Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Life seems increasingly to be about aspiring to be clever, cute, and transparent without being intelligent, enigmatic, or intimate. Life as Cinéma vérité. We’re all stars in our little tragi-comic documentaries, replete with stylized sets, clever tag lines, beautiful head shots, and moving liner notes (all thanks to Facebook). We’re commoditizing ourselves and somehow have the collective chutzpah to like what we see. The Age of Narcissism. Aren’t our lives interesting enough without the help of a soundtrack and cleverly scripted lines? Or maybe that’s the problem.
If the Nielsen ratings are to be trusted, shows like Love Bites or Glee are all the rage. We know this stuff is make-believe, and yet we’re left with these strange pangs of nostalgia (at least those of us over 35) and covet on some deep level the freshness and cookie-cutter wisdom of these aspiring adults. But how can we? They see sex as simply another adventure worthy of a status update and wealth as their unquestioned birthright ~ and the conflicts are all of the faux-depth variety where blood replaces pain and dark nights of the soul are just a bad case of the blues. In this deeply cynical view of things, laughter becomes the new opiate, so that if we just laugh often enough, we’ll never run the risk of spotting the travesty that these story lines really are. Life as Cinéma vérité.
Reality is never as pretty as a sitcom. But as it turns out, life’s grittiness and hardships, along with its comedy, are what make it so much more compelling than anything Hollywood can concoct. The life that Love Bites (et al.) creates for its adoring fans is the existential equivalent of crack. It allows us to escape our brutish lives for an evening and, in the process, trains us to avoid the deeper echoes of our lives. We want more of the shallows. And the more we want, the more we become what we want (Tolkien spoke of this; come to think of it, so did Jesus).
We all know that adversity builds character. But what happens to a people who live in a culture that prizes convenience and happiness and preaches a gospel of adversity avoidance? Is it possible to be happier while having less substance? Can life be easier and at the same time less vital? Can “more convenient” ever be a bad thing?
So long as we stay sufficiently distracted with the help of our i-everythings and continue to see our lives as a marketing campaign, we’ll miss the deeper side of a life that is meant for love and loss, joy and sacrifice. You can’t have one without the other. Simple as that. Convenience, prosperity, comfort ~ they always, in the end, come with a price.
Your life, God willing, should be a lot more compelling than anything Hollywood could make up. At least you better hope so.