Friday, April 10, 2009

Madness is the Message

The Light Pours Out Of Me by Pants

Hardly a day goes by at present when I don’t have to talk myself down from the trees before I can actually do anything constructive. I am not depressed, at least I don’t think I am. Definitions of depression are now so amorphous that you can think you’re suffering from depression if the latest series of Spooks isn't as good as the previous one. If that’s the case, I’ve been in the grip of melancholia for five years.

The quality of light entertainment can influence my mood. I'm overjoyed to have finally cracked the code to the BBC’s elusive online content. Most of it is unavailable outside the UK. I’m miffed about this since I’ve given that organisation several thousand of my best English pounds over the years in TV licence fees and I can’t even access The Parliament Channel.

I have, however, found a small cache of segments from my favourite show Newsnight Review and have wasted most of the morning in delightful displacement activity.

As I’ve said before, I am not enamoured of the Australian media in the slightest. The TV doesn’t cost anything but there’s only about two decent things per month to watch. I listen to the radio a lot but it’s excruciating to witness the self-conscious wrestling with vowels that goes on, particularly if there’s an English or American guest involved. Standard pronunciation in Australia is still very much a work in progress. I hear so much about the Tarl-ee-barn in Park-ee-starn and Arf-gharn-ee-starn, I think my ears might be parm-ee-narntly darmarged.

Next week, however, Mad Men starts here on Free-to-air TV. I’ve just watched the Newsnight Review panel discussion on the pilot which has only recently been shown in Britain. It makes a nice change not to be two years behind. Kirsty’s guests were very excited about it. I found myself falling in love with Paul Morley all over again. Something to do with the ability to wear a sweatshirt with elan and whole sentences spoken in rich Mancunian I suspect.

We know from the Life on Mars experience that blokes like to make shows about the sixties and seventies so that they can be unreservedly and bestially sexist. I think back to something Germaine Greer said before she went barmy, something along the lines of ‘women don’t realise how much men hate them.’ At least we now know for sure it’s genuine hate and not just ignorance.

They don't ask Germaine to be on Newsnight Review any more.

Last night the multi-ethnic broadcaster SBS showed a bio-pic of David Ogilvy, often cited as the original Mad Man. It’s of no comfort at all to realise that the whole grotesque American marketing revolution was actually a British invention. Ogilvy famously said, ‘the consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife.’ He also left his own wife of seventeen years by simply taking her to a dinner party and departing with someone else. Not so much a moron as a doormat.

I don’t like ads. All they do is put me off something I might actually want to buy because I become immediately suspicious of the claims made on its behalf, even when they’re attributes I might require.

The New York Review of Books (Jan-Feb 09) contains an interesting article on the influence of advertising on medical diagnoses, particularly for psychological functions. Reviewer Marcia Angell concludes that marketing has so successfully colonised medicine, it’s induced a role-reversal – new diseases are being invented to maximise the productivity of existing drugs. Reviewing three books dealing with the subject, she remarks,

It seems that the strategy of the drug marketers – and it has been remarkably successful – is to convince Americans that there are only two kinds of people: those with medical conditions that require drug treatment and those who don’t know it yet.

Of the three books Angell considers, one sounds particularly interesting. Of Shyness: How normal behaviour became a sickness, she says,

Lane uses shyness as his case study of disease-mongering in psychiatry. Shyness as a psychiatric illness made its debut as ‘social phobia’ in *DSM-III in 1980, but was said to be rare. By 1994, when DSM-IV was published, it had become ‘social anxiety disorder,’ now said to be extremely common. According to Lane, GlaxoSmithKline, hoping to boost sales for its antidepressant, Paxil, decided to promote social anxiety disorder as a ‘severe medical condition.’ In 1999, the company received FDA approval to market the drug for social anxiety disorder. It launched an extensive media campaign to do it, including posters in bus shelters across the country showing forlorn individuals and the words ‘Imagine being allergic to people…,’ and sales soared.

(*DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

As I’ve always suspected, this sickening trend towards compulsory bonding is conjured by insidious multinational snake oil vendors. I'm not so much shy as misanthropic. I can talk to people, I just don't want to. I find it increasingly easy to ignore the rest of the world because of this kind of thinking but it’s precisely this attitude that makes it more difficult for the rest of the world to ignore me. It really is okay not to want to be with other people. It gives me enormous pleasure and I’m fairly certain social cohesion is not dependent on my willingness to absorb the autobiographically ramblings of ten people a day. I think of what Jack Kerouac said,

I realised either I was crazy or the world was crazy: and I picked the world. And of course I was right. (Vanity of Duluoz).

Australians love Alain de Botton – another reason to suspect the national psyche is in need of maintenance. He was described as a ‘French philosopher’ on ABC radio the other day. He is neither a Frenchman nor a philosopher in the French tradition as far as I can see, (although he’s rather prone to overuse of the word bourgeois, and he invariably ends up steaming his train of thought down the wrong track.

In an article in The Australian last weekend, the ubiquitous Englishman graced us with his musings on the relationship between work, love and happiness, the research for which extended no further than a few weeks of eavesdropping on the sobbing clients of a London psychotherapist. His enquiries left him,

newly aware of the unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within the magnanimous bourgeois assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work and love. It isn’t that these two entities are invariably incapable of delivering fulfilment, only that they almost never do so.

De Botton asserts that personal fulfilment is some kind of bourgeois invention. Wrong. The inclination to organise and produce is present in all societies as is the ambition of some to take charge of this activity. That humans enjoy what they have achieved is evidenced by the universal habit of celebrating success in feasting, dancing and other pleasurable rituals. Our natural industriousness is being short-circuited by a psychotherapeutic revolution that deludes us into believing that no matter what we achieve it is not enough. This end is easily secured by pushing the big button most of us wear openly labelled self-doubt. Extra confusion is added by the debasing of our traditional rewards. One can’t even enjoy self-congratulatory feasting without residual guilt any more. The result is a shrink’s bonanza.

It’s not the quality of ‘work’ that is to blame for career disappointment any more than the quality of ‘people’ is to blame for the failure of relationships. Most would agree that it’s human nature to want to do something with your life. It’s awfully long and could be quite tedious without activity of some sort. Even I want to do something (as long as it involves total silence and lots of reclining). The real letdown is not the work so much as the workplace. This is where quality falls on its arse. Why doesn’t someone set themselves against the problem of discovering why toilets pong, staplers walk and your boss’s brain has been injected with formaldehyde?

Well, that feels a lot better. Now for some industry of my own. The Larrikin’s End School of Fine Art and Advanced Macramé is an exacting taskmaster. I expect to finish a painting today, be jolly pleased with it and reward myself with as fine a feast as my limited income will allow. Cheers...