Sunday, June 8, 2008

Off track on a path (5/17/08)

I should subtitle this Stupid Brain, keeps on thinking. These are just scattered musings, triggered by something I read in the paper. There was a little blurb about the movie Iron Man, how its opening weekend sales-totals were a record high for a "non-sequel superhero movie." And then the real kicker, a quote from some sales or marketing schlub that really got me in the kisser:

"This is a good thing for all of Hollywood when you're talking about a film with a second-tier superhero opening at $100 million."

This is making me chuckle just typing it, as I imagine a group of sales execs with evian bottles sitting around a huge black walnut conference table in special ergonomic chairs in a room fifteen floors up with windows that don't open, craning their heads to get a better view of the frigging graphole who made a chart with a list of superheroes broken down with "tiers," the tiers being allocated by anticipated box office earnings--the whole lot of them looking around and trying to nod more enthusiastically than the bobbing head they're looking at. Lots of approving murmurs and hums and grunts as they sip french alp water with lips rimming glasses spotted with shittyass overchlorinated los angeles aqueduct water (they call the LA aqueduct, which is putrid and glaring concrete and most of the time dry and so much of it tagged in huge bright letters, the "LA river").

I also started thinking in more than images and people and imaginary worlds. Well, sort of: eventually I started thinking about imaginary worlds, but first things first. I thought of advertising. Now it's no secret that ads are selling more than goods or services--if it's a wake-up call to you that commercials want you to believe that buying the thing being advertised will give you a world of sex, happiness, and perfection, in short a fantasy, then I'm about to homey the clown you upside your head. But, dear readers, I give you more perceptive credit than that, and assume your critical faculties are well enough endowed to see through a bud lite ad. And as such, I want to say that much of what follows is no great revelation. It's more like a horrifying way of putting something we already know, and the possible progression of that something to a point where we can even bear it, where we're dealing with it perhaps already.

See, here's the thing. I've been thinking about how people look, how they make themselves look. Whether we admit it or not, we're americans, and as americans we are first and foremost dreamers--we identify ourselves as citizens to this country by our adherence to a belief in a dream that our country delivers. We like fantasies; they're patriotic. So I started thinking about dreams and fantasies and all that, and how they're just wish fulfillment, right? Or most of the time. What makes the ad for revlon so freaking appealing is that it promises you will look like supermodel X if you use the revlon super indulgence tarantula leg eyelash mascara. But here's the shit of it, the thing that really got me: first and foremost, before any of this works, is that you have to WANT to be her. You have to have it in your head that supermodel X is a desirable fantasy, a wish you want to fulfill.

Now, there was a time, which is still around for many folks who call themselves Christian, when something called grace or something called redemption or, if you're Catholic, something called penance, would allow you access or at least get you another rung closer to another dreamworld, the perfect place of heaven. Heaven equals perfect existence: it is the absolute benchmark by which you measure your dreams if your faith that way tends; it is the wish you want to fulfill through a moral life.

But here's the thing, the rub, for me: that mechanism is portable. You can relocate, schematically speaking, an approach that builds upon the mindset of a sinful dreamer craving heaven to sell shit. That is, you can look around and observe and see the fact that, holy crap, all these people already have it in their head there is a perfect world that exists that they want to work for, there is a wish to be fulfilled. Hot money in my hands, let's make some! And so you give them heaven on earth, you give them tarantula leg mascara if you work for Revlon, or you make them alive with pleasure, playing volleyball with permasmiles in the sand, if you work for Newport, or if your client is Glaxosmithkline or Merck or Pfizer, you go the other way and use the sinners in the hands of a broken mind approach, and suggest that, perhaps because of original sin (or because your dad beat you up or because you work sixty five thousand hours a week or because you stare at a computer under flourescent lighting longer than you stare at anything else--they don't really suggest the cause, ultimately--perhaps because that would lead to a different solution, to a questioning of why in hell do you work so hard. It's not important why you think you suck,why you think you are imperfect and thus are ripe to be told you have a disease or condition or generalized anxiety disorder, just that you in fact do), you need to be improved, and so you sell people salvation, a gateway to a better more perfect union of mind, through a drug, a pill.

