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Conley Hausle

Doctor Ouellette
ENGL 327W
9 December 2018
Reconciling Manipulism and Populism

Manipulationists and Populists have incredibly different beliefs. The manipulationist

theory operates under the idea that humans, are provided with false beliefs and some form of

escape. They feel that people are manipulated by the media into expressing certain beliefs and

doing things a certain way. Populists, on the other hand, operate more under the belief that

people are operating under their own control, and can choose what they want to see in media. In

essence, the two camps take completely opposite views of human free will. This begs the

question: can these two forms of belief be reconciled, or is that a pipedream for foolishly hopeful

and optimistic people? To answer this question, one must first understand how these two camps

think. By knowing this, one can definitively say whether the two can be reconciled, or if they

must remain separate.

The manipulationist camp, it has to be said, has some merit. It often seems like

everything is designed to force humans to think a specific way. Everything has a very precise

purpose, and that purpose is to make people think what the creator of that object, text, or other

form of media wants their audience to think. This is done by any means necessary, and is

especially true for groups like advertisers and Hollywood. There is absolutely a message in every

ad, every song, and every movie. In his essay “Americans We Never Were Teaching American

Popular Culture in the Netherlands,” when he spoke of his students opinions of American

popular culture Jaap Kooijman states that:

Many recount how they have been inspired by particular Hollywood

movies and American television series, how they are fans of American pop stars,
music genres and sports, or how they identify themselves with American hip-hop

culture in the way they dress and talk. Particularly hip-hop fans associate America

with notions of ‘‘freedom’’ and ‘‘rebel- lion,’’ quite similar to the way American

popular culture such as Rock ‘n’ Roll has served as youth countercultures for

earlier generations. Contrary to the other essays, these essays fit within the

perspective of Americanization as a form of active cultural appropriation, in

which non-Americans are seen as active consumers who translate American

popular culture and its connotations within their own local context (2011).

These students view these things, particularly the movies, very positively. This in turn makes

them feel positively about American popular culture. Manipulationists would argue that this is

evidence that the American popular culture industry is doing its best to force non-Americans to

view Americans in a positive light. This Manipulationist approach would be touted by Bennet

and Royle, who state that:

We are subjects in the sense of being ‘subject to’ others ‘by control or

dependence’…right from birth and even before: not only are we radically

dependent on the father who sires us and the mother who bears us, but also on the

environment…into which we are born, as well as on the multiple forms of

authority and government which condition our upbringing (Bennet and Royle,

n.d.).”

Manipulationism and the idea that humans are subject to outside forces of thought from the

moment they are born mesh very well with one another. They are both present the idea that

humans have no free will and are bound by societal norms and ways of thinking. They feel that

people are bound and controlled by what they are taught and made to think. This concept of
humans lacking free will is a centerpiece of the Manipulationist camp. Everything is brought

about by an outside force. What you will do is determined by something other than you, the doer.

Instead, you are bound to the whims of outside forces you cannot control.

Populists would argue that this is untrue. They would say that while it is true that movies

portray America in a way to make people think a certain way, people get what they want out of

films and music. They would argue that this is evident in the way that two people can see a

movie or hear a song and get something completely different from it. For example, one person

might hear the song “Goodbye Earl” and hear a story about two women who commit a murder

and cover it up. Another person might hear the same song and instead hear a story about the

power of friendship and overcoming great obstacles. They would hear the exact same song,

every note and every line, but get completely different meanings from it because of their free will

to interpret things how they so choose. This is more in line with Janice Radway’s line of thought.

In her essay “Romance and the Role of Fantasy: Struggles over Feminine Sexuality and

Subjectivity at Century’s End” she states that:

Policing, it seems to me, was the real work enacted by conservative,

leftist, and early feminist critiques of romances and their readers. Whatever the

distinct differences among these discourses in their political projects, all were

built on the distinction between a cold-blooded, pragmatic, and rational realism in

a seductive, illusionary fantasy life that could lead to complacency if not a wholly

relished decadence. Anxiety about the dangers of fantasizing underwrote this urge

to discipline: these commentators not only rebuked romance readers for

neglecting their real tasks - whether cleaning the house and tending the children

or challenging the patriarchy - but also laid down a moral vision about what
women are to be doing with their lives. The stern disapproval of these first early

critiques evokes the authoritarian and adult disapproval of the parent for the silly,

self-indulgent games of the pleasure-seeking child (Radway, n.d.)

