I am reminded of our current lack of paranoia by a post I read at voyou desoeuvre about the tv series, Mad Men. As my television is a dead little monad as far as tv waves are concerned, I haven’t seen that show – although it sounds like I should rent the dvds. The sixties advertising culture fascinated the tv sitcom writers at the time – I believe the husband in Bewitched, for instance, is an adman; and if he wasn’t, I know there were other admen on other long cancelled tv shows that continue to broadcast carcinogenically deep in my brain cells – and it is surprising, thinking about it, that this high concept hasn’t been mined for nostalgia before.
My paranoia about our present lack of paranoia targetted this graf:
“The crucial scene comes when Don Draper drops in on his bohemian mistress and argues with her beatnik friends, who tell him that the adverts he creates are merely lies. Don’s response, that “there is no big lie, there is no system,” is quite correct. Advertising doesn’t simply lie about the world, on the contrary, as Don’s practice throughout the show makes clear, it tells, or rather constructs, a particular sort of truth, a kind of dream image of capitalism.”
Voyou Dee goes on to put this into the vernacular of Zizek:
“Žižek argues that contemporary capitalism is not based around demanding that subjects conform to a specific identity, but rather demanding that they answer the question, “what do you want?”
All of this is rather shocking, although I guess it shouldn’t be. The beatniks were of course right on the money. Zizek’s argument reproduces the neo-classical one made against Galbraith’s analysis of advertising in The Affluent Society – want, in this view, is a concept about nature, and we proceed from there to our options. This is why, for the neo-classicals, advertisements don’t skew the efficient markets. Galbraith, on the other hand, claimed that did, and that advertisements were part of a system of planned obsolescence – that there wasn’t a true ontological distance between the ad, the system of production, and the consumer side.
However, the issue is deeper than that. Gnostic history is Sunday history – you can’t turn to any one tome for it. You fossick it out of your idle reading matter. But let’s go through a few big lies – systematic lies – produced by the father of lies during the Cold War.
The first, of course, was the configuration of the forces of nuclear destruction themselves. Eisenhower has long ago become a grandfatherly figure, or a moderate Republican, one of the great presidents, etc. We know, though, since James Bamford’s Body of Secrets he revealed that even before the U-2s, Eisenhower had often had SAC penetrate Soviet air space in formations that were designed to look like an attack – in order to sample the Soviet defense response. When the U-2 crashed in 1960, the tip of the iceberg of what the U.S. had been doing over Soviet airspace was revealed, but just the tip. This is Bamford:
“On March 21, 1956, a group of RB-47 reconnaissance bombers took off for target locations within Russia. Almost daily over the next seven weeks, between eight and ten bombers launched, refueled over the North Pole, and continued south across the Russian border to their assigned locations.
They flew in teams of two. One RB-47H ferret would pinpoint and eavesdrop on radar, air bases, and missile installations. Nearby, an RB-47E photoreconnaissance plane would gather imagery. Their assignments included overflying such sensitive locations as Novaya Zemlya, the banana-shaped island where Russia carried out its most secret atomic tests. From moment of takeoff to moment of landing, absolute radio silence was required, even during the occasional chase by a MiG. "One word on the radio, and all missions for the day had to abort," said Brigadier General William Meng, one of the officers who ran the penetration operation. "But that never happened; not one mission was ever recalled."
As in a Fourth of July fireworks display, the most spectacular mission was saved for the end. On May 6, they began the single most daring air operation of the Cold War, a "massed overflight" of Soviet territory. The point was to cover a great deal of territory, quickly. Six armed RB-47E aircraft, flying abreast, crossed the North Pole and penetrated Russian airspace in broad daylight, as if on a nuclear bombing run. They entered above Ambarchik in western Siberia, then turned eastward, collecting valuable intelligence as they passed over key Russian air bases and launch sites on their way toward Anadyr on the Bering Strait. Nearly a dozen hours after it began, the massed overflight ended when the spy planes touched down at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.”
