Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Breaking News: Bourgeois Businessmen Pleased With Government That Protects Their Interests

The NZ Herald today published three articles today about the opinions of New Zealand's biggest CEOs (read: fattest cats) on the current political landscape. In a startling turn of events, it turns out that they're scared of the Greens, they don't approve of David Shearer, and they're pleased with Bill English. Wow, I'd never have guessed that the richest members of the managerial class of this country would have held those opinions! What puzzles me is that none of these articles give any indication that this is exactly what we would expect, it's almost like the Herald writers want their readers to get the impression that this is some kind of important revelation. Newsflash, it's not. In fact, any alternative scenario would actually be surprising, and would indeed be newsworthy.

Let's travel back in time a few centuries and imagine the equivalent headlines in aristocratic terms. "Landed Aristocrats Disapprove of Peasant's Democratic Movement". "Lords Pleased With Economy as Common People Starve". It doesn't take a genius to see the gulf between the opinions these CEOs and the state of affairs ordinary citizens are living with. Inequality is rising in New Zealand, and those few who are benefiting from the shift are given ample space in our largest newspaper to let us all know how wonderful it is. It sounds cynical, but that's what we seem to be dealing with here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Celebrity Pseudo-Events

As a general rule, I try to avoid celebrity gossip. Sometimes however it becomes so inflamed in our mass media (and social media), like an infected wound that I can't NOT notice it. A fantastic example of this is the upcoming British royal baby. A week ago I wasn't even aware that a member of the politically irrelevant aristocratic family was pregnant. Alongside U.S. Presidential elections this, or anything else to do with the British royal family, is one of the biggest pseudo events in western mass media. There will be a surge of children in the next year who will be given the same name as the royal child, memorabilia of the birth will be purchased with fervour, and many people will likely become emotional over the whole media furore. For what though? Does the birth of any baby have any effect on any lives outside of those in immediate contact with it?

Pseudo events from overseas, are given, even by people here in New Zealand far too much weight in my opinion. The lives and antics of American celebrities are truly of no significance to the realities of life here, but for some reason we are often expected to have an opinion on X's new dress, or Y's experimentation with drugs, or Z's new relationship, as if it mattered. I was recently asked what my thoughts were on Miley Cyrus' change of direction and latest music video. Uncannily, this happened to be one of the few things I had paid attention to, as it epitomises the Western celebrity culture. The video has had 77,785,230 views as of writing, 526,952 likes and 461,253 dislikes. What is even more fascinating than the fact that this change of direction is so polarising is the comments on the video. People seem to be physically angry, and feel betrayed by their idol/god. Comments such as "R.I.P. Hannah Montana" "This is so sad, it's disgusting", "lost all respect for Miley Cyrus", "Miley I miss the old you, you are a slut now I used to look up to you" are just a minuscule sample of the 600,000 comments on the video. So what did I reply when asked what my thoughts were? I said it was fantastic, in the sense that it exposes  the sad reality of celebrity infatuation, that people become so attached to manufactured images of celebrities, that when they break from the mould, or their flawed humanity is exposed, people become enraged. How dare they not live up to the mythical standards celebrity culture sets out for them!

This manufactured image rage is epitomised with Miley Cyrus, as a former Disney star, fans expected this sterilised packaged-for-sale safe-for-children image that is so prevalent in children's mass media. When illusions are shattered, as reality seeps through it is apparently devastating to people who seem to live in this fictitious celebrity world. As Chris Hedges wrote in 'Empire of Illusion', "Religious belief and practice are commonly transferred to the adoration of celebrities. Our culture builds temples to celebrities the way Romans did for divine emperors, ancestors, and household gods. We are a de facto polytheistic society. We engage in the same kind of primitive beliefs as older polytheistic cultures. In celebrity culture, the object is to get as close as possible to the celebrity. Relics of celebrities are coveted as magical talismans. ... The personal possessions of celebrities, from John F. Kennedy's gold golf clubs to dresses worn by Princess Diana... are cherished like relics of the dead among ancestor cults in Africa, Asia or the medieval Catholic Church. ... Those who become obsessed with celebrities often profess a personal relationship with them, not unlike the relationship a born-again Christian professes to have with Jesus. The hysteria thousands of mourners in London displayed for Princess Diana in 1997 was real, even if the public persona they were mourning was largely a creation of publicists and the mass media."

Friday, July 5, 2013

Blinding Biases

I recently read a book by Chris Hedges called 'What Every Person Should Know About War'. It is a matter-of-fact book written as an FAQ on war, from a modern day American perspective. No politics, just the facts. This is the kind of content found within it.
"What will happen if I step on a land mine? 
Anti-personnel land mines carry 30 to 300 grams of high explosives. A 30gram mine will blow your foot off, or damage your foot to the extent that it will have to be amputated. One in three cases will have head or eye injuries from penetrating fragments. A 150-gram mine will shred your legs to midthigh. Anti-personnel mines are designed to severely injure, not kill, because of the increased burden caring for injured personnel puts on a unit." 
 "Can I die if I am shot in the arm or leg? 
Yes. A high-velocity bullet will create ripples in your bloodstream throughout your body, like a stone thrown in a pool of water, and cause widespread damage. A thigh wound from a fragmenting bullet can sever arteries, causing you to bleed to death." 
 "What will my body look like after I die? 
Your face will lose its color a minute after your heartbeat stops. Your eyes will lose their shine after about five minutes. They will look as if they have a gray film over them. Your eye balls will flatten slightly. Your body will have the flaccid feel of a slab of meat."
The section  on dying and funerals I found particularly tear-jerking, and it spurred me to re-watch the HBO film 'Taking Chance'. This is a story about a US marine who died near the start of the Iraq war which focuses on the journey of his body back to his home town and the military escort who accompanied it. The film makes no comment on whether the Iraq war was just or unjust, but simply looks at the effect of the death of a soldier on family, friends and fellow servicemen/women.
However, I decided to look on IMDB to see what some of the negative reviews said (I do this from time to time). I came across these two that made me laugh:
Did you catch that? Apparently this film is, according to paebo, anti-war propaganda, and according to sethness, pro-war propaganda. It's amazing isn't it, the effect personal biases can have on the way someone views a film? Make no mistake, I'm vehemently anti-war, and so is Chris Hedges, which anyone who has read any of his other material would know ('War is a Force that gives us Meaning', for example), but I can't help but thinking that people like paebo would walk away from reading 'What Every Person Should Know About War' thinking that it was anti-war propaganda, because of the brutally realist descriptions about what war does to people (physically and psychologically). At the same time, people like sethness would naively say that because it is simply matter-of-fact writing, with no political condemnation that it is pro-war propaganda.

I personally thought that the film conveyed a similar kind of message to Hedges' book, one that simply looks at the way things are. It looks at the way citizens treat deceased soldiers, and it brought to mind one of the questions in Hedges' book that I had read less than two hours before starting to watch the film.
"If I serve in an unpopular war, will I be received angrily when I come home?
No, at least not by most people. Ninety-nine percent of veterans returning from Vietnam said they had a friendly reception from close friends and family, and 94 percent said they got a friendly reception from people their own age who had not served. Seventy-five percent of Vietnam-era veterans thought war protesters did not blame veterans for the war."
Rightly so. The deserving recipients of scorn for unjust wars of criminal aggression like the Indochina wars and the 2003-2011 Iraq War are people like Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Military Industrial Complex (read: Capitalism). People need to know things like what Hedges wrote in this book, some of which is portrayed in the film (about respect for the dead, and burial etc.).