Social Media and Religious Syncretism

In the article “What Effect Has the Internet Had on Religion?,” published in The Guardian, author Aleks Krotoski argues that the importance of the internet in everyday life has become a destabilizing force on traditional religion. In order to stay relevant, it’s argued, religious organizations have moved their services online in order to reach wider audiences. This has challenged the control that religious leaders once held over their followers, resulting in a growing amount of spiritual practices that fall between the cracks of what is considered mainstream. Krotoski states “. . . the web has helped proliferate different interpretations and articulations of religions and we have witnessed the emergence of new online communities and faiths. Individuals now have a much more autonomous role in deciding whom to approach as a source” (paragraph 8). I agree with the author’s main claims and further argue that the syncretization of spiritual beliefs is occurring directly due to the rising pluralism of religious groups on social media.

In chapter 16 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, it’s stated that some sociologists believe in a sociostructural crisis in religion caused by pluralism, which is “the presence and engaged coexistence of numerous distinct groups in one society” (Conley). This increased diversity in religious groups is argued to be detrimental to the social foundation of religion, allowing for various denominations to discredit others’ practices. However, instead of the “religious disintegration, psychological malaise, and chaos” these sociologists predicted, we are faced with the modern emergence of individualized forms of spirituality, which borrow from multiple religions and incorporate a variety of traditions. As further stated in the chapter, “These “nones”—which make up about a quarter of the population, up from only a tenth in 1980 (Smith & Cooperman, 2016)—are not necessarily atheists. In fact, only a third definitively state that they do not believe in God (Pew Research Center, 2015b).” This phenomenon of rising eclecticism is directly attributable to the increased plurality in traditional religion, which I argue is enabled by the cross-pollinating forces of social media.

According to a study from 2016, published in Sociological Perspectives Vol. 59, the rapid adoption of social media has had syncretizing effect on the religious beliefs of emerging adults. The study specifically found that “emerging adults who use SNS [social networking sites] are more likely to think it is acceptable to pick and choose their religious beliefs, and practice multiple religions independent of what their religious tradition teaches . . .” (page 818).  This occurrence is due to the cross-pollination of new ideas and beliefs through the internet, recently facilitated by social networks. One of the author’s supported hypotheses states “SNS users will be more likely than non-SNS users to report that it is acceptable for a member of their own religious tradition to practice other religions” (page 830). These trendsetters in the study are indirectly acknowledging that at least some truths exist in other religions, confirming the effect of pluralism.

Does the advent of the internet and rise of social media mark the beginning of social breakdown in religion, or the collective transcendence of divisive traditions? I believe that both are occurring. As religious organizations increasingly utilize the internet to reach wider audiences, an ever-broadening degree of pluralism is arising. This is reflected in the emergence of individualized forms of spirituality that incorporate some form of belief in a higher power, yet do not affiliate with traditional denominations. As Krotoski concludes in her article “The search for answers is part of our social narrative and so it is unsurprising that we have gone to the web to ask the questions. There, we are finding our communities, whether they are organized under a traditional doctrine with well-established rituals, or are evolutions that have been produced by people who feel they have seen the light” (paragraph 11). I agree with the author’s main claims and further argue that the syncretization of spiritual beliefs is occurring directly due to the rising pluralism of religious groups on social media.

Works Cited:

“Chapter 16: Religion.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Krotoski, Aleks. “What Effect Has the Internet Had on Religion?” The Guardian, 16 Apr. 2011, www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/apr/17/untangling-web-aleks-krotoski-religion.  

McClure, Paul K. “Faith and Facebook in a Pluralistic Age: The Effects of Social Networking Sites on the Religious Beliefs of Emerging Adults.” Sociological Perspectives, vol. 59, no. 4, 2016, pp. 818–834. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26340183. Accessed 9 Nov. 2020.