What Radway is saying is that these people got what they wanted out of these romance novels.

Some saw them as harmless and a simple way to pass the time. Others saw them as dangerous,

and something that would cause a household to fall apart. In essence, they were not influenced

by what they read. Rather, they imposed how they felt on these readings and got what they

wanted out of them.

It seems that what this debate boils down to is whether or not humans have free will.

Truthfully, this is something that has been debated for centuries. The idea of predestination has

had major influence on humans since the idea came about. Do we have free choice, or are we

slaves to our predetermined destiny? The idea of free will is incredibly important to some people.

They believe that the ability to make one’s own decisions and choose between what is right and

what is wrong is an integral part of what separates humans from every other species on Earth.

Thus, the idea that humans might not have free will causes some people to fall into a bit of an

existential crisis. After all, what is the point of living if your choices are not your own? The only

way to reconcile this possibility of a lack of free will is to look at both the Manipulationist camp

and the Populist camp, and reconcile them. In order to do that, one first must examine what each

camp got right, and what each camp got wrong. In her essay “Good Reception? Television,

Gender, and the Critical View” Lynne Joyrich states that:

Many criticisms of television have little to do with actual analysis of

television programs - instead, it is often the technology, economy, or audience that

is the hidden target of attacks. Since recent information technology has created
market, forms, and practices of media culture, a reaction against the ways in

which this technology is organized is often conflated with rejection of “mass art”

itself. This rejection is rarely offered on behalf of the “masses” who bear its name:

anxieties and defenses surrounding the reorganization of capital, consumer

culture, and class divisions are evident within the debates over “high” and “low”

forms. Television quite clearly breaks down the traditional relation between

textual production and an educated cultural elite who appreciates the finished

product (the art object). Further, because the conditions of TV spectatorship are

incompatible with classical notions of aesthetic contemplation and instruction,

some critics are led to think of the views themselves as the problem: the typical

viewer is imagined as passage, lazy, vulgar, or stupid - a bored housewife or

lethargic child. Behind many critics of the medium as exploitative, sensational

trivial, and inane lies an unacknowledged disdain for an audience that is deemed

infantile and feminine (1996).

What Joyrich says here once again lies within the Populist camp. People see what they want to

see. It does not have to be true. It does not even have to have a basis in reality. People will

interpret things how they want to interpret them, ignoring outside data and the truth. There is no

reason for people to see those who watch television as “lazy, vulgar, or stupid - a bored

housewife or lethargic child (Joyrich, 1996).” However, they want to be distrustful of television

and they want to view these people unfavorably or unkindly. Thus, they transpose the two as

shown.

Quite frankly, there is a lot to be said for human opinion overriding common sense in the

Populist camp. When people see what they want in media, as the Populist camp proposes that
they do, far too much is left open to interpretation. For an example one need look no further than

the “fair and balanced” Fox News. Anyone who is not an avid watcher of Fox News feels it is a

load of hogwash, grotesquely biased and completely unreliable. However, for those who watch

it, it is the only news that matters. These people honestly believe that Fox News is the only news

source that produces accurate news and that every other news outlet that does not agree with Fox

News is lying as part of some massive conspiracy.

Interestingly, this is the place wherein one sees how the two camps interact with one

another. While a Populist would see this as people getting what they want out of media, a

Manipulationist would use this as a prime example of media influencing the common man to see

what they want them to see and think what they want them to think. They would label Fox News

as a propaganda machine designed to make sure people do not think for themselves and only

think what Fox News wants them to think. This could be further applied to many other forms of

media. It could apply to books and music and video games. This is why the Manipulationist

theory is so popular. It is easy to justify and it gives people a scapegoat. It allows them to say that

they did something or said something or even thought something because that is what they were

told to do. You see this in things like war crimes trials such as the Nuremberg Trials, wherein so

many people said they hurt people and killed people because that is what they were told to do or

that is what they were taught to do. The Manipulationist theory allows people to avoid taking