Let me be clear: Business, the act of making money or creating profit and a base of capital, is not philosophical. It does not consider the premises upon which it acts in marketing its goods and plying its grades. It is not really even ethical. And I don't expect it to be (in the case of pharmaceuticals maybe, but that's another story). My point is twofold: if business is not philosophical, then neither are we, even though one of us probably should be. And, secondly, business uses existing acts of morality, and more broadly the basis upon which they were founded in the predominant religion of these states, Christianity--namely, original sin, the doctrine of spiritual redemption through salvation, etc.--to get you to buy things.

Ok, so what? Who cares? What difference does it make and doesn't it help the economy and thus help all of us live a better life, to attain the American dream? Well, yes and no, I think. You get an American dream, but perhaps not the one you bargained for. Because, see, if you start getting saturated with a world that doesn't exist but you believe you can gain access to through purchases, as I think we now are between not only TV commercials and billboards and banner ads and all those screaming smiley faces, but also now the gmail creature (which has migrated to facebook and myspace and tons of other sites) which knows what you've been typing into emails and so tailor-makes ads along the sides based on whether you type in puppy or popsicle, then something weird happens. The world we have, the real world, the tangible one, with trees and dead cats and your grandmother crying and the forest with two oak saplings three feet apart, one in a patch of sun and thriving and one in the shade of the tree whose acorn the sapling came from and dying, that world becomes something else. It becomes disowned to us. It's not good enough, and so not desirable. We want to be transported to the heaven of advertisements, commercials, and by extension the whole fantasy happyland of celebrities, of people and glamour magazines (either that or the bulletproof world of video games where we can destroy and be amoral without consequence, kill without any danger of mortality). In a word, with the technology and means of advertisement that is now in front of us, we believe more in /that/ heaven than this earth, I think. Or we're starting to. And our level of happiness, success, joy, contentment, etc. lies in our ability to make our person match that world, either through purchase of the product, time spent playing the video game, or simply walking around and talking to people with a pile of both literal or figurative makeup on. We are saved not by loving our neighbor but by going out in a mask of energized likeability, or plugging in, as these are the acts that lead to a new promised land, a land promised through not love but wealth and detachment. We must constantly be having a good time, we must be alive with pleasure, we must come a long way, baby, we must have the night belong to us, if we are going to reach that heaven, if we are going to get that salvation. Redemption comes now not just through buying, but at the price of connection to a real world that asks for nothing but our ability to intermingle with it, and I would argue, at the price of our own ability to be satisfied, endlessly chasing a dream and heaven that forces us to work harder to afford the good life that only exists on a screen.

The real shitkicker I see around me, in this grand old city of mine, the corollary to this development, if you want to call it that, is that: god damn, the real world is getting uglier, and more toxic, and us in it. This is where the fun starts, where the virtual world has become the new metaphor for heaven, where simulation is the ultimate in redemption. You can make up a person for yourself--I did it just today, here on myspace--that is, in effect, the version of yourself you want to be, you wish you were. Version, simulation, virtuality, these are the ways we understand our lives, and how we operate to get to what we want. These are the ways, the latest mechanism to get to our dreams, and become heavenly perfect beings. But, to me, it's a very elaborate and perfectly rationalized closed circuit of distraction and destruction, all in the name of purification, which is what we've been doing since we palefaces came to this land and called it our America. Distraction in the sense that we are turned away from a material world of wondrous activity, the natural, tangible wilderness as well as the bustling busybody nuttiness of the human activity parade that we call a healthy city scene. Destruction in the sense that by paying no attention either to our own bodies or the body that is the planet on which we exist, by saying that it is no heaven, and thus it is only a yardstick to measure what you should get away from, we have either actively or passively sanctioned, based on the belief that it is second rate, an approach that treats all life as disposable, hollow, and in need of conversion into something greater via manufactured goods and services, whether they are secondlifes or pills or the logo your favorite rapper wear in the last video. By pledging membership to a world that doesn't exist, we have created the perhaps unintended consequence that the world that does in fact exist does not matter.

No comments: