Decent subject matter. Frankly, covered before in documentaries like Outfoxed, but not recently.
Losing Touch with Loved Ones
The title and premise posit a phenomenon that I’ve noticed but haven’t seen named anywhere. It’s the notion that Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and other right-wing radio personalities are “brainwashing” their listeners, initiating them into a cult of unthinking dittoheads.
Jen Senko, the film’s director says that men like her father — formerly rational, kind men — get trapped in the right-wing spin machine and end up alienating their loved ones with newfound, groundless vitriol.
She explained her idea on a kickstarter page. Many of her backers Skyped her with stories of their own that mirrored her own experience — fathers and uncles became unreachable and “fact-resistant” after falling into the echo chamber.
Senko says that the change in her own father came after he subscribed to some right-wing e-mail lists and started consuming Limbaugh and Fox. She remembers he would rant about the feminazis going after poor, innocent Hooters — stuff the old him would never have given a second thought to. Senko isn’t even sure her father knew what Hooters was until Limbaugh put it in the spotlight.
Uncovering the Roots
Senko traces the history of the current right wing media machine to the John Birch society; the Republican party’s “Southern Strategy”; Roger Ailes’ coaching of Richard Nixon for TV; and the Powell Memorandum, which suggested a strategy of media ownership in order to get a more favorable view of conservatives into the minds of Americans.
Senko interviews many notable figures including George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant, a book about the right wing’s strategy of framing debates.
She probably underuses her interview with Frank Luntz, credited with coining the phrase “death tax” (to be used in place of “estate tax.”) Luntz is an unapologetic conservative spin doctor, and very frank (pun intended) about what kinds of language work. It’s refreshing to see someone proud of what has been accomplished by the right.
Senko’s talking-head interviews are lightened by a few special animations from Bill Plympton.
Identifying the Problem
The Brainwashing of My Dad is well researched, and if you’re new to right wing media history, you might find it fascinating.
But I was hoping for more sociology and science explaining why older white men are so susceptible to the Fox/Limbaugh phenomenon.
Senko does talk to an expert in brainwashing, then launches a segment explaining some general tactics. But at the end I don’t feel any wiser as to why certain of my elders become completely different when allowed to rant about politics.
In any case, The Brainwashing of My Dad is good at putting a label on a social phenomenon that has been festering for years. And Identifying the problem is the first step to treating it.
By the way, Senko offers an interesting ending to the story of her own father’s brainwashing. I’ll let you watch the movie and discover what happened.