Every era and every place has its romanticized ideology. That is something I absorbed from “Destination Earth” produced by John Sutherland Studios in 1956.
This 14-minute short film is where I got the cover image for Episode 3 from. The episode was titled “I have an excellent example of a monopoly that must die.” And on the cover of that episode, someone’s cartoon hand is holding a book. On the book cover, the title says “Competition.” And under that, the subtitle reads, “More for all.”
For those of you who use the Spotify app, you can see this cover image directly in the episode feed.
If you use other apps, it’s likely that the feed does not show the episode-specific covers. However, you can click on the link in the show notes, which will direct you to the website for Sponge, and there, I have all the transcripts for all the episodes, as well as the cover image for each episode.
So. I thought it would be interesting to talk about this short animated film, because it is so blatantly optimistic about the ideologies that were worshipped in its particular place and time. Moreover, those particular ideologies seem to have lost their absolute appeal in our times, so it’s doubly fascinating. We, as the people who live in the here and now, can look back to the past, and easily notice how blind their optimism was.
According to the page on “The Public Domain Review,” where I found this film, it was, quote, “produced at the height of the Cold War, and made at the behest of the American Petroleum Institute. … [This] great little promotional film … champions not only the wonders of oil as might be expected, but also free-market capitalism.”
The cartoon, quote, “tells the story of how the suspiciously Stalin-like leader of Mars, named Ogg, sends a rather calamity-prone citizen to Earth to find a better power source for his poorly-running ‘state limousine.’ The exploring Martian, of course, lands in the United States and soon discovers the many and myriad delights of petroleum and that, in contrast to his home planet, competition between companies is rife. His take-home lesson (and one drilled into the viewer on numerous occasions) is that ‘competing for the customer’s dollar’ is key to the success of the oil industry, and, of course, the thriving country as a whole.”
So this cute film—cute because these cartoon characters do look adorable—is an overt ideology piece. Its purpose wasn’t to amuse or to appeal to the eyes—it was to convince. It was to convert.
Number one, toward an economy based on competition.
Number two, toward the usage of petroleum.
Since episode 3 was about the fact that Bowker is maintaining its ridiculous monopoly in the present day and my present place, which is the year 2022 in the USA, the message about an economy based on competition sounded plenty appealing.
Of course, we, who live anywhere in 2022, know from decades of global experience that market-driven economies aren’t all rainbows and unicorns. But at the same time, I strongly believe that some competition is indeed better than no competition at all. Hence my usage of a scene from this short film, for episode 3, with that cartoon character holding up that book, which says “Competition” on its front cover.
Fundamentally, I am against all sorts of isms. Communism, capitalism, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s impossible for any ideology to have the same effect, desired or otherwise, on a large group of people. But even more fundamentally, what I am against is a group of decision-makers pretending they know what’s best for the people who’re actually gonna do the job.
That’s why, even though I wouldn’t say I’m super into market capitalism, I’d still rather have that, compared to communism. If I had to choose, I’d choose capitalism.
Although, then there is the bullshittery of living within a structure that calls itself capitalism and nevertheless allows for the persistent existence of something like Bowker. So, once again, the nonsense of a group of decision-makers pretending they know what’s best for the people who’re actually gonna do the job lives on. But I am guessing that this nonsense happens in all kinds of isms. Hence the futility of proclaiming the theoretical superiority of one ism over another. Remember, back when communism made its debut, it appealed to the masses, and not for the wrong reasons either. Communism still has its appealing sides. In theory, it works. But in practice, things never turn out as they are on paper.
This has always been the case, for as long as someone recorded something, whether it was officially counted as history or not.
And yet, every era and every place still has its romanticized ideology.
One day, something other than capitalism will pop up and dominate the world stage. I actually think something other than democracy will pop up too.
But many people believe that whatever is the current norm will stay forever. It’s mind-blowing. When you tell them, “Well, just like other forms of political structures have lost their footing, won’t the same thing happen to democracy one day?” When you say this, some people get so angry.
It’s blind faith. It’s a religion. Democracy, to many, is a religion. Many things in this world are religions without gods, or secular belief systems with gods. Some people really believe that some things in this world will exist forever. The belief drilled into their mind is so strong, they cannot distinguish between supporting an ideology and not being able to imagine the absence of said ideology.
But think about it. It should be possible to support the existence of tomatoes and still acknowledge the possibility of a world where tomatoes will be no more, right?
So why is it so difficult to accept that it is entirely possible to support the existence of democracy and still acknowledge the possibility of a world where democracy will be no more?
