Friday, January 14, 2011

That other mind

When looking at the symbology of the Tucson memorial service, finding the handing out of t-shirts with this,

Together We Thrive_442818
one can be a bit disconcerted, to say the least, as 'Together We Thrive' does not fit with a memorial service.  As Michelle Malkin points out the service was being branded, like a stage play or entertainment venue.  If this is an attempt to appeal to people based on an emotional level then it is one that does not link up the honor of the dead with the message.  In fact there is no way to link the two up as the venue is one that is distinctly not about thriving.
If this were an ad campaign, then the appeal would be towards one of the fundamental drives of people.  Which drive would it be?
Some ad campaigns utilize sex at some level, usually subliminal, but this event and that message don't help towards that end.
Nor is it a message that jibes with aggression as the actions taken to cause the event were aggressive and the message definitely is not that.  Part of the jarring symbology of the message is the welcoming passivity of it in the face of heinous murder.
Self-preservation doesn't seem to be a part of this message, either, as 'Together We Thrive' isn't particularly something that is concordant with self-preservation: you can't use 'thrive' it just happens to you.
It isn't a message that radiates security, as the venue and events that made it happen are the exact opposite of ones of security.  Putting such a message out at this event would be the equivalent of saying: 'We thrive through violent murder'.  That just doesn't work and is part of the problem with the messaging.
So what is left?
Going by the Freudian methodology used in advertising there is one part of Freud that gets left out by most modern analysts as its not something that is pleasant.  It is one force that was used for propaganda by the National Socialists in Germany, by the Japanese Empire and, to a lesser extent, by the Fascists in Italy.  The 'aggressive instinct' goes a bit beyond aggression in Freudian realms and is properly termed the destrudo: the destructive impulse that arises from Thanatos or death impulse.  If we are guided by our animal instincts then it makes a form of sense that we come together in groups so as to be more powerful in using the death impulse towards other groups.
Thus the symbology comes to be a couple of inter-related things:
  1. A celebration of death.  We thrive through death and it is through death that we get meaning.  Unfortunately this is through the death of others, and the message's surficial soothing point and 'warm fuzzy' feeling is a bringing together of a group not to honor the dead but to thrive through the death of others.  This is an 'in-group' formation message which would allow it to be led to direct hostilities outwardly so as to continue the death impulse.  Because we do thrive from death, right?
  2. We become stronger and more alive through the deaths of others.  This is, perhaps, worse than (1) as it posits the fostering of a message that to thrive we must have death, or in this case murder.

I could get into some nits to pick on President Obama's speech but I will not do that and only offer one comment on part of the demeanor he had at points in the speech.  The points of greatest animation and involvement in the speech he gave were during the points he talked about government service.  For the staffer helping constituents with Medicaid (do remember the health care fight that went on before this) or for the young girl's getting elected to a position in the student council, it was at those times that he came alive and his eyes sparkled: he was full of energy.  That made the messaging far worse, to me at least, than just the message and t-shirt as it was sending the message not that government service was important, but that it brought you alive and made you animated in your approach to life.

This was not a JFK 'ask not what you country can do for you' moment, but during a memorial to honor the dead.  I can understand that the lack of intimate knowledge of those killed would lead to some dispassion, that is perfectly natural.  To be animated while talking of government service during a memorial?  Something was seriously wrong with that passion at those times, it was jarring to me and mentally disturbing and wholly out of place.  Honoring a murdered judge for his work is one thing, becoming animated about the work another as it is the man who had the position that is being honored, not the position that had the man.  The same with the staffer and the girl, something was just not right during those parts of the speech.

Taken as a whole the entire memorial becomes something very unlike a memorial and was turned into some sort of a strange and morbid rally.  With the message going out about thriving at an event to honor the dead and becoming passionate about government service, the overall concept with Freudian overtones is one to create a new death-based in-group that will become energized via killing in service to the government.  That is not what the speech was saying, in and of itself, but the emotional tone and subliminal messaging were giving that out loud and clear.  Thus the juxtaposition between the rhetorical content of the President's speech and the entire event is jarring not on the intellectual level but the emotional level and runs contrary to the rhetoric of the speech itself.

The rhetoric of the speech was decent beyond some nits here and there, the audience reaction was indecent (standing ovations? cheering? at a memorial service?) and the entire crossing of message with undertones horrific in implication.  This would have been, perhaps, President Obama's best speech... if it weren't for what was going on in the immediate foreground with the audience and the background with the branding of the event.  I have tried to come to a more definite analysis of what I witnessed which was unlike anything else I have ever seen on any other event of this type.  Something is just very wrong with what happened in Tucson, AZ yesterday and this is the best I can do to put my finger on it.

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