Visualizing The Future

( A Mixed View )


The history of art is vast, starting with those cave paintings mentioned in the beginning of this article. And like those cave paintings, it's not always apparent what is being depicted and what message is being sent in any given artistic expression.

"Is Mickey Mouse Art?" was a rousing battle cry through the 60s and 70s, an issue that has since morphed into the same question regarding computer graphics. But more importantly, it's not a question of what art is, but what artistic expression says about the universe, and all the stuff in it.

Art history is far too vast a subject to be sufficiently covered in a series of articles, yet alone a series of books. In fact, art is everywhere. Historically, there is prehistoric art, ancient art (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Persia), middle ages (Jewish, early Christian, Islamic, Gothic), the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism, Victorian, Modernism, Impressionism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, and into the 20th century with Cubism, Futurism, Abstract, Art Deco, Dadaism, Surrealism, Pop Art, Kinetic Art, and a host of other movements and styles.

Cultural differences are as vast as the mere mention of countries, from China to India, the Americas to the Middle East, and the 200 +/- countries that belong to the United Nations. Nor are cultures unified by geographical borders. In New York, for instance, sometimes turning a corner can be as dramatically different as crossing the borders from China through Europe into Italy.

Clearly, art is highly subjective, from both the creator and viewer perspective, where the goal was never to capture reality, but to interpret it. Of course, realism became a movement, where the goal of drawings and paintings was to capture something so realistic as to be indistinguishable from photos. But photos are not living, breathing representations of reality either. The quality of the film, the camera, the lighting and development processing, are all factors that generate varying levels of realism.

Yet, some paintings are mesmerizing in their ability to transport a viewer into what appears to be real. And with 3D computer modeling, some objects become even more real than in real life. With 3D modeling, we can view an object in its entirety, including what's inside. We can highlight aspects of the object that go unnoticed by the naked eye.

On a world scale, the differences in artistic expression are, well, so different, it's almost hard to imagine we're all from the same planet. To appreciate art from countries other than our own requires some understanding of our cultural differences, and how those differences express entirely different worldviews from our own.

There is a movement--although it doesn't really have a name--designed to eradicate our cultural differences. Nothing fuels this movement more than the desire to make English the universal language. But it might not be so hegemonic as it first appears. The movement could very well be a practical one. As technology moves us closer to a unified world, we need to communicate in a language everyone understands. Language then, is a barrier.

However, the choice of English as the universal language is very telling in itself. First, who is doing the choosing? Is there really a consensus amongst nations to head in this direction? Globalization is not just about the quest for a universal language, but also the Americanization or westernization of global cultures.

The practical necessities of everyday life are not conducive to cultural expression, especially when such expression gets in the way of business. For instance, when a country exposes another country to a new technological development, the ability to do so is severely restricted by the time it takes to interpret one language into another. For that reason alone, multi-lingual employees are favored to make the exchange more efficient and less time consuming.

Differences in creativity span not only across geographical boundaries, but time as well. Our world would seem bland and colorless without the richness of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Asian and American Indian art. Plus, creativity is not confined merely to hobbies and ways to pass the time. The line between creativity and innovation--with innovation seemingly having a more practical value--is a thin one. Like the use of computers in movie making and the use of graphics in science, the relationship between art and innovation is a symbiotic one.

The old adage, "Invention is the mother of necessity," does not necessarily reveal where artists and inventors get their inspiration. The desire to fly might not have come from the need to transport the largest number of travelers in the shortest amount of time. The inspiration could very well have come from a painting of birds in flight.

The view that art is something impractical fails to appreciate something inherent in all human endeavors. Grecian urns were not just for carrying water. They had artistic shape with elaborate paintings on the sides. Fast-forwarding to modern times, airplanes are not pink or rainbow-colored. Why? Houses and cars certainly come in a variety of colors, and most architecture is appreciated for looks even more so than function.

Entire empires and civilizations, past and current, are recognized for art, perhaps more so than in terms of being advanced societies or possessing superior scientific capability. We marvel at the beauty of pyramids, 100 foot ornate columns and cobble stone streets, with disregard for any practical value. We place tremendous value on preserving the "beauty" of the past, much in the same way we value nature untouched by human intervention.

When a real estate developer surveys an area of land motivated by a housing shortage, a beautiful lake just gets in the way. But the practical value of beauty is something we might not be able to articulate. To an environmentalist, the lake is beautiful because it is the home to a variety of wildlife. Its beauty lies in ecological balance with the forests, fields, mountains and deserts that surround it.

