Dr. Heather Palmer
Propaganda & Persuasion, 3/1/2011
Corporate Propaganda Paper
A Humble, Precursory Preface –
Before I begin, I would like to state that in terms of the discussion that follows, I have felt deeply impacted by both my own experiences and conversations with those who live on ‘both sides of the aisle’ in regards to the issue of Abortion. I would accept the label of ‘pro-life activist’ – but I have the strong conviction that I must speak to the reader that this does not preclude some degree of assumed insensitivity on my part in regards to the issue as it relates to women on a very personal and implicational level. I will confess that I have shed many tears of my own. Many, after being confronted by the tears of someone else. My own heart is no less settled, nor secured – but remains torn and pained in a way that words would both fail to related and describe. As the famous-to-many-evangelical-conservatives missionary martyr Jim Elliot once said – “the dust of words would cover me.”
– Matthew Lipscomb,
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 2.28.11
A Controversy in Manhattan
President Barrack Obama, shortly after he was elected, once famously quipped that “elections have consequences.” Indeed, once can easily argue that after the midterm elections – this dynamic has in fact proven to be true – however, this time – to the dismay of many socially liberal democrats. All over the country numerous pro-life oriented bills are advancing in state houses across the land, and the issue of abortion has once again been thrown into the contentious forefront. One small act in this long, drawn out controversy played itself out in the form of a billboard that was put up in downtown Manhattan by a pro-life activist group called Life Always.
The reason that this particular billboard is of interest in regards to the nature of this paper – is that the campaign behind it is unique in terms of a propaganda piece, in that it is not just functioning as a sales tool, but one that also contains a polemic message. The purpose of the group Life Always is to serve as a counter-agent in terms of Planned Parenthoods goals and ideology. In this sense – there is a more complex dynamic of message, confrontation, and refutation going on. Whereas much of propaganda-related advertising is intended to sooth – this one is more or less intended to upset. The stated intention of Life Always is to promote a vision of life against what it sees as an abortion industry complex that sees women as merely a product to be exploited. This may, on its face, be a tremendous oversimplification – but even if such a generalized denigration is not in truth true, it does not diminish the fact that one of the primary founders of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was an avowed racist, who once referred to blacks as being weeds – and openly conspired to distribute birth control to black mothers as to prevent not just pregnancies but more specifically black pregnancies. Essentially, Life Always argues that this same Malthusian, Eugenicist ideology is alive and well – if not blatantly so, on a philosophic level – at least on that of a functional one. The billboard features a very young black girl, and the words “the most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”
The billboard was taken down by the advertising agency, less then a week after it was put up, amid great controversy and accusations of racism. In a press release, posted to their website thatsabortion.com Life Always stated that what they were saying was neither racist nor contrived.
In 2009, according to New York City Vital Statistics
59.82 percent of black pregnancies ended in abortion. 59.8 percent of black pregnancies ending in abortion means that 1,489 black babies are aborted in New York City for every 1,000 born alive.
The press release went on to state:
The reaction to this billboard is centered on trauma; abortion is traumatic, it is the emotional and physical trauma that women face after abortion that necessitates access to post-abortive healing services. While this billboard causes a visceral reaction from many African Americans, it addresses a stubborn truth that 60 percent of black babies do not make it out of the womb. We must do something now. Instead of challenging the design of the ad, we should ask why the message is true and how can we change the fact that the leading cause of death for African Americans is abortion.
In this sense – the seemingly innocent little girl on the front of the poster is making some horrifically dreadful accusations – that of an ongoing, campaign of black genocide against African Americans. But is this an exaggeration? Are inner-city blacks targets of aggressive market capitalization in regards to abortion profitability? Recent headlines ran lurid with horrific details of an abortion provider in Philadelphia, Kermit Gosnell, who has been indicted by a grand jury for systematically delivering live babies and then brutally killing them with scissors. Investigators charged not just the operators of the clinic – but demanded accountability from regulatory agencies who had let the clinic slide by for years without any health inspections because of the sensitive nature of the topic – even as the unsanitary conditions at the clinic approached the point of being grotesque – a “filthy, foul-smelling ‘house of horrors” which owed it’s perpetuity to a “complete regulatory collapse.”
With stories like this on the front page, and many new republican majorities in state legislatures, it would seem like a prime opportunity for anti-abortion forces to assert what they may feel is a new-found dominance. Indeed, Mara Gay writing for Aol News likened the billboard as seeming “to announce an invasion from the Bible Belt in the ultra-liberal streets of Manhattan.” Perhaps it was too much, even for pugnacious New York mindsets – but its swift removal may serve to foster even greater activism elsewhere. A ‘take this down, and 10 more will replace it’ fundraising mentality is readily visible on Life Always’ website, who no doubt now see the battle as firmly enjoined.
