Oratorical Ability and Communicative Power: Hitler, Churchill, The Beatles, Donald Trump, Sam Harris and the BBC

Even in times of great technological development, times of the radio, times of cinema, times of television, times of the smart phone and times of the algorithm, an individual homosapien has the ability to accumulate extraordinary amounts of communicative power. In the last one hundred years, oratorical talent has been responsible for many of the greatest accumulations of individual communicative power. Through examples like Hitler, Churchill, The Beatles and Donald Trump, we have seen the extraordinary influence of oratorical talent amidst our communications infrastructures.

Hitler’s capacity for giving speeches and then utilising propaganda like radio and film permitted someone Orwell described as a ‘criminal lunatic’ to use the greatest products of science to introduce irrational political ideas from the Dark Ages. Hitler’s speeches allowed a lonely unknown failed Austrian artist to capture the attention of the German audience, radio, newspapers and films to generate support and interest in ideas like global conspiracies of Jews and Bolsheviks. Viktor Klemperer, a Jewish German Philologist, wrote an excellent set of diaries throughout World War Two. He emphasised the importance of the radio in the success of Hitler, writing on the 14th of September 1933: ‘pay attention to the role of radio! Not like other technical achievements: new content, new philosophy. But: new style. Printed matters suppressed. Oratorical, oral. Primitive – at a higher level.’. Klemperer suggests that the technology of radio served to  enhance the communication of ‘primitive’ ideas, perhaps in part because it widened the audience that could assimilate information from politicians, accurately transmitting emotion through sound and capturing the attention of parts of society who may of not been reading the newspapers. Klemperer emphasises the paradoxical situation in which greater scientific development had led towards peculiarly backwards political traditions writing on the 31st of January in 1937, ‘such tremendous things are being created, radio, aeroplane, sound film, and the most insane stupidity, primitiveness and bestiality cannot be eradicated – all invention results in murder and war’. Orwell makes a similar point criticising the Scientific Deterministic view of HG Wells writing in 1941 ‘the order, the planning, the State encouragement of science, the steel, the concrete, the aeroplanes, are all there, but all in the service of ideas appropriate to the Stone Age. Science is fighting on the side of superstition’. Klemperer suggests that it is the technological development of the radio, that has created such conditions of political barbarism writing that ‘for me radio destroys every form of religion and at the same time gives rise to religion. Gives rise to it twice over: a) because such a miracle exists b) because the human intellect invents, explains, makes us of it. But this same human intellect puts up with the Hitler government’. Therefore, Hitler’s utilisation of the radio gave him the ability to accumulate the communication power to manipulate and bend all other technologies to his will creating evoking audience emotions described by Orwell as ‘racial pride, leader worship, religious belief, love of war’.

Similarly, Churchill applied his masterful oratorical skill to encourage bravery and resistance towards the Nazi’s. As early as 1934, Churchill broadcast a speech on the BBC where he warned of war, claiming that ‘there is a nation which has abandoned all its liberties in order to augment its collective might. There is a nation which with all its strength and virtues is in the grip of a group of ruthless men preaching a gospel of intolerance and racial pride, unrestratined by law, by Parliament or by public opinion’. Andrew Roberts emphasises the importance of Churchill’s oratorical talents throughout Occupied Europe writing how ‘in those cities and later across Occupied Europe, listening to Churchill’s broadcasts over the radio became punishable by death, yet still people listened, because he could provide that one thing that tortured populations needed more than anything else: hope’. In networking terms, the invention of the radio allowed a single voice or node to become the central figure in communication with thousands or millions of other nodes. Therefore, the radio enhanced the power of these individuals, permitting them to introduce ideas and story lines that would then get adopted and enacted by citizens, families, communities and nations.  