This hairtrigger behavior was exactly the kind of thing that could easily have launched a nuclear war. Mad men aptly names the people who designed it – the President and the chiefs of staff. It wasn't revealed until 2002.
All the President's men were further involved in our second big lie, the above ground testing of atom bombs (and, it is believed by some, the occasional thermonuclear device). This did not only poison the ground in Nevada – rather, it poisoned our belief in establishment science. The AEC, for thirty years, maintained that the fallout from these tests was small, manageable, and harmless. We now know that it was worldwide, out of control, and, fatal. Here’s your map of cesium levels for those of you into the whole mutation thing. From the study of just one of the thousands of isotopes contained in the fallout, iodine 131. The NCI’s Congressionally ordered survey concluded this:
“… we evaluated the risks of thyroid cancer from that exposure and estimated that about 49,000 fallout-related cases might occur in the United States, almost all of them among persons who were under age 20 at some time during the period 1951-57, with 95-percent uncertainty limits of 11,300 and 212,000. The estimated risk may be compared with some 400,000 lifetime thyroid cancers expected in the same population in the absence of any fallout exposure.”
The Gnostic historian, avoiding the Zizek, would be well advised to consult a whole other literature. Start with the fantastic photo book plus interviews, America Ground Zero, by Carole Gallagher, who dug up my favorite government description of the citizenry of this country of ours: “the low use segment of the population.” Then dig up the Plutonium Files, about the 4,000 people who, unbeknownst to themselves, were the low use lucky duckies used in experiments financed by the Gov back in the days when capitalism, ever dreamy, was asking – “what do you want?” That capitalism! Quite a joker.
You can follow the path of cancer – which is the secret sharer of advertising in the 20th century – through many a merry big lie in the Cold War days. While the AEC was assuring everyone that an atom blast was just a big cherrybomb, deep in the bowels of the establishment there was a freakout in the late 50s, when the Van Allen belt was discovered – because some speculated that between the U.S. and Russia, we might have fucked the pooch. We might just have released a poison in the population we couldn’t even deal with. To find out how widespread were the effects, as Patrick Tierney shows in Darkness in Eldorado, many a grant was made to anthropologists and health care researchers to take blood samples of isolated populations, which is how Napoleon Chagnon first found himself sampling Yamomami blood in the sixties – which then went into work showing the natural violence of the tribe, thus fitting nicely into the Manichean code of the Cold War – which was a war against “perfectionism” as well as a war against communism. I prefer to follow the cancer trail to Bill Brandt’s brilliant book, The Cigarette Century, which is about much more than cigarettes. There was a bleak war to be fought and won in the fifties against the Public Health/Socialist science of Richard Doll, whose epidemiological study showed the link between lung cancer and cigarettes. Notice, here, how “big” functions – it goes from the atmosphere to the individual lung. Brandt’s account is the account of the merger of science, advertising, commerce, and media. The cigarette companies devised the way the politics in America, and increasingly elsewhere, are fought out – with pseudo-issues and outrage, in a press that is oriented to the false equivalence of fairness and truth. The cigarette companies bought enough big names in cancer research who, for one reason or another, were invested in cancer not having an environmental cause. And by pumping the “doubts” about cigarettes, and making a cig souroundsound out of tv, the companies managed an amazing feat – the number of people smoking cigs after the discovery that they were linked to cancer almost doubled in the next two decades.
Of course, Zizek might brilliantly deduce that these people wanted cancer. The death drive, you see. Others, however, might point out that when cigarettes ceased being advertised in the time honored saturation manner, the wanting went out of the industry, and use declined. Amazing!
I could go into much, much more Gnostic detail. I could write a book! The point however is that when your philosophy converges with that of a spokesman for the ad industry, you’ve probably fucked up somewhere in the chain of your deductions. A dream industry - that is, after all, an advertising phrase. AKA, a lie.
There is no dream industry.