The following is an excerpt from Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, copyright © 1977. Reprinted with the permission of William Morrow and Company, Inc. In a continuing examination of the effects of watching TV, this installment considers the power of images: television implants artificial images that overtake the human mind’s ability to create natural images, creating a schizophrenic mix of imagery partially disconnected from reality.
How We Turn Into Our Images
More than any other single effect, television places images in our brains. It is a melancholy fact that most of us give little importance to this implantation, perhaps because we have lost touch with our own image-creating abilities, how we use them, and the critical functions they serve in our lives. Not being in touch, we don’t grasp the significance of other people’s images replacing or gaining equality with our own. And yet there are no more terrifying facts about television than that it intervenes between humans and our own image-creating abilities and intervenes between humans and our images of the concrete world outside of our minds.
In this chapter, we will look at how images, any images, directly affect human beings and how we humans slowly turn into whatever images we carry in our minds. Then in the next chapter, we will concentrate on television images.
What makes these matters most series that human beings have not yet been equipped by evolution to distinguish in our minds between natural images and those which are artificially created and implanted. Neither are we equipped to defend ourselves against the implantation. Until the invention of moving image media, there was never a need to make any distinction or defense.
And so the final effect, as we will see, is that the two kinds of image–artificial and natural–merge in the mind and we are driven into a nether world of confusion. Like the Solaris astronauts, we cannot differentiate between the present and the past, the concrete and the imaginary. Like the schizophrenic, we cannot tell which image is the product of our own minds, which is representative of a real world, and which has been put inside us by a machine.
Humans Are Image Factories
I have heard people say they can’t visualize; they can’t make pictures in their heads.
It’s true that some people do it more easily than others, but everyone does it.
If you believe yourself to be among those who can’t, please simply bring your mother to mind. Or your best friend. Have you done that? Can you see them in your head? It’s quite easy.
If I ask you to recall your childhood bedroom, you can probably do that as well. Many people can find enormous detail in that image.
If you have managed to make a picture in your head of any of these, it is definite proof that you can do it and that the phenomenon exists.
I would like to recommend a book called Seeing With the Mind’s Eye by Nancy Samuels and Mike Samuels. It is the most thorough going popular work on imagery that I’ve come across. The authors list ten categories of natural human imagery:
 Memory. You can remember people’s faces. You can visualize the place you work in.
 Eidetic images. (Photographic memory.) You can remember the details of your room. You have “photographed” them.
 Imagination. You can make up images. You can also create images in your own mind.
 Daydreams or fantasy. A kind of imagination that occurs while you are doing other things. You are working in your office, but your mind is creating images of … what? The time you hit a home run? The last sexual experience? These are pictures.
 Hypnagogic images. The images that come in that half-awake space just before sleep.
 Hypnopompic images. The images that come in that half-awake space just before you are fully awake.
 Dreams. You may not remember them, but virtually everyone has them. They are pictures.
 Hallucinations/ visions. An image that takes place inside the head but that is confused with something that is taking place outside. Usually associated with psychosis. Under stress conditions everyone has them. Drugs can cause them; meditation can produce them; so can sleep deprivation and high fever. Truck drivers complain of them after long hours on the freeway.
 After-image. The movie is over, but the image remains in the head.
 Recurrent image. The experience is over–you are home from work–but the face of the boss looms in your mind. You can’t clear it out.
The authors acknowledge that this list is incomplete and one category overlaps another The point is merely to show that a wide variety of natural imagery exists and that everyone experiences some of it. Humans are veritable image factories. We are constantly producing images ourselves and we are absorbing and storing images from the world outside ourselves.
The Concrete Power of Images
The Samuelses argue that images carried within human beings have a definite evolutionary and biological role. Like light, of which they are constructed, images are concrete. Images are things. We see something in the world, a river, and this river image enters our bodies through our eyes, becoming ingrained in our brain cells. The proof that the river is ingrained is that we can remember it. The image held in our mind, say the Samuelses, produces physiological as well as psychological reactions. We slowly evolve into the images we carry, we become what we see, in this case, more riverlike.