Monocultural Hybridization

In the article “Can Monoculture Survive the Algorithm?,” published in Vox, author Kyle Chayka outlines two opposing concerns in the mass culture of entertainment. On one hand, digital streaming has resulted in a reduction of society’s ability to connect and relate through entertainment. The author states “The fear is that we exist in a fragmented realm of impenetrable niches and subcultures enabled by streaming media” (Chayka). The other concern is that social media and algorithmic recommendations in streaming are causing culture to become more similar than different. He further explains “We are worried that our digital niches cause a degree of homogenization, which the word monoculture is also used to describe” (Chayka). It is my opinion that these two seemingly irreconcilable concerns are interrelated and happening concurrently. I argue that mass media is both a homogenizing and fragmenting force on culture through a process of hybridization.

In chapter 3 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, culture is described as “. . . both the technology by which humans have come to dominate nature and the belief systems, ideologies, and symbolic representations that constitute human existence” (Conley). As we are witnessing in the age of the internet, the technological impact on culture happens on a global scale. The rapid dissemination of media is only enhanced through the advent of streaming services, which optimize viewing time through the use of algorithmic recommendations. In contrast to linear television, the modern popularity of digital streaming has fragmented media consumption into various dichotomous categories, such as social vs. intimate and niche vs. mass, with much overlap. This indicates not a reduction but an evolution in monoculture. As Kyle Chayka states, “These are all forms of monoculture that don’t rely on an enforced, top-down sameness, but create sameness from the bottom up” (Chayka). Rather than monoculture being purely determined by the gatekeepers of traditional broadcast media, algorithmic homogenization is a rising influence.

In an academic journal from the University of Pennsylvania, the effects of globalization on culture through different forms of media were explored. The researcher outlined a more nuanced perspective on cultural imperialism, which is the idea that audiences across the globe are disproportionately affected by media from Western countries. This alternative perspective is cultural hybridity or hybridization, which “. . . does not give prominence to globalization as a homogenizing force, nor does it believe in localization as a resistive process opposed to globalization” (Kraidy). The process of hybridization involves mediation between different cultures, which in the example of media streaming, gives birth to the various subcultures of entertainment we have today. The study concludes “Consequently, the globalization of culture through the media is not a process of complete homogenization, but rather one where cohesion and fragmentation coexist” (Kraidy). Thus, I believe this process reconciles both concerns outlined in author Kyle Chayka’s article. The hybridization of monoculture has occurred through both the fragmentation of media consumption and the homogenizing forces of algorithmic recommendations.

Works Cited:

Chayka, Kyle. Can Monoculture Survive the Algorithm? 17 Dec. 2019, http://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/12/17/21024439/monoculture-algorithm-netflix-spotify. 

“Chapter 11: Health and Society.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Kraidy, Marwan M. “Globalization of Culture Through the Media.” ScholarlyCommons, 2002, repository.upenn.edu/asc_papers/325/?utm_source=repository.upenn.edu%2Fasc_papers%2F325. 

The Ineffectiveness of Online Advocacy

In the article “The Problem With Social-Media Protests,” published in The Atlantic, author Antonia Malchick argues that online social movements are likely to experience faster burnout and result in less actual policy change than in-person activism. Before the internet increased the speed at which information travels, it’s claimed, advocacy in general was slower growing, but benefited from the extra time spent deepening social interactions and strengthening the underlying interconnections of the movement. Malchick states “By contrast, mass protests such as Occupy Wall Street formed rapidly but then, lacking that underlying resilience created over time, often lost focus, direction, and, most important, their potential to effect change” (paragraph 3). I believe that the author’s claims are especially relevant in current times, and I further argue that social media activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy due to its reduced ability to sway an elected official’s vote, and the threat of social manipulation by foreign actors.

In chapter 18 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, the overall effectiveness of online social movements is brought into question. Testimony from sociologist Doug McAdam reveals that despite the easily disseminated nature of information, online-based movements may not utilize preexisting interpersonal relationships to create effective behavioral change. He states “successful movements, movements that take off very quickly, emerge within established communities, and essentially the members of that community are threatened with the loss of member benefits for failure to go along. It’s not clear that the electronic communities have the same capacity to monitor people’s compliance with the new line of action” (Conley). This potentially reduced compliance ultimately results in a lack of accountability within online movements. Empty clicks and inconsequential Tweets take the place of tangible commitment in followers, greatly reducing the likelihood of an elected official treating the cause seriously. As stated further in chapter 18, “politicians and policy makers can easily ignore online social movements. They know that e-mail is cheap and easy, and therefore they value it less” (Conley). In general, lack of legislative potential is a profound reason why internet activism cannot replace physical protests and in-person advocacy.

