Sunday, December 17, 2006

Precarious Vicariousness. Part 1.


“Shakespearean fish swim the sea far away from land. Romantic fish swim in nets coming to the hand. What are all these fish that lie gasping on the strand?” W.B. Yeats.

Two thirds of America’s GDP is tied to convincing consumers to buy some good or service. All other output shrinks by comparison. Astonishing effort is directed to corral these creatures into a purchase pen. Since very little beyond food and shelter is actually needed, much of the effort goes toward manipulating wants and whims.

In the critical ‘holiday’ quarter, desperately earnest cheerleading begins in tandem with Halloween and continues right up to Christmas Eve. This is the height of the great upstream spawning rush as predators leap to reap rewards.

The main focus of want manipulation is to create dissatisfaction with status to be solved by the possession of something. The implied premise is that target’s life is only valid when avid purchasing is steady and prodigious.

It is essential to instill a drive to emulate. In emulation there is salvation.

What is exhibited for emulation? Our time has seen a ceaseless refinement and expansion of projected postures with an attached gamut of purchase options for posture embellishment in the quest for ‘lifestyle’.

“Lord of the Manner” is a popular patrician affluence beloved by the country club neocon crowd and their imitators. This one is a classic dating back here to southern plantation owners and northern merchant princes. It had a spectacular run in the robber baron era among resource hogs of every description and showed up again in the 1920’s, 1950’s and ever since the 1980’s.

It is wildly popular and expresses widespread distaste for an actual republic and yearning for some return to feudalism.

“Rugged Pioneer” dates back to Davey Crockett myths and hit its stride when Andrew Jackson was president. It works like a charm with rurals or anti-social malcontents who imagine themselves as ‘mavericks’.

“Gold Digger/Technocrat” goes back to the forty-niners and 19th century Mechanics Societies. It is a callow thing beloved by yuppies and the cohort of feminists who strive to be as awful as men at their worst.

“Youth and Beauty” is a classic and is applied to prey on the narcissism of the young or most women up to menopause.

“Playboy” is the fun seeking toy loving hedonist peacock counterpart to the court fops of feudal times and now has an entertaining version in the ‘Metro-Sexual’.

Pitches are often combined to make odd hybrids like Rugged Pioneer and Playboy or Technocrat with Youth and Beauty, geek chic.

I just dreamed these stereotypes with help from a few glasses of wine but later saw a PBS special on marketing manipulations that actually provided some of the real terms in circulation.

“Urban Achievers” is the euphemism for Technocrats, “Shotgun and Pickup Truck” is applied to the Rugged Individualists. The predators find cages for the prey.

The stalking really revs up when it’s time to snare the hapless and financially inept young.

First they break the kids down by gender so guys become ‘Mooks” while the women become “Midriffs”. Then this base group gets sliced and diced into “Young Influentials”, the trend setters, and “Early Adopters”, or the kids most likely to jump on these trendwagons.

This is just a short summary of how affiliation with vicarious impulses can be used to cheat people of their uniqueness by making a Haven’t-A-Heart chump trap to transform the prey into a jacklit profit center.

I wonder what Carl Jung would make of this vile co-optation of his great gift of archetype theory?

It is essentially an engineered alchemy of transform a human into a cipher part of a crowd.

Elias Cannetti describes crowd symbols in his magnificent work, “Crowds and Power”.

For example, he cited the waves of the ocean for England to reflect it’s maritime heritage or Oak forests for the Teutonic mystique embraced by Germany.

He neglected to suggest one for the USA but two good candidates might be the Treasure Trove to emphasize the hegemony of money grubbing in the collective overmind or maybe a Hall of Mirrors to cover the amplified narcissism that grips the nation.

Most anxieties attending American life have long issued from greed wrestles or the false compensations of excessive self love. Consider John Smith’s early tales of abundance in his boosterish reports back to England or the rise of Hollywood to drive droves toward dreams of being the next movie star.

The Revolution here was a Greed Argument over dry goods tariffs and the Civil war was a variant over the allowable rules regarding labor compensation. Those crazy southerners figured labor should be free as long as you could find a way to utterly dehumanize the laborers.

Most of America’s manic mass settlement waves rolled from reports of easy money from gold strikes, land grabs or stock manias in a churning cycle of boom and bust.

According to Baudrillard, a notable difference between the new world and the old is our relation to the land. Their world is rooted in an ancient given they struggle to fathom. Ours is a recent take.

We superimpose the contents of our imaginations on its obstinate surface and reshape it weirdly in our own ever changing image in a haphazard heedless rush without much thought beyond an eye to the ledger or whether it’ll make us look good.

Thus, much of our human landscape is a jumbled hodge podge of imported simulacra cast away from context. It started out as quaint folk art features and has increasingly become a corporate contraption bent on erasing distinctness of place to favor brand expedience to a point where an auto mile strip mall zone in Seattle is identical to one in Boston. Yes, the ‘there’ has lost its there with a diminishing sense of an outside.

And the contrivance is near lethal in its stupefying, numbing banality.