Think about it

About half a year ago, I wrote in SK: UNCUT about the enigmatic conception of interpassivity. Interpassivity is a theoretical term developed by cultural philosophers Robert Pfaller and Slavoj Žižek in the 1990’s with regard to artworks and diverse cultural phenomena –  a term with a very specific psychoanalytical underpinning. I observed that since the beginnings, reflection on interpassivity slowly developed and influenced the fields of social philosophy, pushed for example by the research group of Gijs van Oenen at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University, and also by other social scientists. But although the idea of interpassivity – which was developed as a counter concept against interactivity – has some relevance for communication science, the concept is far from established in the field up to now.

What relevance, you may ask? Just one example. I recently stumbled across this weblog with a short analysis of the so-called “boiler room parties” in terms of interpassivity. Boiler room parties are a phenomenon on the web that recently gained remarkable attention – with several thousand visitors at each boiler room TV event. The idea of boiler room parties and boiler room TV is to broadcast parties organized at secret places as an exclusive event to a larger web audience. But what’s the purpose of showing these parties to a growing public? It is for sure that the broadcast doesn’t aim at inviting more people to the club. The parties will remain secret and exclusive events for a small group actively enjoying the clubbing. However, one can argue that boiler room events represent an opportunity for thousands of visitors to delegate their enjoyment by watching others enjoying in their place. That’s a very specific pleasure and a variation of what Pfaller and Žižek call interpassivity…

boiler room

Once one starts to look, one can find quite some reflections about cases of seemingly “interpassive communication” on the web. What is still lacking is some profound theoretical discussion of interpassivity – especially in contrast to the concept of interactivity that seems so well established. So guess what? I am currently starting a research project about this topic. The project is related to the research group NEMO – New Media, Modern Democracy at Lund University / Campus Helsingborg and is financially supported by the German Fritz Thyssen Foundation with a scholarship. My ambition is to reflect on implications of the cultural theory of interpassivity as established by Robert Pfaller, Slavoj Žižek and Gijs van Oenen with regard to the concept of interactive communication. Master Thesis anyone?

ripe orange with leaves on white background

It’s winter time, folks. And winter, that we know since the days we were kids, is the perfect time to enjoy tropical fruit. Especially the queen of tropical fruit: the orange. Recently, I was listening to a broadcast of the German public radio station Deutschlandfunk about these precious fruit, that bring some summer feeling into European winter darkness. And I’m sure all of you know how to distinguish good fruit from not so good: It’s the colour, stupid!

But is it really? Food chemist Udo Pollmer, a German columnist on diet issues, gave an interesting insight on how the orange becomes orange.For all of you who understand German, here’s the link to the broadcast:

European customers would never buy green oranges, would they? From early childhood days on we learn that green oranges are as tasty as green tomatoes. They are unripe. But this is where we smart customers are wrong. Oranges grown in the tropics are green. It is the cooler climate of subtropical areas – such as Spain or Italy, where winter night temperatures do drop to near zero – that causes oranges to change colour.

In the 50s and 60s companies started to apply methods of social research for marketing purposes. The focus group for example, is a widely used technique for detailed discussions with consumers in order to gather information on the appeal of products. The story of degreening might well have begun in one of those focus groups. It then just takes a few customers to point out that they rather like orange than green fruit. With a “flap of a butterfly”, you can create a postharvest industry to further “enhance” products. But hey, whatever the customer wants!

So what’s the point? Why don’t we just wait until winter to enjoy orange oranges? Well, customers are used to having oranges all year round nowadays. Since they are smart enough to know that only an orange orange is a tasty one, something has to be done. Food industry has to come up with some trick. Here’s the trick: degreening. Think I’m kidding? Nope. Here’s some proof:

By gassing with the hormone ethylene, the fruit are artificially aged. The green fruit are put into a process called “ethylene ripening” in order to colour them the right way. But, as Udo Pollmer points out, degreening not only changes the colour for good. It changes the quality for bad. The fruit become more fibrous and the flesh loses flavour. They are also more likely to rot or to attract funghi. You’ll find more information about this not-so-tasty-procedure – and the most weird obituary-like powerpoint template known to man – here:

The interesting lesson for us is: not everything that shines orange is golden in taste… er… or something similar.

