Language Corrupts ThoughtWords have power. They have meaning. Words are used to express or describe one’s thoughts and feelings, to persuade or to justify one’s actions, and to codify our experiences as human beings. They have the ability to define the concrete and conjure the conceptual, and therefore the precise and accurate selection of words is one of the most important aspects of our society; without proficiency in language, how can one accurately or truthfully convey their experience?
In his novel 1984, George Orwell pondered the power of language through the lens of a totalitarian regime that imposed a reductive language on its populace known as “Newspeak”. In this language, for example, the word “bad” had been replaced with “ungood”, an act which seems trivial at first but is actually incredibly sinister. Without a word for “bad”, the populace lost grasp of the concept. Calling something “ungood” frames every situation in the context of “good”, and therefore reduces our ability to describe anything other than “good”. In essence, Orwell presented a world in which language was used to control the thoughts and feelings of the populace. Unfortunately, Orwell’s world does not exist wholly fictionally. From politics to advertising to the way we interact with one another, we employ linguistic tactics to manipulate events. Certainly, there are as many noble reasons for this as nefarious – softening bad news or imploring caution or restraint can be good things, given the proper context – and it is unlikely that most of our day-to-day interactions are calculated enough to be malicious. But the fact remains that whether we know it or not, we use our words every day to bend the world around us to suit our needs.
In the mythology of the DC Universe, this concept is represented by Glorious Godfrey, a character who, as in Orwell’s tale, uses his powers of persuasion in service of a totalitarian regime, but who represents a wider truth about language and propaganda that transcends good or evil.Created by Jack Kirby in 1971, Glorious Godfrey belongs to the race of New Gods, immortal beings existing outside the Orrery of Worlds at the centre of the Multiverse. He is a denizen of Darkseid and therefore lives on the planet Apokolips. In addition to the powers of strength and durability inherent to his race, Godfrey also possesses the power of persuasion; using only the power of his voice, he is able to bend the minds and wills of those who hear him. This singular gift makes him useful member of Darkseid’s inner circle, where he serves as the chief propagandist of the planet Apokolips. When Darkseid’s ambitions have turned towards Earth, Glorious Godfrey is often among the first of his inner circle to attempt to clear a path for the warriors of Apokolips. His powers have been employed as a recruiter of human fighters for Darkseid as well as assisting in the brainwashing and indoctrination of child soldiers at Granny Goodness’ orphanages. To reinforce his influence, he equips his personal soldiers – known as Justifiers – with helmets that feed portions of the Anti-Life Equation to the wearer, ensuring their obedience to Darkseid. On Earth, under the guise of G. Gordon Godfrey, a popular talk show host, he uses his influence to disseminate powerful propaganda designed to turn the citizens of Earth against their heroes. Leading up to the Final Crisis, Godfrey was sent to Earth by Darkseid to aid Libra in gaining power and organizing a new Secret Society of Super Villains.
Darkseid’s oppressive Apokoliptian regime employs brutal torture, ruthless conquest, and merciless training to condition its society to be completely loyal and obedient. Given his supernatural power of persuasion, it becomes obvious why Glorious Godfrey finds himself in the Dark God’s inner circle, and yet if one looks more closely, it is even more obvious that Godfrey’s gifts only garner him so much clout. As head of the orphanages that abduct and train the warriors of Apokolips, Granny Goodness curries much favour. Likewise, the leadership of those armies and the security of their conquests is charged either to Darkseid’s uncle, Steppenwolf, or even on occasion his son, Kalibak. And Darkseid’s master torturer, Desaad – who neither leads nor shapes his armies – is considered the Dark God’s absolutely trusted right hand, a fact which is a particular sore spot for Godfrey, who longs for that position.How is it that a master of persuasion is unable to stake a more major claim in a regime that only exists and succeeds under totalitarian control and obedience? The answer may lie in the nature of godhood within the DC Universe.
Between metahumans and aliens and immortals with extraordinary and expansive powers, it is easy to lose track of the line between superhumans and gods, but there is clear evidence within the mythology that there is a distinct difference. All throughout the canon, and especially recently, the mythology suggests that the definition of godhood lies in embodiment. That is to say, rather than exemplifying a trait or characteristic or concept, a god is the personification of that concept. For example, there are many warriors in the mythology, but Wonder Woman is the God of War; she is war incarnate, and this embodiment affects the world around her, even tainting the Amazons of Themyscira. Likewise, Metron – the New God in possession of the Mobius Chair – is more than simply the keeper of all the knowledge of the Multiverse, he is that knowledge given form. By this logic, it stands to reason that Glorious Godfrey is persuasion personified, and therefore his lower standing among Darkseid’s elite says something about the very concept of persuasion itself.
What the mythology suggests is that for all its applications and uses, persuasion has no power in and of itself. Rather, it is a tool used by others in order to gain or maintain power. Glorious Godfrey’s jealousy of Desaad and ambition for power have never amounted to anything; he has never claimed major power for himself, nor has he been able to get out from the shadow of his betters. He has never truly exceeded a fourth or fifth place finish in the hierarchy of Darkseid’s elite and yet he is undoubtedly valuable to all those above him that benefit from his power of persuasion.
In this way, the mythology also absolves the concept of persuasion of any sort of moral accountability. If persuasion is simply a tool to be used, then it is the application imposed by the wielder that determines if the persuasion is good or evil. Glorious Godfrey, as an acolyte of Darkseid, is undeniably evil, that is merely a matter of circumstance. Had his powers belonged to a resident of New Genesis, they would be put toward the service of good. So too is persuasion’s potential in the real world: for good or ill, the power and effect of language comes down solely to how we use it. Through the lens of evil, the mythology paints the portrait of an ability corrupted in order to demonstrate its potential impact, in much the same way as Orwell’s masterpiece.
Words have power. They have meaning. Which is why those who use them, and the manner in which they use them, must always be carefully and critically considered.