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Nov 04, 2007

Bush And The Comfort Culture

Bush-Teddy-Bear

Bush-San-Diego-1-1

At the Visual Democracy conference I attended over the weekend, NYU professor of Media, Culture, and Communication Marita Sturken discussed how post-9/11 America has evolved into a "comfort culture."

In this climate -- especially when something really goes wrong --  the aim is to make people feel better rather than make the situation itself any better.  Rather than recognize complex feelings or actual pain, reality is warded off by sentimentality, often symbolized by comfort objects (including teddy bears, memorial trinkets and other kitsch commemorative goods) which serve as formulaic Band-Aids to affirm that everything is going to be okay.

We can see this reflex playing out in the newswire photos in the immediate aftermath of the San Diego firestorms.  In the comfort culture, we are all children and our cheerleader President, who conveniently never grew beyond adolescence, is the Comforter-In-Chief.  In this fairy tale world, of course, the man is the hero, and the woman is the damsel in distress.  (And then, in the second picture, you can get a double layer of comfort, where the rescuee is herself a hero of the security state, in the guise of a branded post 9/11 "first responder.")

In this smiley face world, there is no need to bother with emergency response, resource management, or fire-related zoning and development problems, and the like.  You need only relax, and collect your hug and your fuzzy bear.

Bush-Hug-Fires

To see the whole package in action, check out this CNN video stream in which Bush, while physically attending to fire victim Kendra Jeffcoat, suddenly realizes that husband, Jeff, obviously feeling excluded, and issuing a mock plea for his own hug to address the awkwardness, ends up getting one too.

Or course, if any real (i.e. adult) empathy was involved, as opposed to simply the gesture of it, Bush would demonstrate more than a surface compassion.  Instead, however, note how after the cut (in other words, after Bush is fairly certain the photo op is over), the C-I-C loses interest as Jeff give account of his losses.

More on the "comfort culture" here.  More on the book "Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero" here.

(image 1 & 2: K.C. Alfred/A.P. October. 25, 2007.  San Diego.  via YahooNews.  screen grab: CNN.  via cnn.com)

Comments

This hits Bush's way of leading right on the head. What was the most important thing we, as Americans, could do after 9/11? It was shop, and go on like nothing had happened. Talk about not addressing the problem in any meaningful way, and what's worse, America went for it. And then we wonder how things could have gotten so bad in this country.

if I had a cold cow wife like Laura, I'd be taking the chance to squeeze up some of those blonde babe's at the rally's too.

Wait, I don't have a wife ... and I do enjoy grabbing hugs and copping feels. Yikes! I'm no better than bush? I don't appreciate you point this out. Can we get on with Pakistan please.

I suppose the easy response to this essay is to feel the familiar anger and disgust. Another shallow, manipulative Bush photo-op.

But this is a dense, complicated topic. A couple of reactions. First, I was intrigued by Marita Sturken's proposal (in the linked article) that Americans have a "tourist culture"--that is, we act as if we are innocent bystanders traveling in a bubble, observing the world around us, but not actually feeling that we have a role in what we are observing. Second, I have NEVER understood the concept of kitsch. It has seemed to be an attempt by a liberal intellectual elite to gain power by denigrating a powerful outgroup (typically, rich conservatives) for the uncool sins of bad taste, lack of aesthetic appreciation and sentimental feelings; I don't think you can talk about kitsch without also discussing class. Kundera, however, has a different take--perhaps because he lived in a totalitarian/Marxist "classless" state: "For Kundera, “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.” (from wikipedia.) What you describe as the "comfort culture" is Kundera's second tear--sentiment manufactured (by objects) to create a false sense of group solidarity. So Kundera's perspective helps me understand the concept a little better.

Third, I wonder about the role of the media in all this. The media permeate American lives, attracting eyes in order to sell stuff; TVs flicker away in airports, hospital waiting rooms, living rooms, bedrooms. We are subjected to Brad and Angelina's latest as we wait in line at the grocery store, are forced to listen to 60s Motown Musak in public spaces.