And what the hell has this got to do with strategic communication? A lot. In the European Union ‘oranges’ were classified not by sweetness or ripeness but by colour. Weird EU-bureaucrats at work? No. Its Southern European fruit-producers who want to shut out competitors from the tropics. For producers from the tropics can compete on quality, no doubt – but not on colour. We, the customers, want oranges to be orange. If we want something green – helvete, we buy a f…. cucumber. So in order not to let us learn that green oranges can be great, too, a steady supply of perfectly orange oranges needs to be ensured. Especially at the beginning of the classical orange season, when winter has not set in yet, oranges from Spain and Italy need to be thoroughly degreened. It’s another example of the TINA-strategy: Don’t let people get a taste of the alternative.

For all of you who always wanted to know more about oranges but only dared to ask about sex, here are some quite interesting facts (about oranges):

Some days ago, a friend of mine posted on Facebook the following:

Useless Knowledge

For those of you who do not understand German, the picture says: The emissions of the world’s 16 biggest ships, equals the combined emissions of all cars worldwide.

It took not long for some buddies to notice the post and write some first reactions. Most people did not really believe the information to be true. But that is not so much the point. Even though many questioned the presented “fact”, only few really challenged it by digging for the information behind. In fact, they might not have believed it to be true, but they did not believe it to be wrong either.

Just a simple click on the original website offered a very interesting insight. Because in the explanation on the website, the presented “fact” was only true regarding the output of sulphur oxide, meaning that the world’s largest 16 ships combined produce more sulphur oxide than the entire car traffic worldwide. The most common forms of this gas are sulphur di- and trioxide, which are highly toxic and responsibly for acid rain. They usually result from the burning of coal or heavy oil, which is used to fuel cargo ships. But, and that is the crucial point, they are no greenhouse gases.

Given the frame we are looking at, this “useless knowledge” suggests, that ships are worse for global climate change than the entire planets car traffic. Even though this is not said in the information itself, we automatically come to this conclusion when we look at the picture. Because these days climate change is a major issue, and knowing that traffic is one of the prime causes for climate change, we might think: “Could be true.”, at first.

The repost of that story by another friend took only two hours, again without questioning the fact itself. The fact itself, given the present frame of climate change, seems to be, at least, credible enough to make people accept it without further checking.

The very first comment on the website, posted by a user from the ETH Zurich, pointed out very clearly, that the “fact” was presented in a highly misleading, even deceptive way. But the question is, how many users did take the time to check the information behind? How many did even start to ask themselves, if this fact could really be true? I guess only a few did. And that is the perfect setting for an urban legend to be born. I am curious to witness the event, when, one day, one of my “offline” friends is going to tell me: “Concerning global warming, did you know that ships cause more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars worldwide combined?! And you tell me it helps to take the tram instead of going by car? It’s the ships, stupid!”

If you’re interested in the debate about climate change and how it was massively influenced and shaped by strategic communication, read our mini-series The Climate Warriors.

Global Warming is Baloney

Die Zeit ripped

Climate Change

The Climate Warriors

How industry-financed PR managers trick the world into believing that global warming is a fake. Chronology of an organized lie.

By Anita Blasberg und Kerstin Kohlenberg (translated by endofthelesson)

(read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV, Part V here)

The Climate-Warriors, Part 6

In Europe only, climate sceptics are still on the defensive. Fred Singer, the by now 88 year old salesman of doubt, regularly flies over the Atlantic these days, especially to Germany. Here, most people still believe in the findings of science. Singer wants to change that.