Nineteen years after Hitler shot himself in Berlin, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would demonstrate the power of oratorical magic through the gift of song. In 1964, four working class lads from Liverpool, between the ages of 20 and 23, became the most famous people on the planet and where mobbed by thousands as they landed at JFK airport in New York. The Beatles weren’t expecting the reaction with George Harrison commenting that ‘we heard our records were selling well in America, but it wasn’t until we stepped off the plane… that we understood what was going on’. The Beatles record Please Please Me had become the Beatles’ record labels ‘fastest selling in the label’s history’. Lennon and McCartney’s ability to write and deliver songs created emotions of love, excitement and pining. Audiences very often attribute the beauty of a singer’s voice and the songs meaning exclusively towards the singer. Therefore, when The Beatles were singing Please Please Me and Love Me Do, it was as if their voice was the genesis, the root, the source and the origin of love. What’s more through dissemination of these mini monologues through records and radio’s they create a collective experience, where they become the source of love for millions with those millions consolidate this form of love through communal enjoyment of The Beatles. The Beatles were not confined towards the creation of pop records and between them they introduced radical ideas into the Post-War world including experimentation with drugs, anti-war movements, climate protest through concert and meditation. Since 1945, the musicians that have achieved the greatest levels of communicative power, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and Rihanna, are always popular singers. Therefore, it might be argued that the oratorical ability to sing is the foundation from which this communicative power is built. The radio plays, the television performances and the social media followers are all based on the individuals singing ability which is then then transformed into communicative power through fame.

Despite having little intelligence or diplomatic skill, Donald Trump used his oratorical powers to defeat every candidate in the Republican Party primaries and then defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election. Whereas Hitler relied primarily on speeches and films to introduce dangerous ideas towards mainstream democracy, Trump’s idiotic political positions are supported through his ability to perform with humour, energy and confidence on television, social media and radio. In the age of the attention economy, media and social media firms in part make money through capturing the attention of readers and generating behavioural data which companies can then sell to advertisers. Facebook and Google make around 90% of profits through advertising tailored to behavioural data. Trump’s ability to evoke shock and outrage was excellent for the attention economy. The right wing praised his bolshiness while the left wing published and condemned, while the social media and media companies made money through capturing the public’s attention on television and social media. In turn, Trump’s oratorical performances, the jokes, the stupidity and the fear, created free publicity and advertising that would’ve been the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pounds of digital advertising.

The Mobile Phone is the most addictive substance we own. Johan Harr writes that the average phone time of American’s is 3 hours 15 minutes. eMarketer suggests that American’s spend nearly 8 hours a day on digital content. Given these figures one might say that we are addicted or dependent upon the smart phone or computer. If one is addicted towards these products, they are likely to be amused by content that stimulates attention, be it through laughter or injustice, both these sensations might serve to satisfy the internet users addiction, especially if these provide momentary transcendence from the repetition of work routines. It is within this mental environment that I believe the world got addicted to Trump. Even if we were addicted to hating Trump, he had gotten inside of our adrenal systems and therefore won the favour of the algorithm generating extraordinary levels of political advertising. Through Trump’s oratorical performances he managed to make enough content to addict media and social media into following his every word. Trump’s oratorical performances created conditions in which a far-right candidate with little institutional support could defeat the Republican Party candidates and then Hilary Clinton in order to hold the most powerful democratic political position on the planet. This is probably the most alarming and powerful example since Hitler of how oratorical talent can be used to manipulate the communications infrastructure. In the age of AI, the algorithm, social media and electric cars America managed to elect a president who encouraged the US’s greatest adversary, Vladimir Putin, to manipulate the democratic process and in the presence of epidemiology experts suggested that people could defeat coronavirus through injecting themselves with disinfectant.

Today, it is the podcast, which provides the most effective platform for the effective dissemination and synchronisation of information. Podcasts provide hosts to think and talk through problems and subjects in great depth. Instead of being confined to a weekly or daily radio slot episodes are delivered to subscribers’ smart phones and laptops for free. The quality and convenience of information provided through podcasts is great. Throughout the Trump candidacy, Sam Harris employed the Making Sense podcast to lead the resistance against Donald Trump. Since 2016 Sam Harris dedicated at least 18 podcasts towards talking through the problems of Donald Trump and how to defeat him. These included conversations with the likes of Four Star General Stanley McChrystal, Gary Kasparov, Cass Sunstein, Andrew Marantz, Preet Bahara, David Frum, Anne Applebaum and Andrew Sullivan. Harris used his masterful command of memory, social networks, conversational style and manipulation of language to offer constant commentary on the events of the Trump presidency. This educated and mobilised his audience around the world into resistance towards Trump. In turn, Harris’ constant conceptualisation of the absurdity and danger of Trump provided an effective antibody towards the President’s incapability, rudeness, stupidity and recklessness.

