propaganda

Call 0800-PIMP-MY-PRIDE and join today!

UgUyIWhen I heard about the Anti-State Capture Death Squad Alliance, I was quite upset.

I know you felt it too. And how could you not? That hyphen! What the hell? I mean, is this a Death Squad Alliance that is opposed to state capture, or is this a Capture Death Squad Alliance that is anti-state and, if so, what is a Capture Death Squad Alliance? It’s a nightmare, people.

Mostly, though, it upset me because it was yet more evidence of how low the once-great art of spin-doctoring has fallen.

In case you missed it, perhaps because you don’t subscribe to the state’s “Grasping At Straws” mailing list, the Anti-State Capture Death Squad Alliance consists of an unemployed man by the name of Elvis Ramosebudi, who couldn’t afford bail despite having allegedly raised R140-million from “business”, which, obviously, means the secret wood-panelled Masonic bunker where White Monopoly Capitalists brush cigar ash off their tuxedos and plan regime change by hiring the best of the best, i.e. Elvis.

If anyone was still uncertain that Elvis was up to no good, a hit list was soon circulated online, helpfully headed with the words: “This are the beneficiaries of the State Capture regime, who are to be assassinated by our undercover coup plot sniper operation.”

Then followed a comprehensive list of every South African currently having awkward phone conversations with Russian debt-collectors.

If you had paid any attention to this – instead of spending the weekend like a sensible adult, trying to figure out ways of getting your scant finances off-shore – you would have realised that Elvis was obviously one of only two things: the most inept plotter in South African history, or – and this seemed much more likely – someone suffering from a mental illness and in need of help. Either way, he posed no threat whatsoever to the Saxonwold Bhutibond.

By Friday afternoon, however, the desired effect had been achieved.

Major news websites used words like “coup” and “target” in their headlines. “#Coup_plotter” was trending on Twitter, subliminally repeating in tweet after tweet that an actual coup had been plotted.

Most responses were contemptuously dismissive, and yet that’s the thing with hashtags: unless you start a new one – say, #YetAnotherBlindinglyObviousAttemptToGiveZumaEmergencyPowers, the first one leaves a lasting impression.

It was, I suppose, a very small win for Paid Twitter. God knows they’ve needed one. But it was still so abject. I’ve written before about the depressingly low quality of this government’s lies, but Mac Maharaj’s ludicrous efforts of a few years ago, back when everything was being “taken out of context”, now seem like Machiavellian brilliance compared with intellectual mucus dribbling out of the corridors of power.

when life gives you morons, make money

Still, when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade, and when life gives you morons you should try to make money. Which is why I’d like to use this opportunity to announce that I will soon be retiring as a columnist and starting an academy for young propagandists, in the hope that I can restore some intelligence to counterintelligence.

Yes, it’s time to launch the School for Young Cadres, Hangers-On, Paid Hucksters And Nkosazana’s Toadies, or SYCOPHANT.

I’m not sure many of my future students will be reading this – most are under severe deadlines, PhotoShopping Johann Rupert’s face onto Satan’s body – but if you know anyone who might benefit from my new curriculum, please pass this on to them. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

For example, we’ll be kicking off the first semester with “Getting Your Paid Twitter and Fake Facebook Avatar Just Right”, a vital skill for the up-and-coming party shill. Using your own face is obviously out of the question, because that would require courage and if you had an iota of that you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing, right? But the internet has also matured and most readers have figured out that pretty much any account without a human face is a bot or a fragment of intellectual dung like you. Worried? Don’t be. Leave your troubles and your real identity at the door as we learn exciting new Photoshop techniques that mean you no longer have to steal other people’s identities!

But that’s just the start! In the second semester you can enrol for “How To Be More Convincing Online By Hiding Your Extreme Idiocy and Hatred of Women and Gay People Behind Fiery Rhetoric”. If you feel that clever attacks on White Monopoly Capital are being undermined by your seething bigotry, this one’s definitely for you.

And finally, “Finding New Scapegoats” is already filling up fast. Sure, you could fall back on classic anti-Semitism and accuse everybody of being a puppet of George Soros and a global Jewish conspiracy, but the problem with that route is that it reveals you to be a gurning, slack-jawed imbecile incapable of rational thought. This course will help you tap into new scapegoating trends. Educated women! Journalists! Former Zimbabwean soldiers! Don’t they sound eeeevil? Ditch your beloved copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and be wowed!

So, if you’d like to enrol, please call +971 (Dubai dialling code) 0800-PIMP-MY-PRIDE. Our SYCOPHANT operators are standing by.

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Published in The Times

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Putting the ‘pro’ in ‘propaganda’

propagandaWhen I read that the ANC had spent R50-million on a propaganda campaign I was greatly relieved because it allowed me to think better of someone.

The person in question, a denizen of Twitter’s sweatier fighting pits, had once showered me with hot, pungent sanctimony after I’d criticised the ANC, and I had gone away believing him to be a wilfully stupid supporter of kleptocrats.

But when news broke of the ANC’s “war room”, everything changed. Because there he was, named as a valued member of the lavishly paid goon squad.

The relief rolled over me like a Gupta rolling over a cabinet minister. His criticisms hadn’t been personal. They hadn’t even been heartfelt. Rather than being a self-righteous prick he was simply being professional: putting the “pro” in propaganda.

My relief, however, was tinged with sadness. Because, even though I was happy to discover that my accuser was simply cranking out lies-by-the-yard for money, I felt terribly sorry for the country’s other propagandists who had just discovered how badly they were being paid.

I don’t know if the EFF has a propaganda department yet. I suspect their “war room” is just a dojo where senior Fighters gather around and applaud while Julius Malema delivers karate chops to an inflatable doll of Jacob Zuma. But if they don’t already have an Alternative Fact Brigade, they soon will: when the Commander-In-Chief publishes his memoirs in 10 years, perhaps titled 100% For Me, expect to see no mention of Venezuela or Robert Mugabe.

No, I don’t know if the EFF pays any propagandists, so it’s not them I feel sorry for. The ones my heart goes out to, the ones lying curled up on their unmade bed, staring at nothing and murmuring “Fifty million?”, are the spin-doctors of the DA.

I met one of them, once, a bright young thing who told me that he writes letters to newspapers whenever the DA needs a little push in the polls. You’ve probably read them: “Dear Sir, as a resident of Khayelitsha I can assure you that the location, or, as we call it, ‘the i-karsi’, is not only very safe but is also being brilliantly run by the DA. Halala Moesie Mymarny! Yours, Sipho Mandela.”

Until news of the war room broke, the future must have looked bright for the DA’s propagandists. There was work galore. Cape Town is busy selling off a large chunk of public coastline to a private developer, and under normal circumstances we might have expected something to appear online in the next few days, perhaps “New Study Proves That Seaside Walks on Public Land are Leading Cause of Depression”.

But that was then. Now, the rules (and the pay scales) have changed forever.

Once, a DA letter-writer was content to be paid with a tin of Danish butter cookies and an Exclusive Books gift voucher. (“With thanks. Buy anything you like, but just so you know, there’ll be a quiz on Helen Zille’s life next week and all the answers are in her memoir. Just saying.”) But how can butter cookies compete with R50-million?

Still, I would urge them to hang on. Their ship will come in, because propaganda is a growth industry. In fact it’s just getting started. And that’s because people are incredibly bad at discerning fact from fiction, especially if the fiction has a headline and some quotes and a photo of a man in a suit.

I should have learned this lesson back when I helped run satire website Hayibo.com. In 2011, our story about the African Union sending troops and food aid to riot-hit London went viral. It was posted to forums and blogs. It was even discussed by commodities traders, wondering how the imports would hit UK grain prices.

In retrospect it was chilling, but at the time we found it bizarrely funny. We simply couldn’t believe that Eton-educated stockbrokers could mistake our silliness for truth. For God’s sake, it even claimed that the AU would be “parachuting in dentists as part of a ‘Feel better about yourselves, Brits!’ initiative”.

I no longer find that story funny, not after seeing how completely adrift we are.

I often hear people wishing that our media were more sophisticated, but I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m starting to suspect that editors and broadcasters might need to revisit their assumptions about how information is received and take a big step back to the basics.

Propagandists everywhere are telling us that up is down and good is bad. They have gone straight back to the first principles of reality in order to rearrange them.

It is easy to point and stare, aghast. But the media cannot react to credulity with incredulity.

Rather, it needs to meet the new Goebbelses back there at Ground Zero. And it needs to start repeating, clearly and relentlessly, that bad is bad, that down is down, and that lies are lies.

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Published in The Times