In September 2010, he was guest of the German liberal party (FDP) at the Bundestag. The spokeswoman of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Mrs. Marie-Luise Dött, seemed to be impressed afterwards. According to several newspapers she said:  ‘I find your remarks very illuminating, Professor Singer.’ The question now would be how ‘we can bring politics onto a new course’. Sceptics need ‘majorities in society’.

Later CDU officials claim the spokeswoman was misquoted. But for Singer it could not have worked out better.

torchesoffreedom: The maneuver is a simple but forceful one. You invite a sceptic of questionable scientific reputation. He spreads the word that all is a hoax. A rank and file politician approves of what has been said and gives his prompt denial the following day. But the signal for all those who want to believe in the story of global warming baloney is clear: “Do not bow to the power of facts!” Morano and his warriors thereby stockpile the arsenal of deception, everywhere.

And it does not take long until the movement of climate sceptics gains momentum in Germany, too. Already in 2006, Germany’s 2nd biggest energy producer RWE, claimed in a lawsuit with Greenpeace that climate change was just an ‘individual perception of a hypothetical danger, which is not present nor palpable.’ Just one year before, an American PR-Counselor penned a strategy paper for RWE on how to fight the energy turn. His advice was to ‘forge coalitions with other corporations’ – and to learn from people like Marc Morano.

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Global Warming is Baloney

Die Zeit ripped

Climate Change

The Climate Warriors

How industry-financed PR managers trick the world into believing that global warming is a fake. Chronology of an organized lie.

By Anita Blasberg und Kerstin Kohlenberg (translated by endofthelesson)

(read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here)

The Climate-Warriors, Part 5

The year is 2009. The Financial Crisis has hit media hard. Publishing houses and broadcasters downsize. Every third U.S. news-journalist loses his job. The few left don’t have the time to check facts. CNN disbands its science-unit. Weather forecast announcer Chad Meyers is the resident expert for climate change now. Meyers says: ‘It’s hubris to think we humans can affect global climate in such a way.’

endofthelesson: Klaus Kocks, the enfant terrible of the public relations-scene in Germany, coined the immortal phrase that the colourful flower of public relations grows out of the dung-heap of journalism (“Die bunte Blume der PR blueht auf dem Misthaufen des Journalismus”; ZAPP, 17.02.2010). Communication and media researchers in the Western democracies have repeatedly pointed out that the succession of ‘media crises’ during the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st hollowed out journalism to a dangerous degree. Journalism, in general, simply isn’t capable of doing the job the public somehow expects it to do anymore. But this is not just a post-democratic condition. Media crises are not a force of nature. There is a reason. And the reason, folks, is the simple fact that WE, the once-citizens and now-consumers, are not willing to pay. We’re not willing to pay the full price for quality journalism. Most of us, myself included, are not even willing to devote a decent amount of time and attention to quality journalism. It’s  uncomfortable and unsettling to read about the rotten state of the world all the time. So I watch Prince Harry talking about flying the Apache gunship instead.

What is bad for readers and viewers is good for Marc Morano: Many editorial offices now pursue the strategy to neutralize every material statement with a counter-statement claiming the opposite. So, every statement by a climate researcher is counterbalanced by the statement of a climate-change denier – and that saves the press the trouble to provide an answer to the question who’s right and who’s wrong.

Marc Morano keeps a database of several thousand e-mail-addresses of journalists on his laptop. 19 different lists, sorted by categories such as ‘columnists’, ‘TV moderators’, ‘supra-regional science editors’ (‘not as accessible as the others’), ‘local newspaper’ (‘always take something’).

It’s November, 17, 2009. Michael Mann celebrates Thanksgiving with this family. At 9.57 pm a person with the pseudonym ‘FOIA’ blogs on a blog called Air Vent. FOIA reveals the address of a server from which one can download 1000 private e-mails of the most prominent climate researchers world-wide: Michael Mann included.

What happened? Unknown hackers accessed the server of the climate research unit of the University of East Anglia and downloaded private e-mails and documents. Everything stands ready for inspection in the net, just in time for the UN Climate Conference starting at the beginning of December 2009 in Copenhagen.

