COURSE CORRECTIONS: Cranky Cultural Comments by Doug Williams

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: If you pay $3.00 for one three-inch wide bubble gum-flavored sugar donut …

These days, many thoughtful people recognize that political ideas, assumptions and attitudes lie beneath the surface of pretty much all cultural phenomena. These embedded ideas are used as tools to strengthen and maintain the status quo – as propaganda expressed in cultural form. For example, the assumption that “Anything is possible for an individual living in the USA or Canada if s/he works hard enough and plays by the rules,” is implicit in most contemporary television and movie drama. Acceptance of this “truth” frees the characters to thwart bank robberies, combat terrorism and fall in love. Embracing such “anything is possible” myths, the dominant culture endorses a massive set of similar assumptions in support of capitalist economics, permanent war, plutocratic rule and a rigidly-defined class system, as well as a host of thinly-veiled prejudices regarding race, gender, sexuality, etc.

To combat this, I’ve created a series of COURSE CORRECTIONS to help people navigate the tsunami of ideas in which our culture engulfs us every day. New Corrections will appear from time-to-time on this blog, and I welcome reader contributions. Here’s a COURSE CORRECTION aimed at edible propaganda, a “street level” cultural phenomenon:

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: If you pay $3.00 for a three-inch wide bubble gum-flavored sugar donut sold by a guy dressed as a soda jerk while retro music plays on the sound system, you’re in strong need of a mental laxative.

Such a doughnut store recently opened in Toronto to supportive media fanfare: it was a cultural event. The bubblegum flavour, soda jerk and music are cultural elements, combined – to create nostalgia for simpler times and better value – in order to sell donuts. Masquerading as “fun” and “hip” while supporting a business owner who may make a lot of money for doing very little, the donut store flatters the buyer with implied elite status – the privilege of paying $3.00 for a donut is a reward for cultural loyalty to the capitalist system.

Businessweek’s “new entrepreneurialism” assumes that the soda jerk’s employer has “the right to charge what the market will bear,” regardless of production and delivery costs (the donut doesn’t cost more than a few pennies, including minimum wage for the employees who make and sell them). While eager middle class customers engage in such absurd rituals – flaunting their spending power, class superiority, and entitlements – the whole enterprise remains an insult to working people who face skyrocketing inflation, austerity programs and cutbacks in wages and social services.

Ironically, in this instance, the buyer’s “superiority” is illusory, because donuts are 1) nothing new, 2) available everywhere, 3) bad for your health, and, as such, 4) hardly a worthy incentive to ignore oppressive social conditions. You’re being manipulated and ripped off.

If you find some agreement with the above, please read on.

First, a short poem to set the tone for my posts. Acknowledging a sinister propagandistic element in the marketing of popular consumer products, it implies that we might boycott every product whose name has the prefix “i.” Why? iDrive, iRewards, iPads, iPhones and thousands of other i-things can be seen as merit badges for compliance with the lifestyle dictums of corporate culture – an arid realm where “i” replaces “I,” where identity itself is defined by levels of consumption. Which are you: an “i” or an “I”?

Laura Incognito

Photo c 1999 by Doug Williams

Me, Myself, and i
by Doug Williams

If I marched against the war,
What would i do?
If I protested rigged elections,
What would i do?
If I blew a thousand whistles,
What would i do?

If we formed a union,
What would i do?
If we went on strike,
What would i do?
If we occupied a park,
What would i do?

If I stood up to police,
What would i do?
If I was arrested,
What would i do?
If I went to prison for my poems,
What would i do?

Is “i” a baby, conceived and born
In dwarfish expectations?
Who can only eat and shit,
And learn to do what s/he’s told?
Who is this “i” about whom
There are too few questions?

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Stop having hope and wishing it for others. Hope is offered to us by Royals, movie stars and politicians who have no intention of exercising their wealth and power in our favour. They prefer “Hope” because it’s much cheaper than giving people what they need. Embraced by the defeated, promoted by toads, hope is for dopes.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Remembrance Day: On November 11th, had I raised an anti-war banner, I’d have been sneered at, perhaps assaulted and driven away. What’s the real purpose of an event where nationalism and religion drown out the cries of the Dead for the end of war? Let’s turn Remembrance Day ceremonies into anti-war demonstrations.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Take comfort – at least there’s cosmic justice: when you die, your warts die with you.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Stop saying Thank God it’s Friday! or Oh God it’s Monday! and pretending they’re daring or witty statements. These clichés are the ejaculations of pipsqueaks. Stop being a slave, get a union, tell your boss to shove it, or find a more interesting way to spend your life.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Stop revering the Beach Boys. Try absorbing the lyrics of Wish They All Could Be California Girls – they’re so moronic, it defies description. In the midst of the Sixties cultural revolution, the Beach Boys sang songs about muscle cars and Aryan surfer girls. Panicked on hearing the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s, Brian Wilson responded with Good Vibrations, a song by clueless Republican frat boys masquerading as hippies.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Stop believing that marijuana legalization will be some kind of “win” for progressive forces. A society drenched in consumerism, oppressive jobs, booze, hypocrisy, propaganda, social media and antidepressants has no need of another drug. Drugs have long been a key method of social control by ruling classes: that’s why ghettoes are full of them. Grass turns its users into stupid do-nothings and dreamers, not world-changers. Consider what dope did to 1960s’ political activism. Who benefitted?

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: If you just stop cutting bits off, a bonsai tree will grow really large.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Don’t do Hot Yoga. Its Americanized, militaristic description as “kick-ass yoga” should be sufficient inducement to stay away. Embraced by competitive, obnoxious personalities who regard their own bodies as adversaries to be subdued, its dangerous levels of heat encourage recklessness and may be injurious. Hot Yoga is wholly contrary to the principles of real Yoga.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Stop idolizing the Dalai Lama. This “Hipster Pope” is the exiled head of a feudal monarchy that subdued its subjects by religious extortion and torture. Equality and freedom are his enemies. Dalai Lama is a fake spiritual leader (what other kind is there?) and paid CIA-proxy who abandoned his people for wealth and fame in the West. You will thrive without his “wisdom.”

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: Don’t donate to charity. Absent from post-Sandy devastation, the head of the Red Cross apologized and said he really wished they could respond faster. Apparently, they’re just not used to dealing with emergencies! The charities you regard as “honest” simply haven’t been exposed yet.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION Don’t accept the apologies of the powerful. They live luxurious lives founded on broken promises. Apologies are accepted by naive people who project their own ignorance and incompetence onto leaders who command society’s resources. “They’re just like us – cut them some slack!” is an idea that helps ensure the status quo. Power is NEVER innocent.

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsCOURSE CORRECTION: With America now appearing to be criminally insane in the eyes of the world, all the nations of the earth must join together to invade the USA so that she 1) stop harming herself; 2) stop harming the rest of the world. She’s simply too dangerous to be allowed out on her own.

Click here to read my list of Course Corrections posts


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