Category: Featured Post

Super Bowl 2010: Meme police

This year’s slate of Super Bowl ads indicate two trends: 1) a continued lack of imagination among the highest paid “creatives” in the world, and 2) a backlash against environmental activism. These Super Bowl ads were decidedly conservative by recycling standard demographic tropes to shore up the shrinking ego of the persecuted male species. This has been the long-standing approach of torch-bearer Bud Light, which perfected the art of celebrating the isolated, addicted male in defiance of the over-bearing power of women and community. What is new this year is transmuting this “abusive authority” into the guise of ecological consciousness.

Case study number one is the “Green Police” ads by Audio, which couches its anti-PC message in ironic humor, thereby softening the seriousness of its subtext. It confirms the fears that environmental regulation will result in a police state, and turns anyone who cares about the environment into a potential fascist. While we may laugh at such cartoony fears (it’s only a joke, right?), the Rush Limbaugh crowd takes them very seriously.

(It’s not an illegitimate protest. From an eco-justice point of view, the threat of global regulations forced upon local populations is real, but in the latter case the concern is that corporate interests will hijack environmental rhetoric in the service of obliterating local autonomy in the same way that trade liberalization promoted by the WTO has done.)

Here Audi defends the rich white male’s perceived loss of autonomy and his right to be a jerk. My particular peeve against Audi is based on personal experience in Europe where Audi drivers across the board are the most arrogant and dangerous exemplars of the tragedy of commons (for example, watch this ad). On highways one must be in constant alert of Audis rushing at jet fighter speed, lest your leisurely Sunday afternoon drive through the Tuscan countryside ends in a pile of crushed steel, bones and shattered glass.

The paranoia exhibited by Audi plays into the general meme that government regulation of corporate abuses will translate into socialist totalitarianism. Say “Green Police” ten times fast and you may end up with “Greenpeace.”

Call this a backlash shot across the bough of environmental activism. Green consciousness becomes the work of thought police.

You can see more “Green Police” ads and PSAs here.

Case study number two comes from Bud Lite, which (yawn) sticks to its failsafe storyline. In it Bud Lite’s primary target audience (those possessed by an inner 13-year-old “mook“) must retreat to their boys-only (stripper exception clause allowed) playhouse to take cover from moralistic authorities (women) who condemn their innocent behavior. But now the right to secrecy, addiction and misogyny is threatened by ecological activism. In this ad, rather than a house being built of recycled beer cans (which excites a young female foil), its owners have constructed a living refrigerator, without realizing, however, that symbolically it’s also a morgue.

Case Study number three is the Budweiser bridge. The only thing surprising about this ad is how it blatantly demeans humans as mere slaves to their corporate overlord. In this case, people are willing to let the truck (a symbolic container of the Budweiser corporate brand) drive over their backs. So while the previous ads play into people’s fears of losing individual freedom to ethical constraints, here people voluntarily become the servomechanism of corporate power and control. How’s that for ironic Super Bowl humor!

Bonus footage: Go here to see a hilarious Daily Show deconstruction of Super Bowl ads from 2004.

2012: Flying dream of corporate destruction

*spoiler alert*

With 2012 Roland Emmerich has crafted a perfectly pitched disaster film. I don’t mean “perfect” in the sense of meaningful art, but in the ultimate mega-zeitgeist sense that it captures so much about our current historical moment. We can think of this film in same way that Leni Riefenstahl‘s Olympia or Triumph of the Will encapsulated the Nazi gestalt, or how a perfectly executed Pepsi ad embodies all the secret recipes of global capitalism’s deranged view of the world.

Emmerich is a pop genius. In one flick he combined the entire ’70s genre of catastrophe films while riffing some of the top grossing films of all time: Titanic, Earthquake, Poseidon Adventure, Airport, Towering Inferno, and of course he recycles his own global warming saga, The Day After Tomorrow, and his other hits, Godzilla and Independence Day.

So to think about this movie you have to toss out what ever idea you have that this is about 2012 in any remote way. This movie is not about consciousness transformed or reborn. Rather, the Mayans, along with the film’s actors, are mere props for the film’s main character: computer generated animation exploding on a spectacular scale.

Movies on this magnitude are nothing less than fragments from the dream life of global capital, or what I call the World System. Thus, to get at the film’s deeper meaning, we have to take it for what it is: an out of body flight through the corporate dream world’s restless vision of collapse. Recalling that a “corporation” is a kind of abstract “body,” are we not vicariously flying through the World System’s hyperspace POV? Films, ads, and commercial culture depict escape from our bodies, banishing the earth spirits so that we can become angels, and this film lifts us like no other.

The runway for our departure was created with linear perspective and its vanishing point during the Renaissance. Just beyond the horizon lies utopia and the space shuttle launch pad. Now that we are in full orbit, flying outside of our traumatized obese/anorexic bodies, we feel this strange jitter like maybe something has been left behind. We look back at earth, but our flight careens through cascading buildings with shattered glass spraying the horizon, smoke billowing from the severed earth, bridges twisting and bending, monster sounds eminating from the bowls of the planet’s interior. This is no healing dream of drifting voyage, but one of distress and angst, a roller coaster of tension and release that can no longer be satisfied by bodiless sex. This is how hungry ghosts mindfuck.

As we witness spectacular CGI destruction of LA, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Washington DC, The Vatican and so on, in 2012 almost always we are treated to a bird’s eye view as our gaze flies through one disaster zone after another. If it’s not airplanes it’s a subway, limo, RV, or boat hurtling over and through cracked earth. But unlike our personal dreams of flight, which often are about expanded consciousness, freedom and release, our mechanical cocoon–the airplane–comes to incorporate an armor against technological and scientific death. Yet, airplanes also are the most common symbol of civilization’s failure to keep us safe. One plane accident is a blip compared to how many people die each year from car travel, yet our most haunting traumas come from aircraft catastrophes. Consider how the Hindenburg’s ashes smolder in our unconsciousness, or why 9/11 is one of the most potent symbols of terror in our lifetime.

Like Day After Tomorrow, 2012’s social commentary is scattered like fuselage wreckage. The G8 steers the global economy and sets the economic tone in which Hollywood’s business is the producing consciousness. Likewise, in 2012 the G8 comes to represent a limited view of the the global consensus. This is no different than current news reporting from Copenhagen that mistakenly calls the leaders of the globe’s top grossing capitalist bureaucracies “the world,” or how we internalize the behavior of a corrupt military industrial complex as the work of “our” democracy. Neither represent “us.” So when it comes to the film’s Malthusian lifeboat metaphor (leaders have foreknowledge of impending world destruction and only a limited capacity to save the population), G8 leaders sell cabins of the mega-luxury ocean liners that will be civilization’s arks for one billion euros a piece, the rest are left for the “genetically fit.” Only the humble presidents of the US and Italy (you can hear the Italians snicker at this odd detail) stay behind to be with “their” people. These acts of humility notwithstanding, when the Vatican and the White House are simultaneously destroyed by earthquake and tsunami, we secretly take pleasure in seeing the old order destroyed. The shot in which a crack predictably separates Adam and God’s fingers in the Sistine Chapel is the final breach between the old system’s churches and the cinema that takes over as our primary house of worship.

