Culture as Weapon: The Art of Influence in Everyday Life by Nato Thompson
  Book Reviews    January 6, 2017     Eric Larkin

Culture as Weapon is on the money, and all at once feels obvious and totally shocking. Every force for good or ill in our lives makes extensive use of culture to manipulate us: not reason, not morality, but culture, meaning the arts and their tools (symbols, story, etc). Culture is coin of the realm, and trying to talk about it suddenly feels like trying to point at air. It surrounds us, penetrates us, binds the galaxy together, like The Force ™; It sneaks across our borders, steals our jobs, brings down the value of our neighborhoods, with its criminals and rapists [Paid for by ‘The Make America Great Again’ Committee]. There is no escape from this web (in every sense) of narratives and images. “You’re soaking in it right now.” 

Nato Thompson, chief curator at New York’s Creative Time, describes how a few early geniuses figured out that using elements of culture to drill as deeply as possible into hearts and imaginations was a damn effective way to advertise a product (see the “healthful” and “liberating” value of Lucky Strikes cigarettes for Suffragettes, for example). He covers the fascinating development of the method – and of the idea that almost anything can be treated like a product – from those early 20th century proto-Mad Men to brilliant Republican political distortions to Andy Warhol to General Petraeus in Afghanistan to getting lost in the suburban Fantasyland of IKEA. It’s all about story and images and bypassing the rational mind to get right at those feels. It’s not about facts. At the end, Thompson considers “culture as weapon” in the digital age, when the intimacy of emotions and relationships are almost completely exposed via social media on those slim little handhelds we cannot put down, like miniature Trojan horses.

The forces of good and evil are eyeballing each other, with a digital, worldwide “broken cue stick” at their feet. Only one leaves the room alive, and that one will rule.


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