Globalization, westernization and modernization might be one and the same. Kids in America are much more preoccupied with Playstations and iPods than with the mysteries of ancient Chinese drawings or the spiritual meaning behind African pottery. Ironically, drawing and painting is a prevalent activity throughout American K-12 schools, especially pre-school.

Pop culture is an entity all its own. Las Vegas is a good example of where culture is meaningless, outside of being a gimmick to attract tourists. Las Vegas is a cultural soup of pyramids and Eiffel Towers, pirate ships and Roman architecture, the streets of New York and the canals of Venice, all thrown onto the same 20 mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard. Visiting museum exhibits compete for tickets against world wrestling and rodeo championships. Techno-dance pounds away in dozens of late night, erotically charged clubs while retired "snowbirds" from the Midwest take in a Wayne Newton concert.

Vegas has nothing to do with preserving cultural heritage, global or American. It's a lure for gambling. But Vegas is no different than any other tourist trap, where culture is the primary calling card and means of making money. Is this bad? It's hard to say. But, it's an ironic twist when Americans travel to other lands to see different cultures only to find a McDonald's, a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger everywhere they go.

Pop culture in America can get a little trashy. There is as much interest in the drug and sex habits of Hollywood movie stars as there is in the latest roles they played. America-especially the media-loves to rate celebrities on scales of 1-10: Who's the hottest, sexiest, and most beautiful? The magazine shelves in grocery stores abound with covers of beautiful starlets, nearly all under the age of 30.

So where is the art? Can a painter make a living today? Or is there a new art-technology art? We express ourselves through electronic gadgets, many of which, ironically, are used to share photos. In some filmmaking circles, calling a movie an "art film" is an insult. There is such a thing as trying to be too artistic, apparently.

Advertising commercials are the new art. Auto manufacturers spend billions on design alone, over and above safety and function. Gated communities are landscaped with exotic plants and water fountains. MP3 players are sleek and pastel-colored. Designer clothing says so much more than jeans and a pair of work boots. And in Hollywood, space ship explosions, fast car chases and giant robot wars are the new art, far more exciting than standing in a museum looking at a boring landscape or some old Queen from who knows where.

In Tampa, Florida, water pumps are painted blue. Outside of Las Vegas, bridges over interstate highways are painted by Native Americans. In Bemidji, Minnesota, huge statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, have stood for decades. In Los Angeles and New York, entire walls and buildings are dedicated to graffiti.

Again, art is everywhere.


Before the 17th century, the terms astrology and astronomy were often interchangeable. Astronomy was considered more mathematical and astrology more philosophical. Sadly, despite the popularity of astrological predictions found in magazines and newspaper, astrology as a science has lost credibility. Events on earth are linked with events in the sky, with all life regulated by the movements of the sun, moon, planets and other celestial bodies. Both astronomy and astrology are based on these celestial occurrences.

Earthly events such as floods, droughts, seasons and the ocean's tides, linked with the rotation of celestial bodies, are relatively easy to understand. The scientific correlations have been proven time and again. But other events don't have such a strong correlation, and could only be explained by religion and symbolic connections.

The Babylonians are generally credited with the birth of astrology, a mixture of astronomy, mathematics, religion and mythology. Astrological charts were used to predict seasonal change and various celestial events. Babylonian astrology was introduced to the Greeks early in the 4th century B.C. and, through the studies of Plato, Aristotle, and others, astrology came to be highly regarded as a science. It was soon embraced by the Romans (the Roman names for the zodiac signs are still used today) and the Arabs and later spread throughout the entire world.

Astrology attempts to bring order out of chaos. This is reflected in the astrological musings found in popular magazines and newspapers, where advice given is predicated on the belief a person's life is an unsolved puzzle. It is also a device used to predict the future.

In earlier centuries, it was used to predict weather patterns largely for agricultural purposes. But eventually it broadened to include forecasts of natural disasters, war and other events in the course of human affairs. The accuracy of these predictions or lack there of, partly explains why astrology isn't taken seriously. There's no mathematical, scientific basis for predicting human events, like there is for predicting physical events that occur as regularly repeated patterns. But, the inability of science to accurately predict social, cultural and personal change explains why religion, myth and astrology are so popular.

The zodiac comes from the Greek word meaning "circle of animals." It is believed to have developed in ancient Egypt, later adopted by the Babylonians. Early astrologers first learned about the twelve lunar cycles. Twelve constellations were then identified to correspond with the lunar cycles.

