Created By: DomaDoma on February 24, 2013 Last Edited By: DomaDoma on May 22, 2013

Media Mind Control

Media defines consensus reality. Generally for the worse.

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Trope
What do you know?

You have your personal experiences, of course. But beyond those borders, what do you really know?

Hearsay plays a small role. But your knowledge of the world beyond the sliver you've seen yourself comes, almost entirely, from the media and those repeating its words third-hand.

What if the media is lying to you?

It needn't even be an overt lie. A connotation here, an omission there, a bit of overemphasis on that little aspect... all can set your internal sense of how the world works terribly askew.

This only works, however, as long as it goes mostly unnoticed. If the news just flat-out lies about everything, people cease to trust it, and fall back on personal experience and hearsay as their only reliable windows to the world. (When the media is lying about everything, it's a fair bet it's being run by a police state, so this is also self-preservation at work.)

See also: Villain with Good Publicity, Hero with Bad Publicity, Written by the Winners, Voice of the Resistance.

No Real Life Examples.

Comic Books
  • In V for Vendetta, much of the fascist Norsefire government's success is built on its use of television and radio propaganda such as the racist programme The Adventures of Storm Saxon, where a stereotypical Aryan hero battles racist caricatures to save defenseless white women. Indeed, prominent broadcaster Lewis Prothero, who reads the pronouncements of the FATE computer, is so central to the public's continuing acceptance of the regime that Norsefire suffers a major blow when V drives him mad and thus takes him off the air.
  • A 1970s Green Lantern Green Arrow story from the comic's "relevant" period featured an experimental plastic town whose citizens could be convinced of anything by their televisions.
  • In the Buffy Season 9 comics, Harmony gets a popular TV show and promptly manages to convince the world that vampires are the height of fashion while the Slayers are dangerous, murderous fanatics. Of course, one of the Slayers attacking her live on the air probably didn't help their case.

Film
  • The entire plot of Videodrome revolves around an extreme example of Media Mind Control in which people can be made to imitate any behavior through marathon viewing sessions, though by the end of the film some plain old Mind Control also proves to be part of the final stages of the process.
  • While Lewis Prothero is changed from a radio broadcaster to a television personality in the film version of V for Vendetta, his popular editorial show still turns out to be a vital part of the public's support of the fascist Norsefire regime. More generally, all the racist television shows from the comic are still there, albeit less prominently. On the other side of the coin, V and rebellious Norsefire broadcaster Gordon Dietrich both use television to criticize Norsefire in order to exploit this trope themselves. V's methods succeed; Dietrich just winds up killed by Norsefire.
  • Both an Invoked Trope and Double Subverted in Network, where the "mad prophet" Howard Beale rants about Media Mind Control, among other things, on his current affairs show...much to the delight of the network owners, who see Beale's ratings go through the roof. When Beale's ranting starts to threaten the bottom line, he's quickly killed by a network-hired assassin.
  • The Spiritual Successor to Network, Broadcast News, contains a few elements of Media Is Mind Control as well,
  • Part of Dudley Smith's plan to take over the Los Angeles underworld while remaining a respected police captain in L.A. Confidential revolves around selectively providing exclusive information to the popular but sleazy gossip magazine Hush Hush.
  • In the film adaptation of Fat Slags, a media magnate uses his press influence over fashion trends to popularize an alternative body image. Within short order, most of British society turns into Chubby Chasers after being bombarded with glamorised images of Big Beautiful Women in advertisements and television shows.
  • The film Wag The Dog revolves around an unpopular President Evil and his spin doctors creating fake footage and news reports about a completely nonexistent war with Albania so that he can look like a strong leader and make the public forget about a particularly awful sex scandal. By the end of the movie, it's implied that the ruse is so successful that real violence is now happening in Albania.
  • In the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the villain, Eliot Carver, is a media magnate who weaponizes this trope. At one point, he tries to frame Bond for murder by trumpeting the accusation in his newspapers.
  • Citizen Kane has newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane send a reporter to Cuba in order to cover "the war." When the reporter writes back that there is no war, but that the scenery is beautiful enough to inspire prose poems, Kane writes back: "you provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war," implying that he will drum up hostilities using his papers.
    • The scene refers to a popular apocryphal story about William Randolph Hearst promising a reporter that he would use his newspapers to ensure the start of the Spanish-American War.

