The Salem Progressive Film Series brought Jen Senko and her film "The Brainwashing Of My Dad" to Salem tonight. The documentary film details the pernicious effects of right-wing talk radio and shows a family stressed by one family member (Senko's dad) falling under the sway of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others, and something like a road to recovery through creative family intervention. The film includes plenty of talking heads who understand right-wing talk radio and folks who have lived with family members who have been taken in by this programing.
Senko has crafted a film which gets right to the point of right-wing talk radio, its tricks and dishonesties and why it and Fox News seem to be everywhere. She makes the problems posed by right-wing talk radio and television human and meaningful. This is an easy film to engage with.
For me, the most meaningful parts of the documentary came with listening to Senko's father and the careful analysis of how Fox News knowingly and deliberately uses color, lighting, shock, body language and repetition to drive home reactionary talking points.
The film will most appeal to the liberal white and over-forty crowd who feel with good reason that they have been cheated and lied to and who are seeking some explanation for Trump's victory. The film provides easy answers. It's great that Senko is willing to come to places like Salem and have conversations about the film with people. She has a great rap and a sense of humor and isn't shy on saying that we're in a situation now where we're fighting for our very existence.
I wondered as I watched the film why Senko did not talk more about race and racism on right-wing talk radio and how different a film on this subject would be if the filmmaker were a woman of color. I also wondered how the film would be received where it's needed most---among the people who buy in to right-wing talk radio and accept its racist and reactionary premises. Showing the film to aging white liberals has limited value if real organizing isn't going on. Senko encouraged people to organize and fight, but predominately older and white audiences find fighting back difficult to sustain. The film's weaknesses are in not more clearly addressing racism and in not more directly confronting the right-wingers.
Socialists say that the ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of the ruling class. Senko comes close to saying this by showing how governing circles in the U.S. have developed or supported reactionary and dangerous media sources. We say that these ideas and sources are, by themselves, paper tigers, but that they get their power through corporate and state backing, using racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia, and by reflecting class relationships and the crisis of capitalism. Senko approaches this in a non-dogmatic and almost liberal way, but her contribution has the possibility of helping people grow past liberalism.
Please see this film if you can, engage with Jen Senko if you can, and purchase a copy or copies of the film to get into the hands of the right-wingers who need to see the film and be challenged by it and by conversations with you.