LWC Article ~ March 4, 2017
Rush Limbaugh - Body Snatcher
"What people believe prevails over the truth."
~ Sophocles, Fragments of Known Plays
ollywood has made, at least, three Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies: the original black and white with the histrionic Kevin McCarthy, the macabre 1978 remake by Philip Kaufman, and the latest version, The Invasion, with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. In each film, distressed people appear early on, complaining that a family member is no longer his or her real self. “My husband is not my husband,” says Veronica Cartwright’s character Wendy, in The Invasion. He was transformed. Same body, different person.
The same cry from the heart can be heard throughout Jen Senko’s documentary, "The Brainwashing of My Dad." She lost her father, she says, to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. The once jovial, goofy guy had become a narrow-minded and angry bigot, and she wanted to understand why. When she was looking for start-up money to make this movie, she ended up running into large numbers of people who had similar stories to tell, and she put many of them in the film. “She’s a completely different person,” one woman says of her family member. “Who are you and what have you done with my stepfather?” asks a man. “And he was completely changed, he was bitter and angry,” another woman says. In one stunning shot, Senko shows many of these grieving people simultaneously, a hundred small faces in pain, and we hear them in overlapping audio.
Instead of alien spores raining gently from the sky, Mr. Senko was zapped by AM radio waves from above.
These family members were lost, not to an alien spore, but to a carefully constructed program of media manipulation, with Fox News and AM radio in the forefront. Senko’s film recounts the rise of Roger Ailes, a former Nixon advisor, who turned Fox News into a juggernaut for the GOP. She shows us the 1970 memo associated with Ailes, entitled A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News. “People are lazy,” the memo informs us. They’ll let TV do the thinking for them. Americans were getting more and more of their news from television, and it was Ailes’s dream, realized at Fox, to turn TV news into Right-wing propaganda machine.
Senko also shares with us her dad’s obsession with AM talk-man Rush Limbaugh, begun while he made a long solo commute. Instead of alien spores raining gently from the sky, Mr. Senko was zapped by AM radio waves from above. Jen blames Limbaugh’s 3-hour daily radio blasts, in particular, for turning him into a stoked, thoughtless, and uncaring person.
In the Body Snatcher movies, the aliens, though kind of graceless and clammy, are far less interested in violence-for-its-own-sake than their human hosts. They are cold, murdering, efficient colonists, who then establish peaceful relations with their own kind. The joke in all three films is that Alien-earth might be nicer for the humans—or what is left of them after their transformation.
Senko brings on experts, like neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor, who talks to us about the similarities between cult-programming and its Right-wing equivalent.
What happened with Jen’s father? The ending was a mixed bag. His commute ended and his home radio broke, so that was the end of Rush. Jen and her mother reprogrammed him (away from Fox) by reprogramming the TV remote, and by replacing some of his more virulent Right-wing emails with emails from sources like Truthout. Without the steady thrum of bombast, Mr. Senko began to return to his old self. He ended up, he said, somewhere between a Republican and a Democrat. He said he liked Obama. Mother and daughter were thrilled to have gotten rid of the bitter, weird Rush-Ditto Head guy. There is a pretty exact analogy, by the way, in the ending of The Invasion, where the nice Daniel Craig is restored to himself sitting at the breakfast table at the movie’s end. He doesn’t even remember his crazy-self. I don’t think Mr. Senko does, either, which might be just as well.
Here’s the problem. If people are this easy to manipulate, how happy can you be with a story like this? Of course, one sympathizes with the Senkos, and it was nice to see them find some peace. But, good lord, what malleable clay this is! Jen uses the metaphor of cult-programming—her father was programmed by AM radio and Fox News. In support, Senko brings on experts, like neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor, who talks to us about the similarities between cult-programming and its Right-wing equivalent. One obvious similarity, ably shown by Senko throughout the film, is that both types of brainwashing happen in isolation. Like the victims of alien transformation in the Body Snatcher movies, her father was alone when he turned.
Any hope here? Yes, thankfully. At one point a guy named Steve from Tennessee comes on. He was a huge Right-wing radio fan, listening on his midday commute. One day he happened upon NPR, and he began listening to All Things Considered after catching Sean Hannity’s show. “I started basically comparing the quality of what was being presented…I guess I could start seeing the Right-wing radio as what it is—sheer propaganda.” That a guy, without any help, could work this out for himself is the most heartening thing in the movie.