Today we are still recovering from the work of such men as behavioral psychologist John Watson. He achieved prominence early in this century by pioneering and popularizing the notion that if you couldn’t test a phenomenon and measure it, then it didn’t exist. Psychology, in those days, was eager to gain the admiration of the more respectable sciences and thus confined itself to measuring whatever could be quantified, duplicated and predicted. “In the U.S., psychology became so overwhelmingly behaviorist oriented,” say the Samuelses, “that virtually no works were published on mental imagery for fifty years.” Even today there are schools of psychological thought which hold that imagery itself is fictional.
In a way this point of view represents the ultimate denial of human experience. All humans carry images in their heads, yet some scientists can say these images have no power or don’t exist. In turn, this denial of human imagery laid the groundwork for the common notion, held even today, that surrogate images, implanted. from television, have little or no effect.
Many earlier cultures recognized the enormous power of images that are held in the mind. The Samuelses present an exhaustive history of these prior views and then present voluminous physiological evidence (measurements! ) which at last fit the scientific model of proof that the images we carry have something important to do with who we individually become.
I cannot, of course, do justice to their very long work here, nor is it my purpose to repeat it. But some excerpts may be useful.
”Hermes Trismegistres believed that thoughts have characteristics similar to the physical world, that thoughts have vibrational levels and energy levels which bring about changes in the physical universe…. From a Hermetic point of view, the person who holds a sacred image in his mind experiences the effects produced by the specific energy of that image. “
Before Hermes, similar notions were expressed among the Sumerians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, dating as far back as 4000 B.C. Included among these notions were that there are concrete powers inherent in color and form. If a thing was shaped a certain way, its image was ingested in that form and was retained in the body as a system of energies. (A merger with modern photobiology is coming up.) Sculptures were thought of essentially as energy organizers. The very sight of them was believed to create states of mind and systems of beliefs.
The Samuelses imply that specific sculptural forms were chosen for the benefit that would accrue from seeing them, or ingesting their image. This would explain the wide variety of what we have since called “gods” or “goddesses” in the form of animals, supernatural creatures, heavenly bodies. These offered a way of integrating nature into oneself, similar to what Indians did by imitating animals. The sculptures encouraged knowledge of natural processes. Now we say that these images were worshiped. This is probably wrong. They were not worshiped any more than the Eskimo today worships the sculpture of the walrus. In making the sculpture the sculptor experiences walrus-ness, and so does the viewer.
The Samuelses indicate that the Hebrews, emerging between 3000 and 2000 B.C., won an important political victory by denouncing what they called the “worship of graven images.” By destroying the power of the sculptures of the Sumerians and others who preceded them, they effectively destroyed nature-based religion and the veracity of images. This made possible the substitution of an abstract, single, male, human all powerful God. Because it was a sin to create any sculpture of it, it maintained its abstract nature. Although they absorbed God, the Christians somewhat overcame this problem. They created images of Jesus, a step backward (or forward) toward paganism.
Many Western religions, and all non-Western religions, were unaffected by the Judeo-Christian slaughter of diverse, nature-based imagery. They continued to inform their universal understanding through images representing virtually every natural form and tendency. This continues to apply to the great majority of people in the world today. It even applies, of course, to those Hebrews who followed the teachings of the Cabbala, which represented a kind of underground among Hebrews for centuries.
Today’s yogic disciples are rooted in the belief that focusing one’s mind upon objects, either outside the body or inside it, affects one’s entire physical nature. Samadhi, a much-sought yogic state, is the union that one experiences with an object or image that one looks upon–the form of an egg, or a mandala, for example. Union in this case means that the image itself is a concrete energy which travels between the object and the brain of the viewer. The image becomes a kind of solder that merges the three previously separated entities: sculpture (or form), person, image. Unlike solder, the image–made up of a thing we call light–can enter all the way into the cells.
When you or I look at a sculpture or painting or, for that matter, an igloo or high-rise building, the image enters us in the form of light rays. This is concrete, not metaphoric.
The form of the sculpture, artwork or structure determines the quality of the experience, what you can learn from it, what feelings you derive from it, and what image you retain inside your body/ mind/cells.
The image becomes part of your image vocabulary. It remains in your mind. That is, it remains in the cells of your brain. It has physical character.
