I woke up in an odd mood. It’s like an old sci fi story. I live in a time of self fulfilling cynicism. It’s been almost a hundred years since Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, created an entire field of “public relations.” I watched his daughter on tape say that one of his pet peeves was stupidity. But he founded his entire career on the belief that people are stupid, blindly following their “animal” instincts as a herd. Literally this seems to be what he believed.
Now I live in that herd. People often do seem to be stupid. Over and over again I witness cynical manipulations in the way public people conduct themselves and lie. It becomes clear to me why I am such an outsider.
I recently watched the movie, “The Ploughman’s Lunch.”
This is a wonderfully depressing movie starring Jonathan Pryce as a shallow, hypocritical climber in Maggie Thatcher’s Britain. Thatcher was sort of like Reagan without the mask. The movie climaxes at an actual Conservative Party convention with shots of Thatcher ranting about the Falkland Islands.
I suppose it’s necessary to remind people that the Falkland Islands War was a pathetic example of a dying empire reaching out to ruin a final situation.
This movie like the movie of your life is about the continual re-writing of history and facts. A “Ploughman’s Lunch” is a cold pub meal consisting of cheese, bread, and pickles. In the movie, an aging cynical advertising executive reveals the fact that the idea was developed by the Milk Marketing Board in the sixties. Jonathan Pryce’s character is suitably astonished.
Obviously a “Ploughman’s Lunch” carried the cachet of tradition in the character’s mind. But it’s not a tradition. It was manufactured by people who thought nothing of deceiving the public.
This morning I am seeing stages in deception. First the elite deceive the group. Then we routinely deceive ourselves. We think that celebrity matters. We long for our own celebrity.
Not skill, but recognition. Not thought, but mindless play.
My problem is that I disbelieve in the liars but maintain a stubborn belief in people’s capacity for thought and good.
There’s no place for me in your movie. I think ideas matter more than appearances. I think beauty is real and important. I think fuzzy thinking is unacceptable (especially in myself, but in you too). And I think it matters how you treat the people you love, whether you are honest with them and yourself.
So I see myself opposed to falsity which seems to be the substance of much if not most of what passes for contemporary society and culture. Our public rhetoric has devolved from a cynical manipulation of the herd (Bernays, “The Ploughman’s Lunch”) to total dishonesty in public platforms such as politics, television, pop music and the movies.
Avatar is a good example of a movie I don’t want to be in. It’s insipid music score frames a story told many times before and in better ways. Also, the Pocahontas plot is a mini Falkland’s Island white man’s condescending idea that he can “help” “primitive” people. In this case, the “primitive people” seem to be a hippy dippy idea of what culture can be. And I can’t help but smile at the fake “unobtainium” substance the bad guys are after. This movie is contrived from start to finish. But it is popular. Not only popular but hailed as one of the best movies of the year.
These are lies I can’t believe.
I’m not angry about all this. In fact it calms me down because it solves riddles that I ponder. Like why people don’t seem to know things. About history or literature or music. I feel like a character in a Ray Bradbury story: isolated from the present but connected to larger ideas and story.
At the same time I have a strong compassion for people. I think Bernays and political consultants are pathetic. They are wasting the greatest gift which is the gift of being alive. Every human gets this gift and every human has the possibly of transcendence and love.
These ideas won’t fit into a PR campaign or an advert. They are real ideas.
So I think I am happy to hover on the sidelines, loving my family and loving music, literature, poetry and ideas. I know that I can be interpreted as a grumpy out of step old man. Okey dokey. Leave me out of the movie please.