Friday, March 26, 2010

Most Likely

Is there even such a thing as American culture? Going to the AOL web page I’m greeted with “Stars most likely to get naked.” It gives one a moment to pause and to ponder what sort of creature gives birth to such inanities.

What influences American culture? Television for one, Fox, talk shows, propaganda from the Pentagon via the major news outlets, violent movies with no plot and no acting based on themes so tired and over used they hang on hooks like boneless chickens. Organized sports where primitive tribalism is on full display in all its glory reinforcing the militant core of American life preparing young minds to accept and do as they are told creating fertile ground for more endless war. Violence lies at the heart of American culture ready to burst out accompanied by chest thumping and primal grunts instigated by the fear mongers in Washington who wield fear like a weapon of mass destruction.

In fear and anger Americans look for someone to blame for the end of their dreams of some kind of secure future. Perhaps in the end it’s our culture of militancy and fear that are the root cause, for it has brought us to where we are today, our nation’s foreign policy run by the Pentagon, a congress on the take, a president who has all the depth of a paper cutout who ordered the deaths of thousands to prove himself as the big macho honcho though in reality has shown himself to be a rather weak leader, that is to say he doesn’t seem to really have any agenda of his own but merely apes his predecessor George W. Bush Junior while buckling in to any pressure from the generals and the money men.

The government is using the fear mongering of terrorism to crush the public into submission. They are using the fear mongering of terrorism as an excuse to dismantle our safety nets (We must be responsible about the national debt) like Medicare and Social Security, and to increase the level of surveillance while decreasing whatever rights remain to us. We have been locked out of courts through tort reform making corporations, like politicians and the wealthy, above and beyond the laws that bind the peasants. Corporations own the president, congress, and the courts. The U.S. military are now mercenaries in their service.

After years of slow painful and dangerous progress in the arena of worker’s rights people are now happy to just have a job, ready to accept lousy jobs, lousy pay, and lousy hours because it beats the unemployment lines and living on the streets. This hasn’t come about by accident, it was engineered, part of the plan to crush us into submission. But our culture demands that we accept what we are dealt. If tariffs are lifted allowing corporations to utilize cheap and sometimes slave labor overseas we must accept it because it’s our fault for wanting too much money for the work we perform. You can’t fight the new global economy! Accept, accept, and accept. If the government tells you that domestic spying is protecting you against bad terrorists, then you must accept it like a good little gerbil.

A majority of people wanted a single payer health plan, and instead are told they must now purchase private corporate insurance, the very thing they most wanted to get away from. You read about all the back room deals Obama made with the insurance and hospital industries, and the pharmaceutical as well, so is there little wonder that regardless of what this legislation is called it certainly isn’t health care reform? But the bottom line is people are basically accepting that this is all we can do, the best that can be had in the name of pragmatism, of reality. Yet the reality seems to be that many Americans are all too willing to accept that they asked for health care reform but got a bailout for the insurance industry instead. That should make people extremely angry but instead some act smug as if they know something very, very clever (which I guess is that they know they are pragmatic).

So what is American culture? It appears to be a culture that is heavily entrenched in militarism, violence, and fear. It’s also a culture that has given up the ghost, willing to accept whatever tidbits are thrown our way, effectively crushed into submission by our government.

17 Comments:

At March 26, 2010 7:36 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

I realize I'm telling you something you already know Rob, but the mass media is not the culture but the thing that mediates our culture, and part of the problem(well, most of it) is that mediating instrument has grown so powerful.

But I'm absolutely with you regarding the idea that our futures are being sold down the river by design. The culture you describe makes me think of that famous scene in Chinatown, when Jack Nicholson asks John Huston why he still schemes to make more money when he clearly doesn't need anything more and is already pretty rich and pretty powerful, and Huston says it's because he wants to own the future, and how a man is capable of pretty much anything under the right set of circumstances.

That's not exactly what he says, but it's his meaning. And come to think of it, I'm explaining myself and how I understand your meaning by referencing a product of that corporate culture.

 
At March 26, 2010 8:10 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Jonathan, My apologies, I should have said influenced rather than forms, never meant to say mass media was our culture. I rewrote this piece several times over the last three days and still can’t be clear, gak!

 
At March 26, 2010 9:27 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Rob, we're splitting hairs, and you're not necessarily wrong. It's a little like the different between an authentic ethnic restaurant that's run by a family that's actually from Mexico or Taiwan or Italy or wherever, and a themed chain restaurant. They're both restaurants after all, and often the "authentic" restaurants will tailor their cuisine to American tastes anyway.

Likewise, people are more and more accepting of prefabricated culture that was designed for them by marketing people, focus groups and industrial psychologists, until the distinction becomes increasingly fuzzy.

(See? That's pop culture at work, co-opting your take and mine! :^).

 
At March 26, 2010 9:45 PM, Blogger A Sane Person said...

Culture is to a great extent created by the instrument which mediates it, simply because that instrument has overwhelming power over what is seen and what is ommited in our every day lives. That which is given more attention will be accepted as more 'representative' or a greater part of the culture, and consequently be adopted as such.

I think it is important to link these two facts, the fact that the people have lost so much of their sovereignty while corporations gained immense powers, and the fact that the media is more inclined to saturate the communication channels with such inanities as the one you mention in the first post. Such inanities serve the purpose of filling up space with content, of feeding people trivial issues instead of discussing real problems. The media function the same way corporations do - what they do, they do for profits, not out of any nobler desire to spread truth or question policies. It is understandable, then, that their activities will benefit the corporations and the powerful, and serve to pacify and/or disempower the people.

Anyway, your post is a very pessimistic one, but I think it describes the situtation adequately. But the fact that people are increasingly silenced into submission by pure insistence that some things simply must be the way they are, is not the reality of only American culture, the phenomena is global. In Croatia, where I live, the situation is the same: certain things are made to be certain way, and the people then convinced that this is inevitable, that this is simply how things are, not how they were made. And it's hard to fight against those who impose this belief of inevitability on the people because they mostly have control over media - not literally, like it was in communisim, but by the fact that the media share the same interests as them, and therefore works in their service. How to beat that? I don't know.

 
At March 27, 2010 4:58 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

And yet people discuss these inanities as if they're important--even older adults do. They talk about a movie star's marital woes or a celebrity's hairstyle as if the topics have some connection with their own lives and as if they matter. How often do we hear among ordinary people actual discussions of war or politics? I don't mean agreements or arguments, I mean serious, reasoned exchanges. I almost never do--do you?
P.S. I enjoyed seeing the comment by "A Sane Person" and reading her blog.

 
At March 27, 2010 8:44 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Rob, you hit the nail on the head. Jonathan, the Christopher Simpson book THE SCIENCE OF COERCION details how our mass media became the propaganda Wurlitzer it is today.

At a certain point, how an instrument describes an event can be more important than the event. As Napoleon wrote, "History is a series of agreed upon lies." Just ask the Texas school board.

 
At March 27, 2010 11:04 AM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Whether TV etc **are** the culture, or merely mediators of the culture, well that depends on the person in question and how he/she views his/her culture, doesn't it?

For someone whose exposure to the world outside him/herself is limited to what he/she gains through TV, print, radio "news" and entertainment, the mainstream infotainment media ARE culture.

For someone who views infotainment media with a jaundiced eye, skeptical and doubtful, infotainment is a mediator of culture.

It really depends on the perspective being examined.

I tend to agree with A Sane Person's comment, except the little dig about "pessimism," which dig I find about as palatable as Syrup of Ipecac. I don't have much patience for people who want to divide others along the lines of pessimist vs optimist. Most such people haven't any room for reality, they dwell in the land of "the possible" or the ideal. I find a lot of the time they're playing with surreality, not reality.

 
At March 27, 2010 6:40 PM, Blogger A Sane Person said...

Sorry I offended you, and I would like to assure you I am firmly rooted in reality.

@Mimi

Thank you. :)

 
At March 27, 2010 8:10 PM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Prior comment had a typo.

