Tag Archives: propaganda

Grandpa, what is “content marketing”?

this is how deep the rabbit hole goes

The first and most important thing you need to understand about content marketing is that it is currently keeping the print medium alive. I don’t just mean news, I mean everything. This is the most important aspect even without knowing exactly what content marketing is, because it paints us a picture of how it all came to this.

“Disruptive innovation” is the industry buzzword for new cheap gadgets being pushed out of South Asian work camps that replace last year’s gadget everyone paid $500 for.  There is a broader, more longer view to be had though – for sure, print wasn’t in so much trouble until tablets and blogs came along. Now, consumers of Vogue or The Atlantic can quickly block all the ads ruining their experience. I once asked my mother to buy me a ladies’s magazine. She bought one, sat me down at the kitchen table, and proceeded to rip all the ads out of them. By the time she was done, only about 20 or so odd pages were left in the 200 page magazine. I’ve never bought a ladies’s magazine myself. And nowadays, others can push away the ads in favor of Adblock Plus or a quick click on their Kindle as well. What’s more, most magazines and newspapers sell their digital subscriptions at a discount – as if the paper is what you’re buying for the money, not what’s written on it. Meanwhile, people from my generation are more likely to visit their daily blogs for free rather than shell out $7 for the latest issue of the Economist.

This kind of shift in medium coupled with the new hyperdrive crisis circuit of capitalism has resulted in a fatal blow for print journalism. What is the result? Step into any office and the desperation is thick in the air. I watched the publisher stand with his head in his hands: “Where are we going to find a million dollars?”

The answer is content marketing. Gone are the days of full page ads next to content, gone are the days of “sponsored messages” that run next to content, gone even are the days of embedding our journalists with the troops. Now the money that print makes is no where near the content, it’s as far away from the masthead as possible – GM can go to *INSERT POPULAR PAPER* and pay them to start a blog on behalf of GM, using house journalists and house researchers, not to mention house support resources. They will promote this blog using all sorts of sinister search engines – you might not even know this blog is sponsored by GM. The paper can write white papers for government officials, all with house PhDs and former lawmakers, they can shmooze with the fat cats on K street and no one will ever know that it amounts to financial propaganda.

Of course, the print sector is quick to cover their ass and claim this is about integrity. They keep it from the masthead to reserve their integrity. Fair enough. But what about the resources, the writers? Lois Lane can’t contribute to the Monsanto blog and then very well publish a story in the masthead blasting Monsanto, can she? It’s backdoor blackmail – you want your integrity so bad? Well just make sure you don’t look like a hypocrite when you publish your 4000 word expose on how Monsanto is poisoning our lakes and streams worldwide. Instead of avoiding Monsanto’s new scandal because of a simple and clearly visible sponsor conflict, which might cause eyebrows to raise, Lois Lane’s day employer avoids honest reporting and it seems spontaneous, even legitimate.

What’s really shocking is the number of bloggers caught up in this game. While print journalism seems at the very least slightly uncomfortable using their good names and resources passed around as marketing contacts, bloggers are clambering to finally get paid for what they’ve been doing for free for years. With no fancy j-school credentials, they don’t even have the slightest twinge of regret. Thousands of easily reachable social influencers, I Mean Bloggers, lie in wait behind expensive marketing paywalls, ready to shill for whoever will pass them a hundred bucks. This is not to impugne on blogging, or bloggers for that matter. I take issue with a market where millions upon millions of us are generating content that is eventually capitalized and we never see a cent for. I take issue with the death of journalism and with the death of print. As wages continue their freefall, the only journalists left to be hired at major papers will be from rich families and probably married into these scandals anyway.

what’s changed since then?

