted by Brian B. at 8:58 PM on December 9, 2006


If you believe the second coming of Christ is just around the corner, why would you give a crap about the environment?
posted by Hildegarde at 9:09 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


The government says that we as a people should be eating less, the news media says that we as a people should be eating less, the entertainment media says that we as a peole should be eating less. Hell, at this point even the food manufactures are exhorting everyone to eat less (albeit more expensive) food.

And yet, people go on doing exactly what they were going to do anyways.


Not to ambush you, but this is worth addressing - you've omitted a key fact: The media that says we should be eating less is vastly drowned out by the media that says More More More.

Yet the deniers specifically and lucratively deny that the More More More media has any deleterious on people's decision-making - it's about nothing more than "freedom," remember - and pretend there should logically be a correlation between what "the government" (in pitiful PSAs and scarce brochures) tells us we should do and what we do, as opposed to what the entire environment of media tells us (via multiple sensory avenues every day) to do and what we do.

It's in the interest of the processed-food biz to keep the buying public confused about what they should eat, and keep them acting out of reflex rather than information - and so far it's worked out very well that way.

Michele Simon has a book, Appetite for Profit, that goes into this and other ways the food industry tirelessly distorts, skews and otherwise minimalizes the facts about nutrition that the government is supposedly promulgating to the American public. Worth a read.
posted by soyjoy at 9:36 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]




it's all pretty misleading.
posted by brandz at 9:41 PM on December 9, 2006


Is this any different from Curtiss' The Century of Self? Better?
posted by b1tr0t at 9:44 PM on December 9, 2006


The media that says we should be eating less is vastly drowned out by the media that says More More More

Those already in denial are being preached to there. They're the ones who take comfort from that message.

Whenever there's a body weight thread/derail/implication here on MeFi, it's not Big Media that comes along to attack health stats and defend gluttony -- it's a bunch of individuals who are deep, deep into denial. Unless you are arguing complete brainwashing. It just seems to me that an important aspect of denial is taking comfort in anything, no matter how far-fetched, that confirms what you already want to believe. In that way, these counter-factual messages are not being rammed down anyone's throat. They're being offered on silver platters, and people are gobbling them up.
posted by dreamsign at 9:46 PM on December 9, 2006


Oh I saw this at the cinema. The bit with Adam Brody was good.
posted by cillit bang at 9:53 PM on December 9, 2006


hippies (particularly aging ones) are even more pathetic than self-described 'conservatives'

Yea, those hippies. Always running around screaming about how everyone denies the world is in peril from nuclear weaposn and pollution and all that shit. Bunch of idiotic unwashed freaks, for sure. Clearly the world is in no danger at all.
posted by Goofyy at 10:00 PM on December 9, 2006


do the scare-mongers profit too?
posted by brandz at 10:06 PM on December 9, 2006


Isn't this just the same-old? I mean, 100 years ago, people still disagreed on major points, and came up with stupid, illogical arguments to defend their ground. The only difference is, people fought their own battles instead of hiring PR firms and think takes to do it for them.

People are so piss weak, now.
posted by Jimbob at 10:35 PM on December 9, 2006


Hilarious. Lots of tips for the opposition to these idiots! Lying is fun but respecting the earth is more fun. "Straight talk"? Professional liars; how to be dumb.

Economy is a subset of the earth. They are not in opposition. Unsustainable human idiocy is in opposition to the earth.

Gore's "Inconvenient truth" is really good. This is like a buttress to it.
posted by Listener at 10:56 PM on December 9, 2006


soyjoy writes...

Not to ambush you, but this is worth addressing...


No ambush felt.

Michele Simon has a book, Appetite for Profit, that goes into this and other ways the food industry tirelessly distorts, skews and otherwise minimalizes...

I forgot to mention the multi-million dollar "debunking the media" industry, which will let you in on the secrets of What's Really Going On. Of course, this industry would fall apart if people thought the media wasn't all that important, so they do their best to prop it up as well.

