2004 International Conference
Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies
Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Manufactured Mana: American Culture and the Mass Media
University of Hartford
I want a hero: an uncommon want,
When every year and month sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
I'll therefore take our ancient friend, Don Juan — Byron
So there we have it, the universal urge that Jung understood so well in its unconscious form, as an archetype that needs to be integrated in order for the individual to move on to the next critical stage of growth. But since we are speaking here of the public hero, the archetype's avatars, Byron's tongue-in-cheek choice creates an eerie resonance here in the Land of Oz, where the wizard remains securely hidden behind his curtain of faux reality created by the all-powerful mass media.
The archetypes, despite their origin in the collective unconscious, are nonetheless influenced by cultural context, assimilating contemporary standards that keep them fresh for each succeeding generation. But I would suggest that the one quality of any public hero worth his salt is what Jung called The Mana Personality, which he describes as being "a dominant of the collective unconscious." He goes on to say that this personality is more clever and more potent than ordinary people, whether it be a superman like Napoleon or a sage, like Lao-tzu, The mana personality, Jung claims, is what evolves into the hero in one or another of his incarnations. 1
Historically these mana personalities, or charismatic individuals, seem to have developed in all societies, in all circumstances, appearing as artists, generals, politicians, spiritual or intellectual leaders, saints, or sinners. Rare, but unmistakable in their effect on other people, and in the fact that they seemed to spring, unbidden, from out of the same soil as the ordinary run of men. In other words, they have always been a natural phenomenon.
But now, back to Oz, and the wizard behind his curtain, from whence issue forth, in a bewildering stream, mana personalities to order, created by the mass media and presented to us as full-blown beings, accompanied, it would seem, by a suitably frenzied fan-base, prepared to vouch for their extraordinary powers. Manufactured mana, the new drug of choice for a society increasingly divorced from reality, the opiate of a nation dissociated from itself. How did we get here? Let us begin with a brief tour through late twentieth-century history.
Of course, public opinion has always been shaped by various forces: the church, the state, the establishment, politics, tribal custom, economics, even arts and letters. But the advent of mass communications radically altered the speed with which any changes could take place. After WWII, as Americans, we began our slide into the consumer economy that can arguably be cited as the beginning of our present moral and spiritual confusion. The Levittowns, the shiny appliances, the life of wholesome conformity and better living through chemistry became the new ideal. America became not only a new world superpower (and superhero) but a model for the good life incarnate.
When that bubble burst in the sixties with Vietnam, hippies, civil rights action, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., we suddenly found ourselves jolted out of national complacency in a way that had never happened before. Our heroes were dead, and our sense of national pride and moral certainty was wounded, in some cases, fatally.
Because of mass communications it was impossible to ignore what was happening. We as a nation were finally tossed out of the garden and forced to examine our assumptions about national virtue. Jung might suggest that we had finally been brought into realization of our national shadow.
So, like the groundhog, many of us dashed back into the burrow to see if we could ignore the cold or sleep it off. The seventies became a period of intense national narcissism, the so-called me generation. Meanwhile, the effect of mass communications, especially TV, became more and more pervasive. This decade of extreme self-absorption was fostered by a barrage of both print and electronic messages, urging us to improve ourselves—physically, spiritually, any which way we could, in a sort of reversion to the personal, something that seemed more manageable than a world suddenly grown increasingly ambiguous. This period of national adolescence, with all its insecurities, was bolstered by the post-war baby boom, those born between 1946 and 1964—significantly the year after Kennedy was assassinated. A generation unto itself, the Boomers, encouraged by the media, became their own in-crowd, that bulwark of adolescent identity.
These cultural orphans became the protesters who worked for integration, against the Viet Nam War, and against the establishment that that stood for those things. Eventually, though, as the Boomers grew older, that rebellious fire died down, quenched by the necessity of earning a living and becoming parents themselves.
Then along came Ronald Reagan, in the wake of a low period in the country's history, an old-fashioned father image that brought them back into the family fold, much like the young adult who finally realizes that his father might not have been wrong after all. It was Morning in America, and we were magically transported back to childhood when father did know best, and the work ethic meant material success. Life became simpler again. We were out of Vietnam, the economy was better, minorities were on the way up, and the cultural shadow was dispelled by the benign sunshine of a supremely confident, optimistic father who gave us permission to love our country, and incidentally, ourselves, again.