Recall the poetic justice in Day After Tomorrow when the US has to relocate its government to Mexico, and that it’s the southern neighbors who save selfish Americans from eminent destruction. In 2012 the greedy Russian mafiosa dies (of course!), but so too does the Indian scientist who was responsible for discovering the impending planetary disaster. He dies with his family because there’s no room for him or his brood on the high tech arks designed to weather the pole shift and tectonic plate shifts. In fact, so many people die in this film with such vivid detail, one is left a bit numb and immune to it by the end. In this respect, it’s hard to see the poetry.

We live in a risk society that has the duel nature of offering us protection while simultaneously creating more peril. This tension has to be constantly resolved, with media serving as a particularly good balm for containing our fear of disaster and contigency. Film gives us the catharsis necessary to nervously laugh off the truly scary dangers that are the result of human actions, not acts of gods (at least the organic ones). But in the film, the very megamachine that threatens the planetary biosphere is what saves humanity. I don’t think it’s without irony that the only way the arks–or spaceships for planet earth–can be built in secret and so quickly is by the one society that so perfectly symbolizes the ideal of the megamachine: China. What else has the power to relocate populations and marshal the forces of massive bureaucracy, global capital and corruption to build such high tech asylums. Like the sci-fi TV series Battlestar Galactica, these ships are an advanced technological life support systems that can sustain us in a homeless universe, and they can only be made by a cyborg-like society with people as its mechanistic components.

Ultimately the film pits a cipher for humanity–an African American scientist–against a technocratic bureaucrat who is responsible for overseeing the lifeboat project (American commanded and Chines built, no less). Emmerich can’t help but eat his bioengineered cake: the technocrats are assholes, but they save us anyways. We just have to bite the bullet while they engineer our way out of this apocalyptic mess.

As I awaited for the sunset and kiss to conclude the film, it came but not without an additional penultimate Western resolution. In the end the megamachine delivers the protagonists like a bunch of Nazis fleeing to South America with their collection of European art masterpieces and dreams of genetic fitness, but this time it’s Africa, ready to be re-colonized again and to become a playground for domination and imperial fantasies launched from the decks of the ocean liner fortresses. Don’t be fooled by the cast’s multicolored skin hues, this is nothing less then a narrative of monocultural salvation. After all, with arks, floods, earthquakes and god’s wrath, is this not a Biblical tale of purification updated for the 21st century?

We zoom out to see a planet transformed, not by cosmic alignment as the slight of hand would like us to believe, but by the world eaters whose CGI teeth have bitten a huge chunk off of the African continent, its gaping wound now swallowed by a world reconfigured by alchemists of abstraction. While not explicitly stated, is it not the alien point of view that is finally offered to us, a view in which we look down upon the world as utterly strange and unreal?

Did I enjoy the film? Immensely. Intercourse with the World System has to be pleasurable, otherwise we wouldn’t mindmold with it. Blockbuster films are contemporary religious incantations to praise the gods’ work in order to justify and reward our labor, and to feed the machine. But they’re not monolithic either. Films like this have enormous benefit because they allow us to creep around the mind of the World System to see how it thinks. But it also comes with a warning sticker: be mindful of this entertainment, for it can call forth even greater dreams of annihilation. And after this massive barrage of destruction tropes, only the obliteration of the universe could top it, and that would make movie going moot.

Battlestar Galactica Mystique


I’ve written an extended essay about the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica. I hope you will click through and read the whole piece at Reality Sandwich.

Reality Sandwich | Battlestar Galactica Mystique:

Spoiler alert!

“Earth, a dream we’ve been chasing for a long time.”–Admiral Adama

So concludes one of the greatest epic runs of sci-fi on TV: Battlestar Galactica (reimagined). Ripe with sci-fi’s prime directive to comment not on the future, but the present reality, like its cult-like progenitor Star Trek, BSG was rich in allegory, philosophy, and literary references. A sure sign of this is the how BSG generated a cottage industry of fan Websites, books, podcasts, Webisodes, fan films, chats and wikis that manifested all the positives of the current convergence media environment. By leveraging the collective intelligence and participatory components of the contemporary pop commons, BSG illuminated a vast zeitgeist embedded in the historical tension between humans and their technological tools. The show was a kind of conjuring of the collective unconsciousness, with the producers acting as media alchemists distilling cultural properties like mad mediacologists hermeneutically absorbed by the world’s pop culture dream code.

“Speeding forward, future hopping, always dreaming never stopping…”

In the digital media class I teach we have been talking about the “consumer sublime,” which is the idea that people seek increasingly more stimulating media to “awe” their senses in the same way we once encountered the sublime within nature. The clearest example is comparing the experience of going into the Grand Canyon versus watching an IMAX movie on the canyon’s edge (yes, it’s possible). This pattern goes along with the theory of the “creeping cycle of desensitization” which argues that every time media technique hits a threshold and becomes normalized, new media come along to amp up sexuality, violence, editing, sound and overall sensory experience. For instance, go to the IMAX home page and it instantly promises that you will “hear more, see more.” For another example, compare early James Bond trailers with recent ones, or old Bat Man with the new one.

Why does this matter for the environment? Because in our addiction for speed and thrills, we seek to supplant nature’s innate experience of awe with one generated by a computer; in the process of hyper-stiumulation we actually numb ourselves to the subtle voices of the extended natural world. But there is a fuzzy boundary between technology and nature (ultimately a false dichotomy, anyway), which might explain why naturalist Wade Davis of National Geographic would star in the IMAX film, “Grand Canyon: River at Risk.” On the one hand it seems absurd to watch this film inside a dark theater on the edge of the Grand Canyon when you could simply hike down and have the experience yourself. On the other, not everyone can travel there (the film can be seen in other theaters) and it does create an intimate experience that technology enables (such as telescopes or microscopes enhancing the invisible). This contradiction is similar to that which Walter Benjamin grapples with in his famous essay, “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” He argues on the one hand art loses its “aura” when reproduced, but on the other, it becomes democratized because it becomes available to everyone (unless, of course, if it’s being mediated by fascist propaganda or corporate media).

Any new medium both enhances and eliminates some sensory experience– no doubt certain aspect of nature become accessible to us through film and TV, while others are inadvertently cut off. BBC’s Planet Earth series, for example, takes us places we can never go, or allows us to see animals we’ll never know intimately. Or Winged Migration can show us birds’ “umwelt” (selfworld) in a way that we may never know (unless we become a shaman, that is). This is an over simplification of a much larger argument, but suffice to say, the natural sublime can be present in some kinds of media.

