I agree with Ray Carney’s initial point about Americans being brought up to be consumers. Every commodity is packaged, labeled and marketed in a specific way, thus signifying something that goes beyond merely its contents. The products you buy become markers of style, status and popularity. As Carney mentions, many of the twenty two year olds define themselves by the products they purchase.
The lack of spirituality in the American culture can be traced back to the immigrants. They left their homelands in order to start a new life, one in which their financial and material situation improved. Thus the whole process of building their culture was very capitalistic and consumption oriented. You could say that they were chasing the American Dream right from the start. Pop artist Andy Warhol’s work, ‘Campbell Soup Cans’ captures this feature of American society that in many ways, defines it.
The problem with this kind of living is that it, as Carney says, overlaps into our decision making process and clouds our judgment. The majority of Americans support the war in Iraq as long as they don’t have to fight it. I agree that Hollywood plays a big part in cementing this culture and its ideals and given the kind of reach it has, sells it to millions. Take a film like Apocalypse Now for example. The movie has been celebrated as one of Copolla’s best works. Technical brilliance aside, the film offers only one perspective- that of the poor American soldier, fighting in unknown territory. The Vietnamese perspective is reduced to people who ambush, run away from the American choppers and dwell in the forests. They are not given a voice or a defense in the film.
The story of Vietnam, similar to Iraq, is one of a war that America needn’t have undertaken. But the way Hollywood packages these events tells a different story and the masses applaud it like it is true. I agree with Carney when he says that anything can be sold to Americans as long as it is marketed properly.
There is a difference between the ideals that stem from experience and the ones that are marketed by the media. The former is obviously the more difficult one to live by. American media, like the evening news, lets the people have their cake and eat it too. They merely support the ideal without questioning the action. The sentimentality that Carney talks about takes over. Carney says that people look to art to provide them with answers, but in truth, it cannot spoon feed ideals to you. I agree with this statement for the simple reason that viewing art or appreciating it cannot be compared to experiencing something.
For example, if we look at Goya’s ‘Third of May’ which depicts a firing squad from Napolean’s army on the over of killing a Spanish civilian, out heart immediately goes out to the dying man. We don’t know anything about why the event is taking place, if he’s done anything wrong or killed anyone himself, but we still side with the defenseless man. Regardless of whether this is the righteous position; it shows the power of art. We assume things according to what we are shown. It is for the same reason that we feel sympathy for Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now while forgetting about the invaded Vietnamese.
The main point in Ray Carney’s talk is the difference between real emotions and fake ones. It is very hard to make the distinction; the lack of spirituality in our existence makes real emotions very rare. I agree that 99 percent of our emotions are fake, in the sense that they are controlled by our brain. We rationalize feeling a certain way according to the kind of life we lead. And as the above paragraph shows, art is capable of being manipulative only because we demand too much of it. Another factor that plays a part is our assumption of understanding completely what is being shown to us.
For example, when we watch Apocalypse Now, we follow the story and base our judgment on the premise that we know enough about it to make that call. In truth, you know very little until you experience something. I think this is the main difference between real and fake emotions. Real emotions come from real experiences. Fake emotions come from the assumption of knowing what those experiences are like. Another example is Van Gogh’s, ‘Wheatfield with Crows’. The loneliness that he felt while painting is a real emotion. A person viewing this painting and assuming that the sadness of the painting is the same as what Van Gogh must have felt is engaging in a fake emotion.
This is precisely what Hollywood or any other form of organized media does- it plays on our capacity of fake emotions. As Carney mentions, we like to be manipulated because we want simple answers to life’s challenges. We want to be told which way to go and which turn to take. Art is manipulative and the American people don’t realize it because they are bred to be manipulated.
Warhol, A. (1962) Campbell Soup Cans. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Copolla, F. (1979) Apocalypse Now. Zeotrope Studios, San Francisco, California.
Gogh, V. (1890) Wheatfield with Crows. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Goya, F. (1814) Third of May. Museo Del Prado, Madrid.