Sunday, September 18, 2011

This Will Be On The Final

Please, Take Notes

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Everyone seated? All right; please listen carefully to what I'd like to discuss this morning. And, I suggest you take notes, because this will be on the final examination. In fact, it will probably be the final examination.

In 1970, Edmund Snow Carpenter, an anthropologist and early partner with Marshall McLuhan in investigating how the effects of modern media influence culture change, published a book entitled They Became What They Beheld.

One of the main threads Carpenter wove into the book is how modern media uses imagery to communicate concepts that are primal, even archetypal from an anthropological point of view -- not to educate, or raise the general consciousness of a planet-wide culture in creative and positive ways... but in service of commercial profit, and politics.

The book's title, "They Became What They Beheld", is Carpenter's central point: That cultures are shaped and reinforced by the sounds and images they accept, passively or by choice, and immerse themselves in.

We live in a society where the principal images around us reinforce desires to possess and consume products and services. They show us that some of the products and services are exclusive, and access to them is limited -- but that having them will mean a better quality of life. Or as accountant Leo Bloom shouts to Max Bialystok, I want everything I've ever seen in the movies!!

And, access to those products and services, to an assumed better quality of life, is equated with superiority and the (assumed) personal attributes of 'superior' persons -- youth; physical beauty; intelligence; and to be lucky, to escape the petty problems and major disasters of life by stepping inside a Magic Circle, an ineffable quality of being where you should be, all the time (as Carly Simon once noted), where life just keeps getting better and better.

But because a Magic Circle is, by its very nature, limited, not everyone can step inside. And because money is the principal medium of exchange, having huge amounts of it determines who will will have access to that wonderful life.

So, in such a culture driven by sounds and images which reinforce these ideas, how much money you have is gauge of your worth as an individual -- or, as the Yuppies of the 80's used to quip, "Your [net worth] is your report card in life".

And since relatively few will enter the Magic Circle to live that Good Life, this paradigm also assumes that the majority of people in the society will not, and that their lives will be less comfortable, and more difficult, than those with more money. And that, somehow, they are not superior -- and consequently, not youthful, not pretty; or intelligent, or 'lucky'.

...Nietzsche called us, 'The Bungled and the Botched', said Jeff Bridges' character, Jack Lucas, in "The Fisher King"; We take poisoned aspirin; get gunned down at Dairy Queens... [We] strive for greatness, but never quite make it...

There is a part of our national mythos that anyone in America can, with hard work and perseverance, become rich, and presumably enter the Magic Circle, too: America as the Land Of Dreams.

This may be true in a few cases, but not for the majority. And there are other myths, too - of the gold strike, the lottery win; the belief that 'god' or 'the odds' will line up the Jackpot Bells on the slot machine of life, and suddenly place you inside the Magic Circle, where everything is easy.

These same assumptions and equations are reflected in politics, where money is also the medium to purchase just another set of exclusive services -- influence, and therefore power, which becomes another gauge of superiority among the wealthy who live inside the Magic Circle.

The same sounds and images that reinforce a top-down pyramid of personal worth and value are used in politics, to reinforce a similar set of ideas.

In America, a significant portion of the media is controlled either by corporations, or very wealthy individuals with very conservative points of view. This gives private, partisan interests a bigger megaphone than public interests -- and the messages about politics from those private, partisan interests can be summed up as
  • (1) Big Government is against The Individual;
  • (2) A majority of politicians are corrupt, incompetent, venal, and do not operate in the public interest;
  • (3) 'Liberals' / 'The Left' are crazy ("Moonbats") at best, or truly evil (Muslims, abortion doctors; communists; George Soros) at worst;
  • (4) In a contest with The Powers That Be, or with wealth and influence, the Little Man always loses: It's Chinatown, Jake.
In the introduction to "In Old Mexico", one of his satirical songs, Tom Lehrer spoke about his friend, Hen3ry (not a typo), who graduated from medical school to specialize in "diseases of the rich", and whose philosophy of life was Life is like a sewer -- what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

If the majority of the people passively accept the images and messages that surround them and help to define their culture -- if they accept their role as consumers, the siren song of the Magic Circle, and the notion that personal worth is measured by personal wealth... then they have become, as Carpenter's book touches on, what they beheld; the images of what they desire (or are taught to) have shaped them.

In politics, it's a matter of having all the warning signs present, and choosing the most self-destructive path anyway. I'd be happy to use nazi Germany as the most spectacular example -- but instead, try and remember the end of Terry Gilliam's breakout movie, Time Bandits: The hero, a little boy, has traveled around the universe, had amazing adventures; had almost been destroyed by The Evil One (David Warner), but was rescued by God at the last moment (played by Sir Ralph Richardson: "I'm giving you all a twenty per cent pay cut, backdated to the end of Time... Yes; well, I am the 'good' one; Um Hmm").

He finds himself back at home in an English suburb, with his house apparently on fire -- which had started in a toaster oven. His parents open the TO to find a lump of black, steaming... well, something (We know it to be a piece of the defeated Evil One). The Boy yells at his parents, "Mum -- Dad -- don't touch it! It's pure evil!" The parents turn to look at him, look at each other; then both turn back to the smoking lump, touch it simultaneously and disappear in a brief, fiery flash.

In case you haven't figured it out, this isn't a poor analogy for the current political situation in the United States. Let's look at the screen behind me: Over at Digby, David (thereisnospoon) Atkins has a post about Harold Simmons, one of the billionaire backers of Monsieur Le Gouvenour Placard, Rick Perry, of the utterly failed state of Texas. Simmons' money was behind the 'Swift Boat Veterans For Truth', which helped to derail John Kerry's election to the Presidency as much as vote-rigging in Ohio and voter suppression elsewhere did in 2004.

It seems that Mssr. Le Governor was willing to ignore safety concerns about storage of toxic radioactive waste in the Cockroach State, even suppressing reports by a state employee and ultimately transferring him -- all to make sure the company engaged by Texas to store the waste, owned by Simmons, was not subjected to any scrutiny for increasing public risk due to possible mismanagement. And, Simmons is one of Perry's solid sources of cash for his drive to the White House; Yah-hoo.
Recall that when George W. Bush was selected President, there was a sense that things wouldn't be so bad, because Bush had a record of cooperative with Democrats in the legislature, and no terribly onerous scandals involving outright corruption. He was, until he moved into the Oval Office, the sort of Republican who could take up the mantle of the "compassionate conservative" and people would believe him.

There had been indications of Bush's absence of character throughout his life, but his record as a politician did not suggest that he would be the most corrupt and hyper-partisan president in America's history.

Rick Perry's record, by contrast, is incontrovertibly and ostentatiously corrupt and incompetent. It's all on the record[.]
Then, as you can see on the screen behind me, here -- Atkins concluded his post with this paragraph:
If a majority [of] this nation elects Rick Perry president, its citizens will deserve every moment of suffering they receive. There will be no excuse.
I'd like you to copy this paragraph. Copy it down word for word. When the final is given at the end of the term -- in November of next year -- please reread this paragraph.

Please remember today's lecture, and be prepared to answer accordingly. Or, not.

Any questions? No? Then that's all for today.

Goodnight, and good luck.