Just as stories about the Nazi holocaust prick the hearts of those in the Jewish community – so does speaking of the handing out of diseased, small pox-infested blankets to colonial era American Indians grab a hold of that of a Native American.  Meanwhile, many southerners feel the temptations to embrace so-called Neo-confederate views of the so-called “Lost Cause” doctrine; the idea the Civil War was not really about the issue of slavery but rather was an attempt to preserve a peaceful, agrarian-based, beautiful and majestic way of life against and aggressive, domineering, industrially-exploitative North. The ‘war against slavery’ becomes ‘the war of northern aggression,’ the wholesale deception, slaughter and abolishment of any and all things Native American becomes “Manifest Destiny,” as perhaps Hitler’s goals are potentially relegated as misplaced efforts at simply procuring political stability and “lebensraum”/living space for the German people. Are we ok to just chalk up the fact that 60 percent of African Americans never take their first breath of air in the name of a woman’s right over her own body? Is that and all of the before mentioned cultural ideological dynamics merely some kind of semiotic wrestling match carried out by two-bit academics in the grand so-called Wittgensteinian language-game of things? Is there any merit to what Life Always wants to tell us in their poster? Are we going down to road to barbarity in the name of our own situational convenience to others – just as we seemingly have done over and over and over again historically in what may be merely other re-contextualizations of the same atrocities historically replayed? There is no doubt that some American Indians may see no connection, nor Germans, nor Jews, nor those of any northern or southern persuasion. But this fact is undeniable. In an age where African Americans are increasingly referred to as a ‘Minority-Minority,’ it will give pause to think – as to whether there is something indeed horrific going on in the name of liberty and decency. In this sense – Life Always’ poster strips away any political inclinations and thrusts the conscience of any African American into a brutal ‘what the hell’ moment of potential clarity. If anything – the efficacy of the poster is so devastatingly explicit – it would seem that one could not help but be brought into some form of dialog about the harsh reality of Abortion’s impact in African American demographics. A central aspect to the abortion argument is the force of a personalized ethos/passion. If we went back in time and walked into a ballroom full of pre-civil war ‘southern bells’ – and abruptly told them that all their antebellum mansions would be burned to the ground, their way of life destroyed, and their genteel, aristocracy was about to become a thing of the past – owing to the fact that it owed it existence to the slave trade enterprise for its sustenance and propagation. How would your speech be taken? Would you be shot on the spot? And what if with that same time machine we told frontier settlers that their colonialist oppression of indigenous culture was patently demonic and they too would be forced into the ash heap of unsustainable and morally bankrupt cultures. The famous philosopher Heidegger was reluctant to ever issue a full-throated self-rebuke for donning the uniform of a Nazi. In the end – passion, whatever the degree of existential force it may exert – is historically potentially self-deceptive and culturally self-blinding in its self-absorption. “The Other” always faces dehumanization when it or they are in the way of what is understood to be progress and civility in terms of a self-contextualization for the superior power in a social ontology of power. A young black child cuts through all the ideologically red-tape for African Americans – and may well better connect the dots for them then in any such way as any skilled oratory on the supposed intrinsic value of all life and any subsequent assertion of everyone’s right to be given their first breath could. A young black child cuts to the stark and confrontational notion that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the part of those who breath is not being extended to those have yet to take their first.
My own feelings is that Life Always’ poster is only one small part of a much larger social puzzle that Western Civilization is still trying to put together. We have solved many other riddles. We have accepted our past horrific faults in our own self-missrepresentations of what we thought was ‘justice’ and our excuses for our own ‘cultural advancement.’ I do believe that as Feminist and even Gay theorists continue to unpack the concept of the “other” and the contiguous-to-it process of historical anthro-alienation and relational debasement that the “other” has continually undergone in seemingly relentlessly repetitive socio-cultural contextual rearticulations, at literally every significant point in the histo-political continuums -that at some point they may well have an ‘uh-oh’ moment. The innocent face of a young black child intended to represent the loss of life on the part of so many innocent – may prove to either slow down or speed up the process for the African American Community in terms of their own position on it. If they do see the valuation of ‘the other’ through different eyes – then personal, ethos-contingent situations may matter less – and life more. And if they and other ethno-geographic groups can self-identify with atrocities committed against them in the name of Situational Convenience – then the cultural pendulum may yet swing in a different direction. If Abortion is a puzzle that we can solve, there will no doubt be more challenges to face us in the future, and if so – then the speed and the diligence with which we address our own shortcomings past, present, and future may serve to be the keys by which past travesties are redeemed into a future justice; the abode of alienation and dehumanization – transformed into authentic, meaningful and purposeful unity and meaningful and strength-provisioning diversity.