The signs of the zodiac are subdivided into four groups:

Fire signs: Aries, Sagittarius, Leo
Water signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Air sings: Libra, Aquarius, Gemini
Earth signs: Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo

Each of these four groups is inscribed in its own quadrant or "house" on a circle. The division of the twelve houses is based on the earth's daily rotation. Astrologers link these divisions with human activity such as relationships, travel, finance and career path. However, the division of the twelve signs of the zodiac is based on the earth's yearly rotation around the sun and astrologers relate these divisions to character, such as Venus and affection or Mercury with speech and writing. Each planet rules two signs and the sun and moon rule one sign each.

A horoscope is a map of the zodiac circle with the earth at the center. The top of the circle represents the sun at its highest point during the day and left and right of that are the eastern and western horizons. A horoscope charts the relative positions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars at a specific time and place, such as a birth date. Astrologers use sidereal time (measured from the equinox), rather than clock time. Once the date and time are selected and calculated as sidereal time and the location known and plotted, the astrologer consults an ephemeris. An ephemeris is a table listing the angles and locations of the sun, moon, planets, and constellations at any given time. From this, a chart is constructed.

Computer software programs are now used to construct charts, which can be mathematically complex. However, the real art and science of astrology comes into play in the attempt to interpret the charts. Some people are superstitious, while others derive whatever meaning they can.

Astrology is often defined in dictionaries as "the ancient art or science of divining the fate and future of human beings from indications given by the position of stars and other heavenly bodies." In ancient times, it was once believed Gods-represented by celestial bodies-determined fate. For instance, Mars was the God of war. There is a temptation for those with Mars as their birth sign to believe they somehow possess war-like qualities, like that of a soldier. In turn, Libra is symbolized by the scale, and it's easy to believe that by symbol alone Librans search for balance and justice.

These myths from ancient times have survived through the centuries, and understandably so. Science has proven there is no sun God or other Gods embodied in the shape of celestial bodies. But, it has not disproved the existence of a God as the creator of life. Astronomers surround themselves with fancy telescopes, supercomputers, build academic departments devoted to the science, and spout forth exotic theories about space, time, light and gravity. But the Big Bang theory has no more scientific basis than intelligent design, a phrase currently popular in today's evolution vs. God debate.

It's not astrology's job to prove the existence of God. It's more mystical than that, as so much of life is as well. Mysticism not only gives us meaning but also adds color and even fun in our lives. Without denigrating the seriousness of astrology, astrology turns the universe into somewhat of a celestial playground, where the human spirit is free to see whatever it wants to see...until science proves otherwise.


Perhaps no area of scientific inquiry is least understood than the mysteries of dreams. We can catalog black holes and electron orbits, turn light into energy and produce a slew of devices based on a host of scientific principles, but dreams are just something you wake up after and forget.

Dream interpretations were documented in clay tablets as far back as 3000-4000 B.C. But that says little when we've been dreaming since the first day humans walked the earth. A number of primal, ancient and even current primitive societies don't distinguish between the dream world and reality. In other words, dreams are real. What happens in dreams really happens. If reality is used as a measuring stick for the interpretation of dreams, then dreams cannot possibly be real. Dreams are then just the result of overactive imaginations.

Back in the Greek and Roman era, dream interpreters accompanied military leaders into battle. So did astrologists. What affect this had on the fall and rise of such empires is a question for historians. Dreams were often seen as messages from the Gods. They were seen in a religious context and in Egypt, priests also acted as dream interpreters. The Egyptians recorded their dreams in hieroglyphics. People with particular vivid and significant dreams were believed to be blessed and were considered special. Just who was deciding what dreams were blessed and special has its parallel in today's movie critics.

People who had the power to interpret dreams were looked up to and seen as divinely gifted. In the bible, there are hundreds of mentions concerning dreams. But priests and pastors today are not good sources to go to for interpretation of dreams, unless there is a desire to place all of what we dream in the context of divine intervention. Dreams are frequently sexual, and morality could very well get in the way of what such dreams really mean.

Dreams were also seen as prophetic, and still are. People often looked to their dreams for signs of warning or advice. It was an oracle or omen from outside spirits, whether it was a message from a deity, from the dead, or even the devil himself. Dreams were used as tools by healers in understanding what was wrong with a dreamer.

We are no longer influenced by many Gods. Most religions today have reduced many to just one. God is speaking to us through our dreams, but very few people have a grip on just exactly what messages are being sent.

Dreams might be actual places our spirits visit every night. Sometimes we look forward to these "movies" in our head. Other times, dreams are nightmares. Psychologists say dreams are a form of release. We can express our desires in dreams in ways we could never do in reality. Sigmund Freud, in his Interpretation of Dreams, was extremely influential in acknowledging the importance of dreams. But the world of dreams is far too vast and mythological to be reduced to a clinical analysis, where dreams are an expression or release of anxiety, neurosis, or even psychosis.

Dreams could be visions of the past, visions of the future, or the dead invading our psyches to tell us things. Dreams are far too disjointed to make sense out of them in the way we construct a movie, say, out of a screenplay that follows a logical plot line. Dreams are linear, up to a point.

We follow along a progression of events, then suddenly, a totally unrelated image appears. We can't make sense out of it all. Cartoons get mixed with faces of people we either might've known, or have never known. We visit exotic landscapes, fight battles with faceless creatures, read books upside down written in unexplainable languages, fly, fall and scream, all without any apparent reason.

Dreams certainly don't follow any kind of natural progression from one night to the next. It's sort of like going to the movies and whatever happens to be playing, that's what we see. However, some dreams are recurring, even haunting. When dreams get in the way of normal functioning, that's when they get attention.

The movies have explored the realm of dreams, either directly or indirectly. Frequently, the story centers somewhere around fear of the dark and the inability to sleep because of what might be under the bed. Examples include Nightmare on Elm Street, Deadzone, and Flatline, and Field of Dreams.

However, Deadzone was more about clairvoyance-a man who has visions of the future whenever he touches another persons hand. Flatline toyed more with the afterlife, or near-afterlife, but since the characters did not actually die, the visions they had were more the result of a deep sleep. Field of Dreams has dreams in the title, but the story is more about wish fulfillment than an exploration of dreams. Dreams are often thought of as expressions of wish fulfillment.

What is most puzzling is our inability to remember our dreams. Everyone has experienced at one time or another difficulty in describing a dream to someone else. But it might not be as painful as listening to someone else try in vain to tell us their dreams. The descriptions are usually accompanied with distorted faces, puzzled by fractured images, mystified by surreal. Inevitably, we then walk away with no more mention, simply because we have no comprehension whatsoever of what the dream meant or the significance of dreams in our lives.

It is sad that our culture or cultures blow off dreams as if they were the creations of a mad artist.

The Paranormal: Things We See No One Else Sees

It's amazing what we see and how we see, but it's even more amazing what we see that isn't there. Of course, numerous accounts of the weird, strange, unexplained and the paranormal tell a different story. Maybe not everyone saw something, but someone did, at least, that's what they claimed. In many cases there are photos to prove it. Unfortunately, because of so many photographic process tricks, pictures become equally suspect

Media has a long history of fascination with the occult, bizarre, strange, weird and paranormal side of life, from radio's Only the Shadow Knows to Rod Serling's hugely popular Twilight Zone , to movies like Ghost, Poltergeist, Hide and Seek, Signs and others.

It's important to understand that many movies that seem to be about the paranormal are really about something else. The movie, Ghost , features, well, a ghost, but it's really a love story. Poltergeist addresses head on what happens when people mess around with graveyards, but it's really a story about greed. Although the little girl is trapped inside a TV, there is the slight hint at virtual reality and the desire to enter into a TV show instead of passively watching it. The movie, Pleasantville , does this directly, where characters are sucked into a black and white 50s scenario and a world where color is taboo.

Mindreading is frequently dealt with humorously in the movies, such as Mel Gibson in What Women Want and Bruce Willis is the talking baby movie, Look Who's Talking .

Animation techniques are sophisticated enough to make creatures of all types appear as though they can talk, act and feel just like us normal folk. If all else fails, voice-over narration picks up where animation leaves off.

In Ghost , we can hear the voice of a dead person because of two reasons: one is the suspension of disbelief and the other is by allowing the audience to hear something other characters in the movie don't hear. It takes Whopi Goldberg's character, with a peculiar gift and special receptivity for hearing voices from the dead, to convey messages from the dead person (Patrick Swayze) to the living (Demi Moore).

In The Shining , Jack Nicholson's character hears voices from the dead, and because of it, it ultimately drives him insane.

Sean Patrick Flanery's character in the movie, Powder , has the ability to bend forks and make a hunter feel the pain and suffering of a dying deer just after it was brutally shot. Near the end of the movie, it's revealed his powers come from a divine or cosmic source. The goal of the story is to connect us with something larger than ourselves and that when we hurt something or someone, it affects the universe. It's a bit of a twist on chaos theory.

