Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Television Is The Parent That Never Ages

Nearly two decades ago, I got it into my head to write a book about the influence of television on our culture. I was torn between the titles “The Third Parent” and “Adulthood’s End”. 

The main premise behind it was that television took over the role of parent in the household. While up until that time parents were the primary role models and authorities in the household, television usurped those roles. And unlike actual parents, television never aged, its position as the maker of decisions never waned.

Most people take on the more difficult aspects of being the adult in the family out of necessity. As parents are no longer able to care for themselves, their children are forced into making decisions for them they had hoped never to make. They realize there is not authority who can make the tough decisions for them, that Mom and Dad are no longer their protectors should they not be up to a task. This is a rite of passage we all must go through. But as television never ages, we never pass that rite, never assume the mantle of maturity. Television is always going to be the one to tell us how to behave, how to dress, what narratives to believe, which culture to consume. As the television only transmits and never receives, how could the relationship ever be otherwise?

Below is a short introduction I did for a book that I’ve been writing in one form or another for decades, but is far from being a reality yet: 

It was the latter part of the 1970s and our president was discussing the fuel shortage. He gave a simple suggestion to turn our heat down a few degrees and wear a sweater if we were cold.

It was the sort of advice our parents would have given us and that was the problem. You see, the first generation of children raised on television were now grown up and we did not want to listen to our parents anymore. We preferred to listen to our televisions because the television always told us what we wanted to hear. The television told us we deserved a break today, that sugary snacks were good for us, women were made to be ogled and there were no repercussions to casual sex.

And so a new politician emerged to tell us of the new and improved classic homemade way of doing things. The television had a lovechild and he was called Ronald Reagan. He would explain our world the way we wanted to hear it, just like all those other neat guys on TV. We wanted a handsome and winning personality, not our stuffy old dad. We wanted Ronald Reagan, not Jimmy Carter. Hannity, not Colmes.

We could have whatever we wanted. You go, girl, you deserve it. We could have whiter teeth AND fresher breath. We didn’t have to live with ring around the collar or waxy yellow build up anymore. And so when the voters went to the polls in November of 1980, the changes that had begun in the 1950s had finally come to fruition.

The shift had taken place and the rift between generations, the one television had caused, was glossed over. Never again would we have to listen to adults. Nor would we ever be expected to become adults ourselves. We were all free now to leave the unpleasantness of making difficult decisions behind us. The only choosing we had to make was whether we would drink Miller Lite or Bud Light. We were the Pepsi generation and we were never going to grow old (or up).

There was a new authority now, although we never chose to really think about it that way. We didn’t need parents anymore nor did we have to become them. We could be friends to our children rather than rule makers or—God forbid—role models. We could use the time we weren’t busy making money to spend it. We could buy for a second time all the toys of our youth and never have to be responsible for anything. Because, after all, authority was not given to us, it belonged to the market place. By merely choosing between Pepsi or Coke, magic forces would make the world into a Heaven for us all. Authority was decreed through television waves that mystically traveled through the air and into the privacy of our houses. Complex decision making was uncool, we wanted our nation’s problems to be solved as easily and completely as Jack Tripper’s problems were every Tuesday night on ABC.

As for getting older, well, that was something our parents did. We would have none of that, because growing older meant taking on responsibility, and television would take that burden from us. All we had to do was stay up on the latest trends, buy the products that were currently trendy. We just had to listen to the same music our kids did, pretend to find some value in it. Forget about finding meaning in our own lives, we had to find ways to relate to our children, even if in the end all we did was validate the line being sold to them by the advertisers.

And when the lines and the droopiness and receding hairlines and e.d. showed up, well television was there with the answers. Our skin could look as smooth as Joan Rivers’, our boobs as perky as any saline-bag celebrity. And for guys, hey, it was just like the 60’s, only the drugs now were Rogaine and Viagra. Death was only an illusion, which meant we never had to worry too much about figuring what life was all about. All we had to do was hang onto our youth. All we had to do was keep flunking Maturity 101 so we never had to graduate.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Institutionalized Violence Vs. What We're Afraid Of

 I suppose we are genetically hardwired to fear the attack of a predatory animal. And from there, it is really no great distance for us to fear the attack of a stranger, a human who means us no good. But as humans evolved and created ever more complex societies, they created a new kind of danger to us humans, not the individual predator but the institutions that are used to keep others in line and obedient, the kind of structures and systems that permit one group of people to rule over another. 

