Micro-Cosmos

science-equals-money So, to much fanfare, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is remaking Carl Sagan’s astronomy-and-a-bit-of-science TV show. Is television any way to learn science? Did Sagan’s Cosmos really turn anybody on who wasn’t already turned on, or about to be turned on? Is, as the Babysitter-in-Chief would have it, a passion for truth and bold thinking about new problems and limits really part of our national character at this point? Is it even tolerated, let alone promoted, by anybody in power?

Whatever your answers to these questions may be, ponder the more elementary fact that Tyson’s show is commercial, while Sagan’s was public. Hence, you have to wonder how much Tyson truly embodies his mentor’s spirit. Before giving up on PBS (not that it is anything like truly public), Tyson might have gone back and pondered the fact that Sagan fought an extended legal battle to prevent Apple from using his name to sell its products.

In any event, thanks to its commercialization, the first institutional task of the new Cosmos is greenwashing. In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss some of the details of what things like “the Chrysler Brand” gain from such campaigns. We’ll also keep notes on how the sponsors impose limits on what makes it into Tyson’s scripts. Don’t expect much fearless talk about the main tasks of science at this point in human history.

Xmas Creep 2012

Capitalism is extremely predictable, at least at the level of the managerial actions that drive its mundane operations. Thus, as we TCTers know, the great junk-pushing rite known as Christmas grows a bit every year. Hence, this unsurprising news from today’s edition of The New York Times:

Some of the nation’s biggest retailers — Sears, Target and Toys “R” Us among them — announced this month that they would be moving up their predawn Black Friday door-buster sales to Thanksgiving Day or moving up their existing Thanksgiving sales even earlier on Thursday. Walmart, which has already been open on Thanksgiving for many years, is advancing its bargain specials to 8 p.m. Thursday from 10 p.m.

But in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the stores will sit dark until the wee hours of Friday. Even Walmart will not open in Maine until just after midnight Friday or in Massachusetts or Rhode Island until 1 a.m.

New England’s blue laws were put down by early settlers to enforce proper behavior on Sundays. (The origin of the term is unclear. Some have said the laws were printed on blue paper, while others have said the word “blue” was meant to disparage those like the “blue noses” who imposed rigid moral codes on others.)

Over decades, many of those laws — which banned commerce, entertainment and the sale of alcohol, among other things — were tossed aside or ignored, or exemptions were granted. In some cases, the statutes were extended to holidays and barred retailers specifically from operating on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

All quite boring, except for this: If you go look at the story on the NYT site, you’ll notice its html title and the words that appear in your browser’s tab are this: “Blue Laws Curb Consumerism.”

So the inexorable march of Xmas marketing toward the Fourth of July is caused by consumerism — whatever that is, not capitalism?

Here you see the conceptual violence inherent in the system.

If you doubt such linguistic shifts matter, consider this lament from a local quoted by The Times:

“Thanksgiving is supposed to be about giving thanks for all you have,” said Mr. Brewster, 47, who runs a computer repair business. “I cringe to think what society is doing to itself,” he said of the mercantile mania that threatens one of the least commercial holidays.

“What society is doing to itself.”

Stalin and Hitler would be purple with envy at this amazing mental elision of a runaway ruling class.

Public Intelligence: Not Dead

More recent evidence that Chomsky is onto something when he highlights the gulf between public views and wishes and the choices on offer within the realm of marketing we still quaintly call “politics.” Radical media reform could be a slam dunk, if it weren’t one of the many utterly verboten topics in that realm.

Annals of Wealth and Corruption

audrey_geisel At left is Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Audrey’s latest use of her husband’s estate has been to authorize the NBCUniversal media conglomerate to make a movie out of Dr. Suess’s The Lorax book. The result is a film with over 70 product tie-in deals, including one for the Mazda CX5 SUV. The plot of the movie reduces the book’s ecological theme to a subplot in a tweenage romance. It also converts what little is left of the ecological message to a brain-dead melange of green capitalist cognitive dissonances and verbal pabulum. The SUV tied into the movie, for instance, is “Truffula Tree Certified — We Care an Awful Lot,” as if trees and cars are somehow tightly connected issues, and as if Ted Geisel would ever have committed a ham-tongued phrase like “we care an awful lot” to paper.

And what does Mrs. Seuss have to say for cashing in on this great steaming heap? “I’m not one to go commercial very easily.”

Yes, she only does it whenever they ask…