It’s time for the return of the Demotivational Devotional.
(A reminder… this is a reposting from the mcarp archives… the prophetic genius and brilliance are his, the ones/zeros and pixels are mine. And the pictures. Oh, and the subheads. I added those, just to help break up the page.)
â€œThis is a cleansing moment of clarity.â€
â€” Howard Beale, â€œNetwork!â€ (1976)
Network!, in case you’ve never seen it, is the movie that gave us the expression, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
The gist of the plot is that low-rated network anchorman Howard Beale suddenly comes unhinged before his TV audience, and as his apparent mental deterioration advances, his bosses and coworkers try to exploit it for ratings gain.
And for me, seeingÂ Network! it was kind of like getting saved.
I had been a television reporter for less than a year, but I was already sensing something was not quite right about the way things were. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it â€” and no one seemed to notice it but me.
So, naturally, I thought itÂ was me. And so, for that matter, did everyone else. My ‘attitude problem’ was starting to get me into trouble.
And then, out of the clear blue, along comes Howard Beale with the explanation:
“You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal.
“You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube. You even think like the tube. This is mass madness. You maniacs.
“In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We are the illusion! So, turn off your television sets. Turn them off now.Â Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off. Turn them offÂ right in the middle of this sentence I am speaking to you now. Turn them off!”
When the lights came up at the end of the movie, there seemed to be about three of us in the theater who ‘got it.’
The others were looking at each other with quizzical stares: ‘What the hell wasÂ that about?’
But no matter. At least I knew at last I wasn’t alone.
Up the Rabbit Hole
Beale’s rants made perfect sense to me. He was the first person in the business, real or unreal (as if in television news, there were a difference), whoÂ did make sense to me â€” the first person who saw it the way I saw it.
There was a hitch, though: Howard Beale was going crazy.
“I am imbued, Max. I am imbued with some special spirit. It’s not a religious feeling at all. It is a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing as if suddenly I had been plugged into some great electro-magnetic field.
“I feel connected to all living things, to flowers, birds, to all the animals of the world and even to some great unseen living force, what I think the Hindus callÂ prana.
“It is not a breakdown. I have never felt more orderly in my life! It is a shattering and beautiful sensation! It is the exalted flow of the space-time continuum, save that it is spaceless and timeless and of such loveliness! I feel on the verge of some great ultimate truth. And you will not take me off the air for now or for any other spaceless time!”
Yeah, that’s crazy, all right. Or is it?
I don’t know what author Paddy Chayefsky wanted us to think when he put those words in Beale’s mouth.
But personally, I don’t think Howard Beale was going crazy; I think he was goingÂ sane.
He said it himself: “I just ran out of bullshit.”
Psychiatrist David Viscott, in his self-help bestsellerÂ Emotional Resilience, wrote about real-life cases not unlike Beale’s:
“Eventually, there comes a day of awakening and reckoning. Your epiphany is both inevitable and totally unexpected.
“In the moment of your illumination, you finally see yourself as you are and are forced to surrender to the truth lest your false illusions forever obscure your best self.
“Until you reach such a day, you often live a self-deceptive way of life. You try to convince yourself that what you have chosen is what you really want.”
I do know exactly howÂ that feels. I’ve been there myself.
Inside the Looking Glass
Ever see one of those promos where the news anchor dashes to the News ActionCopter â€” off, presumably, to cover The Big Story?
But as soon as he gets in the copter, they turn off the camera. He climbs back out and returns to his office. The pilot shuts down the engine, and the rotors coast to a stop. There is no ‘Big Story.’ It’s just a promo â€” an ad thatÂ pretends the anchor is taking off to chase down the news. (One of my favorites is one in which the anchor jumps into the copter, looks at the pilot and dramaticallyÂ points at the sky. Like, where the hellÂ else are they going to go?)
The purpose of these ads is to persuade viewers that anchors are out there every day, in dramatic hot pursuit of the news. Even if they aren’t.
Or the promo where the anchor and some anonymous behind-the-scenes staffer look at a script together? The anchor points to some word on the script, gesturing as broadly as a vaudeville performer so you’ll be sure to notice. Then they look at each other, nod, and dart off in opposite directions.
At one station in New York, they hired actors to play the newsroom staff, because the real producers and editors weren’t as glamorous as the station wanted viewers to think they were.
That scene inÂ Broadcast News â€” in which news producer Holly Hunter feeds interview questions through a headset to affable but dimwitted anchorman William Hurt â€” is a lot closer to reality.
But I’m not telling you anything you haven’t figured out for yourself: TV news is, for the most part, just an ongoing advertisement for itself. An entertainment program, loosely based on the day’s events.
That ‘News ActionCenter’ is no more real than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. That’s why they call it a newsset.
Row upon row of monitors cover the walls, but many are just transparencies in cardboard cutouts. Fake.
A sweeping vista of the city skyline ties it all together, supported by pillars of impossibly blue plastic marble or stapled-on brushed aluminum. Fake.
