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33 Halliburton in Hell
32 Mr. Fabulous Chicken Fricassee
31 Little Dictators
30 The 2002 B-TOY Awards
29 My Fitness Goals
28 A Streetcar Named Darlene
27 Operation Enduring Irritation
26 Au Revoir
25 Jeanette MacDonald Among the Ruins
24 I, Flannel-Mouthed Shave Tail
23 The Center of the Universe
22 Some Ketchup with That?
21 That Loathsome Guild
20 Honey-Sweet
19 Buff-Daddy Bookseller
18 Dr. Seuss, Heretic
17 A Smart Bomb Sampler
16 Bin Laden, Bushranger
15 Puppet Nature
14 Character Determines Fate
13 Fundamentally Changed
12 The Smell of Rodent in the Morning
11 Planet of the Bobos
10 Poor William Rehnquist
9 What Michael Pollan Learned From His Alien Abductors
8 We Are in the End Times
7 The Incurable Disease of Writing
6 Halitosis of the Mind
5 My Mommy Fetish
4 Sherlock Holmes Was No Fancy Boy
3 Joyce Carol Oates Scares Me
2 Global Warming is Getting on My Nerves
1 I. Don't. Like. Dave. Eggers

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Interviews | September 2, 2014

Jill Owens: IMG David Mitchell: The Interview

David MitchellDavid Mitchell's newest mind-bending, time-skipping novel may be his most accomplished work yet. Written in six sections, one per decade, The Bone... Continue »
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    The Bone Clocks

    David Mitchell 9781400065677


Bibliolatry: opinions from a very
No. 18:  

Dr. Seuss, Heretic

Editor's note:
Carlisle's a grump and a bore. If you'd really like to know more about the relationship between market capitalism and the media, why not just read one of these excellent books on the topic:
Jihad vs. McWorld
Jihad vs. McWorld
by Benjamin R. Barber

A fascinating exploration of the conflict between globalism and tribalism.

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The Powers That Be
The Powers That Be
by David Halberstam

A massive history of the rise in media power from FDR through Watergate.

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Manufacturing Consent
Manufacturing Consent
by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

Anyone interested in media responsibility must read the most popular - and most shocking - book on the topic.

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The Media Monopoly
The Media Monopoly
by Ben H. Bagdikian

A bit dated, but still "One of the most important critiques of the press ever written."

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White Noise
White Noise
by Don DeLillo

Not exactly about the media, but no one better captures the power of consumer culture to inhabit our lives.

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by George Orwell

Remains a timely indictment of the effects of centralized, consolidated, and homogenized power (and thought).

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Ilove the holidays just as much as anyone, but this year I'm feeling a little out of sorts. Maybe I'm just too pessimistic. But doesn't anyone else worry that America has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas?

I watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas recently, the original one, the cartoon by Chuck Jones. I'm sure you've seen it. It's seductively charming: funny, sincere, just naughty enough, but never vulgar. It remains one of the most popular cartoons ever made — which, unfortunately, speaks volumes about the sorry state of our nation.

It's true, the story seems harmless enough. The Grinch hates everyone, so he robs them all blind. Then he lies to cover his tracks. So far, so good. After all, what would be accomplished in this world without a little dishonesty and theft? The problem comes toward the end, when the Grinch decides that Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more than packages, boxes, and bags. Not only is this treacly, it's downright dangerous.

The intended message seems to be that one doesn't need to spend money on fancy gadgets or useless garbage to enjoy the holiday. As if the purpose of the holidays were to enjoy yourself. It's no wonder Theodor Geisel decided to use a pen name when he wrote the book. Heretics have had their fingernails extracted for less.

And well they should. If such ideas caught on, why, it would call into question the very foundation of our society. As James Hillman once pointed out, America relegated Jesus — and all his buddies: the Poor, the Meek, the Peacemakers, etc. — to the back seat ages ago. Today, we live in "a monotheism of business. It's our dominant myth, and everything has to serve it."

Right on, brother James — everything has to serve it. And even a writer of children's books ought to understand that serving the "market's universal church" (as Benjamin Barber alternatively calls it) means spending some dollars, whether you feel like it or not. How on earth are we supposed to sustain our greatest cultural achievements — Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us, Enron (no wait, scratch that one), etc. — without a healthy cash flow? How on earth are we going to turn the rest of the world into labor pools for our products and markets for our goods if we don't do everything necessary to fuel the fire of our own economy?

Well, it's sad to have to admit it, but not everyone "gets" the elegance of these basic principles. Some people right here in this country are so intent on "living simply," that they fail to see the necessity — the beauty — of markets unfettered by governmental or moral controls. And, of course, as we all now know, there are a few spoilt sports outside this country who really just need to lighten up and join in the spirit of the new millennium.

In a former era, it was easy to maintain the fealty of the faithful. The Church simply put on the best show in town. They had soothing music, mysterious incense, grand architecture, and fabulous outfits. For the braniacs, they devised one of the most obtuse, arcane intellectual systems ever devised. And if none of this worked, they had at their disposal excommunication, thumbscrews, guilt, and the threat of eternal damnation. It was a good system.

But today we've really got it down. Instead of a clunky medieval bureaucracy, we have the modern, high-tech mass media. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines — the media is everywhere: living room, bathroom, office, and car. They are transmitted in cables underfoot, from pole to pole overhead, and, thanks to radio waves and the thousands of satellites whooshing around the planet, the media inhabits the very air you breathe. Whatever your mood or predilection, the media is there to numb you up or dumb you down, to distract your mind or fill it with dreams of Regis and Rogaine.

