--Badlands, Bruce Springsteen
The latest issue of Satya Magazine takes a look at violence and activism. This includes a provocative interview with a hardnosed founding member of Greenpeace, Captain Paul Watson. When asked for tactical and motivational advice for new activists, Watson offered his version of a realty check for the next generation: "All people are the same. The poor are simply wannabe rich people. The oppressed are wannabe oppressors."
As difficult as it might be to accept, there is some truth in Watson's appraisal. Talk to any non-rich lottery player if you don't believe me. In my neighborhood, playing the lottery is not just state-sponsored gambling...it's a lifestyle choice. Coercive advertising is used to convince the poor and middle class to accept a cleverly disguised, voluntary tax by promising them a chance to be rich like all their media-created heroes. It's an awesome victory of propaganda that so many downtrodden Americans strive to be exactly like the man whose boot is stomping on their necks.
However, there is little reason to casually categorize such behavior as "human nature." Rather, thanks to decades of conditioning, our personal dreams have been co-opted and replaced with the American Dream of wealth, material possessions, sexual conquests, being on TV, etc. Best of all, the American Dream myth tells us we can and will accomplish all this on our own. It's the fable of individualized success: If you outwork and outthink and out-hustle the competition, this is truly the land of opportunity. Anything is possible...and if you succeed, it's because you worked harder and better and deserved it more. This myth is conveniently helpful for praising success...but mighty damaging in explaining failure. If you don't attain your goals (or at least the goals forced upon you), the blame is on you and you alone. It's your fault that you're not living up to the standards set by billboards, TV commercials, and magazine ads
Everyday life has been corrupted by a corporate mentality. From businesses to politicians to the man on the street, we've become blind to anything that lurks beyond the next fiscal quarter...and this trend accelerated rapidly after World War II. "Our lives prior to that war were, to a great extent, pre-industrial," says author Murray Bookchin. "We still had the extended family, communities, neighborhoods, and small retail stores, usually of the Mom & Pop variety. We were not thoroughly absorbed into capitalism in our daily lives...so you had a capitalist economy but not a capitalist society. This was undone by the war as capitalism permeated into every aspect of our daily lives. The family, the culture, the neighborhood have been integrated into the market. People have become atomized and our very language has been corrupted."
We no longer pass time...we spend it. We no longer fall in love...we invest in relationships. Everything we care about has been turned into a commodity. Like the stereotypical overworked executive, we yearn for expeditious results with our one-hour photo shops, ten-minute massages, and instant messaging. We judge a trip into the country by the amount of gas we use and assess the value of our meals based on how fast the food is served. This intrusion of the business mindset into daily life has grown in direct proportion to the influence of television.
Part babysitter, part opinion-giver, and part hypnotist, the TV has come to dominate American life like no other invention. We learn what to eat, how to dress, what to say, and how to think all from that glowing box in our bedroom and living room...and kitchen and laundrymat and gym and bank and airport (there seems to be a TV everywhere one goes). The payoff for all this spectatorship is a lifestyle based on imitation, competition, materialism, and self-delusion. The TV keeps us inactive while our biology desires movement. The TV sells us junk food while our bodies crave nutrients. The TV trains us to be obedient while our minds yearn for freedom. The TV teaches conformity while our souls demand individuality.
With a nod to Guy Debord, I'd say it's time to reinvent everyday life; steal it back from corporate propagandists and reintroduce the joy of living. Stop settling for less pain and start demanding more pleasure. Today's progressives can provoke dramatic changes simply by refusing to submit to the societal formula they're presented with.
We know how we feel....so no longer should we allow Hollywood, Madison Avenue, the government, or Corporate America to define our needs. We must trust our own instincts and break free from manufactured needs and illusory goals in order to cultivate new American Dreams (yes, plural). Dreams not for sale to the highest bidder. Dreams not based solely on material consumption or physical beauty. We need dreams that promote and extol unity and collective success while maintaining our individuality and independence: Dreams that challenge humans to think for themselves and about others.
Sometimes, all it takes is thoughtful introspection to liberate oneself from the seductive, profit-motivated web and move into the realm of freethinking and individuality. Breaking away from the omnipresent, primitive corporate message of "work, consume, and obey authority without question" can be this generation's way of challenging-and smashing-the status quo to create a society in which industrial pirates, murderous politicians, and vacuous celebrities are no longer the ideal we strive for.
Did you ever notice how animated people get when you ask them what they'd do if they ever won the lottery? They can suddenly articulate dreams and wants and desires in a hopeful, confident way. It's as if someone has given them a shot of adrenaline...a new lease on life, if you will. Wouldn't it be neat if we could all get excited and optimistic about our lives and our future without the promise of some unattainable monetary prize?
Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Prime Books) and Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). His most recent book is The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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