I think that the only thing that will exist forever is change. Hence romanticization of any particular ideology won’t last forever, even by the romanticizers themselves. Indoctrination and brainwashing won’t last forever either, in the larger scheme of things.
Communism, capitalism, competition, control—all these are just textbook words created to preoccupy the ivory tower theoreticians and those who use the words for romanticization, indoctrination, and brainwashing.
In practice, the word itself doesn’t matter. There will be monopolies in so-called competition-driven markets. And in so-called communist countries, where resources are shared equally, people will, basically, kill each other to get food. Talk about real competition.
You can kill a million people in the name of any ism. In their abuse, all isms are united.
And then one day, a new ism pops up, the old ism appears stale, and suddenly, a large enough portion of the population acts as if they never believed in the old ism. And the cycle repeats.
But I think the cycle can be broken at the individual level. And it’s easy, really: just recognize that all ideologies are merely stories. People die because of them, and sometimes they live because of them, but they’re still stories.
For example, this short film, “Destination Earth,” is a story. It is a version of reality that some people chose to tell for the consumption of other people. It is a great example of ideology as a story, because the creators actually used characters instead of using so-called real humans and pretending that their version of storytelling is actually the truth.
Stories are everywhere. Sometimes, they’re overt propaganda like this example, and at other times, they’re for entertainment. And there’s a tendency to think that entertainment stories contain less reality than propaganda stories, but I’m saying: no. Propaganda is complete fiction. In fact, when a story doesn’t seem like fiction at all, that’s when we should be most careful about what we take as a given.
When you don’t even know you’re living in a story, it’s difficult to see your environment as a story. It’s like this:
If you live in a cult, you don’t know that outside of the cult, there is a whole non-cult world that doesn’t believe in the same story as that of the cult.
If you lived during the 18th century Enlightenment, to glorify anything but reason might have looked like a deterioration, like a retreat from progress, even though several hundred years later, we’re here talking about the limits of pure logic.
And if you’ve ever watched people in North Korea in one of the broadcasts that they deem “safe,” in air quotes, to share with the rest of the world? It’s crazy. I mean, I was born in South Korea. Not that far away from the hospital where I was born, there was North Korea. And now, that hospital is gone. It doesn’t exist anymore. But North Korea still exists. And some people there genuinely, truly, with all their hearts, believe that their leader is basically God. They don’t think they’re living inside a carefully manipulated story.
It is scary how humans can be put in any and all situations and, unless they have reason to be aware of some alternative, most likely they will accept the situation as a given.
Only in hindsight does it become crystal clear how flawed the ideologies of a previous time used to be. And since we cannot live for centuries, at least not yet, another easy way to see how silly the extreme romanticization of ideologies is is by traveling. You cannot move across time very easily, but you can, relatively speaking, move across space.
And an even more resource-efficient way to see is to consume stories intentionally, especially fiction. In my experience, this absolutely does not take away my enjoyment, at all. It’s just that fiction at least admits that it’s for entertainment. Other kinds of stories don’t necessarily do that. But that doesn’t stop them from still being for entertainment—broadly defined. In propaganda, there are victories, wars, failures, friendship, survival, rivalry, and on and on and on. Just watch any big new news. Observe how the news outlets milk the shit out of any item, and then toss it away, and suddenly, it’s gone. It’s entertainment. That’s what it was.
Whatever we believe in today will most likely be upended tomorrow. However, all this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t believe in anything. I believe that change is unchangeable, but for that to be the case, there has to exist something that can change.
So, for the here and now, I will say this. Whatever you believe in, which is likely to be different from whatever I believe in, I hope that it serves you, first and foremost. Nobody else can tell you what’s best for you. If someone says they know what’s best for you, flee.
There. I’ve said it. This is my ideology. I guess this entire podcast is propaganda. I am a storyteller, and so, you cannot stop me from telling stories. But at least I’ve told you, didn’t I? That there are many stories in this world. So, you don’t have to believe mine. You don’t even have to listen to mine.
If you want to listen to it, great. Do listen. I thank you for your attention.
If not, oh well. It doesn’t matter.
I don’t want to be the One Ring.
I don’t want to tell the One Story.
It’s best that we tell our own stories. Maybe my stories will help build yours and your stories will help build mine, but fundamentally, we’re on our own. As it should be. One place’s ism isn’t another place’s ism. One period’s ism isn’t another period’s ism. And within all those times and places, we are all free to believe whatever we want. And hopefully, if we really believe it, we’ll try to live up to that belief.
Hiving – Dan Mayo
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© 2022 Ithaka O.