by Iikka Vuorela, part of weird twitter and the rhizzone
Much like how run-of-the-mill nerds have fled the unsanitary physical world into the internet, My Little Pony, WoW and animé, so too are the academic hopefuls today hella eager to devote themselves to a Zizekian hodgepodge of social commentary based on irreverent anecdotes, film theory and Lacan, and generally anything postmodern and deconstructionist in favor of trying to consider solutions to localized, individual situations involving real human beings. There is a particular subject that feels, to me personally, hella overlooked: television. Another: babies, toddlers, children. Because of the former, the late capitalist world is more hostile, manipulative and alien place for the latter to grow up in. Moreso than anybody is willing to admit to themselves.
Most households still have televisions and children grow up in front of them, while the content has steadily gotten more and more sophisticated in manipulation. But this dilemma is no longer one that spawns discussion in the media, internet, academia, anywhere. Television is old news. And so, as it is being overlooked, the blame on the arrested development of the western youth has no target. So, the youth keep coming up with targets, using Lacanian analysis and Marxist theory to explain top-down the horrors of late capitalism, perhaps even intentionally distancing themselves as far as possible from the localized interaction they themselves were a part of years ago: the television and the toddler.
We’ve forgotten television. And who can blame us, what with how fast the internet grew? Who here is boring enough to still go on about the dangerous effects of television on our youth? Now it’s all about the effects of social media, ultra-realistic video games, sexting, internet porn and all that good stuff. Who even has a television nowadays, man.
I would argue that what has been completely missed by the population at large is that television still exists as the primary medium that capitalism uses to reach small children and that the harmful effects of it are supremely underestimated.
There are many other facets of capitalism that were new, or at least rapidly evolving, during the war and after it, such as the fast food industry, Coca-Cola (you mustn’t underestimate the incredible changes in western societies that soda pop alone has wrought), supermarkets, additives, rise of advertising and branding. These elements are now part of the past, their harmful effects on the psychology and physiology of children and adults universally accepted as a part of living in modern society. Such effects are casually shrugged off as something one must simply teach their child to bear. As far as ads, television and branding go, most people deny any brainwashing takes place in the first place. And the academia shrugs and says ‘Heh, sheeple will be sheeple’.
This attitude is probably unwillingness to accept the contradiction. How can television still have control over me, it is a thing of the old world? There’s Youtube now, and internet forums. No way can such an antiquated piece of shit have a hold on me psychologically. It does not and never did.
I am not claiming these to be arguments that media and academia have made. They are the reasoning we, in our hurry, give ourselves so we wouldn’t have to talk about television. Why would you want to, when what you know is the internet and Zizek. Where your strengths and interests lie, there you will seek to shine the spotlight and call to people ‘let’s find out more about this here, btw I’m an expert and my fees are very reasonable’.
But if you force yourself to think on the old, forgotten television, the reality of the situation is clear. We are more vulnerable the younger we are. When we were at our most vulnerable, during the first three or four years of our lives, everything else paled to the effect of the television. The light, the sound, the fast pace, the cuts, the people, the colors, the volume, the products, the cartoons, the music, the hypnosis and, of course, as the opposite, the numb reality we had to return to eventually. Nothing compared then, nothing compares now. Nothing except video games. But those are for later years. It’s fair to say that during the first three years of our life at least, television is king. And by the time any other medium has a chance to challenge it, it has already been accepted into the fabric of reality as a natural, unchanging constant.
Today, television is not something brought into the household, it is not an artifact discussed, examined, taught. Television is simply there, always. It’s there from the moment you first eye your surroundings while going hog wild on your mothers teat in the living room. Television is the air you breathe, and with it come the ads.
Ads and children. This is the interaction that sculpts us more than we’d like to think.
A child cannot discern the nature of an advertisement in any shape or form. It does not understand where the ad comes from, why its there in his or her home. The child does not understand why it is necessary for the network to air adverts, receiving ad revenue in exchange to fund the cartoons the kid loves. The child does not understand that the man telling you about the new product line isn’t doing it out of goodwill. To a small child the ad man’s unbridled enthusiasm about a particular brand of dish washing liquid comes off genuine. To a child the only reason the ad man could be so excited is the unforeseen awesomeness of the product. The child receives a simple message: this is a thing worth getting more excited over than anybody you’ve ever met has ever been. The child understands the message at the shallowest level possible: product good. So good we had to come into your living room and tell you directly. It’s brainwashing at its most basic, plain and simple. Later on in life the child grows up and doubts that he or she was ever manipulated. After all, they’ve grown up and learned the art of cynicism. Even if they were successfully manipulated in your early childhood, surely the damage was minor and in the long run without consequence. No way could my psyche be damaged irrevocably by something as benign as television advertising. This is the reasoning that people who spent their childhood in front of a television go through to arrive at the decision to not deny their children television for their first years. To keep television away until the kids will have grown old enough to be able to discuss its characteristics. I’d say it’s obvious that the damage is not minor, it doesn’t go away by itself and as it affects the vast majority of the population of every western country, the accumulated harm is innumerable.
