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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 24. 26th September 1973

Ersatz & Propaganda

Ersatz & Propaganda

Comrade Eds,

Peter Russell in "The Age of Ersatz" (Salient, September 19) makes a valid point. While perhaps not original, the reminder does us no harm. I feel his arguments can be developed further to demonstrate the causes and reasons for this assault on the language.

There seems to me to be a variety of causes for ersatz language. Commercial exploitation leads to the desire for novelty which brings such bastards as "foodarama", "washamatic" etc. Then there is overnice prissiness which leads to a desire to place some distance between oneself and the "unpleasant" parts of one's experience. This gives us such things as "toilet" for lavatory or bog. This tendency isn't confined to fussy old ladies. Even Chiang Kai-shek, when threatened by the Chinese Red Armies, bravely ordered an "advance to the rear".

But this desire to avoid one's own experience by distorting the language that describes it has taken on an uglier form over the past few decades which by no coincidence, are the era of the rapid development of mass communication media.

Starting with the American paranoia of the Cold War period and leading up to the American experience in Vietnam, the meaning of words has progressively been distorted to aid the Pentagon in its ideological war.

To demonstrate this, one has merely to look at the real meanings of some of the phrases the Pentagon has spewed out. "Special war" means wholesale and indiscriminate shooting, burning and looting; "strategic hamlet" equals internment camp and "Viet-namisation" means "Things are getting too tough, we're shooting through, you jokers can look after yourselves!"

It's interesting to note just whose experience is being distorted by all this bullshit. The Vietnamese were under no illusions; they were getting shot. The American soldiers and the Pentagon similarly knew what was going on; they were doing the shooting. No, the only people who believed in special war, strategic hamlets etc, were those in the rest of the world whose only contact with Vietnam was through the mass media.

The verbal inflation mentioned by Russell was given (and is still being given) a massive boost by the media, which are being manipulated by Pentagon PR men.

These techniques spillover into other parts of our lives. 'Food price escalation", for example, sounds safely technical. It's a step removed from the more disturbing realisation that it's costing more to feed a family. Even for those who think the Vietnam war has nothing to do with them, that should mean something.

The point is that monopoly capital, both in its imperialist and domestic forms, has a stake in the crumbling of the language to hide its real aims and action and that it is consciously applying this process on a global scale. People's anger and action, not T.S. Eliot poetry is a better and more useful reaction.

Ted Sheehan