Sunday, March 01, 2009
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander.
Highlight-Jerry Mander's ability allows him to pull so many strands of thought together; covering everything from the nature of mass media, to the relationship between society, television and advertising without 9,000 footnotes, scads of obtuse language or the need for 850 pages.
Food for thought-This book was written more thirty years ago, pre-cable television and the language surrounding the technical descriptions TV can sound almost quaint. Yet if anything, the arguments resonate even more profoundly today because since Mander's time, television has become stronger and more pervasive (only the advent of DVR technology has begun to stick a thumb in the dike.) It would be interesting for someone to undertake a comprehensive analysis of how Mander's arguments apply to the internet. Here at the Clarion Content, we have said for a long time if the internet exists primarily as a tool to better sell things, then it has failed.
"Advertising starts with a disadvantage with respect to the programming. It must be more technically interesting than the program or it will fail. That is, advertising must itself become a highlighted moment compared with what surrounds it... The ideal relationship between program and commercial is that the program should be just interesting enough to keep you interested but not so interesting as to actually dominate the ads.
This applies to technique as well as content. On the rare occasion when something real or gripping appears on television ---the SLA shootout, President Kennedy's funeral, an emergency presidential address--- and the viewer is awakened from the lethargy by the emergence of real highlighted content, as opposed to technique, advertisers make every attempt to cancel their spots. They will say they are doing this because it is in "bad taste" to advertise in such moments.
But when is advertising not in bad taste? Do they mean that interrupting people's lives to start hawking products is not rude and offensive behavior at any time? If someone came to your door every night to do that, you would soon call the police. Advertising is always in bad taste. What advertisers mean when they use the "bad taste" excuse is that when something really real happens on television, it may affect how well their ad works. In the context of concrete reality advertising can be understood as vacuous, absurd, rude, outrageous. Advertising can only succeed in an environment in which the real merges with the ficitonal, and all become semireal with equal tone and undifferentiated meaning."
Take away-Hope that the debate is still on-going, people are responding to this, inventing ways to subvert advertising like DVR and pop-up blockers. Maybe the internet will prove a better medium for this battle.
The Border Legion by Zane Grey
Highlight-The brutal efficiency with which the main male character Jack Kells runs his gang. Straight out of Lord of the Flies, the struggle between savagery and civilization runs deep in Grey's Old West. For many years worth of movies the violent, cruel, ruthless, lawless ferment of frontier society has been made a larger than life tale by Hollywood in a way that has somehow sanitized, desensitized and Disney-fied the real tumult and chaos. Here couched in Grey's patriarchal vision of the world, it emerges as darker and fundamentally more disturbingly.
Food for thought-What of the border? Grey sets his novel deliberately at the edge and limits of the rule of law, and concludes by blaming the flaws of Jack Kells largely on the environment that bred him, as if to underline that a properly civilized upbringing for a man of such character might have saved him from the beast he became. Quite the indictment of the milieu for the man who spent much of his career writing about the frontier. We haven't read enough to know, but we wonder is that critique characteristic of Grey's work and thought?
"The gold-lust created its own blood-lust. Daily the population of Alder Creek grew in the new gold-seekers and its dark records kept pace. With distrust came suspicion and with suspicion came fear, and with fear came hate---and these, in already distorted minds, inflamed a hell. So that the most primitive passions of mankind found outlet and held sway. The operations of the Border Legion were lost in the deeds done in the gambling dens, in the saloons, and on the street, in broad day. Men fought for no other reason than that the incentive was in the charged air. Men were shot at gaming-tables---and the game went on. Men were killed in the dance-halls, dragged out, marking a line of blood on the rude floor---and the dance went on. Still the pursuit of gold went on, more frenzied than ever, and still the greater and richer claims were struck. The price of gold soared and the commodities of life were almost beyond the dreams of avarice. It was a time in which the worst of men's natures stalked forth, hyrda-headed and deaf, roaring for gold, spitting fire, and shedding blood. It was a time when gold and fire and blood were one. It was a time when a horde of men from every class and nation, of all ages and characters, met on a field where motives and ambitions and faiths and traits all merged into one mad instinct of gain. It was worse than the time of medieval crimes of religion; it made war seem a brave and honorable thing; it robbed manhood of that splendid and noble trait, always seen in shipwrecked men or those hopelessly lost in the barren north, the divine will not retrograde to the savage. It was a time, for all it enriched the world with yellow treasure, when might was right, when men were hopeless, when death stalked rampant. The sun rose gold and it set red. It was the hour of Gold!"
