Derrick Jensen’s interview with Kalle Lasn [“Truth in Advertising,” July 2001], validated the decision I made several years ago to simplify my life by redefining what is essential (very few things are), getting rid of a lot of unessential possessions, and refraining from buying more. I have derived great aesthetic pleasure from this simplification. I’m tempted now, however, to purchase a few of those elixirs that promise longevity, if only because I want to live long enough to see a world free from marketing.
I very much enjoyed the interview with Kalle Lasn, and though I agree with just about everything he says, I think he and others who have been interviewed in your magazine need to place more emphasis on individual responsibility and less blame on advertisers and corporate America.
Although advertisers may “create a need” for SUVs, cigarettes, cellphones, widescreen TVs, and so on, no one is forcing us to buy them. I know that some manufacturers target kids and others deny that their products cause harm when they know that they do. In cases like these, I say sue the bastards, or at least expose their lies and let people decide. But when adults purchase items at a severe cost to themselves and/or the environment, we should blame them, not the manufacturers. Enough information is out there to counteract advertisements. We just live in deep denial.
I am exposed to as much advertising as most Americans, but I’ve made choices. One has been simply to say no to SUVs, cellphones, and the like. Every time I do, I take just a little more power back.
I am totally supportive of Kalle Lasn’s “culture jamming.” I believe our out-of-control consumer society is unbalanced and that change is badly needed. But when he states that “it’s impossible to live a free, authentic life in America today. . . . Our emotions, personalities, and core values have become programmed,” Lasn is guilty of gross generalization.
Life in America is more complex than Lasn purports. I own a car and a tv – although I sometimes feel guilty about it – because I like being able to drive to the beach and pray to the ocean. And I like watching reruns of sitcoms and sci-fi movies, though I usually mute the commercials. I buy almost all my clothes at thrift stores. As a teacher, I have summers off, and I fill my days with hiking, swimming, reading, playing guitar and accordion, and writing songs, poetry, and short stories.
Recently, I had an unexpected experience. On a big, beautiful beach in New Jersey (of all places), my girlfriend and I had a jam session with three other musicians we had met only minutes before. On the fine white sand, under the hot sun, and within sight of the ocean, we sang, played, and created something in the moment. We were also all totally naked.
There is still free, spontaneous behavior in America.
I was impressed by Kalle Lasn’s ideas and powerful message. I have to ask, though: if we are making such a mistake by “letting thousands of marketing messages into our minds every day without a second thought,” then why should I allow his marketing messages and “subvertisements” into my head?
Lasn wants to be allowed to advertise on television, like Nike and Pepsi. Although I believe in free airtime for any organization, the real answer lies in the medium, not in the message. Rather than seek equality on TV, why not gather great thinkers to develop a new medium? Why rely on television, magazines, and newspapers to deliver the message when we can create an alternative? Just twenty years ago, we couldn’t have imagined the Internet. There are many possibilities ahead of us.
Kalle Lasn responds:
I agree with B.J. McQuade that we’re not living in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World quite yet, but I think we’re a lot closer than many of us care to admit. Most North Americans now spend more than a quarter of their waking lives in front of their TV sets. Then, on the weekends, they dutifully trot off to the malls and do exactly what the TV has been telling them to do all week — go out and buy. And one of the first things they do when they return home is turn the damn thing on again. I had an epiphany at a mall last Christmas Eve: I stood in a corner, shut my eyes, and tried to absorb the sounds of all the people rushing by. After a while, it felt uncannily like an army of drones.
I cannot agree with Jenny Ignaszewski on the need to give up on TV and search for alternative media. Why should we the people look for alternatives? TV is our forum, our mental commons; the public airwaves legally belong to us. Why don’t we take this medium back from the corporations and let them search for alternatives? Learning how to think and act like sovereign, empowered citizens may be the only way for civil society to triumph over corporate power in the battle for control of the planet.
Al Neipris’s essay “Drying Out” [July 2001] was great — with one exception: it should have been printed anonymously.
This is not the first time I’ve read an essay about AA by an author using his or her full name, but whenever it happens, I feel a little pang. Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about AA’s eleventh tradition of “anonymity at the level of press, radio, and film.” I tell pretty much everybody I know that I’m a member. But AA’s tradition asserts that “personal anonymity [is] AA’s greatest protection.” Years ago, the organization sent letters to practically every news outlet in North America, asking editors to kill stories, or delete the names or pictures — and the editors did.
I know how nit-picking this sounds, but AA really did save my life. And although I’m tempted to change its structure, I don’t feel that it’s my place. Its traditions have made it a success for more than sixty years, and it will continue to work, as long as those traditions are observed.
Al Neipris’s essay should have been titled “Drying Up” — as in the withering of the soul. Clearly, Neipris has the basics of sobriety down, but not the concept that joy is also possible.
I have been sober since 1984. I entered AA with an antipathy toward “God,” whom I still have not defined. I was fearful and anxious, but I paid attention to the people who had attained sobriety and spiritual growth. I wanted to find out how they did it. I continued to attend AA meetings because, for the first time in my life, I’d found a place where I could be comfortable in my own skin.
From my first tenuous days in AA, I remember a man with many years of sobriety who always prefaced his story with these words: “No matter what the weather, today I’m a happy man, because I’m walking on the sunny side of the street.”
Al Neipris responds:
I congratulate the anonymous letter writer on his or her ability to feel comfortable in AA. Not all of us are so fortunate. Reading this letter, with its implied exhortation to cheerfulness, I was reminded of the dreaded AA “gratitude” meeting. Like a recurring case of the flu, it would strike each year around the winter holidays. Each member, no matter their current state of emotional or spiritual disrepair, would be expected to talk about the things for which they were grateful. Many enjoy these meetings, I’m sure, but all that mandatory thankfulness served only to make me gag.
Still, AA does have a way of working its magic. Seeing how out of place I felt as a newcomer, a grizzled old-timer took me aside and said, “Don’t worry, kid. We have a wrench for every nut.” It’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.
Kevin H. raises a fair point, one that I’m sorry to say I failed even to consider. I, too, used to feel a certain pang when a member betrayed his anonymity, usually during meetings when a speaker would occasionally give a last name. In this regard, at least, the tradition of anonymity is essentially a spiritual one: that the worth of a story lies in its universality, its usefulness as a vehicle for identification, not in the teller’s name, or the teller’s ego.
But a story told in an AA meeting is one thing, and a personal essay is another. It does seem to me that, in the last analysis, a writer is entitled to the particulars of his own life.
I have been feeling sorry for myself lately: My husband and I have recently separated after fifteen years of marriage. I’m almost fifty. Today I was contemplating the varicose veins in my legs and thinking of having a face-lift, like many divorced women in my wealthy community. I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me: too needy, personality disorder, maybe even bipolar. The fear and self-condemnation were gaining control. I’d even decided I wouldn’t be able to send donations to The Sun anymore — I would need all the money I could get.
Then I read Sy Safransky’s July “Notebook,” with his thoughts concerning love between men and women, and I knew I’d be fine. What I need is Sunbeams, Readers Write, Sy’s “Notebook” — The Sun. I never feel alone after reading its pages.