Mittwoch, Dezember 14, 2005

Culture of Deception - Part III

Let's take a look at this quote (from here):

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

While this sounds like the beginning of a sophmore or junior paper on metaphysics or the sophists, it isn't: it's, of course, Pinter in his Nobel Prize speech. What is more important is this from the same source:

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

This is where the opinion becomes pathological. Here is where the madness begins.

First of all, I agree with Pinter: politicians are interested in power.

But that is not the entirety of the situation. Politicians, good ones, do things with their power: bad ones merely revel in it, horrible ones become consumed with it.

The "truth" that Pinter speaks of here has no objective or empirical basis: it morphs directly into his opinion, consistenly Marxist in its theme, that postulates that only by keeping the population ignorant and deluded, denied the fundamental nature of their existence, can politicians remain in power. That is, after all, the Leninist goal in developing the communist society.

Which means that if they are in power, they are as Pinter postulates. Per definition: there is no other way. But Pinter and the Marxists/Leninists/Maoists/whateverists are projecting their own culture of deception to subsume all other possible uses of power.

The Culture of Deception is not merely deliberate misleading: it is more fundamentally pathological when it becomes a way of life, of a sort of reverse false consciousness. This is how it becomes a culture, how it becomes, as it were, the manifestation of a poltical/social group.

Let's take a look, as I have briefly touched on in a previous post, of one of the core problems in the Culture of Deception: the use of disbelief in creating beliefs. While this sounds at first contradictory, it makes sense, just as taking something apart to see how it works makes sense.

This is where the Culture of Deception takes its fundamental form: the arts. Any work of art is the expression of an artist's perception of reality. As such, the greater the degree of abstraction, the greater the role of the artist in getting their perception across to you, the viewer: truly great artists achieve this transparently, i.e. you don't need to have a Master of Fine Arts degree to understand Picasso's Guernica. His message, visceral message, comes to the viewer and bangs them upside their heads. Other artists are more subtle, others more devious. But in any case any work of art, as a representation of a perception, of a perceived world, requires an act of disbelief, implicitly, in the viewer, that the work of art is, as it were, the reality of the artist, rather than merely a technical representation of an object. Thus a perception, an image, being it inchoate or otherwise, becomes "real".

Not as the thing itself, but as the work of art.

This is especially true, of course, of movies. Movies, moving pictures, are just that: individual images are flashed to the screen so quickly that the eye is fooled, the eye is deceived into thinking that it is seeing actual movement. When watching a movie, a good movie, you are drawn into the experience, the message of the film. I remember a seminal event in understanding what makes a good movie when I saw Die Hard (the first one) with my friend Joan in New York one hot summer day a long time ago. We went to see it in Times Square, largely because it was so damn hot and we both love movies.

The crowd was the usual New York Times Square mixture: about as mixed a bag as you will ever see. I don't need to discuss the dynamics and plot of the movie, I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. But there is a scene at the end of the movie where a terrorist (made harmless, of course, as a common thief with extravagant trappings) apparently rises from the dead and is about to deal death and mayhem, but is shot by the cop who has had troubles ever since he shot someone in the line of duty. The crowd went wild: they were so involved in the "reality" of the film that there was a physical reaction to this denouement, to this crowning and redemption of a troubled soul by conquering evil.

Of course, it's just a film. But to create such a "reality", where the mind play along with the movie, requires a suspension of belief, or rather disbelief. We "know" that what is up there on the silver screen isn't reality, but we choose to suspend our critical facilties and "get into" the movie. If anything, this is what makes a great movie: the ability of the moviemaker to get you to believe, for instance, that Wookies exist, that laser swords go "hmmmmm" when activated and that spaceships make sounds when they fly by.

But there is something wrong in Hollywood: the act of disbelief has spilled over into reality.

Edward Jay Epstein knows his Hollywood. Especially this Hollywood. This is not what Hollywood wants you to see, nor does it want you to understand that Hollywood is first and foremost about business, the business of deception.

Here, for me, is the money quote(s):

Since Hollywood is an industry dedicated to perpetrating illusion, its leaders often assume they have license to take liberties with the factual elements that support the movies they make. This practice is euphemistically described by marketing executives as "pushing the reality envelope."
The way in which Hollywood crosses the boundary between the make-believe and the real world takes myriad forms. It can range from a studio creating a fake corporate web site, as Paramount did with the Manchurian Global Corporation for its remake of The Manchurian Candidate, to counterfeiting a film critic, as Sony Pictures did with the non-existent "David Manning." It's a given that studios will alter the off-screen lives of stars, as in the case of the unmarried actor Raymond Burr, whose official biography included two imaginary dead wives and a dead child. There's also the common practice of scripting fake anecdotes for stars to recite on talk show, as, for example, Lucy Liu's vivid description of her co-actress Drew Barrymore clinging to the hood of a speeding car going about 35 miles an hour without a safety cord during the making of Charlie's' Angels: Full Throttle.

The industry, after all, derives much of its wealth and power from its ability to get audiences to suspend their disbelief in movies and television programs—even so-called "reality" shows. Further, to realize their full profitability, these illusions must be convincing enough to be sustained in other products—such as videos, theme park rides, games, and toys—for years, if not decades. So pushing the reality envelope is seen by the entertainment press and the players themselves as just part of show biz. It's second nature, so to speak.

The key is the assumption to have license to take liberties with the factual elements. In other words, in order to make a successful movie, or even better yet a successful movie franchise, it's okay to deceive. Not only is it okay, it's second nature: it is the culture of deception.

And this is where the crossover into politics occurs.

This underscores the increasing nature of Hollywood mythology: the demonization of the banal, of the everyday. The Root-Of-All-Evil corporation has become Ming The Merciless because Hollywood panders to their liberal causes and doesn't want to offend anyone. That's why about the only safe bad guy is the businessman:

For sci-fi and horror movies, there are always invaders from alien universes and zombies from another dimension, but for politico-thrillers the safest remaining characters are lily-white, impeccably dressed American corporate executives. They are especially useful as evildoers in foreign-based thrillers since their demonization does not run the risk of gratuitously offending officials in countries either hosting the filming or supplying tax or production subsidies. The "Mission Impossible" franchise replaced the Russian and Chinese heavies that populated the TV series with, in Mission Impossible 2, a Waspish-looking financier who controlled a pharmaceutical company that unleashed a horrific virus on the world in the hope of cashing in on the antidote. Here, as in other movies in this genre, businessmen's killings are not just figurative. Unlike other stereotype-challenged groups, CEOs and financiers, lacking a connection with the studios' outreach programs, have become an essential part of Hollywood's new version of the axis of evil.

This means, of course, that this resonates in the public image as meme, as theme. It might not be quite conscious (there is no such thing as the sub-conscious or the "unconscious": consciousness is always consciousness of something, as Descartes so ably showed: there is only thematic and non-thematic consciousness, where non-thematic consciousness is where you're not really paying attention.)

It is this manipulation of reality, of turning that which you think you are getting into its opposite (the eytomology of deception, of di ceptere) that
is the manifestation of the Culture of Deception.

And its influence on politics is greater than we think. And definitely greater than we fear.

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