As communication in our society is increasingly organized online, disinformation and manipulation become more probable threats. The capacity for subterfuge by foreign actors and those who profit from division is only enhanced by the less resilient nature of online social movements. In the journal article “Tackling Disinformation, Online Terrorism, and Cyber Risks into the 2020s,” published in The Cyber Defense Review, author Oz Sultan outlines the complex systems of disinformation and propaganda enabled by social media. He argues that false-narrative stories propagated through alternative media sites are being leveraged by countries such as Russia, as well as copycat campaigns, to influence, confuse, or demoralize social movements and the online population in general. Sultan claims “These anchor stories . . . work like a signal that gets transmitted through several repeaters. Disruption of these stories or weaponized content should actively involve the social media platforms that facilitate their dissemination. However, what we’ve seen in recent years is a reticence by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp to follow through” (page 46). This vulnerability of social movements to the influence of foreign propaganda is another chief reason why online activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy.

Digital technology has given rise to previously unfathomable amounts of interconnectivity and readily available information. It is an inevitability that social activists will seek to utilize the online medium to further their causes. However, there are concerns that arise with this newfound arena for advocacy that remain significant and still partly unknown. As Antonia Malchick concludes in her article, “The realities of face-to-face contact and in-person mass protests, the tools of centuries of struggle for full citizenship and rights, have become even more essential to grounding us as we navigate through a new era of humans’ relationship with technology” (paragraph 11). While the creation of tangible, in-the-flesh connections with each other is being tested by factors like COVID-19, its importance is only further highlighted. Overall, I agree with Malchick’s claims and argue that social media activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy due to its reduced ability to sway an elected official’s vote, and the threat of social manipulation by foreign actors.

Works Cited:

“Chapter 18: Collective Action, Social Movements, and Social Change.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Malchik, Antonia. “The Problem With Social-Media Protests.” The Atlantic, 6 May 2019, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/05/in-person-protests-stronger-online-activism-a-walking-life/578905/. 

Sultan, Oz. “Tackling Disinformation, Online Terrorism, and Cyber Risks into the 2020s.” The Cyber Defense Review, vol. 4, no. 1, 2019, pp. 43–60. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26623066. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

2020

The title of this post. Enough said.

In actuality, there are not enough words in all the tongues of the ages to describe the complexity of our collective experience this past year. We’ve witnessed a pandemic of globally disruptive proportions, political polarization, a hastening of economic stratification, and an overall fragmentation of social cohesion. The seeds of doubt and confusion have long been sown in the dirt of our society, but this year they sprouted. I am no prophet, but I foresee a spiritual reckoning on the horizon.

I am not going to explain my understanding of the fundamental dynamics concerning recent events. A large aspect of these circumstances involves cyclical patterns of civilization and consciousness that exist far outside our sphere of personal control. There is a “wave function” to the progression of this discord that naturally rises and falls. And we are all along for the ride. But alas, I am not here to elaborate on the metaphysical nature of reality. I will save that for a later dissection. I am here now to give a simple update on my life.

I feel guilty for saying that Covid has been a blessing in some ways. While the social disruption this year has made it harder for many to carry on with their productive lifestyles, it has enabled me to resume my academic career and integrate spirituality more consistently. The availability of online classes and normalization of social distancing has been a godsend. Serial misanthropes unite! (But six feet apart, for heaven’s sake)

My hiatus from social media has also been rather therapeutic. The Facebooks, Instagrams, and Twitters of the world play a role in hastening our polarization and subsequent fragmentation. I have not been entirely cut off from the pulse of the world, however. The shift in the zeitgeist or collective mood is palpable to even the most isolated of hermits, such as myself. In fact, I find it necessary to stay clear of the opinionated chatter to see the bigger picture more clearly. There are too many narrow outlooks and unexamined sentiments being propagated. People feel the unwarranted need to defend themselves against thoughtless and oversimplified opinions condensed in 280 characters. It’s easy to get lost in the muck.