I return to my basic point:
The primary piece of bullshit [is that] that the media, etc. rules our lives and have more than a tiny peice of influence on our decisions.
I have no question that various advertisers and marketers of this world would *like* to rule people's lives. I have no doubt that they tell the people hiring them all sorts of stories about how much control they have. And I really have no doubt that sit around and share great big masturbatory fantasies with each other: stories about how much influence they have and how important they are.

However, having seen a great big chunk of this world and the people who inhabit it, I am absolutely convinced that people do what they're going to do, when they're going to do it. The media reports on that and, whenever possible, claims that they made it happen.

At its very best, marketing maybe can influence the brand of fast food a person goes for. The idea that fast food as a whole is somehow foisted upon an unwary populace by a shadowy cadre of fast-food media aces is laughable: the reason we have fast food is that people really like high fat, high sugar food and will eat it to excess if it's available. This has been true through the entireity of human history, and unless you're proposing a baked goods conspiracy that started in biblical times, I think it's pretty clear that the appetite was not created by Big Food to keep the masses coming to the pastry shops.

The same is true for our many, many other human appetites.

It strikes me that most people who believe the Media Controls Our Every Waking Move story are people who have always lived in completely media saturated environments. Not to be cliche, but: turn off the TV for a while. Put down the newspaper and magazines. Move out to the country if necessary. Live your life without the constant barrage of media, and you'll suddenly realize how irrelevant it is (and really always has been) to the actual day to day life that you lead.
posted by tkolar at 11:07 PM on December 9, 2006


tkolar, did you watch the show? It's not about media influence. It's about the influence of people who choose to be spokespersons for lies. And people will believe the lies they want to, that are easy for them.

But the show has a real twist at the end. Surprising. Very nice.
posted by Listener at 11:32 PM on December 9, 2006


"Unnecessary" is not the same as "irrelevant".
posted by stammer at 11:33 PM on December 9, 2006


I'm simply mystified by the global warming deniers. Regardless of their personal greed, don't even the wealthy industrialists worry about the future?

Well, the rich and well-connected have the resources to weather the storms better than most, but I think it's really more that people's thinking really is often by their position and circumstances.

There might have been somewhat moral people running the tobacco companies that told themselves stuff like: "Yeah, we know it's not healthy, we know it's addictive, but it's also an experience some people do want to have, and the damn government's got no business stepping in and saying they can't. It's a personal choice, and the business is a way of life for some of us, too. As for spreading disinformation -- look, it's not like 90% of the people behind the crusade even understand the science behind the health issues anyway. A good argument will keep 'em honest." It's a convenient argument if your product makes you rich and contributes economically to the local economy and lets you do sooo many other things that seem good to you, and it helps that there really is something to be said for individual choice and letting even losing cases be argued... though in the end, it's obviously largely self-serving rationale.

It doesn't even have to be that insidious, though. People who deal with the costs of regulation on a day-to-day basis because they have to manage an enterprise that is affected by those regulations often become true believers in the idea that regulation hurts society because it imposes real costs on them. They probably have to deal less (personally and professionally) with the negative impacts unregulated entities can inflict on individuals, communities, and nations. There is a natural tendency (not to mention incentive) for them to develop an anti-regulation point of view, soft-pedalling evidence and argument otherwise when it's encountered. It of course goes both ways, too -- people who tend to be closer to the negative impacts are sometimes unaware of costs of regulation -- but I sometimes think the public at large is also somewhat insulated from awareness of collective social costs beyond the most obvious services, so I'm not sure it's driven in the same way.

But anyway, you have this phenomenon regarding the slings and arrows of regulation. And you have the complexity in climate science that allows some outs from the idea that industrial/human-sourced carbon emissions are the driving force behind climate change. And when you put the two together, it's not hard to see how there really are people who conclude that global warming isn't a significant problem, or that it's less of a problem than the economic harm regulation would cause, or that there's nothing we can do about it anyway, etc etc.