Now, there's one little problem. Technically, the press is supposed to be free, and it's still best to keep up appearances. Of course, true freedom of the press would mean that journalists, broadcasters, and all the rest could investigate and report pretty much whatever they wanted. But who knows what ideas they might get into their heads. Scary. What if Dan Rather interviewed a guest on national television who seriously discussed alternatives to our market-über-alles system? What if Nightline did a story that questioned why America has only two political parties and both are pro-big business?

Thanks to a small handful of men, we'll sooner see Ted Koppel lose the hairpiece. These geniuses came up with a most clever way to get around the freedom of the press. By letting business owners buy space in their newspapers and radio programs and television shows, they put the media in the market's debt. Soon they were able to drive the cost to the consumer down so far that the more opinionated and — heaven forbid — "public-service" oriented media simply couldn't compete. They were either driven out of business, or, better yet, incorporated into ever-larger conglomerates.

Today, the thousands of small, independent media companies that informed and entertained the public in the early part of the century have almost all been subsumed into the paternal arms of six — count 'em, SIX — enormous multinationals, all among the largest companies in the world. (Even public broadcasting, with its ready cash flow from corporate America, is now ripe for conversion.) And you don't get that large by worrying about social costs or by "listening to your heart." These righteous companies listen only to the insistent demands of the bottom line. And the bottom line says, make it simple, fun, or salacious and people will not only stop their whining, they'll open their pocketbooks and ask, How much?

Just think, if it weren't for the shrewd business values of News Corp, AOL Time Warner, General Electric, Viacom, Bertelsman, and, of course, Disney, our culture would have to live without the soothing pleasures of Judge Judy and That Seventies Show; Jerry Springer would be a salesman for La-Z-Boy; and some lucky real estate agent with a Chrysler would have Barbara Wawa for a secretary. The bottom line knows that to get the most bang for your buck, you simply need to scrape the bottom of the banal barrel. So rest assured, your favorite news and entertainment outlets won't be fretting about the actual quality of their programs or posing difficult questions about the benevolence of free markets anytime soon. The News's primary responsibility is no longer news; it's market share, and her sultry attendant, advertising.

Ah, advertising, that beguiling siren. She's got us all in a muddle. We don't want to want her, but the fact is unmistakable. We can't get her slogans, logos, and jingles out of our minds. She has us completely at her mercy, and we love it. The Church had the Sistine Chapel, the Pietà, and Chartre. We have the Absolut bottle, the Golden Arches, and the Swoosh. Marshall McLuhan called advertising "the greatest art form of the twentieth century," and he never said a truer word.

Okay, McLuhan didn't exactly intend this as a compliment. Elsewhere he said that "ads push the principle of noise all the way to the plateau of persuasion. They are quite in accord with the procedures of brainwashing." Oh, get over it. Sure that Jack in the Box guy is annoying as hell, but marketing is essential to the program. And it's a lot more fun than the alternative. Would you really rather sit through a two-hour sermon on the evils of liquor and licentiousness each week. Yawn. If the media is the lifeblood of our "democracy," then advertising is its beating heart, and our upstanding marketing men and women are capitalism's clergy. They inform us of the basic tenets of our faith and facilitate our fundamental ritual, the incessant murmur of our mantra, buy, buy, buy...

Our own bard of consumer culture, Don DeLillo, understands well the magic of marketing, its power to seep into the unconscious, to inhabit our dreams (After all, he was once an ad man himself.):

Steffie turned slightly, then muttered something in her sleep. It seemed important that I know what it was....She uttered two clearly audible words, familiar and elusive at the same time, words that seemed to have a ritual meaning, part of a verbal spell or ecstatic chant. Toyota Celica.

A long moment passed before I realized this was the name of an automobile. The truth only amazed me more. The utterance was beautiful and mysterious, gold-shot with looming wonder...Toyota Corolla, Toyota Celica, Toyota Cressida. [from White Noise]

Dr. Seuss could have learned something from DeLillo: an appreciation for the power of corporate branding. His Grinch was "gold-shot with looming wonder" over all the wrong things. Fortunately, Ron Howard has minimized Seuss's effect on future generations by creating an overproduced, vulgar, and poorly written remake of the classic.

Instead of aiming for the charm of the original, Opie, sensibly, played to the public's insatiable desire for Jim Carrey's smart ass. In doing so, he sent a clear message to kiddies of all ages. Success is not measured by the quality of your work, but by the amount of money you make. His piece of crap became one of the biggest moneymakers in motion picture history. Last year, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) grossed nearly 350 million dollars not including promotional tie-ins. Oh, it's a jolly 'oliday with Carrey, all right.

You know what? I think I've cheered myself up. Sure, there are still a few vestiges of the old love-your-fellow-man nonsense lying about, but they are dropping like tabs at a Dead concert. The future looks bright. Next up, Steven Spielberg's remake of It's a Wonderful Life: "Every time a bell rings an angel gets a million bucks."

p.s. A Note to Carlisle's Grandmother:
Hey Nana, Help! Remember that time I said that Aunt Celia must be closer to Jesus than you because she yelled his name better, and Papa took me aside and insisted on telling me about your work with unwed mothers and such (and that all those rumors about Celia are true)? I'm worried that he's going to read this column, and then give me one of his I-don't-know-what-the-world-is-coming-to phone calls. You understand that I'm not really upset with Dr. Seuss; I don't think Jesus is in the backseat; and Christmas is about loving your fellow man (or at least ought to be). But you've had more practice explaining irony to Papa than I have, so would you head him off at the phone and talk to him for me. Thanks, and see you next Tuesday...
Love, Carlisle

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