With that said, I now want to take a closer look at Comcast’s “Dream Big” ad campaign (the first is posted here, to see the others you can click on the YouTube playlist I created with examples). Like the IMAX Website, it promises more and better of everything (the jingle chimes,”Speeding forward, future hopping, always dreaming never stopping…”). The ad presents a veritable Christmas morning of sensory delight in which we can live out our fantasy of perpetual childhood. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with being childish, but as ecopsychologist Paul Shepard points out in Nature and Madness, our culture is traumatized because we are wired for rites of passage involving communication with nature, without which our “ontogenesis”–growth pattern– is corrupted. In other words, because of our increasingly deeper disconnection with the natural world, we never fully grow up and mature the way that our biology intends. Look around, and you will see the disastrous consequences of this kind highly addictive personality disorder. Rather than have a healthy, nurturing relationship with our natural world “parent,” we run around the globe like five-year-olds with M-16s gulping as much oil as possible, even if we choke on it. I use the royal “we” of course. Most of us, I presume, would not choose this mode of life if given a choice or were properly aware of our options. Yet, here we are.

Even more sad is the Prozac calm of the ad talent’s tone. There is nothing arbitrary about this because historically “advanced” capitalist societies have cultivated a certain emotionless gaze. Think Ray-Bans and aviator cool. This began with the “Fordization of the face,” industrialization’s efforts to smooth the temperament and emotion of workers so they wouldn’t rebel against mind-numbing work. The modern equivalent is advertising’s droll voiced 20-something narrator who bemoans the cubicle life, but surrenders to it, nonetheless. The logic is that the System is more successful when few care what its managers design or do with the world, as long as it is entertaining and fun on the weekend. But then again, that might be the very reason why the System is currently falling apart. Confuse, divide, conquer and rule the emotions of people, and they will no longer find any gratification from a system that is supposed to “nurture” them. This creates a perfect opportunity for nature to reassert herself into the center of our attention, because in the end we know deep down inside the Candyland reality of this Comcast ad is only an unfulfilled desire to bond with the Mother. In fact, it’s available to you if you go outside and look. I recently had my own Candyland experience with a patch of grass. In it was a wonderworld of tiny spring flowers, varieties of grass, buzzing bees, succulents galore and mounds of emerald moss. I imagined myself tiny running amok in this little forest and found it wondrous and full of awe.

Finally, I want to remark on the inevitable harvesting of Generation BoingBoing culture. If you have followed BoingBoing over the years (it remains one of my favorite sites), you’ll notice that its writers have become tastemakers, a role I don’t think they sought or care much about unless it has to do with promoting positive net values such as open source and sharing. But aesthetically they have certain obsessions that inevitably become pop culture “cool,” which is evident in the Comcast ad. Comcast is “remediating” (or recycling from other media) a number of BoingBoing motifs. First is the fetishizing of coy, flirty ukulele DIY songstresses recorded on Webcams in bedrooms by young, attractive females. Another is the flattened eboy art style of pixelated cities hybridized with the Sims-like virtual world playground of video games. It’s a consumer cornucopia of vintage vinyl and cassettes, Japanese monsters, 1970s toys, Sesame St. animations, Linux penguins, and so on. True enough, the Comcast world is full of “wonderful things,” which in and of itself is not bad, but put into the context of how the global culture is trending, we may do well to hit the pause button for a minute and wonder where in the hell we are, and assess how we really got here.

Unfortunately, to criticize something like this is to be labeled a “Luddite” against “progress.” But I’m far from it. I don’t bemoan the many great positive changes that are happening as a result of convergence and new media (such as participatory media, collective intelligence, and transmedia storytelling). Nor do I think that Comcast is brainwashing us into a specific reality frame. But what it does do is reinforce dominant cultural themes and mentalities that need to be called out. Failure to do so would mean a failure to intervene and read against the grain of paradigmatic thinking that normally goes unchecked. Frankly, if I wake up some morning in Comcast’s world, I’d say we’re pretty screwed.

Disaster media shake out

Preparedness Now, created by the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project, is an interesting piece of environmental media. It tries to convey the catastrophic consequences of a major earthquake while keeping some distance through a youthful graphic style so as to avoid being too visceral, and therefore too scary to deal with. Before watching it I expected Day After Tomorrow-like graphics too real to imagine, but I think if it were done in that style it would make it “too much like a movie,” and actually lesson its impact. As many media theories have noted, we often use media as containers for that which we can not deal with in our bodies– we run fearful scenarios in film as a way to contain them and make them less material. We deposit life’s risk into these external shells. For example, all those earthquake films of the ’70s ended up as good fodder for Mad Magazine parodies and did little else but entertain.

In keeping with Scott McCloud‘s theory of cartooning, the more cartoony you make something, the more you can project yourself into it because the lack of physical detail creates a space for your psyche to enter. The filters used in the video recall those instruction films from grade school that ran through dirty projectors, invoking the necessary innocence of childhood in order to imagine yourself inside the event. In this way, I think this preparedness video is rather brilliant. It really maintains the right balance between threat and personal responsibility. As a kid who grew up in LA, I can appreciate the usefulness of the piece and wish we had something this cool when I was in school.

It would be fair to criticize the video from one perspective, however, which is the manner in which it disassociates humans from nature. In the video’s scenario earthquakes are something that happen to us, and are not described as part of the necessary adjustments that Gaia makes to maintain an equilibrium. In fact, one reading of the video could be the ridiculous point that we built a significant global metropolis in such a dangerous zone. Moreover, the implication is that insurance companies (and hence caitalism) can handle the threat for us. Finally– perhaps this was an unconscious choice of titles– but isn’t “Preparedness Now” a riff on “Apocalypse Now”? Considering that film and mass media are our main reference points for reality, I’m guessing the title is ironically intentional. As such, it might be interesting to loop back and ponder Apocalypse Now! as an allegory for California in the ’70s. Think about it.

Aliens in the home world


© Gleison Miranda/FUNAI

As a cultural meme, photos of the so-called “lost” tribe of the Amazon circulated more rapidly in the mediasphere than electrons buzzing through duel processors. But now that the images have been revealed to be a “hoax,” we should kick back in our collective armchairs and probe what happened. To be clear, the pictures weren’t a hoax per say, because the people depicted in them are real and do live off our grid, but the implication that they were unkown or off civilization’s radar was false. Survival International, one of the organizations who published the photos, said:

This is a classic example of journalists getting the wrong end of the stick. The only people who ever claimed that the Indians photographed were ‘lost’ or ‘undiscovered’ were…. the press, despite the fact that Survival has been campaigning for the protection of the many isolated Indian tribes on the Peru-Brazil border for more than twenty years…. Indeed, you might have thought that the fact that the Indians are living in a government reserve set aside for isolated Indian groups would tend to indicate that they weren’t exactly ‘unknown’.

