Laughing Pundits

Propaganda & The Benign Elite of Rational Manipulators

Illustration, Opinion, Process

“The world informed by “public relations” will be but “a smoothly functioning society,” where all of us are guided imperceptibly throughout our lives by a benign elite of rational manipulators.” – Edward Bernays, Propaganda 1928


The following project is a continuation of Once the Buddha Was A Monkey. It explores the horror of the ape within, personified in the political caricatures fronting the media. The series was completed the same year as the White House Correspondence Dinner in which Obama infamously made a laughing stock of Trump, putting a flame to the elephant’s tail that ran and dominated the 2016 election circus.

In light of current events, I have chosen to discuss the themes of the drawing via excerpts from Propaganda, an evangelical book for marketers, written by the father of Public Relations, Edward Bernays.

Bernays began his career with the Committee on Public Information promoting American war efforts during World War I. It was here that he learned to fear the erratic nature of the masses, and the potential use of persuasion as a means of control. He describes how in 1915, “governments first systematically deployed the entire range of modern media to rouse their populations to fanatical assent. Here was an extraordinary state accomplishment: mass enthusiasm at the prospect of a global brawl that otherwise would mystify those very masses, and that shattered most of those who actually took part in it. The Anglo-American drive to demonize “the Hun,” and to cast the war as a transcendent clash between Atlantic “civilization” and Prussian “barbarism,” made so powerful an impression on so many that the worlds of government and business were forever changed.”

To this day, you see the same spurious and emotionally divisive advertising unleashed on screen, fought on such news sites as Fox and CNN as observed this election cycle.

Although Propaganda is nearing a century old, the tactics explored have ominous relevance today. Bernays paints a pictures of a commercial complex closely tied to politics. He explains how mega corporations gained their power and influence, how lobbyists earned their seat at the table, and the means in which a powerful few have garnered authority, captured the attention, and manipulated the masses.


“Of “the sheep now wretchedly straying” the world over, “Especially it is to be desired that, inspired by divine grace, they should cease to wander amidst heresies through the unhappy pastures of infidelity, drinking deadly and poisonous water, but be placed in the pasture of the true faith, that they may be gathered together in saving doctrine, and be led to the springs of the waters of life.”


Initial sketches. Experimenting with layout.

“He grasps the picture which fits in so neatly with his prejudices, and makes it his own. He buys the sheet and pillowcase costume, and bands with his fellows by the thousand into a huge group powerful enough to swing state elections and to throw a ponderous monkey wrench into a national convention.”


Popular right wing pundits and political voices in 2011: Donald Trump, Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh

“Manipulation of news, the inflation of personality, and the general ballyhoo by which politicians and commercial products and social ideas are brought to the consciousness of the masses. The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused. But such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life.”

Scan 12

Composition outline

“Bernays arrived at the bleak view that “the democratic El Dorado” is impossible in modern mass society, whose members—by and large incapable of lucid thought or clear perception, driven by herd instincts and mere prejudice, and frequently disoriented by external stimuli—were not equipped to make decisions or engage in rational discourse.”


The Laughing Pundits & The Benign Elite of Rational Manipulators

Democracy” therefore requires a supra-governmental body of detached professionals to sift the data, think things through, and keep the national enterprise from blowing up or crashing to a halt. Although mankind surely can be taught to think, that educative process will be long and slow. In the meantime, the major issues must be framed, the crucial choices made, by “the responsible administrator.” “It is on the men inside, working under conditions that are sound, that the daily administration of society must rest.”


“There is a vast and continuous effort to capture the public minds in the interest of gaining acceptance for some policy or commodity or idea.”



Reference Images: Pundit Caricatures & The Flippant Apes

“The individual is appealed to by means of every approach—visual, graphic, and auditory.” The Propagandist “takes account not merely the individual, nor even the mass mind alone, but also and especially the anatomy of society, with its interlocking group formations and loyalties. It sees the individual not only as a cell in the social organism but as a cell organized into the social unit. Touch a nerve at a sensitive spot and you get an automatic response from certain specific members of the organism.” In order to do this, one must “secure the cooperation of the key men in every group—persons whose mere word carry authority to hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers.”

Scan 11

Composition outline

“This invisible, intertwining structure of groupings and associations is the mechanism by which democracy has organized its group mind and simplified its mass thinking.”


The Monkey Wrench

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” These “invisible governors” are a heroic elite, who coolly keep it all together, thereby “organizing chaos,” as God did in the Beginning. “It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.”


“So ran the democratic doctrine. But instead of a mind, universal literacy has given him rubber stamps, rubber stamps inked with advertising slogans, with editorials, with published scientific data, with the trivialities of the tabloids and the platitudes of history, but quite innocent of original thought. Each man’s rubber stamps are the duplicates of millions of others, so that when those millions are exposed to the same stimuli, all received identical imprints.”


Unfinished piece. Example of the drawing process: Four faces drawn in blind contour.  Outlines of each seen in blue, pink, orange, and grey pencil. The lines are overlaid, enhanced, and shaded with charcoal, creating a composite face.


The drawings were rendered in blind contour (drawn without looking at the paper), my hand drew as my eyes focused on the contours of the reference image. This technique places all attention on the object of desire, the outcome on paper is less important. The result is a entangled mask of wiry lines that echo the original image. I approach these lines like a road map that contains unexpected crossing-paths to explore later. After drawing each face in this manner, I went back in and developed shapes, establishing illusionistic value to forms I wished to bring out. The layered image combine into abstract, rhythmic landscapes. Although there is no clear focus, hints of the original faces are visible. Floating details entertain and gently draw the viewer in for exploration. The images are rendered with graphite pencil on gessoed birch frames. Graphite is the most ‘democratic’ medium. Its black, metallic shine defuses the image across the pristine, white slate – a reference to print media and the news. 


On November 8, 2016, the propagandist’s machine was beat at its own game. Who would have thought a reality star and internet troll would be our next president. The nation was in shock. Did our own hedonism get the best of us? It was as if we were indulging in a train-wreck reality show, pointing fingers and laughing hysterically at the silly characters on screen, when the monstrous head turned and engulfed us. Now we have to figure out how to survive in this alternate reality.

A con stole the game away from the establishment, but in so doing, exposed its cards and tricks. He woke up the nation and provided people a chance to take back their power. He has shown us we are just as integral to the propaganda machine as the puppeteers. As Bernay’s points out, “we have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issue so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions.” I ask that you look at the media and learn to maneuver it. Pay attention to what messages you give consent, how you cooperate and surrender to the image crafted for you. Don’t get played by the monkey and don’t be the monkey. With that knowledge, I hope this divided nation will begin a conversation that works on bridging the gaps between us to form a more perfect union. 


MSU Exponent, Featured Student Artist. April 4, 2013

Vox Populi 2012 (M.S.U. annual juried exhibition) 

These Machines Kill FascistsBring Your Own Art Show, The Cottonwood Club. January 10, 2015







Experimental, Future, Illustration, Process




This assignment was an exercise of imagination and explores the potential use and intelligence of our hand held devices. I was asked to create a mobile app without limiting myself to current mechanical standards. I used this as an opportunity to explore my passion in music, user experience, and entertainment design. 



Electronic music has seen a growth in popularity in the last 30 years, but unfortunately it still has some hurdles to overcome to gain broader acceptance in live performance. Artists such as Amon Tobin have found impressive ways to create eye catching shows using projection mapping that compliment and enhance the music. These displays, however, are not cheap. Far too often shows feels confined and robotic, as a DJ stands behind a laptop, twisting nobs and punching buttons on a table. Beyond visual entertainment, there is often a lack understanding and appreciation surrounding the skills required for such music production, because the auditory techniques and creative process are not transparent. 

This app merges electronic music and the human body, creating a physical performance that is more relatable and is a fun way to experience, make, and share music with friends.


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MOSIC is a MIDI controller, freed from the confines of a tablet, and expressed through the human body. Slide your phone in your pocket and start dancing! MOSIC uses your phone’s motion-sensors and radar (a future effect on your phone) to precisely record and sync your movements to prerecorded sound. Partner your movement with MOSIC’s mixing bed of digital, sampled, and analog sound.

HOW IT WORKS: Imagine your body is surrounded by a sphere of particles. Each particle is charged with a programmed sound. When a particle becomes excited or touched, it emits a sound. Your phone’s ‘radar’ is the particle sphere. MOSIC allows you to program sounds in the sphere and emits them according to your body’s proximity within the sphere. 


(The performer here is using light reflecting technology but the concept is similar)


  • HOME SCREENmosiclayoutslidepage1.jpg
  • MY PROFILE: Create a visual diagram to build your drum set by measuring the distance between your phone and key body joints. mosiclayoutslidepage2.jpg 
  • DRUM SETS: Partner your movement with a mixing bed of digital, sampled, and analog sound. Drag sounds to desired area in spheremosiclayoutslidepage3.jpg
  • EFFECTS: Allow you greater control over your performance. Change the pitch or change the loop length of a sound. Volume and pitch can be set at relative or static according to proximity to a sound.mosiclayoutslidepage4.jpg
  • PLAY: Press the green button, slide phone in your pocket and start dancing!mosiclayoutslidepage5.jpg


Kids and young Adults

Smartphone APP Competitors:

  • Portable/Hand Held Music Devices
  • GyroSynth-hand held gesture driven music synthesizer
  • SoundPrism-Intuitive sound creation tool
  • Figure-sound production through reason
  • I Am Sampler-simple musical sampler


The illustration of this app is inspired by early pixilated video games from the 80s and 90s. I used a bright color palate, gleaned from games of that period. The graphics are boxy and intentionally a bit crude. 


Although this was intended as a theoretical exercise, I have spoken to a few programmers to see if it could become reality. Similar devices exist, including: the theremin, an electronic music device, invented in the 1920s, that requires no physical contact and is played by the relative positioning of the performers hands to two metal antennas; 3D light sensors that sync body movement with computer actions (currently being used in the gaming industry and in expressive dance); and computerized gesture-control gloves

The relative positioning technology for mobile use currently doesn’t exist, however it is on its way to being developed. Radar chips (micro radar technology) and advancements in Virtual Reality are making the app appear more tangible. The possible uses for such technology would be immense and could have a range of uses beyond music, including sign language.

I’m excited too see where technology leads us in coming years. It is truly an exciting time to be in the field design. 


Library of Babel

Illustration, Process


I created an pop-up representation of Jorge Luis Borges’ The Library of Babel (1941).


The Library of Babel is a fictional universe conceived as a vast library of interwoven hexagonal rooms. Each room contains the bare necessities for sustaining life and four walls of bookshelves. The contents of these books are believed to contain every permutation of 23 characters. Most of the books are gibberish, but occasionally a word, sentence, or even page of coherent text can be found. In this all too precarious existence, the inhabitants of the universe assign meaning to the chaotic order that surrounds them. Some are driven mad, believing that one book exists that provides the master key to the entire library, a voice of god. The story is testament to the dubious human experience and efforts to find our purpose.


The first page and cover illustration plays with finding meaning within a coded universe. The letters are indecipherable until the viewer pulls the tab right, revealing the hidden title and question “You who read me. Are you sure of understanding my language?”


By this art you may contemplate the variations of the 23 letters…

“In truth, the Library includes all verbal structures, all variations permitted by the twenty-five orthographical symbols, but not a single example of absolute nonsense. ….These phrases, at first glance incoherent, can no doubt be justified in a cryptographical or allegorical manner….No one can articulate a syllable which is not filled with tenderness and fear, which is not, in one of these languages, the powerful name of a god. (An n number of possible languages use the same vocabulary; in some of them, the symbol library allows the correct definition a ubiquitous and lasting system of hexagonal galleries, but library is bread or pyramid or anything else, and these seven words which define it have another value. You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?)”


The centerfold opens and expands to a hexagonal lattice, recreating the fabric of the universe.


 The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible.

Illustrated Text:

“The Universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one’s fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite … Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.

Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite. I say that the Library is unending. The idealists argue that the hexagonal rooms are a necessary from of absolute space or, at least, of our intuition of space. They reason that a triangular or pentagonal room is inconceivable. (The mystics claim that their ecstasy reveals to them a circular chamber containing a great circular book, whose spine is continuous and which follows the complete circle of the walls; but their testimony is suspect; their words, obscure. This cyclical book is God.) Let it suffice now for me to repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible”


I found a site that takes to heart Borges’ imaginary universe and strives to re-create the VIRTUAL LIBRARY online. I recommend excavating the library after reading the short story.

Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favorite authors, for his blend of philosophy, science and imagination. If you would like to check out more of his writing, I highly recommend Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges