Recently, I found and read The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, written by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti at the turn on the 20th century. With Marinetti’s spirit in mind, here is a manifesto of the mountains, much needed at the dawn of the 21st century.
My friends and I had stayed up all night, dancing in time with the frenetic movement of the Aurora Borealis, dodging the moonlit shadows of the mountains. We listened to the murmurings of the frozen river and the crackling of the fire. Ours was a night of laughter and merriment in the frigid darkness.
Through our revelry, we could hear the silence from the grimy horizon of the city. It was the silence of tomb-like rooms, abandoned tables, and discarded wrappers.
“Quick! Up!” we cried as the silence mingled with the smoke.
“Now is the time for action! Our brothers and sisters exist in that silence, slaves to their blue screens, their loneliness, the worthless obligations demanded by an impotent society! For too long they’ve listened to their corporate mothers and fathers. They’ve traded the real world for a billion, glittering unrealities. They worship their god ‘The Future’ and his archangel ‘Technology,’ as the altars of the past crumble and humanity lies abandoned underneath the wires and wheels and radio waves.”
My friends and I stood up straight, tilting our heads at the dark and unfathomable sky. We thought of our brothers and sisters, their backs arched in reverence to their tiny electric gods. We mourned their limp satisfaction with their artificial lives. We clenched our teeth on their unwavering faith in the empty promises of the future.
We stoked the fire higher. All through the night the mountains echoed our laughter and stories and the muffled sound of our axes. Higher and higher the flames lept into a dancing sky. The fire became our beacon, our tiny insubstantial flame against the indifferent technological darkness.
Somewhere from the deepest part of our aching guts came this chant — this manifesto:
- We reject the empty promises of the “future” sold to us by society. We look to the past for answers, drawing on the tapestry of authentic human experience to guide our path. The future has always offered empty promises.
- We’ve sacrificed too much personal agency, creativity, and original thought at the altar of technology. We abhor any technology that destroys community, that separates us from nature, or that traffics in unrealities and vanity.
- We demand the real. We will no longer be satisfied with the virtual, the hyper-real, the artificial. We demand dirty hands, strong backs, and stout hearts. We are children of the mountains.
- We reject our culture’s narrative of happiness and success. We will no longer measure our lives by the standards of a sick society. We will measure our lives by our own standards: by the ideas we create, by the gardens we plant, by the mountains we climb, by the feasts we share. We do not seek happiness. We seek authenticity.
- We welcome the hard road — the way of struggle, of hard work found in workshops and soil and lofty mountain peaks. Hardship is the crucible of truth; our skin tells stories in scars.
- We reject the trappings of vanity — the likes and shares and tweets and snaps that birth hideous discontent. We do not traffic in unrealities. We live our lives, not record them.
We repeated this chant louder and louder. Our forested echoes reached the silent city and was heard in the veins and the stagnant blood of a million sleepless bodies.
We ran through the city streets, our raucous shouts interrupting the nauseating industrial symphony of clicks and buzzes and dings.
“Wake! Wake!” we cried, “There is another way! It is the way of the children of the mountains!” In our rough and calloused hands we carried axes, torches, seeds, and poetry as we called to a hundred million souls lost in the fog of technology and comfort.
“Our axes are here to crush your Instagram realities! Our torches are here to burn down the pillars and temples of vanity! Our seeds will be spread in the concrete cracks of your illusions of control! Our poetry is crafted from words you have forgotten how to speak!”
Bleary, sullen eyes peeped with fear and distrust from behind curtained windows and above intimate screens. Their soft and fleshy faces began to appear in doorways as they stared at ours — hard and rough and etched with scars and lines of laughter. Gloriously flawed.
As our footsteps faded past their windows and doorways and bedrooms, they felt their blood warm with forgotten memory, with latent untranslatable desire. From our clothes, they caught the scent of wood and sweat and soil.
We returned to our mountains — to our gardens and feasts and midnight winter revelries. Here we craft our lives of meaning. Here we launch our raucous love songs to the barren sky.
The woods after the first snowfall have a distinctive sound. The world becomes quieter, and any remaining sound is muffled, as though filtered through cotton. It’s in this new silence that I find myself snowshoeing through the trees. My headlight illuminates the forest ten feet in front of me — the entirety of my universe at this moment. Nightfall is arriving earlier every day here in Alaska, and these woods, now dark and covered with snow, seem strangely unfamiliar.