 Biologically speaking, we have not had time to fully develop an instinctual revulsion of such situations. While early adapters have been aware of them for millennia, most of haven't yet caught up. We fear what lurks in the shadows, the wild animal or the savage man. When it comes to fearing the threat posed by civilization itself, it does not trigger a fight or flee action but instead sits in our guts, causing prolonged stress and neuroses, ruining our lives because we are not aware enough to fight against it. But the greater threats we humans face nowadays are not from attacks by individual animals or humans, but by the very systems of a society we cannot help but belong to.

Too often, the very social structures that seek to rule over us and determine our lives use our primary fear of the lone madman, the violent beast that lurks outside our home, against us.

From the very first lines of my first novel, The Amazing Morse, it is apparent that I have a greater fear of institutionalized violence than I do violent individuals. Here then, is the beginning of The Amazing Morse, an introspection on the fear so many of us fear, consciously or no, of stepping out of line and suffering the power of institutionalized and impersonal violence:


 David Morse stared at the book in front of him with a mixture of fascination and fear. It was not the sort of thing that would be of interest to most people, would not even have held his attention on an average workday. But it was a Friday afternoon, a slow ending to an otherwise hectic workweek. And so he allowed his mind to wander over the Folger Adam Security Hardware Catalog, a collection of items intended for use in institutions and prisons. He gazed at pictures of heavy iron hinges built for use on bullet-proof prison doors, at a door slot that allowed food trays to be passed from guard to prisoner, at steel stools attached to steel tables where prisoners were to sit a prescribed distance from their dinner. From these individual items, he constructed within his mind the kind of prison that so many humans called home. A prison cell arranged itself around him, formed from his imagination and his deep-seated fears. A world of gray impenetrability, where every movement was controlled. Such hardware lacked utterly any consideration for color or style or anything that might speak to the humanity of those who lived in such confinement. Their cold metal exteriors were merely meant to be functional. Or perhaps their utilitarian design was intended to convey a message, one of cold indifference to the humans they were meant to contain. Each item was made to erase freewill, to make otherwise unwilling individuals conform to the mechanization of society.

To be sure, there were certain people in the world who could not be controlled in any other way. That there were people capable of killing without remorse was something television was always ready to remind him of, whether through detective dramas, real-life crime shows, or the ever-sensationalistic nightly news. But the institutionalization of such inhumanity scared him more than the individuals it was meant to contain. The criminals and murderers behind these bars were still flesh and blood. In some manner, there was still hope that they might possibly be reached, swayed, appeased. Not so the indifferent metal. It stood between humans and freedom like an immutable law of physics, the first corollary being that bars of steel were stronger than flesh, stronger than bone, stronger perhaps even than the human spirit.

For the moment, the walls of the office cubicle that surrounded him were less real than the prison walls he had conjured in his head. He had long had a fear—perhaps even a terror—of confinement, and he began to feel this fear take control of him. He shuddered as he wondered what would lead a person to such a place where words like choice, freedom, trust, and kindness had no meaning. And then he thought of the Nelson Mandelas of the world, those who had willingly endured such environments, people who had such a love for freedom that they were willing to sacrifice their own for the sake of other's. Surely prison must be even more dreadful for such gentle and developed souls. He could not imagine having the kind of strength needed to make such sacrifice. Neither could he understand the weakness of character that would lead others to such a place. What crime would be so compelling as to risk such an existence?

Then his mind returned to the project on which he had been working. The bid wasn't for a prison or mental institution, it was for a recreation department building in some God-forsaken area of Chicago's inner city. It was the kind of place that people like him—people who went to college and worked in offices—were fortunate enough never to see. The specifications called for such high security applications that it was in violation of numerous safety and fire codes. Some people are born into prisons, he thought. Some people never know any other kind of existence than the ugly and the brutal.


Saturday, March 5, 2022

An Awakening To The Power Of The Media From The Novel "The Association"

 

In 2014, I wrote a fictional account of someone awakening from the existing paradigm to become aware of the narratives that shape our lives. As a paradigm dies, the institutions that have best served the paradigm will continue to pump out narratives that no longer fit the current reality. I will try to deal with crises with tools that serve the outmoded paradigm and thus will only make the situation work. This then, in fiction, is a telling of one who is waking up to the power the media has to shape our consciousness. The Restaurant in question is, as you might have guessed, a Buffalo Wild Wings.

They were led through the noise of the crowd and a competing amount of televisions by a bubbly blond waitress. Everywhere, television screens stood as distractions to the patrons.