As the year finally comes to a close, I look back appreciatively on the many realizations I have been gifted by the universe. While immersed in syncretistic research on Hindu cosmology, solar cycles, and cliodynamics, I’ve rediscovered my appreciation for the smaller details of truth and wellness. Characteristics such as kindness, compassion, and detachment. My heart has ever been influenced by Buddhism and original Theosophical teachings, and I now find myself a regular practitioner. It’s the nature of depression and anxiety to be frustrated by the lack of ability to control your own emotions. But meditation helps you accept the rhythms of your feelings with grace and also, with time and persistence, to balance them.

I plan on posting a multitude of mini-essays written for class this past semester. The topics range widely, but they are all sociologically relevant. A few of the issues discussed are races I normally choose not to have a horse in, but nevertheless obliged with a loosely held opinion. I will probably share links on Twitter, despite my healthy distance from that place. I hope you find some of these topics interesting! There might also be an update on the podcast front soon. Ideas have been stirring, and plans are brewing. We shall see what that entails.

A reminder to everyone that there is never such a thing as too much love or compassion. Even a misanthrope can abide by that. The only way to reestablish unity is by first embodying a greater degree of agreeableness within your own heart. We are all just trying to do our best, and we are each still ignorant in our own way. Have mercy on all sentient beings, including those whose opinions are diametrically opposed to your own. Sit down, and drink some tea.

Eternally Encroaching

This is probably going to end up being more of a “random musings” type of post, but I wanted to get these thoughts out of my system. As I was perpetuating the mindlessly scrolling culture of social media yesterday, I ran across an interesting article. Apparently the Joe Rogan podcast will be moving exclusively to Spotify. Now, I am not a HUGE fan of this dude, but I’ve found several of his guests to be interesting. But more importantly, this got me thinking about the creative industry online as a whole, specifically podcasting and blogging.

I started blogging when I was around 13. The online world was different back then, a little less monetized and systemic, and definitely more genuine. There was more of a focus on the individual experience, and that was expressed in the variety of creative mediums available. That technically still exists today, but the underlying reality is different. Everything has become more focused and tailored. The algorithm rules now, and content is being crafted to cater to that. Once independent productions are now being enticed by platform exclusivity, thus selling their soul and freedom.

Something was lost as the internet matured. I remember when I first started out writing and being inspired by the plethora of unique and interesting blogs on the net. Chronicles of people’s lives, their ideas, their adventures, all recorded for the simple act of expression instead of financial gain. While everyone is on lockdown, I think the changes of online culture are easier to perceive. With more spaces of time to pass, we naturally gravitate toward the endless streams of media on our devices for entertainment.

So much of that media has been distilled into bite-sized snippets of instant gratification. The cynic in me recognizes it as a dopamine market, preying on the baser and easily manipulated nature of people. The encroachment of greed has touched many previous bastions of creative freedom. YouTube is an especially poignant example. While one could point out that the vast increase in online content is good for consumers, I disagree when most of it has been cheapened in the process. Authenticity is what I feel missing today. The catering to social trends and algorithms in order to simply reach more viewers has left a valuable part of the human experience in the dust.

There is a fundamental unhealthiness underlying the online economy and greater culture, and even a serious risk to the wellbeing of consumers. Not to mention the fact that data harvesting by big companies is a legitimate concern for privacy and anonymity. I can only hope that small time creators can continue to find the will to persist amidst the eternally encroaching greed that follows mass consumption. The near future is worrisome to me, but the impermanence of any system or paradigm provides hope that things will eventually change.

Destiny and True Will

Recently, I’ve had an interesting insight that I decided to formulate into a blog post. Much of this has been inspired by my foray into the study of alchemy, hermeticism, and the misunderstood works of Aleister Crowley. I recognize that I have only poked a toe down this rabbit hole, but my mind has been swimming with ideas and concepts. Amidst the chaos of the current “coronapocalypse,” I find it more necessary than ever to relieve my mind of its excess wanderings.

I have begun to discover a possible reconciliation between the existential debate of free will versus predetermined fate. Our “destiny” is ultimately our “truest Will” or the innermost desire of our spirit. However, that Will is buried in our unconscious mind and often obscured by motivations of lesser integrity.