As’ad AbuKhalil faces off against a liberal actor, a white woman who proclaims herself as a “voice for Middle Eastern Women”, a huffing anticommunist Cuban ex-pat polemicist, and the very personification of smug white male privilege himself – Bill Maher. What’s surprising about this “discussion” is that so little of the discourse has actually changed since November 2001. The panel makeup remains the same and Bill Maher (and by extension his constituency) continues to know more about Islam than Muslims:

the white convert to Islam

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

The Prophet Muhammad, 632 ACE

Despite these famous and remarkable words, in today’s world there is an interest and fetishization of white converts to Islam, especially females. Whether plastered on tabloids such as Lauren Booth or Yvonne Ridley or admired among progressives such as Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) or Shks. Hamza Yusuf and Suhaib Webb, there seems a particular fascination with Muslim converts from white, western backgrounds. This interest is particularly white nationalist in nature, whether positive or negative. White female converts are often exposed to soft accusations of “race traitor” or painted as unstable, recovering from trauma, while male white converts are propped up as “ideal” Muslims for conducting East-West and interfaith dialogue.

Amazingly, the clip above is translated into Arabic and presumably used for dawa (outreach) purposes. Yet the language is laden with prejudices, asking “why” she would convert when she “had it all” – assuming they mean she is white and from a middle-upper class family, beautiful, etc and so why would she choose to convert from this background.

Female converts such as Lauren Booth and Yvonne Ridley are often mentioned as being former alcoholics, Muslim sympathizers, and women without successful love lives. A common assumption within the white community is that these women have met Muslim men and converted only half-willingly, recalling the dizzying spectre of miscegenation which is still an issue both in the Muslim world and in the West – but only when power positions between “races” are assumed to be unfavorable.

On the other hand, male convert figures such as Yusuf Islam, Hamza Yusuf, and Suhaib Webb are singled out to act as bridges between their “new” identities and their former communities. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf acted as advisor to former USA President Bush’s administration and co-founded the “first American madrassa” in California (Zaytuna Institute) while  Sheikh Suhaib Webb is involved with dawa initiatives throughout the United States and runs a wildly popular blog with hundreds of thousands of readers. Besides a hiccup involving the Salman Rushdie scandal in the 1980’s, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) has been considered an icon of moderate and peaceful Islam, quick to speak out against “Islamic” violence. These men, as white converts, are presented in their work and through the Western media as voices of reason in otherwise “unreasonable” Islamic scholarship.

These presentations of white converts to Islam implies a continued obsession with white nationalism and male patriarchy in the Western countries, but also belies a racial or cultural complex within the Muslim world as well. While white converts from the West certainly have contributions to make to the multicultural-linguistic-racial fabric that is a global community of Muslims, we must take care that they are not being valued for the wrong reasons, as tokens or warnings as such. This is not to say that white western converts have not contributed mightily to the Muslim world. Indeed, Shkhs. Yusuf and Webb are accredited and intelligent scholars of Islam and have helped countless Muslims in the West navigate between worlds. Yet when a white convert – no matter their fame or activism – is asked to discuss matters of Islamic jurisprudence or culture simply because of their skin color or cultural/national background, we must be wary that we are not appropriating or emulating white nationalist motivations. Perhaps a scholar would better answer questions or deliver talks rather than someone who can “speak the language” of the West.

There is no doubt that cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue should take place, but we should choose those who are most qualified rather than who looks the best in front of a camera. Likewise, there should be a serious scholarly examination of the hysteria surrounding the media portrayal of female white converts to Islam.

A Muslim is first and foremost a Muslim, and generally Muslim converts will understand this fact well. I would be interested to see if there are any scholarly papers or serious articles addressing this cross-cultural phenomenon of “the white convert to Islam”.

where the cynicism is born

In the past week, the Palestinian Authority has violently suppressed two separate rallies in support of the Egyptian people and their rights to revolt against an unjust government (not reported in Ma’an news). At the same time, the Palestinian Authority set up a fake protest in support of the Mubarak regime (also not reported). Today, we see the Palestinian Authority calling for the people of Gaza to emulate their brothers in Egypt (!) and rally to overthrow Hamas.

