Thursday, August 26, 2004

Welcome to the Future.

I once remarked to my mother a while back that life is becoming a parody of itself. I tried to explain my theory by drawing on the pervasive and ubiquitous examples in the news. News no longer seems like news but rather entertainment-- maybe it always was and I'm too young to know better. Nonetheless, for me and a large group of my friends our frame of reference is T.V News, Music, or Movies. When I experience a real-life, everyday event, I involuntarily relate it to one of my favorite scene from a movie, or accompany it with the requisite soundtrack in my mind, or imagine it were to make the 6'oclock news.

I'd like to say that this may only be my neurosis, but I'm fairly certain that people everywhere (viz. Western Industrialize Countries saturated with the 24-hour News cycle) experience this same phenomenon.

Yesterday in Toronto there was a hostage situation at Union Station that involved a disgruntled man holding an innocent bystander at gun point. Unfortunately, the incident was resolved with the gun-wielding man finding his ultimate end through the bullet of a police marksman’s rifle. What I found more intriguing, however, were the responses of witnesses to the event. Almost like they were reading from the same script, each witness that was asked for comment by the swarming news teams related the same analogy: "It was like a Movie!" Since none of these people, it is assumed, had ever found themselves in such a frightful situation, their only analogue to the experience was straight from the movies.

Essentially, their reality preceded their experience, a sort of mnemonic reserve of virtual experiences ready to be related to a real life situation. One could suggest that reality doesn’t even feel like reality, but instead like a movie. Or, more clearly, in situations of reality without personal precedent, said reality feels like a movie. But I suspect that before the advent of Radio or Television, the frame of reference was the book. So this could just be a distinction without a difference.

Though to the point I raised earlier, that life is becoming a parody of itself, I should return. I'm picking up on a thesis offered by Marshall McLuhan in From Cliché to Archetype about the way in which old archetypes become new clichés and old clichés become new archetypes—if that makes any sense. One example, probably not the most apt, could deal with what at first was a cliché for good management: Efficiency and profit maximization. Thirty years plus have morphed that once benign cliché into an operating Archetype for any aspiring technocrat. Conversely, an old Archetype, Welfare State, which seems more like a dead metaphor, has evolved over the past 70 years to become a new clichés and a term of derision. Clearly McLuhan can explain it better; and I think I'll let him:

"The function of the … cliché [-probe] is to select for use one item or one feature out of a vast middenheap of … materials. It may be the cue for selection occurs when, from the rationale of a dominant cliché complex, we make a deprecatory adjustment toward the unconscious or the irrational, suppressed by the action of that cliché. … What is common to all these approaches [i.e. constructing cliché-probes] is the awareness the cliché is not necessarily verbal, and that it is also an active, structuring, probing feature of our awareness. It performs multiple functions from release of emotion to retrieval of other clichés from both the conscious and unconscious life."

But wait, where is the parody? Simple: Parody and derision are tools to either invalidate governing archetypes or loosen their hold on our collective consciousness. Groups of individuals, sometimes revolutionaries, actively try to undermine conventional archetypes in an attempt to fashion their ideas, which are at first considered silly clichés, into the archetypes of tomorrow.

Periods of excessive parody, for instance the Surrealist and Dada movements of post WW1 and WW2, not to mention The Theater of the Absurd, reflect the angst riddled individuals attempt to reconcile what appears to be reality with what reason demands. The inability to comprehensively rationalize the world leads to the impression that things are comical, absurd and sheer parody.

Universal human rights turns into universal human suffering; The valour of war, with all its needless bloodshed, turns into the irrelevance of human life; The wonders of technology and the heights of Capitalism turn into the gluttony of instant gratification and the perpetual lust for the material. One is confronted with the task of suspending disbelief in the realities of the world in order to confirm the mythologies that sustain sanity.

Parody, therefore, becomes a release, an arena in which these inconsistencies are laughed at in a form of catharsis. Unable to deal seriously with this psychosis, laughter suffices. But I think that the acceptance of parody as an alternative to action may in some ways ignore an underlining problem: The inability to engage. I contend that a mixture of acceptance and engagement would do one's soul well, and, more importantly, acceptance that all cannot be systematized and rationalized into a universal paradigm, because not doing so would be to grossly disregard one imperative: Human Nature. Yet this is an entirely different argument that would require more investigation.

Now, after that insufferably long post, the link I wanted to refer to: A Washington Post article about Kerry being on The Daily Show. I think The Daily Show is an excellent example of an outlet for Parody as a reflection of tumultuous times. And the popularity of the Daily Show only reinforces the fact that these times, they are a Crazy.

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