Religion and the Paranormal

No area generates more controversy in the unseeable than religion. From burning witches at the stake to modern day chants, "I've seen the glory of God," believers make astounding claims of seeing things that can't be seen.

Statues and drawings of Jesus are known to bleed. Rising from the grave is not a Jesus exclusive. Night of the Living Dead is but one of tons of movies where the dead rise from murky shallow graves to haunt the living.

The quest for the Shroud of Turin, Noah's Ark and the Holy Grail is a lifelong ambition for some.

In Hollywood, no film struck terror in religious hearts more than The Exorcist (1973). Linda Blair's head turning a full 360 degrees and vomiting streams of green gob was enough to frighten anyone.

Besides great special F/X that scared the hell out of everyone--pun intended--what was the religious message of The Exorcist ? The devil embodies evil and anything evil is the devil. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

The sheer belief that God speaks to us is bound to conjure up a slew of voices...and images. However, no actor in his/her right mind would ever play the role of God. Afterall, what does God sound like? Well, that's not true. Only one of the funniest comedians of all time, George Burns, would dare embody the spirit of the Lord and smoke a cigar at the same time.

The fact that many see Jesus as white and handsome has generated enough controversy as it is. In The Exorcist , the devil allegedly spoke in many tongues, but what audiences heard was primarily a deep, ominous male voice.

Once again, both God and Devil are men. Where are women in this charade?

The devil wears many a disguise, but most people peg him as a male--red, with horns, carrying a three-pronged fork. Interestingly, the issue of whether God or the Devil is a woman is one repeatedly ignored. Occasionally there is a reference to women, such as the band INXS and their song, "Every Single Woman Has The Devil Inside," or maybe the movie classics, The Devil In Ms. Jones , which took form as both a 1940s thriller and a 1970s classic porno film.

There's an angel on every shoulder. Usually it's a classic angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. How many people actually see these angels is a scary thought. But thanks to Hollywood and animation, we can put an angel on a shoulder and actually have some very fun conversations.

Angels have wings and many people believe in their existence as much as they believe God is a man or Jesus had a beard. Angels aren't the only creatures that can fly. Fairies, Pegasus, various Gods and of course most ghosts can not only fly but move through walls. There are even a few flying pigs and elephants floating around out there in someone's imagination.

The key point here is not so much what we see that others don't see, but that we can see anything we want in our mind's eye. We don't just believe something; there's almost always a visual to go with sound F/X.

The bible--and its many versions--is filled with astounding tales as common as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Water turns to wine. A man lives in a whale. A sea is parted. Angels fall from grace. A snake talks to Adam, and a woman is born from his rib.

Artists have plenty of work as long as people keep imagining such tales. The Bible was never illustrated. Yet, every priest and pastor has a picture of Jesus on the wall in their office.

And what is not visualized by something resembling real life, it is represented by a symbol.

Symbolism is especially important in terms of what we see. There can be no greater examples than the cross and the flag.

Every major--and in most cases, minor--corporation has an identifiable logo as easily recognizable as the faces of our own mothers. Some people might confuse McDonald's Golden Arches with the Gates of Heaven.

But religion goes way back to a time when there were many Gods, not just one. The Greeks had their Gods. The Egyptians had theirs. And the Chinese, East Indians and Aztecs each had their own cast of Gods.

There was a God for everything and they did some very crazy things: the God of Thunder, the God of Wine, the God of War, the Goddess of Love and the Goddess of Fertility. Finally, women had roles to play. They were one big family with a considerable amount of dysfunction.

Did people actually see these Gods, beyond mere representations in cloud formations? And what was the embarrassing moment when people finally realized that, well, we really can't see Gods? But then, ironically, as much as we make fun of multiple Gods, it sure doesn't stop us from seeing a single God.

If you don't know what something looks like--like a God--then how would you know how to react? For instance, "The Gods will get you," must've conjured up the worst images and fears for a hapless peasant in ancient Rome. And the shift from many Gods to one God must've been--and still is--a most difficult transition since the believer must prove there is only one God...without any photos as evidence.

The paradox becomes even more complex when a Muslim God takes on an entirely different appearance than a Christian one.

Perhaps no pair of images captures the imagination more than that of Heaven and Hell. How we see what isn't there is even amazingly still captured in color. The devil is red, not green or yellow. Hell is also red, being full of fire. Heaven is white, floating on a soft pillow of air.