I found the images intriguing as a media phenomena. With our point of view coming from the surveilling eye of extraterrestrial flight, I can’t help but feel like these are stills from a Star Trek scouting mission in which we– the humanoid aliens– are observing a distant world uncontaminated by our civilization. For many viewers, I’m guessing the reverse reaction was true: that the indigenous people covered in body paint and pointing bow and arrow at our high tech aircraft are the strange, exotic creatures of a “lost” world. But as a reflection of our own zeitgeist, the intrigue of a potentially “lost” tribe says a lot more about “us” (the scientifically “advanced” world) than “them” (the forgotten, primitive ur-past of yore). In our effort to name and identify the event at a distance– i.e. to “other” the Others– the media buzz surrounding these photos is yet another indication that we have become aliens in our home world.

The images struck a chord because of the nature of media (interesting pun), which survives by cannibalizing novelty. Any photo that presents “newness” metabolizes into information and will froth to the head of the noosphere only to be gobbled and digested rapidly like a yeasty beer. In particular, what drives media’s center of gravity is the striving for authenticity in order to fertilize its newness reproduction cycle. This is not without some irony. Upon looking up “authentic” in Merriam-Webster, I found several curious and contradictory definitions. One is “made or done the same way as an original,” and the other is “not false or imitation.” A photo can embody both senses of the word, because on the one hand it is an imitation of something– reality–, and the other hand, it is a reality unto itself. The tricky thing about photos is that we assume that they are facts, yet what we do with them, how we choose what we see and the impact of the photo is far from the reality it purports to represent. Add to that digital manipulation, context and framing– i.e. the “naming” of the image–, and you have one big fat dose of truthiness.

This is the subtext of the image controversy, because there is an underlying distrust of media and civilization itself as ultimately inauthentic. Most of us feel like the characters in The Matrix. The only way that machines can keep us interested is to offer us scraps of reality through these kinds of controversial images so that we can verify the existence of truth and the so-called real. Nonetheless, I happen to not believe in the simulacra argument, because most of our lives are actually not electronically mediated, though we assume that they are. The distrust of simulation is older than modern technology and particular to the European mindset, going back to Plato. He was the one who said the bed was a mere imitation of a more perfect bed made by God. His is not a bed made by machines, but by human hands with tools. The interesting thing is that human language actually evolved from our hands and the use of tools, not the other way around: technology is human communication.

Plato’s fear and distrust of appearances has repeated itself incessantly as a tulpa trapped inside a hall of mirrors that is now modern media. Advertising simultaneously assures us of the world’s stability while the news makes us fearful of its structural integrity. Despite this tension, the capitalist system of commodities and consumption has become nature, our habitat. It is so normal that anything that can differentiate itself from the ambient background of consumerism and the techno-fetishistic mind will become novel.

Nonetheless, in this semiotic war for attention, capitalism still struggles mightily to be relevant and real. The underlying argument of typical advertising pitches is that their product is “the real thing” (to paraphrase one of the more memorable slogans of the century). Marketers use every magician’s trick to offer us some kind of allusion to authenticity, be it the bodily sensations of fear, hunger, humor and sexuality, or to wink at us by acknowledging that we all know this is a con game. It’s a treadmill that marketers fear to jump off of.

Which brings us back to the photos. Like passengers in a spaceship Hummer driven by the corporate dream world, many of us have become accustomed to feeling like aliens on our own planet. I consider this kind of “alienation” the true source of our pill-popping, “social anxiety disorder” ways. I quibble with some postmodernists who contend we are too alienated to be alienated, arguing that alienation requires a sense of self, believing that when we are decentered simulations of our own beings, there is nothing to bounce off of. I disagree. I believe we yearn for nature and connection because they are tangible and exist no matter how minute the splinter in our minds and souls. Without this longing, advertising could never proceed because it traffics in the language of loss.

These images demonstrate, however, that the prevailing “lost” trope in the media zeitgeist is reversing: in our grasping for the real, more than ever we feel the urge to really be “lost”: off the radar, away from the cell phone, pager and Internet like Into the Wild‘s Chris McCandless or the actor reciting Jack Kerouac in a recent BMW ad. In our post-National Geographic world where all has been disovered, cataloged, photographed and integrated into the electronic sphere of our realm, there is little left for us to remember or know about how we used to be. But like the X File’s Agent Mulder, we feel the truth is out there, hovering outside us like pixel dust blowing in the cosmic winds.

Contact with “authentic” humans in the natural world gives us hope and wonder, yet the very act of taking the photos violates that innocence. Some even argue that trolling the forests for “authentically lost” humans violates their right to be uncontacted. Consider Star Trek’s Prime Directive:

“No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations.” (Quoted from Wikipedia)

Because these photos indeed touched upon the “lost” meme, they also drew awareness to Survival International and to the plight of indigenous people in the Amazonian preserve (an interesting word in itself) and elsewhere. The fact that ultimately we are talking about the fate of real people with integrity and just as much of a right to exist on their own terms as we do, makes the this whole discussion more urgent. The civilization end game is upon us, and our budget of cultural diversity is dwindling rapidly, suffering the same fate as the biological diversity that supports us.

So, while acknowledging that organizations like Survival International do necessary and important work, they also depend on the media to educated the public about their mission and projects. Like many NGOs, Survival International’s site has plenty of sensationalistic images and videos, which begs the question of whether or not other people’s suffering can be contained and communicated effectively through images. Is this unethical? Not necessarily, as long as we are clear about the game we are playing and the nature of how it works. But it certainly remains ironic that it’s through media that we have to communicate civilization’s inauthenticity via the language of propaganda and exploitation.

Bonus footage: the following is a short documentary produced by Survival International,”Uncontacted Tribes.”

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Cut and paste your mind

Samsung is trying to get on the iPhone bandwagon with its F480 or “Tocco”(“touch” in Italian). Hey, why not just call it the “Taco”? It’s something you eat with your hands… Anyhow, as I argue in my book, one of the greatest distresses of media users is a lack of a sense of place. Samsung is well aware of this problem, so it offers us this alternate reality presented in its “Drag and Drop World” ad.

As an old zine publisher I often feel a tension between manipulating pixels and actually working with my hands. I prefer scissors and glue, but I’m old school. The use of traditional stop motion animation and collage to create this ad is an excellent example of “media composting,” which is to repurpose/recycle/remediate dead media into new media as a way of enriching and tapping into authenticity. The struggle of all marketing right now is to appear authentic, and of course to grab our “inattention.” Riffing on the successful HP “Personal Again” ad campaign, which has famous creative types changing the world with the wave of the hand, here Samsung shows not only how this is possible, but maybe it leads to too much information, overcrowding, and complexity.

As mentioned elsewhere, these new touch devises are remediating the body– trying to bring it back into the fold. So rather than the mouse or button pad being finger surrogates, we can manipulate the machines more directly. This also may be a step closer to direct manipulation with our minds. But as I have noticed with my infant daughter, she maps space through touch before the mind patterns it for her to design expectations of how reality should present itself. Without touch, there is nothing there.

