So How DOES Symbolism Work?
Symbolism is as watery as the
medium fish swim in, airy as the medium birds fly through.
Only by contrast are we aware of differing attitudes toward
symbols which everyone uses but few interpret in a similar
manor. Regional, National and global symbols are further
translated into National and regional - even village by
The only global village is the one affected by weather,
technology, and survival.
The 'earthrise over the moon' symbol has not completely
gotten through, Carl Sagan's tiny blue pixel has even
farther to go. When your brother is holding a machine gun to
your head because he can't accept the local politics, the
world does not seem so small.
New earth symbols are typical of intellectual musing,
informational and enlightening, but subtle like an austere
Buddhist quotation. The world does not catch fire
so easily. The poetic and the evolved amongst us can start their
awareness programs and push for global initiatives, but
something far more powerful needs to move the world.
Christianity hardly amounted to more than a few bean rows
and a soup kitchen for hundreds of years, yet it was the
story behind it that got folks interested. The man who
became a god was familiar, a story told for thousands of
years. The dilemma was deciding which thousand year old
story did you want to go with. There was Hercules and
Hermes, thrice born and murdered, but immortal. Prometheus,
tortured for stealing fire. Perseus,
hassled by choosing the wrong girlfriend. There were earth
mother and crop mother goddesses, various Sibyls to die for,
a pantheon of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, and there
was pagan earth worship, unchanged for millennia, but one
factor was clear, Christianity was taking the grossness out
of religion (if you can overlook a few despotic
Christian symbolism was a much more controlled and
indoctrinated medium. Spin management has never been so
vastly well managed in all of history. In contrast, many pagan symbols of
that time were demonized and forbidden to practitioners of
the Christian faith. There was a list of some 700,000
thousand gods deemed unfit for association or contemplation.
The number of demons rose above 100,000. What is so
disappointing about such a wonderful movement is typical all
movements. They re-write their history and replace it with
fable, myth and symbol.
This process is a political control not a spiritual or
religious one. I'm not saying that no one was divinely
inspired to do so, but no one wanted to lose his job either. The politicians always win.
Propaganda rears its ugly head throughout history.
So how does symbolism work?
Acts of God, advertising, animal acts, association,
atrocities, books, celebrations, circuses, clowns, comics,
commonsense, competition, concerts, conquest, constant
repetition, conventions, country wisdom, commerce, dances,
by decree, disasters, divorces, download, expos, famous
people, fear of torture, fear itself, folktales, funerals,
hangings, hearsay, hope of reward, important events,
innuendo, infamous people, Internet, jargon, jesters, magic
shows, marriages, memories, military reinforcement,
misinformation, movies, negative reinforcement, the news,
non-events, parades, phone, plays, pod casts, positive
reinforcement, proclamation, propaganda, radio, reputation,
rumor, shipping, sideshows, songs, sound bite, symphonies,
threats, tours, town meetings, traffic, travel, trials, TV,
wives tales, word on the
street, and devices and multimedia yet to come.
Your virtual head in a box will deliver all the daily
It spreads the same as a virus, no stopping til it runs its
course. Viral symbol, viral video, As virus, so idea. And,
ideas truly die the hardest. No one eradicates ideas, even
if the idea is proven scientifically incorrect, evolution,
poppycock! Someone will say those dinosaur bones were just
put there to confound us. Garden of Eden, works for me, I
think our tour bus went there last year. Next stop, tomorrow
land. One of the best suggestions for world peace that I've
ever heard was to make all the contested, fought over pieces
of real estate into theme parks and no one can live there,
only visitors and workers can enter. Giant green zones and
peace parks all over the planet calmly patrolled by zomo
Tiger balls may never become the breakfast of viagraculture, but the
symbol alone could produce dozens of start up companies.
This is what think tanks do, sit around thinking up crazy
ideas, but as physicist Richard Feynman asked, "are they
crazy enough?" Are such ideas crazy enough to catch on or is
it simply a matter of waiting for the right time to inject
an idea into the marketplace. Associating a new product with
other events can boost its success. The 911 disaster
actually drove cell phone producers into a feeding frenzy
over complaints that the phones did not work that day. Maybe
someone was picking blackberries that morning and thought,
Artists tend to think in pure symbols, arranging abstract
lines and circles, or manipulating objects to do the
suggestion. Most people however need to see a figure to
relate the human meaning of a symbol. Abstractly or
figuratively makes no difference in the power of the symbol.
