In the early years of ethnology and anthropology scholars were fascinated by the predominance of universal cultural visions; the widespread motifs of the Goddess and the mother-son alliance. These were not particularly popular ideas with the scientists of our advanced technological society who weren’t entirely thrilled to consider that our culture had creation myths similar to those of “savages”. As the social sciences evolved they concentrated on less alarming empirically based research: uncovering kinship structures and investigating the relationships of power in societies. Theorists like Sir James Fraser, Joseph Campbell and Robert Graves garnered a reputation for indulgence and un-scientific conjecture and became viewed as both romantic and eccentric.
However, humans love stories and wherever society exists tales are told and cherished. Most are variations on ancient plot scenarios that we’ve been entertaining ourselves with for time out of mind. It seems that we are programmed for enjoying repetition and have expectations around the outcome of our entertainment: basically we tend to like a happy ending.
The stories that we pass down through the generations embody our ethos and communicate the aspects of life we hold dear. We acknowledge “classics” in every quarter and an educated person is generally expected to have a wide knowledge of literature. A certain amount of reading will soon avail the reader of archetypal characters and actions and this in turn fuels an understanding of social life.
For a hundred years or so, moving images have been wildly popular as a story-telling medium, film has become universal and a huge influence on contemporary life. Not just movies but the more recent advent of television has moved story-telling further to the center of our lives. How many times have we characterized the contemporary proletariat as those folks who work all day and sit in front of the T.V. all night?
When our kids were little we chose not to have t.v., it was the insidious consumerism that we hoped to shield them from. They railed, they brought us cable company advertisements, they stayed over at friends’ houses as long as they could, they solicited VHS tapes of Nickelodeon programming. Then, when they became teens, the internet became t.v. and we no longer had much control. We were mildly comforted by their discerning taste: years of movie viewing on video and dvd had honed their sense of watch-worthiness and they showing themselves to be ruthless content editors. They drew us in with ‘Lost’, and their enthusiasm had us jostling for a position at the laptop screen, pretty soon the whole family was sucked in to the island drama, even to the extent of paying i-tunes episode by episode! Mom and Dad consoled their consciences by focusing on the bonding aspect of gathering together, nuclear style, sharing the story and mulling over the intricacies (and anomalies) of the meandering plot.
Once plugged in, we were unstoppable; after Lost came Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Downton Abbey, we felt guilty but distracted. Then along came Game of Thrones, the Tolkien-for-adults HBO series and we admitted total unconditional surrender to the Matrix-like world of 21st century entertainment.
Emily Nussbaum writing in the New Yorker (The Aristocrats, The New Yorker, May 7, 2012) considers the appeal of the fantasy saga of Westeros and elucidates that like all of the above-mentioned TV dramas these shows thrill us because they mirror our own reality: they concern the machinations of the ever-dominant patriarchy and the mechanisms that powerless groups (ie. womenkind, ethnic minorities and anti-capitalist weirdos) utilize to survive and sometimes subvert.
I can’t help agreeing with Nussbaum, we seem happily preoccupied with the fantastically grim caricatures of corrupted power and the slim hopes of our cute heroes in R.R Martin’s fantasy while remaining unwilling to really focus down on our real time crises and planetary drama.
We don’t have the same enthusiasm for tuning into our own unfolding Groan of Drones, featuring the handsome yet autocratically inclined President, brooding over his kill- list with a slew of robots to execute his wishes. Recently described as, “George W Bush on steroids” Obama might start smoking cigarettes again or even try a vaporizer instead of pursuing this obsession with drone attacks which, more often than not, take out the innocent neighbors and passersby rather than the elusive terrorists. Collateral damage by drone is a sideshow to the ethical dilemma of the U.S. arbitrarily deciding who to remove from the planet.
But anyway, and more importantly, we are now watching Trailer Park Boys, the hilarious Canadian comedy show introduced to us by a visiting Australian filmmaker. This has saved us from the black hole created in our viewing pleasure by the end of the second season of Game of Thrones.
Forty years ago when the CIA’s MK Ultra study told them that television was a more effective method of population control than cocaine or heroin, they could only dream of such an addictive audience and the gift of a communicative tool with the scope of the internet.
There is something inclusive about being a “watcher” though, no longer excluded from t.v. show conversations, people we thought we had nothing in common with are revealed as like-minded supporters of The House Stark, united against the dreadful psychopath King Joffrey, I could go on…
Back in the nineties Terence McKenna warned against a technology which could sweep us up in wonder and sidetrack our attention. With just a few t.v. shows to keep up with as well as Facebook and Twitter to maintain, it is quite easy to lose sight of other troubling considerations, like an impending meltdown at Fukushima or fracking earthquakes, not to mention the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The upside of our preoccupation with novel distractions is that we definitely are creating consciousness even if we are expressing our communal dislike of despotism rather impotently through popular fiction. Some say this kind of mass awareness has repercussions discernible in the real world.
The Global Consciousness Project is an international collaboration initiated in 1998 and which studies the subtle reach of human consciousness in the physical world. Random Event Generators (REGs) are positioned in fifty locations around the world, the generators sample quantum-level electronic noise (think static hiss)- results show that samples taken after major global events, 9/11 for example, produce a distinctly elevated reading from all generators. The research points to a kind of hyper-communication that some might call telepathy. Certainly the project leans toward an awareness that the more we join together in thinking alike the less violent we become.
So to us dialogue-craving creatures, it should come as no surprise that research into DNA shows us that it’s structure has the same features as human language: syntax, grammar, meaning.
Perhaps the more we communicate on a large scale these patterns which govern us unconsciously will be revealed. If Paul Stamets, the world’s leading authority on mushrooms, is correct in his conjecture that computer networking follows the biological model of fungal networks we may be well on our way to discovering our ultimate communicative abilities.
These are the things I will be considering in the months that lay ahead before the advent of season three and the truly important events of Westeros.