1. i no longer buy CDs, i merely listen to Spotify. The range of music is incredible, and the music quality is fine for me, since i’ve not had a decent sound system in over 3 years. They have adverts every few minutes, mostly for Spotify Premium. They are quite open about the benefits: “do you need a break from the adverts?” (in German). i’m surprised that they don’t sell advert space more intelligently; it would be quite easy to get a feeling for a listener’s musical tastes, and perhaps a little for their interests, but instead they just relentlessly offer to stop offering you the offer to stop offering to stop offering offering stop stop stop, as long as you pay. They are not so much adverts as tactical nuisances.
In the future, i imagine this will become the norm. For example, i am surprised Facebook haven’t done this yet – run more and more adverts, not for the advertisers but to harass the users into paying a monthly no-advert fee. With over a billion users, 5 Euros per year, per person, would be enough to equal BMW’s 2011 profit.
2. Every day, you are surrounded by words and images designed to manipulate you into buying largely worthless shit. It isn’t important for the products to have any value or quality – adverts are just adverts, designed to get into your head and trick you. They are, for the most part, lies. For example, Marlboro’s ghastly Don’t Be A Maybe ad, espousing freedom, youthful bravado, recklessness, arrogance:
– has one function, to take your money. You may think, what is elberry on about now, it’s a bleeding advert ain’t it? But that’s my point, that the deception doesn’t strike us as such. As it becomes normal to be daily surrounded by lies, and you accept this as normal, it must influence the way you use language yourself, the way you think. We are routinely outraged by politicians, but not really, not really – in the age of advertising we accept that this is the official use of language – that this has authority. The official, authoritative use of words is to deceive, and we so accept that as normal that i seem cranky and weird in my objections.
3. i saw this in my various office jobs, back in the day. i was surprised by the degree to which management-speak, akin to politicians’ speeches and advertising, has infected the workplace. In a sense, nobody believes it – not even all managers; but it has authority; when you hear “professional”, “cascade”, “time-keeping”, “policy”, and so on, you know you are in the presence of the priests and must debase yourself. Likewise with PC talk of imperialism and hegemonies and what have you. Its function is to signal “I am of the right party, I have power”. From Theodore Dalrymple’s trip to North Korea’s Pyongyang Department Store Number 1 (cited here):
It didn’t take long to discover that this was no ordinary department store. It was filled with thousands of people, going up and down the escalators, standing at the corners, going in and out of the front entrance in a constant stream both ways – yet nothing was being bought or sold. I checked this by standing at the entrance for half an hour. The people coming out were carrying no more than the people entering. Their shopping bags contained as much, or as little, when they left as when they entered. In some cases, I recognised people coming out as those who had gone in a few minutes before, only to see them re-entering the store almost immediately. And I watched a hardware counter for fifteen minutes. There were perhaps twenty people standing at it; there were two assistants behind the counter, but they paid no attention to the ‘customers’. The latter and the assistants stared past each other in a straight line, neither moving nor speaking.
Eventually, they grew uncomfortably aware that they were under my observation. They began to shuffle their feet and wriggle, as if my regard pinned them like live insects to a board. The assistants too became restless and began to wonder what to do in these unforeseen circumstances. They decided that there was nothing for it but to distribute something under the eyes of this inquisitive foreigner. And so, all of a sudden, they started to hand out plastic wash bowls to the twenty ‘customers’, who took them (without any pretence of payment). Was it their good luck, then? Had they received something for nothing? No, their problems had just begun. What were they to do with their plastic wash bowls? (All of them were brown incidentally, for the assistants did not have sufficient initiative to distribute a variety of goods to give verisimilitude to the performance, not even to the extent of giving out differently coloured bowls.)
