Propaganda By Any Other Name

Thanks to the awesome power of the inter-tubes, I’ve recently been exposed to – and quickly become a huge fan of – a cracking good TV show called Sea Patrol. Odds are, most of my readers have never heard of it, because it’s never aired in the United States. See, it’s an Australian drama about the operations of a smallish patrol boat in the Royal Australian Navy, and the people who crew her. Apparently, it’s one of the most popular shows in TV in Australia, and rightly so. (How entertaining is it? Let’s put it this way – there’s a fair chance I’ll buy a region-free dual-format PAL/NTSC DVD player just so I can watch this show on DVD. Yes, it’s really that good that I’d spend $45/season + $65 for a new DVD player = $155. Maybe I’m just jaded by overexposure to horrible American television…)

Anyway, here’s the thing…

Sea Patrol is immensely entertaining, and features a fair amount of quite breathtaking photography, but it’s also, let’s be honest, propaganda. Filmed, at least in part, aboard actual Australian warships, with the assistance of the Royal Australian Navy, it’s pretty clear that quite apart from being entertainment, it’s also a quite slick bit of advertising for life in the Navy. Join the RAN, it basically says; meet sexy and exotic people, travel to interesting destinations, and do an endless variety of exciting and occasionally somewhat heroic things along the way. (“The Royal Australian Navy: Sun, fun, and fraternization. So where the bloody hell are you?”) For the most part, the drum-beating isn’t too horribly overt, but there are a few moments where it gets somewhat blatant, as in the pilot, where one crewmember, discussing the crew on a small, rickety fishing vessel that’s been boarded for illegally fishing within Australia’s territorial waters, mentions that they’re poor and have to do what they can to get by. Feel sorry for them all you like, another sailor says to him, but those are our (as in, “Australia’s”) fish they’re taking, and we need those to support our children, and our children’s children. Alrighty, then.

Propaganda usually annoys the hell out of me, and is usually more than enough to prevent me from having any interest in a TV show. (Homeland Security USA is one glaring example – and was interestingly enough based on an Australian series. Most of the shows in recent years about the U.S. military (and other government bodies) have been, if anything, anti-propaganda. From watching NCIS over the years, you could easily come to the conclusion that snarky ex-Marines and cute goth chicks are all that keeps the Navy’s wide assortment of rapists, serial killers, and various other criminal masterminds from destabilizing the entire western hemisphere; shows like NUMB3RS do little other than suggest the FBI are by and large helpless and inefficient without a tiny cadre of super-geeks on hand to save the day at the last possible moment. And then there’s Reno 911, which gets mistaken for a “real” COPS-style show far too often…) Yet even the more overtly oooh-rah moments in Sea Patrol really don’t bother me, and I’m not afraid to admit I’m a bit curious, if not worried, as to why that is.

At first, I wanted to think it was just an inherent part of the way propaganda works – or rather, doesn’t work on anyone not part of the intended target audience. Since I’m not one of the sexy, good-looking Australians that seem to comprise the majority of the RAN’s ranks, am I simply immune to manipulation – and annoyance – from the not-so-subtle advertising?

I dunno.

I also wonder whether there’s something strangely compelling about foreign accents that hypnotize people, brainwash them, and make them more accepting of inanity and outrageousness. (Zat vould explainz vat has happened to California under zer reign ov zer Governator, yes? It may be zat, I mean that, I’m on to something here…)

Maybe. Maybe not.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the palatability of Australia’s propaganda has much – perhaps everything – to do with the country itself, and the fact that the propaganda largely lacks the chest-thumping and posturing Call me cynical, but the reality that they aren’t a ruthless and jingoistic world superpower seems to help put the propaganda in context, if you will. If American or Russia produced a similar show, it would be all about technological might and global reach and sheer macho dick-waving outright global dominance; Australia, by contrast, is perhaps the second-least-militant major landmass in the (former) British Empire, and projects an air of preoccupation with much smaller and more localized issues. (To be fair, I haven’t gotten to the second or third seasons of Sea Patrol yet, which reportedly feature lots of “international terrorists”, or something like that…)

Why yes, I have been told I sometimes over-analyze things. Why do you ask? 🙂

Musings about propaganda, jingoism, and so on aside, Sea Patrol is a really great show, and I heartily encourage you to give it a download. Warships, strange and beautiful foreign places, drama, excitement, amazing photography, cute women with accents in uniform, an interesting plot, good writing… what are you waiting for? Go! Download! Watch! Enjoy! Now!

You’ll thank me, later. 🙂

Published in: Geekiness, General | on July 16th, 2009| Comments Off on Propaganda By Any Other Name

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