CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Attack of the Zombies

Apr 13, 2012

A good case can be made that popular culture and our postmodern times are creating a generation of zombies. Now zombies are, in a very simple definition, the walking dead. They seem to be automatised and lobotomised. They are not exactly thinking, reflecting, conscious and alert citizens.

And all totalitarian states quite prefer having a nation of zombies. They are much easier to control and rule with an iron fist if they are mindless, undiscerning, non-critical robots. And many commentators have noted how our contemporary culture is helping to produce such an army of zombies.

Our entertainment-mad culture, coupled with the postmodern emphasis on image over content, is resulting in less and less intelligent and reflective citizens, but more and more undiscerning and easily manipulated drones. The role of the mass media and pop culture in all this has been documented by many.

For example back in 1985 Neil Postman wrote the incisive volume, Amusing Ourselves to Death. He wrote about how television is dumbing down an entire generation, and is replacing serious thought with mindless entertainment. And even the church has been deeply impacted by this entertainment culture, as I write about here: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/23/i-am-amused-therefore-i-am/

If things were bad in 1985 when Postman wrote, how much worse have things now become? As I mentioned, an uncritical and unthinking society is easily manipulated and controlled by the state. Just last night I was reading two different books – one new and one a bit older – which both spoke to this theme, and singled out the Nazi regime as a good example of this.

Both volumes noted how the dumbing down of the Germans, coupled with a ruthless propaganda machine, allowed Hitler and his thugs to mould an entire nation to run with their evil purposes. They understood very well the power of the media and how it can be used as a tool of indoctrination, and they really perfected the art of media-wide propaganda.

On a popular level, Ray Comfort has just written Hitler, God, and the Bible (WND Books, 2012). It is an easy to read volume on who Hitler was and what he believed. Comfort has a chapter on how he was so successful in steering a nation along his horrendous path.

Says Comfort, “Propaganda was a tremendous asset to Hitler, and his mastery of it allowed him to fully exploit the vulnerability of the people he claimed to serve. The propaganda mission was twofold. It needed to convince the current populace that Nazism provided the answers they were seeking. Secondly, the propaganda needed to create a sustainable claw that could dig deeply into the future generations….

“In the Third Reich, propaganda took an extreme and dangerous form. Rather than limiting themselves to lies and manipulation of information, the Nazi Party would infiltrate whatever institution they wished to sway and physically remove any opposition members, killing them if necessary.”

[amazonshowcase_b0b86dfc9f3fbd9ff954f5ea43b6f5c7]

The other, older, book I was reading last night is a very important 2003 volume by Arthur Hunt. Called The Vanishing Word (Crossway), it laments the death of the written word. He shows how Christianity is above all else a word-based faith, and the postmodern elevation of image over everything else is a frontal attack on not just the truth claims of Christianity, but on free and democratic societies.

The over-emphasis on visual imagery is creating a generation of mindless pagans who are easily manipulated and indoctrinated. Modern mass communications especially have a tremendous ability to mould both beliefs and behaviours. When image and the printed page compete, the image almost always wins.

Says Hunt, “There is a big difference between processing information on a printed page compared with processing data conveyed through a series of moving pictures. Images have a way of evoking an emotional response. Pictures have a way of pushing rational discourse – linear logic – into the background.”

Quite right, and Hunt also uses the Nazis as a prime example of this. He looks at how the Nazis perfected the use of propaganda and the subordination of the media to achieve their purposes. His chapter on this makes for scary reading. He is well worth quoting here:

“Although today it has become fashionable for scholars of human communication and spokespeople of the entertainment industry to minimize the power of the mass media, Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, did not minimize it. To the contrary, once Hitler became Chancellor he sought to lay his hands on every media form in Germany – art, radio, the press, and film. Whereas the propaganda of the Nuremberg rallies were like annual shots in the arm, post-1933 propaganda became total under National Socialism.”

As noted, dumbing down the masses was an integral part of all this: “In May [Goebbels] stood before a bonfire of burning books and declared, ‘The age of extreme intellectualism is over…the past is lying in flames…the future will rise from the flames within our hearts.’ Book burning was just one aspect of the anti-intellectualism associated with Nazism. This was an attitude of the Hitler Youth. A member of the exiled Social Democratic Party observed, ‘[The] new generation has never had much use for education and reading. Now nothing is demanded of them; on the contrary, knowledge is publicly condemned’.”

Goebbels gained control of all media outlets, and had ingenious plans on how to use the media to optimal effect: “Radio sets were mass-produced and sold at subsidized prices. The range of the receivers were limited to pick up broadcasts only within Germany’s borders, but at least one could listen to Wagner or Hitler’s speeches (fifty speeches were broadcast in 1933 alone).”

Newspapers of course simply became arms of the state. “The press must not merely inform, it must also instruct,” said Goebbels. Films were also vehicles for Nazi propaganda: “the strategy was to mix entertainment with political content”.

Said Goebbels, “propaganda was most effective when it was insidious, when the message was concealed within the framework of popular entertainment”. He and Hitler put this reasoning to very good use. For example, “between 1933 and 1942 the number of moviegoers in Germany quadrupled”.

Asks Hunt, “How did one of the most educated populations on the planet become so credulous? Why would the land of Luther want to return to the Middle Ages? It is not enough to say that it was a matter of low morale or terrible economic conditions. Other modern nations also had their share of dead soldiers and depressions without succumbing to a mythological mind-set. Hitler is best explained by the circumstance of the vanishing word.”