Literature
  • This is, of course, standard in dystopias.
    • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, news consists entirely of propaganda newsreels. Perpetual war is what keeps the dystopia going.
    • Fahrenheit451 is based around a lack of introspection, so all media is incredibly trivial. Even the elections are all-sizzle shams between parties called the Ins and the Outs.
    • Brave New World's media is all designed to reinforce the hedonism that keeps everyone docile.
  • In Harry Potter, Rita Skeeter writes exposÚs on everyone she thinks will move copies, whether they've done the things she says or not - resulting in Voldemort's ability to accrue power under the radar in the fifth book. In addition, the Ministry of Magic often exerts its pull on the Daily Prophet when something humiliating just went down the pike; Ministry employees regard this with a shrug. The Prophet becomes the dystopian propaganda outlet in the seventh book.
Literature

Live-Action TV
  • In BBC's Sherlock, Sherlock is "exposed" as a fraud as part of Moriarty's plan to destroy him utterly. It's very thorough. It would have helped if they hadn't blamed all the explosions on gas leaks back in series one.
    'Moriarty: 'Genius detective proved to be a fraud.' I read it in the papers, so it must be true.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Long Game", aliens run the entirety of human civilization by manipulating the sole news network.
  • In the fifth season of The Wire, Mc Nulty's plot to create a fake Serial Killer in order to obtain extra funding for the police department owes much of its temporary success to the equally fake coverage provided by a corrupt newspaper reporter. Eventually, inspired by the media reports, a disturbed man becomes a Copycat Killer, and that is used by both the Baltimore Police and the reporter to convince the public that the killer has been caught.

Music
  • The Tom Robinson Band's Protest Song "Glad to be Gay" calls out the major news media in Britain for their homophobic bias, including a bitterly ironic verse "I read it in the papers / It must be the truth."
  • The Jam also have a Protest Song about this subject, "News of the World." Most people now know it better as the theme song of Mock the Week
Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • February 24, 2013
    Unlucky29
    Shouldn't the trope namer be Stayin' Alive, by the Bee Gees

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beegees/stayinalive.html
  • February 24, 2013
    DomaDoma
    Maybe, but nobody is quite clear on what the Bee Gees initially meant by it. When Sherlock appropriates it, it's very clear.
  • February 24, 2013
    Oof
    Stayin Alive is a nonsense name. It doesn't tell you anything about the trope. Please, let's avoid trope names like that.

    How about Appeal Of Authority? You know, as a play on the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.
  • February 24, 2013
    DomaDoma
    Appeal Of Authority sounds more like the sexual attraction of powerful people to me. But you needn't fear that Stayin Alive was a suggestion - Unlucky was referring to the trope namer, not the trope name.
  • February 24, 2013
    Oof
    :D This is what happens when you trope through the night. Ignore me.
  • February 25, 2013
    TwoGunAngel
    Besides, Staying Alive is already a trope.
  • February 25, 2013
    Hodor
    Seems like this could use a better title, as the title suggests that the New York Times is being accused of fitting the trope (which is perhaps why the OP chose it?).
  • February 25, 2013
    DomaDoma
    It is, again, a Sherlock thing, though it doesn't require you to see Sherlock to get the gist. I will welcome any better suggestions, and I guess I'd better suggest No Real Life Examples if that's how I'm going to be read.
  • February 25, 2013
    IsaacSapphire
    If we're going for an international feel and no real life examples, The New York Times Effect On Man might not be the best title. Perhaps something more like, Media Misrepresents?
  • February 25, 2013
    DomaDoma
    Oh. Oh, I got it. I Read It In The Papers So It Must Be True. Preserves the Trope Namer and the creepiness of the trope without causing any political shitstorms. Will keep original title for a few hours so you all can find it.
  • February 25, 2013
    OmarKarindu
    Media Mind Control? Media Make Up Our Minds? Or perhaps, to use the most popular nonfiction source for this idea, some variation of Manufacturing Consent? The Media Manufacture Consent or some such?

    Comic Books
    • A 1970s Green Lantern Green Arrow story from the comic's "relevant" period featured an experimental plastic town whose citizens could be convinced of anything by their televisions.
    • In the Buffy Season 9 comics, Harmony gets a popular TV show and promptly manages to convince the world that vampires are the height of fashion while the Slayers are dangerous, murderous fanatics. Of course, one of the Slayers attacking her live on the air and being slain by Harmony herself probably didn't help their case.

    Film
    • In the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the villain, Eliot Carver, is a media magnate who weaponizes this trope. At one point, he tries to frame Bond for murder by trumpeting the accusation in his newspapers.
    • Citizen Kane has newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane send a reporter to Cuba in order to cover "the war." When the reporter writes back that there is no war, but that the scenery is beautiful enough to inspire prose poems, Kane writes back: "you provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war," implying that he will drum up hostilities using his papers.
      • The scene refers to a popular apocryphal story about William Randolph Hearst promising a reporter that he would use his newspapers to ensure the start of the Spanish-American War.

    Music
    • The Tom Robinson Band's Protest Song "Glad to be Gay" calls out the major news media in Britain for their homophobic bias, including a bitterly ironic verse "I read it in the papers / It must be true."
    • The Jam also have a Protest Song about this subject, "News of the World." Most people now know it better as the theme song of Mock The Week.

  • February 25, 2013
    DomaDoma
    Citizen Kane and "Glad To Be Gay" are skirting quite close to the real-life examples ban, but I think they should stay in. What would you lot say to "No Real Life Examples within the past twenty years"?
  • February 26, 2013
    OmarKarindu
    The Citizen Kane example could work if the real-life context were omitted, but I think the fictional version is too close to the real one for the resemblance to go unremarked.

