April, 2002, Volume 9 Nr. 8, Issue 104
MEME MARINES OF MONOCULTURE
JeanneE hand-Boniakowski, RN
We are being branded right out of our minds. We are being branded like the cattle we are in the pseudologic of the megamarket. The branding irons are searing our foreheads from the inside, in our frontal lobes where meaning is made. The logo-scars of various ranches compete in our headmeat for virtual vitality, that is, meaning. Brands encrust and vampirize the memes of meaning until the brand itself is indistinguishable from the message it linked to. Thus one northwest U.S. shoe company does not mean sneakers but athleticism, that romanticized ancient Greek ideal of perfectibility. Sneakers are about utility, athleticism is about nobility. This is one example. The reader can watch a little TV or flip through a mass-market magazine and deconstruct the ads to find many more. And since the content programs and articles between the ads are usually designed to sell the ads, to complement them, mediated meaningfulness is an integrated weapon.
We are being branded right out of our minds. Do you notice rooms in your mind, in the stories you tell yourself, in the storyplex that is yourself, becoming more infested with brands? Does Disney own part of your childhood? Is this Disneyized part perhaps larger, more vivid, than actual personal historical events allow? Are the Disney elements brighter, clearer than the face of your best childhood friend? Than your own face as a child?
Well, your face changed, the friend moved away, the few photos you can consult are static, unmoving, maybe even black and white. But Disney characters have not changed, did not move away. They are full color and animated. They are reinforced in your mind by many encounters in the present. Your lost best friend is gone forever, even if you grew up together and still see one another daily. That little kid whose face and gait and voice you knew by heart is lost to time, and lives only as a ghost in memory. Few ghosts live in such minds as can maintain them with volume and fidelity. Disney friends do not move away or age. They return often, reliably animated and colour-drenched and cheerful and predictable, as no real friend can be. I am not implying that Disney characters replace people in our childhood memories. We certainly distinguish them as artifacts. But we just as certainly can have actual fondness for them, a relationship to them that mimics relationship with another person.
The point is that Disney nonbeings, these big-headed fantasy simulacra of humans, are unquestionably plastic: artificial, made not grown. And they are temporally plastic: able to bend time so they appear unchanged, ever infantile of visage, simple, cheerful. Both this plasticity and the former plasticness contribute to Disneys ability to inhabit hectares of headspace and further confuse the structure of our memories, our me.
Today, most people in the U.S. cannot name a handful of local trees but can readily identify hundreds of corporate logos. The few who actually can nqame the trees are quaint eccentrics to the rest of us, mysteripous Muir-like mountain men, romanticized and contextualized as archetype. If one engages them as actual persons, you will find that your Grizzly Adams can name hundreds of corporate logos, too.
Brands are more than labels a manufacturer puts on physical items, produced goods. That is the old version. It still serves for most useful classes of things, from toilet paper to canned corn. We sophisticated consumers may have fond nostalgia for Mr. Whipple or the Jolly Green Giant, but we readily buy the generic. Thus familiar brands of useful stuff can be treated with the contempt of scorn or the contempt of consciously ironic nostalgia.
It is the non-useful stuff that has bred superbrands. Like superheroes, superbrands stand for Truth, Justice and The American Way. Like superheroes, superbrands do not exist as actual things. They are platonic ideals that magically lend their attributes to the objects they label, be they shoes or beers or sodas. Or preachers or politicians. Of course the objects themselves cannot live up to their platonic promises, and the depth of the promise contributes to the existential despair of the consumer, if she pauses long enough to feel such unmediated emotion as despair; the most many feel is anesthetized. Thus the shoes from Seattle are athleticism, the perfume from Calvin Klein is happiness.
And all the superbrands are cool. The consumer who displays and is defined by them cashes out to cash in on the cachet of cool. No mere mortal can live up to the hypercool virtual reality of the superbrands, and our embarrassing mundanity, our schlumpy, lumpen-humanity oozes through even the coolest veneer. Of course we know this, we are not really stupid, just stupefied by the spectacle. Our desire for authenticity is co-opted by the superauthenticity, the platonic ideals, that only superheroes and superbrands can offer.