Take away-This is a book embedded in its time, in its treatment of gender roles and in its themes. But around the edges there are both pearls and insights---windows into thinking, thinking that while anchored from whence it came, that has not completely lost its spot in the world. Values that are neither eternal, nor implacable, nor exile-able. Values that are still being debated and defended in very different settings and contexts.
Assignment Burma Girl by Edward S. Aarons
Highlight-This early Cold War story is set in the Far East of 1961, a time when Laos was still as likely to erupt as Vietnam, and Vientiane was a name as well known to Americans as Saigon. This era is so alien to modern American consciousness as to almost feel fetching, nostalgic. The Burma of this period is little known nor considered. Today even its name is being scrubbed away by Myanmar.
Food for thought-This was no back corner at the time, Asia was on the Kennedy administration's radar albeit below Berlin and Moscow. The shape of things was still becoming, the colonialist era was rapidly ending, but Hong Kong was still a British colony, the status of Taiwan and was still resolving itself amongst the community of states, Cambodia and Laos were nominally monarchies. Korea was the paradigm for possible confrontation.
Chet Lowbridge was short and stocky, and he wore a Princeton fraternity jacket and white slacks. In the midst of Rangoon's strange sights and sounds, he was Ivy League all the way. He had an air of competence mingled with a thinly veiled contempt for everything around him, as if he endured his job and environment only in the hope of moving on to something more to his taste. But there was a shrewd intelligence in his brown eyes, a hard curve to his mouth and a lithe aggressiveness in his tennis player's body.
He was waiting in Durrell's room at the Strand with Boh Savarati. The colonel was a slim, middle-aged man, with gray hair, and the smooth, flat Thai-Mongol face of Southeast-Asia. He had a broad mouth and everted lips and dark quiet eyes. His uniform was khaki, bush-worn but immaculate.
"Mr. Durrell?" he said, in a British accent. "Please forgive the intrusion. Mr. Lowbridge consented to accompany me for this interview, and I thought it best we reach immediate understanding. You have been busy since you arrived in Rangoon. Commendable Yankee aggressiveness."
Lowbridge grinned. "Durrell isn't a Yankee, Colonel. He comes from the bayou country below New Orleans."
Savarati's eyes flickered, "There is a difference?"
"In temperament only." Lowbridge shook hands with Durrell. "Call me Chet. I'm the official greeter and smoother-outer of bumpy roads. I pour oil on troubled waters. Sorry I couldn't meet your plane, but I was tied up with Mrs. Hartford. You can understand that."
"How did you know I was coming this afternoon?" Durrell asked.
"I told you, didn't I? A certain elderly gentlemen and a certain influential Senator."
"Mr. Durrell," Savarati said gently, "there has been some difficulty this evening at the home of a man name Simon Locke. Do you know anything about it?"
Durrell looked at the ceiling fan, where the microphone bug was hidden. "You know as much about it as I do."
The Burmese's face wore a smile. "What you found was only a routine precaution with certain foreigners, you understand. Did you know the man who was killed? The French pilot for BAT?"
"No," Durrell said. "Not at all."
"Can you suggest a reason for this tragedy?"
"None at the moment."
Lowbridge said with false diffidence, "See here, old man, you don't want to get mixed up with the an adventurer like Locke. The authorities frown on his sort, and soon Locke will get his walking papers. His shoestring airline serves a purpose for the moment-it's the only line that seems to get along with the rebels up north-"
"Not rebels," Savarati said mildly, "The provincial governments have internal autonomy. Mr. Locke made his own arrangements with those people. The liaison suits us, for the time."
"But the times are changing," Durrell suggested.
Take away-What happened in the 1950's and early 1960's? How did the United States miss its opportunity to become the friend of the oppressed peoples of the world? How did the America of the Revolutionary War's Patriots end up on the opposite side of the people's armies of liberation? How were the totalitarian Soviets and Chinese able to seize this ground? Why were the men in the State Department who told of the corruption of the Chinese Nationalists shunted and eventually persecuted and exiled? Where did McCarthyism come from? How pivotal was this period in pushing America in the direction of Empire?