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






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