Cognition & Reality

Monday, 9 May 2011

Surrender Monkeys?

Filed under: Television,War & Statecraft — drtone @ 3:24 pm

I’ve been streaming “War and Remembrance,” the 80s miniseries based on Herman Wouk’s book of the same name, which I have also read. I had forgotten what a good job Wouk did of portraying the realities of the war. I’ve just gotten to the defeat of France. Fred Ikle’s Every War Must End gave me a new slant on the French surrender, portrayed as cowardice during the war, but clearly the only avenue open to them at the time. Wouk, who also wrote the screenplay for the miniseries, does a great job of showing the problem the French faced.

People tend to forget the connection between “the Miracle at Dunkirk” and the need for the French to surrender.

If the French situation was salvageable, as the propaganda has ever after claimed, why did the British withdraw from the Continent? The British had to leave because the Germans bagged the French army, and the French had to surrender because, without that army and without the British to help them, they had no means of carrying on the war. The French military and political leaders understood that to continue the war, at the cost of countless civilian casualties, would serve no purpose and lead to a more dishonorable surrender in the near future. Amazingly, the British, after having left the scene, were peeved at the French for not continuing the war from North Africa. I suppose it is they who afterward fostered the self-serving impression that the French surrender was an unnecessary, cowardly act.


Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Dog Whisperer & Biological Determinism

Through his program, “The Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan has made himself into the most famous dog trainer in America, if not the world. His approach features his intuitions about dogs’ motivations. In explaining those motivations, he frequently refers to the descendence of domestic dogs from wolves, and only occasionally refers to the relationship between breed characteristics and a dog’s problem behavior. I have never heard him blame bad behavior on a dog’s genetics. In fact, he is a strong defender of pit bulls and other breeds that have been seen as dangerous because they are bred to be aggressive. Because he almost always sees the roots of a problem in confusion about dominance, he trains owners to reinforce positive, submissive behavior by becoming better “pack leaders.” When it comes to dogs, as the success of Millan’s program demonstrates, the public is willing to believe that behavioral pathology is mostly a product of learning.

It is therefore interesting that, in the popular imagination, human psychoemotional difficulties, not so different from the fearfulness and aggressiveness the Dog Whisperer often addresses, represent underlying physiological anomalies. Although people readily accept that dog psychopathology reflects bad “parenting,” they reject the idea that the same can be true of humans. To explain humans’ dysfunction, the public prefers explanations that seem to be at a remove from the direct experience of learning and developing, such as “chemical imbalance” or physical inheritance.

Cesar Millan’s treatments are invariably behavioral. Although I believe he doesn’t explicitly disapprove of using antidepressants with dogs, he never presents chemical or even dietary interventions on his show. Instead, through careful titration, he focuses on changing behavior, replacing dysfunctional behaviors with functional behaviors. He not only employs himself and other humans to do this, but also the dogs in his own pack, particularly his pit bull Daddy and a few other canine co-therapists.

Right now, I’m watching a touching installment of “The Dog Whisperer,” in which Cesar is rehabilitating a fearful Doberman mix named Baby Girl. When he discovers that Baby Girl refuses to eat, Cesar brings in a vet to examine the dog for physiological problems, but there is nothing physically wrong with her. Cesar concludes that Baby Girl’s eating disorder is “psychological.”

Admittedly, the psychological disorders of dogs do not track exactly the psychological disorders of humans. In addition, the cases that make it on to Cesar’s show, more often than not, involve violent dogs. Not only is an aggressive dog likely to drive owners to seek help, but a violent dog also makes better TV. On the other hand, Baby Girl was not violent. She had symptoms more similar to clinical depression or a personality disorder, and Cesar used a mixture of behavioral approaches to treat her. The point here is not so much that Cesar Millan believes in the efficacy of psychological treatment, but that the audience believes in the efficacy of psychological treatment, when the “patient” is a dog.

When the patient is a human, however, the public has been conditioned to accept the use of pharmaceuticals to treat psychoemotional problems, and they have accepted the notion that much psychopathology is “genetic.” Contrast this set of ideas with the way Cesar Millan operates. Although he does, under some circumstances, take into account a dog’s genetics, he almost always attributes behavioral problems to what we would call “upbringing” in the human context: The problem is really with the owners, an attribution most of the owners on the show readily accept.

