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An interesting illustration of this is its application to stages in the development of chilidren. In the book What Kids Buy by Dan Acuff, one of the world's foremost experts on the psychology of marketing to children and key consultant to many of the nation's largest toy companies. Acuff notes five major stages of which relate to sensory and emotional needs of children:
Stages Of Childrens Development
Is there a relationship to the sequential stages above with the hero's journey in books like Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Jung's Symbols of Transformation and Neumann's The Origin And History of Consciousness? Is there a relationship between the above stages of children's development and contextual and contentual symbolism?
In What Kids Buy, Acuff shows that there are many correspondences between the stages and products. For example, Acuff suggests that certain characters and shapes have a strong relationship to the stage the child is in. During the first stage from birth to two years old, feature films like Beauty and the Beast and television shows like Sesame Street, Barney & Friends and Mickey Mouse hold children's attention.
He notes that the key elements in film and television programming for this age group (dependency and exploratory) center around animals, safe characters and slow pacing of presentation. All of these products feature caricaturized or cartoonized animals such as birds, dog-like Muppets, friendly dinosaurs and mice. In fact, Acuff notes that some research has shown that as much as 80 percent of children's dream content is of animals up to the age of about six. He notes that, "It appears through animal dreams children work on the resolution of a variety of issues and fears that they are dealing with in their young lives."
The primary needs in this first stage are for nurturance and safety and these needs are expressed in the type of characters which interest children. A key contentual symbol showing safety and nurturance is a round shape. Big Bird and Barney are designed with this in mind. Acuff makes some very interesting observations about roundness:
"Regarding roundness, research has proven that as early as 18 months of age, children identify crooked, jagged lines as 'bad guys' or things that could hurt you, and round, curving lines as being 'good guys' or safe. It's no accident that most of Disney characters, for example, are quite rounded in their design. Mickey himself, for example, has a very round head; it's also larger in proportion to his body, like an infant's head. Mickey also has round ears, rounded arms and legs, and roundish feet/shoes."
Acuff points out that as children mature, they demand more "edge" from their characters and with edge, more potential threat from the character. The character becomes challenging rather than nurturing. He notes the comparison between Warner Brothers' Tasmanian Devil, often showing a ferocious mouthful of teeth, with the very round and toothless Big Bird of Sesame Street. The roundness that appeals to younger children causes older children to turn away in disinterest. "The above-7-year old," he notes, "is more often than not, going to gravitate toward the emotional stimulation present in more edgy characters such as Tasmanian Devil, Garfield, Ren and Stimpy, the X-Men, and even Bugs Bunny with his cutting wit."
The relationship of contentual symbols such as animals and round shapes to particular stages in childrens development and their appearance in products to meet the needs of these young consumers may tell us a great deal about the symbolism of products in the adult world. Might it be that products cluster around a generic roundness of shape in the early parts of cyclic sequences, moving towards roughness and jagged edges as the sequence progresses? Is roundness related to the security of beginning the heroic "voyage" of life out of the unconsciousness while jaggedness (and the squareness of sharp angles) related to consciousness and masculinity towards the end of cycles?
Taking the perspective that culture is a creation of something else is the first step in guiding application of the ideas in this study on symbolism of popular culture. The first thing it may encourage is a closer observation of the key products that appear in popular culture and the attitude that they need to be categorized and diciphered.
The application involves a basically extroverted outward looking view which attempts to relate rather than analyze. It suggests that new patterns will emerge from understanding relationships.
Perhaps one of the best ways to describe the application of a symbolism of popular culture is to consider its use from both a time perspective and a functional perspective. Regarding applications to time, we consider past, present and future. Probably the most obvious application is directed towards understanding the future through methods we will discuss such as prediction and scenario creation. However, a symbolism of popular culture also has tremendous application to both the past and to the present. We will briefly discuss these applications again with the caveat we have said before that this is not meant to be a definitive proposal but rather a suggestive outline.
Regarding applications to functional areas, we consider the borad areas of business, social and political.
Same cycle generations from past may produce the same constellation of products. Just as celebrities may move by constellations with particular positions relatively fixed but simply filled by new "products," the same might be true for the overall constellation of products of popular culture.
As we have pointed out, there are startling similarities between the late 1990s and the late 1890s both decades when the what Strauss and Howe define as "prophet" generations were coming to dominance in their respective cultures.
The end of the nineteenth century was a time of great change, just as the 1990s are also a time of great change. In the 1890s, the idea of the unconscious was forming in Vienna and Zurich. Jung was developing his idea of the collective unconscious and the zeitgeist was revealed through the trances of mediums and the musings of mystics. It was the childhood of the twentieth century with the old "witches" running rampant over the land everywhere, working their magic, tracking down the elusive zeitgeist. It was a strange period of seances in dim candlelight Victorian parlors and possessions by spirits of the past.