I think there's other factors involved. Some involve natural disposition to act on goals while considering only evident and pressing threats vs anticipatory thinking that surveys the field for obstacles and challenges and consequences, some of it's simple political affiliation, and I'm sure a host of other factors. But my guess is that a general and genuine belief that regulation is a burden on business and by extension a burden on society is primarily what drives a lot of the opposition to theories of human-driven climate change.

I also tend to believe that even those beliefs, however, aren't impervious to a consistently well-argued scientific case. But I may be overly optimistic, considering that tobacco companies still do pretty well.
posted by weston at 12:01 AM on December 10, 2006 [2 favorites]


automatic denial and industries like this are without a doubt one of the most poisonous things that exist. The relative-izing of everything, and the failure to take responsibility just breeds mistrust, disinterest and sarcasm.

Get caught taking bribes and with tens of thousands of dollars in marked money? Just say "I haven't been convicted". Start a war under false pretense? Act with impunity, no one is going to hold you accountable. etc... etc.. and goddamn etc. No one says I screwed up, I am sorry unless they are convicted, and even that doesn't guarantee it.
posted by edgeways at 12:02 AM on December 10, 2006


Also offered on Google Video.

I watched this recently and found it lacking in substance. The only remarkable fact I took away from the program was that Exxon-Mobil funded hired a scientist spokesperson who was also part of the cigarette lobby.

Denial Machine didn't quite make the cut for the 'climate awareness' section of my work-in-progress video catalogue.

To answer b1tr0t, no it's not of the same caliber as Century of the Self.
posted by FissionChips at 12:16 AM on December 10, 2006


Frank Luntz has no soul.
posted by basicchannel at 12:19 AM on December 10, 2006


(The power went out for a few hours, and I lost the first version of this comment. Bummer, because I thought it was clearer.)

The primary piece of bullshit being that the media, etc. rules our lives and have more than a tiny peice of influence on our decisions.

It is as facile and doctrinaire to insist that X 'rules our lives' as it is to insist that people (in the aggregate) are entirely uninfluenced by X (where X here is the media, to use your example). You suggest a histrionic, overstated version of the idea in order to knock it down with its equally overstated opposite.

(I use 'in the aggregrate' deliberately. You or I or our clever and savvy friends may remain out in the country churning our butter, blissfully free of any kind of influence from the palimpsest of messages washing over us all the time, messages that have been purchased by someone with some manner of coin (money, power, influence, blowjobs) somewhere upstream, but that doesn't matter. None of the marketers, none of the politicians or god-floggers care much about individuals and their decisions. It's the tide that lifts the boat, not the individual waves.

Like old Marge said: you're soaking in it. It doesn't matter if the sparkle and fade of intersecting messages, of memes and marketing campaigns, of propaganda and paternalistic reassurances, of received wisdom and human interest stories and market reports and consumer tests and homespun homilies from avuncular pols happens through serendipity or any degree of deliberate manipulation. It's almost certainly the former, almost all of the time. What matters is that it's out there.

Words have meanings, and it behooves us both to be careful about how we describe these things, and cautious about the words used by those who would like to have some influence on what we do, what we believe, what we buy, who we elect, and who we trust. The aggregate of those tiny pieces of influence is no longer tiny.

It strikes me that most people who believe the Media Controls Our Every Waking Move story

One problem with your argument here is that nobody actually does believe that. Another is that 'media' is a plural word, and even if taken in the aggregate, only one source of the stories we are told.

It's not a very challenging goal to limit and frame the arguments of those with whom you disagree in such a way that it can't fly, then easily shooting it down.

Yea, those hippies. Always running around screaming about how everyone denies the world is in peril from nuclear weaposn and pollution and all that shit. Bunch of idiotic unwashed freaks, for sure. Clearly the world is in no danger at all.

