Image: the Fantasy of Reality

The whole goal seems to be to make marketing almost invisible, a 360 degree wall around a kid, such that where reality starts and marketing begins… becomes ever more obscure and difficult to find, so that the goal is for kids to grow up not seeing the marketing around them.

 –Douglas Rushkoff, professor of media culture, New York University

For The Millennial Generation, reality is no longer secure, no longer something simply assumed to be there. Welcome to the world of mass media, marketing, the mind, the imagination and immense power…the power to create reality.

We are living in an increasingly visual oriented world. There are complex implications for our young people, socially and culturally of living in an increasingly visually oriented world. The ubiquity of visual materials is changing the way we perceive and understand reality. The world our parents experienced has changed so dramatically with the quickening of technology, the advent of information sharing via radio, TV, and in our lifetime, computers and the world wide web. Just as TV was a normal part of our reality, existing prior to our birth, so is the digital age of computers, gaming, 3D animation and virtual worlds to our children. Our young generation aged from toddler to 22 years are called The Millennials , or The Net Gen . The Millennial Generation are here and with them the beginnings of a whole new perception of Reality.

The power of the image — understanding visual cognition

Symbolic and iconic imagery is our original language, the oldest form of storytelling, conveying experience and recording history either as actual events or spiritual belief. Imagery speaks to the emotions, capturing our imagination, involving us deeply in a dynamic relationship with the object. Scientific research has determined that visual learning occurs outside of our conscious awareness. Visual images enter our awareness via pre-conscious levels where we process visual information into knowledge that motivates behaviour before the conscious processes of the neocortex receive the information. On reaction to visual stimuli, our emotional system makes no distinction between actual, mediated (generated through media such as print, radio, or TV), or imagined experience. This is why we can burst into tears watching the news, or suffer nightmares from a horror movie trailer, because even though it is not happening to the viewer in ‘real-time’ it feels so real, we identify so intimately with the image it can strike us straight through to our centre bypassing our conscious mind.

Utilising the right hemisphere of the brain, visually minded intelligence allows creative ideas to manifest. Many of the acclaimed thinkers and artists of our time had innate access to this ability, balancing intuition with rational logical thinking. The digital age has opened the floodgates of the visual senses and with it many exciting opportunities for the advancement of humanity. Our millennial generation is highly intelligent, absorbing and filtering up to 10 times more information than previous generations are able, surpassing their mental agility and ability. The integration of this intuitive, visual cognition with conscious, logical cognition gives rise to whole-mind cognition that has the potential to foster greater creativity, more powerful perceptive and problem solving abilities, and balance between quality and quantity.

The difficulty we face at present is catching up with knowledge and education about how to balance this sudden influx of information, on the neurological and physical levels. We are seeing abuse and manipulation of sensory knowledge via the media. We’re seeing physiological disorders arising from information overload in the form of stress, heightened anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and behavioural disturbances.

Appearance manufacturing — normalising the abnormal

Today fantasy and reality have blurred. So much of our ‘reality’ is pure image. And it is a perfected and retouched reality. We don’t see the truth behind the scenes of that perfection. We don’t see the scars from the actresses’ surgery, models throwing up their food everyday or the steroid induced seizures in creating that rippling torso. In the new millennium, Big Brother and The Osbourne Family enveloping us in the world of reality TV replace The Cosby Show and The Brady Bunch . We all know intellectually that there is nothing real about placing selected contestants in a controlled environment, yet we are riveted to this media manufactured reality.

The use of pop culture mediums such as magazines, music industry, TV and the internet are identified as the primary resource for young people on what is attractive, what is cool, what is fashionable, gender identity and relationships. The digital age has created a boon for advertisers, with the ability to misuse and abuse its power, a multi-billion dollar industry aimed straight at our young people through computer generated reality, misleading and deliberate creation of unreal images that hook into our insecurities, desires, fears and fantasies. Advertising is no longer annoying interludes interrupting your favourite program; it is the program!

The use of psychology by the media, government, and corporations operates by reaching their viewer on the level of their unconscious, imprinting ideas, products and ideologies in such a way that we believe we have thought of them ourselves. We may not notice consciously the Vodaphone logo behind the speaker on TV, though when we walk past a mobile phone shop the next day, we are struck by a sudden impulse to purchase Vodaphone . With public space, free from advertising, diminishing, it has become nearly impossible to find a moment of free time, mentally, in the media and in the real world, where you are not being marketed to.

I think the relationship between authentic youth cultural happenings and youth culture consumption is indistinguishable. I think that kids who are on ‘The Real World’ are kids who’ve aspired to be on MTV their whole lives. They’ve learned how to behave by watching MTV. So that now when MTV takes a bunch of them and puts them in a house and puts a camera on them, they’re not putting a camera in the real world. They are photographing people who’ve been programmed how to behave by MTV. So where is the reality in the equation? The reality is the introduction of media into this equation. The reality is the media. So that we end up reaching an abstracted form of authenticity that is authentic for the very fact that it’s mediated consumptive marketing pulp. The reality itself, the tapestry of reality is composed of media iconography. That is the new plane of reality for these people.

Douglas Rushkoff

Adolescence is an intense time of change. All kinds of development — physical, emotional, intellectual, academic, social and spiritual — are happening at once. Adolescence is the most formative time in the lives of women [and men]. Girls and boys are making changes that will preserve their true selves or install false selves. These choices have many implications for the rest of their lives.
Mary Pipher, PhD, Reviving Ophelia

Has the mass media superseded family, friends and religion as the most powerful influence in the lives of teenagers? Our sons and daughters view 350,000 commercial messages by the age of fifteen, delivered through images of models with airbrushed faces, collagen smiles, and silicon implants …while battling anorexia and substance abuse.

