The Attraction of Craft (In Our Age of Distraction)
“Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.” Neil Postman / Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business
After writing the ideas for the Bullitt diorama (Part One) and waiting for the arrival of some pieces to build it, I cut off the TV and talk radio and just stream by favorite jazz station, the Bay Area’s KCSM. At night, I watch Turner Classic Movies. (Somehow we land in the middle of a Susan Hayworth week and see two emotionally shattering films of hers). Now, thinking of new scenes for dioramas. Expanding the names in my email database. Deleting old names. Consolidating various lists I’ve developed over the years. Adding many academic faculty from universities in the area. But staying away from watching and listening to any news media.
My average daily email count is around 250 emails. Much too much incoming calls for distraction. Most simply junk but causing distraction if one reads them enough to be able to declare them as junk mail. You think of unsubscribing from email lists you’re on, seldom of your own choosing but rather thanks to those sticky “cookies” Internet exploration shoes all of us wander around in cyberspace wearing. But then you think that the simply act of “unsubscribing” from the Internet and digital culture, gives the Internet another piece of information and classification for this person. An “un-subscriber” to the current system of dominant, digital technology and communications.
This act itself adds to a database of “unsubscribers” to the benefits of a constant bombardment of technology and media every second of our lives. Why is this “unsubscriber” not distracted like the rest of them are? What makes them special from the subscribers to modern distractions?
I decided not to continue operation as a “subscriber” to media. I used to read a lot of it but now I’ve taken to wiping clear all but a few each day. The process is fast so I have a few key emails to respond to each day. The other 240 emails go swiftly into the trash. I stop checking all the emails. I sometimes glance at major headlines. But stay away from the tennis game of politics. Of course, the greatest use for the powers of distraction.
America invented modern propaganda with Edward Bernays in the beginning part of the 20th Century. It started out as using specific narratives to control public opinion during the world wars. Important lesson learned in modern politics. There is a constant back-and forth-game of distraction played by politics. The two-side tennis game itself is a type of fictional distraction from a non-fictional world of the present moment in time. Bernays taught America that propaganda could control mass culture. The methods of Bernays have had a profound influence in modern the areas of advertising, entertainment, media and politics. There is still the continual writing/production of the daily narrative drama of distraction. Not necessarily an attempt at implementing some type of propaganda message within the population as much as simply distracting it from awareness that a new propaganda message was even broadcast to them.
Dropping Out With the Hardy Boys
The Unsubscribe Button (Dropping Out)
There are those who have grown within digital culture so that this is all they know. A new generation following the Millennial generation. I imagine it is difficult for many members of these younger generations to understand. That someone is a hidden “unsubscriber” to the Internet.
One wonders if the data held by the government might (could) be used to create new narratives for the major data groups with the database? It is unlikely the stories had the narrative power of something – like – The Hardy Boys book series. Rather, it seems more likely the various narratives will be centered on various aspects of one’s digital personality. Will time spent on distracting activities couint in favor of a citizen or against them?
People monitored and classified by their time on digital media. The more time spent with media, the more distracted. The less time with media, the less distracted. Data is monitored, stored and classified. People are monitored, stored and classified. There are levels of distraction with culture and these levels can/are being monitored by the distraction industry. Am I becoming too paranoid these days.
* * *
So, I continue moving forward these past few weeks, working on the Bullitt diorama and assembling all the pieces for the Close Encounters of the Third Kind based diorama with the Bluetooth speaker playing original music from Close Encounters and a $7 string of LED lights with a remote controller. building Desert Witness and Green Light – happily shutting off all media except the great Bay Area jazz station KCSM. It streams all day and night from my UE MegaBoom Bluetooth speaker at the foot of one of my bookshelves. Other than the sound of jazz, I’ve locked all media – liberal and conservative – out of my life. No news. Just music and the music that is so important to me. The music of jazz. I’ve come to the conclusion that all media is a distraction regardless of its content. Distraction is a powerful new tool of modern media and is attempting to take control over entire populations, nations or cultures. Perhaps even the world.
