Have you had your electroshock therapy today? Remember, one dose alone does not guarantee long term positive effects; it’s best taken as a course of regular treatments.
Perhaps you thought electroshock therapy was a thing of the past, persisting only in Hollywood films about the bad old days when the insane were locked up and treated inhumanely for the shits and giggles of the psychopathic staff. It still goes on today, though the preferred term is electroconvulsive therapy. It is primarily used in the treatment of extreme clinical depression, and mostly on women. According to Wikipedia, this is because women are more likely than men to seek treatment for depression.
What brings this to mind is some leftist propaganda I came across today. I hasten to add that I’m not using “propaganda” in any pejorative sense. The term may often be used to connotate deceit, but that isn’t actually a defining factor. In fact, truths (inconvenient or otherwise) can be much more powerful than lies as ingredients in propaganda.
The finest propagandist ever is Michael Moore. Leni Riefenstahl was a better cinematographer, but she could never come close to anything as effective as the way Moore weaves fact and opinion to the point where one is on the verge of believing that he is also somehow privy to George W. Bush’s internal monologue. Anyone who denies that Moore is a propagandist and is just a flat out, truth telling, no embellishing, documentary filmmaker has been totally taken in. And there’s no sin in that. Michael Moore is very, very good.
However, he had better watch out for up-and-coming propagandist Naomi Klein. Take a look at this tantalizing tidbit, this trailer for a documentary which does not yet exist, but no doubt will if her latest book, Shock Doctrine, sells big.
What interests me from a technological perspective is the complete lack of subtlety in the association between electroconvulsive therapy and disaster capitalism. It is so bold as to be almost beyond analogy, metaphor, or simile. It brings to mind the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” where we are to take the metaphor so literally as to believe that GW is a war time president, and as such, entitled to extraordinary powers.
The only problem is, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a technology applied in order to produce a healing effect. With the exception of CIA experiments using it as a potential tool of control (“at 30 to 40 times the normal power”), there is little doubt, looking at the history of the technique, that the intention was palliative. The associated loss of memory is a sufficiently grave concern that ECT should only be used in extreme cases, and even then only in conjunction with anesthesia and muscle relaxants. But it is not a torture.
But to a propagandist like Klein, the image of the helpless patient jerking spasmodically as the current courses through her is just too good not to run with. And, once the image is established, the propagandist can extend the theme of “shock” to actual torture as outlined in the CIA interrogation manuals, and also to sudden collective trauma, such as that produced by the 9/11 attacks, always returning to that most basic image of the electrocuted person, spasming on her gurney. It’s quite a deft piece of work.
The ultimate measure of this ad’s success will be whether or not it sells the book. I wonder if the book can live up to it. Personally, I think I’ll wait for the movie. I’m a sucker for that “use old news reels for ironic effect” thing. One would think it would get old, but it works for me every time.
For more on Naomi Klein’s latest, check out the Democracy Now! interview with her. There are also links there to watch or listen to the show.