Marlowe's Shade

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Blogosphere Manifesto: Kill your TV

After being kicked off the computer in the bedroom on election night by a pregnant wife who was trying to sleep, I went downstair and put on Fox. I was already upset with the doom and gloom fest earlier that evening when the exit poll rumors came out. It's bad enough that the mainstream media perpetrated another fraud upon the viewing public, but Fox, the only network I trusted, fell for it as well. "Even they don't really get it", I remember saying to myself. The coverage was horrible. Talking heads spouting meaningless conjecture. They kept flashing to results that had already been counted as Electoral Votes, instead of developing events. Whereas before I was able to go out and find the information I wanted, now I was a helpless passive observer.

In the days that followed I had the unshakable impression that despite the miracle of President Bush's political survival in the face of an overwhelmingly hostile media, there was something so wrong with our current information complex that nothing short of a revolution will correct it.

Much of my thinking on this subject lately has been influenced by a book that evariste had recommended called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. The thesis of this book is so startling that I don't dare claim I faithfully absorbed even the most important points in one reading. But to describe it briefly, it posits that our ancestors did not experience the same kind of subjective consciousness that we take for granted, but when their routine existence was interrupted by crisis, they experienced what Jaynes believes were auditory hallucinations which they attributed to the voice of a god. He illustrated this with examples of ancient literature such as the Iliad. He compares this syndrome with the experience of modern schizophrenics and points to vestiges of this in modern phenomena like hypnotism (this will be a relevent point later).

While I question many of the conclusions of this book, I think he makes a powerful case that there was and quite likely still is a hardwired atavistic mechanism in the human psyche that influences the experience and behavior of the individual. Jaynes describes early societies administered by the voices of "the gods" running as tranquilly as a colony of ants. Several times he points out the power of spoken authority which brooked not even the thought of disobedience. The urge to respond was as natural and compelling as scratching an itch.

After reading this, many examples of the power of auditory persuasion came to mind. The Greeks and Romans suffered under demagogues who used oratory to attain the backing of the masses to further their schemes of personal ambition. In the Middle Ages of Germany came the legends of the Meistersinger, immortalized in Wagner and the legend of the Pied Piper. And more recently was the extraordinary influence a former corporal had over a nation that less then one hundred years before seemed to be composed solely of a sensitive population of poets and composers. Hitler came to the attention of military leaders because of his skill in public speaking. It was said of him even before his rise to powrer, in Heinz Hohne's The Order of the Death's Head, "Hitler in particular is a born demagogue, his fanaticism and popular appeal compel his audience to listen to him". And we all know how his control over mob mentality in the beer halls culminated in the spectacles of the Nuremburg rallies.

Cut to the introduction of television, the electronic babysitter of the Boomer generation. This is also when subliminal advertising pioneered the use of the subconscious to sell products, like images of skulls in ice cubes in Bacardi ads (the Fly Life ad is the modern version). It deserves a longer exposition, but I've come to believe that the Boomer left is so hardened in their worldview precisely because they have become conditioned by getting their news on television. Only a medium as powerful as television, one that reinforces the voice of authority with evocative images that effect us right down to the reptilian core of our brains, could convince a nation to abandon a war that it had effectively won in Viet Nam, and 30 years later send Bill Clinton scurrying away from the warlord who was himself cowering in fear of the backlash of a world power. And that generation seemingly has little power or inclination to resist it, particularly since it is their own standard bearers who control the medium.

Television is now the god that speaks from the subconscious receptor into the minds of millions, counterfeiting their thoughts. Those suggestions, unexamined, create their own alternative world, yet they are at their foundations, false. This election proved that the truth can win out over all manner of falsehood, but I feel in my guts that it was a close thing, and without the efforts of faithful watchmen of the truth like Charles Johnson, the band of brothers at Powerline, and countless other bloggers, the outcome could have been very different.

papijoe 5:42 PM