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Da'esh / ISIS Recruitment has much in common with the dubious drawing rooms of Victorian England.

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

It is fascinating that the USA is having a panic attack about the spread of Da'esh / ISIS by means of propaganda. It is also ironic, given the cultural imperialism that the USA has applied through the entertainment industry - and continues to do so, shaping thinking in so many ways that even in the UK, we find ourselves dominated not by the USA's sharpest minds but by the excessively puerile.

And yet the parallels of how Da'esh / ISIS and the USA spread their messages, and reinforce them, are striking.

Both create a false reality, an impression of life as they want us to see it. Both carefully script what we hear and stage what we see while telling us that it is real, when all too often, the only reality we are presented with is the final, carefully choreographed presentation, while all the background work goes un-noticed and we are, collectively, happy to accept the pretence that it does not exist.

The only material differences between the distribution of these messages is the medium - and yet even different media are converging through legal and illegal means.

It is often said that there are two primary drivers for development - war and pornography. In the case of the film industry, the driver was not pornography as such but it was certainly the risqué.

Despite the overt prissiness of the Victorian Age, there is a direct line through static art to the erotica of the Romans and, even, before. There are, for example, extensive erotic depictions in early Hindu carvings and Palaeolithic era carvings which some say are sexually explicit have been found at Cresswell Caves in England. Others say that carvings in the French Pyrenees are 14,000 BC images of homosexual intercourse and a rudimentary design in a German cave is a 20,000 BC image of lesbian sex.

It was the early Victorians who tried to segregate art into that which is regarded as pornography, the merely erotic and the widely acceptable. Saucy postcards were the common man's titillation of choice - and availability. He did not have access to the secretive salons of the middle class where the Zoetrope was immensely popular: images (hand drawn or photographed) were inserted into slots around a drum which was rotated, giving the impression of movement, a technique that is the direct forebear of both stop-motion and cartoon animation.

Just as printed material had to wait for the invention of the printing press to truly reach mass markets, so "moving pictures" had to wait for the George Eastman's 1888 films on transparency and the devices required to capture sequential images and to process the results. Eastman and his Kodak company built on the work of the French Lumière brothers - and it was those brothers who had the idea of projecting their images to mass audiences.

It was the light, the weather and relative creative freedom of California that drew film makers to the USA's south west corner.

Cinema was, in today's terms, a disruptive technology, and the spread of American cinema reflected the tastes and opinions of its producers and the studio system created the cult of celebrity that now engulfs societies around the world.

It was the introduction of television, more than half a century later, that began the invasion of living rooms with American culture as programme directors adopted a uniformity of approach that remains today as networks compete by copying each other's ideas so as not to lose even tiny niche markets.

But television is, already, yesterday's medium. Today, on-demand video over the internet is the place to be. As Netflix has demonstrated, barriers to entry are tiny compared to the TV network system that has flourished since the mid 1950s. New production technology means that a high definition film can be made with a palm-sized video-recorder.

The move to internet takes the form of distribution and turns watching a video into an experience similar to that of watching the action in a Zoetrope, it is something one does alone even if there are other people in the room: the "drawing room" situation of Victorian times, when one person watched then the device was passed around, is very common amongst the internet's second generation. Equally, though, there is a second material similarity: that of the ability to watch, in private, something that others would disapprove of .

Films such as The Blair Witch Project would not, now, need studio distribution - provided that it can get a buzz behind it.

Getting the buzz is the point of the studio system: promos, trailers and advertising can only go so far. The real push is via filial programming from talk shows to "making of" films and "reality" shows and even news and current affairs programmes. Films that are themselves showcases for products become products showcased in other programming. Entire channels, e.g. MTV, are promotional vehicles for the products of one group of companies and their awards ceremonies, extensively covered by their filial network, exclude independent artists and those from other labels.

The effect is to create a fictitious ecosystem in which viewers are sucked into believing the false truths that those who run the entertainment industry depend on, the concept that celebrities that the studios and related businesses create are in some way important, that what they say is in some way of such relevance that they should influence lives, even though what they say is often either carefully scripted by someone else or is calculated to generate headlines. Large scale media groups, that are involved in both print and the TV / Film industry are, in effect, PR outlets for their own artists, actors and musicians and the products they front.

The language used is designed to draw the susceptible into subscribing to an alternate, and subversive, reality. For example, the widespread description of Kim Kardashian (whose celebrity status appears to be based in nothing but her celebrity status) as a "style icon" or "fashion icon." Hang on... she, along with many other celebrities, gets paid to turn up to parties and be photographed wearing certain clothes.

Around the world, supposedly independent media carry articles about people who, in the old expression, are famous for being famous. We are now in a world where the young, especially, are receptive to fictional representations of life as if they were real, and in doing so create their own reality based upon a third party's false presentations.

In short, the USA, through its media companies, has exported under the guise of culture and / or entertainment, a view of the world that enough people subscribe to to make it worth perpetuating the myth.

Enter media savvy criminal enterprises such as Da'esh / ISIS.


Read the whole article, "The spread of terrorism is life imitating art imitating life," published in World Money Laundering Report 15 December 2015. See World Money Laundering Report