Sculptures of the Buddha are created to instill in the person who views them the attitude of the Buddha figure, its mood, its way of being. This is its information content-shape, color, weight, attitude, relation to gravity. The person who contemplates the Buddha figure for long hours becomes more like the Buddha figure. It is just a question A time. No thought is necessary. The image goes in and does its thing.
The person who observes the square form of the high-rise literally ingests this image, slowly absorbing it, remembering it, becoming it; adopting its character. The person who observes the pyramid ingests this image; its shape has power.
The person who ingests the tree image, becomes treelike. The viewing of a river produces river like people. The viewing of Christ on the cross instills the Christ experience. The viewing of birds in flight creates bird-flight in the mind of the viewer.
Viewing Kojak means absorbing his character and his way of being.
As one reviews non-Western cultures and their religious expressions, certain forms keep repeating themselves. They are said to represent universal energy formations. I have already mentioned the egg and the mandala.
Consider Tantric art, for example. You find the egg form reproduced in thousands of ways. It is claimed that the image of the egg enters the mind and body of the viewer. Its smoothness, curvature, pattern of reflecting light, its “calmness,” “centeredness,” and “perfection” instill themselves in the observer, if the observer permits it. The egg is also the seed of life. From it, everything else follows. As a result, the egg image is at the heart of many meditation practices which employ imagery.
Modern physics is now finding that the mandala form is quite literally a reproduction of an essential organizing shape in the universe. The nucleus of the atom is a perfect mandala. If we could view it from space, our solar system would form a mandala–the bursting universe with stars fleeing outward from the center forms a mandala.
The contemplation of the mandala form–whether via Tibetan thank as, Hebrew Stars of David, Indian sand paintings, Tantric visualization, Hopi sun images–exists in virtually every culture of the world. Is this an accident? Or is everyone onto something?
By now,’ the power of images seems transparent and obvious to me. I am furious at the unconscious years I spent considering such beliefs, whenever I heard of them, as freaky, weird, unscientific or superstitious. Now, sensitized largely through my own research and what I have discovered of other people’s, such as the Samuelses’, as I walk around I literally feel assaulted by the images that are offered by the artificial world we live in whether they are buildings or signs or fire hydrants or television.
I was talking about this to a young woman friend who told me about a time when, nearing a nervous collapse, she was confined to a mental institution.
“It was the most awful experience of my life,” she told me. “I was placed in an empty room with padded walls and a steel door. I had felt troubled and confused until that point, but right then and there I really cracked. I went nuts. Seeing that, the doctors fed me with drug after drug. I couldn’t keep track of what they were giving me. I went from one wild state into another, just trying to get on top of the drugs. I begged them not to drug me. I tried to escape. It seemed that they were trying to drive me insane. I felt like I’d been put into a sensory deprivation chamber, locked up without anything to touch or smell or see or feel.
“The thing that got me out of there was this one woman, a nurse, sixty years old or so, big and fat, shaped like a house. She would come visit me, ostensibly to check me, but what she would do is get me to visualize beaches, the moon, nature. She would describe sunsets in really intimate detail. I would get all the way into these descriptions and though it sort of tore me up to be locked in this steel room, drugged, often bound up, she was able to take me out of that space and bring visions into my mind. It re-created old feelings in me. My heart felt like bursting at me sight of these imagined sunsets, but most of all these visions created a calm that allowed me to beat those drugs. I learned how to let them by, and then I figured out that what those doctors wanted was for me to submit, so I faked submission. I stopped fighting and struggling and they let me out. It was the images of the sunsets, and the calm they created in me, which were my secret weapon. By holding those images, I could hold onto my sanity.”
Can you remember your childhood well enough to recall that you had certain favorite objects? Lately, in watching my own children, seeing that there are certain objects they seem to love for reasons which are totally beyond my ken, I have begun to remember similar objects from my own life.
There was a particular stone, for example, very dark in color with a few yellowish lines running through it. I kept it under my pillow, and when I was alone, I would look at it for amazingly long periods of time. I would caress it. Even now as I put it into writing, a flood of feeling Invades me. I realize now that I had a physical relationship with that stone; I literally loved it. I loved its shape, its color, the way it felt. It also stimulated me, and does even now as I remember it. It made me think. And yet this is nonsensical.
