This spring we will read One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, but we also read Jia Tolentino’s article ”The I in the Internet”.
These two texts seem to have nothing to do with one another, but actually, they share the same preoccupation: social control of the individual and fiction’s influence on the world of the living.
In Cuckoo’s Nest we find a story of how a mental hospital works like a machine to discipline and control ”insanity”, craziness. In the story, patients are monitored, shamed, dominated, and even physically abused. But most of them don’t strike us as insane or psychotic, but rather as quirky, or weird.
Doctors and nurses dominate the inmates by, for instance, controlling what is said and how it is interpreted, and even through (mock) democracy the patients are brought to submission, brought to conform to what is considered ”normal” by those who are in charge. The nurses and doctors have the power to define who is, and who isn’t normal. Inmates are forced to confess to inner secrets and are shamed for them, and the significance of their confessions belong to those in power, not to those who uttered them. This is an example of how modern power, in a sense, controls language and meaning.
Furthermore, the book gives us a story which uses fiction as a reference, metaphor, and comparison . Ultimately the use of fictional references, clichés, and stereotypes becomes a pattern hard not to notice in the book. Characters are a bit likecardboard stereotypes: drunk, fighting Irishmen, stupid black men, evil – or sexually repressed women with a need for power over men. The stereotypes, the clichés, and the world of fiction become visible to us, and we realize that although these conventions are wrong and racist, or misogynistic they still influence this world, since it shapes our perception of the world.
In ”The I of the Internet”, we are shown how social media relies heavily on photoshopped photos, photos of ideal brunches, and perfect settings. This creates pressure to live up to ideals that aren’t real, but fiction.
We are also shaped by the selection of news, the pages that Google prioritizes. Try to find out how many people got killed in Iraq due to sanctions in the 1990s, for instance. (I tried, but did not succeed). And try to find out how many died in the Armenian genocide, early 1900s. How come you can find out about something that happened 120 years ago, but not about something that happened 20 years ago? Is the facts filtered out? Are there forces that control what is said and what it means in society today?
Online we are also disciplined by the likes and thumbs up of the crowd, or shamed, or met by hate from trolls. We even have to self-monitor and keep a steady eye on what we say and write on the Internet, as things once published can stay forever, affecting our careers, our dating, etc.
There is at the same time a strong pressure to show yourself on the internet. To be visible, or even hyper-visible. Constantly posting on Twitter and Instagram. Constantly seen and judged. Disciplined. We have a freedom to express ourselves but we are aware of the pressure of our times, and it is difficult to not fall in line.
Some scholars nowadays talk about a new kind of ”cyberculture” and ”the global standardization of thought”, of how we are disciplined to think the same way, (the normal way). They speak of a society much like the one in Cuckoo’s Nest.
- Try to find out how many people got killed in Iraq due to sanctions in the 1990s, for instance. (I tried, but did not succeed). And try to find out how many died in the Armenian genocide, early 1900s. How come you can find out about something that happened 120 years ago, but not about something that happened 20 years ago, do you think?
2. In what sense do we live in a society controlled by what others expect and run by people who decide what is right and what is wrong?
Minimum requirement 10 sentences or half a page,