Part 4—The Manchurian cable news stars: Last Friday night, Dilbert's creator, Scott Adams, spoke with our old pal William Maher on the HBO program, Real Time.
Adams discussed the skills of Candidate Trump, who he views as "a master persuader." He began by noting a fact about himself:
ADAMS (5/27/16): First of all, I'm a trained hypnotist.To watch that discussion, click this.
MAHER: A trained hypnotist!
ADAMS: Yes. I learned hypnosis in my 20s. Actually went to school for it. And I'm a—
MAHER: May we have a volunteer from the audience?
MAHER: Look at these people—
ADAMS: I've studied persuasion for decades. And when I saw Trump last summer using the tools of persuasion, I thought, "Oh my god, he's not a crazy clown. Everything he's doing, including his complete ignoring of the facts, is persuasion perfection."
We'll disagree with Adams on one point. In one fairly obvious sense, Candidate Trump plainly is a crazy clown.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean he can't be a master persuader too. Increasingly, our political/journalistic culture is in thrall to such performers.
Let's return to hypnosis, a fascinating and powerful tool.
We will guess that our brother Maher has seen comedian hypnotists in action. If he has, we'll guess that he noticed the power of this particular tool.
Good lord! People who are hypnotized can do things on a public stage they never could have done in their normal, pre-hypnotized state. Suddenly, they possess performance skills they couldn't have approached a half hour earlier.
Standard inhibitions are gone. They can act out characters and scenes in ways they could never have done.
Hypnosis is a mysterious tool. It helps us see that our human minds function in puzzling ways.
Adams never explained the connection of hypnosis to what he called "persuasion." That said, is Donald J. Trump a type of hypnotist?
Let's consider a famous movie we've been watching since last weekend. We refer to The Manchurian Candidate (1962), the widely-praised political thriller directed by John Frankenheimer.
In the film, "poor friendless, friendless Raymond" Shaw is captured during the Korean War and taken to Manchuria, where he and his whole platoon are "brainwashed" by Communist forces.
As a result of his brainwashing, Raymond becomes the hopeless tool of his Communist handlers, who include his crazy American mother. The Communists send poor Raymond back to her to serve as a ruthless, robotic killer.
Under the plan, Raymond will commit a political murder which elevates his mother's second husband to the White House. (In that sense, Raymond's stepfather is "the Manchurian candidate" of the film's title.) In the film, Raymond's brainwashing—in effect, his state of hypnosis—is so powerful that, when successfully triggered, he'll obey any command.
The film is masterfully done. In a brilliant scene which comes amazingly early, we see Raymond and his fellow soldiers in Manchuria, at a meeting designed to demonstrate the power of their brainwashing for their Communist masters.
We also see what Raymond and the other soldiers think is occurring. They've have been programmed to believe that they're at a ladies garden society meeting in New Jersey, where they've been trapped by a storm.
Masterfully, that early scene establishes a motif which appears throughout the film. Again and again, a type of question is suggested:
What do we humans think is occurring in various circumstances, as opposed to what's actually happening? To what extent do our perceptions conform to objective reality?
This motif arises again and again in the film, especially in the surreal events of two romances, one of which involves poor friendless Raymond. Again and again, the film asks a set of questions as it presents, or seems to present, sets of surreal events:
To what extent do we function "rationally?" To what extent are we the victims of forces beyond our conscious understanding?
To what extent do we see the world clearly? To what extent are we walking through a series of virtual dreamscapes?
Right from that garden society scene, the film just rips along. Watching it again last weekend, it made us think of our society's current state in a way it had never done before.
The film suggests that we humans move through our lives in varied "hypnotic" states. Last Friday, Adams said that Candidate Trump possesses the tools of a master persuader—of a hypnotist, a brainwasher, a person who can manipulate our most basic understandings of the world.
We think that idea has great merit. That said, acts of hypnosis and self-hypnosis have been on the rise in recent decades, driven by the "master persuaders" who now populate our degraded media landscape.
In our view, these players were thrown at conservatives first. Rush Limbaugh went national in 1988. He was followed by a wave of imitators.
In our view, the results have not been good. If we might borrow the words of Adams, "Everything Rush has done, including his complete ignoring of the facts, has been persuasion perfection." We'd even suggest that Rush's listeners have almost been hypnotized, or perhaps even "brainwashed" in the manner of poor Raymond Shaw.
On talk radio, then on cable, this type of brainwashing became big business during the Limbaugh years. We liberals loved to complain about this, although we've shown a total lack of skill and resolve in our attempts to address this unhealthy phenomenon.
As for today, it must be said that we liberals increasingly have our own master persuaders. Corporate interests are now building media worlds designed to brainwash us too.
They worked their skills on conservatives first, but now they're clowning us too. We have our own "Manchurian cable stars!" They feed us porridge and propaganda every night of the week.
They mug and clown and dumb us down, just as Rush and Sean have long done. Because they're skillful at their work and because we're self-hypnotized, we liberals can't even begin to see that this occurring.
We're at that garden club too!
"Poor, friendless, friendless Raymond" Shaw thought he was at a garden club meeting somewhere in New Jersey. If you watch The Manchurian Candidate, you'll be able to see where he actually was.
Every night, a million liberals think we're watching a "cable news" program at 9 PM Eastern. We'll suggest that's not what they're doing, and that their programming during that hour is very bad for the country.
To what extent are we the liberals now self-hypnotized too? Consider something that happened last night, along with something that didn't.
Last night, cable channels broadcast the latest scenes in which fiery progressives and liberals assaulted Trump supporters in the streets of a major city.
Last night, the city was San Jose. In the last few weeks, similar scenes have been broadcast from other major cities.
A few months ago, scenes of violence sometimes occurred inside Trump campaign events. Instantly, we liberals knew what to do and how to react. We engaged in sweeping generalizations. We attributed the behavior of a small number of people to Trump supporters in general.
Last night, our reactions were different. On CNN, Jeffrey Toobin insisted that the people staging the San Jose assaults didn't represent the mass of liberals.
Toobin's statement was perfectly accurate. It was also quite new.
As of last week, a certain major cable news star began complaining about the assaults progressives have been conducting against Trump supporters. She, of course, has been building the dimwitted tribal culture which helps make such assaults occur.
She feeds us our pabulum every night, then complains when we overreact. She gets very rich playing this game. We viewers get stupid and ugly.
Are we all poor Raymond Shaw now? As corporate interests continue to train more Manchurian cable news stars, we'll suggest that the answer will keep moving toward yes.
Concerning those comedy hypnotists: If you've ever seen a skillful comedy hypnotist, you've had a chance to see mysterious powers of persuasion at work.
On the other hand:
No comedian does a worse show than the comedy hypnotist who can't get anyone hypnotized. We learned this fact—mercifully, through second-hand accounts—in the summer of 87 or 88.
No, we didn't rebook the performer, but he was a very good guy who went on to a lot of success. Years later, we saw him at the Washington Improv, where he had people doing things they never could have done in their normal state.
Hypnosis is a mysterious tool. If you want to be hypnotized too, just keep "watching that space!"