Even those media literates, the savvy deconstructors of the superbrands, the black bloc working class intellectuals who create technical events to jolt us into awareness - who unmask Nike, peel back the appealing digitally airbrushed, Title-Nine-entitled nine year old proto-Joyner veneer girls, to show us the disturbing details of the indentured, overworked, un-entitled young girls who actually make the shoes the mystical veneer girls wear even those activists may rely on platonic ideals to fuel their spirits. Alas, no sooner do the ideals of the anarchists get articulated fair trade, cultural respect, global community than the marketing geniuses package those ideals, brand them and sell them.
Interaction of self with the world is increasingly less interactivity and more passive receptivity. There is so much world that in order to grab our attention the brand bullies keep ratcheting up the speed and impact of technical events (TE). This is psych warfare, and the TEs are cluster bombs, daisy cutters, violences in our heads spawning bomblets of content that lie as armed mines ready to pop. In a time of emotional upheaval, the prepared mind, the pre-planted mind, can be harvested. In September, the president-select invoked the superpower superbrand, USA, cloaking himself in the flag logo and intoning the slogan God Bless America. The man who occupies the White House in defiance of US law invokes the magic of the brands ideals. He then tops this by flaunting his fetish deity, Jesus Christ Superbrand. This combination of god and country is powerful ceremonial magic; its impact results from how deeply branded most of us are, and the emotional reaction, bypassing critical cognition, is evidence. The hyperalert American may act in some lovely, generous ways, as we saw in September, but many were quickly soothed by the soma of pseudo-unity (United We Stand) and glad to be encouraged by Mr. Bush in their patriotic duty to shop.
With cheerful cynicism, the marketers colonize more of our spaces, and with a tragically cheerful hopelessness we resignedly allow it. Slogging through the hyperreal landscape, we have not even the self-critical, culture-critical awareness to be proper tragic figures. Giggling, weeping Hamlet, falling short of his tendencies to idealism, priveleged puer, still was more self-reflective than the brain-battered bougoisie who buy meaning at the mall.
My mind and yours have been colonized by the meme marines of monoculture, globules of globalization glued to our glials. The imperialist conquerers of our collectivized mindscapes rode in on our very humanity, exploited our wetware so skillfully that we built and furnished their palaces with our precious raw materials: hope, love, empathy, desire, curiosity, community. Increasingly using our human and valued emotions for nothing more than to build showcases for the empty ideas of the rich, we have devalued those very gifts. Thus lofty hope is pressed into stunted service as the wish for a new thing, say a car, or a cookie. Sense of belonging settles for the seeming society of beer commercials. And when the promises are unfulfilled, when the mystical chariot is only a car, the elixir of friendship just another beer, and when your own friends are all too human, then even your sense of being cheated is exploited by the cheaters, who promise their stuff will be your friend: reliable, available, constant. Your brand.
The superpower superbrand, USA, Inc., is the ideal of this model year. Remember, the auto model year coincides with the new TV season and the horror of September 11 was contextualized into the milieu. The cultural tragedy is that everything did not change on that grim Tuesday. Within hours, there was a new logo, a new slogan, on each news report. Attack on America was the popular favorite. A reactionary, reflexive and defiantly unreflective patriotism raged across the land. I have been suspicious of patriotism for most of my life since I have seldom witnessed versions I could respect. Patriotism is, by its nature, not an examined stance. It is not born of reason, not amenable to reason, not related to reason in any way. It is given as a reason, reason enough, to justify good and evil deeds, but rationalization is not reason and excuses are not explanations.
Many people whom I respect self-label as patriotic. By this they mean a profound commitment to enlightenment ideals such as justice and democracy, which they perceive as greatly possible and often realized in the government designed in the US Constitution. Their patriotism is expressed in challenging that government to live up to those ideals. This is a far cry from the "jingo-narcissism" that exploded in a bloom of flags after September 11th. I do share a respect for the enlightenment ideals, and a hopefulness sustained by the actualization of many of the ideals in the Constitution, particularly as the amendments. But since I want civil rights, human rights, for all my brothers and sisters in the world, not just the citizens of the US. I am not patriotic. Patriotism is an anachronism at best. Patriotism, like theism, has inspired enormous evil. The ideals which folks attach to both of these concepts are better and wider than the vessels of my God and my country can contain. These containers distort the very ideals we carry in them, so justice becomes just us, in this world and the next.
Thanks to Norman Solomon for the word "jingo-narcissism". Solomon is one of my favorite media critics. Now go to his site and read more from this excellent thinker:
http://www.fair.org/media-beat/Muckraking the megameme machines of media, Norman Solomon is an important source of insight and information.
© 2002 JeanneE Hand-Boniakowski, RN