If you could go in the studio, and walk behind the backdrops, you’d see that it’s all just laminated plywood and painted two-by-fours, with extension cords and power strips scattered everywhere. Fake.
The spontaneous question and answer session between anchor and reporter at the end of a live shot? Scripted. Fake.
A reporter walks down the road, talking to the camera and sometimes pausing reflectively, as if looking for a word. Where is he walkingÂ to? Nowhere. It’s fake. What’s the word he’s looking for? The one he memorized, along with the pause. That’s fake, too.
You would assume, I suppose, that there is some ‘jumping off point’ at which TV news leaves behind the fakery and melodrama for reality. I think there was, at one time. But eventually, I got to where I couldn’t find it.
“You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal.”
And I told myself for years that the phoniness and fakery and false sincerity and exaggerated drama were just part of the cost of doing business. The other guys were doing it, too, and doing it more flagrantly than we were. We had to stay competitive. But somewhere in the back of my mind, it kept nagging at me.
I knew it was crap to say ‘reports are coming in at this hour,’ when the ‘reports’ had come in the form of a single anonymous, unverified telephone tip, or a snatch of a conversation picked up off a police scanner.
I knew it was misleading to hyperbolize every trivial complaint or allegation with adjectives like ‘shocking,’ ‘outraged,’ and ‘dramatic.’ (It also meant that when really serious stories came along, we had no words left to adequately describe them. We’d used them all up overstating fender bender car wrecks, broken tree branches, kids getting into fistfights at school, shoplifted cigarettes, and the like.)
I knew it was ridiculous to dress up in heavy parka, scarf, earmuffs and wool hat in 55-degree weather and stand on the side of a central Oklahoma highway and talk about the ‘scary road conditions’ that were ‘paralyzing traffic’ â€” in Amarillo, Texas.
There was a newscaster in my home town who, according to local reports, briefly became a house painter after his career publicly and spectacularly flamed out.
And when I first heard that, I thought, ‘Wow. What a way end up.’
In retrospect, it seems like not such a bad thing at all.
The paint, after all, isÂ real. The brush isÂ real. The house isÂ real. If you paint houses, you actually paint houses. You don’t apply a few strokes for a camera, then leave while an assistant finishes up, and a promotion team crafts an advertisement describing what a caring and conscientious painter you are.
In fact, I considered becoming a maintenance man at an apartment complex for much the same reason. I had opportunities to do other things (and as it turned out, I took one), but the idea of doing simple, honest workÂ that really was what it appeared to be was appealing after 25 years of often pretending to be doing something I wasn’t, and creating carefully-worded portrayals of a world that really didn’t exist.
And I would like to think that, even though he was a fictional character, Howard Beale eventually had to confront the same reality â€” that he had been living in a dramatic, exciting, but basically unreal world, and had been trying to fool people into believing that his false world, and not their own, was real.
“In God’s name, you people are the real thing.
“We are the illusion.
“So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now.
“Turn them off and leave them off. Turn them off right in the middle of this sentence I am speaking to you now.
“Turn them off!”
I turned off my television in February of 1999, and it hasn’t been on since.
(originally published by Michael Carpenter, republished with permission.)
I need help, and this is one of those occasions when both my memory and my search-engine gymnastics have failed me.
There was a movie that was shown in schools when I was growing up in the 1970s. I remember it being shown in the gymnateria at Sawtooth Elementary, in Twin Falls, Idaho. (The gymnateria was that all-purpose room that had just enough of a stage to make it not-a-cafeteria, and flooring that was just hard and dangerous enough so as not to be a true gymnasium.)
The movie was an animated short of unremembered length, done in the style of black and white pencil sketches. The little stick figures proceed to advance from Stone Age to Space Age, and the visual conceit is that of a tower of knowledge being built. Each layer of technology and civilization built upon the next, starting with agrarian advance to military technology, to medicine, you name it.
I can’t remember the name of the movie. I’ve been all over YouTube with a variety of keywords:
- black and white
…and several others.
Any ideas? Any teachers out there know what I am talking about?
(posted previously over at for a Better Discourse)
One of the aims of “Better Discourse” is to elevate everyone’s game. When you’re better able to articulate a point without resorting to bad rhetoric, strongarm tactics, emotional appeals or distoritions you stand a better chance of reaching someone who is undecided. The posture of the speaker has as much to do with the success of a message, and playing ‘the victim’ is not a posture of strength.
Here’s an example I see playing out right now:
Saturday Night Live did a skit this past weekend which clearly lampooned the New York Times. A large gathering of Times staff was brainstorming about possible stories about Sarah Palin, and the need to send a large contingent to Alaska to “dig up” whatever they could. Playing off the notion that Times reporters are clueless about Alaskan culture, guns, snowmobiles, or life without a nearby therapist, the skit was downright funny. (Upon seeing a picture of a shotgun, a know-it-all reporter proving his mastery of Middle America spouted ‘that is clearly a derringer, also known as a Saturday Night Special’, or something to that effect.)