At that time, Marc Morano was sitting in the back of a rented car driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. His mobile phone rings. He is in California to agitate against a new environmental law. An acquaintance tells him about the hacked mails. Crazy stuff, some of it! In one e-mail, Michael Mann writes that he uses ‘a trick’ to conceal sinking temperatures.

A trick? That can only mean one thing: that the whole business of global warming is a gigantic fake.

Soon the seeming ‘scandal’ has a name: Climategate. Marc Morano puts a so-called feeder onto his webpage. The program alerts him to everything that is written about the researchers’ mails. He collects headlines and assembles them on his own page – linked to 1,700 other pages. ‘The greatest scandal of modern science,’ he types. Other bloggers link his texts with other texts. These are then linked to others. Like a man possessed, Morano works through the night. Until Climategate has spread through the Google-Universe like a dense web. In only two weeks’ time, the story of the allegedly corrupt climate researchers spreads to 25 million internet pages all over the globe.

Few journalists have bothered to read the original e-mails, but nearly all gratefully accept Morano’s interpretation: ‘The last nail in global warming’s coffin.’ Fox News goes on day after day about the ‘Waterloo of global warming.’ The British newspaper Daily Telegraph warns its readers: ‘If you hold stock of renewable energy companies, divest NOW!’ Even the well-regarded magazine The Atlantic writes disgustedly: ‘The stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering’.

The World Climate Conference in Copenhagen ends inconclusively. No results. President Obama’s long-awaited climate protection act fails in the U.S. Senate. A couple of weeks later, in spring 2010, congressional investigation committees acquit the climate researchers fully and completely. The incriminating passages were taken out of context. The ‘trick’ Michael Mann wrote about pertains to the perfectly admissible solution of a statistical problem. The data contain no irregularities. This news, too, makes it into the media. But it is confined to the back pages.

Not even half of the U.S. population believes in global warming anymore.

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Global Warming is Baloney

Die Zeit ripped

Climate Change

The Climate Warriors

How industry-financed PR managers trick the world into believing that global warming is a fake. Chronology of an organized lie.

By Anita Blasberg und Kerstin Kohlenberg (translated by torchesoffreedom)

(read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here)

The Climate-Warriors,  Part 4

While Mann and the other scientists in the World Climate Council work free of charge, the Heartland Institute writes in an internal budgetary plan for 2012, which was leaked to the media recently, about Fred Singers association NIPCC: “We currently support the NIPCC, to undermine the official report of the World Climate Council of the United Nations. We have paid a team of writers, to work on a series of publications.”

And furthermore the institutes paper says: “Our current budget includes the support of persons with  high levels of publicity, who regularly object the alarmist’s statements concerning climate change. Right now, this support goes to Craig Idso (11.600 Dollar per month), Fred Singer (5.000 Dollar per month) and Robert Carter (1.667 Dollar per month).

From 1997 to 2004 alone, the oil and gas industry has invested 420 Million dollars in the manufacturing of doubt.

At the end of 2007, the World Climate Council is awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. But in America, there’s no longer any talk of bipartisan consensus or joint legislation for the protection of the climate. On the contrary: Michael Mann finds himself again on the dock in Washington. “Open questions concerning the hockey stick”, is the hearing entitled, to which, this time, the Energy Commission invites him. Mann knows, there are no open questions, his results are undeniable. Nevertheless, he is nervous.

torchesoffreedom (aka intheloop): An important part of the strategy is to repeat dissent on climate change in public, over and over again. As with casting doubts on the reputation of spearheading persons like Mann, it sooner or later also has a lasting effect on the issue climate change itself. It does not really matter if the doubts you raise on climate change are qualified or not. Permanent repetition alone will make enough people think, that they might be. And that is all you need to change facts into beliefs.