Both places have the eternity tag attached to them, a very persuasive means of instilling fear one way or the other. If whatever happens after death is going to happen forever, well, that just makes the images much more vivid...and scary.

Heaven is above and hell is below. Hell is someplace in the center of our planet and Heaven is somewhere up in the stars. Most assuredly, we've proven that there is no place in the core of our planet where people dwell. It's really just a swirl of molten rock. Perhaps that's hell enough.

In fact, even the most vehement believers confess to knowing Heaven and Hell are not real places, but more a state of mind. But just what is a state of mind? What do people see when they see heaven and hell?

This might be a key to understanding the power of religion. Actual pictures are not needed in the game of persuasion. Religious leaders count on the fact that most believers and believers-to-be have over-active imaginations. Say the word "hell" and watch them shudder. Say the word "heaven" and watch them put their hands together in prayer.

Heaven or hell is the best we have to offer so far when it comes to seeing the afterlife. Ask anyone what they "see" when they try to imagine life after death, and most likely the images will be some variation of heaven or hell.

What else IS there? Do we just float around in the stars, become part of the electromagnetic wave, or turn into living photons?


How much ghosts are the result of religious beliefs is a subject for historical research. The point is, people see ghosts all the time, religious or not.

Ghosts are a way to bring the dead back to life. Somehow, it just doesn't make sense that someone we saw yesterday we can't see tomorrow because they've, well, they've disappeared.

Where do dead people go? This complex question has spawned enough Hollywood movies to fill libraries. The Horror genre has given us such classics as Alfred Hitchcock's, The Birds , the film version of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein , and superstars Bella Lugosi as Dracula and Lon Chaney as the Werewolf . The cheesy Night of the Living Dead is a cult classic. The movie, Halloween , which was originally released in 1978, has at least 7 sequels to its credit.

Symbolism plays an important role in visions of werewolves and vampires. They come out at night. The night is scary. The day is safe. Full moons are particularly mysterious, especially with eerie clouds floating through the light and the wind is howling. Dracula wears a black silk cape with red interior. That's quite a fashion statement. The werewolf is, well, a man that looks like a wolf. Are there female werewolves, or is this just a guy thing? Female vampires, strangely enough, are well known for their sexuality.

Ghosts don't generally hang around new places, even if people died in them. Ghosts dwell in old places, like Victorian houses and Egyptian tombs. No one in a modern day office is going to suddenly announce to their boss they've just seen a ghost under their desk. Such a truism is indicative of how most people don't believe in such fantasies; that ghosts are just "figments of your imagination."

Even inanimate objects are known to possess--with a strong emphasis on the word possess--human characteristics. Houses moan while two windows look like eyes and the door is the mouth. Trees have arms and fog searches the land for victims. Now that artificial intelligence is becoming mainstream, there's no reason to believe a computer crash is not the result of an attitude problem. It even gets silly, like happy flying Volkswagens (Disney's, The Love Bug ).


In America and a few other countries, there is no more fun time than Halloween, especially if there's a haunted house to visit.

Ghosts love Halloween, since its the one time of year they have they opportunity to scare non-believers. But then, Halloween is more about giving out free candy and going to fun parties than it is a shared exploration of things we don't see.

Halloween dates back 2000 years. The Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.

Halloween is a major exercise in seeing the unseeable. Virtually every imaginary character is represented on the night of October 31st. The list is far-ranging: Comic book heroes and heroines, past Presidents, Greek Gods, werewolves and other monsters, Hollywood and music superstars, Disney cartoon characters. There's always a contest to see who can come up with the most creative costume.

Mediums make their living off of conjured spirits. Most people who ever participate in a séance are going to see and hear something, the reason being, they want to. The guy who didn't see or hear anything and snubs his nose in disbelief will most certainly never get invited back to the next one.

Fortune Tellers

Crystal balls, tarot cards and tea leaves each have their share of believers and practitioners. Palm readers are also popular.

But just exactly what does a palm reader see in the hand we don't? Does the palm reader have some kind of specialized visual translation software installed in their minds?

If crystal balls really worked, wouldn't everyone have one? Or does it require specialized training to look into a glass ball and see the future or past? Maybe it's a talent. The trick is, is that we must believe what the "gypsy" sees, since we can't see it ourselves.

Most people suspect that fortune tellers see what they think we want them to see. They are excellent judges of character, and of course, a positive vision always uplifts the spirit.

