Friday, October 12

The Art of Vilification

The media has a habit of oversimplifying world affairs. One way in which they do this is by reducing every conflict, real or perceived, into an “us vs. them” situation. Since we live in America this situation invariably turns into a “good guys vs. bad guys” situation. Common sense dictates that foreign affairs are too complicated to just write off in such a Hollywood manner. However the media ignores the nuance of foreign affairs and has unfairly cast Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez as an evil dictator. They have done that’s using a wide array of both subtle and overt tactics.

Chavez believes in what he has dubbed “21st Century Socialism.” This is what has made it inevitable that he would be portrayed in the super villain role. Many Americans are fearful of this ideology because of the fear the Cold War caused. It’s a favorite word of conservative TV pundits that serve to frame the debate on issues like social security and Medicare (which are socialist programs in themselves). Generally, this term is enough to change public opinion because no one wants to be perceived as a “commie.” As is generally the rule of socialist Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and to a lesser extent Nicaragua, they are ignored in terms of the mainstream media. Whether because Americans aren’t blindly fearful of it anymore or to enhance the status quo assumption that Socialism will never work. Venezuela is a little bit harder to ignore as one of the top oil producing nations in the world. Oil producing nations are either our best friends or our worst enemies.

In order to further this last view that Socialism doesn’t work, the media loves to juxtapose pictures of Chavez with pictures of Castro. For example, this Time Magazine article which claims to compare and contrast Castro and Chavez instead focuses more on the similarities and how Bush can marginalize him. Instead of letting the reader formulate an opinion they promote the administrations view of this country leaving little room for critical thinking. Had this article been more objective, Time could have noted that the two governments are very different in terms of civil liberties and government control.

When the media is not comparing him to Castro they like to compare him to Russia and Iran. The United States has held a policy of not selling weapons to Venezuela since 2006. As is generally the case when a country can’t get weapons from the United States they purchase them from somewhere else. The “liberal” New York Times goes through great pains to depict this arms deal as Venezuela’s attempt to prepare for guerrilla warfare. It fails to mention that this type of warfare can only happen if they are invaded in Venezuela. They also throw in a reference about Iraqi guerilla warfare for no apparent reason.

In terms of Iran, since the United States also tries to withhold technology from Venezuela, Chavez seeks other countries in which to further his countries technological aims. This includes reaching out to Iran, a leader of science in the Middle East (and also the most democratic Middle Eastern country). CNN frames this issue of Venezuela seeking nuclear technology by comparing it with Iran’s growing nuclear capability (read: bomb). Coupled with the various other anti-American, dangerous images of Chavez this might cause one a deep sense of distrust about the nation which was apparently the goal of this article.

Another fairly regular characterization of Chavez is as anti-American. The most used example of this is a 2006 speech Mr. Chavez delivered at the United Nations. During the speech, Chavez called George W. Bush “the devil.” The media uses that to portray him as anti-American. However, the leader never criticized America or even American citizens. In fact, CITGO, the oil company owned by Venezuela offers discounted heating oil to poor inner city families inside the States. If one watches the speech he criticizes specifically the president and the policy of imperialism. At one point he holds up a book by MIT professor Noam Chomsky. This book, he says, encapsulates all of his ideas. Either Mr. Chavez is expounding a view held by prominent intellectuals all over the world. Or Mr. Chomsky is developing weapons of mass destruction and must be stopped.

As I mentioned previously, the media has a very odd way of looking at foreign affairs. There are two approaches to discussing and informing your readership about certain nations. You can either take the status quo assumption about said nation and present stories that further these assumptions. Or you can keep in mind historical prospective and present a balanced view of a situation. You have several hundred year long histories complete with unique experiences. Certain ideals are born of certain events. For example, one cannot understand Americans great love of freedom unless we examine the Revolutionary War. In order to understand Iran’s rhetoric against George Bush one only has to look back to the Iran/Iraq war of a few years ago. Ever since the Iraq war the media has been a major proponent of war and dividing the world into friends and enemies. However I contend that no issue is that simple, and that maybe some of these “anti-Americans” are simply anti-imperialist. Instead of vilification maybe we should takes these views seriously and possible prevent a future military strike.