Television, Man: Chiron in Aquarius
IN A RECENT EDITION titled "Day Zero," I described the eight years between the two transits of Venus (June 2004 through June 2012) as a kind of anteroom to some great historical shift. But it's not the off-white kind of anteroom with a simple oak table on which is carefully placed the Victoria's Secret catalogue and a vase of dried roses. Rather, it is a dimension of change, progress and upheaval that will bear a vague resemblance to what we have lived through between the late 1990s and the current time -- vague, as in ketchup compared to habanero sauce.
Just like what we long referred to ominously as "The Year Two Thousand" worked out in realtime to be a series of distinct shifts between approximately 1997 and the present, "Twenty-Twelve" will likewise come as a series of graduated escalations. Each of these brings its own distinctive background vibe; each arrives with significant events, new revelations, profound cultural changes and their accompanying personal developments.
These steps build toward something, though most will probably not notice escalation process. This is partly because relatively few people are that aware of their environment; few people consider the concept of the "historical process"; and partly because denial is generally the most effective way to cope with so much rapid change. In the coming Friday series of essays I'll be looking ahead at several of these movements, beginning this week and next with Chiron in Aquarius. (Later articles in this series will review the key transits of the millennium phase, including the stolen election and Sept. 11.)
This soon forthcoming Chiron in Aquarius era spans from Feb. 21, 2005 through Feb. 8, 2011. It represents the first of the major personal and historical shifts on the way to 2012. It arrives after the current phase of Chiron in Capricorn, which has flushed out of the pipes and corridors of power more disgusting, vicious and unethical conduct of governments and corporations than we have seen in many generations combined. We have yet to see the actual results of these revelations, either personal or collective. While these developments are obviously changing us, it would appear to be on an individual level and not the group conscious level that will take root as Chiron works its way through Aquarius.
Matters of a personal and the political nature almost always merge in a hybrid phenomenon that we really need a word to describe, but something more original than perlitical. Contrary to popular delusion, what appears to be happening "out there" is not unrelated to our inner lives. In fact, we yearn for the personal connection to history, strive to be part of big events like wars and the World Series. We respond to the mandates of advertising culture. There are many other examples but it would seem that people are always trying to be part of something bigger than themselves -- it's just a question of what.
Events of the world are not merely a metaphor or symbol for what happens "in here." Rather, it is all personal; we live through history directly, participate with it, create it, feel the changes, adapt to them and change (or grow) as a result. We can use astrology to plot history and we can use astrology to work out our personal process. Or we can use it to consider both at once. We do not live apart from the times in which we alive.*
In considering this essay I pondered the last go-round of Chiron in Aquarius, which happened before I was born (but not before most of my clients were born, so I have some familiarity with this rather challenging energy as it manifests personally). Chiron made its first ingress to Aquarius for the prior cycle on Jan. 27, 1955 and made its last ingress to Pisces on Jan. 21, 1961. Does that second date ring a bell? It is within hours of when John F. Kennedy took office. (Kennedy, for his part, is a figure who magnificently personifies the Chiron in Pisces era. President Kennedy was born with this placement [in the last degree of Pisces] and served his unfinished term when it reached the first degree of Pisces.)
The Chiron in Aquarius era came at the height of the Cold War, which is really the mass development and wide-scale, above-ground testing of the nuclear bomb (chronicled in the monumental book of photojournalism American Ground Zero). There was the nuclear family. There were duck-and-cover drills. There were backyard bomb shelters. This was all normal; we basked in fear at the protective power that the atomic bomb bestowed. Society came to associate the annihilation of the world with a sense of safety. All of these things were sold as ideals and, when they made the news, were presented as part of truth, justice and the American way. Often, in that Aquarian way, as gritty but necessary.
It was a paranoid time. We had a man like J. Edgar Hoover running the FBI who makes John Ashcroft look like Walt Disney. Though old Joe McCarthy, the "McCarthyism" senator, was fading away, the Red Scare went on. These were the days of President Eisenhower, who did not know whether to run Democrat or Republican (he chose Republican). His vice-president was Mr. Jowels, the then not-so-old but evermore freaked out Dick Nixon. Time magazine was still really important; Life magazine was still Life magazine, then the weekly pictorial equivalent of cable television. Father knew best. The nation's housewives agreed. Life was swell. The Vietnam War had been bought from the French and was well under way.
The famous writers included Hemingway, Steinbeck and Beckett, but there was a literary movement afoot called the Beat Generation. The Beats brought us Allan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouack, among others, and spawned thousands more, such as Bob Dylan. And the Beatles: note the spelling. Beat writing was transgressive (one of Ginsberg's earliest published poems mentions asshole sandwiches, and goes on from there), often Queer, dealt with drugs, prostitution and sex, and openly defied the prevailing moralism of the era. This was not Father Knows Best. These were rebellious but highly intellectual writers, and read voraciously, all of them. They were mostly men, and did not seem to like women that much. They almost all had serious mental problems that were fuelled by taking too many drugs too often, including a lot of speed.
But with their words, ideas and experiences, they blew a hole through the roof of the night, cracked open the Father's language and refused to buy into the American nightmare. They did not buy the Cold War; at one point Ginsberg rages at America: fuck you and your atom bomb.
As a movement, they refused to be defined; they defined themselves and did so very loosely, including rejecting the name Beat. Beat philosophy derided consumerism as a way of life, or at all, saw how emotionally shallow American life was, and talked about it openly. But more than being against consumerism, that is, a life defined by consumption of products, the Beats noticed that it existed in the first place. This was in the day when you could be suspected of Communism for not buying the jumbo size laundry detergent.
Individual and Group Consciousness
Chiron in Aquarius focuses the primary crisis of Aquarius: where the personal identity meets the group identity. Aquarius is about individualism but it is also about conformity and the very significant tension that often exists between the two. Chiron personalizes the issue, and throws it in the face of anyone who is paying attention, or not. The kids who grew up under this astrology later became the rebels of the Sixties: those who dodged the draft, took LSD and the Pill, and declared it was okay to get naked, get stoned and make rock music. Call them hedonists, sure. Yet this was the first generation of young men in history to refuse to go to war. Many of the people who stayed home did so by going to graduate school and earning advanced degrees, and in the process, developing themselves as both individuals and as future conformists who would inherit leadership of business and government.
Both personally and collectively, it would seem that the energy of Chiron in Aquarius is distinctly ungrounded, restless, dissatisfied, hungry, thirsty and seeking liberation -- but from what it does not know. It says: It is hard to be myself, but there is no role I can play. Being alone does not suffice; no group is just right.
There can be the feeling of too much energy. And that, at times, can lead to depression, because sometimes what you do with too much energy is shut down. One can feel extremely intelligent but unable to live up to one's potential. It is a tricky placement. It was a tricky moment in history.
DESPITE BEING HELPFUL at exploring themes of the late 1950s, none of this quite seemed to sum up the impact of the era from the mass-scale perspective. There seemed to be something missing, something important, obvious, very large and all-pervasive.
Then it occurred to me, in one damned word: television.
As David Byrne of Talking Heads summed it up:
Television man made me what I am
People like to put the television down
But we are just good friends
Or as Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan informed us: "We create it. Then it creates us." We really need to take his words to heart. Because right now it's creating us a lot faster than we have any notion of.
Television arrived with enormous hopes. It would inform and entertain us; it would make the world smaller; it would bring us all together; we would resolve our differences. This is Aquarius smoking pot. Something else happened.
The Chiron in Aquarius era brought the ascent of the power of television as the prevailing social, political and commercial force. And it remains a force over which we have no control, no influence, and very little awareness of how it is created. Most people barely have the strength to turn the thing off; millions fall asleep to the TV and it goes off by timer, but not before impregnating the unconscious mind with its messages.
Television is the contemporary equivalent of a god, its inner reality existing beyond mortal grasp. And it is perceived and revered with devotion that would make any religion or cult jealous; indeed many religious movements are centered on television.
How this came to be, and what happened as a result, is a grim tale. I encountered this history last year in a book called The Powers That Be by David Halberstam, which, among other things, traces the rise of CBS from a tatty radio network that William Paley's father bought him for less than you can buy a nice house for today, into the pre-eminent media power of many decades standing. CBS was once the network of giants -- Edward R. Murrow, William Shirer and Walter Cronkite. Later, when television became golden pablum, CBS castrated its news department, scaled back public affairs programming, and morphed into the network of "Mister Ed" and "Hogan's Heroes." Its ratings soared; ratings equal cash. Advertising revenues were a million dollars a night. One program featured a talking horse. The other made the Nazis look like a bunch of silly, goofy and not so bad guys, despite the fact that Paley was himself Jewish. This is called selling out.
Television had many effects on society, including totally rearranging the power of government. It did so by controlling the perception of government. By the end of Chiron in Aquarius, the U.S. federal government had gone from three branches to one: the Executive Branch, because the other branches were too boring to cover; so boring that they all but ceased to exist. By the end of this era we had the first president who actually used, embraced, understood and worked with television like a master: John Kennedy.
