Are Creative Arts Supporting Oppression?


 

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam CO2You’d think that the arts were purely humanistic, purely idealistic, or purely devoted to human wellbeing. Not necessarily so, in practice. Unintentionally or otherwise, the arts may provide the breeding grounds for oppression.

I’ve spent a lot of time criticising the sciences for not seeing the possible risks of new technologies and not creating safeguards for potentially high risk technologies. I think it’s only fair that I should also criticise my own line of work, for exactly the same reason.

Basic premise of creative arts supporting oppression

The problem is that whatever is put into a human mind can become a monster. Creative media of all kinds are fully plugged into human consciousness as never before. I’m not talking about visual propaganda, media propaganda, or other banal, mediocre forms of the arts. I’m talking about ideas. Creative arts, by nature, are based on a range of ideas, half arse or otherwise. Some of these ideas include direct depictions of ideologies, mentalities, insanities, and other human hobbies.

There is a long-standing theory in media psychology which is basically “monkey see, monkey do”. This means essentially that people will imitate anything and everything. Unfortunately, that also includes oppression.

If you take a look at the oppressive regimes in history, you will see that they all have direct antecedent dating back thousands of years. Even the Inquisition wasn’t a particularly original idea, it was based on ancient forms of oppression. The Holocaust, in turn, was based on ideas of racism, systematic oppression, and above all, a highly efficient, murderous method of controlling the public. Media was used as a primary form of control, involving all the arts in some form, from Wagner to posters and slogans.

Where do these ideas come from? Some of them come from history, but a lot of creative art is actually based on history and historical themes. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was based on actual history at the time, incorporating the rise of oligarchies and other obscenities in supposedly socialist states.

Orwell can be accused of nothing more than factual reporting, but Animal Farm is a particularly good example of mentalities. If you have also read The Gulag Archipelago, you may see some unsettling parallels between the two books. The problem is that one book was fiction, and the other was facts, and they have so much in common.

The psychological effects of creative media can be extremely powerful. They are even more powerful when aimed at semiliterate or illiterate people. For example, the whole idea of Western society as it is now is based largely on historical clichés. The society which produced those clichés no longer exists, but the stench lingers. Humanity is now habituated to what was really a series of depictions of daily life, originally intended to be fiction, but now turned into hideous fact.

The immortal Celts in EnglandOkay, so much for the basics. The question is whether or not a dramatic depiction of something or someone actively encourages oppression. On the same basis as “monkey see monkey do”, how many people have been inspired to become history’s leading bastards by creative media? How many people have wittingly or unwittingly written books which have become how-to manuals for oppression? How many musicians have created theme songs for tyrants?

Visual arts, in particular, are front and centre at the moment in terms of propaganda value. Whether it’s memes, photo shopped images, or “fake news” imagery, the visual arts are currently the heavy lifters for propaganda of all kinds. Some of it is intentional, some of it is unintentional, but the likely ramifications could be anything.

The problem is that they created that are now essentially carrying and supporting various types of oppression. This cannot be considered to be a harmless process. Actively supporting prejudice, injustice, and in some cases downright insanity doesn’t help anybody.

When criticising the sciences, I simply said that providing proven nut cases with advanced technologies isn’t and couldn’t be a good idea. The theory is that you can simply not provide the science to these raving lunatics. That may be more than a bit optimistic, but you can also see why that would be a good working solution.

In the case of the arts, the situation is a bit more complex. You can’t tell artists to stop producing art, any more than you can tell scientists to stop producing science. Unlike science, however, the arts are very portable, very easy to produce in any quantity in any form, and easily adapted to just about any situation. Arguably, the creative arts can potentially do much more damage to humanity than science.

Consider some of the all-too-familiar stereotypes of media:

  • The criminal genius
  • The mad scientist
  • The archetypal tyrant, real or imaginary
  • The criminal businessman
  • The fanatic(s) of all kinds
  • The psychotic manager
  • The basic sleazebag
  • The serial killer

It’s quite a list, but you can see how familiar all these characters are in real life. The question is, how many of these morons would have considered becoming these people without a bit of encouragement from creative media? Will they have had the slightest idea how to become what they became?

Answer those questions, and you will solve the problem of creative arts supporting oppression. Until then, be careful what you create, because it may come walking through the door one day.

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books

When society follows media like a sheep to slaughter


 

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media JamNobody should be too surprised that America’s recent history has been very much like a lousy bit of network programming. For those who’ve forgotten, media has always been a role model. Monkey see, monkey go nuts.

(Before we start, this is not going to be a media-bashing exercise in the usual sense. In this case, the people who need their heads kicked are the mindless acceptors, not the mindless purveyors.)

Before America became a sort of extended crack house, the basic norm was a sort of sitcom society. Not too dazzling, but pretty much in the nuclear family, “Honey I’ve just invented the computer/ been indicted/fired/promoted” mode.

The good side of America, believe it or not, actually did and does exist. By global standards, it’s a bit middle class, with a level of occasional extravagance few other countries could ever achieve. This is the real innovation-based, really inspired America, now out of fashion for about 40 years.

