Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflections on American pop culture...

Timothy Taylor, professor in the department of ethnomusicology and musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s the author of The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture. (From NPR On Point with Tom Ashbrook website, December 18, 2012)
Professor Taylor appeared as Tom's guest today, and among many other insights and anecdotes, he stated this:
In the past, Americans used to identify themselves as "victorians" behaving with a set of values befitting the victorian era; today, Americans identify themselves with their purchases, the things they buy, the brands they support.
In his documentation of the development of the complete submergence by the advertising agency of the American pop culture, Taylor notes, sadly, that the jingle morphed from a short advertisement into today's version in which whole songs are used to sell specific products, thereby breaking any dam that may have existed between "music" and marketing.
One of the implications of this dramatic development is that no longer do disc jockeys working at radio stations select from a pile of new records submitted by artists and their management those records they deem worthy of "air time". Instead, today, some advertising executive who happens to like a song merely inserts that song into one of his clients' advertisements and through that vehicle the artist then becomes known, and an audience begins to grow for his/her records, concerts, television appearances, magazine interviews and potentially even movie contracts.
Elsewhere I have written that the U.S. culture has capitulated to capitalism, consumerism and to the obsessive pursuit of both wealth and power. Not too long ago, the popular music industry set itself over and against the popular culture of consumerism, capitalism, war and the activities, policies and practices of the establishment. Today, on the contrary, popular music worships at the same altar as all the other instruments of the society, including the politicians, the corporations in pursuit of customers, the bankers in pursuit of clients, investments and also profits.
Even the federal and state budgets have been turned into instruments of the plutocrats, as witnessed by the 'first hour' of On Point today, in which numerous speakers, including both professional psychiatrists and parents of children with emotional and mental illnesses, pointed to the vaccuum of services and facilities for the mentally challenged, following the closure of all psychiatric hospitals. There were supposed to be half-way houses, treatment plans and professional support services available for those formerly resident in the psychiatric hospitals, but little if any of that safety net was ever established, leaving both patients and their families struggling, in fact so severe is the gap that struggle too often leads to violent acts, sometimes against oneself, sometimes against society.
"Voluntary" and "involuntary" are two words critical to the mental health profession. The first, voluntary, refers to those patients who agree to mental health treatment and whose following their medical prescriptions is voluntary. The second, refers to those who, in the opinion of a board of psychiatrists, psychologists and lay people, require medical treatment, perhaps hospitalization, but certainly medication, no matter where they reside. "Involuntary" is the word used to designate such treatment, and many of the people previously hospitalized, yet still requiring treatment cannot be forced to comply with treatment unless and until they commit some violent act.
This kind of thinking, that the state inserts itself into the life of a person only if and when that person demonstrates that s/he is a danger, a threat, or even a perpetrator of an act that endangers another was in effect in one state in which I worked, when I recommended that an active alcoholic needed support and treatment, and was told by the (also active alcoholic) social worker that treatment and support could only be found and administered if and when the person in question killed someone on the road, while drunk.
So combining both themes, the first that American people now see themselves in their "things" and not their values, and then, as a society, provide support and treatment only if and when an individual wreaks havoc on others, even though there is evidence of need from family members and associates, it is not difficult to see how alienated those with even slight mental and emotional disturbances would become in such a society.
Using the caveat, "no one is mentally ill unless and until adjudicated to be" as a parallel to the legal habeas corpus, "innocent until proven guilty" demonstrates a society both incapable of and unwilling to deal with either nuance or marginal statistics, namely people on the margins. Only  AFTER some tragedy occurs (as it has just last week in Newtown, Connecticut) does it become clear that, although Adam Lanza was closely monitored while attending high school, by both students and teachers, as soon as he graduated, he fell through the gaping holes in the support networks that were never built by a society uninterested in prevention, only in dramatic histrionics of aftermaths.
And you say, what is the possible connection of these two ideas? The migration of a popular culture away from seeing itself incorporating a set of values (victorian) to a culture seeing itself in its things, and identifying with those things and the failure to take responsibility for the people at the margins who need complex and nuanced monitoring and treatment...both are a devaluation of the notion of "a human being" into little more than a consuming vehicle or agent. It is from such a perspective that one can and does default on responsibility for the community, pleading some rationalization like "freedom" from the government....
In fact, one empty-headed voice was heard this week expressing a view that he wished that principal and those teachers had had weapons to "blow the head off the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary" before he shot all those innocent children.
And then, Americans will go to extreme lengths to shoot a doctor who performs a therapeutic abortion....
Is this culture either justified or sustainable?

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