My conflict with conflict

brain-cleanse

Among the great and mighty rules that fledgling novelists and screenwriters learn is to fill their work with conflict. It is so baked into the bread of a writer’s life that this rule is rarely questioned, nor is this devotion to conflict recognized as a major contributor to massive social misery.

Whenever I walk into my neighborhood Costco, I get a brief yet palpable feeling of sadness when I see the line-up of TVs for sale. I have come to view TV as dispensers of bad news, which is to say, constant conflict. If the content that we put into our brains is mind food, then the high-definition TVs that we work into our living spaces act like junk food that may lead to mind poisoning.

We pay for the beautiful TVs and their glorious high-def pictures. We pay for the cable or satellite or subscription services that feed us mind food. Ultimately, without our being consciously aware of it, we may pay for it with our mental health, too.

I don’t think that many people have stopped to wonder what this saturation of media exposure is doing to our consciousness, both individually and collectively. TV is so ubiquitous to our culture as are movies and books that feature conflict (as the majority do) that we think of it as normal. We gorge on this stuff.

I come from the first generation that grew up with TV, the Boomers. Yet while most families had TVs, life was still fairly balanced with other activities. Boomers can remember a life before the saturation of computers, smartphones, Google, etc. From that vantage point, we can see more of the arc of social change that technology has created.

We can see how much more in your face conflict is because of the gadgetry that delivers it.

 KNOW WHEN YOU’RE HOOKED

Sometimes when I go about my everyday business, I realize that I am being influenced by old stories of conflict. Let’s say that I go to a rustic park for a relaxing hike in the woods. Out of nowhere, I start wondering what could go wrong. Is someone waiting down the trail to mug me? Will I slip and fall and need help? Will some wild animal attack me? My mind seems to preview everything that could possibly go wrong, most of it based on stories of other people’s rotten experiences in the woods.

Last fall I drove myself from Oregon to Arizona via Idaho and Utah. I took many roads spontaneously, and especially when driving through Nevada, I found myself more out in the middle of nowhere than ever in memory. I chuckled when I saw that Highway 50 is known as the Loneliest Highway in the US. I believe it! But what struck me the most was how many times during my crossing of the wasteland did I wonder what would happen to me if my car broke down and there was no cell phone service. It was a thought I could not get out of my head no matter how many different songs I played.

Why do I automatically start thinking of all the things that could go wrong? Is it that in all of the stories I have ingested over my years of living, things go wrong all the time? Things going wrong is part of the formula. Was I born to be so fearful, or have I been conditioned after hearing so many stories about problems people encounter. I am not describing a phobia or a mental health condition. Rather, I am describing an awareness of tendencies of thinking and where those tendencies have come from.

The conflicts do not have to be life threatening or horror story fodder. Most of my life does not involve life-threatening situations. It could be something like being afraid to share an opinion for (a conditioned) fear of insulting, offending, or riling someone. That fear could come from having just seen a movie or read a book where someone got into deep doo-doo for expressing an unpopular opinion, such as authors a few generations ago who got imprisoned because they wrote things said to “excite lewd thoughts.”

It could be a fear of consulting a doctor, lawyer, therapist, contractor, or sales person because I had just been exposed to disaster story after disaster story about how some so-called professional abused a client. No, these fears don’t usually keep me from taking an action, and yet there is brain residue from dealing with all the distrust that has come to my consciousness from an external source.

Think about it. Think about how many stories you get exposed to hour after hour, day after day, that graphically illustrate conflict. Think of how many times you become outraged, hurt, or afraid as your first response to a story, even if you can intellectually steady the rocking boat. The story can be either fiction or peddled as non-fiction. The truth is that non-fiction stories, perhaps based on true events, are created using dramatic story-telling techniques aimed at hooking your emotions so you’ll keep watching or reading.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

I have been thinking about the popularity of conspiracy theories, many of which suggest that Big Government, Big Business, and even Big Illuminati actually control life for the rest of us. They are always doing rotten things to enslave us peons to do their bidding while they bask in the wealth of anything money can buy.

An issue I see with conspiracy theories is that we seem to burn up a lot of energy attempting to solve the riddles rather than working to solve the issues. Did some part of the US Government plan 9/11? Is some tippy-top-secret agency hiding UFO news? Is Monsanto poisoning everybody? For that matter, what about Big Pharma?