Media imagery

Ads_Cover_for_KindleThe whole history of America is based on innovation. Its economy was built on it. This is the nation which first really applied mass production in its modern forms. The entire 20th century lifestyle in its famous suburban image, is derived from America. So, however, and rather sadly now, was the media image of America.

Media image is a sort of social template. Fashion, jargon, and even social interactions come from it like a vending machine. Just think how many expressions you’ve learned from it.

A bit of media psychology at this point:

  • Perceived threats or rewards on a screen generate natural responses to stimuli.
  • Perceived groups are joined vicariously.
  • The tendency is to accept, to some degree, the good and bad values in any media presentation, even a puppet show or cartoon.
  • They associate with those values and the logic of the scenarios.
  • Behaviours are contagious; if others are acting in a certain way, more will do so.
  • People tend to accept group norms, at least to some extent, cosmetically or otherwise.
  • In many cases, the behaviours fill a gap in knowledge, making media a sort of reinforcing tool for actual responses.

Is any of this new? No. It’s a range of findings from the 1950s. Media provides psychological stimuli, extended association with what is seen, and a range of norms, depending on the scenarios.

However – What is new is applying this range of known factors to a whole society. On a societal scale, the effects can be horrific.

Consider:

  • The normalization of crime as a way of life – It is, for career criminals, but now it’s a whole media industry, from CSI to The Sopranos. Add behaviours.
  • Greed is Good to the Wolf of Wall Street – A norm which has turned the financial sector psychotic, and is seen as smart business.
  • The Me Generation – A generation of lawyers and accountants, a litigation mad phase in America.
  • The “evil” crap – Any excuse to be a jerk, as defined by Hollywood, TV and some pretty iffy pseudo-psychology. It’s a form of wanking, wearing suits, etc.
  • Dumbing down – The “nerd” theory which so rabidly devalues intelligence, information and innovation has also been responsible for America’s loss of direction in the sciences. America’s intellectual property is worth more than the GDP, and the US is still fretting over the Super Bowl.
  • The Flintstones Effect – Turning everything in to a sitcom, with asking the boss for a raise, and the entire worn-out idiom still oozing along.
  • Youth culture – This so-called youth culture is old enough to be a grandparent. A soggy attempt at the 1980s, with the same boring nursery rhymes and sloppy patches. No innovation at all.

Media as an excuse

It’s all well and good to bleat about decency, good people, etc. and the rest of the social shopping list that never happens. Humans are wired to respond to humans, real or not. If you see people doing something, on a screen in real life, your response is going to be largely automatic.

Paul Wallis books, sydney media jam

This book is all about creative ideas. Nobody has yet died of reading it, but it’s a pretty tough call for those not familiar with working with ideas. “Passive voice”, eh?

Media also certainly doesn’t provide any good role models, examples, or much in the way of constructive values of any kind. Why would it? Those things are hardly fashionable, or even comprehensible to some people. Media is a business; it does what sells, and it’s not paid to make “uplifting” materials.

Meaning people rarely if ever see positive roles, situations, or anything else. Quite the opposite, they see stress, and prefer to relate to the people who aren’t stressed. The bully is always in charge, so that’s the best option. The nutcase megalomaniac is running things, so that’s the safest place to be.

Pretty damn predictable, isn’t it?

OK, there are the excuses. Now – Is it any wonder that an entire nation has turned redneck? No reliable information, no positives, no healthy society to aspire to, and a collection of cretins making billions per year out of the situation. Add the lousy wages, the go-nowhere career paths, the corruption, the health black hole, pitiful core education, the apelike animalistic employment culture, and the disenfranchised poor, and you have a true catastrophe waiting to happen.

Now ask yourself – Do you really accept any of it? If so, it’s probably only because you’re stuck with it. Some people, however, do it the other way round. They accept, and are therefore stuck with it.

The problem is that the usual psychological reactions are the default, normal, unquestioned reactions. Whatever two dimensional load of  half-baked crap slithers into view, it’s what they do.  They’re typically all over the old low grade FOMO and Emotional Intelligence stuff, like missing out on nothing and being a total hypocrite was a life goal.

They go to “meetings” like they go to church; they have to believe in whatever they do, because they accept the basic premises as dictated by media imagery. These excuses are lethal at both individual and social levels, and they’ve made the US a very sick place indeed.

Acceptance of anything is a form of trust, reluctant or otherwise. On what basis would you say that the media image of anything is trustworthy? Because it is just an image.

You may be surprised to learn that in the past, back in the late 1950s, media psychology was about positives. A future, fun, freedom, a happy life, and things to look forward to.  Media was breaking down barriers, promoting positives.

Black America in particular made more progress in that era than ever before… or since.  It also went straight backwards when all the “street” crap became saleable to a tween audience. Try telling anyone in marketing in America that not everyone in the US is a teenage gangsta, and they simply won’t believe it.

The Big Disconnect – Media reproducing itself.

That’s also a good example of the high disconnect between any socially positive information and “media” as we now know it. The image is making itself. Innovation in marketing is relatively rare, and the usual pattern is to stick to the script, however insane.

Call the 2016 election campaign exploitative, sick, nuts, whatever – It’s an accurate reflection of the psychology of media at its worst. Change that, and things will improve, probably drastically.

 

 

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books

I’m rebuilding SMJ, but have to track down my files first. Don’t hold your breath.