Unfortunately the ad depicts the aspirations of a wannabe– a young male who desires the luxuries of the old industrial world: space, the mastery of nature, compliant women and material wealth with no one to intrude upon that realm. Notice how the forest scene has a bulldozer clearing forest for the new house and truck. But in typical hypocritical fashion, it’s OK for the individual to do that, but not everyone else! Which is what the ad is showing our young protagonist. He wants the wealth of the world, but only for himself. Dream on, the ad tells us, so instead construct your own virtual world in your isolated electronic reality. Your home is the hybrid world of Samsung electronics and Ikea furniture. Let your browser master the world, while you sit back and enjoy a microwave dinner with your virtual wife.


You can view this user demo of the Samsung F480 on YouTube— note the difference between the speed the ad shows and its actual use, kinda like the difference between a McDonald’s Big Mac ad and the real thing.

This unboxing video demonstrates how the refined hunter gatherer can experience Christmas everyday!

Bread and circuits

Image source

It’s what we in the education biz call a teachable moment: an explosive artifact of the media world whacks the piñata of media fears and phobia. Enter the $100 million Grand Theft Auto IV.

A recent discussion at BoingBoing about the new Grand Theft Auto reminds us the obvious but often forgotten axiom that communications are messy (just ask your husband/wife/lover/friends/mother/father/daughter/etc.). Scale doesn’t matter. Not surprisingly the thread is an eclectic treatise on how hipster netizens view media ethics. The most interesting tension is between those making a feminist critique of the game’s misogynistic tendencies and those calling the game social satire. I think the truth lies somewhere between, but the discussion does demonstrate that in an age of postirony (irony with a faux critical pose lacking real substance), it’s hard to be critical without coming across as anti-fun. People are ridiculed if they use big words and theoretical tools to back up their ideas (some commentators derided the use of “patriarchy,” but hey, did the problem of patriarchy somehow magically disappear?), which begs the question, when did being educated become so uncool? Granted, academese can be a kind of inarticulation that obscures a lack of creative thinking or good ideas (and frankly quite boring), but we should be able to say things like patriarchy and militarism without seeming stuck-up.

GTA maneuvers social norms because postirony allows us take pleasure in the politically incorrect, permitting us to dismiss without consequences our own moral standards as frivolous relics of the ’60s. I’m for engaging fantasy, but mindfully, so perhaps we’re in need of a kind of post-postirony, which in the laws of logic, makes a kind of double negative, and hence we return full circle to irony as a rhetoric of social critique (i.e. Dada, Situationism, punk). In the mediated realm irony and humor are often the only way corporate media take on serious issues while maintaining some emotional distance. Recall how the court jester is the one person who can criticize the king without getting his or her head chopped off. Now think of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, both cultural phenoms on a network owned by one of the world’s biggest media companies, Viacom, and realize that their silly/serious media deconstructions have a bigger educational impact than Fox News (as a PEW study showed).

Navigating media requires traversing a realm of double binds such as real news being fake, and fake news being real. You can add to the list just about every advertising message which has as its subtext the belief that commodities have utopian properties that will transform our mundane lives into magical realms of possibility. To stay sane we require cognitive dissonance, which means holding contradictory beliefs as true (like buying new designer jeans that look old or freedom equals militarism). Mental tools like “truthiness” help us seek moral clarity in a world that has little, yet we sill suffer greatly when we see acts of cruelty played out in the media, video games being an easy target because we associate them with children. But beware of talk about media victimizing children, because kids often become ciphers for adult anxieties of being hijacked by technology. Most adult media critics claiming to represent children are probably masking their own fear of change.

Is it possible to accept the existence of video games as a kind of phenomena on their own terms? Unlike traditional media video games contain problem solving tools that often require people to work together. Moreover, video games have depth and challenges that encourage transgression. In one anecdote from a friend who teaches digital media, he found a clever kid using his taxi in GTA to run over and kill as many people as possible. His rationale? He was testing the stupidity of the game’s AI.

Can video games be used as tools to discover something important about how our minds operate, and where in the spectrum of moral critique our values come from? I don’t suggest making them into Roarshack tests, although that is what GTA has become for many. Nor I’m I calling for solipsism, because we do need a moral compass and social norms that respect people’s rights and integrity. I do feel in many respects that we are as much defined by community as we are by our own internal thought process. We need to go from the Western idea, “I think, therefore I am,” to a more indigenous concept like, “It all thinks, therefore I am.” As such, there should be a space for us to consider the intelligent aspects of video gaming, albeit with an eye towards critical engagement, and explore the potential holographic concepts contained within them.

(A recent book, Gamer Theory, takes a slightly different POV to argue that life in capitalist reality is in itself a gamespace, and that gaming reflects the ideological structure of our world.)

At one point media effects research changed the question from, What do media do to children?, to, What do children do with media? The latter question assumes a lot more agency on the user’s behalf. Media are not just ideological magic bullets that control our thoughts, but can also be a source of gratification. That in itself is not evil, despite what the religious fanatics want us to believe. Still, the rule of the playground stands: it’s always fun until someone gets hurt. But so far I can only vouch for tennis elbow.

I don’t think games like GTA pose a threat to society, but do enrich the complex and entangled debate concerning media effects. Yes, some people are prone to violence and can be pushed over the edge by certain heightened states of nerve stimulation, but I believe most people have a check against that. Still, we should also be able to criticize the game without being attacked as neo-Vicotrians. Play and fantasy should not be considered a threat to the social structure.

When I go to teach my mass media class at the university, my bus passes the Roman Colosseum, built by Emperor Vespasian in his “bread and circuses” campaign to entertain and feed the masses in order to stave off social unrest. It’s a reminder that in ancient times real people were killed for sport, and that was perfectly normal. Now virtual people are killed for entertainment (admittedly our method of aerial bombardment is a kind of “virtual” killing that is very real for its victims), but wouldn’t you agree that in the Old World when there was no mass media people actually killed more often for stupid reasons like honor and the sex lives of rich land owners? (“All wars are sex wars” — The Invisibles) This is a tough argument to make, because immediately WWI and WWII and Nagasaki come to mind, so in certain respects, war deaths have not decreased, they have just been industrialized. Still, again reflecting on the Colosseum, I have the strange, if not naive sensation, that in general the world is a more moral place to live (albeit less than perfect and full of blood thirsty lunatics supported by institutionalized violent pathology), and that it is in direct relationship to ideas about human rights disseminated and normalized by global media.

Truth is, after reading the Buddha’s sutas from over 2500 hundred years ago, I find that people have not changed much. Back then the mind was just as susceptible to greed, ignorance, delusion and confusion as it is today. The difference now is that the feedback system is far greater and involves more people. Frankly, it’s harder to get way with shit. In terms of cosmic cycles, you could say that we’re in a global phase of high metabolism. We amplify and burn more quickly. Trick is, at what point does the organism/system stabilize? Clearly a society that produces GTA for entertainment is in a highly volatile state. However, there are signs from the great GTA Debate that we are edging towards homeostasis. The fact that we have this instantaneous and massive societal debate is certainly an important indication that rather than being brainwashed, many of us still care deeply about the world… and we use the media to voice our opinions.

