The River

Thursday, December 04, 2003

In response to a below post, News Article, Jon Husband asks, “Why, exactly, do you think it's not more obvious to more people that the media and marketing are such very large forces in the stress and dis-ease many people feel in their lives?”

Media Stew

THE CORPORATE media is an extension of the state. That is a truism, which is almost never taught at media schools. – John Pilger

Who put these fingerprints on my imagination? – Elvis Costello, Green Shirt

There are lines in pop songs that stay with me for a while, just pop into my head. They’re like soundtracks to whatever my I’m thinking about. “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding” has been one, “we’re all sensitive people, with so much to give” has been another, more recent one (it’s from Let’s Get it On, by Marvin Gaye); and the one above.

I guess it’s illustrative of the influence that rock-n-roll, as I broadly define it, has had on me. It’s cliché to say that rock-n-roll saved your life, but it did mine, in a sense. And in today’s climate, the statement may even be laughable. Because rock and its rebellion has been so fully absorbed and exploited by the mainstream. You can still have it, it says, just buy a sporty Cadillac, or dress in Gap clothes. Consumerism. That’s your one choice now, disguised as a “liberating” smorgasbord of choices. Plus, our culture teaches us to suspect statements that are so plain and heartfelt. No, we are to carve out a superficial style (from the available lines), establish a hip cred, and laugh at everything else. Guard that territory with all due malice and cruelty. It’s all that matters. You’ve made it.

Rock, on the other hand, said “fuck that! That’s some grim shit. Let’s get together and celebrate our COMMON humanity.” So all the drawing of lines, all the institutions and structures of society that you were either in or out of (with us or against us), all that pressure to conform, could be loosened, cut down to size, danced upon. At least while the music played.

So before rock saved my life, at some indefinable, unnoticed juncture in my teenhood, I was in the state of not being aware of the large forces of media and marketing. I was suburban, middle class all the way. If it was “new” or “improved” it came back from the supermarket, the department store or the doctor’s office. America, and American business, was providing us with a better life. My parents lived that dream. They lived through the depression, surviving on mustard sandwiches and shoes with cardboard inside to cover the holes. They graduated high school and started our family. Five of us kids, all college graduates.

And you can’t tell me it wasn’t a good life, for them and for us. And yet…who did put these fingerprints on my imagination? Television, of course. And advertising. Our society, Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters, has argued, is subject to a kind of mass brainwashing experiment through these instruments offering the ability to invade our mental space. It’s called repetition. It works.

As my friend Ray has pointed out, we’re in a stage of advanced capitalism where everything has finally become a product. The “President” is shrewdly marketed to appeal to people just as any other product, and with the same crass and empty appeals. We’re so trained and used to it, we accept it as a matter of course. And the media has always used fear (ahhh, halitosis, oh no, ring around the collar, whoa, another murder) to hook us in, setting us up for the product that solves the problem, even if it doesn’t. Too late, you bought it. What were you thinking? Oh, you weren’t.

We’re trained, and from an early age, to fear. And fear, and other plays on our base emotions, short-circuits thought. So…don’t think, just buy it. Beg, borrow, steal, or whore, but get the money so you can buy it. It becomes natural to think everthing comes from without -- a purchase -- and nothing from within.

Now, you can legitimately ask, “oh, you’re saved? You’re special? How so? I don’t see it. You work in marketing, for chrissakes.” Because in truth rock didn’t save me. It merely provided the spark that allows me to retain a modicum of dignity and individuality in the face of what is becoming an increasingly aggressive commercial onslaught. There are no absolutes. No one is innocent. No one is perfect.

But everyone needs that spark. That moment when something speaks to you and says “deep down, you’ve always been right. Despite what the dominant, dazzling, technological – and let’s face it, fun – entertainment/culture/products are telling you, they ain’t you. Their authority is removed, impersonal. Its interest is not your own. Don’t buy it.”

The next step is to turn off the TV. The next is to act.

And that’s where real character and courage finally come into play. I’m still on step one.

Did that answer your question? I don’t know, we’re swimming in it. It’s huge. We’re small. We think we get it, we think we’re media aware and savvy, but I think we’re still learning.

The marketing industry is often blamed for the increase in cultural background noise and unwanted information.

Opinion is divided as to how many commercial messages a person is exposed in a single day. Recent research in the US said it could be as many as 2,500.

Will the information age produce a new Darwin?
"We have absolutely no idea what this constant advertising babble is doing to us," Kalle Lasn, founder of anti-commercial group Adbusters has said.

"The situation is similar to what we were experiencing at the start of the environmental movement 40 years ago, when people just didn't want to believe that three parts per billion of some chemical in the air or water could be toxic and have all kinds of unforeseen consequences down the road.

"Today we are repeating that same mistake in our mental environment."

Adbusters, which is best known for its sophisticated spoofs, such as its Joe Chemo - a swipe at Camel cigarettes - campaigns against what it calls the "corporate colonisation of the mind".

-- BBC article

I go down to Speaker's Corner I'm thunderstruck
They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks
Two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong
There's a protest singer singing a protest song - he says
'They wanna have a war to keep their factories
They wanna have a war to keep us on our knees
They wanna have a war to stop us buying Japanese
They wanna have a war to stop Industrial Disease

They're pointing out the enemy to keep you deaf and blind
They wanna sap your energy incarcerate your mind

-- Industrial Disease, Dire Straits

Ultimately, though, Adbusters is an ecological magazine, dedicated to examining the relationship between human beings and their physical and mental environment. We want a world in which the economy and ecology resonate in balance. We try to coax people from spectator to participant in this quest. We want folks to get mad about corporate disinformation, injustices in the global economy, and any industry that pollutes our physical or mental commons.

-- Adbusters Info page

There’s a smart young woman on a light blue screen
Who comes into my house every night.
And she takes all the red, yellow, orange and green
And she turns them into black and white.

But you tease, and you flirt
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt
You can please yourself but somebody’s gonna get it

Better cut off all identifying labels
Before they put you on the torture table

’cause somewhere in the "quisling clinic"
There’s a shorthand typist taking seconds over minutes
She’s listening in to the venus line
She’s picking out names
I hope none of them are mine

But you tease, and you flirt...

Never said I was a stool pigeon
I never said I was a diplomat
Everybody is under suspicion
But you don’t wanna hear about that

’cause you tease, and you flirt...

Better send a begging letter to the big investigation
Who put these fingerprints on my imagination?

You tease, and you flirt...

You can please yourself but somebody’s gonna get it
You can please yourself but somebody’s gonna get it

-- Green Shirt

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