A documentary by Jen Senko. Rating unavailable
In some ways, radio has remained as subliminally insidious as it was when it electrified our previously disparate inner lives in the 1930s. This background is raised, sometimes clumsily but with much immediacy, in Jen Senko’s 90-minute documentary, which follows her father’s descent from fun-loving Kennedy Democrat to Rush Limbaugh–spouting dittohead.
The filmmaker (who previously directed another look at social issues in The Vanishing City) spends less time on the home front than in sketching out the gradual rise of right-wing hate media. She skips the centuries-old role of newspapers in spreading propaganda and sticks to electronic roots in the John Birch Society and other groups originally deemed too kooky to penetrate mainstream airwaves.
That changed with Richard Nixon, whose PR chief, Roger Ailes, built Tricky Dick’s political comeback on turning a disgruntled working class against minorities, antiwar activists, and “elites” who bore no resemblance to the oligarchs actually yanking their chains. When Ronald Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine, which guaranteed TV news neutrality, he paved the way for Fox News, run by none other than Roger Ailes. And then Bill Clinton gave away the store, allowing a few Rupert Murdoch–type conglomerates to run the horror show we know today.
Senko talks to David Brock, Jeff Cohen, Noam Chomsky, and other frequent critics of the Republican Noise Machine (in Brock’s locution). And the filmmaker hears from other people whose families were torn apart by free-market hatemongering. It’s unfortunate that she felt the need to dress this quick overview with Michael Moore–like graphics, film clips, and animation, as all these are more poorly chosen and executed than in most advocacy docs these days. Brainwashing leaves off just before the advent of Trumpism, but that actually makes it a timely peer down the right-wing rabbit hole.