"The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they’ve been in." -British TV dramatist, Dennis Potter
John Kerry is liberal, Wesley Clark is anti-war, and an un-elected president is seeking re-election. When Colin Powell recently said: "Whether or not he is able to effectively continue as president is something he will have to examine carefully," Powell was not talking about Bush…he was discussing Jean Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected president of Haiti (until ousted by "rebels" and "students"). Of all the beguiling propaganda tactics Corporate America has cultivated, the usurping of language is the greatest victory of all.
Have you ever considered that right after World War II the "Department of War" was renamed the "Defense Department"? Sixty years later, thanks to legions of pinstriped mountebanks, we exist in an age where helicopters named Apache are unselfconsciously used to quell ethnic cleansing. It’s a new word order where the land of the free incarcerates its citizens at the rate of 1200 per week…the home of the brave carpet bombs civilians from 15,000 feet in the name of humanitarianism.
Kill someone while wearing a uniform and you’re a hero…do it in gang colors and you’re a criminal. Hire a lawyer to help you find tax loopholes and you’re a good businessman…make a few bucks off the books and you’re a tax cheat. Sell cigarettes, alcohol and lottery tickets and you’re an entrepreneur…smoke a joint and bet with a bookie: you’re a menace to society.
It’s all about setting standards and defining the accepted parameters. Our society, through corporate propaganda and an overdose of so-called patriotism, has become a coast-to-coast mall. We’ll buy most anything–from consumer electronics to electoral deceptions–if we’re convinced we need it. Yes, we can "have it our way," as long as we stay well within the range of choices being offered. We can "just do it" any time we damn well please, all we need in a $120 pair of sneakers. We’ve strayed so far from reality that even the most elementary truths have become obscured. Everything is four or five degrees removed from its original form…and it’s all conveniently forgotten before anyone has time to analyze it.
Just when I thought we’d hit rock bottom–linguistically speaking–multinational corporations began patenting life forms, thanks to the "trade-related intellectual property rights" agreement of the GATT treaty (precursor to the notorious WTO). For example, when a human gene is introduced to a sheep’s mammary glands to produce a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin, a sheep is no longer a mere "sheep." Instead, that woolly object is now a legally patented corporate commodity known as a "mammalian cell bioreactor." Not a sheep, not a lamb…but a mammalian cell bioreactor. Mary had a little mammalian cell bioreactor. Sound right to you?
Show some flesh in a particular magazine and you’re a pornographer…flash some skin on a public bus and you’re a Calvin Klein ad. Collect food stamps and you’re a welfare queen…hire a lobbyist to win government subsidies, tax breaks, and protectionist tariffs and you’re General Motors. Invade Kuwait and you’re the "next Hitler"…invade Iraq and you’re "George W. Bush, Leader of the Free World."
There’s really nothing to it: Cars aren’t "used," they’re "pre-owned." Invasions aren’t invasions when they’re pre-emptive wars. Let’s say you’re NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg and you want to institute a regressive tax on your city’s poor and middle-class residents. Easy, call it a "transit fare hike." Rich people don’t ride the subway. What if your company wants to dump toxic sludge on farmers to be used as fertilizer? Hire a massive public relations firm to give it a new image by renaming it "biosolids." Just as Haiti’s protestors are "students," Venezuela’s are "union members."
Claim that the Messiah regularly visits your suburban home and Mel Gibson’s faithful will beat a path to your door…claim to be the Messiah in Waco and they’ll drive a tank through your living room. Sell guns in a ghetto and you’re on the cover of Newsweek as a bad guy…sell fighter jets to a Third World nation and you’re on the cover of Newsweek as a good guy. Reprint State Department press releases verbatim and you’re a respected investigative journalist…dig up the truth and you’re gonna have a hell of a time trying earn money as a writer.
Since today’s words have developed an uncanny knack for altering their meaning from situation to situation until they have no meaning at all, perhaps it’s time for Americans to hold a mass dictionary burning. Who needs Webster or Roget when we’ve got The O’Reilly Factor? What good are definitions when they give peace prizes to men like to Carter, de Klerk, Arafat, Clinton, Rabin, Peres, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Henry Kissinger…and so many of us believe they’re deserving?
It all reminds me of something South African activist Steven Biko once said: "The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." But, then again, what do I know? I’ve always been the black mammalian cell bioreactor in my family.
Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: "A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense" (Prime Books) and "Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda" (Common Courage Press). He can be reached at [email protected]