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Santa, Rudolf, Frosty and the Pollution of the American Mind

By       Message John Bardi     Permalink
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I have a friend, a long-time environmentalist, who denies there are any problems in the environment. He says the problems are in humans, not the environment. It is an excellent point, and it leads me to realize we Americans are suffering from the effects of two pollutions—the pollution of the American landscape and the pollution of the American mindscape.

Yet even with nature and mind having been polluted to the point of collapse, there are still beautiful sunsets and powerful ideas. In our own time, the idea that we “construct” our own reality is especially powerful. The academic version of this idea claims that even our subjectivity is culturally constructed. The idea is that what is presented to consciousness is a highly processed view “constructed” beneath the threshold of our ordinary awareness by a cultural prism that filters our sensory experience. In other words, what seems to ordinary waking consciousness to be “immediately given” is actually a highly processed “construct.”

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Postmodernism is not a mental pollution, but professionals who pollute the mind for a living use postmodernism to pollute the mind more effectively. Even so, theirs is not a new trade. The intentional pollution of the mind began in early 20th century with the propaganda of the First World War. However, the pollution of the American mind began in earnest when marketers began to use Freud’s insights into the mechanisms of the unconscious mind to create ads that actually “constructed” a subjective feeling of need for the advertised product when there was not one before. By using selected symbols to trigger pre-existing desires in the depths of the psyche for love, success, and safety, and then leading the viewer to symbolically associate the advertised product with the energy of these pre-existing soul yearnings, advertisers were thus able to “construct” a feeling of desire for the advertised products.

In the last quarter of the 20th century Republican operatives began to use these same marketing techniques to “construct” consensus for corporate policies that were masquerading as good government. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in the early years of the Reagan administration made such open polluting of the American mind entirely legal. Almost immediately an army of fantastically well-paid agents of upper class greed began to saturate the media, polluting our psyches and damaging our culture 24/7.

When the Bush administration came along, the patterns and infrastructure of intellectual pollution were already well established. Although the Bushies expanded the project of “constructing” consensus by polluting the mind, they also added a gold formula to the project—a skill and sophistication at using the symbols and language of religious commitment to tap into the soul’s urge for larger truth and deeper meaning, then using this entry point as a sort of psychic fulcrum to move an honest desire to serve God and country over into “faith-based” support for the policies of elite greed and imperial conquest.

Interestingly, there are two groups who understand the core postmodern insight that “reality” is a cultural construct—academics who talk about it and operatives who do it. Speaking generally, the academics are so deeply aware of the culturally constructed nature of our experience that they do not see any authoritative procedure that can discriminate between rival subjectivities other than to express a mere personal preference. After all, one may prefer a collective expression of kindness, compassion, and love to the intellectual “pollutants” of the Bush era, but both are social constructs.

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The second group—the operatives—has no such qualms. These are the people—corporate advertisers, political operatives, and leaders of the Christian Right—who pollute the mind for a living, using the insights of postmodern to reprogram the way the mind “constructs” its internal reality sense. The tragic result of their effective work is that many people today operate out of minds so distorted and colonized that for all practical purposes incapable of using their minds to grasp the basic contours of the truth of things. Even worse, they have been deceived to call their mental pollution “faith,” thereby not just using faith to pollute the mind, but polluting even faith. Truly, nothing is sacred to these people.

My point here is that even though the Bush administration has been history’s greatest polluter of mind, the American mindscape was already deeply polluted before Bush. This means that in order to “clean up” our world, we will have to do more than get rid of Bush. We will also have to get rid of our inner delusions. This won’t be easy because the psychic pollutants we need to flush out of our intellectual systems are now so well established in the prism of filters that “construct” our reality sense that they now seem “natural.”

Let me illustrate by identifying some of the toxins hidden in some popular Christmas songs.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” presents a world in which snooping without a warrant is completely normal. Indeed, Santa snoops in a way that would make even the Department of Homeland Security envious. The song warns children that they “better watch out” and be sure not “pout” or “cry” because Santa is coming to town. He is “making a list and checking it twice” to determine “who’s naughty and nice.” He can “see” when you’re sleeping and “knows” when you’re awake. Santa has Total Information Awareness.

“Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer” presents a world in which the important thing is not who you are but who you know, not your character but how famous you are. The reindeer all cruelly reject Rudolf, laughing at him and refusing to let him play in any of their games because his red nose makes him different. Things change when Santa befriends Rudolf. Since this makes Rudolf “famous,” the reindeer immediately embrace him, “shouting with glee” as they do so that Rudolf will “go down in history.”

Rudolf is superficially similar to the Ugly Ducking in that both are rejected for being different. But where the Ugly Duckling is redeemed by discovering his inner beauty as a swan, Rudolf is redeemed not by discovering his authentic inner beauty but by suddenly becoming famous. In other words, Rudolf embodies the American Idol ethos.

I am not saying these beloved songs are bad or should be censored. I am simply using them as evidence to point out the pollution of our psyches predates the moral atrocities of the Bush administration. Accordingly, getting rid of Bush is not enough because we also have to get rid of our inner pollution.

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Fortunately, there are also wonderfully positive messages and healing archetypes in popular culture. For example, the “jolly, happy soul,” Frosty, is a Christ archetype, representing salvation that comes from ideals and purity of intention. His story is instructive.

People say he is a “fairy tale” (meaning that ideals are fantasies) but the children (representing purity and spiritual awareness) know how he “came to life one day” to “laugh and play just the same as you and me.” However, Frosty knew he would melt in the hot sun, so he gathered the children to “have some fun” (representing purity of intention), leading them into town. The traffic cop (representing the status quo) yells for him to stop, but Frosty only “pauses a moment” before hurrying on his way (he is about his Father's business). Although he was melting, he cheerily “waved goodbye,” comforting the children by telling them he would be back again some day (ideals may be defeated but they never die).

Perhaps that day is now.

 

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John Bardi teaches philosophy and religious studies at Penn State-Mont Alto. He is also a musician and has been playing blues and rock guitar since 1961.

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