2005/06/02

Programmatic

My supposition is that in ancient times there was, for the common run of people, a lot less entertainment. By which I mean not things to do but things one sits and watches. Sure there were folk tales and music and myths, or bardic epics, or whatever. Things of that nature, but not all the time, and not in great variety. Great variety, of course, being what we've got now, which is access to basically everyone's culture. (Thanks to the interweb.)

People's lives were also shorter, and there were fewer ancestors. Knowledge was therefore much more limited, because storage of it was limited.

Where do people learn how to act? They learn by example. We are imitators, in an important sense. Our parents and other adults model for us, as do our peers to a certain extent. Now myths are often (not so) disguised morality tales that communicate standards of behavior. They are compacted bunches of information about admirable ways to live one's life, which do not require a model for transmission. One's imagination supplies the missing link. In imagination legendary characters take on a life far beyond the transparent fiction of words from which they are composed. Their models are meant to replace the imperfect actual ones with ideals.

Transmission of stories has grown more complex as storage of information has become more extensive. Now we are bombarded by so many ideals and anti-ideals, gods and fools, that there is no one set that we can look to. Yet, for all that, the models are still out there.

Look at the sit-com. Ever since "I Love Lucy" there has been a pattern of the husband-wife dynamic with respect to appearance. And this leads us to the obvious point about body image and expectation in current American society. But as an example we see that the model tells us how to deal with situations; they can be resolved easily, wrapped up in a relatively short amount of time, and the harm done is not lasting no matter what the mishap that befalls us--and we are encouraged to take life superficially. You can think about that now, if you like, but if you're a typical sitcom fan you won't/can't.

Everywhere we look there are multitudes of stories. There was some years ago a statistic circulating that a typical six-year-old had seen a thousand murders on television. Whether or not this is true, it is certainly true that the child has encountered several thousand stories already. And every year, more stories are bombarding us from every media outlet. These are all filed away in our memory somewhere, and slowly a method forms for responding to situations.

Real life becomes stale and hackneyed, cliche'd, out-of-date, just in virtue of our tendency to follow the modes put up everywhere for us. Here is the lament, then: how can one be oneself and act originally and without subconscious restraint or imitation which holds us umbilically to received indoctrination, when one's entire life is built of safely familiar stories that, if not happy, are comforting in being so familiar?

It makes one question whether one is a pawn of one's ancestors, or of others' ancestors. The love story, the break-up, the fall and the conversion, the friendship and the rivalry, the comedy of manners, the tragedical farce, even these can be plotted out. I have, at least, developed the ability to suss out the plot of any movie made in Hollywood based solely on a 30-second television spot. What's the point of watching the thing if you know what's going to happen? Perhaps to see how "good" it is.

Are we reduced then to being only critics? This seems as though it would bleed over into daily life. So then we watch how much the aesthetic has crept into our approach to relations between people, and not in a positive fashion. It is just that this is the only way that we can think of what goes on. If we have escaped the tyranny of visceral emotional reaction to each and every little thing that happens--if we can take a critical stance--it seems that then we have nothing else. We are now machines controlled by critical humunculi, who play the game of life for fun and profit, tragedy and death, spectacle if nothing else. We are no longer in ourselves but rather beneath ourselves, in the bunker, controlling the action from afar.

More later, but I feel an attack of self-criticism coming on.

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