As I walk, I come upon tracks. With the recent winter storm, these tracks cannot be more than a day or two old. Here a squirrel raced from one spruce tree to the next. As a trapper, one begins to see the world through the eyes of the animals. I cannot help but think of the squirrel as he hopped through the snow. Was he full of fear as he moved through the open, looking skyward for an eagle or owl? Has he stored enough food for the winter? As I imagine him rushing over the snow, anxious and alone, I can almost sense that same feeling of trepidation running through my nerves.
Here an arctic hare made his way along the edge of the willows. It’s been years since I’ve seen many hare tracks on this mountainside, and their huge, soft prints bring a smile to my face. They’ve returned.
Hare populations increase and decline in an almost clock-like fashion. Some years their trails crisscross the snow like highways designed by a madman. The animals are pure white and difficult to see, so their roads and back alleys are usually the only sign that they share the woods with me. When they are abundant one can sense their presence from their shadows moving across the snow. Eventually though, their population will collapse. A combination of overpopulation and predation takes their toll, and one winter their tracks will be gone. It will be a few years before I will see their tracks again, and ten before they once again lay down their snowy highways.
The trapper lives within this same cycle of plenty and hardship. The populations of fox, lynx, and coyote mirror the populations of hare, shrew, and squirrel. Trappers must accept, just like the animals they pursue, that their will be lean years and abundant years. Some winters the landscape seems eerily empty — as though it has been entirely abandoned. Other years, signs of winter life is etched into the snow with myriad footprints.
Trappers can help temper these cycles of overpopulation and collapse. Even to this day, trapping regulations usually stipulate no limit on the number of animals one can harvest in a season. It is up to the trapper to understand these cycles and not exploit the land. If an area is over-trapped, the breeding population of furbearers can no longer maintain itself and the animals will disappear. The landscape is out of balance, and will remain out of balance for some time.
Likewise, areas that remain untrapped suffer the worst of the boom and bust cycle. Without trappers to temper the number of predators, they can decimate the population of prey animals making the recovery of prey populations harder. Trapping, in some way, is stewardship of the land. It’s entering and participating in the natural cycles of the wilderness, while still being conscientious of it; making sure one never takes too much…
As I continue to walk, I come across fox tracks. A line of deep, straight dimples stretch across the snow in either direction from me. As I follow the tracks, I once again see the world from eyes other than my own. Where was he headed? Was he simply strolling through his territory, enjoying the silence as I do now? Perhaps he was hungry, cocking his head to one side to catch the impossibly faint sound of a shrew beneath the snow. I do not know, but I play all these scenarios through my mind, trying to enter his.
In a world where we think of all knowledge as coldly scientific, a trapper, hunter, or fisherman holds knowledge that is deeply personal. The favorite tree of the resident grouse. The small creek that never seems to freeze. The unpicked harvest of cranberries still on the bush. A trapper find a small piece of earth and lets it teach him. In this way, those lonely souls walking the woods at night carry a knowledge that is deeply personal and utterly unique. They “know” a landscape in a way no one else does.
Many people think of trapping as an activity that is somehow exploitative and wasteful. The idea of harvesting an animal for its fur, in the era of Gore-tex and nylon, seems unnecessary. They visualize scared-looking animals in traps, their dignity stripped from them. The reality of trapping is far more complex.
When I come upon my catch, there is a mix of emotions. Certainly there is a feeling of pride. I’ve learned what the landscape has been able to teach me. All the scouting, preparation, and work have not been in vain. I’ve entered the animal’s world and have played a fair game.
Often that pride is accompanied by sadness. I’ve spent weeks, maybe months, playing the game and now the game is over. His tracks will disappear from the landscape, hopefully to be replaced next year.
Above all, there is a feeling of respect for the animal. Touching its coat, feeling the softness and warmth, one cannot help but respect an animal that can thrive is such conditions. Every time I catch an animal, I carry it home in my arms. Part of this is pragmatic — I don’t want to damage the fur — but part of it is symbolic. The animal, whose life has been long extinguished, still deserves respect. Many emotions run through me in quick succession as I cradle it in my arms.
Trapping essentially centers around mortality, and I don’t think that fact is lost on many trappers. Trappers delight in a “clean catch,” where the animal was quickly killed and didn’t suffer much. Likewise, one is filled with remorse when one occasionally catches an animal improperly and it’s death was unnecessarily long.
I think about mortality a lot while I’m on the trapline. As I watch relatives die from cancer, as I notice parents getting older and slower, and as I carefully lift the stiff and cold weight of a fox out of the snow, I cannot help but think about death. How will I go? The trapline has illuminated my thoughts on my own ending. My hopes for the fox and myself are the same. In the end, I’m just hoping for a “clean catch.”
