We’ve Been Hooked Then Abandoned

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The story of our lives is one of:  A)  getting addicted to something, and then:  B)  getting abandoned.

Good things end.  I’m not talking about kids growing up or getting old or things wearing out.  Those things are bad enough, but they aren’t artificial.

I’m talking about artificial, capitalist-style desertion.  Since the industrial revolution, and especially since the turn of the 20th century, marketing, advertising, innovation, and technology have enchanted us and then broken our hearts.

We’re given – sold, actually – a bill of good things.  Take TV.

TV ended in the mid-1980’s when intelligent comedies such as “Barney Miller” and “Taxi” wrapped.  Oh, there was “thirtysomething” a few years later, which fell prematurely to self-indulgence and class envy.  There was the original “Twin Peaks”, and even this year’s Showtime version.

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Then what?  TV abandoned us.

What’s left?  “Hannity”?  “The Property Brothers”?  Some reality shows?

Hell, my wife and I came across “The Beverly Hillbillies” a few weeks ago, and in it are cultural references to ancient Greece that would fly over the heads of today’s college graduates.  “Hillbillies” now comes off as hip and campy compared to today’s fare.

By the late ’80’s, video games arrived to fill the gap.  We got hooked.  At least white males did.

I remember “Earl Weaver Baseball” and “SimEarth” and “SimCity” and “SimLife”, then “Pharaoh” and “Stronghold” and “The Sims”.

Since then?  Video games are muck.

The graphics cause motion sickness.  They are almost all shooters.  They’re all designed for lower-demographic 12 year old boys whose parents don’t pay much attention to them.

We got addicted to the time sink of video games, and then our friends like Electronic Arts abandoned us.

Thus adrift at sea, we were picked up by the internet.

Surfing, Facebook, and the web in general became the new organizing principle of our lives.  Technology was called our savior.  We believed it.  We bought it.

Now San Francisco, the symbolic home of high tech, is one vast homeless shelter, and California’s economic inequality is infamous.  The products they gave us are seen in research as causing depression, loneliness, envy, anger, rage, and political divisiveness, fed by our very own “friends”.

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via Cnet

I was asked to join Facebook about 10 years ago by a real-life friend (as opposed to an artificial digital one) who, in typical school playground drug pusher style said, “Oh, come on, Gregg, it’ll be fun!”

I was hooked.

But now we all know how Facebook and the internet in general are a waste of time, are annoying, cause rage and impoliteness, post fake news, allow radical political groups to emerge, hack our bank accounts, steal our credit card numbers, and on and on.

And, worst of all, the internet is overflowing with ads for crap products and it is . . . boring.  Really shit-awful boring.

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I won’t even mention the porn.  Did I mention the porn?

After you’ve seen every breast on the planet several times over, what can captivate further?  Is there anything capitalism can provide to fill up the next 10 or 20 years?

No, it can’t.  Capitalism has shot its wad.  It has forced us to undergo detox several times, and we’ve caught on to its games.  Capitalism is a liar.  So is socialism, even worse.  All “isms” fail the, “Come on, it’ll be fun!” hype after several detox cycles.

You can see the failures of several other cultural subsets, which only makes things worse.

I see small schools such as SLU pushed out of college hockey by big money, or at least made permanent laughingstocks, good for an easy win.

I see small market professional sports teams neutered, especially in baseball.  I’m sure MLB was delighted with the Boston/Los Angeles World Series.  It’s a miracle Milwaukee got as close as they did.   That won’t be allowed to happen again.  So no sports addiction for me.  What fun is a stacked deck?

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There was a time when I could walk from my corner home on Leigh Street down to Appleton Arena in Canton, NY (pop. what, about 5,000?) and see future NHLers beat Cornell and Yale.  The walk took about one minute.  The game was free or nearly free.  I thought a lifetime of sports was going to be a safe addiction.

And the same with cars.  The market got us all addicted to cars.

The ultimate was a low-slung sports car.  Now all cars are SUVs, which look like jacked-up hearses.   The car addiction fuel has dried up.

