18 January 2012

Medium Cool

For a the past couple of decades -- up until quite recently, really -- a good number of my friends and acquaintances have been younger than myself; usually by a full decade, sometimes more. Naturally, I long ago noticed the differences across those ages, about how we each respectively viewed the world, our perspectives having been shaped by the different circumstances of our "formative years." My own youth having well pre-dated the internet, with VCRs and cable TV only fully entering the picture by roughly about the time I started high school. They on the other hand grew up in a culture that was awash -- flooded, morelike -- with a variety of media. And baring out the sociological stats that we've been hearing for some years now, I often noted the evidence that they were also the product of a generation that was aggressively, incessantly marketed to.

Not that my exposure to TV was limited when I was young -- far from it. But we never had more than one TV set at a time, and I don't think we owned a color TV until I was about 10 or 11 years old. As far as having the thing on in the background was concerned, turn it off if you're not really watching it -- you're running up the power bill. Which made sense at the time, not only because we were always broke, but because it was late '70s and thanks to the energy crisis everyone was being admonished to conserve energy by whatever means possible.

I only mention this in relation to a fine pair of posts that Carl has up'd over at the group-effort decades blogs. I'm impressed at how astutely he describes and sizes up the media landscape(s) of the era in question -- its transformation in relation to the broader culture. In hindsight, not too many years after the fact, I could look back and recognize the nature of these cultural shifts; but of course when you're younger and living in the midst of it all, it isn't the sort of stuff you give much thought to, on account of it merely being the way things are, and one's own lack of a frame of reference at that time in one's life.

At the '70s blog, a very sharp conflating of two very significant movies of the time, Network and Being There, and the role that television itself plays in each film...

"Chauncey isn't exactly a parody of Reagan but of a whole tendency toward the idea of the natural man; whose power is precisely his uncluttered, uninflected apprehension of direct truths that the more sophisticated can never attain, dogged as they are by psychological and existential problems, their optimism ruined by experience. This lionization of the homespun, the good plain sense of a true American spirit uncorrupted by doubt and fancy European book-learning will reach its peak/nadir with Forest Gump. TV is the soul of America made visible and Chauncey is its word made flesh. This is why in the final sequence as the Elders discuss his candidature for president we see him guilelessly walk on water, he is superhuman, a redeemer, has a direct unmediated access to the Oversoul, incarnates it. Diana in Network may be 'TV incarnate' for Chayefsky (indifferent to suffering and love alike, the phallic witch of the coldest of all cold mediums) but Chauncey incarnates TV as salvation, and what he will save is Capitalism." *

From there, Carl continues at the '80s blog, transplanting the theme of deregulation as it occurs in Being There and applies it to the emergent cable-TV market of the 1980s; more specifically to the boom in youth-demographic target marketing that came with that emergence. In the course of which, he makes the following aside:

"From the perspective of 2012 and the waves of nostalgic music that hark back to the 80s and portray it as a world of colour and fun, there is a pre-Lapsarian longing for a restoration not just of the loss of childhood but also a point in which media specifically intended to divert and engage with children of virtually every age were in abundance. The often low-fi and misty evocations of the past, the primary colours, simple shapes and themes seem to replay the very early experience of nebulous but scientifically honed and crafted eye- and attention-grabbing ads and products for very young children. This is also a kind of 'cathode pastoralism' in which a later generation looks back in longing at the pre-internet age of analogue TV and shiny, solid objects in the way early denizens of modernity perhaps idealized the rural and artisanal past."

Impressive too is the accuracy of the description of the U.S. mediascape in particular, considering that Carl's writing about it from other shores. Curious about the rest of the "work in progress."

Speaking of "other shores," I couldn't help but be amused by this recent post from another contributor.

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*  Admittedly, the ending of Being There is an ambiguous one; the sort that prompts a variety of readings. One could argue that the "Elders"/pallbearers in the funeral scene speak in a way that casts them as (more pointedly) behind-the-curtain manipulators -- members of a partisan cabal who shrewdly and cynically view Gardner as little more than a malleable agent (a stooge, effectively) for retaining their own power. The fact that they're carrying Rand's casket to a mausoleum that can only be characterized as distinctly Masonic in style supports this conspiratorial reading.

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