Films such as The Manchurian Candidate, Hook and The Matrix portray various brainwashing techniques from electronic implants and hypnosis to captivity and coercion. The story of Beauty and the Beast might also appear to be a case of brainwashing, but the transformation of the Beast from coarse and unrefined to sweet and almost kind is merely Belle succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome. No, there’s nothing there that wasn’t there before.
What’s interesting about the concept of brainwashing, besides its use as an intriguing plot mechanism, is that the term wash usually implies a cleansing action – the removal of filth and injection of clarity.
When we wash the dishes, we remove stains and film, restoring the ceramic and glass to its shimmering glory. Brainwashing is almost always presented as a sinister act inflicted on unwilling, innocent victims for some malevolent purpose. These corrupt conspirators intend to murk and mire minds, not clean them – putrefy, not purify. Washing something returns it to its original, untarnished and uninhibited state. Brainwashing is the exact opposite of washing a brain. The term should be used to describe the process of freeing a mind from the grime of what is now called brainwashing.
brainwashing. [breyn-wosh-ing] -noun.
1. the process of restoring beliefs or attitudes to their unadulterated state. Wonderful news, Peter’s been brainwashed! Now we have the old Peter back.
2. a method of cleaning brains for surgery or display purposes, often using a toothbrush and soapy water.
Unfortunately, by redefining brainwashing we have created a vocabulary vacuum. A new term must now be crafted to accurately define the mind-meddling procedure formerly known as brainwashing. It is difficult to imagine what this word would be, but it should certainly describe the impurity and obscurity to which the brain is subjected.