A sample from Untitled
Chapter 6, Media & Advertising
In the English novel, Vanity Fair is a stop on the road to a never-ending fair held in a town called Vanity. It represents our immoral addictions to material things. The result is a changed culture to produce what some consider a ‘new age of narcissism’ where our Facebook pictures and profiles provide the world out there with our own personas, fooling us into believing once again, that the masks we wear projects our real face, showing only the versions of ourselves we want admired, hiding the real in a place we may forget to ever look. This self obsession ‘leads to a degree of atomisation or alienation from one another’173 and once lost in the void of our own personas, we find and route out only the things that will then support that fake self, sharpen it and glue it in its position.
In his book The Fix: How Addiction Is Invading our Lives and Taking Over Your World, British writer and Daily Telegraph journalist, Damian Thompson asks if shopping malls actually zombify us.? ‘There is a term in pop psychology called the ‘Gruen Transfer’, Thompson writes, ‘named after Victor Gruen, architect of some of America’s first malls. The theory goes that some shopping malls are laid out in such a way as to disorientate customers. Exits and routes are obfuscated so that people find themselves led back to stores they left earlier, where a mixture of ambient music, specific lighting and visual cues prompts them to make impulse purchases’,180. Zombified, addicted to creating the image of the perfect, never-ending pursuit infinitas and living in the matrix of consumption gluttony, we are lost – not in the shopping mall, but in our own sense of ourselves. We have begun, on the road to the life of the inauthentic. The ocean we are swimming in is unethical and fake as a symptom of that atmosphere, and so – the words we say are also fake.
The danger in mythology has always been that we can become the masks we wear and thus “the ripe soil for the narcissist to plant and toil”. ‘The outer faces that we show to the world, the part of ourselves that we let others see, is our “persona.” Referring to the masks that the ancient Greek actors wore, the persona is the mask of our personalities that we reveal to others,’ says William Indick in Psychology for Screenwriters. Narcissism is a term that originated in Greek mythology with Narcissus who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water and this admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, has not found a better home in the modern world than through the hijacking of our social media, spinning it into our very own tabloid newspaper, one we all get to feature in – as the best most admirable versions of ourselves, of me, myself – and I. Facebook, it is our pool of water that we are staring into, reflecting back at us, our persona. Vanity and self-love physically manifesting in a virtual reality make-believe and as real in the mind of the user as the matrix itself, one step behind the Automaton, we are no longer people, we are a holographic projection of our own archetypal ideal – now through Facebook, we get to play the movie actor we have longed to be for so many years. Versions of our friends, now replaced by their projection, and our relative version of that projection de-coded by our own vanity. Corrupt information de-coding corrupt information but wasn’t Facebook meant to be enhancing communication and ‘connecting’ us? For the more self-absorbed, self-admiring egocentric personality, forgetting who is who; ‘I don’t know who I am anymore’, one Facebook addict tells me on researching this book. Because ‘Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success,’198 we project it, the lie, forever. Freedom from freedom it seems underpins what it is we really crave.
The narcissist for historian, social critic and moralist Christopher Lasch, author of The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations is ‘actually the psychological outcome of our lack of power: “in its pathological form, narcissism originates as a defence against feelings of helpless dependency in early life, which it tries to counter with ‘blind optimism’ and grandiose illusions of personal self-sufficiency”‘3 This “blind optimism” or joyful happy splendidness rising in sync with the degeneration of our cultures, a sign of a unique kind of decadence past civilisations have never encountered where a sheen of cheerfulness and smile is clouding over our otherwise cynical, doubtful, rebellious irked culture, a culture of happy, the ‘cult of happy’, where everyone is for some reason, smiling and everything is ‘great’, a topping to ice a very toxic and unhealthy cake full of self-love, lies and denial, an icing that is hiding the filth, the underlying psychological routes that are manifesting in today’s world as an addiction to shopping and food, holidays and gossip, blame, the victim mentality, an identity crises, a white teeth crisis, an identification not with the true self, but with the persona, lost and confused and identifying, empathising and feeling at one with the authority figure, with celebrity, with compliance, with groupthink, re-enforcing Lasch’s “blind optimism”.