There was also a small furry ball, and a kind of silly drawing of a bear on the wall. I don’t remember where it came from, but even now I can picture it in my mind. I remember it had voluptuous shapes, a round head, a large ovarian body. There was something profoundly comforting in that image. How could that be so?
Metaphysics to Physics
By all accounts, the great majority of the people of the world agree that image, color, form, and symbol are concrete, physical and real, capable of affecting the viewer of them. It is only among Western technological cultures, an extreme minority of the world, that this notion is suppressed and ridiculed. But now, as with so many previously rejected areas of knowledge, Western science is slowly beginning to catch up.
In Seeing With the Mind’s Eye, the Samuelses present some evidence that neurophysiologists are able to trace the pathways of images from the brain into the cells
“It has been found that mental images have many of the same physical components as open-eyed perceptions…. Our bodies react to mental images in ways similar to how they react to images from the external world. The American physiologist Edmund Jacobson has done studies which show that when a person imagines running, small but measurable amounts of contraction actually take place in the muscles associated with running. The same neurological pathways are excited by imagined running as by actual running…. But anatomists have also been aware of pathways between the cerebral cortex, where images are stored, and the autonomic nervous system which controls the so-called involuntary muscles. The autonomic nervous system controls sweating, blood vessels, expansion and contraction, blood pressure, blushing and goose-pimpling, the rate and force of heart contractions, respiratory rate, dryness of mouth, bowel motility and smooth muscle tension. There are also pathways between the autonomic nervous system and the pituitary and adrenal cortex. The pituitary gland secrets hormones which regulate the rate of secretion of other glands; especially the thyroid, sex, and adrenal glands. The adrenal glands secrete steroids, which regulate metabolic processes, and epinephrine, which causes the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Through these pathways, an image held in the mind can literally affect every cell in the body… [My italics]
The nervous innervation of voluntary and involuntary muscles is also associated with the physical expression of emotion. When an image or thought is held in the mind, there is neuronal activity in both hemispheres of the brain. Nerve fibers lead from the cerebral hemisphere to me hypothalamus, which has connections with the autonomic nervous system and the pituitary gland. When a person holds a strong fearful image in the mind’s eye, the body responds, via the autonomic nervous system, with a feeling of ‘butterflies in the stomach,’ a quickened pulse, elevated blood pressure, sweating, goose-bumps and dryness of the mouth. Likewise, when a person holds a strong relaxing image in the mind, the body responds with lowered heart rate, decreased blood pressure and, obviously, all the muscles tend to relax.
So the image you carry in your mind can affect your actual physical body and your emotional state.
The Samuelses describe research done with yogic practitioners who can voluntarily control many of their autonomic (involuntary) body processes, from breathing rate to body temperature to heartbeat. It is not unusual for a trained yogi to be able to fluctuate heartbeats voluntarily from eighty beats per minute to three hundred beats. The research showed that “the techniques by which they were able to do these things were found to be made of detailed visualizations. “
The Samuelses provide nearly one hundred fifty pages of examples of the physical uses of images, ranging from athletes who use visualization to increase their performance to the dramatic growth in medical uses of visualization by doctors in aiding cancer victims to gain control of their own disease and by psychologists in easing the agonies of upcoming stressful situations.
The classic article on the effects of mental rehearsal is by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson, reporting on changes in performance among three groups of basketball players. Between test sessions, the first group physically practiced foul shooting, the second group practiced mentally, the third group didn’t practice at all. The results showed that between the initial test and the final test, the first two groups improved their performance by virtually the same percentage. The third group did not improve. “Similar studies involving dart throwing and other athletic activities show the same kinds of results,” say the Samuelses.
The image in the mind sends the autonomic nervous system through a rehearsal of impulses. When the real event comes along, it has been practiced. The image stimulating the autonomic nervous system is itself the practice.
Similar descriptions appear in an article by Dr. Richard Suinn in Psychology Today, July 1976. Suinn was asked to help some skiers who were training for the Olympics.
