The other day I saw a TV spot that really captured, for me, something important about the mood of our moment. It's for a new mobile plan offered by Verizon:
Though the imagery is surreal, there's something oddly comforting about this commercial. The shape that descends from the heavens -- a UFO or halo -- seems to gather the family in a warm, protective embrace.
Jungians would compare the circular shape to an archetype, in this case, a mandala. Jung felt such symbols suggested "wholeness." He theorized that images like this appear in people's visions during times of stress and confusion, offering them a sense of safety within such magic circles, and the chance to re-center.
On the most banal level, the data plan Verizon offers here does promise to rid you of a bit of confusion -- that caused by trying to keep track of all the individual mobile plans members of your family (or small business) use.
But you might extend its soothing promise more generally: here is at least one small way to deal with the chaos fast changing technology causes when it comes to everything from our jobs, to our travel, to our medical bills and personal finances.
And then there's the plan's name: Share Everything. Despite its obvious meaning in the commercial, it's hard not to imagine a phrase like this used in another context.
What would Share Everything mean, for example, if you saw it on a sign at a protest rally? Doesn't it sound utopian? Anti-capitalist, even? It's as if, in the midst of this innocent commercial, the political unconscious is whispering subversive truths via double-meanings.
And maybe that's because the whole phenomenon of social media does have a double meaning. On the one hand, it offers more of the same: products, promotions and cultural cliches. On the other, it has inspired innovative ways to organize politically, and even creative new forms of radicalism.
Share It (Maybe) with the Cookie Monster
In any case, once my mind ingested this "share" meme, I began to see it everywhere. A few days later, for example, I came across it in yet another riff off Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me, Maybe." In this take off, we see the Cookie Monster begging folks in an office to "Share It, Maybe" (meaning, of course, a cookie):
What impresses me about this funny video (which asks you to share it) is how ecstatic the office staff looks, literally dancing in the aisles. It's as if just the act of sharing cookies with each other (and then the Cookie Monster) transforms the stressful world of the "cognitariat" into one of communal joy. Peace has momentarily been declared in the war of all-against-all.
Share Everything -- or Else!
There's also, though, something potentially disturbing about a phrase like Share Everything. Grammatically speaking, it's an imperative statement that can be read as a command.
And the fact of the matter is that since the advent of social media, we are increasingly compelled to share parts of ourselves online. For some careers, it's expected that candidates have already established a digital footprint before applying. And then there's the whole ethos of intense self-revelation that's been developing since the birth of confessional poetry in the 60s -- and that's flowered in our time into Reality TV, repentant politicians, and excrutiating tell-all memoirs.
That's why the phrase also bought to mind something I remember reading by that supreme critic of social surveillance, philosopher Michel Foucault:
"I would say that we are forced to produce the truth of power that our society demands, of which it has need, in order to function: we must speak the truth; we are constrained or condemned to confess or discover the truth. Power never ceases its interrogration, its inquisition, its registration of truth; it institutionalizes, professionalizes and rewards its pursuit. In the last analysis, we must produce truth as we must produce wealth."
In short, in another context, you might see phrases like Share Eveything as socially manipulative. And in this somewhat paranoid light, I thought of that scene in John Carpenter's masterpiece, They Live, where the subliminal messages that keep everyone in order are revealed to Roddy Piper, with the help of special sunglasses (it's about 1 1/2 minutes into this clip):
Of course, our society's propaganda isn't subliminal; it's hidden in plain sight -- so obvious that we deny its effects.
Nevertheless, I find something valuable about TV spots like this one. And that's the fact that free associating with its words and images helps me think about the deeply contradictory meanings tied up in the new forms of consciousness social media is helping to create. Thoughts?