Skinning the animal is equally respectful. A well-skinned fur will fetch far higher prices than a sloppy one, but the ritual is more than that. It takes me about an hour and half to skin a fox. Every movement is a gentle one as I use my knife and my fingers to slowly undress it. Its scent fills my nostrils. I fuss and worry over it. For time to time, and step back purely to admire it.
Once the skin is off, stretched and dry, I take a hair brush and softly comb the hair backwards, revealing the thickness of the fur. It is a final ritual before I put the fur up, to be tanned or sold.
Most humans don’t receive such burial rites.
Once the fox is skinned, I take the carcass and strap it to my backpack or sled. I bring him back to woods, using him as bait for another set. Chances are, the ravens and eagles will get to him first. Most of him is returned to the land from which he came…
Tonight, however, my snares are empty. The fox has been hunting another part of his territory, and his tracks merely pass through this piece of woods. I leave the forest and pull my frosty hat off my head. Behind me, the quiet forest — my tracks mingling with his.
It’s not often that I write about specific events in the news. Most stories get pushed through the news cycle like meat through a grinder. There’s often little left to say that hasn’t already been said and I rarely feel the need to comment on things that are already sensationalized.
However, the shootings in Connecticut are different. Maybe it’s because I have kids that are school aged. Maybe it’s because the story knocks on the deepest fears of a parent: losing a child. Maybe it’s because I am a teacher. But whatever the reason, it is events like these that cannot tolerate silence.
There’s no doubt in the coming days that public dialogue will shift from the tragedy that these families experienced to matters of policy. The gun lobby will recite their tired slogans. The gun-control proponents will do the same. Fingers will be pointed and news anchors will ask, in a vague and slightly sincere way, “How could this happen?” This story will dominate the news cycle for a week or two — at least until a more interesting story hits the front page. They will profile the shooter and try to explain what was wrong with him. They will interview people who said they never saw this coming, and others who say they did. And that will be that. Shootings in Oregon, in Connecticut , in Colorado, in Arizona and in Virginia will eventually be filed away, only to be mentioned as a comparison of body counts when the next mass shooting occurs.
In some ways, these things have become a sort of accepted archetype. Since Columbine (and maybe before) mass shootings have simply become a fact of post-modern society. It’s never a matter if another shooting will occur, but a matter of where and when. And in some way, we’re complicit in this.
Psychiatric patients aside, shootings like this demonstrate how untethered — how utterly disconnected — people can become. There is no other explanation for such violence and evil. It’s not access to guns that are causing these murders. It is not the failure of institutions or law enforcement to identify these people that is the problem. The problem is that we live in a society that allows for such extreme and destructive isolation.
It’s all too easy to be isolated from each other: from friends, from family, from a sense of community. These things root us. They provide a sense of how we are connected (and important) to each other, to our sense of place, and to the world. When I sit down with my daughter and read her a book, I understand that she is utterly dependent on me for not only the necessities of life, but also for teaching her a sense of place and belonging — to orient her in this world. When I gather to celebrate with friends, I begin to comprehend that I am forever tied to the narratives of many other people’s lives. When I worship in the pew on Sunday, I understand that my own history is written on the walls of the building and on the wrinkled faces of people who have watched me grow up. I am connected and my roots run deep.
We are not all so fortunate. The allure of our screens, the normalcy of divorce, and the breakdown of a sense of community allows us to cast ourselves adrift. It’s too easy to “plug in and tune out.” Without community and without connection, there are no outside forces to correct us, to question us, or to reveal our connection to the larger world. In my opinion, the problem of isolation is the problem of perspective. When I am connected to others, I am no longer the center of my own universe. I conceive of the world as a more complicated, connected, and wondrous place. But when I am isolated, my universe revolves around me. The daily struggles, failures, and problems of my life are not put in the larger context of a world far bigger than my personal problems. On the contrary, when I am isolated, my problems and struggles are the problems and struggles of my universe and become a much deeper, more serious problem. It is in this darkness of isolation, without the perspective and connection of a larger life, that we encounter the worst of ourselves.
I’m not suggesting that I know why the killer did what he did. Only God knows. But we have to look at such acts of violence not as an independent act, but as a symptom of something much larger. It’ a symptom of a disease. Our society and our lives are not healthy. Until we address the underlying disease — until we have the difficult discussions and the social revolution we need to become connected — we are simply treating the headache of a brain tumor with Advil.
A couple weeks ago, my family, my dad, and my brother gathered together to make sausage. I’ve made sausage ever since I was a little boy. I remember sitting on the kitchen counter of my grandparent’s ranch, helping my grandma separate pork casings and check for holes. I remember helping my grandfather butcher a pig or two that he bought at auction to mix with the venison — I watched as a living animal became tranformed into food.
