Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Mouse in the Cave (Plato Blog Pt.2)

 Pleasure, the inevitable by-product of our civilization...A new world, whose only preoccupation will be, how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your time, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want. ~Inspector Shrink, from Monkees' Head.

Our only preoccupation will be how to amuse ourselves.  That certainly fits, whether we use Huxley's Brave New World or Neil Postman's philosophies.  I think it's quite clear that Inspector Shrink's quote is quite correct.  There are two types of people in this world, people who consume entertainment, and those that support them.  We have lost our ability to produce anything, for the most part.  Some specialization still takes place, the scientists who develop the small microchips in our cell phones, or the antibiotics that cure us from disease.  We make those things.  But put me in front of a rod of molten metal and tell me to make a screw out of it, and I'm dumbfounded.  Certainly, those things are made by robots now anyway.  That way we don't have to get our hands dirty and can spend more time talking about last night's American Idol. I certainly do appreciate the many pieces of machinery that makes my life easier, but I say this with the full knowledge that I am not using that time to forward the progress of man, to payback the makers of society with anything substantial with the time I have saved.  No, I am using it finding things on the Internet, or watching the same reruns on TV over and over again.  I would argue that the vast majority of time American's spend on this Earth is used pursuing ways to amuse ourselves, or working so that we may have the money to  take on that pursuit.

A prime example of this in action, squeezed down to 11 minutes for our inspection, is the Phineas & Ferb episode "Attack of the 50 Foot Sister." Take a moment to watch it on Youtube.  Okay, Candace is obsessed with going to the Midsummer Carnival to enter the auditioning for "Flawless Girl" cosmetics. Along the way she runs into Mr. Odda, who is the host of the Oddball show.  As she realizes, both of these companies make money on taking advantage of the insecurities of today's youth.  One by showing off the aberrant objects of the world to make normal people feel better ("at least I'm not like that,") while the other uses modern communication to project an image of perfection, that which can only be attained by purchasing cosmetics from their company.

On the way, Candace stops to ridicule her brothers, Phineas and Ferb, who are trying to help a friend grow a giant watermelon (at the expense of hanging up the shame curtains).  In this sense, the brothers, using their chemistry lab, are the producers, the makers, as Ayn Rand would put it, of this world, while their older sister ridicules them, until she needs their growth elixir for her own superficial needs.

This seems to be the case in reality, as well.  A recent Facebook status by one of my friends describes complex mathematical calculations he took in order to plant a tree that would provide the correct amount of shade for the house, the garden, etc...  For which he was called a geek, a dork, etc... However, if calculations such as this is not done, the shade can kill gardens, and not enough shade can bring sunlight in on a home and cost hundreds in electricity bills.  The thought processes behind planting a tree, the science behind it, is the antithesis to the people controlling the images in the caves.  For producing, or thinking, saves money, creates time saving efforts that has nothing to do with entertainment.  This is the free man living his own life outside the cave, and for which the self-absorbed inside of it are insanely jealous.

Back to Phineas & Ferb for a minute, the other character in the program who consistently builds machines for himself (usually for superficial reasons, which is a paradox to my theory), is Dr. Doofenshmirtz, the evil scientist. His creations are as awe inspiring as P&F's inventions, but his are supposedly used for world (okay, Tri-State Area) domination. However, the boys' also have a hint of wrongness to them, as Candice is always trying to get them into trouble, as if by them creating a portal to Mars, they are doing something wrong against society, or at least Mom's rules. It's amazing how the inventors and thinkers of the shows on the Disney Channel are ridiculed or stereotyped as wrong or evil.  Stewie is done the same way in Family Guy. Those that think are anti-social, awkward, even evil, and those that are rich are so through no thought of their own.  They are stupid, without morals, and always anti-environmental. It's also interesting that the majority of shows on the Disney Channel, the main characters are head actors(tresses) in bands, on television shows, in fixtures of entertainment for teenagers everywhere. Hannah Montana, for instance. Or Icarly's crew on Nick.

In short, those that create or support entertainment are lauded, and those who produce non-entertaining things, or those that impede entertainment, are ridiculed. All this from children's television. How much of this is internalized and brought into adult culture? Where scientists and thinkers are ridiculed and branded as anti-social or perhaps even evil (or sent off to Iceland as in Brave New World),  while entertainers and those that contribute nothing substantial to mankind are lauded as role-models and heroes.  Would that the construction workers working high upon the Brooklyn bridge get as much praise as Kobe Bryant playing an hour of ball and getting  thousands of dollars. I would rather be the worker, standing on the apex of the bridge, looking out over the ocean and seeing the sun rise upon New York City, and know that below him is a structure that he helped to build, to form with his own hands, than to entertain the masses endless staring at the glowing flames, the images from the screens, the television and the computer, the shadows on the walls.

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