Monday, February 14, 2011

Part III Readings: The American Dream and Its Discontents (Part I)

From The bias of communication
Harold Innis
“Each civilizations has its own methods of suicide.”

It is perhaps a unique characteristic of civilizations that each civilization believes in its uniqueness and its superiority to other civilizations.  Indeed this may be the meaning of culture – i.e., something which we have that others have not.  It is probably for this reason that writings on culture can be divided into those attempting to weaken other cultures and those attempting to strengthen their own.”

·      The ways in which we think about ourselves, and our culture, are in fact a product of our culture.   We become engrained within our own culture.  This culture becomes a part of us, and thus we are not able to determine/recognize its true characteristics.

·      Cultures reflect influences in terms of space (how large of area?)  and duration (how long did they last?).  When art and science find perfection, they subsequently regress and do not return to that point of perfection. Innis believe that an intense period of culture activity (evident in architecture, art and sculpture) is almost certainly followed by a period of fatigue.

·      Architecture able to impact the masses over a large area (ancient Egyptian pyramids) and to develop prestige. Often it is used as an index of power, influence, and control – not just over space, but also over time. “All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.”

From Hollywood:  The dream Factory (1950)
Hortense Powdermaker

Deep layers of magical thinking still remain in the unconscious of modern men and sometimes on the conscious level too.  We may unconsciously or consciously long for a magical helper and for miracles; but we know that writing a book, getting a job, or making a garden depends on hard work, knowledge, ability and planning, rather than on coercing the supernatural; we usually act on this awareness.”

·      Over time, this idea of ‘magical thinking’ has retreated more and more into an unconscious awareness.  Modern civilization has progressed to a constant awareness of logic and rationale – we are aware of reality and our experiences within that reality.

“We may vaguely feel that disease can be the work of an evil spirit or a punishment for sin, but when we become ill we consult a doctor, who utilizes the latest scientific developments in medicine.”

·      In Hollywood, we find a greater awareness and consciousness of ‘magical thinking’. Within the film industry, we find that individuals attribute their success to luck and other forces existing beyond their control. Such individuals truly believe that this magical process is a necessary and integral part of film production. There are two main characteristics of thinking in Hollywood, this belief in luck or “catching breaks,” and confusion between animate and inanimate objects.

·      Primitive men sacrificed things they believed to be most valuable – food, animals and even human life, in order to satisfy this magical and supernatural phenomena. In contrast, Hollywood sacrifices talent and intellectual thinking. Human properties such as imagination and creativity are utilized in minimal ways  - people in Hollywood have more intellectual abilities than they use.  Powdermaker asserts that, “No salary can compensate for being dehumanized.” 

“The basic problem of Hollywood lies in man.”

From the Lonely Crowd (1950)
David Riesman, with Reuel Denney and Nathan Glazer

“The book captures the spirit of a moment when Americans were uneasy about the changes wrought by suburbanization, consumption, prosperity, and mass media.  It introduces the terms “inner directed” and “outer directed” – that is, those guided by internal mechanisms versus those who look toward other people and mass media for orientation – both of which quickly entered popular consciousness.”

·      In young peer groups, language is consumed as a product, much like that of popular music.  Not only is it used as a set of parameters by which individuals participate in self-socializing peer-groups, it also serves as a source of power and control. 

·      For insiders, language plays a primary role in identifying the ‘mood currents’ present in a peer group at any given time.  For outsiders, including the adult observers, language serves as a means to orally carry peer-group messages from generation to generation.

·      Storytellers play an intricate role in the socialization of children.  They not only provide the child with a vision of the world, they also shape the form and limits of the child’s thoughts, memory and imagination. 

From Look (1950)
David Sarnoff

“It is within the range of possibility now that events across the seas will one day be visible at the moment they happen to anyone within reach of a television set.”

·      Sarnoff maintainted that television would help to unify the world and would promote ‘brotherhood’ across oceans and continents.  It would allow people to experience the world from their own home front, and would provide first-hand experiences to audiences across the globe.

·      Television presented an opportunity to ‘sell democracy’ abroad.  It offered a way in which American life both seen and heard.

·      Sarnoff believed that international television would help to establish close ties of understanding amongst the peoples of the world  and would ultimately preserve peace across cultures

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