And within the town was a funny little curio shop. And within the window of the shop were two fist-sized chunks of raw copper that were so strangely twisted, in a bizarre visual kind of congealed from a molten state as to look like they had just recently arrived from orbit, that my brother had to have them.
After a brief and unsuccessful haggle with the portly and cheerful pink-faced owner of the shop - who looked like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes – he went ahead and bought them.
And after some friendly banter, he invited my brother into a back room of the shop to show him “some other stuff he might be interested in”.
Now, I’ll interrupt the narrative for a moment to point out a particular about me and mine, which is that we are sturdy Viking types on both sides of the family. As such, being your standard blue-eyed, tow-headed Aryan darlings - in other words, “Real Americans” - we are occasionally are privy to some things that, well, others would prefer not be known about them. You’ll see why I mention this in a minute.
So, anyway, Sergeant Schultz takes my brother into the backroom, where he sees, jammed from floor to rafters, probably the largest collection of Nazi memorabilia ever seen outside of Glenn Beck’s fetish room.
In my brother’s words “The little hairs on the back of my neck and arms stood up. It was pure fucking evil in that room”. Well, of course not. They were just objects. But then ol’ Schultzie let it be known his sympathies towards and against certain ethnic groups, with a particular affinity towards final solutions. It was as if a rock had been turned over, and little, slimy, multi-legged critters were sent scurrying about.
Long story short, my brother exited the shop with the copper purchase rescinded. Too bad, as he really liked the copper pieces, but the intangible price was a little too high.
Now, what is the fucking point of all this? Well, in a later conversation, I lamented as to how much of our Northern European culture had been impoverished. How so many of our symbols had been denied to us due to the Nazi pollution, the misappropriation of all our cool Nordic shit.
“Oh, I don’t know, you can’t use the swastika anymore”.
“Ah, you fuckin' idiot! The swastika’s not Nordic. It’s Sanskrit, Hitler took it from ancient India. All that Aryan bullshit. It wasn’t ‘ours’ to begin with”.
Ah, well, there you see the result of one element of an effective propaganda, known as the cognitive illusion of “anchoring” or “priming”. Of course, ignorance, a less than fully informed state within the subject, would preferably exist first, but this is not a strict requirement. What you do is, by first implanting a plausible lie into the subject, they are then primed to accept an implausible lie closer to the first lie than the truth.
Not surprisingly, those PR firms that established the formative parameters and narratives of the Tea Party did something similar. Presenting as literally or distinctly such a batch of disgustingly soft-bodied, unattractive, brittle-minded, shallow-thinking, cranky old right wing Christians, whose chief and only joy in life is to piss and moan, is of no attraction to, well, to anyone.
(And yes, once the cameras were off of them, the talk is invariably about God, Jesus, and turning the good old US of A into a decent white Christian nation. The kind of nation, ironically, where Jesus Christ, (whisper this part ) because he’s a JEW, should never be allowed to hold public office. The kind of nation that respects and holds dear the Ten Commandments, especially that tenth one, and that part about not coveting thy neighbor’s slaves. But I digress… If you are interested, a fun behind-the-scenes Tea Party narrative can be found here.
After considering what characteristics could be considered cool, those wonks took an associational leap of faith, cobbled together the initials T E A to present a form of a rebellious insurgency, which though still considered old and doddery to the general public, would look especially cool within the rabidly zealous cohort.
Which brings up the second cognitive illusion within this propaganda ploy known as “ease of representation”, or, if you will, the fallacy of spontaneous generation, or the implanting of a event or situation which, the more it impresses upon one emotionally, is then more likely to be thought of as objectively real.
At first, this fallacy sounds like “anchoring”, but the difference is “anchoring” is presented as a reasonable or common sense thing, which in turn the scared little animal mind uses to rationalize the emotion of fear. “Ease of representation”, on the other hand, starts from an emotional impression, and adds value to the “common sense” fact. As such, combined, they are a powerful feedback loop.
All you need now is the right symbol, one that will unleash the appropriate associational cascade. In the case of 1930s Germany, they had the swastika. In the case of 2000s America, there is the Gadsden Flag**, the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag.
And why not? It’s got all sorts of things going for it, including direct sensory impact. Yellow, nature’s poison warning color, advertising “Do Not Fuck With Me!” Snake. Primal primate fear response. And associational plus, an appeal to victimizers: “I’m pathetic and powerless, but I can still hurt you somehow! Haha! Beware! Boo!”
And then, of course, there are all of the associations with the American revolution.
So, should a faction of the Republican party, a rabidly insane bunch of “fat, arrogant, overpaid, overfed, sanctimonious, overindulged, white, racist, over-privileged, disgustingly soft-bodied, pudge ball, business criminal, asshole cocksuckers”* like the Tea Party be allowed to mangle a symbol of American unity to further their own selfish, useless, tiny-brained, fucked-up Ayn Randian vision of how Lily White and Christian and seriously puckered up asshole tight America should be? I don't think so. The question is, is it too late?
Considering that the latest polls suggest that Tea Partiers are more unpopular than atheists and Muslims, perhaps it's time they stop appropriating a perfectly good symbol. They've already managed to ruin the word "patriot".
My understanding is, now that they've put their anal taint on this symbol, even a request from stalwart Americans like Marine veterans to fly the flag is getting a refusal.
“In Connecticut, lawmakers refused to fly the Gadsden flag at the capitol building in April because of the Tea Party’s “political nature,” but they also refused to display it on the Fourth of July at the request of a group of retired Marines. A man living near Phoenix, Ariz. was recently ordered by his homeowners’ association to remove the Gadsden flag flying outside his home, despite his protests that he wasn’t displaying it to support the Tea Party. The American Civil Liberties Union came to his defense, citing a violation of First Amendment rights. In Colorado, a similar dispute over the same flag is ongoing as well”.
Is it too late to stop the pejorative process that is going on with, not just the flag, but words like “patriot”, ‘liberty”, “freedom”?
To those who have misappropriated the flag, nothing can be done, save, well, my favorite idea which is to let them have their Christian/John Galtian paradise. Let them seastead. Or wall off Arizona, ship ‘em all down there, and let them work out their fantasies.
As for us regular folks? I suspect some small of education might help. Perhaps a commercial with US Marines and former Marines, reminding all of us citizens that the Gadsden flag is not only their flag, but your flag too. It should be, always, a symbol of national unity, and not divisiveness.
And, uh, no, I’m not all that broken up that the swastika is permanently stigmatized. If necessary, I can come up with a nice little symbol of my own. Maybe something along the lines of the Artist Formerly Known As…
Nah. Been done already.
*appropriated courtesy of George Carlin, with minor modifications
**The Gadsden Flag first went into battle as the personal flag of Commodore Esek Hopkins, a battle flag for the Continental Marines. It is one of the first flags of the US Marine Corps.