Saturday, 13 February 2016

Mind The Gap?

This week's theme is the generation gap, or 'institutional age segregation' as it is now referred to somewhat fancifully by sociologists. Let's stick with generation gap - I think we can all identify with that term.

It was coined in the 1960s to explain the division that existed between the baby-boomers (born in that decade after the 2nd world war) and their parents; a division that ran the gamut from music (no pun intended) to lifestyle to politics in a way that was more clearly delineated than ever before. To quote the recently departed Paul Kantner (who in turn was plagiarising John Wyndham): "In loyalty to their kind, they cannot tolerate our minds. In loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction" (from 'Crown of Creation' by Jefferson Airplane). We were rebels and quite often it felt like war of a gentle kind against our parents. My mother and father were conscientious and caring, but they just didn't get it and we were frequently at loggerheads. I left home as early as I could.

Many years later, (I had babies of my own by that time), my father tried to apologise for the heavy-handed way they had acted on occasions. He wasn't exactly trying to excuse himself, it was more an admission to being completely bewildered by the tide of social and cultural changes set in motion in the 1960s, to the extent that neither he nor my mother knew how to cope with what was going on. They tried to keep a lid on - and that ruled out any opportunity to talk issues through to a better mutual understanding. Consequently, the gap was never bridged.

I hope I've not made the same mistakes. My own daughters may well read this blog. It will be interesting to hear their views on the subject.

Today's poem was 'inspired', if that's the appropriate term, by the sight of my parents sitting night after night in their armchairs in front of the television set, never talking to each other (or to me when I graced them with my company), just soaking up whatever was on offer. They frequently fell asleep in their chairs and would wake up when transmissions ceased after the epilogue and the national anthem. I'm sure that's not an uncommon observation. It used to really wind me up.

From the time I left home in my teens, all through university and into my late twenties I didn't have a television at all, much preferring to read or play music. The idea that everyone sat passive in front of their set every night was just anathema to me and I satirised the idea in the poem below, which draws its opening concept from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's famous lines: "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains..."

Rousseau, writing in the 18th century as a philosopher and political theorist, was principally concerned with ideas of freedom of the individual from exploitation and enslavement. His writings were fundamental to the progress of the Enlightenment in France and gave ammunition to the political activists behind the American and French revolutions of that century. Fast forward two hundred years and TV as a mass medium has the power to seduce and enslave. It doesn't have to be that way, but the danger is there; and the people who control the medium are very powerful as a result.  Viewer beware!

Please note that the poem was actually written a few years ago and predates both LCD technology (hence the reference to cathode light) and the deregulation of the industry (which has led to over 100 channels being available nightly and not just 3).

Electron-Chain-Gang Blues
Man was born free,
but everywhere he is watching TV.
It's a tune-in-and-turn-off routine,
quotidian soma for the modern age.

You sought an antidote to thought
through rapt attention to your screen -
and what a vacant, sweet delight
to follow mindless days
with mindless nights
bathed in the flickering cathode light
beamed from a leading TV station.

Oblivious or accepting of your exploitation,
you've sold out your reality
to media personalities.
So enjoy the celebration
of the Powers-That-Be
every night on channels one, two, three!

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, S ;-)