In other threads we have discussed how the American media focus their narrative at the level of the individual. It is a template story: Once upon a time, (insert catastrophe) occured. These people (list names) died. These people suffered (list names). Here is the heart-breaking story of one who suffered (insert anecdotes). Here is the heroic/compasionate/strong response by the authorities (insert pictures of responders/POTUS, anecdotes.) This is the creation of a sentimental response, using individual anecdotes, to produce a false sense of group solidarity that (one assumes) produces profits for media companies. In our media culture, we participate in worlds that we never physically experience--either real but not my world (California fires, I-35W bridge collapse) or imaginary but seems real (TV reality shows, dramas, news.) In the process we internalize norms, expectations and behaviors based on our observations of these media fictions. We are taught how we ought to feel. We watch ourselves and imagine others watching us just as we watch others.

Finally, I also wonder WHY so many Americans feel a need for a sense of group solidarity, authentic or fake? Why are they buying this fake crap? The Marxist state, of course, has a motive to crush the needs and ambitions of individuals-to produce equality. But the US is not a Marxist state. Here, the longing for group solidarity, this desire for something in common, is driven by consumers who are trying to fulfill a need. So that makes me wonder if it is because, under conservative leadership, the US is growing increasingly unequal, unjust, and unstable; Real problems are not being faced. People sense this, but they don't know what to do about it. They may be forced to settle for superficial "comfort" because the capitalist machine unleashed by conservatives has taken much away while failing to deliver the happier society that it promised.

In other words, are Americans tourists seeking comfort complacently, or are they people whose society and voices have been stolen by rich, unscrupulous con artists?

The W's sister dies and his parents go golfing instead of having a funeral. We lose 3000 people on 9/11 and he tells us to go shopping. Any connection?

His learned dissociative behavior has become ours. Or was it ours and we got the president we deserved?

What is so sickening about these photos is the total unreality of the premise. The W can hug a woman and with the stroke of a pen take away health care from her child. All the while maintaining that he is a compassionate conservative. And all the while he has no clue what real people suffer as a result of his actions. And he doesn't care.

Perhaps in this age of the politics of hatred, we are aimlessly looking for something or someone to unite us. And there is a danger in that which is being ignored.

If you want to join my downer, read Naomi Wolf's ten steps:
http://tinyurl.com/yqhznn

Yeah, and the people cooking in their cars for three hours waiting for Dubya to get out of there sure appreciated his visit, too....

The number of mental disorders the general population might exhibit leaped from 180 in 1968 to more than 350 in 1994...

=> excuse me while i slip into someone more comfortable

“...new book chronicles the “unscientific” way that revisions to psychiatry’s bible, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” were made. Using social anxiety disorder and antidepressant Paxil as examples, it shows how the creation of new mental disorders opened the door to the drug industry and “pathologized” normal behavior.”

ref : “NYU professor of Media, Culture, and Communication Marita Sturken discussed how post-9/11 America has evolved into a "comfort culture."

has evolved... post-9/11??

and BAGman :( lets Professor Sturken get away with this preposterous thesis unchallenged? Worse, BAGman here implies that Mr. Bush not only surfs this consumer/comfort sentiment, but created this culture after 9/11?

oh come on, get real {grin} do you really think Bill or Hillary or Obama would be less Oprah-like? The Royal Touch dates back to at least JESUS, and the mythology of monarchs!

and kitsch, for Christ's sake, is simply the religious icon of a modern consumer culture.

=> They Live : “When Nada later dons the glasses [that enable him to become Illusionless Man] for the first time, he notices that a billboard now simply displays the word "OBEY," while another billboard urges the viewer to "MARRY AND REPRODUCE." He also sees that paper money bears the words "THIS IS YOUR GOD."

From the nursery to needy adults in California, Teddy is still huggin at 104.

Politicians and Teddies have been in the political picture for a long time (more about cartoonist Clifford Berryman). From The Story of Teddy's Bear:

In November of 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt, a noted hunting enthusiast, had been invited to join a bear hunt near the town of Smedes, Mississippi.