I want to paint a picture of an oft downplayed horror in the life of a western adolescent at the age of two or three or something. I dunno, could be four or five or six. Here I’m writing about babies and know shit about em. Anyway the horror: the supermarket. Imagine yourself a child; before your eyes lay the endless spoils of capitalism, toy aisles unending, sugary goods in colorful packages under lighting so strong you can make out every detail and fine print. Compared to your dark damp murky moldy cavelike apartment your parents covered in furniture in faded cream and beige, everything looks so clear, colorful, crisp and lifelike; it’s as if every product on display jumped out from the glowing backlit screen of a television set and walked onto the shelves. This is it. This is where you’d end up if you could jump inside the television. It’s so beautiful. And never-ending. You can’t even see up to the highest shelves. Should you let go of your moms hand, a little pee would come out and tears would follow. How helpless you, how vast the supermarket. A sea of everything you want. And not only what you want. More. You don’t even recognize half of the things on display. Every other package introduces a product you didn’t even know you wanted. But it’s all variations on a theme. Look here, you haven’t seen ads of these products before but you can tell that they could have their own ads on the tube anyday now. The packages all have similar style when compared to their neighbors on the shelves. They all have brands. And brands cannot live without advertising. That must be it. You’ve simply missed their ads. More the reason to have it, to try out a brand you haven’t even seen ads about. What a thrill. And look at the amount of brands and things. The games, the appliances, the clothes, the bikes, the televisions, my god the size of the televisions. And the food, the candy, the soda, the types of bread, burgers, pizzas, ice cream, yoghurt, cold cuts, juices, on and on and on. There’s so much of everything it’s blowing your fragile little mind: so many brands and each brand more colorful and stylish than the one before it.
It’s no longer a daydream or an analogy. You have stepped inside the television. The ads were right, they were all right. The people were smiling for a reason. This is why the man in the ad was yelling, this is why everybody was jumping up and down at the thought of getting whatever the man was selling.
No way is all this the work of a man. Look at the size of this place. Who could alone build a store this big, who could alone keep these endless shelves stocked with products. Who could give life to cartoons, make these plastic figures and electronic gadgets with no uses discernible to you. It’s better not to even think about it. Maybe this is what everybody else’s life is all about. There’s hella families here isn’t there? Maybe everybody else lives here.
Maybe it’s the sugar from the candy your mom always gives you for the car ride here to keep you quiet, but there’s no denying the reality of the situation. You’re somewhere better than your own life in every way.
Every wish fulfilled, all wants met, this is the grea-
We’re leaving already? But the cart isn’t even halfway full. Look, that family has two full carts and the kid even gets their own to push around. This can’t be right. You don’t mean to say you brought me here to smell all these boxes, to press the PUSH ME’s, to fly from one daydream to the next, which I, a child, by the way, can’t discern from reality too well anyway, to hug the huge elmos, to read the descriptions of all the board games, to spell out the entirety of the disney dvd aisle, to greet all the kellogg’s animals and dream about the time it would take me to drink through all those coke bottles on display, and the end result is that were going home with just groceries. Why aren’t we taking more. They’re right there. You can just pick them up, there’s plenty room in the cart. I can tell you what we need, I saw some cool shit on the television. Hey. It’s not funny. Look at this shit, it’s right there. You can just pick it up, look. Look. Look. I just picked it up, I’ll put it in the cart. That’s it. Simple.
Teaching critical thinking at college level is too late. Writing books about capitalist realism is too little. All rhetoric is powerless. Indoctrination starts at the cradle and sinks so deep into the depths of the unconscious that it will never see natural light.
What a perfect boner we’re committing. Just try and tell people to give up television for the first few years you have a little kid the house. That’s not gonna happen. Don’t tell me how to raise my kids. I need my soaps. They’ll grow up weird if they don’t know what American Idol is by age four.
Destroy television. You personally have probably made the logical leap from ‘I’m no longer thinking about television at all and nobodys talking about it, its all Facebook this and twitter that now. Television barely exists in my life anymore dude.’ to ‘theres no reason to get riled up over television anymore.’ There’s plenty reason. More reasons are born every day. And they’re most born into the poor families, the ones most vulnerable, most likely to stay in front of television.
