When you’re going to hit something on the nose, hit it hard and fast and often.
— Aristotle… or Confucius (whatever, I found the quote on the internet)
… Only the flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies empty of meaning…
— TS Eliot from Burnt Norton, The Four Quartets
In the beginning the American Man created the suburban home. The world was a scary place, full of people who didn’t think or look like him. So, he sat on his La-Z-Boy and brooded over the chaos, thinking on what he might make of it.
Then he said, “Let there be a flickering light that will echo and shout by day and by night; that will tell me what to think, what to drink, and what to buy.” So he divided the noisy light full of pictures and words and sounds into little screens of their own and called it TV. Later that day, Best Buy delivered and installed all his new stuff. Morning and evening passed without notice, and time no longer mattered so long as the TV was on. That was day one.
The next morning, after he checked his emails and Twitter feed he said, “Let there be a white picket fence around my property to let everyone know that this is my stuff, and let it keep the immigrants and weirdos out.” Then he guzzled a six-pack in the mid-afternoon and passed out in his La-Z-Boy. So, his wife went to the Home Depot parking lot and hired a carload of undocumented workers to build the fence. That was day two.
Late the next morning, nursing a hangover, he said, “Let there be a cartoon of a ranch home, poorly built and almost identical to fifty other units in this sprawling subdivision where I can eat, sleep, shower, shave, and shit without being disturbed. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, let the best of the farm and the wilderness be combined in the worst way possible and let it be called the yard. And make sure the front-gate stays closed so the neighbor’s stupid dog doesn’t take another steaming turd on the lawn.” That was day three.
The next morning, he awoke in a cross mood and said, “Dammit, the TV’s not enough in this Information Age. Let there be laptops and tablets and smartphones and let their bright screens rule the day and night. Let their noisy speakers fill every room in this house so my family can ignore each other in peace.” Morning and evening were again forgotten as every eye and ear in the house were filled with information and images without ever enduring the nuisance of being informed. That was day four.
The next morning, he said, “This McMansion is the size of a Bronze-Age palace, but it seems empty, what it needs is more stuff. Let there be a fully-furnished dining room that no one will ever use. Let this house teem with marble and granite and hardwood and a wet bar on the patio with a barbecue and an outdoor entertainment system, and let there be a wet bar in the man-cave as well so that there will be nowhere in the house where we can’t try to forget what we refuse to remember. Let us finance an abundance of useless crap that we cannot afford so that we are shackled to debts we can never repay: toys, toys and more toys, gas guzzling SUV’s and jet-skis, and snow-mobiles, and motorcycles so that we can persist in the illusion that usable energy is inexhaustible, and the myth that we are most happy when we cannot be still. The American Man looked at all of his stuff and told himself and everyone else that it was good, and he hoped that this was true. That was day five.
The next morning the American Man ripped a bong-load of legal marijuana, and as he ate his Cap’n Crunch he said, “Let’s have a couple of kids, because I guess that’s what we’re supposed to do now. We’ll pump them full of psychoactive pills and teach them how to navigate the carrots and sticks, the hamster wheels, and the smoke and mirrors of the American Dream so they can feel hollow like everyone else.”
He took another hit and said, “Let us create social-media platforms in our image. Let us post pictures and tweets and thoughts and competitive fantasies to the faces we call friends. Let these friendly abstractions share their perfect fictions with us and let us agree to the delusion that these insecure projections are real. Let us constantly check our feeds for likes and retweets and heart-shaped emojis that mimic significance. Let us cast our glittering icons and endless words into this virtual world that insulates us from a silent universe that screams out to us in a language we refuse to learn.”
The American Man reclined in his chair, uneasy from the sensation of an actual thought. Then he inhaled another bong-load and played video games for the next six hours. Finally, the he rose from his La-Z-Boy and looked at all that he made and spent his life in furious pursuit of and went to the refrigerator for a box of wine and soon forgot what he was thinking about. In no time at all he passed out in his chair with a plate of nachos on his belly. That was day six.
Thus the cosmic suburban bubble was complete and crammed so full of stuff that the American Man could barely perceive the emptiness that filled it all.
By the seventh day the American Man was spent from his toilsome week on his La-Z-Boy. He told himself that he needed time for himself to ‘just chill’. So, he hallowed the seventh day with guacamole, bean dip, and a case of strong ale and watched football from morning to night. The day had ended, and for some reason something in his soul still ached as he staggered to bed, so he resolved to knock himself out and downed a Xanax with a shot of whiskey and drifted into a dreamless sleep.
… then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity.”
— Ecclesiastes 12:7-8