Dave and Johnny were seated at a table, rows of televisions on all sides of them. Johnny was talking, but Dave couldn’t help being distracted by the various action taking place on the many screens. There were three screens directly above him, another four neatly arranged one tier below. Televisions were on both sides of him, hanging at the periphery of his sight. One was showing sports highlights, another showing some college football game, still another a lacrosse game. One of the screens was asking trivia questions, but the wait between questions—stuffed with advertising—caused him to shift his gaze towards more kinetic offerings. Even the commercials distracted his attention, were designed to grab at his attention, he couldn’t help thinking. No, not grab his attention. That was not what they were designed to do. They were meant to grab his eye, to funnel their messages not to his attention but to somewhere beneath his attention to poke at his subconscious motivators.

He watched a commercial with two men sitting in a library, one of them eating a cookie. With no sound, Dave had to guess the message. One man soon becomes upset and dumps over the table. Soon, a woman comes up from behind him and smashes a chair over the back of his head. Another man then pushes over a bookshelf in anger, knocking over other bookshelves like dominoes. In mere seconds, the library is on fire as everyone and everything in it is being thrown or smashed. At the end of the commercial, an Oreo cookie is shown, along with directions on where to vote. Apparently, the argument that has destroyed an entire library was about a cookie. Dave could only imagine what kind of message he was supposed to have received from such a commercial.

Dave tore his attention away from the screens, looked at the people around him. They were for the better part ignoring those they sat with, as Dave felt himself doing with Johnny. As they watched the screens, the wait staff walked around doling out smaller, hand-held screens for the patrons to use in order to interact with the bigger screens mounted on the walls. Thus, Dave couldn’t help noticing, the people’s attention was further divided by having even more competing screens.

What interaction that took place at the tables was merely commentary of what was taking place on the screens. It was as though all of the information was sent funneling through screens until it was digested by the patrons. Like pigs at a trough, thought Dave, not knowing what it was they were consuming, nor caring why it was they were being fed. He found Johnny’s voice to be just one of many sources of information competing for his attention. Text scrolled across the televisions in front of him in layers, too quickly for him to process. And all the while the screens at the periphery of his sight were pumping out vast amounts of information and images, feeding his brain whether he wished them to or not.

It was not that they were drowning out what it was that Johnny was trying to convey to him, not even that they left no room in his mind for thoughts and ideas of his own. No, he felt that somehow, amidst the constant barrage of useless and ephemeral information, there was some sinister virus that was travelling along with it, the screens above him like UFOs beaming rays into his head, planting their seeds deeply into his subconscious like spidery aliens.

He tried to relax his mind, allow the messages to come without trying to process them. He thought that by silencing his own thoughts he would be able to witness in a tranquil manner the effects the messages were having upon his mind. He felt the placid aspect of his consciousness receiving the flow, being played upon by the constant influx like an instrument that has wind blown through it. He observed the images that stimulated his passive mind, felt the effect they had on it. He contemplated each message that seemed to excite his psyche, wondered what the intent of it was and who or what it was that sent it.

He found his mind working on an elevated level, even as he realized it was not capable of any kind of useful action at the moment. He was witnessing the working of his mind that was always occurring but of which he was seldom aware. A vast amount of thought was occurring beyond what he was ordinarily aware of, was always occurring. It was both fascinating and frightening. He was so much more than he gave himself credit for, and yet so little of what made him who he was ever was truly decided by his conscious self.

He found himself beginning to rebel against the information being thrust at him from so many different angles. They all wanted his attention, all wanted a piece of his consciousness, to take from him what was rightfully his. No, they didn’t want to take what was his, they wanted to take him, to own his mind, to replace his thoughts with their own. Some alien thing wished to replace his internal consciousness with some overlord kind of mind. And there was too much of it he was being bombarded by to fight back. Fleeing was the only option, and he found himself exiting the building in a less than polite manner, bumping into a crowd of young men as he went.

He did not stop until he was beyond the sound of the external speakers, back at the van. He soon noticed Johnny walking towards him, a look of concern on his face.

“What’s the matter, Dave?”

Dave looked into the tattooed face of Johnny, and he wondered if he had had anything to do with what had happened. “Did you do that to me? Was that you playing with my head? Is this some sort of display Doug had you put on for me?”

“Naw. You’re just beginning to see a little more clearly, that’s all. You’ll get used to it. It effects us all a little differently, we all come to it in our own way.”

“I don’t want to get used to this. I don’t want my consciousness changed.”

“Just think of it like you’re developing a new sense. Like smell. Some things stink, but you’re glad you have the ability to smell, nevertheless.”

“But…it was like there was something in the randomness, something I couldn’t quite understand but knew was there. Like there was something living amidst the thousands of messages the televisions were sending.”