Everything is a matter of choice. The individual decisions we make in every moment determine what our futures will hold. They weave the fabric of the ultimate outcome of our lives. But too often than not, we don’t truly know or understand what our deepest Will is. We are confused and conflicted by different paths, and we haven’t yet acquired the necessary self-knowledge to perceive it. “Know thyself” is the highest maxim to aspire to. Only then can we “will” our destiny into being.

Simply put, our destiny is what we want most in life. However, as most of us realize, that can be a difficult thing to figure out. It’s already in our hearts, but buried beneath a layer of clutter and contradictions that results in confusion. We are slaves to our mind and the conflict within it. That pure, conscious force is perpetually obscured. The root of this conflict lies in the unconscious, and it necessitates a great degree of self-work and introspection to uncover. This is ultimately the work of a lifetime. The great work, as some call it. Once we have developed awareness of our true Will, the path forward in life is revealed.

During my long-term spiritual inquiry, I have come across two prevailing or generalized theories about the “Self.” Either it is an illusion, or it is the only true thing that exists. In my opinion, this paradox itself is an illusion. Both perspectives of the Self are merely different ways of interpreting the same universal truth. What we recognize as our Self or the conscious force of Will in our hearts is the same force as in others. It all flows from the same source. It becomes individualized within our singular human experience but is still rooted in a common origin.

I realize that for most of my life, I have never really known what I truly wanted. However, I did not connect that to the deeper conflict of the Self or Will. Finding inspiration or passion has always felt like a fruitless pursuit. I am often paralyzed by the endless possibilities and paths I can envision. Imagining myself finding happiness down any number if those paths is easy, but there is a difference between desiring the “idea” of something and desiring what it actually is. Bridging the ideal with the reality is a way to determine if it’s really something you want.

In many ways, my life’s work is oriented in the opposite direction of others. Most are born and develop a familiarity with their Self (albeit not the deep level where their true Will resides) before their greater perception of life’s interrelatedness. It takes a lifetime to see beyond their own individual experiences and witness the “whole” or the totality. But I feel as if my own development has been the opposite. For my entire life, it has been normal to feel a sense of depersonalization, because I developed my perception of the “whole” at a very young age. My sense of Self is lacking, and individualization is what I need to work toward throughout this lifetime.

Despite the tall task of looking inwards, I don’t feel as lost knowing that the answer to my destiny lies within me. At least I know which direction to look, which is something I lacked by searching for answers outside my own heart. It’s interesting to realize that so much of who I am is determined by who I want to be on a fundamental level. It’s even more interesting to realize that this deeper level can be so far out of the light of my conscious mind.

The moral of this story is that destiny isn’t something external to figure out. It is simply a matter of what we want most, however that can make it even more difficult to uncover. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we are following our hearts, while our unconscious mind really knows that we are not. We will never truly be happy in this conflicted state. Know thyself, and the path toward fulfilling your destiny will be revealed.

Musings on Acceptance

As an INFJ, I often feel trapped in life by obligations. There is a constant battle inside of me between what I want to do and what will please others. Upon verbalizing this struggle, I am often told to simply ignore what others want and start following my own heart. But the simplicity of this advice doesn’t save it from being fundamentally wrong in my case. If I hypothetically abandoned my responsibilities and took off to pursue my own spontaneous desires, I would find myself immersed in guilt and constantly worried about the expectations I was failing to meet. The paralysis of this anxiety would keep me from doing what I love.

What is the solution? Should I give in to the extreme pursuit of people-pleasing just to feel like I am worthy? Or should I abandon my obligation to others and immerse myself in purely personal endeavors? The likely answer is to find balance, which is a fleeting force in my life. This somewhat crazed over-analysis will probably lead to someone telling me that I am taking myself too seriously again. They are partly right for volleying such a criticism. I tend to overthink more than is healthy. I am driven to “think up” the perfect solutions for my plights. I understand the futility of this process, yet unhealthy mental habits can be irrational.

Ultimately, I realize that there is no easy solution for the suffering we face in life. The irrational nature of much of the pain we endure only proves this reality. In the realm of our mind, it’s easy to dwell amongst idealized constructs and solutions. It’s second-nature to imagine the clean and perfect version of a scenario. However, there is a discrepancy between the reality in our mind and the one around us. This cognitive dissonance marks the commencement of suffering. In actuality, life is messy. Imperfection and failure are inevitabilities.