Conspiracy theories, which at their core are conflict stories, goad us into fear. They are staples of any media entity in the business of attracting viewers, readers, clickers. The game now is to mislead people with dramatic techniques so they’ll pay attention. Day by day, hour after hour, people are being tempted to turn their attention to stories of conflict, many of which turn out to be manufactured gotchas!

I think that the importance of this is recognizing how we handle real conflicts that affect us personally. How many ordinary people are unconsciously taking the lead from the media and are themselves parroting these conflict strategies? How many people are making up their own conspiracy theories because this is what the media by example has taught them to do?

My Facebook feed has become a parade of nightmare scenarios about calamity. Between all the clickbait (misleading headlines that beckon clicking on the link), sob stories, and rants, Facebook has become the new National Enquirer.

BOOKBUB

I subscribe to Bookbub, an ebook service that offers cheap prices on selected ebooks. Every day in my email I get an announcement about books on sale. They come with a brief description. When I look at these blurbs day after day, I see so much written about conflict. It indicates to me how much we thrive on it.

For example, there is this: “This rich saga traces the rise and fall of the Malacouti family as they face betrayal, ambition, and a painful choice in the early 20th century. ‘A riveting portrait of family strife’ (People).”

And under that one, this one: “In this richly textured novel set against the Bangladesh War of Independence, a young Pakistani widow, Rehana, strives to keep her family safe from the chaos that surrounds her. ‘An immersive, wrenching narrative’ (Publishers Weekly starred review).”

And then: After a serial killer escapes from a mental hospital to hunt down psychic Laura Adderley, can reporter Harrison Frost get to the bottom of the real story?

We don’t seem to see immersive, wrenching narratives about yummy stuff.

“An epic saga of friendship where neighbors band together to assist one another in living the good life. ‘A riveting portrait of cooperation that raises the bar on fulfillment’ (Publishers Weekly)

“Just when Sandra thought she could take not another moment of ecstasy, she discovers that she can. ‘An eye-opening narrative on cosmic pleasure’ (People)

Even when books work their way to happily triumphant endings, the fact is that by design we’re still forced by the conventions of story-telling to go through the long and winding road of turmoil. We’ve apparently decided that conflict is more riveting than solution.

FINDING THE FLIP SIDE

Certainly fear and skepticism have their places in our lives, and being prepared is always good. Yet I wonder what would happen to society as a whole if we did not cultivate so much doubt and dread, shock and awe as a normal business practice. In the end, would it create a healthier climate, or would it create a society of happy munchkins vulnerable to attack from any wicked witch flying by the neighborhood?

I like to nurture my mind. I’ve noticed that finding media that do not pander so eagerly to the conflict formula is a challenge. Inspirational, positive, solution-based media fare that feeds hope, love, and optimism is in relatively short supply. You can always find it if you specifically search for it, but there is a tsunami of conflict to deal with by contrast.

In times of personal struggle, it is good to have access to positive media. When I feel lonely, depressed, discouraged, or frustrated, I like to responsibly heal myself, a task made more challenging if I can’t find healthy input.

I believe that overexposure to messages of conflict is creating unnecessary turmoil. Garbage in, garbage out. There is so much mental cruelty being perpetrated in our information and entertainment media that I personally am not too surprised by all the violence in the world. Cause and effect seems pretty plain to me.

Often I like to fantasize about societies either in our future or on some other planet entirely where people grow up not so bombarded with messages of conflict. Maybe they grow up in a totally love-positive world where a tribe mentality dictates that no one should feel abandoned, no violence necessary, and cooperation is more important than competition. What would life be like in that world? What kind of problems would be eliminated from today’s normalcy if a few generations grew up with brains not filled with such a heavy influence of fear, violence, and losing?

BECOME AWARE

Don’t take my word for it. Pay attention to what media mind food you ingest. Become aware of the messages of conflict streaming into your psyche. Once you begin to notice how people are selling you conflict, you might become more motivated to watch what your brain eats.

 

A call for meatier woo-woo

BaseballIs there some unwritten law that prohibits characters in woo-woo movies and novels from being inquisitive about their paranormal encounters? Do they always have to be so thick-headed in the face of revolutionary changes to their reality?

If I saw Shoeless Joe Jackson standing on a baseball field that I made out of a cornfield after a voice told me if I build it he will come, I’d have a few questions. I’d show a little spunk. I wouldn’t just leave it at, “Oh, Shoeless Joe Jackson is hanging out in my field. Hi Shoeless.”