In The New York Times on June 20, 2004, Frank Rich muses on the recent phenomenon of Reagan's marathon funeral. Rich says that the one question that has still not been laid to rest is: "What in Heaven's name was going on?"
"Was this runaway marathon of mourning prompted by actual grief: A vast right-wing conspiracy? A vast reserve of displaced sorrow about the war in Iraq? Global warming? Whatever it was about, it was not always about Ronald Reagan. His average approval rating in office was lower than that of many modern presidents, including each George Bush. His death at 93, after a full life and a long terminal illness, was neither tragic not shocking."
The writer goes on to cite the media precedent of O.J. Simpson's car chase and numerous other examples of carefully constructed public sentiment for the insatiable beast the 24/7 news business has become. Rich ends his column with the suggestion that Reagan himself might find the whole thing funny, and remarks that he can almost hear him saying, "There you go again."
This is not to say that manufactured mana is a new thing, by any means. We only need look at the pomp and panoply of royalty, of the church, of the military, or the medicine man in his mask, to see that construction of the appearance of power is probably as old as mankind. We have always needed our mojo, our good juju, in order to beat back the evil spirits that lurk just beyond our sight, hidden in the unconscious. But while the practice of manufacturing mana is not recent, it has become so common, so ubiquitous, that we have lost the ability to discriminate between real and false.
After the Reagan years and their credit card prosperity, the nation found itself in the care of George Bush the first, another father figure of a different stripe. The first Gulf War was a terrifying, but brief exercise that bolstered the fatherly presidency for awhile, but Bush lost his temporary popularity with the failing economy, and Bill Clinton became the new and distinctly unfatherly president.
Clinton was the Boomer's own president, a new generation of leadership that, like JFK's years, promised youth and vigor, and hope for a new beginning, but that hope failed too. In the partisan strife and discord of those eight years the country was finally torn apart into two political factions that have evolved into something closely approximating two separate nations. Now, in the reign of Bush II, with the tragedy of 9/11, followed by the disastrous Iraq war, we become a nation constantly more polarized and alienated from itself.
Why are we so incapable of distance from our leaders? Why do we demand perfection or nothing, like irritable adolescents whose parents have shown their human fallibility, thus marking them as untouchables? Let's go back to the media for our answers and particularly for its most powerful influence, television. In his brilliant essay on the effect of the TV image, Keith Polette cites Jung's assertion that the liminal and polyopthalmic nature of mythology and the unconscious imagination "point to the peculiar nature of the unconscious, which can be regarded as a 'multiple consciousness'"2. Therefore, Polette reasons that "In short, TV eyes are blinded to multiple points of view that exist outside of the rectangular frame of reference. When eyes adopt the TV outlook, they confine themselves to a linear and limited view," thus creating a monoconscious experience that excludes "images of the mythic figures that soar through the imaginal sky of the mind or dwell deeply in the chthonic underground of the psyche." 3
Jung speaks of the gods as having "become diseases," through literal interpretations, thus replacing archetypes with stereotypes. Polette suggests that thus sex replaces love, beauty becomes a sad parody of surgically enhanced duplication, Athena and Ares become symbols of senseless violence and mindless vengeance, "Hermes's divine tricks become laugh-track–punctuated sitcoms; and the dark domain of Hades becomes pictures of people killing people." 4
Unable to construct our own images, to connect with our own myths, we remain fixed in a Peter Pan world, not only unwilling, but unable to grow up, and dependent upon Oz to tell us how to feel, how to think, how to live. Our gods are "personalities," constructed, like Potemkin's villages of two-dimensional simulations of real life. Witness the popularity of Paris Hilton, Andy Warhol's prediction come true in a person who is famous for being famous.
Since we remain in this Puer/Puella stage unconsciously, we attempt to give it the semblance of physical reality with the literal trappings that seem to furnish our only clue of what reality might be. A constant parade of Britney Spears wannabes make themselves ridiculous in costumes so brief they seem better suited to toddlers, in a parody of adult sexuality that often shows a pathetic lack of self-awareness. Their male counterparts, in an attempt to simulate the street-smart machismo of the Gangsta/Rapper, also manage to resemble nothing so much as overgrown children in droopy long shorts, backward baseball caps, untied sneakers and T-shirts with various motifs stretched across fat, baby bellies.