“I instructed the skiers to practice their athletic skills by using mental imagery. The technique has been used before. Jean-Claude Killy, a three-gold-medal skier, has reported that his only preparation for one race was to ski it mentally. He was recovering from an injury at the time and couldn’t practice on the slopes. Killy says the race turned out to be one of his best…. Without fail, athletes feel their muscles in action as they [mentally] rehearse their sport…. The imagery of visuomotor behavior rehearsal apparently is more than sheer imagination. It is a well controlled copy of experience, a sort of body-thinking similar to the powerful illusion of certain dreams at night.”
Suinn describes incidents where athletes in sports ranging from swimming and skiing to pistol shooting use mental imagery to rehearse the actual competition. It proved better training, in many instances, than practice runs in noncompetitive conditions. With imagery, the competitive conditions were more nearly simulated in the nervous system. So the imagery was more valuable rehearsal than actual physical practice.
“During one recent experiment, I recorded the electromyography responses of an Alpine ski racer as he summoned up a moment-by-moment imagery of a downhill race…. Muscle bursts appeared as the skier hit jumps. Further muscle bursts duplicated the effort of a rough section of the course, and the needies settled during the easy sections … his EMG recordings almost mirrored the course itself. There was even a final burst of muscle activity after he had passed the finish line, a mystery to me until I remembered how hard it is to come to a skidding stop after racing downhill at more than 40 miles an hour. “
The image held in the mind produced measurable physiological responses. The involuntary nervous system is activated by the image. The image is itself training.
Modern psychology is making much of these techniques, but a sensible person will automatically evoke images in order to rehearse an event, without any therapist’s instructions. It could just be called “thinking through” an event beforehand, whether it is a speech or a difficult encounter. Every lawyer that I’ve ever met does it before every court appearance. Most business people do it. By giving time to the planning of the events, you are taking charge of them, preprogramming your body and mind.
Even more interesting perhaps are the increasing uses of visualization in modern medicine, techniques very similar to those used by “primitive” healers and medicine people. The idea is taking hold that, like the yogis, patients can control their own internal chemistry, the functions of the organs, the flow of the blood and so forth by way of the images held in the mind.
Prominent among the practitioners of medical visualization is a European neurologist, J.H. Shultz, who uses something called “autogenic therapy,” taking people through imaginary tours of their bodies, visually discovering their organs, the cells, and eventually picturing them as functional and healthy.
The Samuelses report: “Autogenic therapy is widely used in Europe and has been extensively researched…. A seven-volume work cites 2400 studies. Researchers examining the effects of the standard autogenic exercises have demonstrated an increase (or decrease) in skin temperatures, changes in blood sugar, white blood cell counts, blood pressure, heart and breathing rates, thyroid secretion, and brain wave patterns…. Autogenic training has been used in coordination with standard drug and surgical procedures in Europe to treat a broad range of diseases including ulcers, gastritis, gall bladder attacks, irritative colon, hemorrhoids, constipation, obesity, heart attack, angina, high blood pressure, headaches, asthma, diabetes, thyroid disease, arthritis and low back pain, among others.”
Dr. Carl Simonton, who is director of cancer therapy at Gladman Memorial Hospital in Oakland, California, and his wife, Stephanie Simonton, have been receiving acclaim lately for their amazing results in inducing what have been called “spontaneous remissions” in cancer by using techniques of meditation and attitude adjustment based on visualization.
The patient is instructed to picture his or her cancer and to imagine the immune mechanism working the way it is supposed to, picking up the dead and dying cells.
“Patients are asked to visualize the army of white blood cells coming in, swarming over the cancer, and carrying off the malignant cells…. These white cells then break down the malignant cells, which are then flushed out of the body.
“… The cancers may be imagined in the form of animals, snakes, armies, nonobjective force-fields, whatever seems to have meaning in a particular patient.” The Simontons also use photos of cells, photos of cancers, X ray photos of the person’s own cancer to aid the process of imaging and at some point they ask patients to visualize themselves totally well.
Critics of the Simontons’ success statistics like to argue that it is not the visualizations themselves which have produced the results, but rather the belief in them, the placebo effect. But, of course, this is an absurd criticism, because the belief in the cure is itself likely to come in the form of a visualization of the healthy body. In either event, it is the image that effects the cure.