In front of Rayburn House, seat of the House of Representatives, stand the broadcast vehicles of all major broadcasting stations. Mann climbs the stairs, cameraman accompany him, journalists with microphone and voice recorder. Mann just became father for the first time, his contract with the university is still reprieved. For the first time in his life, he contacted a lawyer. It is not only about science any more. It is about his existence.

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Global Warming is Baloney


endofthelessonintheloop/endofthelesson. This the third part of a new mini-series (Part I here, Part II here) which touches upon a couple of issues in StratCom. Firstly, dirty tricks. We’ll point out some of the time-honoured ploys that are frequently em-ployed in StratCom when actors run out of arguments – predominantly on the tactical level. This is for emancipatory and educational purposes only, of course: Kids, don’t try this at home. Second, we’ll talk about strategy – something that strikes us as not unimportant in the context of strategic communication. Expect to meet good ol’ Clausewitz, but since it’s hard to discuss strategy in abstracto, we’ve decided to do it in concreto, i.e. by commenting on a case: The Climate Warriors. The idea here is, moreover, that StratCom-scholars and students can make a tiny tiny contribution. Not by refuting the arguments, but by pointing out the too-familiar tricks. Believe it or not: practitioners have made their contribution already:, run amongst others by PR practitioner Jim Hoggan, was voted into the Top 25 of TIME magazine’s best blogs of 2011. Third, we’ll address the concerted attack on the credibility of science. It is worrying, we believe, that powerful forces in society are actively undermining the credibility of scientific knowledge by means of more or less cleverly crafted StratCom. And we’re not talking about the credibility of postmodernist literature theory here, but about largely uncontroversial or undisputed results in the natural sciences. Climate change denial, our fourth issue, is the prime example, but there are others: the rise of religious fundamentalism and its denial of evolutionary theory; the fact that research on what makes humans happy and content (e.g. more equal societies) is constantly ignored by policy-makers; the way economics has declared itself value-free and has at the same time become highly ideological, etc.

Enuff talk. Here’s the case. The following is our translation from German weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, Nov, 22, 2012 – you can read the original here. We have asked to acquire the copyright for the purpose of this blog.  

Die Zeit ripped

Climate Change

The Climate Warriors

How industry-financed PR managers trick the world into believing that global warming is a fake. Chronology of an organized lie.

By Anita Blasberg und Kerstin Kohlenberg (translated by endofthelesson)

(read Part I here and Part II here)

The Climate-Warriors,  Part 3

Nine years later, in autumn 2012, Marc Morano says: ‘We managed to stop the climate bills within three years of time.’ He says it with pride – like a schoolboy who boasts about a home assignment well done. The location is the Capital Grill, an exquisite steakhouse in a Washington suburb. Padlocked wall-cupboards used to harbour the expensive cigars of regular guests.

‘That was the time when you were allowed to smoke in restaurants,’ Morano says, rolling his eyeballs. Morano doesn’t like when politics intrudes into people’s private lives. He doesn’t like to hear that smoking may harm his health, or that the rain forest may be in danger, or that overpopulation of the planet may constitute a problem.

‘Ideology’, he says.

Morano loves his family, the four kids, his wife Jennifer. He loves his big Victorian house with the beautiful garden. He loves his big, heavy SUV. He likes to live life his way.

The first thing Morano does after being hired by Senator Inhofe is to rebuild the website of the Environmental Committee. He collects everything that denies global warming. The more a text agitates against climate change, the more prominently it is placed. The internet is a treasure-trove of such texts. Things are going well for Marc Morano.

But then, the year is 2006, ex-presidential candidate of the Democrats Al Gore releases the documentary movie An Inconvenient Truth. Gore shows pictures of glaciers melting away, of deserts spreading, of cities flooded. And he works the same way Morano works. Gore has a message and he formulates it so that everybody gets it. With the one difference that Al Gore is not backed up by heavy industry. He’s backed up by scientific consensus.

An Inconvenient Truth

endofthelesson: An Inconvenient Truth is conveniently on vimeo. If you haven’t seen it, if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Al Gore has a cool haircut, go ahead and wreck your day.


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