Don’t get me wrong. Field of Dreams remains one of my favorite movies. That’s largely because it whets my appetite for more answers about why we’re here on this planet.

Yet I’ve always wondered why authors and screenwriters are so reluctant to mix it up with the good stuff. Even the late Roger Ebert wrote in his 1989 review of the Field of Dreams, “The movie sensibly never tries to make the slightest explanation for the strange events that happen after the diamond is constructed.”

Sensibly?

SPLAIN YOURSELF, LUCY

Personally, I want explanations. I want to be challenged by an artist’s vision of wha’ happened. I would have loved a sequel where we follow Terence Mann as he enters the mysterious clubhouse deep in the cornfield, presumably to discover all those juicy secrets hidden from those of us stuck in the flesh?

Why are we so reluctant in our mainstream media to wonder aloud about our cosmic nature? Is it all marketing, marketing, marketing — don’t want to offend anyone by creating a vision that contradicts someone’s dogmatic religion? Is it a case of separation of church and entertainment?

Personally, if I were Ray Kinsella and met my deceased father on a ball field at twilight, I’d have a few questions. For starters, “Uh, Dad, has it occurred to you that you’re dead?”

Or is that not appropriate guy talk? Don’t wanna get too much into feelings! Gasp!

“Ray, Son, you live on an spiritually challenged planet. You want simple, pat answers and tie-it-nicely-together happy endings. So let’s just cut the curiosity crap and have us a catch.”

“Dad, how can a dead father materialize in Iowa, regress thirty years in age, and have nothing to say about cosmic human destiny?”

“Sh-sh-sh. Now, now. See if you can catch my curve?”

HOLLYWOOD HO-HUM

A somewhat daring film in the spiritual cinema genre was What Dreams May Come (1998) based on the novel by Richard Matheson. It at least dared to toy with some metaphysical concepts like creating your own reality with your consciousness. The film showed how Dr. Chris Nielsen’s external world in heaven changed as his inner world changed.

Even so, the heroic doctor and family man (played by Robin Williams) who’d lost two children in an earier fatal car wreck seemed peculiarly lacking in spiritual curiosity once he figured out he was dead. It takes him forever to ask, “Where’s God in all this?”

Seriously!

His guide Albert (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) replies while gazing skyward, “Oh, he’s up there … somewhere … shouting down that he loves us, wondering why we can’t hear him.”

Is it just me? Isn’t that the most banal reply from a spirit guide who just may (just should) have more insight into the workings of the Universe? You can just read into the script the discussion at the studio about not jeopardizing market share among the religious audiences by laying out a bold vision of the afterlife.

Don’t get me wrong. That movie thrilled me, too. It was a giant leap ahead of the pack in spiritual cinema. Siskel and Ebert gave the film “two enthusiastic thumbs up!” Still I wondered why it was so timid. Or as Roger Ebert would have said, “So sensible.”

On the rare occasions when movies follow someone who’s died, they seem to have swallowed dumb and dumber pills.

I’m especially amused (as in wanna throw a book at the TV) when the freshly crossed ask, “Am I dead?” And some get all upset that the answer is yes. Dead? Dead? I’m dead?

It’s amusing because they generate brand new thoughts. They still think therefore they still are. But it does not occur to them that they have entered a new environment, are still conscious, and that all the crap they learned about dying was uber misleading.

MY QUESTION

So I was wondering — is it ultimately all about money and market share? Is there any unwritten rule in the literary and movie-making empires about characters openly asking poignant questions about their new living situation — or is it a matter of too much information?

I do find this strange because the movies are none too shy about killing people. The industry kills people right and left in plenty of creative and visually exciting ways. It milks death scenes for every last teardrop. Yet for all the carnage and farewells shown on the big screen (with DVD and streaming video beyond that), the industry doesn’t seem to want to invest much talent in exploring what happens beyond the red line of death.

Behind every tombstone in every cemetery in the world dwells a huge question mark — where did I go after I went to the morgue?

LET OUR ARTISTS GO

I support our mainstream art in panning the goldfields of speculation for sparkling nuggets of cosmic wonderment. Science has seemed to be dragging its collective ass on investigating what happens to dead people, so perhaps it’s up to the arts community to throttle up the exploration.