Given the modern importance of the podcast, the British government’s decision to freeze the BBC license fee is one of the worst policies in modern British politics. The BBC, described by Media scholar Manuel Castells called the ‘model of a public corporation asserting its independence from direct government interference’, is one of the world’s greatest creators of podcasts serving as one of the United Kingdom’s greatest educative and soft power outlets improving our countries reputational and political capacities whilst creating a local, national and international sense of identity.

Of the top 100 podcasts downloaded this week, 23 were made by the BBC. Internationally, BBC podcasts were included in the top 100 Apple podcast downloads on every continent. BBC podcasts were greatly successful on the top 100 Apple podcast downloads in the following countries: 6 in Australia, 9 in New Zealand, 6 in Japan, 12 in Sri Lanka, 12 in South Korea, 14 in Hong Kong, 9 in Thailand, 8 in Nigeria and 7 in Gambia. The BBC’s international success of podcast making is a testament towards the media organizations supreme importance towards the idea of Global Britain. Nadine Dorris’ hasty decision to remove a billion pounds of investment over the next four years is a fundamental betrayal towards the people of Great Britain.

After Brexit and in the context of the threat of Scottish independence, it is of central importance that we have a public organisation that can tell the stories that create sense of a United Kingdom and the 23 podcasts on the top 100 Apple podcast chart is one of the most persuasive forms of evidence that you can find for the importance of the BBC in creating this sense of national identity. Moreover, the English language is arguably Britain’s countries greatest asset. The English language is spoken everywhere in the world. As an independent organisation, the BBC is a spiritual home of the English language, responsible for the world’s most loved television series and films, adapting and creating the greatest stories in the English language. BBC Podcasts provides the perfect platform for flexing and communicating the oratorical communicative power of Great Britain’s writers, musicians, actors, film makers, journalists, politicians and stories. The reception of the BBC’s English language podcasts are diverse and extraordinarily popular. In South Africa, they enjoy the BBC Radio 1Xtra comedy podcast Pressed, in Australia they are listening to a podcast called Uncanny about paranormal encounters, in the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Switzerland they are listening to the BBC investigation into 4Chan on the Coming Storm, Sri Lankan’s are interested in the Orgasm Cult and South Korean’s are obsessed with In Our Time: Philosophy, Culture, History and Science. Given what we know about Hitler, Churchill, Lennon and Harris, it is absurd that the government would do something as reckless and unpopular as weakening our greatest manufacturer of communicative power.

In conclusion, technological development has not disempowered the influence of the individual. The desire for individuals with the oratorical ability to communicate ideas and narratives that provide a meaning for our existence is relentless. Certain talented orators have the ability and luck to become individual super nodes within the communications network, using technologies like radio, television, the I-pod and social media to disseminate and amplify their world view. The consequence of this power are varied and extreme. Hitler used the radio to build a new religion of racial supremacy, while Churchill used the radio to destroy Nazi Fascism. The Beatles disseminated their oratorical talents through records, the radio and television to be the genesis of love in the 1960’s. Donald Trump got people addicted to his crazy oratorical performances through the mobile phone and the computer, arguably the two most addictive tools known to humankind. Sam Harris used the podcast to monitor, conceptualise and mobilise in opposition towards the trauma of the Trump presidency. The BBC’s profound national and international success at creating British oratorical platforms is a testament towards the countries local, national and international importance exposing the absurdity of the BBC License Fee Freeze. Become aware of the songs, the speeches and the debates that are assimilated into your mind. Think about the communicative power of the individual that has delivered them because they might just be in the process of transforming our planet.

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