From the earliest age, children are bombarded with a constant stream of messages from all media that encourages them to consume every kind of resource and product. By the time they are teenagers, they are programmed for consumption by both the media and their peers. Not unlike the phenomena we experienced with smoking… You too will be beautiful and happy if you smoke Benson & Hedges. We all know it is not natural or healthy but we buy the image anyway. The image pervades our lives, it lies to us and we buy it.

As adults, we aren’t immune either and we haven’t experienced the level of exposure to advertising as our children. I find myself sighing in the mirror at my aging body (at 32), the thought jumping in that for $10,000 I can fix this, and then that… it’s inescapable.

Mark Pesce, from Ono-Sendai Corporation, has been involved in the design and implementation of Sega’s Virtua (virtual reality game for the home market). He is also concerned, and argues that virtual machines can be employed in malevolent ways: ‘Either by themselves or through the agency of others, they can speak to and subvert us at our most vulnerable inner selves. We have created the most potent technology for mind control since the advent of human culture; if we remain ignorant of this potential we will inevitably pay a heavy price for it. The potentials for addiction and enslavement do not outweigh the potentials for creative play and communication, but to ignore one and focus on the other is both short-sighted and foolhardy.’

Popular culture has been identified as the primary resource for young people to learn about family life, friendships, sexuality, health, alcohol and other drugs, gender roles, and many other parts of life; what is attractive, what is cool, what is fashionable. ‘There is little doubt that television has become a substitute for adult supervision,’ writes Dr. Robert Blum, Professor in the Department of Paediatrics and Head of the Division of General Paediatrics and Adolescent Health, University of Minnesota.

During this pivotal stage of self-development teens experience acute self-consciousness, hormones are racing, their bodies are changing, and they’re struggling to form a self-concept. Then, whammo! Teens are bombarded by overwhelming and impossible images of perfection, which heightens that anxiety by constantly confronting every kid with a mirror reflecting back the message that they’re not good enough as they are.

There’s often a kind of official and systematic rebelliousness that’s reflected in media products pitched at kids. It’s part of the official rock video worldview. It’s part of the official advertising worldview: that your parents are creeps, teachers are nerds and idiots, authority figures are laughable, and nobody can really understand kids except the corporate sponsor. That huge authority has, interestingly enough, emerged as the sort of tacit superhero of consumer culture. That’s the coolest entity of all, and yet they are very busily selling the illusion that they are there to liberate the youth, to let them be free, to let them be themselves, to let them think different, and so on. But it’s really just an enormous sales job.
Mark Crispin Miller: media critic, Professor at New York University and the author of Boxed In: The Culture of TV

We are no longer just living in a survival of the fittest society. To reach the status of success requires you to be cool, and have super human looks, unachievable unless you are born beautiful, or willing to undergo body modification, in the form of surgery, steroids or starvation, over work, over exercise…over achieve, fuelled by anxiety that you either fit in or you don’t! The rest who don’t conform to stereotype, and haven’t yet reached a stage of personal self-confidence, experience dissatisfaction, anger, shame, depression and insecurity.

As a society, are we becoming disconnected from our innate connection to our body’s intelligence? These self-appointed authorities encourage us to look to them for solutions that lie within our unique identity, creating instinctual distrust and dependence upon contrived role models and products. Being that each person has such a subtle unique combination of genetics, hormones and body type, why is it that people are being herded into one or the other category: have/have-not, more/less, fat/thin, attractive/ugly?

The net effect of all of this marketing, all of this disorienting marketing, all of the shock media, all of this programming designed to untether us from a sense of self, is a loss of autonomy. You know, we no longer are the active source of our own experience or our own choices. Instead, we succumb to the notion that life is a series of product purchases that have been laid out and whose qualities and parameters have been pre-established.
Douglas Rushkoff

Iconographic porn

Once again it falls in the responsibility of parents. I’m outraged that I have to educate my seven-year-old about sexuality because she has been exposed beyond my control. Or that I have to argue with her about wearing Lolita fashions ‘when everyone else is doing it!’ Childhood should be protected and it should be a political issue. Corporations marketing inappropriate material to children should be held accountable!

The deepest peril of the interface is that we may lose touch with our inner states; not to lose the acute sensitivity to our bodies, the simplest kinds of awareness like kinaesthetic body movement, organic discomfort, and propriosensory activities like breathing, balance, and shifting weight…this awareness constitutes the background for the psychic life of the individual.
Michael Heim: The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality

A woman (or man) cannot make the culture more aware by saying ‘Change’. But she can change her own attitude to herself, thereby causing devaluing projections to glance off. She does this by taking back her body (and mind). By not forsaking the joy of her natural body, by not purchasing the popular illusion that happiness is only bestowed on those of a certain configuration or age, by not waiting or holding back to do anything, and by taking back her real life, and living it full bore, all stops out. This dynamic self-acceptance and self-esteem are what begins to change attitudes in culture.
Clarrisa Pinkola Estes: Women Who Run with Wolves


Pesce, Mark D. (1993): Final Amputation: Pathogenic Ontology in Cyberspace

Published in byronchild/Kindred, Issue 11, September 04



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