All of this tells me that on some level, I will never be able to please everyone. It’s an even laughable prospect now. There will always be a small part of me that feels stretched, or pressured by outside obligations. This is life, and my grace in the face of such shortcomings influences my ability to be happy. Accepting imperfection and the promise of future suffering enables me to find the ever-elusive balance I need to be at peace. I hope that anyone who relates to this plight can find some shred of understanding in my shared insights.

What Is the Self? Part 1

A common interpretation of many spiritual practices is the transcendence of Self, or rising above one’s identity. This is reflected most prominently in eastern religious traditions, and to a lesser extent, in those of the west. Throughout the ages, much about this subject has been watered down or misinterpreted. The modern pseudo-spiritual approach has taken the concept of No-Self and warped it into a method for simultaneous depersonalization and innocuous egoism. Getting back to the root and original intent of these ancient teachings can help dispel this benign confusion.

Buddha taught that the Self is an aggregate of five skandhas, or the particular mental factors that give rise to one’s cravings and attachments. They include form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. Together these factors comprise the foundation of one’s personality. In Theravada Buddhism, suffering is shown to arise when one clings or becomes attached to these aggregates. In Mahayana tradition, the nature of the skandhas is entirely empty of independent existence. A side note: In Blavatskian Theosophy, there are some parallels to this teaching in the “Sevenfold Nature” of Man.

The first skandha pertains to our body or physical form. The second, sensation, is primarily made up of physical and emotional feelings. The third skandha, perception, is what can be most accurately defined as cognition or the ability to think. It’s the part of ourselves that recognizes and identifies. The fourth, mental formations, includes our behavioral patterns, conditioned prejudices, and both negative and positive mental states. It manifests as cyclical karma, or the causes and effects of our actions. The fifth and last skandha, consciousness, is pure awareness without conceptualization. It is the bedrock of the Self that knits together our experience of reality.

Something to keep in mind is that, because they are empty, the skandhas are not characteristics that an individual possesses. Beneath the emergent identity of these aggregates, there is only No-Self, which is the True Self. Simply put, the ego, or the individual and autonomous “you,” is a manifested illusion. This doctrine is referred to as Anatta or Anatman in Buddhism. Stripped of greater context, this teaching can be dangerous and easily misconstrued as nihilistic. While our Self is inherently empty, this does not mean we are “soulless.” In my opinion, it simply necessitates a reinvention of the idea of a soul. I will attempt to further develop this idea in Part 2.

Story Beginnings: The Ferryman

In a nearly impeccable display of punctuality, I arrived in front of Mr. Tabor’s office door in exactly one piece. I shook my dusty trench coat, dislodging the larger chunks of rubble and sending them flying to the carpeted floor. Such a pity that trans-dimensional travel had to be underground. I was always in a filthy state these days, rising from the deep with the unholy vengeance I was renowned for. Only it was a literal deep. Such a pity…

Rummaging inside numerous layers of fabric and cloth, I revealed a sickle, glinting malevolently in the artificial light. Budget cuts had forced me to downgrade from the usual scythe, the weapon of choice I was accustomed to. I utterly bemoan the Authority’s attempts to save every nickel and dime. This turbulent economy cannot last forever. Regardless of my discontent, I was prepared to finish the job.

Raising a boy hand to the door, I caught an unprecedented glimpse of my reflection in Mr. Tabor’s brass nameplate. What an ungodly pallor. A frightening and eerily permanent grin stretched out before my hollow eyes. Too many days in the whitewash, I thought regrettably. I could remember the glory says when my position was first created. The Authority had needed a man to do the dirty work, so to speak, and I was the obvious candidate. Although back then, my bones had been a much more prominent tinge of yellow. Everyone now was into flawless cosmetics. I was simply part of the herd…

Resigned to finish the job and grab a coffee before the suspected mass shooting a few blocks over, after which I would surely be needed, I knocked politely on the door. A faint voice bade me to enter, amid a fit of coughing and wheezing. Oh yes, his time was nearly up. And when that time came, it was my job to be the ferryman. Opening the door, I stepped across the threshold, knowing that what lied ahead involved another much unwanted trans-dimensional trek beneath the realm of the living. Damn this job…