After Orson Well’s broadcast of War of the Worlds inadvertently produced a panic (recall that HG Well’s classic was recast as a news report), social scientists went back and surveyed listeners to find out what happened. What emerged from their media effects study is that educated people were the least susceptible to believing the broadcast was of a real invasion. Those with strong religious convictions were the most vulnerable. That caveat should remind us that more often than not it’s not the media itself but our own beliefs and education that produce the outcome, media being an element of a far more complex mental ecology than we would admit. If there is one sure thing to be gleaned from this whole exercise, it’s going to be a lot of free marketing for Rockstar, whose $100 million investment is sure to pale in relation to its profits.

PS Check Buzzfeed for the latest in the blogosphere.

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Attack of the Gucci punks

When I grow up I’d like to be a commodity fetish…

I was intrigued by the fashion brand Urban Decay because I thought it was strange how they appropriated gang typography (or is it Suicide Girls now?) to give the veneer of one of these bogus DIY operations like Hot Topic. Then I stumbled on their page for Cory Kennedy who is their fashion model for Spring 2008 (the text above is from the Urban Decay site). Sad to say, but I feel a generation gap coming on strong. Then I fell down the wormhole further and ended up in What the hell is this, Gucci punk? Man, I’m freaking out. And I’m feeling sooo uncool right now.

It’s days like this that make me wish punk never happened.

So I went to Corey’s MySpace page and clicked around dazed and confused. I’m sure she is a nice girl who means well, but I’m baffled by how someone so completely vacuous can be considered the world’s most interesting Internet personality. I find it even more strange that some kind of collective intelligence would emerge and suddenly crown one person as the “it” girl of the Web world. So much for emergence. It goes to show that not all slime molds congeal into complex civilizations. (For an explanation of all these strange allusions, please read Emergence. I promise it won’t hurt.)

PS Reality check: for the celebrity amnesiacs, Eddie Sedgwick was the one and only it girl of the universe.

PPS Goes to show that photography does have a way of stealing people’s souls because right now I’m feeling way too judgmental for my own good.

The flaneur’s coda

Charles Baudelairer‘s character of the flaneur has been celebrated and vastly discussed as the archetype of Modern Media Man: he grazes the sights and sounds of the new urbanity, a casual consumer of the senses. He is somewhat disengaged, his focus meanders and samples. As a “Bourgeois dilettante,” he’s a no where man. While the flaneur has come to symbolize the rise of media in the 19th century, I also see him reasserting himself in today’s ads, mostly in the guise of the 20-something tech economy knowledge worker. Usually he drives a (new) car, letting his electronics extend his senses for him while he consumes the landscape like any other media experience. So rather than a pedestrian wandering the city, the new flaneur is guided by GPS and a smart phone that makes his appointments (he may even have an outsourced personal assistant in India handling ticket reservations and other mundane activities for him). So rather than roam the sensations, his technological devices browse for him.

The Verizon VCast ad featuring Led Zeppelin (screen grab above, link below) brings the flaneur back to the street, but this time he wanders a hybrid reality of magical dimensions. The music is not only a soundtrack but describes every scene change he encounters. Meanwhile Led Zep memorabilia and clues are planted through out his sojourn connecting the physicality with his media space, giving “Physical Graffiti” a literal existence. He no longer meanders the city but a videogame. The outside is in, the inside is out.

I have to admit that this character makes me really mad. He’s young, good looking, self-assured, disengaged, clueless and apparently rich enough to live in Manhattan. He doesn’t really give a crap about Led Zeppelin because if he did he’d be banging his head to John Bonham‘s beats. He’s so self-absosorbed he’s probably thinking about how his $60 American Apparel T-shirt will get him laid. Led Zep belongs to the throngs of insecure, sexually dysfunctional, pimple-faced youth. This is spin the bottle make-out music, not Bourgeois dilettante, phone status, ring-tone accessory bullshit. Sheesh. This cheap commercialization is far too casual for me to bear.

Video link.

(Article link (you may have to register to view it).

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Megacities: development, evolution?

The above clip (which I saw over at BoingBoing (via Africa Unchained)) is an intriguing portrait of Lagos, Nigeria. It demonstrates some of the trends of expanding megacities that characterize the so-called “global south.” My main objection to the segment is the recycled and uncritical use of the term “developing world.” African critics have long contended that this term is Eurecentric because it implies that they (non-Europeanized societies) are primitive versions of the central model of civilization. Are Nigerians supposed to develop into clones of us? Should Lagos become the “London of the future?” It’s an absurd proposition because London is a wealthy city predicated on the poverty that is distributed locally and across the globe. When Nigerians in the documentary hope that Lagos will become the next London or New York, they have internalized this Eurocentric view. But it’s not surprising given the role that global media corporations play in defining the ideals of the world. Who can fault them for not wanting the privileges afforded the global elites?

I think it’s better to think of places like Lagos and Mexico City as interconnected nodes. The reality may be that Lagos is really a microcosm of the world as a result of capitalist “evolution.” I qualify the term “evolution” because we often think that to evolve means to build better and more efficient solutions, but that is not always the case. For example, we may think of Western civilization as “evolved,” but it is in fact contrived. It is the result of many deliberate and planned decisions mixed with a bit of accident and synchronicity. Throughout history human agents have made conscious decisions about how to shape or respond to their environment. Some are more successful than others. The thing about “our” civilization, that is, the one that primarily inhabits the technological bubble, is that in the end we may not be so wise. That all depends on us, of course. This is why it is better not to think of Lagos as “their” reality. We are all interconnected.

I believe the documentarians intentions were good; they wanted to showcase a situation outside many of our normal reality, but that’s the problem of creating something as difference, i.e. they are different because they are not us. Frankly, I wish Current had actually asked local filmmakers to document their own city. Why do we need a white guide to interpret the place when a local one would be a lot more insightful and also supportive of the local economy? I doubt a local filmmaker would think of their environment as “fantastic” (in the fantasy sense) or bizarre. Black magic is not bizarre, and is probably mislabeled in this segment since the magic they speak of is designed to actually pacify bad people through nonviolent means. Maybe a Nigerian should come to London or San Francisco and make a report of the “black magic” that is seen every 10 minutes on television, something we call advertising.

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Theocons of the universe

Air Force Academy chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
Cylon Resurrection Ship, somewhere in outer space

In case you haven’t seen Sci-Fi network’s Battlestar Galactica (I highly recommend that you do), the premise of the story is that a race of robots created by humans decides to destroy their creators. The cyborgs, called Cylons, have developed a theistic construct of the universe, believing in a single God (the humans are polytheists who warship something akin to the the Greek pantheon). It’s one of the more interesting twists in the series plot lines. The Cylons eventually believe they are doing “God’s” work, so instead of simply destroying the fleshy heathens they decide to invade and occupy a human colony in order to convert them to their cybernetic lord (sound familiar?). In the process of the occupation the Cylons torture, detain and kill the humans without a hint of irony (again, sound familiar?). The hint that perhaps the Cylons are stand-ins for fundamentalists comes with their ability to “resurrect” their consciousness into cloned bodies whenever one of their advanced humanoid models is killed. The “resurrection ship” (pictured above) contains fresh cyborgs that can be downloaded with the consciousness of terminated or killed Cylons.

