A precisely written critique of cultural manipulation in our daily lives.

CULTURE AS WEAPON

THE ART OF INFLUENCE IN EVERYDAY LIFE

How persuasive cultural mechanisms are encoded in broader social structures, from high art to war-planning.

Thompson (Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Twenty-first Century, 2015, etc.) confidently casts a wide net in his discussion, seeing hidden hands of artifice and marketing that have long manipulated the citizenry. “I want to explain the ways in which those in power have to use culture to maintain and expand their influence,” he writes, “and the role that we all play in that process.” The author supports this ominous claim with a historical timeline and various categories of real-world occurrences, first focusing on the early “persuaders” of advertising and public relations and then looking at diverse examples, from lifestyle corporations like Apple and IKEA to the Pentagon’s counterinsurgency theorists. Thompson first argues that the 1980s “culture wars” over art and funding provide a lens for understanding cultural manipulation within politics: “A number of forces were learning to utilize the power of culture to push forward their own agendas.” He then looks further back to 1914, arguing that the Ludlow massacre of striking miners led John D. Rockefeller to develop innovations in public opinion–shaping that became widespread during World War I. During the 1920s, wartime propaganda morphed into the modern advertising and polling industries, embodied by George Gallup, who founded the American Institute of Public Opinion in 1935. As Thompson notes regarding Gallup’s prescience, “if he could predict elections, what else could he do?” Yet simultaneously, artistic collectives and radical groups were recognizing the power of the same techniques, and the author explores topics from Dada and Andy Warhol to Saul Alinsky and the Black Lives Matter movement. Thompson characterizes our own time as deeply fearful, tying the racist politics of Lee Atwater’s “Southern Strategy” to current controversies around mass imprisonment and police overreach. The author moves effortlessly between subtopics and tautly addresses particular oppressive social mechanisms, yet his focus on the pervasiveness of persuasion feels unsurprising.

A precisely written critique of cultural manipulation in our daily lives.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61219-573-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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