Note: Another week and another lost writing to share with my nearly nonexistent audience. This piece is special, as dark humor has always been an attractive vehicle for making a statement in my life. The story fragment is partially inspired by the late Terry Pratchett, who my respect for is undying. I’m happy to have rediscovered this little gem.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Analysis and Critique

Note: I am finally biting the bullet and starting a new category of posts called “Lost Writings.” Digging through all of my old files has been a reacquaintance with intriguing content from my past. Whether from a formal prompt in English or a free-write session in Writer’s Workshop, they will be shared here. This next piece was an assignment to analyze and critique a movie that happens to be one of my favorites: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not many of my initial thoughts have changed, so I am posting the original unedited.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) has been seen by many as an allegory for the Cold War and the conflicting political ideologies within the United States during that time. Two prominent theories abound as to exactly what message this movie is attempting to espouse. On one hand, some argue that it is merely a warning of the Communist threat to the American way of life. Others take the plot and characters in an entirely different context and argue that the message is a critique and exposé of American conformity. Both perspectives are valid, yet the latter theory is a more accurate portrayal of the essence of the film.

The premise of the movie is unabashedly science fiction—Giant pods created through atomic mutation take over the small town of Santa Mira, California by turning themselves into mirror images of people. On the surface, these ersatz citizens resemble the originals in every way except for their soulless demeanor and total lack of emotion. The plot situates around the character Miles Bonner, a general practitioner who has returned home for a conference. Upon arriving in Santa Mira he begins to have suspicions that something strange is going on. A warning bell goes off in his head and he thinks to himself: “Sick people who couldn’t wait to see me, suddenly were perfectly alright.”

The film deeply explores the concept of how abnormality or deviance is perceived in society. As Miles questions Wilma, who starts to fear that something is amiss, he initially recommends professional psychiatry as a way to rationalize her fears. This is an example of the usual response to deviance by the general, conformist populace. It shows that people are more willing to believe the problem is a figment in one’s head, rather than taking the issue seriously. However, Miles eventually does come around when his friend Jack shows him the “body” or still-forming pod-person. The moment that ultimately wakes Miles to the reality of the situation is when Jack asks: “Would you be able to forget that you’re a doctor for awhile?” This marks the point in which Miles stops looking through his narrow professional lens and begins to use common sense and critical thinking. When he begins to unravel the secret of what is truly happening, he discovers that authorities are highly reluctant to take his own claims seriously.

This represents the discrepancy between common sense and the conformist complacency that often arises from narrow viewpoints. The film adequately expresses how dangerous political apathy can be to the wellbeing of a nation through the metaphor of the pod people. Another prominent metaphor is sleep, which is used to portray the process through which regular individuals are taken over by the invading pods. This is metaphor for the arising of general conformity when individuals are least alert and self-aware. This notion alludes to the importance of independent judgement and intuition.

The most frightening concept is the new world order that will be created after the pod- people have succeeded in their mission. Resembling the old society in every way, it will be a world devoid of any emotion, including love or sadness. It is akin to dehumanization or soullessness. “Life will be much simpler and better,” says one of the transformed townspeople. The ultimate threat to humanity depicted in the film can be seen as two-sided in nature. On one hand there is the external invasion of the pods, but on the other there is the narrow-minded rationality of professionals who fail to use common sense and understand the reality of the issue. In order to reconcile the internal and external threat, one must look at possible allegories that explain the reasons for both.

All in all, Invasion of the Body Snatchers could be interpreted as two distinct allegories: a warning of the threat of communism to the American way of life, or the threat of conformity and political apathy within the United States itself. However, by analyzing all the metaphors stretched throughout the duration of the film, from the professionalism of the characters to soullessness of the pod-people, one can see that the true allegory represented is one of complacency, conformity, and over-rationalization of deviance. The makers of the film were attempting to espouse the dangers of mass society and the degradation of individual critical thinking skills. The Cold War is a shallow metaphor often attached to the film, but by delving deeper, one can understand the true perils being represented.