He created a nation of zombies, in other words, who were cut off from their own past, from reason, from rationality. An unthinking and unreflecting people will fall for anything, and will be easily manipulated. All that book burning took its toll.

Thus we must ask, how much more so today in our postmodern, image-mad culture? As we become increasingly dumbed-down and unable to rationally and critically assess and discern, we make ourselves very much open to manipulation and moulding by those who are pushing far-reaching agendas.

And as the state increases in power, it will more and more use the media and the new technologies to create a compliant and a non-reflective people – a nation of sheep to do its bidding. Thus we must learn the lessons of history here. What happened in Nazi Germany did not take place all that long ago.

We need to reclaim the printed word, the use of the mind, and the need for rational critical thought. And we need to beware of the seductive nature of the image, be it in popular culture or in mass propaganda by the state. A nation of sheep is easily enslaved. A generation of zombies is like putty in the dictators’ hands.

But a nation of critical thinkers, analysts and readers is not so easily brought undone.

[1310 words]

12 Responses to Attack of the Zombies

  • Great stuff Bill! And how so important the written word, you can read it, look at it, think on it, and it is permanent. Far better than tapes and stuff that just flash before you and they are gone.

    But this image thing, this picture thing, well I remember a certain ministry promoting the idea God speaks to us in images and pictures but how subject to distortion and self interpretation, there is nothing like the written word.

    I also remember all the trouble it brought on my head and a certain denomination when I was encouraged (by the pastor) back in 1977 to follow the teaching of Korean pastor Yonggi Cho who based his ministry on creating reality by visualization. He used to spend eight hours a day at one stage staring at his own face in the mirror reciting a certain phrase over and over again and visualizing and creating images in his mind so God could make them real. Interestingly when I sat opposite him at the dinner table once the only descriptive word that came to me was Zombie like. And his hand shake was like holding a flat bike tube, I was stunned if we live in our imagination we are like zombies.
    And now this sort of stuff is so common place.
    Again Yey for the written word, there is nothing to compare. That’s why God gave it to us that way.

    Rob Withall

  • Thanks Rob

    I recently made the case for critical thinking here:

    www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/01/the-urgent-need-for-critical-thinking/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Perhaps we need to start memorizing books especially the Bible as people did in the film ‘Fahrenheit 451’.

    Anne-Marie Modra

  • Yes quite right Anne-Marie

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Two points I would like to make.
    1. This is why I prefer hard copies of books, 1st editions if possible, or 2-3rd only if the author has made corrections for clarity or accuracy. E-books are in my humble opinion too easy to falsify by others and too numerous to keep track of to ensure falsification does not occur.

    2. When people have, or are going through hardships, they tend to do one of two things, either humble themselves before God and return to his commandments, or they harden their hearts and increase their wickedness. Hitler simply came along at the right time and was able to harness the wickedness of the majority. The minority who tried to stop him wound up dead. This is simply the constant fight we find ourselves in. (perhaps over simplified, but if anyone can explain it better please do).

    Neil Waldron

  • What a brilliant timely article Bill. Whole chunks of our mental landscape are inaccessible to upcoming generations, thanks to the negative consequences of new technology, with children leaving school unable to read and write, the dumbing down to the lowest common denominator, the decline in parenting and the rise of the bully. Not all new technology has negative effects, much is awesome, but it can make the industry of people redundant. I think a striking example of this lack of individual thought is seen in the dog whistle response of The Left on any current issue, whose intolerance of any opposition seems no different from the Nazi bullying and demonising of Jewish people.
    Rachel Smith

  • A great article which made me stop and think hard. You see, I am seeing all this happen today, in Australia – the dumbing down of our education system (in SA at least), the opposition received if anyone dares to comment on say, homosexuality or same sex marriage., the horror expressed if we tell our children that sex before marriage is not a good thing etc. I see some of the movies being shown and am not surprised at the rise in criminal behaviour as our young people avidly learn from this media and I hear the silence of the Churches and the politically correct comments from our Church leadership if anyone dares to stand up for Biblical belief – ie the consequences of sin. So many ‘Christians’ are only concentrating on the love of God, as it is the easier path.

    Joan Davidson

  • Yes quite so Joan

    Sadly we are seeing a generation of Christian zombies as well – it is not just the non-believers who have thrown out critical thinking and careful reasoning in favour of mass entertainment and the easy, unreflective life.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    It should be remembered too that the era in which the Nazi book-burning occurred had been for 50 years or more, one of extreme German theological liberalism in academia and the church. Most of our post-modernism comes from that intellectual influence.

    The Nazis were able to capitalise on the public reaction against this esoteric and stilted academic climate and were eventually able to re-write the academy in their own image.

    The Nazi’s book burning would not have occurred if the German people weren’t first betrayed by their academics.

    Lennard Caldwell

  • Yes quite right Lennard

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • A little off topic, but just as relevant, is how easily people are letting go of their freedoms and liberties. Today, the move toward a “zombie-state” is not so dramatic like the age of Nazism, but just as dangerous — like what is happening in America:
    “SLOWLY… SLOWLY… (Bill Whittle)
    youtu.be/VgrktRgjBXk

    By then, too late, the people will react. Christianity is very much a proactive faith. God gives us the gift to discern the signs and warn the masses. If they do not listen it will be through no fault of our own.

    Monica Craver

  • Another good book is “The Age of Absurdity” by Michael Foley. Not a Christian book but full of insight & wisdom IMHO.
    David Williams

Leave a Reply