    More examples:

    Comic Books
    • In V For Vendetta, much of the fascist Norsefire government's success is built on its use of television and radio propaganda such as the racist programme The Adventures of Storm Saxon, where a stereotypical Aryan hero battles racist caricatures to save defenseless white women. Indeed, prominent broadcaster Lewis Prothero, who reads the pronouncements of the FATE computer, is so central to the public's continuing acceptance of the regime that Norsefire suffers a major blow when V drives him mad and thus takes him off the air.

    Film
    • The entire plot of Videodrome revolves around an extreme example of Media Mind Control in which people can be made to imitate any behavior through marathon viewing sessions, though by the end of the film some plain old Mind Control also proves to be part of the final stages of the process.
    • While Lewis Prothero is changed from a radio broadcaster to a television personality in the film version of V For Vendetta, his popular editorial show still turns out to be a vital part of the public's support of the fascist Norsefire regime. More generally, all the racist television shows from the comic are still there, albeit less prominently. On the other side of the coin, V and rebellious Norsefire broadcaster Gordon Dietrich both use television to criticize Norsefire in order to exploit this trope themselves. V's methods succeed; Dietrich just winds up killed by Norsefire.
    • Both an Invoked Trope and Double Subverted in Network, where the "mad prophet" Howard Beale rants about Media Mind Control, among other things, on his current affairs show...much to the delight of the network owners, who see Beale's ratings go through the roof. When Beale's ranting starts to threaten the bottom line, he's quickly killed by a network-hired assassin.
    • The Spiritual Successor to Network, Broadcast News, contains a few elements of Media Is Mind Control as well,
    • Part of Dudley Smith's plan to take over the Los Angeles underworld while remaining a respected police captain in LA Confidential revolves around selectively providing exclusive information to the popular but sleazy gossip magazine Hush Hush.
    • In the film adaptation of Fat Slags, a media magnate uses his press influence over fashion trends to popularize an alternative body image. Within short order, most of British society turns into Chubby Chasers after being bombarded with glamorised images of Big Beautiful Women in advertisements and television shows.
    • The film Wag The Dog revolves around an unpopular President Evil and his spin doctors creating fake footage and news reports about a completely nonexistent war with Albania so that he can look like a strong leader and make the public forget about a particularly awful sex scandal. By the end of the movie, it's implied that the ruse is so successful that real violence is now happening in Albania.

    Literature

    Live Action TV
    • In the fifth season of The Wire, Mc Nulty's plot to create a fake Serial Killer in order to obtain extra funding for the police department owes much of its temporary success to the equally fake coverage provided by a corrupt newspaper reporter. Eventually, inspired by the media reports, a disturbed man becomes a Copycat Killer, and that is used by both the Baltimore Police and the reporter to convince the public that the killer has been caught.
  • February 26, 2013
    Chernoskill
    What about They Live? It plays with the concept by letting the disguised aliens control humanity with advertising messagegs that, when seen without the disguise, tell people to "obey", "consume", "worship money" etc.
  • February 27, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the Web Original story "Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Captured Koala" changes to Wikipedia actually change people's perceptions of reality and only Wikipedia Brown can see it, driving him mad.
  • February 27, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Live-Action TV

    The ISN (Interstellar News Network, the major Earth-based network) in Babylon 5 became increasingly like this, and then crossed into blatant Big Lie territory after President Clark declared martial law.
  • March 3, 2013
    Bisected8
    Just to check; what makes this distinct from Propaganda Machine?
  • If you're going to exclude real life examples, then you're basically ruling out what has basically become today's corrupted, decayed, and crumbling society.
  • March 3, 2013
    DomaDoma
    Looks like Propaganda Machine covers the advanced case that takes place in a police state. Anything short of that - from anchors with agendas to conspiracies to steer civilization - is the purview of Media Mind Control.

    No Real Life Examples tends to be invoked when many people believe it does apply to real life, and it doesn't mean good things for the world. If a political flame war is easily foreseen, we by Gar will avoid it. But take it to On-Topic Conversations if you want; I'd be interested to hear.
  • March 3, 2013
    Chernoskill
    Life Action TV

  • March 3, 2013
    Bisected8
    That should probably go in the description, then.

    • In Deus Ex Human Revolution, Pictus news media serves as this (snooping on their emails reveals that they go as far as using CGI to create fake "hidden camera footage" to discredit people with). Not to mention their news anchor is an AI created to control the flow of infomation. By the time of the original Deus Ex, the media's closer to a Propaganda Machine.
  • May 21, 2013
    OmarKarindu
    bump
  • May 22, 2013
    MonaNaito
    Might need a different title to distinguish it from actual mind control spread through the media (like a TV broadcast that hypnotizes viewers), which is a different trope altogether.
  • May 22, 2013
    darkclaw
    Psycho Pass has its media controlled by the Sibyl System, which is used to help further control people and eliminate all stress. It's to the point most don't even know who William Shakespeare is, and all art of any type needs to be approved by the Sibyl System.
  • May 22, 2013
    TrustBen
    Joe Jackson's "Sunday Papers" is another caustic song riffing on this trope.

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