Places all over the Internet house virtual museums of anecdotal evidence of soul survival including near-death experiences, after-death communication, out-of-body experiences, mediumship, and so on. Even my casual perusal of Facebook groups yields stuff that would make intriguing movie magic.

Art is art. It is often fiction. It speculates. But because it is free from having to be scientific, it lets us explore “what if” possibilities with more gusto.

In one of my current projects, I follow a successful advertising copywriter through his fatal car crash into spirit. I have been inventing a heaven for him to dwell in. So far that sounds like Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks’ inventive romantic comedy about an ad exec who winds up in judgment City for his afterlife review trial.

Some friends thought the 1991 film wimped out by going for too many laughs instead of exploring what heaven was. Yet I found the whole afterlife trial so compelling that I used it as a spiritual anchor. I often found myself wondering how my actions would play out if there was such a life review. Later as I studied more about near-death experiences and the life reviews many of these people faced, Defending Your Life seemed headier than ever.

But it also just whet my appetite for more. I keep thinking that if 10% of the movies we devote to crime and war and other forms of killing were devoted instead to exploring spiritual possibilities, our cosmic purpose for being on earth, positive solutions to our planetary woes, and what happens after death, we would be a much different society.

What do you think?

Loneliness in media

loneliness

Watch out for what you’re watching!

In our mass media culture, loneliness is a cookie cutter stereotype. In the movies it usually filters down to someone who doesn’t make muster in the popularity game. They rarely get asked out or if they are the one asking, they frequently suffer rejection, often in a cruel way.

Their issue might be their odd looks (remember Powder?) or a personality too quirky for mainstream acceptability. Ironically, this frequently makes them interesting as movie characters but in movie reality they often suffer the brutalities of ego warfare.

The stereotype is that being lonely is the sign of personal failure and crippling ineptitude. Loners are dorks. Might as well tattoo a scarlet letter on their foreheads to warn everybody of the cootie potential residing therein.

The way society responds to loneliness is often borne out in the term lonely hearts, as in lonely hearts club. This usually translates as Lonely Losers Club. If you look at how movies portray a lonely heart’s situation, it is usually to emphasize their quirky natures as of to say, “This is why s/he’s lonely.”

In our society, loneliness also translates as being a major indicator that someone is harboring visions of becoming a psychopathic serial killer. They’re lonely. They’re loners. No one loves them. So they finally wig out and kill people to display their rage at a loveless society—and capture some fame in a society that rewards its killers with massive amounts of attention.

OUR ADDICTION TO SUFFERING

If you’re lonely, you probably watch a lot of movies. I do. And what I see is that the movies like to portray life’s shitty side. Movie, TV, and computer screens everywhere are filled with endless tours of angst. Even when there is a happy ending and ultimate success, which is supposed to make up for all the shit crammed down a character’s (and the viewer’s) throat, ostensibly to lead to a more emotionally fulfilling punch at the end, on balance it’s still a case of everything that can go wrong probably will.

The unmistakable conclusion I make to all of this is that as a society, we have an emotional shit fetish. We’re addicted to violence, conflict, and, well, shit. Markets respond to fetishes because that’s where the customers and their dollars are. If there wasn’t a demand for it, there would be no economic incentive to keep pumping it out.

I can easily see a world where we imagine and explore solutions more than expose problems. I can see a world where our stories explore the world as we want to see it be—the proverbial heaven on earth—than further exploit what’s wrong with it. We could show more of what’s possible and less of what’s shitty.

Barack Obama rode the wave of hope and change to office because people were so hungry for an optimistic vision. It’s that same force field of human desire that could be tapped into to envision a more loving, caring society. Right now people have a huge preponderance of the bad to imitate. It’s so easy to find shit to watch. Hard to get away from it. But finding visionary and solution-oriented material to be inspired by?

BOTTOM LINE

The bottom line is that most depictions one will see of loneliness highlights suffering and failure. It means if you’re lonely you stand a good chance of taking on aspects of the negative stereotypes. (“I am lonely, therefore, I must be a failure.”) That adds to the existing burden of feeling isolated and often unloved.

I would love to see some major changes to how we do things. One would be to create more resources for people to find positive solutions to problems. Another would be for our entertainment media to produce positive visionary material. The third would be to evolve ways for people to help people deal with social situations like isolation and exclusion.

The vision of this site is to help in some small way by somehow fostering networking where people can find and assist others. The ultimate aim is creating solutions.