Jen Senko, a documentary filmmaker, looks at the rise of right-wing media through the lens of her WWII vet father who changed from a life-long, nonpolitical Democrat to an angry, right-wing fanatic after his discovery of talk radio on a lengthened commute to work.
“In almost every act of our lives…We are dominated by the relatively small numbers of persons who understand the mental process and social patterns of the masses. Is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.” Edward Bernays, 1928.
What comes to your mind when you think about FOX News? For some people it is the representation of the most right wing opinion, however for others it is the place where you get a “fair and balanced” opinion about important political issues.
With “The Brainwashing of My Dad,” Jen Senko takes us on a homey family trip with her documentary. After having produced and co-directed her previous film (“The Vanishing City”), she went back home and noticed that there was something wrong with her father’s behavior. What once was a goofy, fun dad who loved animals and showed respect for everybody, was slowly mutating into an obsessed fundamentalist, enraged and unreachable person. She found out the change came from listening to Talk Radio on the commute to work. Her father, Mr. Senko, would start to listen to the radio with ear buds in bed, disturbing the mother and then finally move to another room, where he finally found Fox News. And it was like he found a new religion.
The multi-talented director created a crowdfunding campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jensenko/the-brainwashing-of-my-dad-documentary) while she was filming her father, sometimes secretly. With almost one thousand backers and more than twice the money she pledged for, she started to contact different experts such as David Brock, Edward S. Herman, and Kathleen Taylor and sooner than expected she realized that her documentary was not the story of her dad changing his political views, it became the story of a media phenomenon that changed a father and divided a nation. She received an avalanche of responses from her campaign backers and hundreds of videos of people having the same circumstance as her dad. It was happening all over the country.
The feature delves deep into the ways the right wing misuses and shows a bad example of journalism and it actually shows some new perspectives and translates into video a lot of research that has been done in that field in literary form. Matthew Modine also pleasantly narrates it and has a lot of funny and eye-opening illustrations done by Bill Plymouth. There is one that still resonates in my mind; a grey elephant rolls into the frame and with its trunk, it shoots multicolored sound waves at a guy sitting on an old couch watching TV.
I recommend this documentary to those who are interested in journalism and the current state of politics nowadays. It proves that a lot of the political consequences we see at the moment are just a modest demonstration of what the media can generate.
In select theaters and on VOD now