Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nailing our Cultural Coffin, One Unquestioned Re-categorization and Ill-Assumption at a Time. (*Warning- overt doom-sayer over-dramatization follows*)

As much as its not a new thing (in fact it seems lately a bit over-observed and often a trite and empty buzz-phrase), it’s nevertheless been on my mind a lot that, in countless regards, we’re currently residing at a bizarre cultural turning-point. Decisions made and actions taken in regard to the social-structures of our current transitional society are guaranteed to, for better, worse, or just “different,” turn the world that we live in into a place that we wouldn’t have recognized or foreseen five or ten years ago. The current dilemmas and changes (economic, cultural, social, technological, commercial, etc.) that the world is facing could either force us to think more creatively and overhaul outdated systems, thoughts, and ways of functioning that are no longer viable, healthy, constructive, or pertinent… or they could force a tail-spin, as society-at-large continues to blindly rest on the laurels of failed old- and untested new- systems, from which the mass-populous eventually looks around and notices that we are deadlocked into a way of life that makes us irreparably miserable.

I know, I know… I can’t even write these sort of words without a bit of a cringe at the over-dramatization. I’m no doomsayer or garden-variety conspiracy theorist. But maybe it’s time that we consider a bit whether part of the reason that these sentiments make us a bit queasy is that what WOULD have seemed laughable and pompous not that long ago is uncomfortably close to being REALISTIC for the real-life drama-quotient of the present situation.

Whether appropriate or exaggerated, this possibility should prove fodder for our consideration. Increasing our mindfulness of how we live, what we support with our time and money, what information we intake, and how we filter that information into what views and opinions that we choose to subscribe to can be nothing but positive, particularly in a time like this, when nearly every aspect of our collective lives bears some sort of “what’s next?” element.

This is no time to criticize each other for over-analyzing things, for looking at too-broad of a picture, or to even mention the words “You think too much.” We live at a juncture when thinking critically about everyday situations is among the only ways to find possibilities of the positive in impending negativity. Analyzing why we do what we do MUST become a more constant and widespread phenomenon if we are to use trying times as learning experiences rather than long-term detriments. Even if the clichéd synopsis’ of our present situation are overblown, this sort of mindset certainly can’t cause us any harm.

Just one bizarre case in point: A recent Monday’s Boston-area newspapers featured a rather surreal media-squabble story that alarmed me quite a bit. It featured a local football-”hero” and a “super”-model, their henchmen (“security”), and a couple of working photo-journalists (relabeled “paparazzi” for the added drama and stock-image automatic vilification) in a South American jungle-nation. As this story is now about a week and a half old, I’ll just relay a cursory recap in case you didn’t catch it.

Basically, the photo-journalists were commissioned by their employer to take pictures of the quarterback and model’s “top-secret” second wedding ceremony (which was so “clandestine” and “private” that its only purpose was as a media-stunt for a different publication). When the photographers were “caught” doing so by the couple’s “security”/ henchmen, they were basically kidnapped onto the property that they had previously remained off-premise of, and were detained (or attempted to be) there until they surrendered their camera and film. When the photographers refused and escaped, the henchmen opened-fire at them, missing their heads by inches and shattering the windows of their vehicle. (I wish I had have thought up this scenario for fiction… but most workshopping groups would probably have told me it was far too preposterous to be compellingly realistic.)

As you can probably guess from the code-switching in this synopsis, for the purpose of this entry I’m most interested in the issues of semantics and linguistics at play in this story, and how those translate into cultural assumptions and a set of media-based (and consumer-digested) binary codes.

Let’s remove the character stereotypes from the scenario and replace them with other stock images. If the same situation had taken place in the middle-east, for instance, the celebrities and security would be labeled “terrorists.” If they were immigrants in a US city, the headline would have read “mafia-related.” But our current culture seems unwilling to be dissuaded from the general binary assumption that “celebrities= heroes, paparazzi= villains.”

To quote the British rapper Scroobious Pip (from 2008’s Strange Famous Records release “Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobious Pip- Angles”) “I always had the feelin’ I could never be the villain, ’cuz the villain in the films is always backlit.” (for more relevant quotes on similar issues of pivotal semantics, check out the title track to that record, “Angles.”)

The photo-journalists in this scenario were paid to do a job. That job facilitates the celebrities’ ability to do their own job (particularly in the case of the super-model), of which the principle occupation and exorbitant pay-checks are derived from having photos taken of them, and maintaining the public interest (their primary claim to job-stability and commercial viability) that only the media is capable of ensuring. Photo-journalists doing their job facilitate the jobs of celebrities, yet somehow that very same media expects us to believe (and it seems that much of the populace is all too willing to) that the facilitator is somehow (by way of the facilitation itself) oppressing and victimizing the facilitated?

Cue that “what’s next?” element here… If this sort of thing is any indication, those laurels we could choose to rest on are planted in quicksand.

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