Streaming jazz all day and night from KCSM radio (located on the campus of the College of San Mateo twenty miles south of San Francisco). The results proved very positive for my state of mine. Perhaps a form of meditation for me? Not willing to take the time for traditional meditation on a daily basis like my sons Alex and Christopher do. The music is my form of meditation.
The Distraction Industry
In this current state of being distracted from the distraction industry, it seems to me that the Shakers were so right with their belief “Hands to work. Hearts to God.” This diorama creating was work with one’s hands for sure. A craft. Perhaps more than anything right now I seemed more of a craftsman with the writer in me tagging along like some type of an embedded reporter.
At the end of the day when I review the emails remaining in my mail, I always read a few blogs. Like the libertarian oriented The Daily Bell. On May 1, 2018, the feature article is “Dial T for Tyranny: While America Feuds, the Police State Shifts Into High Gear.” It is written by John W. Whitefield. The article comes right when I’m pondering my experiment of cutting off all media, all that distracts each day, listening to jazz station KCSM in the Bay Area and taking photos and writing about what I’m doing. Documenting it mostly but also coming up with ideas and thoughts along the way. Like the blog you’re now reading.
The article in The Daily Bell (DB) article starts out with a quote from one of the modern leaders of an area of study called Media Ecology. I’ve been on the subscription list for maybe ten years and am a good friend for the Libertarian publication. The writers with DB have the ability to see behind most of the masks and falseness today and arrive much closer to truth than others. It is worth quoting a few paragraphs of the DB article. It starts with the observation:
“What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing. Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better. Week after week, the script changes—Donald Trump’s Tweets, Robert Mueller’s Russian probe, Michael Cohen’s legal troubles, porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit over an alleged past affair with Trump, Michelle Wolf’s tasteless stand-up routine at the White House correspondents’ dinner, North and South Korea’ détente, the ongoing staff shakeups within the Trump administration—with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama. The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle. All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors. Such that it is, the realm of political theater with all of its drama, vitriol and scripted theatrics is what passes for “transparent” government today, with elected officials, entrusted to act in the best interests of their constituents, routinely performing for their audiences and playing up to the cameras, while doing very little to move the country forward.”
The article is available from The Daily Bell. I sent it to my friend Eric McLuhan up in Canada and then posted to the MEA list. (Media Ecology Association List of those who follow the media ideas of people like Marshall McLuhan, Edward Carpenter, Donald Theall, Walter Ong, Harold Innis and Neil Postman. The quote by Neil Postman at the beginning of this blog is of course relevant to all of this. “There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia.”
The Distraction Narrative
It’s interesting that The Daily Bell is not interested in what distracts us today. But in the very act of distraction. In this sense, the content contained in distractions matter far less than the constant rhythm and persistence of the distractors. I stop listening to the news and the political shows. There is always one big piece of news made almost for everyday it seems like. The TV pundits battle each other over the piece of news. It becomes an event that needs to be sliced into two viewpoints so a distracting game can be played between the two players. The fact it is reported or not reported says much more than the particular battles being fought over it. Not what side is right but rather asking “Why this piece of news? Why this event? Why now?”
One of the larger “takeaways” of this is that news and events just don’t happen by coincidence. They happen because they are planned based on a script or master narrative. More and more, it seems history is written as much by human hands as the random events of nature. Popular culture becomes more like a particular season of a series on TV. Somewhat like what called a “Bible” for a particular TV series and season.
The purpose of those in control is of course to distraction from the present world of reality today. The less thought about this world, the better for the present world of reality is made of individuals and not groups of people. It is within those who “identify” as individuals today where present reality lives. The group is made up of subscribers. All are distracted from present reality. All are separated from the few “unsubscribers” of popular culture and politics.
Distraction is the basis for power and control today rather than the original advertising technique of Bernay’s persuasion. The new method for control over populations? By the few in control of the population? Events in popular culture seem to become more and more mindless and silly, the characters inhabiting popular culture more fictional and distant. Partly this is the perspective of a particular generation … the Baby Boom generation. But mostly, it is the perspective of an artist.