One can see how much more difficult a similar conclusion about human parenting is to accept . Parents don’t want to believe that they contributed to the psychopathology of a child. In addition, physicians presently enjoy enormous power in treating psychopathology. It is therefore in their interest to promote a relationship between physiology and behavior that Cesar Millan implicitly rejects in the way he treats the psychological problems of canines.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Selling Drunken Sex IV

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Sex & Love,Television — drtone @ 2:59 pm

I knew yesterday that there was more I wanted to say about the Bud Light commercials. So I beg your indulgence as I continue to pursue this topic.

As the persistence of the belief in a widespread threat of “date rape drugs” shows, the marketing of beer as a sexual intoxicant by Anheuser-Busch does not exist in isolation. Post-industrial society is struggling with the effects of having freed women from most of the traditional constraints on their behavior. The process of integrating men and women into a culture that recognizes their inherent equality is not finished, if “finishing” is a possibility for social change. In fact, change is continuous and almost always appears to be more predictable than it actually is. The hypocrisy regarding women and alcohol with which I have recently been obsessed represents an unanticipated consequence of what, for want of a better term, we call “women’s liberation.”

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Selling Drunken Sex III

Filed under: Date Rape,Television — drtone @ 2:01 pm

I’ve never had anything like the response to a post that I have had to my initial post about Bud Light TV commercials. As I said in the follow-up, I’m not sure to what to attribute the number of hits, a hot topic, a hot product, or something else. It surprises me that, as I Googled around, I did not find any commentary about the form of beer commercials, the portrayal of drunkenness as a strategy. Everyone is familiar with the pairing of beer and breasts, but you might think that both the drunken behavior of those in beer spots and the direct selling of beer as an aphrodisiac would have drawn more attention. I’m not talking about the our-beer-will-make-you-look-cool appeal of, for example, “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials for Dos Equis. I’m talking about showing how to use the beer bottle to “hook up” with a drunk female, or demonstrating that beer will render a woman numb and suggestible. These are the very factors implicated in warnings about date rape.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Bud Light: Selling Drunken Sex II

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Television,Urban Myths — drtone @ 11:51 am

For whatever reason, my post yesterday about the current Bud Light commercials garnered the highest number of hits of any entry I have ever made on this blog. Maybe it was just that it said “Bud Light,” and everyone is so excited about the product because of those commercials. Maybe it’s that people are sick and tired of the pervasive hypocrisy surrounding the relationship of alcohol to sex. I’d love to hear from readers about why they tuned in here.

In case it wasn’t perfectly obvious, the point I was making about the commercial featuring the write-on labels is that they facilitate the classic “date rape” scenario: An incapacitated young woman gets together with a young man she does not know well… The entire purpose of the ad in question, as with the other Bud Light ads, is the selling of beer as an aid to getting laid. The message to young men is clear: DRUNK WOMEN ARE EASY. BUY OUR PRODUCT AND SEE FOR YOURSELF. I have singled out the Bud Light spots because they appear to me to push this envelope more than similar ads by Miller, Coors, and others.

This is where so-called “date rape drugs” come into the picture for Anheuser-Busch and other companies that sell alcohol. While the public and the duly constituted authorities, both inside and outside law enforcement, chase after the “date rape drug” phantom, the corporate sellers of alcohol can continue unabated in their campaigns to market their legal products for use as stimulants to sex. I am not the only person to see the sad humor in the furor over these other drugs, and the hypocrisy involved. Nor is it out of the question that A-B and other alcohol distributors are involved, sub rosa, in creating an atmosphere of concern about “date rape drugs,” as part of a PR strategy, which they did in connection with the related issue of marketing beer to underage drinkers.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Bud Light: Selling Drunken Sex

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Television,Urban Myths — drtone @ 11:54 am

In discussing the urban myth of “date rape drugs,” I suggested that the corporate sellers of alcohol have an interest in distracting attention from their own business, selling the most potent and widely used date rape drug of all time. Throughout human history, the consumption of alcohol has been connected with the reduction of sexual inhibitions in both men and women, although with different effects on each. It is not as if the makers and sellers of alcoholic beverages are ignorant of its use as a sexual lubricant. Far from it.

For many years now, partly in response to legal restrictions on showing the actual drinking of alcohol, the major purveyors of alcohol have advertised the effects of their product. One need only look at almost any beer commercial to know that what it is selling is drunkenness itself. I don’t know if they began the trend, but the famous “Tastes great…Less filling” Miller Lite commercials of the late 70s and early 80s typify this approach. These spots told the viewer about the characteristics of light beer, then a new product, in the context of raucous fun that featured famous athletes, several of them notorious drunks. The selling of drunkenness is not confined to beer commercials, as the sales campaign for Captain Morgan Rum demonstrates.