The religious pursuits of the Cylons obviously have their real world analog, and is a sophisticated commentary on the nature of fundamentalist religion. In it I find echoes of my own sense that monotheism is a bit like a dangerous thought virus that has no logical basis in reality, yet has a way of repeating and transferring itself from one generation to another. Thus I was intrigued to discover the similarities of the Air Force Academy chapel (the first image) with the resurrection ship. Since we know Cylons are not modernists (as the chapel was made in the 1960s and is clearly inspired by modernist architecture), it’s probably a clue that Battlestar Galactica’s writers do in fact view the Cylons as a type of fundamentalist culture which is militaristic, dogmatic and homogeneous. After all, one of the key reasons the Cylons initially attack the human race is that they are viewed as sinful and impure. All these elements happen to be aspects of what is transpiring at the Air Force Academy– and the US military in general– which has become a fierce fundamentalist conversion center, thereby combining high tech with militancy and intense faith. Things get a little loopy, however, when it turns out that it’s tied to the ministry of Ted Haggard (you know, the preacher guy who apparently loved speed and hard (male) bodies).

According to David Antoon, who writes about the academy in a scary article about Christina fundamentalism in the US military:

The Christian supremacist fascism first reported at the Air Force Academy is endemic throughout the military. From the top down, there has been a complete repudiation of constitutional values and time-honored codes of ethics and honor codes in favor of religious ideology. And we now have a revolving door between Blackwater USA, which is Bush’s Praetorian Guard, and the U.S. military at every level. The citizen-soldier military dictated by our founding fathers has been replaced with professional and mercenary right-wing Christian crusaders in control of the world’s most powerful military. The risks to our democratic form of government cannot be overstated.

It’s expedient for the warmongering neocons to encourage fundamentalist militancy in the armed forces because it gives them a hardcore base to execute their goals for economic domination of Muslim controlled oil fields. But like the Cylons, the danger of cultivating such a class of “theo-cons” is that they ultimately may not be controllable and will put forward their own agenda of apocalypse and rapture, something Bush apparently believes in, although I find that to be an excuse at best, and a deadly ruse to hide more nefarious goals. The connection between the mercenary army, Blackwater, and Christian supremacy is an example of the kinds of bad things that happen when you let the tiger out of the cage. In the end, by deploying its private fundamentalist army in the heart of Iraq, the White House may have ultimately undermined its mission. It’s hard to put a smily face mask on extremists in the age of transparent global media. So we may be saved from a Cylon attack after all.

Thoughts on media mind control

Periodically I get requests to review material to see if it’s relevant for media literacy. I was asked to view the above clip, which I found instructive in terms of how not to think about media. What follows is my reading:

Upon reviewing the video I would not recommend it for media literacy. While it is true that the many people in corporate media are on the CFR, I don’t believe they take directives from a secret group. It’s an issue of them all sharing the same values and worldview in the same way the same people mentioned probably all went to Ivy League schools and were in the same fraternities. Also, in terms of its educational applicability, it’s my opinion that it’s better to demonstrate how coverage of certain issues benefit specific sectors of society. A good example of this would be from the Noam Chomsky documentary, Manufacturing Consent, because it has good case studies.

Furthermore, I really don’t like the idea of conspiracies and secret cabals. Life is chaotic and messy. It’s easier to create chaos than order, although there is a point that generating a perpetual state of disorder is one kind of control, and that certainly has been true through out history. But that tiger is not an easy ride. If mind control truly were possible, we’d all be pretty mind-frakked right now. The system is in place to do it. Why hasn’t it happened?

Also, all the media discussed in the clip are increasingly irrelevant because the entire mediascape is evolving into a new paradigm. The assumptions of the narrator is that we inhabit a one-to-many, vertical model of information distribution, when in fact we are now in a more horizontal, many-to-many distribution flow. I’m not saying that corporate media are not dangerous to the planet, but we need newer ways of understanding, and unfortunately this particular clip features some outdated views of how media currently operate.

Finally, I don’t believe in the “conduit” form of media: that is, the idea that information exists as objects that are delivered from one person to the next without being altered. Communication is messy, so ideas don’t transfer that well. For example, how many of you can repeat all Ten Commandments and agree on what they mean? What is dangerous about media is how they produce “subjectivities”: ways of thinking. In a sense, the above clip just repeats the same “subjectivity” of the people it purports to critique, yet another example of the snake eating its tail. Time to change our diet.

Which way does your mind spin?


Look first, then read on.

If she goes clockwise, you’re right-brained, and if it goes counter clockwise you’re left-brained. Concentrate and make her change directions. Ack!

Via Souljerky.
The Right Brain vs Left Brain | The Daily Telegraph:

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies

uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
risk taking

Extraterrestrial Hummer

File this one under inexplicable partnerships. National Geographic has now branded a hydrogen powered Hummer. I have mixed feeling about this. National Geographic is generally considered a green brand, perhaps because of its global scope and efforts to document the vanishing human and natural world. Hummer, on the other hand, is the perfect symbol of the war economy, as a gas-guzzling behemoth, but also as a stand-in for the emasculated male member. I have long monitored Hummer ads and have seen a repeated message that we humans have become extraterrestrials. Forget spaceship earth, the Hummer is spaceship survival. With an absence of drivers in this ad, you get the sense that the Hummer is a borg, and we are simply its servomechanism. The quick cuts of the commercial also generates a discontinuous, disjointed relationship with place. We jumpcut around the globe as if the SUV will serve as our time-space machine.

Right-brained astronaut art

Astronaut Alan Bean’s paintings make the moon look like New Mexico (link)

Cosmic Log : The right-brained astronaut:

To do art well, you’ve got to be kind of holistic and look at everything at once,” Bean said. “It’s different. You don’t stay alive as an astronaut or a pilot looking at everything at once. You better be a serial kind of guy.”

If you have been following my previous posts about the right- and left-brain, then you’ll appreciate this article about Alan Bean, one of 12 earth beings to walk on the moon (that we know of, at least). In the interview he talks about his post-astronaut career as a painter and the different functions of the brain. In essence, you need your left-brain to operate a spacecraft, but the right-brain to paint it.

I’m not much of an art critic, but there is something intriguing about Bean’s paintings. If you click here you can see some of the work (though I warn you the Website is a huge, disorganized mess– so much for rocket science!). My mental map of the moon has always been through photography, so I find the paintings to have a psychological quality that is quite different and strangely religious, displaying both a love for the moon, but for science as well.