ASP, You don't have to apologize for offending me. I said I didn't have patience for dividing people along pessimist/optimist views.

What I wonder is, why would you assume to know my mental state?

Next time, I would thank you for not trying to read my mind.

As to assurances, I'm inclined to assure you that **your comment** was not grounded in reality, mainly because you don't know who is and isn't pessimistic unless they tell you that's their mental state.

So more specifically, you don't know whether Rob is "pessimistic" unless he tells you honestly (read: not jokingly, not sarcastically, etc) that's his mental state.

 
At March 27, 2010 9:08 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

the other day Rob told me he never tells people the truth about his mental state, because it's more fun that way.

 
At March 28, 2010 6:04 AM, Blogger A Sane Person said...

@Charles F. Oxtrot

You sounded offended, sorry I presumed wrongly.

As for pessimism, I expressed my opinion about Rob's depiction of current American situtation, and not his mental state. There is a difference.

 
At March 28, 2010 6:17 AM, Blogger A Sane Person said...

I'll add that my comment that his post is a pessimistic one is more of an expression of how I read it and interpreted the situation, and not an attempt to assign a pessimistic outlook to Rob.

 
At March 28, 2010 3:29 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Sane Person, I enjoyed your comment, very thoughtful and very perceptive. I know a lot of this does sound pessimistic though that’s not my intention but considering the topic it’s kind of part of the package.

Thanks to everyone for the interesting comments. I think culture is or can be a difficult topic because we are all immersed in it even if we aren’t always aware of it. I don’t know if anyone thinks much about this but cultures aren’t static and change over time internally and from influences from other cultures which is sort of what I’m trying to get at.

At one time I think people weren’t so accepting of things they were told and that people today, despite eight years of Bush Jr. and one year of the Obama, seem to be uninterested in challenging some of the ridiculous things we hear or read. I realize this is a gross generalization so it’s immediately suspect but I still thinks it’s basically true.

 
At March 28, 2010 6:17 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Rob, as far as people not challenging the BS spewed out by corporate/pop culture I don't think it's necessarily a question of people not caring but mostly people feeling overwhelmed. "What's the use?" People ask themselves, a little like cleaning the Augean stables without Hercules's powers.

In cognitive psychology there is the principle of learned helplessness, based on a famous experiment in which the researcher gave animals a chance to escape being shocked by jumping or pressing a lever, which initially worked 100 percent of the time, then took it away, so their actions no longer effected the shock.

Later when the ability to stop the shock was re-introduced, the animals still didn't try to stop it.

[link]

Yes, there's also a Wikipedia article, but I decided to try a non-wiki one for a change.

 
At March 28, 2010 8:08 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Jonathan,

there is the principle of learned helplessness,

Exactly, that’s what I’m saying, people are complacent. I think they’re more complacent than in the past. Like when someone tells you “If you lost your job overseas it’s your fault for being greedy expecting decent pay.” To which some reply “Oh, okay, I see it’s my fault and I just have to adjust to the new reality.”

I think its part and parcel with our becoming, or continuing to be, a military state. I mean that’s the ultimate expression of authority, a military state. You vill sign zee papers! If you give in to the ultimate authority of militarism you have become complacent. And that is something that is perhaps learned like the electrified dogs. In our case instead of electric shock we get beat over the head with terrorists which is the official given reason for our march toward the authoritarian military state complete with domestic spying and the like.

And for sure I agree with you about the sense of helplessness because that’s exactly how the ruling class would like us to feel. That’s why we have a one party system that pretends to be a two party system. Divide and conquer.

 
At March 29, 2010 4:24 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Rob, not meaning to be fussy, but what I was getting at was not so much a sense of complacency but a sense of being beleaguered and overwhelmed, although I suppose that the higher up the socioeconomic ladder you go, the more you can characterize it as complacency.

And I guess still higher up that ladder, the complacency increasingly becomes complicity.

 
At March 29, 2010 11:03 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Jonathan,
I see what you mean though I suppose you could also say feelings of being overwhelmed could lead to complacency. I guess I just wish more people would get angry about this stuff.

 

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