Although some commercials sell beer, wine or spirits as “cool,” mostly they depict consumers having fun in bizarre situations that resemble drunken fantasies. Many suggest that, in the context of the drunken fun, it’s a useful ploy for young men to supply alcohol to young women. Recent commercials for Bud Light, an Anheuser-Busch product, exemplify this sales approach, unabashedly exploiting women and drunkenness to sell beer.

“3D Test”, a spot that has aired for some time on sporting events, which disproportionately attract young men, can be interpreted as doing nothing but selling inebriation, with special emphasis on the ability of beer to render a woman confused and suggestible. The premise is that the company refrained from airing a 3D beer commercial, because it was too effective and therefore dangerous. The rest of the spot depicts the “dangers” of the commercial discovered during market testing: A young man dives into a television set in order to obtain a virtual beer; a young woman, mouth open and tongue out, abandons herself to a giant holographic glass of beer. At the end of the commercial, the same young woman runs headlong from a bowl of frosty Bud Light bottles into what appears to be the one-way mirror in the “test” room. The “host” of the commercial does not need to say that a woman who, manifestly numb after a few beers, will run into her own reflection (or an imaginary beer) is going to be “easy.”

Another spot illustrates the capacity of beer to make a young man appear attractive to young woman. Two young men are throwing a party on what could be a large pleasure craft. When one of them discovers that they are out of beer, the other demonstrates the Bud Light “app” on his smart phone. The “app” features a video of a Bud Light bottle that opens and from which real beer can be poured. Several scenes follow that show the young man who owns the app entertaining young women with his antics and conversation. In case we were wondering whether the important ingredient in his success with women is the beer or something special about the young man, the spot ends with his friend complaining that he wants a Bud Light app, too.

I can’t find the video for the most recent Bud Light spot, one that comes close to shocking me with its frank suggestion that young men entice young women into sex with the help of beer. The new spot introduces Bud Light bottles with labels you can write on with “a coin or a car key.” One of two young male roommates distributes bottles of Bud Light to the young women in their building, each inscribed with the time and location of a party. In one scene, he literally “lures” a young woman with a bottle lowered to her apartment window on a string. In another scene, when he leaves a bottled invitation with a young woman in the laundry room, she looks back with a welcoming, sexy look. At the subsequent party, young men and women are using the bottles to share names and phone numbers. Not only the beer, but also the package it comes in, help drunk couples to get together.

Monday, 14 February 2011

No News Is Still Good News

Filed under: Propaganda,Television — drtone @ 2:40 pm

In a previous post, I mentioned the temporary suspension of my self-imposed news blackout in order that I watch coverage of the Mubarak resignation. While watching that coverage, I heard and saw comments and commentators I found just as irritating as when I stopped watching the news. Initially, I had thought that I could perhaps return to following the news–at least the international news–but soon realized that I was falling into the same disturbing habits of thought and action that caused me to impose the blackout.

For example, I was exposed to an interview of Ken Pollack, who made his reputation by writing a book from a “liberal” perspective calling for the invasion of Iraq on the basis of the various dangers posed by the Hussein regime, particularly WMD. That he was wrong, as were so many others, has apparently not put a crimp in Pollack’s career: The reporter who interviewed him complimented for “bring[ing] a lot to the table.” What he brings is not obvious, but what is obvious is that those “experts” who supported the invasion have, by and large, maintained or enlarged their reputations and those who opposed it continue on the margins to which they were forced during that horrible and unnecessary war. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the terrible stupidity of this state of affairs.

I also heard a reporter quote Fuad Adjami to the effect that Mubarak’s agents used “Saddam-like” techniques to suppress Egyptian demonstrators. In other words, Adjami, among the keenest warmongers on the planet and perhaps the leading Arab neo-conservative, is still at it in characterizing Saddam Hussein as some sort of standard of evil. During the run-up to both the First (American) Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq,  The neo-cons continually asked whether Saddam was “the next Hitler,” as if such a comparison meant anything whatsoever. Although it was clear within months of the costly, brutal Iraq invasion that the conditions in Iraq that would succeed Hussein’s ouster were worse than those imposed by his regime, the main justification for a war that was a disaster by any other measure has been the “evil” of Hussein and his family. The supposed improvement in Iraq and the world is supposed to make up for the many genuine “evils” the war wrought.