1. This page is not affiliated to any party or religion but it is working for Palestinians
2. Friday 11 February will be the day the Palestinian people say no to division and yes to national unity, they will stand in the face of the challenges facing the Palestinian cause
3. We call on Hamas to stop its coup and go back seriously and immediately to reconciliation to unite again with our people
4. Overthrow the unjust government in Gaza by coordination with the rest of the national parties in the Palestinian arena
5. Initiate an intifada against the current situation in Gaza. A peaceful intifada to say yes to unity and enough to the emirate of darkness.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority is currently amending their election law to dis-include the Gaza Strip from elections supposedly to be held in May – over a year since they were previously scheduled to be held.

Palestine is the canary in the mineshaft. I have serious doubts about Egypt’s prospects for success when Palestine – the heart of the anticolonial movement in the Middle East – is this infested with thuggery and juvenile propaganda tactics and no one here responds.

why egypt might in fact fail

To return to the Tunisian riot, it is very likely that it is itself going to continue – and divide itself – by proclaiming that the figure of power that it will put in place it is so disconnected from the popular movement that it no longer wants it. On what criteria, then, can we evaluate the riot? In the first place, the criteria must have a definite empathy towards the riot, this is an absolutely necessary condition. It’s negative power is recognised, a lamentable [honni] power that vanishes [effrondre] fully into its own image [symboles]. But what is affirmed? The Western press has already responded by saying that what was expressed their was a Western desire. What we can affirm is that a desire for liberty is involved and that such a desire is without debate a legitimate desire under a regime both despotic and corrupt as was that of Ben Ali. How this desire as such suggests a Western desire is very uncertain [plus problématique].

Alain Badiou, 19 January 2011

I told my friends Egypt was too big to fail – words heralding some sort of nasty bailout at any cost to the livelihood of the people whose “stake” was involved. I still believe Egypt is too big to fail. Western revolutionaries sit on the edge of their seats watching Al Jazeera, biting their nails because – as Badiou says – the end of history is not yet here! We can still take to the streets and enact change through revolutionary non-violent means – a million people in Tahrir square!

Yet, I am pessimistic. If Egypt can be salvaged as a client state of the West in any way, then it will be salvaged at any cost. Perhaps the poison has already entered the veins of the people as they choose to protest peacefully for the cameras, appealing to the Western mindset of nonviolence and peaceful flower-laden revolutions. They tweet, update facebook statuses, call in to radio and television shows… their message is united: Mubarak ETLA min Masr! They forget, though, that the Western news cycle is fickle. A manufactured win, like Mubarak offering to leave office in September,  will stand in for actual closure. A new story will rise up on the wave and – if conditions persist- Egypt will be forgotten in a month.

The Western media, accusing Obama now of “abandoning” Mubarak, is not abandoning the people of Egypt. CNN, FOX, etc raise the terrifying specter of Islamic fundamentalism, war with Israel (a big no-no!), and anti-American sentiments in Egypt. I intend to travel to Egypt myself in the coming weeks to prove this to be untrue and to see for myself what happens when democracy is betrayed.

Egypt is the lynchpin that holds the status quo of the Middle East in place. Our prisoners are tortured there, our oil goes through the Suez, and our catspaw Israel gets to lash out at whoever they like so long as Egypt holds a shaky peace. The West stood on uncertain feet at this strong show of displeasure and was careful to craft their responses, but their actions will speak louder than words when they install a new puppet more friendly to global economic interests at the end of 2011. Actions will speak louder than words when a new government just as friendly to Western interests is installed in Tunisia.

The one benefit of this whole exercise for the Western observer is that we have finally seen the face of hypocrisy and naked greed laid bare. Our propaganda slips and falls in a terribly undignified way with our response to Egypt. Yet this too may be forgotten in the coming weeks, as the news cycle turns over and over again, leaving the 79 million people of Egypt in the dust of the “end of history”.