Monday, January 16, 2006

The Magic Elixir

Ellul – The Technological Society

Ellul develops the idea of a Mass Man.  Basically, everything is now produced through mass production, assembly lines.  This enormous amount of stuff being produced has to be consumed.   Advertising is the art of creating ways of life to sell stuff.  This leads me to a point that I have been debating for quite a while.  I am not sure, but I think that there are certain images that are created, certain ways of life.  Each brand represents something, a value and certain values are associated with one or more ways of life.  Brands are also stereotypes.  Think of the French nationality, certain images come to mind, vineyards, good food and conversation, elegance, a turtleneck and loafers.  It is a certain stereotypical life.  Stereotypes and first impressions are so strong that I have to literally buy into them in order to be recognized for what I think.  If I send the wrong message by the way I dress I can be misunderstood.  This even applies to the background I chose for this Blog.  The lighthouse is an image that is loaded with meaning.  It represents wisdom, insight and even enlightenment.  It makes me look smart.  

The implication of this is that I have to be connected to what image I am portraying, which means keeping up with current trends.  The complication comes in the fact that I am not a simple homogenous image.  My character is not encapsulated in a collared shirt and glasses.  I like to do more things than read books and talk about academic issues.  I also like to hike and ski and do woodwork and contemplate the divine, this begins to describe who I am.  I can’t portray all those things congruently in the image I portray in how I dress, and I shouldn’t have to, but that is the world we live in.  It is very hard to reject because I have to wear clothes and whatever clothes I wear will portray an image and I will be judged on that image, to quote Ellul, “Man must be adapted to be happy” (p. 135).

This is incredibly limiting. I can’t express who I truly am.  But then again, communication is hard, expressing who I am through my possessions and what I buy is an easy way to communicate a complex concept.  It is a way that has its deficiencies and is quite limiting unless my monetary resources are limitless and my possessions can change with my idea of who I am.  

There has to be a better way of communicating with other people.  Doing it through possessions just is too limiting not to mention unsustainable and inaccurate.  What kind of communication is talking through stereotypes anyway?  It is pretty shallow.    

It is tough though to understand who I am autonomous to those powerful ways of life that I am faced with everyday.  It is also hard to give up those ways of life for something better because the vision has been articulated so well and confronts me at every turn.  It is an image of a nice seaside house in New England, or the Boston apartment.  It provides a goal, and then there is the ipod.  You can find one in every crowd, so keeping up with the Jones’ becomes important.  People sacrifice to compete, acting irrationally to win, doing things that they wouldn’t normally do sacrificing ethics because of the pressure.  I think the interplay between the vision and competition is how mass man is so easily controlled.  The group has some people who buy into the vision and the rest follow so as to not be left out.  

It is the group that has decided to buy into the image the company is selling.  So it is a group that is defined by possessions on a shallow basis and if I want that image I have to buy the product because that is the only entrance fee.  

Back to Chekhov, we have exchanged “beauty for ugliness,” freedom for image.  There is something to caring about people and not about what they think about what I have.  If you have the magic elixir let me know.  


A Voice for Women said...

Beautiful article Gopher.

I think you hit on something truly important in discussing Ellul, that is the significance of communication in our modern society. Perhaps it is ironic that in a day where there exist more modes of communication then ever before, we are truly not communicating.
I say this because so much of the information we receive has gone through the filtering process of censorship. Companies have the great luxury of broadcasting the information they want to be broadcasted and the same holds true of their ability to restrict the broadcasting of other, likely negative, information that could be detrimental to the profit earnings of that company.
I also say communication is now shallow because, like Janus said, we live in a culture of acquaintances. I have made the active decision to not have MSN, for I realize it's addictive, and time-wasting qualities. Yet so many people are dependent on this form of shallow communication.
By noting that our communication today is shallow in nature, you have hit the nail on the head. In the pursuit of the endless accumulation of wealth, it seems corporation have found their magic elixir- gross division of labour, gross inequities between power holders and the mass man (persons), and mass propagation of ways of life that promote and sustain mass production and mass consumerism.
The paradox of it all is that it comes down to communication.
Is our government communicating with these corporations and serving as the proper check and balance it is designed to be? Are communications departments communicating with the public in fair, non-manipulative ways? Are we as communication graduates, being informed of the right information? Of a totally unbiased worldview? And lastly, are we as communication majors using the tools we learn, in ethical ways that will lead this world to a better future for the generations to come.
I'm not too sure if we are. Certainly a better future cannot emerge from culture shallowness, acquaintances, and tolerance of gross global inequities. However, like Ellul says- it's hard to be that countercurrent. The system was designed to alienate those people who challenge the system. They have truly been successful at this given the mass individuals rational, 'if I don't submit to, or participate in the system, how will I survive?’ One could then counter-question, 'if I do submit to, or participate in the system, how will I be happy with myself?’ Well fortunately that has been accounted for, scientist will manufacture our happiness! It's possible. So then we're back to a world of shallowness, as you mentioned.
I truly believe that the hope that exists (Hartmann) boils down to communication, real and honest communication. Hopefully with our communicative abilities we can join in on a path to communicate a new story.

A Voice for Women

Mr. Jeffery said...

Good writing,

I really liked the part about the scientists will manufacture our hapiness for us. It gets into Hartmann and addictions. The scientists of marketing and TV and tobacco and caffine and drugs and alcohol all keep us happy if we buy into the system.