“Bear’t that th’ opposèd may beware of thee. Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment. Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy,for the apparel oft proclaims the man.” Polonius from Hamlet Act I Scene III
“They (strippers and burlesque performers) wear their audience when they take off their clothes.”- Herbert Marshall McLuhan
“In Being and Nothingness (1943), Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that man wishes to possess things in order to enlarge his sense of self, and that we can know who we are only by observing what we have. Studies of ownership and identity – by marketing experts, anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists – come to the same conclusion: we project our sense of self onto everything we own. According to Russell Belk, a professor of marketing at York University whose 1988 paper about possessions and the extended self remains a touchstone for all subsequent research, this kind of projection serves a valuable function for a healthy personality, ‘acting as an objective manifestation of self’. Humans have a fundamental need to store memories, values and experiences in objects, perhaps to keep them safe from memory loss; proof that, yes, that really happened. It is not even necessary to own these totemic items for their charge to hold. People speak about ‘my’ television programme, ‘my’ movie star, or ‘my’ seat in a classroom – a form of possessive self-definition that extends to matters of taste as well as to stuff. Questions such as: ‘Are you Beatles or are you Stones? Blur or Oasis?’ are examples of how taste funnells us into tribes that proclaim our aspirations and ideals along with our interests.” – Lee Randall
“Vulgar and inactive minds confound familiarity with knowledge, and conceive themselves informed of the whole nature of things, when they are shown their form or told their use.” Dr. Johnson
“Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King, ‘I got forty red, white and blue shoestrings and a thousand telephones that don’t ring…’” – generally attributed to Ovid
My Facebook page seems to be dying. This comes with all the personal angst of coming home to a dead goldfish. (OK, coming home to a dead goldfish – minus — the angsty six year-old wondering why Mr. Swimmy is upsidedown.) The general cause can be traced back to a Facebook quiz that was making the rounds which showed just how large your vocabulary is. Most of the people in my feed routinely turned up with vocabularies well over 30,000 words while I barely managed to crack five figures. Some how my low score seems to have triggered a slow migration of people away from my FB page. Again – not that it concerns me, after all I’ve reached the advanced aged where I’m either going to endlessly repeat myself or forget what I was going to say.
How many words do you need to do that?
Jejune? De rigueur? Phlegmatic?
Those cows are long gone from the barn.
Mom, who’s razor sharp when it comes to all this social media jazz, said, “When this happens the first thing to do is stay up all all night vauguebooking your butt-hurt, but that’s kinda teenager-y for somebody as ancient as you.”
Instead I decided to put some thought into the matter. After a tiny bit of lengthy consideration, I decided that I can be something more of an oddity than I already am. Imagine what would happen if I wrote a novel with that teensy vocabulary. On the low end I’d be some sort of side-show come-on for Oprah’s Book Club and on the other I’d be the Booker Prize MacGyver who coughed up an award winner using only a paperclip, a 9-volt transistor battery, and some gum.
Which brings me to where we’re going with this mess – a short excursion back to the 1960s.
“For a couple of years he’d been a used car salesman and so hyperaware of what that profession had come to mean that the working hours were exquisite torture to him. … Yet at least he had believed in the cars. Maybe to excess; seeing a parade seven days a week, bringing the most godawful trade-ins; motorized metal extensions of themselves, of (the drivers’) families and what their whole lives must look like, out there so naked for anybody, a stranger like himself, to look at, frame cockeyed, rusty underneath, fender repainted in a shade just off enough to depress the value … the inside smelling of hopelessly of children, supermarket booze, two, sometimes three generations of cigarette smokers, or only of dust … “ from The Crying of Lot 49
That passage has always managed to light up my brain like a cheap pinball machine. Two kinds of people sell things for a living – those who have a natural talent, who put not one iota of conscious thought into it, and those of us who understood it as something like learning a second and very difficult language, and by doing so we gained uncomfortable insights into how complete strangers’ lives worked.
Whether we liked it or not.
The endless psychic grind of selling comes when the moment in each sale when you see what exactly the thing sought will be an extension of the buyer. Does it match the decor? Does it come with the latest version of Dolby Surround? Is there a different one with even more rinse cycles?
How will this thing announce my coming?
How will this thing represent me to others?
Objects come to alleviate personal insecurities the same was Tylenol suppressed the pain, but does nothing for the cause. Show me what some one is shopping for an I can tell you what problem they’re trying to keep at arm’s length. I met so many people who found that the things they bought were the commodification of angst and insecurity- whether they knew it or not. Lately I’ve come to see that the same is true of our politics. Whether we noticed it or not for 50 years we’ve been on a slow path to the commodification of political belief. The process accelerated over the past 30. Big media didn’t really pigeon hole anyone so much as give us things to try on. Fifty years ago the media at least tried to show how each aspect of a political party fit into a greater whole. It was easy enough to do as the 60s. Reporting tried to follow zeitgeist to its lair in the weltanschauung. Reporting was all about mapping what we would call today an ideological eco-system. Reporting tried to answer the question, “How does the niche relate the the whole?” I’m not sure when that changed, but it certainly changed after I came of age. Reporting became more like a yardstick or a checklist. Somewhere along the line the question became, “What do you believe among the things on this checklist and how ardently do you believe it?” Exploring how something fit intoa greater whole was abandoned for a baedeker approach – less designer and more off the rack – more easily picked up and easily traded in. AM Radio and cable news were really the best when it came to destroying the worldview in order to save the worldview.
Nuance, to borrow an old phrase, doesn’t play in Peoria. Roll that up with tv and cable news being nuance proof and you wind up with designer political views. It’s off-the-rack or nothing at all. Anybody who is pro-life and a climate change believer is merely someone who mixed up items from different departments and needs to stop by customer service. Media, especially cable news, has not moved beyond the point where it cannot allow for gray areas. Therefore our beliefs are no longer tracked as a whole, but as part of a preferred designer collection of information.
You pick a political identity and in order to report it the media lays out everything associated with that identity. Your extension into the world is less the result of your own thinking and experience as it’s just something you managed to pick up on the way home.
Like picking between an Android or an iPhone.
Social justice? Balanced budgets? Climate change? Pro-life?
Reporting says there’s an app for that.
Political identities then become a mass produced item as if your beliefs were left on the porch by UPS or were oozed out of the long end of an extruder.
OK – right there.
That’s a big word and I know what it means and before you get all poo-ass’d uppity about it, I gonna use it in a sentence.
Violetta blushed jejunely as Archbishop D’Rigeuer lead the procession of the hydrated around the royal extruder at the Blessing of the Phlegmatic.
Look at all those big-ass words.
BOOO-yah you FB quiz-makin’ motherfuckers.
The way I figure it, you gotta sneak up on those Booker Prize high sheriffs. Maybe run out a couple of Harlequin novels first and then BAM!
They’ll never what hit ‘em.