“Beneath the mask of hedonism, we live in a deeply oppressive, regulated society.”
Europe Witnesses Civil Unrest, America Witnesses Spectacle of Entertainment
A previous post highlighted how people all over the world are responding to the current economic crisis: protests, strikes, legislative battles, and civil unrest. A cement truck was driven into the Irish parliament, 10 million people went on strike in Spain, over 100,000 people protested in Belgium against the European Union, over 1 million people went on strike in France, thousands protested in other parts of Europe.
Americans, on the other hand, haven’t really done anything. Instead, they are being lead to a Woodstock-like festival lead by entertainers – the so-called “Rally to Restore Sanity/Rally to Keep Fear Alive” by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
State Repression vs. Hedonistic Repression
It shouldn’t surprise us that a society consumed by entertainment would only be able to express feeble political desires through that same spectacle. What we fail to realize is that consumer culture is not merely hedonistic, but ultimately a type of repression as pointed out by Neil Postman:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984,Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.” (Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death“)
The Silent/Busy Majority?
The upcoming Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally reduces serious discourse to triviality and farce. The website for the rally claims that the rally is for “people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) — not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority.”
It is interesting to note that the phrase “Silent Majority” is made synonymous with the phrase “Busy Majority.” The implication is that the vast majority of people choose not to engage in politics because of obligations such as school, work, and family, resulting in fringe minorities to hijack the political discourse. Yet, the fact that people can even watch shows like the Daily Show indicates that people are available for leisure and are not “busy” working, spending time with their family, or other “noble” pursuits.
Leisure is a huge component of American life: “More than 90 percent of full-time employed married mothers and fathers aged 25–54 engaged in leisure and sports activities on an average day. Leisure and sports activities include socializing, watching television, and exercising.” (Source) In fact, more Americans watch television than ever before, that is in spite of viewing programs online and through mobile phones. (MSNBC)
Are people really too “busy” to engage in politics or have they been conditioned and regimented into not having higher thought at all?
Bread and Circus as a Means of Societal Control
Entertainment is not innocuous – it is a means of control. This rally seems like a classic case of “Bread and circus.” By bread and circus, it is meant the overwhelming prevalence of the entertainment culture which provides powerful distractions from meaningful intellectual investigations and awareness of the ideological system. The point here is that that entertainment is not a choice, but a necessity within a consumer culture. Workers experiences stress as a result of his work which results in alienation and loss of self-awareness and environmental-awareness. As a result of the meaninglessness of their existence and the pointlessness of their relationships with other beings (as they are based purely on economic or class structure), laborers are coerced to become consumers.
It is important to note that virtually every major institution has been subverted to the role of entertainment. One notices the predominance of sports penetrating families via fantasy football leagues, constantly being immersed in music through mp3 players and smart phones, news outlets using pundit duels and sensationalist headlines to drive up ratings, and even religious institutions mimicking the entertainment industry with spiritual music, films, and conferences.
It should be noted that this is ultimately not a problem of information but of distraction. The age of information has plenty of technological innovations for tracking the injustices and exploitation inherent within the system. For example, there are now iphone applications for keeping track of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. One can google to see how much funding and arms Israel gets from the U.S government. One can download ebooks and podcasts describing quite extensively how the Israel Lobby operates and how it influences various government branches and public institutions to achieve its objectives. One can easily study how other well funded interest groups function using similar methods. While there is plenty of information available that enables the study of the present hegemonic system relatively easy, there are countervailing distractions that present base human desires and emotions to an intensified foreground while relegating ideological information to a distant background.
If one were to spend one day on social networking sites, one would witness a narcissism so total that the only word that could be used to describe the common man in our era is “obliviousness.” Oblivious to the great conflicts occurring throughout the world, oblivious of the suffering of other human beings, oblivious to the frailty of life, and ultimately, oblivious to themselves and their purpose as beings.
The Comedy Central Rally portrays those who take politics seriously as having nothing better to do with their time. The truth is – the great struggles against injustice were not done without conflict – civil rights, labor rights, women’s rights, etc. Almost all of these struggles had some manifestation of intense civil unrest – protests, strikes, civil disobedience. These matters were not treated with snarky sarcastic jokes. They were discussed in a serious manner because they were serious issues.
Do Something Meaningful
Do you really want to make a difference? Try one of the following:
- Learn about consumer culture and its effects on the human psyche and the environment
- Research the important issues (immigration, civil rights, war, oppression, economics, etc)
- Hold teach-ins on a meaningful issue in your University or place of worship
- Register voters, especially in swing states
- Organize a protest
- Join a labor union
- Participate in a strike
What shouldn’t you do? Be entertained. Why? Because some things are worth fighting for.