Where are their parents? Right there with them in many cases, turned out like aging toddlers as well, attempting to stay young with their children. According to Rob Kyff, who writes a syndicated newspaper column on language use, the current term for this unseemly phenomenon is teenile. The puer and senex have collapsed into one confused and misbegotten entity "In second childishness, and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."5 because their false gods in the machine have failed to produce a desirable model of maturity.
Of course, every action produces a reaction, and the other cultural extreme has become the fundamentalist right wing. Here the model for maturity, although visually more conventional, is a stubborn insistence on the literal that Jung would find familiar. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections he writes about the confusion of his father, the fundamentalist minister whose faith eventually failed him. It was, in fact, the tension between his mystical mother and his literal father that seems to have been responsible for much of Jung's early search for truth. Perhaps because he incorporated both of those extremes in his early consciousness, he was able to liberate himself from absolutism, in the form of his notorious dream about a father god whose enormous turd finally dropped, thus allowing the young Jung to lose his fear of mental sacrilege, and to begin thinking for himself without guilt.
Can we get to that place as a society? Can we overcome the need to place all our faith in the constructions of others and find a way to live with ambiguity? Europeans seem to be much better at that than we are, because they don't appear to project so much of their archetypal content on their leaders. What appears to the world to be national arrogance in this country is much like the dependence of children, for whom their parents can do no wrong because they have not developed a sense of their own ego. But perhaps it is even more like the hubris of adolescents, who having discovered the fallibility of parents, huddle together in their posses, scorning everyone who is not part of their particular crowd and nursing every narcissistic wound. The pervasiveness of this participation myth is manifest in the school shootings and juvenile violence of recent years. Now, shaken to the core by 9/11, we are accused of being unpatriotic should we commit the cardinal sin of criticizing anything our country does. "With us or against us," "your country: Love it or Leave It." The irony is that America, the land of the frontiersman and the loner has become the land of the conformist.
Perhaps the pain of our present experience will eventually serve as a cleansing, as we see ourselves through the eyes of the world, not as saviors, but as oppressors. If we can look at our national shadow, instead of denying its existence, perhaps we can begin the process of integration. In that shadow integration lies one of our biggest differences from our European friends. Nathaniel Hawthorne's God-haunted puritans furnish a vital clue to that shadow that we still attempt to avoid after all these years. His Young Goodman Brown provides the perfect model for a national psyche still unable to integrate its shadow because of a stubborn insistence to reject the duality of human nature. The unfortunate young man, when forced to confront his own shadow projection, in the forest of his own unconscious, sees the image of his friends and neighbors, even of his pure young wife, dancing to the devil's music in a chthonic midnight Witches' Sabbbath . Ever after, lacking the ability to own that part of himself, he becomes a bitter cynic, looking upon his fellow men as sinners, unworthy of his respect.
Until we heal this breach in the national psyche, the either/or dichotomy that precludes compromise and tolerance, that renders us unable to live with ambiguity, we will remain in this peculiar Never Never Land, where maturity is more to be feared than desired. In my Voice and Diction classes, I work with exercises that help to smooth the passagio, well known to singers as the break that occurs when passing from the chest voice to the head voice. It has often been suggested that one of civilization's problems is the lack of an initiation ceremony, a formal passage from childhood to adulthood. If only it were as simple to give some exercises for our psychic passagio.
Can we find our way back to the archetypes and to the notion of the individual as his own hero, or has the mass media so co-opted our minds that we have lost the ability to find our own reality? Since, unlike Dorothy, we can never go back to Kansas, where are we headed?
1 Jung, C.G. "The Mana Personality." The Collected Works of C. G. Jung: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. Vol. 7, second edition.
Princeton: Bollingen, 1966.
2 Polette, Keith. "Airing (Erring) the Soul: An Archetypal View of Television." Post-Jungian Criticism: Theory and Practice. Ed. James S. Baumlin,
Tita French Baumlin, George H. Jensen. Albany: SUNY, 2003.
5 Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. II. vii.