For SOCIOL1, we have to turn in a “journal entry” every week, based on the readings.
Thought I’d share my latest entry. The week’s focus is “Media and Society”, considering my inspiration was born of the Tumblr dashboard this afternoon.
To me, the most disappointing result from society’s media exposure is that it “cheapens authentic spirituality and transcendence” (Kilbourne, 1999). By only infrequently focusing upon what many would consider “meaningful” or “real”, mass media gives the impression, to those who hunger for real expressions, that maybe those “real” things don’t matter after all. All but ignoring focus upon integrity, honesty, spirituality, loyalty, the ambition to behave in a classy manner, etc, mass media impresses upon the public that no one cares about these virtues; that they’re not important. That saddens me the most. No one is kept from having those experiences in their own lives, but a certain feeling of isolation is almost guaranteed for those who do not follow the popular trend of whatever superficial focus is in vogue at any one time (Kilbourne, 1999).
If you don’t know what the latest Kanye West video looks like (a horrible misogynistic, stuttering train wreck of a video I witnessed today, which I cannot now un-see) you might feel isolated if this video happens to be a focus for your circle of friends. I don’t know people for whom this video is important, but it made me feel isolated, nonetheless. The isolation stems from a variety of things. The video was mentioned by Atlantic magazine’s Tumblr account and premiered on a recent episode of the daytime talk show, “Ellen”. Eventhough Atlantic magazine posted this video within a cautionary article I thought the video may have had merit; Tumblr, the micro-blogging site, is my digital home; and Ellen Degeneres, the talk show’s host, is bravely the only openly-gay woman currently hosting a talk show. Three pretty secure associations, one would think, upon which to trust a video recommendation. The video could not have been further from what I thought I was going to see, based on the recommenders. In the video, Kanye West begins in a somewhat blubbering manner, singing before a transitional backdrop of American landscapes. He then proceeds to mount a motorcycle that for the rest of the video bobs back and forth in front of those same landscape images, much like a 50-cents-a-ride rocket ship installation we all crawled upon in front of the local grocery store as children. A moment later, his new wife, the puzzlingly-famous Kim Kardashian, is sitting on the motorcycle with him, facing him, topless. Throughout the rest of the inexplicably long video she and Kanye are locked in simulated sex on this vibrating, rocking motorcycle. The camera does not look away for the entire 5 minutes and 20 seconds of mindless grinding, though the faces of both Kanye and Kim look positively vacant, seemingly unaware of the act they are simulating (West, 2013).
My isolation comes from the surprise that Atlantic allowed the link to have life and from the utterly sunny reaction on the “Ellen” set after they returned from showing the video to the audience. There were no reactions of disgust or confusion in the audience. There was no stunned silence. There was no horror in Ellen’s face as the camera returned to the couch she and Kanye shared. There were cheers and applause, there was a huge smile on Ellen’s face, there were calls for Kanye’s shirt to also have been off during the video. And I felt horrified. Horrified that the woman hosting this show, who has had to fight prejudice and hatred for her choice of partner, would not see the ignorant hatred and disrespect for women in this video; that the primarily female audience there would be so “over the moon” about this video, as if they hadn’t even seen it, but were instead simply following orders to “applaud wildly” after the video ended (which they may well have been told); and horrified that Atlantic magazine didn’t fight the urge to filter out the banal.
“Didn’t anyone else notice?” was what I was left asking myself. But that’s what I ask myself all the time when I watch TV or hear the ESPN sports-wrap-up guys try to whip the viewers into a frenzy (Chomsky, 1993). “Doesn’t anyone else notice?” It feels like I’m being gaslit, but I can’t not see the lie, and if feeling isolated from popular culture is the result of seeing the truth, then I’ll have to choose the isolation and know that I won’t “go crazy, revolt, or die” (though “revolt” is subtly in the picture every day for me) (Mander, 1978).
Jean Kilbourne, Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight The Addictive Power of Advertising, ch. 2, “In Your Face…All Over the Place.” Free Press, 1999.
Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, DirectorsMark Achbar and Peter Wintonick, 1993, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQhEBCWMe44
Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, ch. 6, pp. 115-133, “Advertising: The Standard-Gauge Railway.” Quill, New York, 1978.
Kanye West, Bound 2, video, 2013 http://www.ellentv.com/2013/11/19/kanye-wests-new-video-bound-2/