When one looks up into the skies today one no longer traces the clouds with the stencil of imagination. When one sees a dead squirrel in the highway today with its skull crushed and its brains splayed and battered like a crushed rotten melon, no, one does not feel moved by the sympathies of flesh. One observes these things not as phenomenon but as things that happen, and happen often.
We hear of black people in Sudan being exterminated and we think it’s not right: because if we thought otherwise, well, that won’t be right either. Many die everyday in the killing grounds of Iraq, a soldier and an insurgent at a time, but not necessarily, thank God, in that exact ratio.
With one hand set on the steering and the other stroking our hair and our phallic insecurities, we hear the daily radio broadcasts of twisted traffic wrecks, and forecasts of late night chills. We are happy to be going home.
When it’s time for supper around 10 PM, we are apprised daily of urban molestations, the plight and dearth of drugs and illegal immigrants, and murder intrigues. We take satisfaction in hearing these things, collecting these regulatory snippets, because not hearing them would not make our day digestible. We like to hear ourselves saying “Aw man, that’s a shame.”
When conscience becomes so expendable, the memories of clouds, the squirrels, the tears, blood, and semen lose their individuality, and coalesce to become the constituency of a daily routine.
On the other hand, perhaps, sometimes in that same day we dole our eyes and lower instincts with the glossed over art of skin, curves, and hair. We hold in our hands the flat picture of a sultry pouting teenager, and with the lights and darkness of our minds we attribute suggestive dimensions to an otherwise lifeless piece of colored paper. We like to call it art because it fascinates us. But for most of us, a magazine next to a warm pillow on a cold night is as close as we’ll ever get to redeeming the bedchamber blessings of our Gods and Goddesses. But we sleep that night in denial. We figure tomorrow, we’ll eat less and cut back on the carbs.
In the upper-middle class White/Jewish/Asian suburbia, such as to be found in some parts of the Eastern Coast, ambitioned teenagers, who are easily identified as the AP kids (they are enrolled in the college level advanced placement classes), count their days by the numbers of extracurricular clubs meetings, quality and quantity of bedmates; and overall symbolized by GPAs of 3.7 or above, and 1450 upward SAT scores. Their friendships are defined by “parties, good fucks, poker and getting drunk.” Not my words, but one of theirs.
I asked a prominent AP student who has had a lot of luck in his young years if any one of his so many “friends” would be willing to forego something selfish to help him. He answered something to the effect of “No, I have a very few I can trust, but generally I’m young, and that’s what matters.” When asked if he felt satisfied with the things he does, on paper, on scantrons, and elsewhere. He replied, “No, I know that it’s all BS (bull shit), but…” I asked another student if she was happy with living such a life “I don’t know that. I don’t think so. It feels so pointless.”
“I “became” anorexic for some combination of reasons including self-doubt, feelings of isolation, worthlessness and of being invisible, and increasing social pressures with boys..” says Ashley a diagnosed teenage anorexic in a recent study conducted by the University of California (www.ucdavis.edu). Dr. Ralph Carson, a nationally recognized clinical nutritionist and exercise physiologist, says in his acclaimed consumer website (http://www.renaissance-treatment.com/article3.php), “Teenage girls describe a perfect body as 5’7”, 100-110 lbs.” “One out of 20 high school and college girls [today] have anorexia or bulimia.”
Why, I ask, do my peers and countrymen feel this way about themselves and their place in this world? Of course, the answer to me is at least partially obvious: I’m surrounded and bombarded by hints. A media that projects and panders to the youth so shamelessly have effectively created icons and loyalties; we despise seeing ourselves as anything less than symmetric, fair, intelligent, ambitious, and sexual.
It is no lie, that kids with Ivy League stamps on their resume earn in excess of $8,000 more than the average start-up salary earner. The American dream is not cheap. It is a dream that is estimated to carry a price tag of over $100,000 in current dollar values. And this compelling need to be adored and idealized by one’s perfect and artful lover and to be an item of secret contempt to the fat cross-eyed, pink, pockmarked guy that stuffs your grocery bag at the same time is too much. And in a society that calls itself an open market, consumer, capitalistic laissez-faire society, one feels anything can be bought for a price. But, it takes numbers to get that stuff: A perfect GPA, a perfect portfolio, a perfect standardized score, and a perfect rifle for the infantryman with perfect bullets. That is why Americans work harder than most other civilized people in the world, and that is why they are hated for it.
In a world riddled with the concrete threats of cruel deaths inflicted by war, poverty, and dissent, – and despite being continually harassed by each and every one of these things through exposure and information, we become callous and desensitized.
As individuals and a society we are fascinated and obsessed with the abstract: our supreme fixation in defining the perceived noble and the beautiful, and the need to claim these properties for ourselves. Some of us call it “ambition” and “hard work.” And President Bush assures us that “We are working hard,” and that “We are working overtime on Saturdays.”
Ironically, to achieve these perceived boons we forego the best values of civilization. We replace fundamental tenderness, consideration, companionship, and yes, life, with sex, money, unfettered narcissism, and yes, the illusions of life and delusions of living one.
I end with a quote from Tom Robbins, from his book, Still Life with Woodpecker,
“The bottom line is that (a) people are never perfect, but love can be, (b) that is the one and only way that the mediocre and vile can be transformed, and (c) doing that makes it that. We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”