Docile subjects or how much entertainment do we deserve?

Until we take seriously our future as being inextricably linked with a healthy environment and rich biodiversity, and have empathy for life on the planet we belong to, life we co-evolved with, then we won’t treat each other any better than we are now.

Last night (Jan 2, 2018) I watched 8 out of 10 cats:
Jimmy Carr (host and comedian):  They’ve done a study, the WWF, not wrestling but the wildlife, the little furry creatures’ association. We’ve got 40% less animals than we had in the past.

Yeah. This is it’s the global wildlife population has halved in the last 40 years.

Sean Lock (comedian): And it just begs the question for me, who’s that crapping on my car, then? LAUGHTER

Sean Lock, Jimmy Carr, Jon Richardson – 8 out of 10 cats

Jamie Laing (reality TV star): I love animals.

Jimmy Carr: OK. Good.

Jamie Laing:  I like monkeys. I think they’re sweet . . . Do you know what the only other animal to be able to stand on its head is? – I don’t know, no. It’s an elephant.

Sean Lock: I bet they’ve not gone round the whole animal kingdom, “Go on” I bet a meerkat could stand on its head.

Jamie Laing: The other fact, do you know how big a blue whale’s penis is?

Sean Lock: Uh Yes, I do, it’s the size of a small car.

Jamie Laing:  It is apparently eight metres long.

Jimmy Carr: Small car, yeah.

Sean Lock: That’s a big car, Jimmy. Eight metres is a fucking lorry! What are you driving?

8 Out of 10 Cats Series 18, Episode 1, Dec 5, 2014.

This is a BBC ‘topical news panel show’. Panellists have to guess what people are talking about most in a given week based on statistics and opinion polls. The WWF news item was fifth, George Clooney’s wedding was first. The show’s premise is weak, but the comedians are generally very funny, with plenty of vulgarity given that Carr is in charge.

Michel Foucault observed that disciplines that once ran through monasteries and armies became a general technique of domination from the 17th C onwards. He wrote, ‘Historians of ideas usually attribute the dream of a perfect society to the philosophers and jurists of eighteenth century; but there was also a military dream of society; its fundamental reference was not to the state of nature but to the meticulously subordinated cogs of a machine . . .  not to fundamental rights but to indefinitely progressive forms of training, not to the general will but to automatic docility.’[1]

Foucault looked at how modern prisons (a recent phenomenon) have evolved and argued that they don’t just lock up people but, just as importantly, train them to be docile. Discipline works in subtle ways (much as hegemony[2]) to train obedient people. The chapter ends, ‘. . . the soldiers and with them the technicians of discipline were elaborating procedures for the individual and collective coercion of bodies.’

Entertainment is important but does distract us from what is really important. Siegfried Kracauer argued that the new form, the movie, bombards the audience with information giving them no time to think about or make sense of what they are experiencing. This serves a crucial function – satisfying the mass’s need for entertainment and distraction as an escape from the routines of a boring, tedious, regimented daily life. [3] Adorno and Horkheimer cite the culture industry as a powerful phenomenon of late capitalism, encompasses all forms of light entertainment from Hollywood films to elevator music. It is all about profit and supressing individual creativity and awareness of the system we live preserving the ruling order, part of hegemony. [4]

And as for art and poetry – ‘Artists are the antennae of the race but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust their great artists’, wrote Ezra Pound optimistically. He called the docile, bullet-headed, but he was never one to decry the violence of bullets and discipline. [5]

Notes:

[1] Michel Foucault, Chapter Docile Bodies’, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1975.

[2] Antonio Gramsci, General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, coined the term hegemony viewing power relations more traditionally in dualities (rulers and those ruled ) Foucault viewed power as diffused. Power is everywhere not just top down, official, bureaucratic and is produced continually. In 1926 Gramsci was sentenced to twenty years in prison by Mussolini. His prison notebooks written under terrible conditions and great pain have been very influential, but he died in a prison hospital.

[3] Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, (1926) OUP, 1960.

[4] Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. ‘Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’ in Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1944.

[5] In 1933 Ezra Pound briefly met Benito Mussolini, but it led him to a fascist perspective (and some fascinating poetry).