The painterly style is reminiscent of cowboy art, something as a punk rock youth I totally abhorred, but in my sunset years I have come to appreciate. Bean’s landscapes are like the New Mexico desert, extending the wild frontier myth to space. Like cowboy art, these images portray fairly mundane activities that are designed to foreground the environment. In the above image humans look rather small.

On his Website he states that acrylics are space age:

Bean prefers to paint his motifs with acrylics, because acrylics are as high tech as his subjects. Although developed in the 19th century, acrylics occurred first on the art scene during the beginning space age and are the most important innovation in artistic materials since the invention of oil paints.

Additionally, “the base layer of all of his paintings contain small pieces of his space suit and the command module and also very small amounts of Moon dust.”

He covers his painting surfaces with acrylic modeling paint so he can put a space boot print on the surface along with imprints of the geology hammer he used on his mission. So not only does he make representations of the moon, the paintings themselves become the moon and the record of his experience. Way cool!


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The Sicko Zeitgeist: a tale of two documentaries and the rat race of fear



Sicko finally came to Italy. There must be some strange pleasure in reviewing and inspecting the sickness that has emerged in the American social system. My Italian partner tells me that since WWII Italians have always looked up to the United States as the future, a kind of Utopia to works towards. This might explain Berlusconi’s misadventure in Iraq. With the Italians gone from Mesopotamia, Roman theaters now feature documentaries about Guantanamo Bay, the US healthcare system and the docudrama Death of a President get equal play with horror and action films. Is there still an American Utopia out there? The Simpsons Movie opens this weekend.
Sicko of course left me feeling disgusted. In Italy, as a legal resident I’m entitled to a doctor and free healthcare. The system here is not as perfect as those shown in Sicko, such as France, England, Canada and Cuba. During the pregnancy a few times we had to go to expensive private hospitals because the equipment we needed for tests had too long of a cue at the public hospital. But still, disregarding what we paid for tests, the cost of our daughter’s birth was 100 Euros. I asked people in the US what the typical cost of a hospital birth is, and I was told around $8,000.

Like many of the tales in Sicko, I have my own healthcare nightmare, and despite having insurance, I have spent at least $20,000 in the past seven years because of health issues that resulted from environmental toxins. One thing that people should pay attention to in Michael Moore’s documentary is that societies that invest more into healthcare and prevention have healthier people who live longer and therefore cost less to the system (duh!). Is American capitalism so attached to greed and selfishness that it is not even willing to invest in a prolonged and healthier life? It is a sad irony of the Protestant work ethic that the glory of material wealth is really meaningless when you are sick and dying.

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Continue reading

Culture war gets a design make-over

Pt. 1


These high-tech evangelicals could be straight out of sci-fi. Except they are real, and they know how to use media against media. Like a Maoist opera on steroids, BattleCry might be marching on your doorstep soon. Should we be scared? The strange thing is that I nave taught media literacy to fundamentalists, which shows me that anyone can use media criticism as a weapon. In this case it is in the hands of a Christian youth army that looks and sounds cool if you don’t have the critical capacity to see beyond the style of the message to truly understand its content. I don’t understand why Right Wingers are so scared of so-called “Islamo-fascists” when there is a slick Taliban right in their own backyard. America watch out.
An afterthought: I’m aware that often what we oppose is really a way of expelling our inner demons. I have no doubt that is why I have focused my attention on media. The danger is whether we truly process these inner monsters, or use our activism as a kind of penance as we continue to hurt and destroy people, as has been the case of many fundamentalists of all persuasions, including media activists. Also, when I see these kids feeling genuine love, I believe it is real. But rather than take ownership of it, they attribute it to an outside force. This is why they claim allegiance to a cross, and not a circle.

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Zeitgeist image of the week


With the Greek statue of Victory at Ancient Olympia surrounded by fire, we see a perfect visual metaphor for the state of our world. From where I write I can see the island of neighboring Sicily and the smoke from fires that have been raging here in Calabria for the past couple of weeks. With a searing North African wind called the Scirocco (pronounced “Sheeroko”) gusting through, the combination of aridity and increasing temperatures are too much for the regional environment to sustain. Fire is purifying the land and our efforts to control the world.

The Greek statue embodies the ideal of rational man as separate from nature. This worldview smolders like the fires surrounding Olympia. Our mechanical, technological world is a direct consequence of the ancient Greek template to isolate and amplify our left-brain functions through the alphabet and to reject a right-brain, holistic conceptualization process of so-called tribal cultures. To be civilized was to impose upon nature certain ideals that don’t harmonize, but facilitate greed and selfishness. It’s fitting that the fires were started illegally to clear forest for development because it is not legal to build if there is forest in the location.

Even the concept of Olympia is questioned by the image: containing the force of the body through competition so as to restrain it within predictable outcomes is no match when the rivalry is with nature.

Finally, the photo itself is a kind of “truth” that we accept. By its fact of existence, we believe the reality that it contains to be valid as well, yet the truth is that a mediary chose to frame the perspective and point-of-view that is embodied within the photo. In this case he or she recognized that there was something significant in the relationship between the ideal of permanence set against a backdrop of catastrophe.

The “semiwarriors”


Dr. Stadelmann by Otto Dix, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, W.Landmann Collection
One of the ideas I’m working for my book is “GridThink” which is an age old dualistic way of thinking that pervades the non-sustianable mititary-industrial-information-entertainment-complex. It has also been called by some, “WhiteThink.” This insidious, world and mind destroying mentality finds its most extreme expression in the so-called National Security State; I say “so-called” because it is one of the most paranoid and insecure ways of viewing the world. Anyhow, the following essay that ran in The Nation discusses the post-war rise and institutionalization of this thinking pattern.

It’s both enlightening and frightening because it suggests that unless this tight clique of paranoids gets checked, the Democrats can do no better reigning them in. Sadly they are completely blind to their Thanatos– Freud’s term for death wish. The worse thing is that they are too chicken to test it themselves, they have to send others to do their bidding. It’s one of the ugliest and darkest qualities generated by the human mind. After Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq, my impression is that they will do no better than the Romans, and will self-destruct, hopefully not taking too many down along the way.

The Semiwarriors:

The real affliction is more insidious. For want of a better label, call it “semiwar,” a term coined after World War II by James Forrestal to promote permanent quasi mobilization as the essential response to permanent global crisis. A man who saw demons everywhere, Forrestal was convinced that he alone grasped the danger they posed to the United States.

Forrestal was also a zealot, the prototype for a whole line of national security ideologues stretching across six decades from Dean Acheson to Donald Rumsfeld, from Paul Nitze to Paul Wolfowitz. Geoffrey Perret’s acerbic description of Acheson applies to them all: His “mind turned to the apocalyptic as easily, if not as often, as other men’s thoughts turn toward money or sex.” For semiwarriors, time is always short. The need for action is always urgent. The penalty for hesitation always promises to be dire.

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