Step One: Notice
|May 17, 2010||Posted by Issa under Counter/Culture|
Have you seen the 1988 John Carpenter movie They Live? The most memorable bit to me is when Roddy Piper’s character puts on a pair of found sunglasses and instantly begins seeing subliminal messages in the things around him. A billboard that says, “Come to the Caribbean” about a woman lying on a beach is transformed in his eyes to now just say, “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Money now says, “THIS IS YOUR GOD.” Many items simply say, “OBEY,” or “CONSUME.”
I find it useful to do the job of those sunglasses for myself sometimes, especially with advertising. Ads are trying to convince me to buy their product, but they are often trying to convince me of something pretty silly in an effort to do so. When I’m watching a car ad and I say out loud to myself, “Oh, apparently, if I buy this brand of car, chicks will dig me,” I hope that it makes my mind less fertile ground for that message. I know that I am receptive to these messages. When asked what car seems sexy to me, or what car seems tough, or what car is right for a business-like impression, I have an answer. But I hope that by supplying my own analysis of the message of an ad, I have lessened its power in at least a small way.
In the book Ishmael, Daniel Quinn (through the gorilla) speaks about Mother Culture. Mother Culture is the little voice in your ear telling you what it means to be a person in your culture. It is all the little voices in your ear, the quiet hum that goes unnoticed because of its ever-presence. Mother Culture is transmitted to us through fairy tales and lullabys, textbooks, pop songs, newspaper articles, advertisements, video games, blog posts, stories from your parents’ childhoods, safety checklists, fiction, workplace handbooks, jokes, riddles, religious texts, chain letters, and on and on. It may seems like all these sources must be telling us vastly different information. And, in one sense, they are. In a broader sense, though, it’s important to remember that a great majority of the things that we hear are not “true” or given or inevitable. They are a story. Our culture’s particular story. By paying attention, by noticing, by talking over the message, we can begin to discern the hum, and maybe even try to tell a new story.
But first, the noticing. What are we looking for?
I’d like to look at news reports, advertisements, websites, magazines, books… whatever comes to my attention and point out embedded messages that aren’t explicitly stated and that I don’t agree with. A lot of times, I am looking for social oppression – racism, sexism, fatphobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, etc. These are easy for me to notice, to some extent, because I have some practice looking for them and have more people around the internet working to point these things out.
There are more difficult stories that I’d like to try to tease out as well. There are things that Mother Culture tells me that are deeply hurtful to me and the people around me, but I can’t see them because I believe the messages I’m getting. Things like what it means to be a civilized person and who’s not included in that. Things like what my relationship to the earth should be. I’m trying to hear those messages, too. By realizing that there’s this thing I can call Mother Culture and that it’s a construct with a story to tell me, I am on a path to hearing that message made explicit. And then possibly re-writing my story.
From Daniel Quinn:
“Once you learn to discern the voice of Mother Culture humming in the background, telling her story over and over again to the people of yout culture, you’ll never stop being conscious of it. Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you’ll be tempted to say to the people around you, ‘How can you listen to this stuff and not recognize it for what it is?’”
I’m busy listening and noticing and recognizing. What do you notice?