Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Terry Gilliam Quote (Llama)

"I couldn't distinguish my dreams from the dreams that were being sold to me. . . . A simple thing like walking down the beach -- sun setting, birds flying, waves lapping, the sand beneath your feet: was I enjoying it because it was genuinely enjoyable to walk along the beach with the sun setting, or because I'd seen it in ten hundred thousand commercials telling me, 'This is what life is all about'? And I couldn't tell. I had to get out." - Terry Gilliam, 1986


pacatrue said...

I've been thinking about this quote a bit. It's not clear what to get from it exactly. What does it mean for something to be genuinely enjoyable? Sort of enjoyable by itself.... I don't know. Our experiences with things are part of why we enjoy them. People love a certain song because it reminds them of that trip to Grand Cayman. Or they love apples in part because their grandmother used to cut them up for them after school. Is the apple not genuinely enjoyable because it is associated with contingent memories that have nothing to do with the nature of the apple? I don't know where the exact line is between these sorts of experiences and the type Gilliam refers to, where commercials are telling you to like something. What's the precise difference between listening to a song because it makes you think of all your close friends, and listening to a song because your popular friends say it is cool? I don't know. Yet....

Killer Llama said...

Perhaps the sensation may be similar, but for me brilliant part of Gilliam's insight is the question of where that sensation originates. In one case (sand beneath footsteps, a good melody), the reaction to external stimuli is organic and direct; pleasure or revulsion is achieved independently, and thus, it seems to me, is more honest. In the other (peer or corporate influence), the reaction is based on a conditioning that has been imposed by some external actor, and thus, it seems to me, is less pure and less certain.

I think it's important not to conflate feelings of pleasure or revulsion derived from external stimuli and that derived from memories.

It is not clear, however, I agree with you. But here's an example that relates. You and I both will derive I certain amount of comfort from looking at, holding, and drinking a coca-cola. Coke was so prevelent during our childhood that for me, and I'm sure for you as well, that the mere presence of it is somewhat reassuring; in conjures forth warm feelings. Some, if not all of those feelings are based on association; since Coke was present when we were playing and having fun, drinking Coke today still, through association, brings back some of those feelings.

But that kind of feeling is not happenstance; Coke delibrately targets kids and tries to build brand loyalty for life. "Have a Coke and a smile," remember? Why didn't we like Pepsi? Because it tastes so much different?

The point isn't that Coke's marketting has ruined our childhood, just that it intruded in it. And alot of people have made alot of money by building that kind of brand loyalty. I still drink Coke over Pepsi to this day, and, honestly, it's not because of taste. That, I think is part of what he's talking about.

This is fairly stream-of-consciousness, so forgive me if it is rambling. But this quote is an excellent example of what I like about Gilliam, and is a perfect way to express a newfound skepticism torwards everthing that I am now experiencing at the age of 33.

pacatrue said...

Yeah, I get it. It's just that so much of what seems natural and inherent is from experience - and there's nothing wrong with that. To take the simple melody example, as you are likely well aware if you've heard much non-Western music in your travels, the way we hear even the simplest melodies changes based on how we grew up. Pretty much all musical cultures go up and down and they have some musical note they return to. After that, all bets are off. So my enjoyment of a melody, say Fur Elise (still playing?), is not just an association with particular memories, but is also a product of how I was taught music. Do I find that a beautiful melody because it is inherently beautiful, because I heard European music and know how it works, or because some teacher beat into me to give Beethoven a try, and that I should like it whether or not I currently do.

Maybe the difference is not the source of the experience (family:good; corporate: bad) but whether or not the indoctrination has any solid basis. So Coke's taste, though different, is not in fact a league above Pepsi. Coke does not in fact make you smile. Coke is not It. So we, being skeptical, start to realize that many of our thoughts have no basis. It's not that a marketing machine did it. If Coke spent 10 billion convincing the world that 2 and 2 is 4, it would still be right, and I should still believe it. It's that the beliefs inculcated are shallow at best.

So getting back to Gilliam, it's not thousands of commercials saying walking on the beach is nice that's the problem. They could be expressing something true. It's that Gilliam realized he wasn't sure there was anything behind those commercials. They were just images.

I don't know. I still don't think I've hit it. Basically, I am torn between two ideas. One is that you and Gilliam are correct. The other is that human beings are from the top to the bottom conditioned, experience based creatures. Even our genes depend on certain environmental factors popping up for them to express themselves. We are conditioned, period. So how do we say some conditioning is artifical and some is natural?

By the way, to give evidence that the world is in fact ending, I drink Diet Pepsi over Diet Coke (and I only drink diet now) because I think it tastes better.

Killer Llama said...

Yes, yes, I think you've expressed the problem exactly. It's not that corporate is bad nescessarily, but rather when it becomes impossible to tell when the boundary ends between what you believe is true and what others want you to believe is true. Certainly we are all conditioned by our environment, so some degree of ambiguity for this question must be allowed. But how far should we let others influence our beliefs, and, even more fundamentally, how do we recognize when that influence is occuring?

I think this even ties into my other post about the Da Vinci code and E's response to it. Do we believe in some God because it is what is natural to us, or because we have been indoctrinated into some dogma that may or may not be relevent to our current lives? Are years upon years of church going anything other than voluntary(?) brainwashing?

I think it's all just about being aware... aware that one's identity is formed by outside forces, and then making an informed choice about which forces to accept and which to reject. Just being aware gives us that choice. Gilliam's quote is that he lost that awareness.

Anonymous said...


I think Llama hit it in the last post. The nifty thing about Gilliam's quote (besides being amusing, because I, and quite possibly you two as well, have had a similar epiphany in the past few years) is that it acknowledges the awareness of the outside influences. If you are aware that outside influences are conditioning you in one direction or the other, you also become aware of the potential to evaluate the influences and, hopefully, exert some control over their impact upon you and your perceptions. The statement about "getting out" points out the free will aspect, i.e., going against the expected result of the conditioning and voicing dissent, through action or through voice.

Tony S.