Fortune telling has little scientific validity, if any. But perhaps more importantly, is that maybe some people don't want to see the future, for fear that what they might see will not necessarily be that positive.

Children's Fairytales

Go into any decent size book store into the Children's book section, and a world full of fantasy opens up far beyond the classics. We all know Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel , and Little Red Riding Hood don't exist, but children don't. What's most popular with kids, from books to Disney movies and cartoons, is talking animals.


In America, the two party systems of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are as split down the middle as black and white, no pun intended. Civil debate is supposed to be the cornerstone of democracy, but anyone with even the slightest clue about politics knows politics is about power. The two parties are two indelibly distinct "views" of the world--frequently at blaringly opposite ends of the spectrum.

What the images or icons of the donkey and the elephant have come to mean is so strong, that voting on issues is frequently split down party lines, regardless of the issue. It's two parties like two football teams, and the goal is to win the game. Sacrificing individual beliefs for party beliefs is subject to severe party pressure.

The Unexplained

The world is jam-packed full of thrilling and controversial yet unexplained events and locations. Stonehenge and the Isle of Wight have as many theories about why they exist and the magic they conjure as there are tourists that visit these sites annually.

Strange geometric patterns are cut out of corn fields, frequently explained as the work of aliens. Mother Nature is full of freakish rock carvings and it's anyone's guess if humans or aliens played a role, or if it's just the playground for the sun and wind.

Mirrors and ponds and lakes reflect back faces other than the person looking into them.

Who can't see a face or object in the clouds as they roll by?


Today's Gods and Goddesses exist in the form of Hollywood, pop music and other celebrities and stars. Many of these stars have reached such mythical proportions they no longer seem human. In Las Vegas, there's an Elvis on every corner. Marilyn Monroe still reigns as the sexiest woman ever.

Who these people are is nothing compared to what people see them as. Even paparazzi, gossip columnists and "inside entertainment" shows fail to humanize them, such as when they punch a photographer or are captured without any makeup on.

Michael Jackson has become a true mythical character that not even years of court cases and plastic surgery can erase. But Michael is by no means alone. Willie Nelson is America's number one modern day rebel. Dolly Parton's breasts seem to grow with each passing year, unfortunately masking her phenomenal talent as a songwriter, singer and performer. Babe Ruth baseball cards are worth 1000s, maybe even millions.

Clearly, the inability or desire to not want to accept the finality of death explains to a large degree the existence of the paranormal. Some people we don't want to ever die. Others we want dead, but their evil ways continue to haunt us long after they've been buried.


Cartoons give us talking animals, a fantasy that dates back to fantasy novels like Alice in Wonderland. Whether it's a cartoon character talking or voice-over narration, it's a dramatic device for exploring the inner thoughts of others, and the thoughts and feelings of animals.

Walt Disney, and the company he built, has become an American institution. The cultural and social impact of Disney, Warner and other independently produced cartoon series and movies defies measurement.

We grow up with animals as our friends, meanwhile consuming them as a primary food source. Some animals we eat, some we don't. But even the ones we eat have found a mythical life like Elsie the Cow or Red the Rooster. Wiley E. Fox is an endangered species, and Pepe LePew the skunk, is considered by many to be a pesky, smelly rodent.

All told, this creates a moral dilemma between protecting the environment and the human need for survival. It's more confusing where children are concerned, since young children think all animals are their friends. Children's stories and our education system share the burden of responsibility of children's perceptions of the world, along with the creator's of cartoons.

Animation has become quite sophisticated, so much so, that in many movies, it's hard to tell where animation begins and reality ends. Films like the Matrix, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter (and all the sequels) are just shy of being full fledged cartoons-realistic cartoons, if you will. These movies fall more into the fantasy and sci-fi categories than the animated film category, but the line is thin.

Ironically, as we get older, we seem to forget about cartoons. It seems unimaginable for a person in their 30s, 40s and on up, to be caught sitting around watching cartoons. What's even more ironic is that much of the dialog and even action in cartoons is incomprehensible to the age group that does watch them.

Animated films like Shrek, It's a Bug's Life and Toy Story, continue to hold audiences imaginations well into adulthood. Animation is used prolifically in the sciences. But watching a nanorobot steering a course through the bloodstream or an animated documentary on DNA chains can hardly be called cartoons.

Sex, Money and Violence

Of the three areas most controversial in society and culture-sex, money, and violence-sex is the most controversial. The alleged accidental exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl in 2004 created more of a stir than all the violent video games, TV shows and movies put together that year. The sex taboo has spawned a multi-billion dollar pornography industry, an industry that showed Wall Street how to make money on the Internet.

