Logo Home Writing News About Contact Links

Site Map

Home >

Writing >

Books >

Symb. of Popular... >


[ < Previous | Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 ]

Extending Strauss and Howe's ideas in The Fourth Turning, might present generations find true "mirror" generations in the past which are much closer to them then those generations before and after them in the present? For example, one can note a striking similarity between today's "boom" generation (born between 1943-1960) and the "missionary" generation (born between 1860-1882). Both generations are "prophet" archetypes and both are "first turnings."

Comparative historical sequential analysis offers exciting possibilities for truly learning from the past rather than simply repeating it. But it also may go a long way in showing why history in fact really does repeat itself.

Sequence As Archetype

The startling commonalities between stages of cycles from areas such as religion, history, mythology and psychology suggests a number of other possibilities. The most important possibility is that position in cyclic sequences may be a key patterning criteria for archetypes, that small handful of major organizing symbols like masculine and feminine around which numerous other symbols are attracted to. The particular sequence itself may represent an archetype.

For example, one of the key symbols appearing early in sequential stages is that of mother. The archetype of mother is related to basic psychic states such as unconsciousness and unity. Associated with the symbol of mother is the idea of separation. It is separation that presents itself as the crucial psychic challenge during this stage in individual development. The separation is for the "hero" of ego consciousness to break away from unconsciousness and become conscious. Joseph Campbell calls this stage the "departure" of the hero on his mythic journey. In the Christian archetype, this stage is the annunciation. In the Rosarium Cycle of alchemy it represents the emergence of opposites. In Symbols, Jung terms this stage the "origin of the hero." Neumann sees this stage as "the hero myth."

The crucial point is that the psychic challenge of separation occurs before other stages such as union or initiation. The problem of union assumes an initial separation and the psychic goal of the two parts (really the consciousness and the unconsciousness) to become one again.

The problem of union does not go in the stage when the archetype of mother dominates psychic development. One of the first key challenges for the psyche of the child is to separate not to unify. The inability to move through sequence leads to neurosis and complexes.

It is this psychic goal of separation from mother that forms the central archetypes in the life of the individual and also the evolution of mankind as a whole. As Eric Neumann and Jung point out, the stage of individual childhood has a symbolic correspondence to the stage of cultural childhood. The "mother" during the early stage of human history is nature itself and the collective psychic challenge for mankind is to separate from "mother" nature and move towards the masculine archetype of consciousness and culture.

The images which dominate this stage are therefore based around separation and the emergence of duality. They are not images of union. Through research of people like Jung, Campbell and Neumann, these images were found to be present everywhere with the cultural world, in all religions and all mythologies. It is the period of "departure" or the beginning of the journey of the "hero" away from unconsciousness and towards consciousness. The journey is from darkness and night to light and day. It is from the unity of one to the duality of two. It represents the "emergence of opposites" and not simply an simply another "emergence" but importantly the first emergence of opposites. Through the individual life there will be the emergence of many opposites but the archetypal pattern is at this stage because it is the first.

Relationship Of Sequence To Contentual Symbols

What are we really getting at here? Are we moving in any direction or just going around in "cycles?"

We return to our central hypothesis that symbols express themselves as the leading products and events of popular culture rather than in dream images or visions from fringe elements of culture. The question becomes whether America is influenced by an encompassing cycle with popular culture proceeding along a sequential path between archetypal stages in this sequence. Or, as many post-modern theorists would have us believe, whether America is proceeding on a straight linear evolutionary path, growing away from unconsciousness towards increasing consciousness and the segmentation, differentiation and, perhaps ultimately, chaos that comes with this.

It is our hypothesis that America is proceeding along a sequential path. It is a hypothesis that is subject to being tested by documenting the dominance of particular products and events within culture at certain points of time and then exploring commonalities and correspondences among them. Then determining the archetypes represented by the dominant products and the particular stage in the cyclic sequence the archetype represents. Knowing the stage of the current sequence will tell us where we are in the cycle. It will tell us where the cycle started and where the cycle will end. Importantly, it will tell us the next major archetypal symbol or stage within the sequence. It is this archetype that will serve a patterning function towards products and events of popular culture operating much like a magnet.

Perhaps brilliant marketing and advertising is behind our culture's most successful products. This is the current mantra key "players" in the advertising and marketing game, those producing products of popular culture, would have us believe. They have a vested interest in us believing them, that they alone are the magicians behind the creation of successful products.

But is success the result of conscious actions (like advertising and marketing) or unconscious forces? Do we create the dominant contentual symbols of our age or does the process of symbolism create them? Advertising and marketing may really have very little to do with product success. More important to success may be the degree of alignment between the product and the symbolic sequence. In fact the degree of alignment might be the ultimate factor which determines whether a product rises to the top like the movie Titanic or sinks to the bottom like the ship Titanic. In a world operating within the laws of symbolism, innovation becomes more about alignment between symbolic content and context then newness and uniqueness.

Our past book Symbolism of Place argued that context was far more important in communication than content. A key analogy used was communication within the context of film. We have discussed some of this previously in this book under the section titled "Symbolic Duality & Opposition In Film" but it warrants talking about some more because analogy is often the best teacher when traveling into unexplored territory.