responsibility for their own actions, because they believe that they have no choice in what they

do. Rather, they simply say that they had no control or free will, and that they were influenced to

do whatever awful thing they did by outside forces. This is not to say that people cannot be

influenced by outside forces. Rather, it should be said that while humans are always going to

have outside influences working on them, they also always have some form of free will.
There is always a choice to be made, and people subscribe to this Manipulationist theory

so that they can rid themselves of any sense of wrongdoing. They don’t want to admit guilt, so

they put it on someone else or something else. However, in doing so, they also cripple their own

importance. After all, why should a person trust someone who states that they have no free will,

and therefore ae not in control of any decision they make? Why should someone who takes

responsibility for their own actions choose to work with someone who will take no responsibility

for their own. That kind of person is exhausting to be around and, more importantly, is not

someone who can be treated as an equal, because they live in a constant state of “its not my

fault.” The problem is, sometimes it is their fault. If they kick a dog, for example, they did not do

it because something forced them to. They kicked that dog because they wanted to and they

could. There is no outside force at play.

After examining everything else provided, it is clear that these two camps are very

different. The best course of action, if one wishes to reconcile the two, would be to take the

middle ground between the two. That is to say, if the Manipulationists are the pessimists and the

Populists are the optimists, the best way to approach would be as a realist. Humans absolutely

have free will, per the Populist camp. However, they are also subject to the influences and

opinions of others. Thus, the realist middle ground would be to say that both theories are correct

in some manner. However, they both take too harsh of a stance on the issue of free will. Humans

sometimes have free will, but not always. Furthermore, mankind is indeed subject to outside

influences. There will always be an outside influence to do wrong or make a decision you may

not want to make. At the end of the day, there is a choice. There may not be a good one, but there

is one. Therein lies the issue with free will. Most people have free will but are not noble enough

or selfless enough to exercise it in the most extreme of situations. Going back to the Nuremberg

trials, the people who committed those crimes absolutely had a choice, no matter what they may
say. The problem is that they may have felt that that choice was choosing between their lives,

and those of their families, or the lives of the people they experimented on and killed. There are

very few people on this planet who would make the choice to die in the place of another. There

are some, but few are so noble. It is in the nature of mankind to be selfish and to want to protect

one’s own safety and interests first. Realistically, people will do what they feel they need to do to

survive, and they will determine this either on their own, with outside influences, or, most likely,

with a mixture of both.

Very few people fall completely in one camp or the other, because both sides are so

extreme. Extremes are not good in anything, especially in how one views the free will of

humanity as a whole. Anyone who says that humans have all the free will or that humans have

no free will is completely oversimplifying the human experience. The only way to avoid this

gross oversimplification is to reconcile the two ideas, and acknowledge that both are equally

right and equally wrong, and the best way to approach it is to take the correct parts of both the

Populist ideology and the Manipulationist ideology, combine them, and disregard everything

else. By doing so, one is taking a far more realistic approach than they would if they adhered too

closely to either individual camp.

In conclusion, it is fair to say that the two camps can be reconciled, but not in the way

most would think. To reconcile the two, one must stand directly in the middle and view both

camps equally. That is where the truth lies. Both sides are equally right, and both sides are

equally wrong. One must acknowledge both that the Manipulationist camp is correct in saying

that humans will always have outside forces working on them and against them, and that the

Populist camp is correct in saying that humans absolutely have free will and interpret things how

the want to. Then, one must combine these two theories and take a more realistic approach. By
standing in the middle, and taking the realist approach, one can take a more practical and

accurate view of society and humanity itself.

Works Cited

Bennett, Andrew and Royle, Nicholas. “Me”. Accessed 9 December 2018.


Joyrich, Lynne. "Good Reception? Television, Gender, and the Critical View." Re-viewing Reception:

Television, Gender, and Postmodern Culture, Indiana UP, 1996, pp. 21-44.

Kooijman, Jaap. "Americans We Never Were: Teaching American Popular Culture in the Netherlands."

The Journal of American Culture, vol. 34, no. 1, 2011, pp. 16-25.

Radway, Janice. “Romance and the Role of Fantasy: Struggles over Feminine Sexuality and Subjectivity

at Century’s End.” Accessed 9 December 2018