The method and the delivery system are elective. Anything
you think will work probably will. If not, keep trying. The
Surrealists of the thirties, the Cubists of 1910-14 thought
this way, even the Symbolists of the 1880's. Symbolism does
not tease or tempt the art word as much in modern times,
although Pop art of the 60's, used symbols, but more for the
icon and the instant recognition. Pop art was a borderline
political art which pointed out the ugly-beautiful mass
produced world we live in.
There is much doodling and daydreaming in today's art world.
Conceptual art is still drawing attention despite the
relative non-arrival of Fluxus in New York in the 80's. The
gross symbolism of political art is still around and always
has been but rarely makes it to the front page (there was
that cross in the jar of urine). Graffiti artists did a far
more powerful job of relating a
social-political-environmental art in an esthetic way. Art
is often the motivator of Madison Ave. Why hire a
think tank when there are perfectly good artists showing all
over town. Here in Richmond thousands come out to see the
art shops every first Friday of the month (2nd Fri. if a
Everything lives, moves, corresponds, takes a deep cleansing
breath now and then, and sings the body electric. Our nerve
endings are more electrified now than in Walt
Whitman's day. Yet, he sensed this revolution coming: people
too much in touch to the point that urban plight and pleasure
would implode dramatically and politically making the 2010
inauguration of Obama a predictable certainty. They say we
have elected a savior. That should make us nervous. Even V.
P. elect Biden said so. He will be tested. The bigger
the symbol, the bigger the test, it seems. There is a much
higher standard for symbols. We wear them, use them daily,
advertise them on billboards 100-200 ft. wide, act out,
dance, animate our symbols, and go straight to viral forms
that spread like wildfire. We become our symbols and often
die for them.
Symbols may change in style but not much in substance. An
example of mine about
Romance and romantic symbolism has a contrasting
Romantic ideas seem always to be somewhat throwback,
idealistic, and misplaced in the nostalgia library.
Romance is heavily dependent on historical settings, on
cherished icons of yesteryear, the Currier and Ives
collection of imagery, however, the Rossetti collection is
also valid, the 'Adams Family' treatment of a
Blavatsky romanticism was popularized by the
Rossetti couple ( a kind of Mr. and Mrs. Jim Morrison
bunch of characters from the 19th century) . You can run
ramped with denunciations of charlatanism, but the symbolism
is still valid in terms of symbolism.
Whether one chooses to believe or buy into such symbolism is
Whereas reading, meditation and prayer all have a calming,
even a blood pressure lowering effect, an endorphin response
benefit can be gained from pep rallies, revival meetings and
industrial psychology, the feel good sessions that combine
aerobic activity and a belief system (not necessarily
religious) that taps into a collective spirituality. The
better the symbol the better the effect. The EST movement of
60's & 70's, Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard's Sci-Fi offshoot
religion, and Blair Witch all have in common some heavy
breathing going on, but the directed imagery is toward self
involvement. It does not reach anywhere near the inner
levels of Buddhist contemplation or Yoga discipline.
Self, as a symbol is vague and requires mentoring.
The self inquiries begun by Freud and Jung in the 19th
century have led to an industry of self help, from diet to
psych advice, 5 cents. The self help book now encompasses
virtually every subject including the added humiliation of
books for dummies. Of course, you can find all of it and
more on the Internet. There is no limit to the amount of
abstract and disembodied relational involvement there. Those
who blog and evolve from day to day are caught up in an
activity that has been called a stage or platform for the
mind. But, as my friends in the web services and computer
industries say, you can build a website and no one will ever
see it. You are lucky to have a local coterie of friends who
have similar interests - namely an image tribe.
Like the industrial psychologist who decided there was no
difference between her profession and witchcraft and the
casting of spells, the analogy works. It's not just about
the symbols. To understand the symbol you must know how it
works. To catch the fox you must become the fox. Different
symbols for different folks. Different ways of retrieving,
using, relating to, adapting and re-adapting make symbolism
an enormously important tool in the communication tool belt
of the world and to all of its diversity of culture,
imagery, thought, and joy, whether poetic or political.
Nothing says it better than a symbol.
LITERATURE AND DRY TOAST