Monday, March 28, 2011

the takers

Please believe me when I say that I do not want you to starve to death.

I am aware, yes, that the sort of radical socio-economic restructuring I often call for on this blog would probably sink the economy of the whole wide world right down the crapper. If everyone (and yes, I do mean you, too) simultaneously stopped living the American nightmare - buying all sorts of stuff they don't need and can't afford - the system would break down. This would likely result in a whole lot of violence, less food, and, yes, mass starvation. Not cool.

And yet... I really, really do want you to stop. Why?

Well, I think my main objection is that I keep having these "The Giver" moments. In that short novel, a utopian society is gradually revealed as dis-topian, as you come to see that its "perfection" is made possible only by the willful, violently-maintained ignorance of the people to the truly awful things that must happen to maintain the veneer.

Every once in a while, something reminds me of this. Like, say, advertising. This weekend, dog sick and spitting blood, I spent waaay more time that I would have liked watching television programs on Hulu. With those television programs came advertising, and more specifically: a commercial for the 2011 Toyota Highlander. In this commercial (part of a series), a child of about six years old explains how his parents are nerdy and pathetic, but when they bought the Highlander, they proved that even nerdy and pathetic people could make pretty cool decisions.

This extremely thinly-veiled attempt to manipulate the feelings of rejection many parents are experiencing earlier and earlier these days over the estrangement of their children, just to sell an automobile, is obviously morally repugnant. But what really ticked me off was a subsequent Toyota advertisement for some sort of "Ideas for Good" program they've got going on. It felt to me like they somehow knew how weaselly and debauched that first advertisement was, so they chased it with a tiny bit of questionable do-gooding to help me forget.

I did not forget. I was not amused.

I was reminded, rather, of how deeply sick this consumer society has become, to the point where something as evil and manipulative as Toyota's advertising campaign would be seen by most as relatively benign, just par for the course. And just look at all the good they're doing, some might say. It balances out, right? Wrong. As grandma says, two wrongs do not make a right (three lefts do, but only if you don't mind backtracking a block and wasting a whole lot of time and petroleum).

But what of it? So advertising is manipulative and evil - no surprises there, right? Well, no. There isn't anything particularly new or interesting about any of this, which is why I am not running around pulling my hair out and screaming about it all the time. Screaming won't help. The changed required is a slow one, and happens in the silence of the heart. While this change may be catalyzed, from time to time, by anger and rage, that just isn't my style. My style, rather, is to sit in the corner and cry about it.

That's what I do. I cry. I also have high metabolism, which means I have to eat a lot more than normal people just to stay alive and healthy. I would definitely be one of the first to die: I eat too much, I'm skinny and weak, and modern medicine has already saved me from the process of natural selection far too many times to count.

But it's worth it, I think, if this dystopian world comes to an end. As the protagonist Jonas in "The Giver" discovers, it is better to run recklessly into the dangerous unknown than to remain safe in a blissful world stripped of love, freedom, choice, knowledge and truth.

If we do it together, the community we create will be enough. Love will be enough.

2 comments:

  1. One of the most repugnant things I've ever seen about advertising was an investigative report by W5, exploring the use of child psychologists by the advertising companies working for toy companies. Advertisers and psychologists would sit around a table and design television ads for placement during cartoons and morning programs for kids. Even now, just thinking about it makes me want to douse myself with gasoline and flame on, maybe start a revolution.

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  2. I find that completely unsurprising, Mark.

    Although, the most disturbing part is not that they do it, but that we, for the most part, want and accept it. Yes, they fabricate desire - that's their job - but I'm enough of a Free Willian to think that we could end it, if we wanted to.

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