Well, you see, that's why I also said 'labels obscure more than elucidate'. Clearly you would like to take me to task for some reason, but putting words into my mouth (that I neither said nor believe) and then sarcastically dismissing them is intellectually dishonest and not worth addressing. But, again: it would seem you just want to have an argument. Shouting is fun, but not very productive.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:32 AM on December 10, 2006


stavrosthewonderchicken wrote...
[lots of wonderful prose -- I can only imagine what a power outage has cost Western Civilization]

I had to search hard to find any actual statement in your post, but I did eventually find it. What you said was:

What matters is that [the media hype etc] is out there.

To which my response remains: no, it doesn't.

The point of unplugging from the whole thing is not to somehow escape the supposed influence of the media; The point is to experience life without the hubbub and recognize that it is exactly the same (albeit quieter).

You can then go back and live in a media saturated world, freed from the suspicion that it matters one damn bit.
posted by tkolar at 2:15 AM on December 10, 2006


Your sarcasm is noted.

Sadly, though, there's nothing I can do to help you improve your reading comprehension.

It must be a terrible cross to bear.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:27 AM on December 10, 2006


Media/advertising/marketing DOES work and it DOES affect how people behave.

If it did not, businesses would not spend money on it.
But since it does work, they spend trillions on it.
Trillions. On a simple message. "Buy out product."
And that product can be a toothbrush, a politician, a religion, or a lie.
posted by daq at 2:47 AM on December 10, 2006


And now after watching the video, I have the urge to vomit.

I'm gonna go read Transmetropolitan all the way through again.

I have a feeling I will be enjoying the Chair Leg of Truth section in very viceral terms.
posted by daq at 3:34 AM on December 10, 2006


Watching Barry Zwicker yesterday, he quoted some research stating that the pleasure centres in the brain are activated when evidence is rejected. Apparently, denial is pleasurable.
posted by Tarn at 3:44 AM on December 10, 2006


I think weston's comments are incisive. I have heard several otherwise intelligent people expounding on how all regulation is bad. The most honest of them tied this belief specifically to their self-interest. As in, "Look how much it costs my start-up to comply with these FDA regulations!" Most of them just pick some extreme example ("OSHA toilet seat height specification!") and use that as justification for condemning all regulation.

Then there are the people who are the subject of this post, who make a living out of enabling narrow thinking. Those people are not doing our society any good.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:29 AM on December 10, 2006


At its very best, marketing maybe can influence the brand of fast food a person goes for.
I knew a guy named Jesus, millions claim to follow him. I never met him personally, but churches tell me what he thought, that bread
is better than dough. I like Jesus so much I am going to buy bread, I like bread !

often become true believers in the idea that regulation hurts society

Yessir Weston, keyword is believers. Nothing against "believers", we all are to an extent, but if abd when their turn their faith into blind
self serving obtusity the problems will show.

But my guess is that a general and genuine belief that regulation is a burden on business and by extension a burden on society is primarily what drives a lot of the opposition to theories of human-driven climate change.I also tend to believe that even those beliefs, however, aren't impervious to a consistently well-argued scientific case.

The problem with beliefs is that one can hold a belief indefinitely even if a torrent of disconfirming evidence is presented, because that evidence is simply not examined, both because of time/resources/skill constrains and because of simple lack of will. Or it simply too inconvenient so it's denied as long as possible.

What these "denial people" are doing is using and amplificating the thousand years old argument that if something isn't proved to be truth, then it follows it must be false (or vice versa) : I can't prove God does (does not) exist, therefore it follows it doesn't (does) exist.

Similarly, if the earth doesn't seem round, it follows it must be flat ...but in concluding that the earth is flat we forgot to change the point of view and discarded less immediate , but disconfirming evidence.

Meanwhile the socialized cost of this massive denial is that, maybe, we could indeed set a good present, a better future or a future at all for ourselves, but that may contrast the interest of some powerful people AND our own convenience (to an extent)....so we look away or are suggested to look elsewhere.
posted by elpapacito at 5:00 AM on December 10, 2006


This post sucks. It's a double. stbalbach is a known crypto-hippy and is supporting the hippyriffic agenda. If you hate them so much, why are you still buying gas? Just because I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I'm lying.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:34 AM on December 10, 2006


Ah. It's like in Thank You for Smoking. I'd like to check that out.

Where is this type of journalism in the States? Am I just missing it?
posted by mgorsuch at 7:37 AM on December 10, 2006


Smedleyman, your incoherence makes me love you.
posted by tehloki at 2:07 PM on December 10, 2006


So does this mean Penn and Teller's Bullshit is bullshit? I like the show but can see how they fit into this industry.
posted by Freecola at 5:49 PM on December 10, 2006


"Smedleyman, your incoherence makes me love you."

If you can't say it with flowers, say something surreal.

Seriously tho, surprising that people in those PR firms can stand themselves. I mean why are suicide rates among dentists so high and these people are just rolling along?
posted by Smedleyman at 7:00 PM on December 10, 2006


Two words: anti-dentitism.
posted by tehloki at 7:01 PM on December 10, 2006


(I think that's only one word.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:17 PM on December 10, 2006


Well, fuck. If it's not two words, the elegant phraseology entirely collapses. It must be due to a number of complicated and unrelated factors, then.
posted by tehloki at 8:18 PM on December 10, 2006


Hey, whoa, I’m no anti-dentite. Some of my, uh, best friends are dentists. Uh, Phil, his name is. We talk about magazines and stuff. I don’t want so many dentists to die, I’m just saying folks in the PR firms should die at a higher rate since their jobs are more disgusting.
...not that dentist’s jobs are disgusting or anything. I like my dentist, he was the dentist of the year, he got a little plaque.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:34 PM on December 11, 2006


I have no question that various advertisers and marketers of this world would *like* to rule people's lives.... However, ...I am absolutely convinced that people do what they're going to do, when they're going to do it.

Stavros already provided a nice response, but I'll second it. The 'media' is not some alien creature. It's the unchecked and inflated opinions and impulses of society in general. Whether you eat fast food is based on lots of factors. The taste of it is only one, and even that is prone to a certain amount of alteration due to habituation, etc. But the fact that it is readily available, cheap, comes in nice bright cute looking containers, in nice bright cute looking shops, is consistent, easy to pick up, and feels like a part of your culture, can't be overlooked. People like to imagine that they are not influenced by these things, but it really does not make sense. If companies could sell the same amount of food in grey boxes with no ads or jingles, why wouldn't they save themselves the investment? People respond to brands. People respond to hype. People are influenced by symbolic aspects of things all the time. This is true throughout history - Emerson said all men are poets in their affection for emblems and flags - but in the modern age our symbols are not clans or nations, but brands of consumer products.

"the media" quite literally refers to "the ways" that we spread information. What that information is can't be considered uniform - opinion, data, discussion, propoganda etc are all part of it. The main split could be considered those who are professionally committed to the industry of providing information, and those who are just talking in their free time - word on the street vs. word on the op-ed page. A further distinction can be made in the professionals column between those who are committed to presenting information for its own sake, and those who are trying to promote a certain viewpoint. Both of those distinctions can be somewhat fuzzy - every perspective is from a particular angle, even if an effort is made to be balanced; every reporter is presenting data, whether they are paid for it or not. But on the other hand, one whose livelihood relies on it may make a greater effort toward accuracy & fact checking, and one who attempts to honestly comprehend opposing arguments must be preferable to one who buries them indiscriminantly merely because they are not consistent with the original premise.

But in the end, the point is that it's not a one-way street - it's not as if "the media" says X and you then write X down on your to-do list and obediantly follow it. The nature of the impact is much more all-encompassing and subtle. You see X all the time; you're familiar with X; X comes to have certain connotations for you, certain associations; you never bother to seek out Y because you've never heard of it or you've only heard of it negatively - etc. A brand is not an imposed rule but an exploited & manipulated cultural tendency.
posted by mdn at 1:07 PM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


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