Commuting to work on the unending train all summer, droves of people are stuffed together ever consumed by media and entertainment that was designed to take us out of the moment. I started thinking a familiar thought. It is the same thought that was pervasive in my mind in the years that led to my departure to grad school to find more meaning in my life and work. It’s the same thought that I have in the conversations I overhear whenever I go on vacation or in the bars when people get off work. That our culture, and I think most people are aware of this, no longer has a deep meaning behind life or that we as a people no longer find any mysticism in the world. Instead we go off escaping this difficult problem by numbing ourselves and pretending that our daily lives are not exactly what they are, and as a consequence we are buying prescribed experiences instead of making them.
The wonder and unknown in the universe is no longer present and the comfort of a universal truth, as a whole culture, has disappeared in place of being able to buy pre-written lives. So what are we left with? An emptiness that we find picking and choosing different determined stories and traditions to fill it with. When this happens you are not risking anything and the rewards from living this way are far from fruitful because much of your choice of the matter is taken out of it. You are reading the stories of your own life before you are living it but the problem is you’ve read this story many times before.
It’s the same existential dread that follows me around and why I find myself very antsy all the time. I think most people deep down feel this too but don’t know what to do with it or are afraid of what could happen if they cancelled their contracts for a pursuit of comfort. There isn’t anything meaningful that can come out of comfort. So when you sign this contract you try and find other ways to fulfill this void, and the powers that be have developed many ways that can cull the herd into being comfortably numb. Popularization of television and commodity goods are a way that people think they are escaping their prescribed life. But it’s a sham, you are lying to yourself to make you feel that you are changing or taking a risk or really living through these objects. People do drugs to numb themselves in a similar way and have some sort of escapist hour so that they can handle the fact that they are taking a number and clocking in the next week. It’s the modern American dream and corporations have designed it this way, so that we can see value through the purchasing of these products versus calling these ourselves to question our lives.
This is something that I struggle with mightily and I think picking a life that isn’t prescribed scares people. To take risks, to get out of comfort is by the very definition more difficult but definitely where the rewarding life is led. It’s also challenging because I am supposed to be taking a life in advertising, where this prescription is being written for the people to buy. Although I do believe the merits in the process of creation and I think the distinction between what is good or bad creative work can be found in the diving through this chaos. The embrace of the unknown and the communication of what’s found deep down can cause good change in people. Unpredictability and chaos in a creation process is more alluring to people and I think it’s what drives great creative work-it is also what frightens people. But I believe as Luke Sullivan articulates here, that it is what we seek in art and also what we find so enchanting about nature. The unpredictability of the new and the chaotic reaches people better than what we already have, it’s also how you can reach someone in a deeper way. Sometimes that happens in school and sometimes you see that in advertising but mostly I think the process and lifestyle gives a little more than what the prescribed life that I felt I was living.
It’s something that you can see in media and politics as well. Truth is much stranger than fiction and I think absurdist culture is the lashing out of meaninglessness that people feel the life they signed up for has given them. They are buying a life that doesn’t exist but one we are sold and because of the very fact that we are buying it means it will never fulfill our expectations. We as a culture are no longer beholden of a religious myth but because people cannot handle the fact that there might be nothing more to their lives than what is plainly there, they buy these narratives I have so described, for comfort. Instead I think the opposite is what gives you more room for meaning, becoming the mythmaker and bestowing your own destiny within the grasps of opportunity and will.