In a film, one can define contentual symbols as the action, actors, props and dialogue of the film. This would be the car the hero drives, the clothing he wears, the words he speaks and the tone he speaks them in, the events that happen in the scenes. The contextual symbols of a film can be defined as the place which contains the content, the time of the day, year and period and other subjective qualities we have discussed such as color, space (inside, outside, above or below) weather phenomena and elements (water, fire, air, earth).

A crucial component of communication in the cinematic context is the alignment or correspondence between the context and content of the film. This means between the contextual symbolism and the psychological state of the hero. Symbolism of Place advanced the argument that communication of the hero's psychology in films is best communicated through context than through content. The better context was at symbolizing the inner state of the hero the more effective the film was at communication.

But effective cinematic communication needs a simultaneous alignment between context and content during the course of the story action. One setting may be an effective context in the context of a one act play or a short story but seldom is one location effective in a film. Locations need to change to symbolize the psychic progression of the hero and the hero's psyche needs to match these locations. This is what we term symbolic alignment. It is very similar to what has been known as the "law of correspondences" in symbolism.

For example, suppose a film's goal is to move the hero from a state of sadness to a state of happiness. Proper symbolic contextual alignment suggests that the place and time settings move simultaneously with the inner state of the hero in order for there to be proper alignment between context and content. This probably means that contextual symbols for sadness need to be introduced at the beginning of the film and contextual symbols for happiness need to be introduced at the end of the film. The place and time setting at the beginning might be a deep valley at night during the winter. The place and time setting at the end might be a mountain at dawn at the break of spring. In our example, misalignment would occur by reversing the above scenes by placing a sad hero on top of a mountain and a happy hero in a valley.
The symbolic dualities are contained in the movement from the valley to the mountain, from night to day, from below to above, from feminine to masculine. (This is certainly not to suggest that the feminine archetype is associated with a state of sadness!) One of the key elements of drama is contrast between the beginning and end of a story. The contrast is greatest when the change is the greatest. A hero who begins in a sad state and ends up in a sad state has little (if any) drama. Context that begins in a valley and ends in a valley has little drama. But a hero that moves from sadness to happiness in a context of a valley to a mountain has a potential for much greater drama.

Admittedly, we have simplified things greatly with our analogy of symbolism to films. But things need to be simplified to better make our point.

Sequence And Popular Culture

Sequence are relatively easy to identify within the popular symbolism of film. But can they be identified within the broader context of popular culture which film is part of? Might popular culture as a whole be viewed using a method similar to the analysis of film structure. In one scenario, dominant products might take on the characteristics of the film "hero" in their "heroic voyage" through product life cycles and sequences from the beginning of cycles to the end. The "audience" becomes those who select the product by such means as buying it, spending time with it, selecting it (such as visiting a web site) or voting for it.

This is an important question not only to advertisers and marketers but to anyone trying to forge an understanding of the confusing, chaotic and segmented post-modern world we live in.

This question is beginning to be answered with the application of the cyclic and sequential cycles to specific cultures and specific periods of history. With the work of Strauss and Howe and approaches like The Fourth Turning, a solid foundation is provided for revisioning American history from a cyclic perspective rather than a linear perspective. Seeing America from a cyclic perspective is close to creating a symbolism of popular culture. From research into the history of American generations going back to the 15th century, the authors make some startling predictions for what is ahead in the "fourth turning" of the new millennium. Symbolism becomes a tool to predict the future as well as a methodology for explaining the present.

New research from Yankelovich Partners on generational marketing takes symbolism even closer to culture by suggesting that a number of key products and values are constellated around the three key generations of America. The generations are the "matures" (born before 1945), the "boomers" (born between 1946 and 1964) and the "Xers" born after 1965.

The research is contained in the book Rocking The Ages by Yankelovich Partners J. Walker Smith and Ann Clurman (1997) and separates the three generations by various key products and defining ideals and values. For example, Yankelovich research indicates that the defining idea for the "matures" is "duty"; for the "boomers" it is "individuality" and for the "Xers" it is "diversity."

The report takes concepts such as what work means to the various generations, the leading brands, the key television programs, major technology and memories. For each of these areas the research indicates various broad cultural experiences or values. The report goes a long way towards connecting products to generations and providing a foundation for a symbolism of popular culture.

The research into the meaning of symbolism moves forward, itself perhaps some form of symbol directed not always by conscious forces but unconscious forces. It moves forward in the absence of its wise old prophets like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. The presence of their heroic and bold speculations in a post-modern world of conformity is an increasingly rare phenomena.

But their memory burns strong with great intensity in the hearts of all those who knew them personally or know them spiritually. To the post-modern citizen, rushing through life and seeing little more than advertising headlines or blockbuster films, their works are considered occult, their knowledge a hidden, secret affair. And indeed it is to those who rush through life looking at labels rather than the context of the labels. Their insights like the magic of the magician which is never really hidden but rather just a little out of the spotlight of conscious attention. In the shadows of sideshows and off the main stage where the action takes place.

Nothing is ever really "hidden" though in the sense that it is covered up. Rather it is hidden because it is in the context when attention is focused on content. It is all there to see if only we would shift our gaze just a little, outward, upward and all around us and rather than inward and downward.

[ < Previous | Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 ]

^ To Top

Home | Writing | News | About | Contact | Links

Copyright © 2001 John Fraim