“All human thought has a life of its own. That’s the problem. We don’t know a tenth of what’s going on in our minds, but they’re always working. When the conscious mind does not jibe with the subconscious, we waste our human powers, they get siphoned away and coalesce into something else, something not really living but alive, if you get me. That’s sort of what ghosts are on an individual level, a creation of energy made by emotion that could not be reconciled with thought. But when the power of the conscious mind is able to come together with the power of the sub-conscious, when they jibe, that’s what you’re starting to experience now. That’s you beginning to connect with your human powers. In observing what is out of joint, you are given the knowledge and ability to set it right. It’s just…well, it’s hard. It’s a long journey. And just like every other aspect of life, you never really arrive.”


Friday, December 31, 2021

Don’t Look Up’s Peter Isherwell Is A Much-Needed Archetype

 


Yesterday I wrote a review of Don’t Look Up and said of all the dysfunctional people in it, the most dysfunctional, the most lost of all, was the tech billionaire, Peter Isherwell. He was the perfect blend of the real-life tech giants we know so well, Bezos, Musk, Gates. Like those in real life, all of those within the establishment elite deferred to Ishenwell’s vision unquestioningly, as though they were in the presence of royalty or even divinity.

A movie, book, piece of music, is instantly worthy of being included in public conversation if it creates a new meme or an archetype which proves useful and enduring. Such is the case, I believe, with Peter Isherwell. He is the synthesized embodiment of the on-the-spectrum plutocrat who owns everything, understands nothing outside of how to create a monopoly, and is worshipped by the entire establishment.

It is to Peter Isherwell that all who are incapable of looking beyond the immediate paradigm blindly look to to lead us into the future. In his hands do we place our freewill and better judgment in exchange for some mystical belief that the future is an unavoidable fact that requires oracles such as Isherwell to explain to the rest of us.

I was thinking of this today as I came across a tweet from Bill Gates.

There are some people who reveal a glint of genius in everything they say or write. There are some, like Albert Einstein, capable of speaking intelligently and insightfully on a far-ranging array of subjects. There are some people whose genius will reach beyond their lifespan and be appreciated for generations to come.

Bill Gates is not one of those people.

Granted, there are vast areas of knowledge of which I know little or nothing. Bill Gates’ genius might very well be capable of being appreciated only by those with advanced knowledge of computers and coding. I will let others speak on that subject, as is only fitting. What I do know is that I have never come across anything that Bill Gates has said or written that has given any hint of an impressive intelligence.

I scoped him out today on Twitter. One who is of my generation often forgets that in this day and age our elites have such a need for adoration from the masses that they feel compelled to be on social media. I read a few of his tweets. They are trite, uninspiring, and lack any purpose for being. They do nothing to add to public discourse. I do believe Bill Gates would rather stand on a street corner naked than expose the inner workings of his mind. And God forbid, he would never say anything that would threaten existing power systems in any way.

The list of people Gates follows is further revealing of his intellectual vapidness. He follows people with power, sure, but I don’t find a single brilliant person among his 300+ follows. Assuredly Gates travels in different circles than I do and might well be aware of important thinkers of which I am ignorant, but I can’t help thinking there should be at least SOME overlap. Even if it is a pop-culture celebrity with a certain insight, I’d expect him to follow SOMEONE I know and respect.

Instead he follows Trevor Noah.

Of all the comedians to choose from, why follow someone guaranteed never to think outside the box or challenge establishment patterns in any way? The most obvious answer to this, and I’m not saying it’s the only answer, is that you yourself have a very mediocre and establishment brain.

Jack London said it best through a character in his novel, The Iron Heel: “But, outside the realm of business, these men are stupid. They know only business. They do not know mankind nor society, and yet they set themselves up as arbiters of the fates of the hungry millions and all the other millions thrown in. History, some day, will have an excruciating laugh at their expense.”

London wrote these words over a century ago. I’m unsure whether this is a problem that has existed throughout history, but I have the sense that it has grown particularly acute in our age. And while London predicted history will have an excruciating laugh at their expense, there is no guarantee we will have a future capable of looking back on our era. We are a species facing unprecedented challenges, and we are allowing ourselves to be led by people who are ignorant of matters outside of building colossal financial empires for themselves.

People like Musk, Gates, and others tell us what books we should read, what our future is supposed to look like, how to solve hunger and disease, and the way to human happiness. They continue to increase their own wealth while the solutions they preach do nothing to prevent the catastrophes that are approaching.

They are remaking the world in their own image, and it is seldom that anyone with any access to a large audience is willing to call them out on it. Kudos to those who worked to bring Don’t Look Up to the screen.

Perhaps it is foolish to believe the establishment is going to bring about the change we need, but we shouldn’t turn up our noses when some of them are willing to sell us the rope we can use (metaphorically, of course) to set things right. Don’t Look Up deserves to be a subject of conversation we can all engage in. Kindly leave your ego at home.

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