Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Great Stereopticon

I was reading Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver this evening and I found myself in the chapter titled "The Great Stereopticon." Aside from having a very cool name and 12 words I had to look up, the chapter made some excellent points on the depth with which we consider the information we partake of each day. Weaver describes The Great Stereopticon as a machine consisting of three parts: the press, the motion picture, and the radio. The purpose of the Stereopticon, he says, is basically to maintain or instill values. The way the machine does this is "to project selected pictures of life in the hope that what is seen will be imitated."

To begin the chapter, Weaver presents a dilemma in which leaders must unite a people are no longer like-minded on fundamental issues. Originally the people were united by a shared belief or common religion. As religion deteriorated and the people became fragmented and individualistic, the leaders were forced to try to unite them again so that they could be led (or rather, so that the leaders could have a group to lead.) The leaders' solution was
"to let religion go but to replace it with education, which supposedly would exercise the same efficacy. The separation of education from religion, one of the proudest achievements of modernism, is but an extension of the separation of knowledge from metaphysics... We include here, of course, the education of the classroom, for all such institutionalized instruction proceeds on the assumptions of the state. But the education which best accomplishes their purpose is the systematic indoctrination from day to day of the whole citizenry through channels of information and entertainment."
And so the Great Stereopticon was constructed to so indoctrinate the public.

As Weaver addresses each of the three parts to this machine, he speaks of how each is used in the breakdown of a thinking society. Newspapers, by their bold article titles and carefully worded reports elicit automatic responses.
"Headlines and advertising teem with them [carefully chosen phrases to evoke specific responses of approval or disapproval], and we seem to approach a point at which failure to make the stock response is regarded as faintly treasonable, like refusal to salute the flag."
Because of this, journalism becomes something to be feared. So many are not used to thinking that when they feel a response contradictory to the one suggested by the piece, they don't know what to do.
"If our newspaper reader were trained to look for assumptions, if he were conscious of the rhetoric in lively reporting, we might not fear this product of the printer's art; but that woul be to grant that he is educated."
This is the education we are seeking to do through Classical Christian education, that most of us did not receive ourselves.

As for Weaver's discussion on movies, I found his ideas of censorship very interesting and inconsistent with those I was raised to hold. On censorship he says,
"For what the public is reconciled to seeing censored are just the little breaches of decorum which fret bourgeios respectability and sense of security. The truth is that these are so far removed from the heart of the problem that they could well be ignored. The thing that needs to be censored is not the length of the kisses but the egotistic, selfish, and self-flaunting hero; not the relative proportion of undraped breast but the flippant, vacuous-minded, and also egotistic heroine. Let us not worry about the jokes of dubious propriety; let us rather object to the whole story, with its complacent assertation of the virtues of materialistic society."
And possibly most interesting was his critique of the radio and television. Being an NPR addict myself, I thought, "What could possibly be wrong with NPR?" For the radio and television he states that the problem lies in the "daily mechanical wrecking of hierarchy." Through our daily consumption of these media,
"we are made to grow accustomed to the weirdest of juxtapositions: the serious and the trivial, the comic and the tragic, follow one another in mechanical sequence without real transition."
This approach separates us from the reality of our world and feeds us the metaphysical dream of progress, somehow making us feel that though the world is in disarray, it will soon be all better and we need not worry now. Cheerful commentators come on the air to discuss in the same breath the death of Pope John Paul II and the rising gas prices, as through they had equal significance and impact. This fragmentation has never seemed inconsistent to me, but then I have been inundated with it my entire life. It seems no stranger to me that 2 minute commercial breaks (which are divided into four 30 second segments) break up an hour long news show (which is itself broken into four or more segments) than it does that the days are separated into hours and minutes and divided by night. How do we, who are so satiated with the ideas fed us through the Great Stereopticon become free to think and reason without its influence? I'm sure there is much to be said to answer this question and I will continue to think on it, probably for years. But I know my starting place... "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." ~Proverbs 1:7

A really interesting blog on The Great Stereopticon can be found at The Misspent Life.

1 comment:

Terry Finley said...

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I think the gas prices are
(legal) robbery.

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Terry Finley