If something was not on TV, after a while it ceased to be real or worthwhile. The Boob Tube became what it is today, the benchmark of all reality. It did so reducing the most complex historical matters of our day to a two-minute story, then cutting to a commercial -- or offering no story at all. (The Watergate scandal of the early 70s, Halberstam explains, was the great example -- for many months it was given only the most cursory television coverage because it was too complicated and not visual enough. Astonishingly, this kept the Watergate story a locally based Washington D.C. issue for much of its development.)
Watergate did something that TV is loath to do, which is make the government look bad. This pisses off advertisers and cuts into profits. In the end, it was CBS that remembered its mission, and grudgingly did two long pieces on Watergate that finally made the story national.
In the process of its creation, television rearranged our heads like a blender being turned on in there. TV seized how we perceive and feel about ourselves. With its deeply penetrating mix of audio and video, it creates a kind of psychic chaos and injects its vision of life, which is always about more.
More means we have to be more and more like everyone else, a real cut to human dignity that is the darkest shade of Chiron in Aquarius. Refusing to conform comes with the threat of unacceptability, which is a state of being deeply unacceptable to most people; acceptability for many people is the most important quality humans often feel they possess.
In short, television created a perpetual and deep-gnawing personal dissatisfaction that is being constantly exploited. The products it sells us are not merely Diet Coke and diamonds, but also war upon war, infusing our hearts and minds with a culture that is based on consuming, violence and consuming violence. It is not merely, as is the tradition of the newspapers, that it leads us to war; rather, television exposes us to a constant state of war, vindicating and glorifying it and making it almost sanitary enough for many people to watch during dinner. Television turns war to bullshit, and cuts to a commercial. Sex is presented only in the context of selling. It is not about love, it is not about pleasure; it is about money, or romance.
TV taught us to hate ourselves: because we are not perfect, not rich, not as cute as Annette Funicello or J Lo, not important enough to matter, or do not own the new model whatever. Television became the surrogate parent, surrogate nanny and surrogate schoolteacher. We think of this is normal. We still consider ourselves whole people and free thinkers. Yet television created a mass-scale crisis of identity within which we are in the deep throes today, and from which every single person in Western society suffers.
And it did something else: it trained people to stay in their homes, isolated and alienated from one another. The notion of a group became conceptual; all those who own Fords. There is a scene in The Powers That Be that portrays this with stark irony. Paley, at the height of his power as chairman of CBS, decided he wanted to open a supper club in midtown Manhattan. The space was built; the best chefs were recruited; the place opened; few customers showed up. It was basically an instant failure.
"Where is everyone?" Paley asked an associate involved with the project, oblivious.
"They're home watching the tube," he is told.
Where Chiron goes we can often discover a deep wound. When we are lucky and aware, that wound is used to help us grow. When we are not, we simply suffer in silence. I believe we have lost the inner sense of what it means to actually belong to something as a result of what television and marketing culture have done to our conceptions of ourslves. The wound in Aquarius is a direct injury to our psyches and also to our ideals; to our ability to conceive of better lives for ourselves, a better society, a more egalitarian world. All the great stuff that Aquarius represents is usually considered bullshit, impractical or dumb.
There is nothing that reaches so far into every corner of society and so deep into the individual psyche as does television. Nothing so cold and inhuman and based entirely on profit convinces us of our deepest-held personal values. And, for the most part, we are totally unconscious of these effects, treating TV as something outside ourselves, incidental, entertaining, helpful and informative.
We have become it. It has become us. And we're still good friends.
THIS WILL BE THE FIRST TIME Chiron has passed through Aquarius while we've been aware of the process. Chiron, an enormous asteroid-sized comet orbiting the Sun every 51 years, was discovered in 1977. Before that time, the planet worked behind the scenes. In other words, even though no astrologer knew of its existence or drew it into a chart, nonetheless its movements mark distinctive developments visible in the people's lives.
Beginning in 1977, as it entered the public consciousness and joined the discussion in the astrology community, Chiron became a collective process, subject to awareness and consideration. Yet to date, very little has been said about the historical and personal differences in the Chiron process before and after the discovery; that is, when it was working unconsciously versus consciously. Quantum physicists have proven that being aware of a particle changes its behavior. I am going to work under the assumption that Chiron in Aquarius this time around will be an entirely new critter, in another time and in truth another place.
That time and place is now. With the return of Chiron to Aquarius, my sense is that we will begin a reckoning process of what total immersion in television has done to us, to our sense of identity and our sense of belonging in this world.
We will look right at the subliminal messages that have until now been invisible.
And the Internet, the new medium of our day, will undergo a test of its power and integrity as a tool for social justice in a time when such is needed like never before.