I don’t want this to sound like a “things were better in the good old days” lament, because  they weren’t, and that’s not what I’m saying.

I’m saying that modernity has a rhythm of creative destruction that makes us all unhappy, all the time.  We await the Next Big Thing.  We have to, because the game and show developers, the auto manufacturers, the geeks, the university administrators, and the CEOs all lose focus by going for the easy and/or big $$ rather than quality.  Markets are overhyped, then they “mature” (rot).

What happens now that we’ve caught on?  What happens when we refuse to get addicted again?

More importantly, what do we do tonight?  And tomorrow?

 

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On Bailing on Books

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Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  My last confession was about 40 years ago.  Since then I have bailed on several books.  I started reading them, then tossed them aside.  I have even tossed aside books by the handsome, young Saul Bellow, above, photo via Knopf.

I just read Bellow’s RAVELSTEIN.  I thought I would bail, but didn’t.  I wavered, though.

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RAVELSTEIN is a late work from Bellow, and is a thinly fictionalized account of his real-life relationship with Allan Bloom.  I just wrote about Bloom’s bestselling THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND, so I had a sudden, spontaneous interest in RAVELSTEIN.

As a late work, RAVEL is kind of shaky.  Bellow had nearly died of food poisoning a few years prior, and was in his 80’s.  RAVEL is a vehicle for Bellow’s belief that the “pictures” in our mind – the pictures of lived experience, what we call consciousness – along with RAVELSTEIN/BLOOM’s late reversion to speaking as if an afterlife was an automatic expectation of a fully-formed human consciousness (even though Bloom was an atheist) – speak of eternal life for all of us.  Not a small topic!

Bellow at his shakiest still makes for a great novel.  Buoyed by finishing RAVELSTEIN, like an ass I tried reading Bellow’s award-winning 1970 MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET:

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btw, this was like my 4th attempt to read SAMMLER.  I think my first attempt was right after an SLU summer class that I took from Bob DeGraff (sp?) for English credit.

Something about SAMMLER repels me.  It’s not SAMMLER’S (or Bellow’s) fault.

I know that when I was younger, the “elderliness” of the protagonist was a turn-off.  Sammler is a partly blind Holocaust survivor with an odd fascination for minor criminals.

I’m not happy to say that, at 61, I am still repelled by the bitchy old man Sammler, even though he has many, many legitimate reasons to be grumpy.  I felt a familiar depression slip over me as the pages went on.  The Sammler Depression.

It’s not because of the Holocaust.  I read history and World War II history.  No problem.  I would suggest that, perhaps, Bellow’s novel is one or two steps greater than straight history, one or two steps more concentrated and potent.

And I’m not up to it yet.  I may never be.

It’s not that I have a problem with Bellow, who was probably the greatest American novelist of the 20th Century.  One of my favorite novels is Bellow’s 1956-ish HENDERSON THE RAIN KING:

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I read HENDERSON for the same summer school class at St. Lawrence.  It changed my life.

HENDERSON was the prototypical big, dorky, powerful-to-a-fault American abroad.  He nearly destroyed Africa in his clumsy attempt to love Africa to death.  American foreign policy came to life in a way it could not have in Hepburn Hall with my Government major.  Talk about liberal arts synergy.  This is why I assume SAMMLER is more potent medicine than I can stand; that’s what was true with HENDERSON, but it was assigned.  I HAD to read it.

In any case, the point of all this is:

Don’t be afraid to pick up a book and then, if necessary, toss it aside.

Maybe it’s a bad book.  Maybe it’s not for you.  Maybe you aren’t ready for it yet.  Put it back on the shelf.  It’ll be there 10 or 30 years from now.  Don’t be OCD and refuse the book out of the fear that you’re stuck with it.  Grab and read, or else grab and read and toss aside.

It’s not a sin!

Life is too short for bad or for even inappropriate books.  RAVELSTEIN says that.  And Bellow is always right.