When the President had initially proven unsuccessful on this hunt, guide Holt Collier determined to find a suitable quarry for Roosevelt. Tracking a 235-pound bear to a watering hole, Collier stunned the unfortunate bear by clubbing it over the head, and tied it securely to a nearby tree. A messenger was sent to summon the President, but when Roosevelt arrived he was unimpressed by the spectacle of a bound, dazed and bleeding bear.

He had been dismayed by this unfamiliar method of hunting, using packs of dogs to track, flush out and wear down the prey while the hunter need only lie in wait for the animal to be driven to him. This was far from the strenuous physical challenge Roosevelt was accustomed to and fond of. He not only refused to claim the bear himself, but forbade anyone else from doing so as well.

Regrettably, the rarely repeated resolution to the story does not include a happy ending for the bear. Seeing the condition of the injured bear, which had been badly mauled by the dogs, Roosevelt asked that it be put out of its misery and it was killed with a hunting knife.

Reporters with the hunting party soon spread news of Roosevelt's fair play nationwide. Among those inspired by the story was Washington Post political cartoonist Clifford Berryman, who produced a massively popular cartoon of the incident later nicknamed Berryman's Bear.

The cartoon, captioned Drawing the Line in Mississippi, showed Roosevelt unable to gun down a small defenceless bear cub. It was featured on the front cover of The Washington Post on November 16, 1902 and emphasises the child-like helplessness of the cub and was designed to convey the political message that such an upstanding President as Roosevelt could not be persuaded to make decisions for the wrong reasons.

The cartoon was printed in all the papers and Roosevelt's popularity soared as a result of his actions. For the rest of his political career Roosevelt's mascot was Teddy's Bear, which Berryman continued to use in all his cartoons and which played a key part in the Presidents successful re-election campaign of 1905.

It's the patriotic thing to do in any political race.

When I see these types of photos of Bush, I always get the impression the hugs are for Bush, not the person he's hugging. He's a kind of leech who derives pleasure and comfort while pretending to give it, and simultaneously walks away thinking of himself as the big affectionate daddy.

TO ME, IT LOOKED LIKE THAT WOMAN WAS RESIDTING BUSH WHEN HE TRIED TO HUG HER.........HER HUSBAND AS WELL... JUST ANOTHER "PHOTO OP" FOR B%$#ARD BUSH

PLEASE, PLEASE NO MORE BUSHES, GET OUT OF THE BUSHES ,FOR EVER. WE WILL BE PAYING VERY HIGH PRICES FOR THE DAMAGE THIS IDIOT DID TO US, AND OUR COUNTRY, AND ALSO THE WORLD, IS CLOSE TO WHAT HITLER DID TO THE WORLD.BUSH BRUGHT
MISERY, DEATH , HATE ,
AND MORE, YOU ALL KNOW.
CAN'T WAIT FOR NOV 2008, TO KICK ALL REPUBLICANS ASSES OUT OF WASHINGTON, NO REPUBLICAN IS A GOOD REPUBLICANS, THE DEFINITION OF REPUBLICANS IS, REPUBLICANS COME ,AND DESTROY, AND THEN ,COME DEMOCRATS, AND FIXED, AND FOUR OR 8 YEARS LATER , THE EVIL REPUBLICANS COME BACK, AND DO THE SAME,IS A VICIOUS CIRCLE, THE IGNORANT ARE THE VOTERS SPECIALLY THOSE FANATIC RELIGIOUS , WHY THEY KEEPING BRING THEM BACK?WHEN THEY KNOW THEY ARE DESTROYERS THEY ONLY CARE FOR THE RICH,IS IN THEIR BLOOD,COULD YOU INMAGE WHAT KIND WORLD WILL BE TODAY,? IF AL GORE WILL BE OUR PRESIDENT, INSTEAD THIS IGNORANT, ,AND RIGHTWINGER BUSH ?

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