Some say that without ethics or morality, we need Vanity Fair and become the propagandist and advertiser at the fair: nothing more than agents of the unethical news and schadenfreude, unconsciously delivering bad milk to our babies because we are unaware of its ingredients. When we feel a duty to read the ingredients of the milk, we are quick to stop ourselves. Laziness? Cognitive dissonance? Lithium deficiency?. Because the truth is a very hard pill to take, we tell ourselves that ‘The milk is fine and the ingredients are to be trusted’, we tell ourselves this because it is easier and more comfortable. Dissonance is uncomfortable by definition, and like in physics: we follow the path of least resistance. It is easier to avoid it all and instead of playing an active role, to remain spectator. In the political landscape, not only is the process of research exhausting, it is good fun to remain spectator, instead of active opposition driving levée on mass: other people can fight for liberty, that’s what the Edward Snowden is there for. That is why Russell Brand is on the telly. No? ‘What will Bush say next?’ Our minds shut down from our own independent and critical thinking. We become caught up in the spectacle and distracted from the mundane facts. We end up as spectators, just like those fans ringside at WWF events.’67 We enjoy the WWF event, and our radars from then on scan and see only the entertainment and information that supports that comfortable narrow context which mainstream media will provide. It has all of a sudden become very easy to remain neutral on an issue and we demand only the minute band of information that we exist within: resulting as both the product of an engineered reality and a consumer demand, a mass of humanity, hungry for its next fix of sugar high, provided for not only by Starbucks, Pepsi or McDonald’s but CNN, Fox News, BBC and Universal Studios. Consumers insisting on eating only the most unchallenging, comfort providing mind sustenance and anything outside of this nourishment tastes wrong, like a child raised on the McDonald’s Big Mac being given a garden fish salad for the first time. It’s not right, it is wrong, disgusting and ‘weird’. These ‘wrong’ things are then denied existence in our peripheral and the best way to keep them in that invisible plain is to keep smiling. Everything is fine. Smile and be happy. Stay positive. Pretend that the wrong and weird tasting experience never existed like a bad and embarrassing smell. Someone just farted. Ignore it. It did not happen. Smile and it will vanish. With industries dedicated to driving the positive mental attitude language and optimistic propaganda baloney through advertising, it has in fact grown as an industry out of itself. According to Micki McGee, sociologist and author of Self Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, at the start of the 21st century, ‘the self-improvement industry, inclusive of books, seminars, audio and video products, and personal coaching, [was] said to constitute a 2.48-billion dollars-a-year industry,’ and according to Forbes in 2009, ‘Banking, autos, publishing, retail, manufacturing-the recession has hammered them all. But there is one squishy sector that just keeps on growing: the self-help industry’:
Americans spent $11 billion in 2008 on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching and stress-management programs-13.6% more than they did back in 2005, according to Marketdata Enterprises. Latest forecast: 6.2% annual growth through 2012. Infomercials-peddling everything from weight-loss programs to quick-and-easy real estate schemes-pulled in $1.4 billion in 2008, down 5% from 2007 but still the largest by sales volume of any self-help medium. The hot growth area-up nearly 11% in the last year, to $527 million-includes “holistic institutes” (think the two Chopra Centers, run by alternative-healing guru Deepak Chopra). Who buys into this stuff? Mainly middle-aged, affluent females living on either of the two coasts. What are they getting for their money? In a word: hope.
The bombardment of mixed messages may appear heavy: the visual and noise stimulation and assault on the senses on London’s buses, Tokyo’s trains, in Mumbai’s taxi’s and through Moscow, Shanghai and Singapore, Sydney, and Seoul, Hong Kong, Kinshasa and Cairo, New York and New Delhi. The bombardment of mixed messages may appear heavy – because this is its intention. If it is heavy, and present and there – and all of the time – we may think that it be real, true, eventually its message relevant, knowing, correct. The message is simple – this is truth and if you don’t believe it now, wait and I shall repeat – four thousand times a second. Think of it as a million voices screaming and the person who can scream the loudest wins, the loudest voice is the one you can hear, because it drowns out all the other voices – subsequently you don’t know what the others are saying, only what the loud voice is saying, it is the only information that exists, so it must be selected. Cities: a twenty-four hour joy ride odyssey. By the end of the workday – we go to splat in front of a box that provides only the rations that an exhausted and stressed human brain can wrestle. Too exhausted to think, we switch from channel to channel, zoning out of one programme and into the next television programme. Because we spend our days giving to our jobs, with the uncomfortable commute into our cities and breathing in the toxins, the “redemption through toil”, talking on telephones, selling customers things they don’t need and sweating through physical labour in the heat and the dirt, giving not only our creative energy and our souls, but our money in taxes for the privilege of being granted the opportunity to give to the system through the workforce proletarius, we find ourselves trapped – giving a greater amount in energy than what we are receiving and we are committed and we have crossed the river styx. The commitment begets commitment and lost, we turn somewhere for answers: the television. The television. it gives back, and we receive from it: we lather in it, our reward like a free meal after a fast. The television gives to us, without demanding anything from us – “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, praise ye the LORD” – finally, something that gives back and demands nothing – other than a vegetative state of dull, anaemic reciprocation. ‘Give to me’, we secretly whisper to the telescreen of Orwell’s 1984, and give it does, give it will, give it wants to.
‘In a way, movie watching itself is a defence,’ says Indick in his Introduction to Psychology for Screenwriters, ‘Audiences escape their own problems and conflicts by shutting themselves off from their personal lives and becoming emotionally involved with the characters on screen. Like a defence mechanism, watching a good movie provides temporary relief from personal conflict and strife.’96 Denying these personal conflicts was for Anna Freud, a form of the ‘immature mind’, as it conflicts with the ability to learn from overwhelming evidence. Because the overwhelming evidence is so uncomfortable, we deny it exists. Reality though, is not so convenient…