Monday, January 15, 2007

The Birds

I'm in total agreement with Serena Fenton's latest posting here . I do love the bird images we are seeing everywhere, but they are becoming too conventional. I know a trend is dead when I go to the mall and see birds and leaves printed on T-shirts at Suzy Shier.
But it is also interesting to consider why a particular image resonates with the times. Birds traditionally symbolize spirit, a link between heaven and earth, and our desire to break free of earthly concerns. Looking around me, I often despair of the pointless consumerism that abounds, and wonder if it is possible to change our way of living in time to save the planet.
One way of reading the proliferation of bird and nature images in pop culture is that it reflects our desire to be more in tune with nature. The cynical side of me says that owning a t-shirt with a bird and some pretty flowers printed on it is just more thoughtless consumption, and isn't likely to change anything. Or that we have lost our connection to nature and are left with mere signifiers. But I prefer to remain hopeful - I do believe that people care about the environment, they just are overwhelmed and don't know where to start. All that endless shopping is sheer denial.

And on that bleak but hopeful note I have two recommendations: George Monbiot's "Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning" and the film "Children of Men", in theatres now. Both are passionate and truthful and despairing and hopeful.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:58 PM

    Thank you Heather for raising some important points about the links bewteen commerce and culture and the sometimes uncomfortable position that the connections place us in.

    I don't mind the fact that the culture (most obvious in visual culture, fashion in particular) we inhabit is created for sales. There's no way we can deny that we live in a capitalist world. So a pattern/design like birds, and certain colours economically dominate a decade. I once saw a report on TV about a group of industrial colour specialists who were meeting to decide the colours of the next decade. It was bizarre. I didn't know colours were actually chosen by representatives from all sorts of cooperating industries. I didn't think, up till that point, that the colours I see everyday were chosen by committee.

    I suppose the part I don't like is the feelings of passivity and manipulation in this sort of commerce/culture environment. I'll give you an example, this time from the food industry.

    I live in Japan. In late November I was watching a show on TV. It was a sort of travel documentary about a Japanse celebrity who goes to Maine, U.S.A., to discover the sort of environment that inspired a certain children's book writer to write. It was cute . During her travels in Maine she just happens to pass a pond full of harvested cranberries. The cranberries formed a giant heart shape in the pond. Later she goes to the cranberry grower's house and tastes homemade cranberry juice and jelly. She says that they are tasty. Then her travels resume and she eventually tracks down the hometown of the writer.

    It was a forgetable show and that's what I did until three weeks later. I was in my local supermarket in the food section and for the very first time since I've lived here (17 years), I saw bags of cranberries for sale. The memory of the show and the bags of cranberries in front of my eyes fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. That celebrity didn't just happen to find a cranberry bog on her way. Most likely, one of the sponsors of the show was the cranberry industry. They were trying to find a way to introduce cranberries to the Japanese market. But instead of just making ordinary comercials for TV, they embedded their message in a "documentary". I was stunned, and then I bought two bags of cranberries for cranberry sauce.

    I wonder how much information in our cultural environment is really embedded advertising, the kind that influences our choices when we don't even know we are being influenced. How much is designed just to create a "buzz" about a colour, a pattern, a taste, a sound. It's sort of scary when you think about it. Is there away out of this crazy environment? I suppose, for starters, I could stop watching TV.


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