Franz Anton Mesmer and The Rise of Television & Technology
Mesmerized by a reality tv show of a president, we have elected instead a soothing blue to frame the past four years of drama.
New York Times Chief Television Critic James Poniewozik’s essay this morning begins, “Many incumbent presidents have gone on the campaign trail to make their cases for a second term. Donald J. Trump was the first to campaign for a second season.”
I had to read those sentences twice. The title of the op-ed should have given it away immediately, “President Trump’s Show Has Been Canceled.” Duh.
We must pause here a minute to recognize that television critics, as a rule, do not review presidencies unless they have something to do with Aaron Sorkin. This ought to give us a clue.
“At a 2019 campaign rally in Minnesota, he described his victory in 2016 as ‘one of the greatest nights in the history of television.’”
Were we making television history? Or American history?
True confessions: I don’t own a television.
I have known some people for whom television was gospel. It isn’t. In fact, it isn’t even close to gospel. Nor is any form of social media.
But we the people have been mesmerized, an eponymous word for the gent who created hypnosis. We have had a Hypnotist-in-Chief for more than four years.
And too many of us have bought his version of reality. Which isn’t even close to real. (FWIW, he knows it isn’t real, too.)
Honestly, with the addictive nature of both television and technology as well as the amount of brain science that continues apace, it would have been a surprise had we not been collectively hypnotized. Isn’t that scary?
Back to the Chief Television Critic, “[T]he Trump presidency proved something else as well. People may like to watch exciting TV shows. They do not necessarily want to live inside one.
“And for four years, that’s what we did. We were redshirt extras inside a potboiler driven by, and customized for, the adrenaline urges of a conflict junkie. The unceasing tension. The ever-ratcheting drama. The tweets that became news that generated more tweets. What was the latest story line? What was the president mad about today? What did you get mad about today?
“The TV-addict president assumed that everyone else found constant battle as invigorating as he did, that they, like him, would rather be relentlessly upset than momentarily bored.”
And God forbid we should ever be bored. Enter the device of your choice. Check Facebook, see what’s trending on Twitter, take a selfie and post it somewhere, anywhere, where is the blogosphere on that issue, oh, yeah, email, too. On and on and on and on.
I would submit to you, Beloved, that a little boredom might do us all some good right now.
That’s what Mr. Poniewozik thinks. His take on it is that the American people changed the channel.
“[T]he more I watched the campaign, the more I realized that Mr. Biden was not merely trying to replace something with nothing. I started to get a sense of his media message this summer, when I offhandedly wrote that, amid a reality-show presidency, Mr. Biden was producing a political version of ‘This Is Us.’ …
“But it wasn’t entirely about him. In fact, much of the point of his campaign was that it was not all about him. It was an ensemble drama, not a star vehicle.” Uh, Aaron Sorkin, anyone?
In fact, Beloved, America is never really about the President, no matter how charismatic or cantankerous. America is about Americans. All Americans.
But America has been mesmerized by the reality television show that has been the presidency for four years, and looks like it will continue for another 70 days, God help us all.
We must look up from our devices, Beloved. We must look away from the television. We need to open our eyes and look around right where we are. We can participate in this ensemble drama if we’ll do that. Just look up — and see America, the Beautiful.
Like the video that the Biden-Harris team released after they’d won the election.
As another article said this morning, “This postelection campaign offering employs [artist] Lorraine O’Grady’s concept of placing people inside frames to promote images of an inclusive, diverse America.” She did that in 1983.
Because that, Beloved, is what America really is: ideals of inclusivity, diversity, freedom, and justice for all.
Look up, Beloved. Put down the device. Turn off the television.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her website is susancorso.com.