The Cult of Personality

I brought up the subject of Cargo Cults last night while talking to Blue. I just mentioned it in passing. Mentioning it here because I can't post my reviews on Film Threat, and I'm wondering if it's another glitch or if they are pissed off at me for not doing an interview. Either way ...

Anyway, as I got to thinking about the Cargo Cults, I started to think about how our modern day society is a lot like them. We engage in ritualistic, magical thinking in order to gain stuff. I don't know what else you'd consider a credit card, home shopping channels, wish lists and so on. Since Cargo Cults are "primitive" we tend to think we are above that, but I actually think American society is just a more subdued version of them.

Cargo Cults have been known to build runways in order to attract the material/technological goods they so desire. We obviously don't do that, but we do buy counterfeit goods (knowingly) in order to fool people into thinking we can afford $1500 purses. With that image in mind, it's not a far stretch to think something like that is done not only to impress people but to attract a mate who may be more material minded and thus more likely to spend their money on material goods.


As I stumbled through the Bayshore Mall today, taking in bits of conversation and fighting my way past people who just stop walking without warning to do God knows what, I couldn't help but think of concept of a Christmas tree. In a child's eyes, this is put up and then one day -- boom -- gifts magically appear under it, delivered from the sky by a magical man.

We set our youth up to be cultists from an early age, yet I don't think we see it that way.

In 1992 Alexander Cockburn wrote of something similar with American culture as a Cargo Cult. This was in reference to some rebuilding efforts in Watsonville, California. So I don't think I'm totally off base here. Cockburn is an agitator, but he's also fairly reliable.

Oddly enough, I've often said capitalism is cannibalism. In the 12/76 issue of The Journal of Nervous and Metal Disease a few doctors looked at cannibalism being linked to Cargo Cults. There is a report of a 30-year-old man who killed and ate part of his son in hopes that God would send him instructions as to how to do the right thing and his fellow tribe members' heads would become clear and then they would "do the necessary things to bring about the white man's way of life." He wanted God to "send many goods" and his people would find money.

We're supposedly so advanced. MP3 players. Written codes of ethics (only paid lip service to by people who have no ethics of their own). The justice system. HDTV. Elective surgery (but no health care). Hybrid cars. Recycling centers. We're so advanced, yet we are still just nothing more than a massive, self-deceptive Cargo Cult. We may not kill and eat our children, but how many families have been destroyed by a parent blowing their savings on a chance to win big at the casino? How many families have prayed to God to win the lottery?

The cults have their runways. We have our tax incentives. Both are there to attract material goods and money. Both are magical thinking. We just think we're more advanced.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Guess it was bound to happen. Your knowledge bank has some selfish relevance so im interested. Can you be more specific in regards to the cockburn writings you reference? I might be up for a little agitation. (see, warnings heeded. feel better now?)