14 December 2007

Freedom's just another word for...

©Richmond Times-Dispatch
People fighting over used iBooks offered for $50 by the Henrico County school system in Virginia. "A rush to purchase $50 used laptops turned into a violent stampede Tuesday [August 2005], with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair and nearly driven over. One woman went so far as to wet herself rather than surrender her place in line."

Ever feel a compulsion to shop?

The following comes from an interview with Susan Linn, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, by Terrence McNally, AlterNet: Born to Shop: How Marketers Brainwash Babies:

Linn: Studies suggest that marketing is a factor in many of the problems facing children today. It's not the sole cause of any of them, but it's a factor in childhood obesity, eating disorders, precocious and irresponsible sexuality, youth violence, certainly underage drinking and tobacco use, family stress, the acquisition of materialistic values, the false notion that things will make us happy.

And the one that is dearest to my heart, the erosion of children's creative play. Which doesn't sound like much until you realize that such play is the foundation of learning, critical thinking, and empathy -- and I believe, also essential to democracy."[...]

McNally: You write that two of the most worrisome things to you -- and I suspect these are not things that people might think of immediately: One, that it's having an adverse effect on creativity and children's creative play, and two, on democracy itself.

Linn: There's a threat to creative play in a lot of different ways. One of them is the notion that you need certain products or brands in order to play. You can't play Harry Potter without a Harry Potter wand or a Harry Potter broomstick or this or that. Creativity comes out of silence and emptiness in some ways and out of desire. You need that in order to create. So if everything is given to you -- all of these media-linked toys, and the scripts themselves, and your seeing them over and over again. One thing that happens is that you don't need to be creative.[...]

McNally: You say it has a ripple effect on democracy. How so?

Linn: What children learn through marketing or in commercial culture is antithetical to democracy. What do marketers want them to learn? Impulse buying -- that's terrible in a democracy. Lifetime brand loyalty, unthinking brand loyalty -- well, we're certainly experiencing the problem with that. They're learning "me first" -- that's not helpful in a democracy.

A more subtle message in marketing is that there is a right way to do something. That's where we get the connection to the erosion of children's creative play. Creativity thrives in democracy and democracy thrives because of creativity. When we squelch that, we'd do very well in a dictatorship.

Long gone are the days when a couple of sticks served as guns or dolls were made by mothers for their daughters. Now it has to be a toy recognizable from the television or Internet.

The rights and responsibilities of citizenship have been reduced to one: the right to shop. Democracy has become having a choice between competing products. You vote with your dollar, or now, with your credit card. For those who are old enough to remember the propaganda during the cold war, one of the harshest critisisems directed at the Soviet Union was that the people there didn't have any choice. The state decided what products were on the shelves. There was only one of everything.

Academics who are considered serious theorists told us that the advent of the information multiverse, with 500 channels of TV coming to your home, would turn us into something more than consumers. With all of that choice, we would somehow become creators. Merely selecting from the programmes offered would allow us to customize our own newspapers or news programmes.

What a joke!

Citizenship has been emptied of its political and civic responsabilities. It is no longer a question of forming an opinion yourself in order to contribute to the political debate on the future of your society. Your only responsibility is economic. All you need to do is get down to the shopping centres and spend, spend, spend. Empty your wallet for America! Go into debt for America!

Remember what the decider-in-chief said in the days after 9/11?

I see an opportunity at home when I hear the stories of Christian and Jewish women alike, helping women of cover, Arab American women go shop because they're afraid to leave their home. Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, 2001

He must have loved that idea so much that he repeated a week later.

I was struck by this: that in many cities, when Christian and Jewish women learn that Muslim women — women of cover — were afraid of going out of their homes alone, that they went shopping with them, that they showed true friendship and support — an act that shows the world the true nature of America. Presidential Prime Time News Conference, Oct. 11, 2001

We'll pass by his remarks about "women of cover"... but the president's idea of what "true friendship and support" means is revealing and quite in tune with his other remarks. And it certainly does "show the world the true nature of America, or at least the America shaped by the pathocrats.

And then there was his famous cry of encouragement to rally Americans after 9/11:

I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today. (Applause.)

Five years later, he stayed with this theme with his year end press conference on December 20, 2006.

As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. … and I encourage you all to go shopping more.

In the interview above, Susan Linn mentions how marketing efforts are directed now towards babies. With different marketing campaigns aimed at younger and younger children, our children are being led straight from the cradle to the shopping centre, and the shopping centre has replaced the commons as the public meeting place. Just don't wear the wrong t-shirt because unlike the commons, the shopping centre is private property.

To paraphrase an old song, freedom's just another word for having the right to shop.

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