Anyway, see how I go on. I can’t stand it. I must not listen to, watch or read the news.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Who’s Reporting?

Filed under: Race,Television — drtone @ 1:57 pm

By accident this morning, I tuned into the news from Cairo a few minutes after Mubarak resigned. Because it was clearly big news, I stayed with the coverage for a few hours. On MSNBC, for the first hour I watched, Lester Holt was the anchor. He handed off to a woman named Tamron Hall, who shifted coverage to a reporter in Cairo. I could not help but note that Holt, Hall, and the Cairo reporter are all African-Americans. I am old enough to remember when the idea of a national news broadcast by a Black reporter was–and I use the word advisedly–unthinkable. Once upon a time, that an African-American was a reporter for a major news organization would have been at least as big a story as Mubarak’s resignation. Here in the middle of it, however, was a Black woman holding the anchor chair, and it was not of any interest. I love that.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Super Bowl Commercial Shutout

Filed under: Television — drtone @ 11:53 am

I do not know what this means, but pretty much all of the Super Bowl commercials I liked were hated by the rest of the audience. The one that stood out most for me–and not because I own a Hyundai–was the kaleidoscopic “Relax” ad for the new Elantra; only 17% of the audience liked it, and it was one of the five least liked ads. To me, it was a brilliant combination of high production values and humor, the sort of thing that Super Bowl ads are supposed to be, but rarely are. I also liked the simple animated ads for a business-to-business web application called “”; those ads were all in the bottom 10. Then there was the stylized Stella Artois ad, with Adrien Brody as a sort of male Edith Piaf; that, too, was in the bottom 10, although I gave it an “A” for effort and at least a “B” for effect. The only commercial that was popular with both me and the general audience was the “First Date” ad for Bud Light, which I’ve now seen twice and laughed at both times, although I think most Bud Light ads stink. Finally, the “Little Darth Vader” ad for the VW Passat, which was perhaps the most popular Super Bowl ad, practically made me puke; although I admire VW for not going for over-the-top video pyrotechnics, for my money,  it is an amazingly stupid commercial and the car isn’t interesting enough to be ugly.

To me, most of the ads that did well with the public this year, as in previous years, missed the boat. They were almost uniformly high-tech with an attempt at “wackiness,” as if the producers looked at admired Super Bowl ads from the past and abstracted those elements as the right ingredients, except that they forgot to include actual thought and good writing.  It appears that I’m upside-down and backwards in relation to public tastes. I suppose that’s a good thing, although it does make me feel a bit isolated.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

“The Sopranos,” Gay Rights & The Velocity of Social Change

Filed under: Sex & Love,Television — drtone @ 11:47 am

I’ve been re-watching “The Sopranos” for some time. Occasionally, things emerge in the show that feel dated. After all, the first episodes appeared exactly twelve years ago, in January of 1999. Now I’m watching the sixth and final season. I had forgotten that one of the themes in several of the episodes revolves around the discovery that, Vito, one of Tony Soprano’s mob “captains,” is gay. The episodes in question appeared in April and May of 2006. Less than five years later, the issues they tackle already feel as though they’ve stopped mattering.

When Tony finds that Vito is gay, it offends his “old school” approach to the world. On further consideration, however, he realizes that Vito is  one of his hardest working and most loyal people. Tony’s other captains simply want to put Vito to death. forcing Tony  to take a courageous stand in Vito’s defense. As is often true in “The Sopranos,” the creators have taken a current social issue and explored it within the structure of the show, treating the Mafia, fairly or not, as a gloss on American corporate culture.

Not having a regular job, nor having my finger on the pulse of our society, maybe I’m all wet, but I suspect that, were these episodes of “The Sopranos,” written today, they would unfold differently: Instead of wanting to kill the gay captain, most of  Tony’s  other captains, although perhaps personally offended by homosexuality, wouldn’t care enough about the guy’s sexual orientation to be interested in getting rid of him; the plot would revolve around dealing with one or two captains who still want the guy “gone.” Translating this to real life, I have the impression that the issue of gays in the workplace has shifted from whether they are accepted at all to making a few adjustments in the attitudes of .the intransigent few who still cling to “old school” values. That is a huge change in only five years.

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