The Samuelses’ book is an amazing and fascinating work. They quote from virtually every religious discipline, every healing system in the history of the world about which any evidence exists. They quote from Sufis, Hindus, Gnostics, Rosicrucians, and Indians as well as from Christian and Hebrew texts. They quote from dozens of psychotherapies and nearly as many medical systems.. They quote from artists about inspiration, scientists about “flashes of insight” (Einstein said that his relativity theory popped into his mind at a moment when he was imagining himself being carried along standing on a beam of light), but there are two notable absences from their work. They do not discuss the role of image emulation and they never once mention television.
Image Emulation: Are We All Taped Replays?
A few years ago, when my kids were six and seven respectively, they asked to see The Towering Inferno. I took them and a six-year-old friend of theirs, Veva Edelson, to see it. When we returned home, I heard the three of them playing in the next room and wrote down what they were saying. Here is a portion of it.
YARI:(Shouting) How’re you doing there; are you holding onto the top of the building?
YARI: I’m in the middle of a lot of fire here. Call Squad Thirty-eight.
VEVA: You have to come down because the whole first floor is burning.
YARI: I don’t know how I can get down; the stairs are blocked and the elevators are burning.
VEVA:(Interrupting the game) Let’s say our walkie-talkies ran out of batteries and we can’t talk.
YARI:(Continuing the interruption) Let’s say the wiring explodes. (Then he makes a hosing sound on Kai, who is lying under a chain which is supposed to be the building.)
VEVA:(Still interrupting) Let’s say the fire went out. (Then, back into the game) Squad Fifty-one, I’ve got to talk to you. Right now there’s about thirteen men dead and five women and two kids.
YARI: I’m not Squad Fifty-one, I’m Squad Thirty-eight, and I’m down here giving a five dollar parking ticket.
Children’s games are largely based on their experiences. If they live in the country, their games will involve animals. If they go to movies, their games will reflect that. If they watch television, you can see it in their games. In all cases, the characters and creatures they are imitating are based upon the pictures of them which they carry in their minds.
I have watched my kids after they have seen Star Trek on TV. Yari, the older, becomes Captain Kirk–efficient, “manly,” determined, in charge, unafraid, coplike. Kai, the younger, is second in command. He plays Spock, affecting his behavior: wry, unsmiling, unfeeling, scientific, detached, cerebral.
The games continue for hours. Often they replay the same story a few times, as though they were rehearsing it or attempting to memorize it. This, of course, is exactly what they are doing–rehearsing it, to ingrain it in themselves.
Another day, I noticed that Yari was taking giant leaps around the garden and making a clicking sound with his tongue against the roof of his mouth. I realized that this noise was one he made frequently while doing something active and that it was an imitation of the electronic sound that accompanies all of the bionic acts of the Bionic Man. Later that week I watched the program with my kids.
During one sequence the Bionic Man is shown running at bionic speed across a field, to the accompaniment of the clicks. The movements are shown in slow motion, so they become especially vivid. I asked my kids about this:
JERRY: When you guys are running, do you sometimes imagine that you’re the Bionic Man and try to run like him?
YARI: I always do.
JERRY: How about you, Kai?
KAI: I do too; is that bad?
How to answer that? Is it bad? Is it bad for kids to do a natural thing–emulation, imitation which is how children for millions of years have learned about the world? That is certainly not bad. But in this case, they were imitating a mechanical person. I can’t tell him it’s bad because I don’t want him to doubt his own learning processes, and yet the more he practices and maintains his bionic images, the more he imitates them. Slowly, he assumes the role in real life. The Bionic Man slowly becomes real in the person of … my kid!
I told him it wasn’t bad and changed the subject.
In Chapter Four [Argument 1] I described how emulation is a method used by human beings to understand and integrate nature into themselves.
To get an idea of the naturalness of the process, just think of ways in which you are like your parents or your children are like you.
I believe that a parent may have less to do with the characteristics a child picks up from the parent than the kid does, because of simple evolutionary emulation processes that continue constantly. We attempt to train children in one area, only to discover that they’ve picked up parts of ourselves that we’d rather they hadn’t noticed.
