Shouting into the Storm Rantings, ramblings, observations and musings from the insipid to the sublime

Tuesday, October 29, 2002 :::
The Velvet Cage

This is a term I learned in sociology 101, back in my senior year in college. The main point of the discussion was that American society has become McDonaldized, and how different types of people react to it differently. Some people find comfort in it. Others can not abide a single moment in it. The majority fall into the Velvet Cage category. In other words, while feeling trapped, it is not a tremendously painful experience. I had always thought I fit snugly into this group of people.

Lately, I'm beginning to wonder about that.

A few weeks ago, the World Bank protests were in full throttle here in DC. As you may recall, the first morning of protests were "anti-capitalism" rallies. People tried to clog traffic and in general slow down the giant cogs of the local economy. These people were largely ridiculed in the media, pointing out that they had used money to buy their clothes, bikes, etc. Therefore, how could they be against capitalism? I think what we have is the wrong terminology. It's commercialism and our never end rush to ensnare more consumers into the web. Need proof? Let's take a quick run through a day in the life of your average city dweller. All of these things are based on personal experiences.

Alarm goes off, and you are awakened with the sweet sound of Charlton Heston trying to sell you Miller Genuine Draft beer. At 8 A.M., you apparently should already be living The High Life. Various spots on the morning drive time radio show are sponsored by an assortment of local companies. While taking the subway into work, there are ads up in the stops and on the trains. Thankfully, the ones on the trains are only trying to scare me into switching HMOs or signing up for classes at GWU like "How to subvert the political process by becoming a consultant." Leaving the subway, there are a plethora of billboards on taxis, trucks and buildings.

During the work day, I have pop-up ads on my websites. Yahoo even has ads suddenly appear in the middle of a webpage. Which is good, because I was unaware that Coca Cola had any competition in the soda market. How else would I know that Pepsi is helping to bring me Yahoo Sports? Driving home from the office, the traffic is brought to me by another faceless company selling something I don't want or need. My mailbox at home is filled with unsolicited advertisements from AOL, MSN, and the usual suspects of retail giants. Amazing that even though I've never shopped at Ikea, I still get a catalog every few weeks.

Finally, we come to the vast, teeming jungle of corporate crap that is television. Every segment of a television program is brought to me by GE, GM, or Toyota. In fact, Toyota is the main culprit in me writing this. In the span of 24 hours I witness both Sir Edmund Hillary and E.T. hawking vehicles made by Toyota. E fucking T is selling cars? And the man who first climbed Mt. nothing sacred? Or course, since the baby boomers who run these companies have already sold their souls, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Once you've used Eric Clapton and The Who to sell SUVs, using one of the greatest childhood movie characters to increase your profit margins isn't a huge leap.

We won't even get into sports and the shroud of advertisement that is draped over it. In Fenway Park, the opening lineup is brought to you by a pen company. The 3rd inning is brought to you by a radio station. The grounds crew are brought to you by a gardening supply company(in true silliness, the grounds crew doesn't even wear the logo of the company). And here I thought the game was being brought to me by Major League Baseball and the Boston Red Sox. Boy was I misled.

The final straw? Seeing Michael Eisner wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt while accepting the World Series trophy. It's about the players, Michael, not about increasing tourism in central Florida.

Science fiction writing is littered with generic stories of cultures overrun by The Machine or the Government or the System. Our protagonist usually heroically breaks the trends, and opens the eyes of the lemming-like masses. Looking at where we are now, it doesn't seem to far-fetched now. So the next time you run into someone who seemingly has everything they could need, but is still railing against the current version of the American Dream, step back and think for a moment.

::: posted by Chris at 6:56 PM

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