Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The American Nightmare?

America's got problems.

The problems seem to be economic, but they aren't. Not really. Instead, I think they're systemic and endemic to the American culture. This culture of accumulation.

I personally think our yardstick is seriously fubared. Our measure of success has everything to do with competition - with outdoing one another, constantly advancing our standards of living, extending ourselves beyond reason, pushing past our limits and striving for more more more.

In some ways, this is really a very good thing. When applied to things like science and art, they advance our culture and our health. But altruism in America is mostly dead - it's cutthroat, me-before-you, gimme-gimme-gimme. It's 10,000 square foot houses and $250,000 cars. It's $50,000 watches and pants that cost a cool 3 grand. Shoes that top some folks monthly pay. We're striving to set ourselves apart from one another, to define ourselves by our access to the exclusive.

And we're doing a pretty good job, really. But that's really the very basis of the problem - our yardstick.

I'm pretty anti-advertising, in many ways. This has to be tongue-in-cheek because it's what puts food in my belly - just in the interests of full disclosure. Advertising has really served to deteriorate our culture in fundamental ways. I don't think anyone could really fathom how much money is used to convince us of various viewpoints, of the quality of various goods and services, of the indispensibility of things like coffee makers, bagless vacuum cleaners, dandruff shampoos, tiny bottles of exorbitently priced odors. . .

If you were to really buy into these ads, then every day you would wake up completely refreshed in a perfectly tidy home on gazillion threadcount perfectly pressed sheets with the whitest teeth ever seen, then slide your sculpted body into clothes that fit perfectly, eat a balanced breakfast of some ceral, a few eggs,a piece of organic, perfectly ripe fruit, and hand picked cruelty-free coffee, then get in your freshly washed and waxed performance sports car, where you would drive through a perfect day with your freshly-cut hair wafting artfully in the perfect spring/fall day down mountain roads that are deserted except for you. You'd arrive at your space-age office where everything would be working perfectly all the time, and your incredibly attractive personal assistant would hand you the paper, and you'd have time to read it. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Now, I can't speak for you good people, but I do things like poop, leave stubble in the sink, neglect to load the dishwasher, leave unfolded laundry lying around for a few hours . . . My sofa is faded and my rug has some kind of something embedded semi-permanently in it. Most of my jeans are a least a little frayed and don't fit exactly right. My hair rarely receives more attention than shampoo and a towel. My glasses are smudged almost constantly. I iron when required, and not my sheets.

So the dream is just that - a dream. But they make it all look SO good, don't they? That's the idea - your life could be like this if you just buy this car or hire these lawyers or chew this particular brand of gum. The very powerful underlying assumption is that your life isn't good enough as it is. It's more than an assumption - it's nearly an imperative - they really WANT you to indulge in envy, in greed. The whole premise of advertising is to create a wanting of sorts.

And that's becoem the core of America - wanting. We all want a big ass flatscreen, a shiny exotic car, bigger boobs, flatter stomachs, clothes that make us look like movie stars. I confess - I want this stuff too - it's worked on me to an extent. But I'm sometimes consumed with an anti-competitiveness. What about cooperation?

I concede that the world's effort at communism have failed, because there's no motivation to really perform when everyone gets the same rewards. So the capitalism system has an upside. But it really bugs me sometimes. Is altruism dead? I mean, Bill Gates gives away tons and tons of money, but would he is he only made $50K a year?

It just seems to me that we're more intent on stepping on each other lately than helping each other out. There are recent examples in my personal life that prove this isn't true universally - Whaupwit treated me to dinner, and also a tank of gas this past week when the prospect of buying it myself was alarmingly prohibitive. So I know the world isn't all dour and bullshit. But it does feel like something is almost fundamentally wrong.



A Shade Of Scorpio said...

Are you trying to woo me? Because that post is the way to do it. (I know you didn't write it for me...allow me to step down on that). THAT post should be seen by way more eyes. I'm taking it with your permission and putting it on the regular blog. I don't advertise this one because....let's face it...I like SOME privacy and if people on my end find this one, that's great...but I only gave the address to a couple of my girlfriends...know what I mean?

So....CAN I?

...AND....My bird stands firm to the American Shoulds - I don't even own an iron.

The Neighbor said...

Am I?

Not directly, but I accept the fallout.

The Neighbor said...

You CAN. Of course you can. It's your blog too.

A Shade Of Scorpio said...

I'm throwing your post on Inevitable ....I couldn't have said it better myself.

Consider yourself the Master of Fallout (boy) ...(since I know how much you adore them now...and by 'adore' I mean 'will never listen to again')

The Neighbor said...

Never is like forever - a very long time. I don't use that word. Or always. Well . . .

I avoid them.

Watching the video now.

Alan said...

I've been so below the radar when it comes to the physical comforts of life. The last time I had a credit card was in college (where I wrecked it but good, which stands up until this day), so now I live paycheck(s) to paycheck(s), with a fistful of savings between. This only allows me to have the things I love the most--food and comicbooks. I bought clothes a few months ago because it had been about four years since last spree.

So I can understand the quest for "More" but I've been disqualified from the race. Life has been about maintaining a roof and like you, a full belly. I don't think I'd know how to act if I was in the race. I had a house once that I had qualified for and took a mortgage, and kept, then sold it at a loss when I moved back to the east coast, so that didn't feel like the culmination of life's dream. It was meh, in fact.

But I love your observation here. I couldn't agree more. I totally slam my radio whenever the droning of the commercials get to be too much. I cuss out the little men and women who keep yammering at me to buy their crap. And now the credit "management" companies are at an all-time high on urban stations with their solicitations and I cuss them out for all my homies who will be drawn in by the promise of a debt-free life.

All I really want, what I really, really want is to live alone in a place I can afford, with nice furniture so I can entertain guests and put up, at the very least, 2 overnight visitors. I want to be able to do this on my income alone. Everything else would fill in from that point.

So preach on My Ned! WARRIOR-poet!!

A Shade Of Scorpio said...

Alan, this is so true and it makes my skin crawl if I catch 2 seconds of these commercials - And now the credit "management" companies are at an all-time high on urban stations with their solicitations and I cuss them out for all my homies who will be drawn in by the promise of a debt-free life.


I hate the market for exploitation - be it on your homies, be it on anyone lonely, insecure, bored, unfulfilled. I can't even watch COPS. I CAN watch American Idol though. For some reason that's mostly different - except I won't watch the auditions because some of them are genuine sob stories and some...well....jokes.

I AM said...

Yes. YES!! (If I could type that word bigger and bolder and with a gazillion more exclamation points, I would so totally do that). But I can't and wont (maybe because it is too excessive?).

Boopila said...
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The Neighbor said...

And I have something approaching lust for a Porsche Cayman S - I'm not saying I'm out of the game - I'm saying that it will ultimately bite this country on the ass in a most ironic way. We;re showing off for other countries who are modeling after us, but trying harder, working smarter. They'll pass us soon enough - Dubai is an example, but they're taking it to such extremes that we just roll our eyes.

I do anyhow.

Boopila said...
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