They milled around the counter in a bewildered fashion, clutching their bowls in one hand as if they were hats they had just doffed in the presence of a master. Some took them to the counter opposite to hand them in; some just waited until I had gone away. I would have taken a photograph, but I remembered just in time that these people were not participating in this charade from choice, that they were victims, and that – despite their expressionless faces and lack of animation – they were men with chajusong, that is to say creativity and consciousness, and to have photographed them would only have added to their degradation. I left the hardware counter, but returned briefly a little later: the same people were standing at it, sans brown plastic bowls, which were neatly re-piled on the shelf.
i was reminded of another Dalrymple observation:
Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.
The apparently pointless charade of Pyongyang Department Store Number 1, and political correctness, is of a part with modern management-speak, the buzzwords whose function is not to clarify or delineate, but to control, to signal overwhelming dominance; to say “Comply.” The tone is crucial here. When a manager uses these words, she is saying “I am no longer fully human, I am a machine.” As with the Spotify ads, the point is not to communicate but to harass and bully, to irritate, to exhaust.
That language should be used to express thought, to clarify, is presently unacceptable. It is now merely a signal of power, whether it is babbling management speak about professionalism and cascading scenarios and blue-sky-thinking, or media buffoons solemnly intoning their mantras of western cultural imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy, etc. Its function is to obfuscate, to impede expression, to lame thought and mute opposition.
4. A week ago, a rah i know from university posted the following on her Facebook wall:
She apparently got it from a FB page called “MBA Women International”. More than 10 years ago i was studying English Lit; the rah was studying Management but did one English module (Virginia Woolf), which is how we met. She never spoke in seminars; outside of class, she seemed to have emerged from a Sex in the City episode (an as yet unknown horror); i indulgently concluded that she regarded literature as an adjunct to her pink-scarfed vanity. Like Janice Soprano, she considers herself creative and intelligent. She dabbles in this & that; mainly she is a socialite living off daddy. Like most half-clever women she possesses boundless self-confidence. For she is at least half-clever; at any rate, she has read a few books. i sometimes wonder how she could swallow garbage like, well, just about everything she posts on Facebook.
For myself, reading intensively ruined me for Oprah. If you read a great deal, of Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, TS Eliot, Proust, Wallace Stevens, PG Wodehouse, Kafka, Blake, Woolf, Browning, Keats, Austen, Sophocles, Plato, Camus, Rilke, Tolkien, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Thomas Mann, Rimbaud, Schopenhauer, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Dr Johnson, George Steiner, Vergil, Homer, Beckett, etc. you become ruined for most things. It’s not that, e.g. Beckett is always a genius, that Tolkien has no flat-footedly pompous passages, that Mann isn’t often irritatingly cold-blooded, that Wallace Stevens doesn’t sometimes stray into the pointlessly unintelligible – but after reading Beckett i have no patience for absolutely dark despair, unalleviated by humour or grace; after Tolkien i expect a story can be exciting, create new mythological shapes, and have deep character and living dialogue; after Thomas Mann i have no interest in Ian McEwan; after Wallace Stevens most modern poetry strikes me as tepid, shambling, nerveless. They create a standard. Who, after reading all of Shakespeare, could react to Oprah with anything nicer than bemused abstention?
5. i have met well-read people who could act like machines, but i think it was not so easy for them. For better or worse language is part of human consciousness, and the language of Oprah, or of management or PC babble is wholly other than the language of Dr Johnson or Rilke or TS Eliot. The former is not about communication; it is inert, robotic (the Oprah quotation sounds exactly like every New Age book i’ve ever disconsolately leafed through). It’s as nuanced as semaphore; or a baboon’s purple ass.
Where language is so – a baboon’s purple ass – then the consciousness of those who use it will be dulled, barbaric, unfeeling, extreme. Where language is subtle, various, capable of fine distinction and tone, it encourages (necessitates) the alert mind.
In every time there is tyranny and stupidity and corruption; but in our age, it is overwhelmingly present in language. One should resist the urge to crudity, to semaphore-like language & thought; and strive instead to be alert and discriminating, and not a machine.