May 29, 2010



We live in a consumer culture. Advertising is everywhere, and would not be everywhere if it did not perceive within us something closed it considered worth opening. We do not live in a democracy, we live in a corporate oligarchy. We are nervous about politics, about politicians, about most utopian options or possibilities for positive social change. For the past fifty years, whichever party has had more money, spent more money campaigning, has won the election. Facts and statistics often convince us, however much we wish they did not: it is as if our brain wanted to eat them whole. We know those in power continuously shape the truth, shape what will be considered true by the vast majority of the population, that there are two kinds of truth: the kind you read in a newspaper, or see on television, and more timeless truths, which will be equally true for future generations as they are for us today. Stating that something is timeless and true is a value judgment requiring conviction. We fear productive convictions are in short supply. History has taught us that certain convictions, taken to their absolute extreme, are terrifying. There is much talk about happiness, about development, about different ways of seeing things. There is a great deal of talk suggesting the future will be tragic. We know predicting the future is a suckers’ game. It is easier to predict the past. It is easier to predict the past than it is to remember it.

The fact that a concept such as planned obsolescence exists, and is the model for so much of our industrial production, generates within me a level and intensity of anger I am simply unable to process. However, one rational trajectory for such anger is equally pernicious: to purchase only expensive, well-made objects that will last a very long time. Works of art are made to last a very long time. Their physical durability, in some sense, echoing their thematic or qualitative timelessness. If they have not been made to last, conservationists and restorers might be hired to preserve them. The term planned obsolescence is generally attributed to the industrial designer Brooks Stevens who used it as the title of a 1954 talk. Wikipedia says: Stevens defined it as “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” His view was to always make the consumer want something new, rather than create poor products that would need replacing. Depression is reactionary. Depression is anger turned inwards, instead of outwards at a system that is either exploiting or casting us aside. Depression is perfectly reasonable given the other available options. A natural sense of pure joy is also perfectly reasonable. I can imagine, utilizing certain advancements in pharmacology, a kind of planned obsolescence of emotions. Your anger no longer serving you, throw it away, it is time for a new kind of anger. It is time for a new kind of anger. A moral outrage with the skill of viral marketing and the precision of Zen. It is always time.

You find yourself standing in front of a door. Inside, on the other side of the door, is everything, and outside, where you currently stand, is nothing. It is a common predicament, one you have faced many times before, and like so many times before, you wonder if opening the door, going inside, actually means anything: if it has content, will give or remove energy, could be said to be taking a stand. So many things in life are empty gestures, but opening a door is never entirely empty. It is always something a bit more or less. What exactly might it mean to open this door. You know you cannot rely on past experiences to guide you, that at the precise moment of every new decision past experiences mean nothing. It is within the heart of the most tepid and timeless clichés, why always search for the undeniable.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love what you say under 3.! And I have a question: Why is it that people struggling for a better life end up buying, consuming and producing stuff they don't really need? What would be the "everything" behind the door? Another land of milk and honey? Or rather another empty space to start from scratch?