San Francisco / From Berkeley
A Different Perspective
Listening to KCSM streaming from my large UE Bluetooth speaker all day is becoming some type of answer to a question never really asked. Whatever it is, the days pass by much more friendly and peaceaful these days than in their mad, angry state when one is a full participant in distraction media today.
For me, a new perspective on things seems in the process of coming together. Ignoring the distractors and becoming out there and concentrating on a craft. It makes all the difference in the world when one stops listening to others and starts listening to oneself. Many others are part of the distraction industry, perhaps the largest industry in America by far. In contains the entertainment, sports, music, Video games, AI, Internet, TV, Radio, advertising, marketing, political and social media worlds. Among others. Simply everything that distracts us on a daily basis from listening to ourselves.
It’s amazing when one gets away from this daily battle of perspectives on seeing reality today (contained in the form of two political parties.) It seems to me that no time in history has politics played such an important part in forming the way reality is defined/seen by the citizens of our nation. Everything seems debatable today. Even things we have accepted as true all our lives. The present moves quickly into the old world as the future world seeps into the present with the faded edges of water color paint.
Things move into the future with the speed and riskiness of Steve McQueen’s Lt. Frank Bullitt in Bullitt. In many ways, McQueen is this “unsubscriber” to the distractions all around him at the time, 1968 in the world and America and the city of San Francisco. In the chase scene from Bullitt, McQueen is pursuing the two bad guys in the black Charger over San Francisco’s steepest streets. Nothing is distracting him from this task and it is this look on his face that always defined McQueen for me.
Conjuring & Dioramas
Today, I’m back to pondering the next step in the Bullitt diorama. It is becoming obvious this diorama was conjuring back much of my first years in San Francisco. (Could a diorama possess this power? I asked myself this question for the first time. It seemed a strange question but a necessary one at the same time.) There is no other experience equal to the first years in a city. If it is the right people and right city at the right time. It is a time when I seemed distracted from the distractors. In other words, an artist. Or, someone possessed by the muse of art.
Much of all of this with Bullitt, as well as other dioramas of mine, the art of creating dioramas for me is really a way of re-creating important scenes in one’s life in order to remember the emotions and the feelings associated with this scene. Is there some form of magic associated with the process and the final art object in a diorama? Witches have been known to create miniature dollhouse worlds and manipulate their characters in this world so that things ultimately happen in the real world, not the miniature world.
One creates a vision in a scene before anything else. And then, a piece of craftwork with wood, plastic, paper, plaster and paint called a diorama. It is like a sculpture but not a sculpture. Like a painting but not a painting. Or a photograph or the frame of a motion picture. The art-form is so alien to many modelers who work creating specific models from kits rather than create diorama environments for models. Like the background in a great advertisement, this diorama background is meant to influence you before you even consider the object of the diorama in the foreground. Or, before you be persuaded by the images, actions or words of characters and objects in the diorama. Like the products or brands in a commercial, when done right, their quiet, subtle background was always more informative and important than their noisy, flashy foreground. The product could say one thing. Yet what it really says is not in what it says but rather the context of this utterance. The context defined the utterance just like the context of a diorama defined the inhabitants of it.
First Years in San Francisco
I suspect the reason my emotions were tied to Bullitt is that the movie presented so well the images of my first few years in San Francisco. One of the discoveries was that I was living in a city based much on verticality. Or, ascending and descending streets almost constantly. Except for a fw leve spots, San Francisco is basically dominated by a series of island-like steep hills that ripple all over the city’s landscape.
The fact of the matter is that I was a tiny guy madly driving the litle green N-scale Mustang down Taylor Street at a scale 90 MPH in my diorama. Airborn at ten feet off the ground, after the intersection at Taylor & Union. Descending down Taylor after the two bad guys in the black Charger. I was Frank Bullitt during my first years in San Francisco. The movie caught these years for me almost like it was a home movie.
(Continued with the completed diorama at Chasing Bullitt: Part Three)