Saturday, August 17, 2019

Grease, Sugar, Junk Mail, and Cinematic Manipulation

I exasperated my friend, hiking buddy, and favorite documentary filmmaker Les Blank by describing a film I'd recently seen as "manipulative". He was incredulous; nearly sputtering. "All movies are manipulative!" he hollered. "That's the whole point!"

We had six miles of trail ahead of us, so I had time to sharpen my thoughts. Finally, I produced a revision he deemed reasonable: the film seemed brazenly manipulative. The emotional manipulation itself wasn't the problem. It was the failed application.

Whenever someone pronounces food "greasy", I can't help grinning. That person - along with every other human - undoubtedly loves croissants, mankind's crowning achievement in the saturation of starch with fat. A croissant is a delivery system for the maximal fat per volume. No one who's ever curled her lip at a "greasy" dish would ever turn down a competently-baked croissant. So it's not the grease, it's the application.

A phrase that exasperates me is "Not-too-sweet". It strikes us as reasonable praise even though we'd all be bewildered if someone were to praise a steak as "unburnt" or an apple as "non-rotten".

There seems to be universal agreement that desserts shouldn't be too sweet. Yet (thanks, The Diabetes Council!) the average American scarfs down 25 teaspoons of sugar daily. We crave sweetness more fanatically than a swarm of fruit flies.

Everyone despises direct mail advertising yet it works very effectively (guaranteeing the existence of junk mail until the heat death of the universe).

The underlying dope is what entices us, of course, but it must be artfully disguised to spare us revulsion by the bald-faced truth of the unseemly underpinnings. We attribute our attraction to the frills and specifics of execution, which allow us to feign sublimation. Please, good sir, cease this unseemly talk of opium and pass the hookah. I am no addict.
Most high-end wine tasters are raging alcoholics. They maintain a certain veneer by up-paying for lofty grog, though every blessed one of them would go all Bartles & Jaymes if that were all there were.

I've framed these four examples of a certain psychological hiccup a certain way, but they connect in other ways, as well. I'm offering a cognitive lozenge, and invite you to ponder it (ideally for more than three seconds) and see where it leads you. I suspect it reveals something more fundamental than an addict's self-delusion.


Display Name said...

I will add this to my scrap book Jim: Most high-end wine tasters are raging alcoholics. A relative of mine (not blood) had the sense to quit being a wine taster when he kept getting drunk. The raw vegan cult which I accidentally became a member of for a time is stuffed with people with eating disorders. This is from my favorite raw vegan chef who is seriously obese. The mental health community is ridden with workers of every level who are mentally ill. Thrice I have had to endure the role reversal thingie where the therapist is on the couch and I am taking notes and saying comforting things. A devout mennonite woman who I was friends with told me that all the real jerks go to church. Makes perfect sense. No one else with have them. Many many small business owners are complete douchebags because they cannot possibly work for anyone else. Many deeply religious people are looking for that elusive handbook for life so they don't have to think much. My mom bailed on a class in how to manage her diabetes while she was hospitalized. She wanted a hot fudge sundae and my dad drove her to get it. I know a guy who has a job as a therapist specializing in court ordered therapy for people with duis. You guess it, his alcoholism has affected his marriage and side business as a comic book and game shop owner. Gah. My best friend conan loves the fable of the frog and the scorpion. Guess who he identifies with? I should run but I don't.

Anonymous coward said...

On one level we want to perform the correct deed. We want to eat perfectly and reap all the supposed benefits of eating healthy. On another level we want to be fooled like in the prestige. A magician performing a stage trick. We all know it is fake, but somehow the audience oooo and ahhhhs.

Furthermore, not only do we want to be tricked, but we do not want to see the cruelty of the magician's act, which by watching you are proliferating. Think about cigarettes. Every time a person buys a pack of cigarettes they are making sure more young people will begin smoking before 18. Therefore, every new minor smoker is the fault of not only the tobacco companies but of the buyers.

The same magic trick could be used from everything from sugar coated cereal to sweatshop child labor and slavery. It is far easier to believe a false reality that benefits you in someway as opposed to search broad and deep for facts and then use logic to weed out any internal inconsistencies.

Read merchants of doubt to see how advertising is about deceit. As for your hiking buddy and movies being manipulative they have to be or nobody would watch them. Have you ever seen an educational film with no sweet package? It is boring. Very very boring. I find it unconformable to watch them. Sort of like eating white rice with no flavor or anything. Yuck.

In other words humans do not know what they really want and we are gullible. Even brilliant people like Steve Jobs fall for quackery. The only part I don't get is why are humans like Steve Jobs bitter when they realized they have been duped? I mean is that not the entire point to be fooled and enjoy being fooled?

Why not skip the entire "gee I've been conned now I am angry, sad, disappointed, and so forth", and just live in blissful ignorance forever falling for the same trap? Or just skip falling into the trap in the first place. This entire, lets deliberately let ourselves get fooled, be happy for a bit, get hurt, next realized we've been hurt, and finally get angry about being hurt makes no sense to me. Seems the person was much happier when they were blissfully unaware.

"Isaacson says Jobs told him he regretted his decision to try alternative therapies and said he put off the operation because it was too invasive."

Why the regret? Was not the entire point that Jobs wanted to be fooled, just like in the Prestige?

James Leff said...

Display Name,

Sorry for my delay in approving your comment.

You are describing, scattershot, some very real human pathologies and deficiencies. I have trouble feeling shocked because I never imagined people were as sane and together as they pose/pretend to be in the first place.

The kooky, non-linear, poseurish nature of human behavior is only a revelation if you were accepting it all at face value to begin with. I noticed, from a young age, how broken everyone really was (and, thank god, managed to also see the brokenness in myself, so I avoided the catastrophic mistake of assuming I'm above the fray just 'cuz I notice it)

But the handful of cognitive hiccups described in my posting above aren't offered as more proof that "people are dumb". I'm interested in the links between these examples. I think they're related. Can't quite articulate it.

Display Name said...

Good job turning your eyes inward as well Jim. Tried to explain that about myself too with that story at the end. I guess I was being a bit too cryptic. I stay far too long in toxic relationships even when I can clearly see the scorpion's stinger poised and ready to strike. I thought rattling off a lot of hiccups might be helpful to you.

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