An interesting flavor for this period of time is provided by the historian of psychology Sonu Shamdasani in his Introduction to Theodore Flournoy's famous From India to the Planet Mars:
"In the seances at the fin de siècle, women became men and men became women. There was no limit to who one could be or to how many. Terrestrials and extraterrestials swapped places and exchanged notes on their habitations...There was no desire to end the trance, and for a while psychology itself was entranced...At the end of the nineteenth century, many of the leading psychologists-Freud, Jung, Ferenczi, James, Myers, Janet, Bergson, Stanley, Hall, Schrenck-Notzing, Moll, Dessoir, Richet, and Flournoy-frequented mediums. It is hard today to imagine that some of the most crucial questions of the 'new' psychology were played out in the seance, nor how such men could have been so fascinated by the spirits."
While seances may have been conducted in candlelight parlors, their effects influenced the great events of the day. As Shamdasani notes, "What took place in the seances enthralled the leading minds of the time, and had a crucial bearing on many of the most significant aspects of twentieth-century psychology, linguistics, philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, and painting, not to mention psychical research. For a while crucial issues in the disciplines found themselves played out in the transports of the mediumistic trance. A form of transvaluation took place."
The 1990s are surprisingly similar to the 1890s with the entire New Age movement and a renewed general interest in culture towards spiritual concerns. The 1890s were a time of many weird cults and movements but our own time has also had its share of these in things like channeling and the various psychological hysterias such as recovered memory, alien abduction, chronic fatigue syndrome, satanic ritual abuse, Gulf War syndrome and multiple personality syndrome. In fact, channeling is no more really than the reappearance of seance symbolism in a new form. In fact, a film like Contact may really be a symbol for a modern seance rather than a space film about alien contact.
Mirror periods in the study of symbolism presents interesting possibilities of learning entirely new things about our present from the past. If history in fact does repeat itself, the question becomes what part of this repetition process are we now going through and where has this happened before in the past. A simultaneous analysis of the products of both cultures is needed which looks at dominating products at the same point in time.
Traditional historical linear analysis of one event leading to another event as little use in the symbolic historical method. The purpose here is to create a snapshot which freezes two points in time from both periods. After this snapshot is created, a comparison of the two constellations of the products of both periods needs to be done. What was the genre of the dominant forms of entertainment? Are there contextual similarities? In the process, the shadow cast by great personages over the entire era are replaced by contextual symbolism. We might then come to define historical periods rather than as the Age of Napoleon as the Dominance of the Feminine Archetype.
Prediction of the future has been a recurrent belief through history practiced by those known as prophets. One of the greatest prophets was Nostradamus. Interestingly, his prophecies were very much expressions of the symbolic system. The 1997 publication of The Nostradamus Encyclopedia by Cambridge University linguist Peter Lemesurier offers one of the best reference guides in the English language to the work of Nostradamus.
A key section of the book explores the methods used by Nostradamus for his predictions. Far from the magic of a crazy man they were essentially based around the laws of symbolism and such concepts as synchronicity, alignment and what we term "mirror" periods of history. The method was to basically a comparison of past astrological alignments with future alignments. The past alignments Nostradamus selected were those centered around historical events.
Lemesurier notes that the following system was used by Nostradamus for his predictions. We reproduce them in detail because of their striking similarity to the symbolic method suggested in this book and particularly in the above section on historiography. The process of Nostradamus consisted of the following steps:
- Selection of a major historical event from the past that was large and dramatic enough to have an almost archetypal character about it
- Using traditional astrological principles, select the date or period nearest the event when the presence of at least four planets in their various houses or signs seems appropriate for the event. The greater the number of planets, and especially the outer ones, the more specific the eventual recapitulation is likely to be.
- Using the planets involved, search through the astronomical tables until the pattern of planets in houses or signs is repeated and record this year and date. The most practical approach here is to start with the outer planets and work inward.
- Look up respective celestial latitudes of the sun at noon for the past and future events selected to the nearest degree and work out how far to the south or north the latter declinations are from the former ones.
- Taking the latitude of the original event, apply to it the relative declinations (latitude corrections) that you have just figured out, distinguishing latitude north from latitude south. This provides the predicted latitude for the future event.
- Regard the timing of the future event as subject to the tolerance of plus or minus at least one month
- Since the declination calculation is based on the nearest degree, treat the future latitude as similarly subject to a tolerance of plus or minus one degree
- Refer to a map to pinpoint the future event's likely location and then use your intuition to suggest the manner in which the original event is likely to be repeated
- Finally, if you are proposing to publish the results, frame your prediction in terms vague enough to cover the multitude of possible eventualities.
The same type of reasoning can be applied to alignments within culture at particular moments in time. In this sense, the symbols of the stars and the planets also have synchronistic correspondence to the products of popular culture. In fact, one could define the products of popular culture as types of planets and stars to be interpreted.
If culture moves in cycles, the key is to find the particular alignment of contentual symbols at one point in the cycle. Then, using a method similar to that of Nostradamos, note when this cycle will reappear in the future. There will be the same alignment of symbols but they will be in the contentual "dress" of their time.