What kind of anti-television films do you remember? Cable guy? That’s it? It’s all always played out irreverently, maybe a minor character acts weird because their parents were never home and they grew up watching too much Leno. It’s never portrayed as a fundamental piece in disturbing the psyche of everybody involved. It should be. But we’re in denial. It’s hard to get riled up.
We do not dream of a just society. We dream of nothing, because the only thing we want to dream of has been sealed off as unnatural, monstrous gunshot wound of a thought shot into us by the omnipotent artifact we now pity as the major relic of the impotent, naive past. We won’t allow ourselves to dream of it, not ever. And so our dream will never be filled. The only thing we can and want to dream of, really and honestly as the children we are to our graves, is a happy meal.
I really enjoy Zizek’s commentary on the post modern emptiness of films like Shrek. He seems to me a man who actively seeks meaning and supports a practical absolutism in the form of “believing” in revolutionary socialism. So, I’m not sure the “zizekian” comments are entirely fair.
If you have a look on youtube there is a great lecture he made to the Marxism 2009 conference in which he argues that many of the struggles liberals engage in are against problems which can be more adequately explained by an updated version of Marx’s theory of alienation.
This could apply quite nicely to your argument here. So (lazily i might add, i havent really thought about it :)) television is an example of how we have become alienated from our own culture. Our main form of entertainment is a channel co-opted by capitalism just to flog us stuff.
as TV watching goes TVR or youtube and ads play less of a central role in the viewing habits of children, does TV become less the evil brain washing instrument of the Spectacle and turn into something else? I’d point to the pisspoor “everything’s rosie” which runs on the ad free BBC. The narratives at play are more or less abhorrent. most obvious are the horrid gender stereotypes that play out ads or no ads.
yeah, anyway. i enjoyed the post, thanks!
Thanky for taking time to comment≈ Yeh I watched the lecture back in 09 but forgot most of it over time. I think the major problem is that while Zizek’s message is the one that should be preached (don’t settle for capitalism with the most abhorrent of its qualitities toned down, demand a revolution), it still has the same problem as all other academic discourse. You’re better off going to business school, scoring a lucrative job and then using your money to influence the system. And that you can also do with no understanding of marxism, just remind people who you represent when you spread your cash around. Zizek (academia) is telling you what to do and why, but not how. And so the occupy movement is bumbling along, even though in usa there’s more than enough reasons for a general strike and more. If it was run by affluent business majors, it might have more prestige=influence
It’s silly, but compare Zizek and his cohorts to Golden Dawn in Greece, who are on the streets giving out food and medicine. With this human connection, nazism is selling like hotcakes in Greece, while European communists are basically left preaching to the leftist choir forever in Europe.
I mean, the neo-nazis are beating the left at their own game! Social programs are what were all about! But if you ask people how they feel about getting food stamps and the like, they’ll say they feel shame more than anything. But people who live on food provided by Golden Dawn kind of feel nothing but gratitude, at least that’s how it seems when they’re interviewed. The part where they feel shame is gone. It could be the difference between a cheery volunteer worker and a grumpy state worker. Maybe all it takes is a smile flashed at a person for them to feel like they’re a part of society, rather than its exfoliation.
No actually its because within capitalism you cannot have philanthropy (Steve Jobs, an altogether bad man with no taste for philanthropy, had his customers cry over his death and is still today probably more likely to be brought up in media than Bill Gates. In capitalism, a philanthropist is always a suspect) and so that is a weapon both fascism and communism can use to fight capitalism but leftists are doing a shoddy job about it.
Sorry sorry, yelling at left for being too in love with theory is such an old thing ;whelp
As far as children’s programming goes,
Low quality children’s programming on public service broadcasting is at least relatively easy to get changed with democratic action, petitions and such. Whereas all other networks might as well be directly under directorial control of Hasbro and McDonald’s. To quote myself from rhizome
“even the most broken up homes are likely to have a tv, the hypnotic and magical qualities of cartoons etc. have probably powered more than a few of the west’s unluckiest kids through their otherwise miserable childhoods with junkie parents etc. i mean, even if youre in a household thats too poor to afford books or comics or toys or even gas to get to the library, all you need is tv and a child can get some smily faces in their life. maybe the answer is in the middle :llama:”
I’d say there’s room in the world for the Bob Rosses & Jim Hensons. Still would not open the tv until the kids could at least speak and walk on their own feet.
Thanks, do keep watching Zizek anyway, at least he keeps it fresh.