However, some on the right are howling mad that a fake reporter – in a sketch about how overboard the media might be in finding dirt on Sarah Palin – suggests following “rumors” that Todd Palin molests his daughters. The way in which this is described is clearly a parody, and the target of the humor is the mainstream media, not the Palin family.
By whining about something that has never been alleged – and was served up as an absurd counterpoint to skewer the mainstream media – those on the right diminish their ability to be taken seriously on any assertion of media bias.
Grow a thicker skin, and show that you can at least comprehend a joke before reflexively flailing away at every possible grievance. It makes for a better discourse.
Some undead guy in Rhode Island wants to kill me.
He just tried leaving the following comment on a previous post:
WHEN U R READING THIS DONT STOP ORSOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN! MY NAME ISSUMMER I AM 15 YEARS OLD i have BLONDEHAIR ,MANY SCARS no NOSE OR EARS.. IAM DEAD. IF U DONT COPY THIS JUST LIKEFROM THE RING, COPY N POST THIS ON 5MORE SITES.. OR.. I WILL APPEAR ONEDARK QUIET NIGHT WHEN UR NOT ExPECTINGIT BY YOUR BED WITH A KNIFE AND KILLU. THIS IS NO JOKE SOMETHING GOOD WILLHAPPEN TO U IF YOU POST THIS ON 5 MOREPAGES.
Doesn’t he realize I don’t do memes? Doesn’t he also realize I track visits?
This seems to be as good a time as any to discuss Pascal’s Wager: If God doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t matter whether you are saved. If God does exist, then the paltry time you spend in compliance and getting saved is more than worth it.
If I believe in Pascal’s Wager, then I have little to lose in posting the deadly threats of an undead teenage psychopath from Rhode Island. If I don’t believe in Pascal’s Wager, then I blow it off.
Now, Summer… do I have to manually post this elsewhere? Or do I get credit for republication due to blog scrapers that steal my content?
(to Jacob, Luke, Jason, and the rest of my Kung Fu family: Time to activate our Zombie Plan?)
(the following is not an endorsement of any candidate, just an examination of the power of a symbol)
Patrick McGoohan created what may have been television’s first and only classic piece of art, The Prisoner. His enigmatic protagonist – a spy who knew too much – was never given a name. In an effort to strip down his psyche and find out why he quit, his tormentors tried to bust him down to just a number. In his case, Number Six.
One of the great mysteries of the show is why the number Six? What is so special about that particular number? Number One and Number Two are easy enough to figure out, but given the nine-digit monstrosities that make up identification for citizens, inmates, students and the like, why just a Six? My theory is that the shape provides the information.
McGoohan’s Number Six fell into a situation he could not escape. Trace the numeral from top to bottom and you end up in a loop. There’s something about that interpretation that seems to resonate with most “Prisoner” fans I’ve shared that with. McGoohan himself might not even be aware. The point here is that symbols and shapes do carry powerful meaning (and I highly recommend a parallel track with Joseph Campbell, author of “The Power of Myth” among other works.)
So, what does this have to do with politics? Everything, if you are to believe the following:
- Candidate Fonts
- McCain’s Optimum Look
- Brand Obama, a Leader in the Image War
- Expertinent: Why the Obama “Brand” is Working
There has been more emphasis on font and weight in this cycle than any other. That can be attributed to many things, including a ridiculously long election cycle with more time to fill, more idiot pundits to fill that time, and a greater penetration of desktop publishing applications that makes our public-at-large more “font cognizant.”
A prevailing theory here is the electorate – being too dumb to make decisions on issues – will be drawn to the hidden messages inherent in the imagery. Serifs, slants, and pantone color choices will subconsciously affect us. And who knows? The 1988 Democratic National Convention replaced the Red White and Blue with a more muted color scheme: Salmon, Eggshell, and Azure. (Because pastels portray such strength, and we all know how well that worked out for Michael Dukakis.)
When image is everything
You might think I’m a little crazy here, but Obama’s biggest hurdle is the notion that he is too slick a politician, and doesn’t have enough of a track record for us to know his positions. He’s been criticized for trying to be all things to all people. And those carrying these attitudes aren’t necessarily able to put their finger on the source for the sentiment.
So let’s look at the Obama campaign logo.
The letter O is there, plain to see even where obscured by the mostly opaque striped banner that rolls across. It says heartland, and carries enough of the darker color tones to avoid the Dukakis Pastel Curse.
This is just the base logo, though. In typical Web 2.0 fashion, Obama supporters are asked to mash it up with whatever they like – and based on the number of free tools available, just as many detractors are having fun with the tool.
And this is the thrust of the problem: if many are expressing an uneasy sense that Obama is essentially empty, and only reflecting back what his audience wants to hear, can you blame his logo variations for burning that into our brains? Would Obama be better served by tightening up the controls on his brand, and in the process make a statement about consistency?
This might be a chicken-and-egg problem, where a candidate in need of an identity wandered into a logo that prevented him from cementing one. The amorphous idealism may have played well so far, but is it time for the campaign to color in that void in the middle for us?
[tags]Ike Pigott, Occam’s RazR, Obama, politics, symbolism, marketing[/tags]