Movies are rated. Channel blocking devices are installed in TVs. Parental control software is installed on computers. Obviously, the most apparent reason is to protect children. But the fear goes far beyond the fear of molesters. It's a fear of sex itself.

Violence is rampant in the media. Some of the most well known actors are known for their ability to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time, using every conceivable weapon known to humankind. Arnold Schwarzenegger's success in politics is largely because he's the Terminator, and terminators get the job done. We admire public figures, especially politicians, who have the "killer instinct," not the "sexual instinct." And it certainly helps to have a military background, which is why former President Bill Clinton was perceived by conservatives as weak.

Kids spend hours if not days killing aliens, robots and monsters of various types while playing video games. Murder mysteries and thrillers dominate the media landscape, ranging from film versions of Agatha Christie novels to movies like Silence of the Lambs and TV shows like CSI. TV news and newspaper headlines are rife with violence, whether in the form of war or crime.

The lust for money is equally popular, from robbing casinos in Ocean's 11 to the celebration of greed in Wall Street. Suitcases full of money, huge inheritances, winning the lotto, high tech jewelry heists, all serve as inspiration for a slew of movies. Characters like Jesse James (numerous movies), who would be serving life by today's criminal standards, and Al Pacino in Scarface, a ruthless drug dealer, become celebrated folk heroes, despite their crimes.

As for sex, shows like Queer Folks for a Straight Guy and L Word use the freedom of cable TV to cut through the barriers of regular broadcasting. However, regular TV is full of hypocrisy, from bouncing female lifeguards in Baywatch to bouncing girls on trampolines featured regularly on The Man Show. TV history is riddled with gorgeous women flaunting their assets, from I Dream of Genie and Gilligan's Island to Friends, Dallas and The Nanny.

The movie Kinsey was an intelligently written biopic not only focusing on one of the 21st centuries greatest scientists, but also the obstacles he faced in a society saturated with denial, hypocrisy and guilt because of sex. Still, what ever liberties the movie took in discussing sex openly, there was still no nudity.

We can go to the beach and see bikini-clad women and men strutting their stuff. We can view lingerie ads in fashion magazines as long as they are "tastefully" photographed, and frequently in black and white. We can watch dozens of love scenes in movies, many of which are some of the most treasured scenes in all movie history. We can even play around with lesbian themes on TV like in Zena: Princess Warrior. However we cut the moral cake, what we can't see is nudity.

Image: How Do I Look?

Looks are everything-so they say. Some companies and occupations--even entire industry sectors--are devoted entirely to making something or someone look good. In all areas of corporate endeavor, marketing, advertising and promotion departments have the biggest budgets. With the media on the front line, the goal is to persuade consumers buy things and services they may or may not need. And the competition is fierce.

The reference to consumer as opposed to people is a deliberate one. It demonstrates how we see each other, and reducing flesh and blood, feelings and thoughts, into mindless automatons with expendable cash flow is not helping us to see who we really are.

Looks and style is often more important than substance. Ironically, the reasoning is often practical. In a media saturated culture, competition centers on attention spans, and image makers have less than a second to capture a consumer's or audience's imagination. It's not a question of having choices; it's a question of too many choices. Too many choices can apply equally to stars, politicians and religious leaders as it does to cars, MP3 players, and stock investments.

The fashion industry is on call 24/7, ready to embark on an image making mission no less efficient than a military strike. The mission could be a star's gown at an awards ceremony, the President's tie during a State of the Union address, or a 13-girl trying to fit in a new school. Hair styles range from pig-tails to crewcuts. Makeup can be a touch of rouge lipstick to a strategically placed tattoo. Jewelry can be a pierced ear to a diamond-studded necklace. Clothing knows no bounds, from jeans to designer gowns, from tennis shoes to lingerie.

Every fashion detail is meticulously attended to. Red might be too bold. A curl on the forehead might be too sexy. A nose ring automatically defines rebellion. With products, bright pastels suggest teens, curvy shapes are erotic, and devices with lots of knobs, buttons and fancy LCDs represent sophistication and high-tech.

Image is not necessarily always visible. Politicians use smear campaigns to make a rival "look" bad. Paparazzi seek out the immoral, especially if they happen to be "the beautiful people." Supreme Court justices are put through grueling Senate inquiries to ensure there are no skeletons in the closet.

^ Top ^