My son Kai has begun to walk with his toes spread slightly outward, ducklike, as I do, and also as my father does. I can remember the moment as a child when I chose to imitate my father’s walk, out of a simple desire to be closer to him, to know how he is inside. Now, thirty-five years later, I walk exactly as he did at this age, even though it is not a desirable way of walking. One’s balance is not ideal, physical spontaneity is limited and movement possibilities narrow. The manner of walking amplifies a certain static emotional condition that my father had to struggle with and which, finding it also in myself, I don’t much like.
In retrospect, I can see that this way of walking is illustrative of an instinct to “hide” rather than “act,” and perhaps its roots go all the way back to his childhood in the Warsaw ghetto. Who knows? It hardly matters by now. And yet the walk has passed through three generations and is beginning to reappear in Kai.
The point is that imitation from generation to generation is automatic. The tool used is the image of the person being imitated. As I walk, I imagine my father’s walk. This makes it possible for me to repeat it. Without the image I could not repeat it. After many years, of course, the image has submerged though the walk remains.
We tend to speak of image emulation as applicable only to children, as though at some fixed age one ceases to learn in this way. This is absurd.
As there are ways in which my children imitate me, there are also ways in which I imitate them. Kai, for example, has a gentle and efficient way of speaking and moving, and I have often caught myself copying it. Yari has an energy and enthusiasm–a brightness which I have learned to call upon myself. He teaches me how by merely being that way. I copy him as the Indian copies the panther and the Zen student copies the river. Slowly I become more like both of my children just as they also become more like me.
The same applies to husband and wife. It is a subject of New Yorker cartoons that husbands and wives (and even pets) begin to resemble each other after years together. I have seen countless examples of it, and I believe my wife and I are such an example. After living with someone over decades, one picks up her or his mannerisms, facial expressions, even lines on the face and body attitudes. There is no way to avoid doing this. It’s automatic. Humans are hopeless emulators. We can’t stop it if we wish to. We look around us, and whatever is there day after day becomes the environment for our ingestion whether it is the Bionic Man or one’s own family. We absorb it, take it into ourselves, turn into it. We become each other’s mirrors or buddhas or mandalas. Slowly we turn into what we see. It is a basic way of learning how to be. The process goes on for our whole lives.
San Francisco, unlike New York, achieves its primary cultural influence not from Europe but from Asia. An example of this occurs in many city parks from about six A.M. daily to eight A.M. I walk through one such park each day about seven-thirty A.M. The scene is this: about forty people, half of them Western, half Chinese, are facing an old Chinese man who is doing Tai Chi.
I have watched the way he teaches. He never speaks (he knows no English). He merely faces his “class” and moves. They copy his movements. If there is something particularly difficult, he does it several times. There is no discussion of theory; the movement itself is the theory. Once you have absorbed the movement inside yourself, the meaning of the movement invades your consciousness. So the teaching method is 100 percent imitation. After the class is over, the students practice with the image of him in their minds.
Perhaps you have caught yourself kissing another person as you first saw kissing in the movies or on television. My children have a phrase to describe this: “television kiss.” It is fortunate for them that they’ve noted that there are television kisses and other kinds, because it will help protect them from absorbing it, taking it into themselves where it will come back out ten years later, like a replay.
Most of us did not make that distinction as we sat in darkened rooms or theaters as children. Since we didn’t see all that much real kissing, the media kiss became our image of kissing. We found ourselves producing that model of kiss later in life.
I was fourteen years old when I tried kissing for the first time. I imitated Humphrey Bogart’s kiss, but I didn’t feel it. Only later did I realize that perhaps Bogart didn’t feel it either; he was merely kissing the way the director said he should. So there I was imitating a kiss that was never real in the first place, worried that there might be something wrong with me for lacking the appropriate feelings and failing to obtain the appropriate response.
The journalist Jane Margold was driving home one night in Berkeley with her brother, Harlan. Suddenly a man crawled into the street right in front of them. They screeched to a stop and then, stunned, just sat there for a moment. They finally got out and cautiously went up to the man to find that he’d been stabbed several times in his upper body, was bleeding profusely, and was in danger of dying right there. The man’s assailant was nowhere to be seen.
In describing the event to me, Jane said that she instantly flipped into a media version of herself. She had never faced anything like it before and had no direct feelings. Instead, playing through her mind were images of similar events she’d seen on television or in films. The media images superseded her own responses, even to the point of removing her from the event. She was there, but she didn’t experience herself as being there. She was seeing the event, but between her and it, floating in her mind, was an image of an implanted reality which would not get out of the way. She thought such thoughts as: “This is real; there’s a wounded man lying here in front of me, bleeding to death, yet I have no feeling. It seems like a movie.”
In fact, it was the very movielike quality that eventually got her into action. Without feeling, she performed mechanical acts. She and her brother comforted the man, directed traffic, dispatched people to summon police and an ambulance. She became extremely efficient, but throughout, she had the sense of performing a script.
In Myth America, Carol Wald and Judith Papachristou detail a history of the images of women from 1865 to 1945, as presented in print media. They argue that the images, created exclusively by men, formed the operative visual myths about women in America and that as the images spread and entered people’s minds, they became mirrors of reality. Men wanted their women to be that way; women, seeing only those images, attempted to and eventually did become like the images. It was a kind of alchemy in which the image finally produced the reality.
“To the degree that pictures seem real, people were inclined to accept what the [male] artist saw in good faith…. Through such an arrangement, the myth becomes apparent…. Myths prevail. Here, all the expected roles of women are illustrated, from romantic elopement, blushing bride, and honeymoon to household drudge and nagging wife…. All are expressions of [male] feeling made visible through art…”
The authors are careful to point out that the images of women had little to do with the reality of women’s lives, which were filled with hardship, and the need to solve problems against enormous odds, many times on their own. Nonetheless, because the images were everywhere, they began to dominate the reality, making women wish to be like men’s images of women, encouraging men to perceive women in those terms and helping institute a power arrangement between the sexes that is only now being challenged.
The images became the mirror against which the whole society compared women’s behavior, and because of their power they succeeded in becoming a personal and also a political and economical reality. Yet, those were print images, which are not nearly so powerful as the moving images that have since achieved an even greater presence in everyone’s mind.
The women’s movement of today, like all other movements that are interested in recovering self-definition–black, Oriental, Indian, worker, homosexual and others–has discovered that its struggle must be waged not only against the creators of the images–he people and media who purvey them–but also against the very mental images women already carry around in their own minds; stereotypes, which they emulate with their own behavior. Because of this, many political movements have taken on aspects of personal therapy movements. The goal is to rid oneself of what are often called “tapes.” This phrase, heard equally from political people and people involved in many therapy systems from “radical psychiatry” to, yes, est–is used quite literally. The tape is the image, the picture one carries in one’s mind that is continually replicated, unconsciously, however useless, self destructive, or idiotic it may be.
When women carry inside their heads the image of the idealized subservient housewife-mother-secretary, they automatically tend to imitate the image. This continues until the moment when they say, “Wait, I didn’t create this person in my head; who did?”
When black people invented the image “Black is beautiful,” its point was to destroy a previous image carried in the minds of whites and blacks alike that black was not beautiful. Only then could personal change be made, leading to political results.
The suppression of Indian people in this country, at first achieved with guns, was later accelerated and confirmed by the media images of the Indian as a savage who needed to be saved by white Western education, morality, and lifestyle. The critical ingredient in this was the implantation within young Indians themselves of the belief that this image was a correct one. With that came self-hatred.
Only by realizing that the image carried in the mind–the tape–is real and implanted is it possible to disconnect oneself from the cycle of taped replay and subvert an otherwise inevitable process whereby the image is translated into reality.
You may be among those who believe that the evolution of image into reality takes place via the mysterious processes implied by Hermes, the Tantras, the Cabbala or the Rosicrucians. Or you may be impressed with the biophysiological evidence that images are carried in the cells. Or you may believe that the emulation process is the primary way image becomes reality. Or you may believe, as I do, that the evolution of image into reality involves all these routes and others.
But whichever is most important, the result is the same. We evolve into the images we carry in our minds. We become what we see. And in today’s America, what most of us see is one hell of a lot of television.