Sausage making has always been a sort of celebration. In the cutting and grinding of meat, the mixing of spices, in the stuffing and the smoking, there is ample time for celebrating. We retell hunting stories and dream of next season. We laugh at the funny or scary stories that the year’s hunt produced. We reflect on weather and missed opportunities. We give thanks for the pure and nutritious wild game we have harvested.
All of this celebration happens in the midst of good work. We are busy from morning to evening with cutting, cleaning, stuffing, smoking, and packaging. By the end of the day, we’re tired but happy at having put away food for the coming winter. The day is full of stories old and new, laughs, and memories…
I’ve been thinking about celebration a lot lately. As the holidays quickly approach I’ve been questioning what we celebrate and why we celebrate it. I’ve been thinking about how much of our cultural celebration has been co-opted.
Walk through any supermarket and one will see the “celebration industry” in full form. A cake is made from a box or purchased. Party decorations are readily available, pre-packaged, and licensed. One can even order balloons to be delivered instead of blowing them up themselves. What we call “celebrations” can easily fit into a shopping basket.
All of these products, of course, are promoted as making these celebrations “more convenient.” They’re marketed as taking the stress out of parties. What we forget is that celebration is more than just the party. Celebration is a matter of good work done together before and after the gathering. It is telling stories over a sink, or good-natured teasing, or of giving thanks for the past. This “good work” is largely removed from our pre-packaged celebrations. We hire florists and caterers. We buy branded themes of party favors and overly-sugared cakes. At the end of our so-called “celebration” we’re left with a trashcan full of plastic table clothes and a sugar hang-over. This is not true celebration.
Another problem with celebration is that we need something to celebrate. Celebration often comes at the end of a long and arduous journey — at the end of a marathon, the birth of a child, or the end of a hunt. These types of celebrations acknowledge the hard work and struggle that the participants have undergone. Of course, the highly commercialized holidays we celebrate — secular Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving — in no way celebrate our accomplishments or struggles. They are merely celebration for the sake of celebration. These holidays no longer celebrate a successful harvest, the struggles of saints, or the birth of hope. We’ve replaced the meaning of these holidays with hearts, turkeys, and tinsel, a poor substitute. If anything, secular Christmas and Thanksgiving are meaningful if only for the good work that is shared in preparing the afternoon meal of turkey and cranberry sauce.
Finally, “entertainment” has largely replaced celebration. If celebration is giving thanks and good work done together, entertainment is a passive substitute. Celebrating a winning football team or our favorite actor receiving an Oscar may give us the same sense of pleasure and pride, but it is a poor alternative. It may quench our thirst for a sense of accomplishment, but we have not shared with others in good work, in struggle, in success.
With these thoughts in mind, I’m half-tempted to abandon many of the holidays we celebrate. And as I make seafood chowder and bread bowls for old friends this weekend, hopefully I’ll be a little more mindful of the good work that accompanies our gathering together — our celebration.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been starting my classes out with a poem taken from the Poetry 180 site. It’s been a good way to get students in the right mindset, and it requires that I start reading poetry on a regular basis.
It’s funny the way that writing reveals itself to you. Over the course of teaching and exploring a poem with five different classes over two day span, the poem slowly begins to reveal itself; the fifth time I discuss the poem with the class, it is an entirely different beast than when I started.
I’m constantly being re-reminded of the rewards of being is a state of patient expectation. The last few weeks I’ve been spending quite a bit of time hunting. Perched in a tree or sitting on top of a hill, I wait in silent hope. I may see moose, I may not, but in that state of intense listening, watching, and anticipation, even nature reveals itself in a rare way. Watching a mouse loudly busy himself near my feet, observing a raven circling the clouded sky, or studying the intricacy of the tundra beneath me: these are the ways nature reveals itself to those who sit in silence and expectation.
In a society that values getting as much done as we possible can, and where we intentionally set a break-neck pace for our day, it’s no wonder so many of us feel disconnected, discontent, and stressed. There is simply no room to practice silent expectation: waiting for a poem, the world, or God himself to be revealed to us in due time.
I had the most interesting experience this Sunday. Our church, which is a fairly conservative flavor of Lutheranism, had a congregational meeting. At issue was whether the church should change its constitution to allow women to serve as vice-president and president of the church council.
From the outside looking in, it would appear that our church is decades behind the times. In some ways, they’d be right. But what happened yesterday was testament to the power of community and culture, and the hard work of intentionally considering our community:
I walked into the sanctuary expecting the meeting to be a quick and easy vote to change the church constitution. Of course we would allow women on the council, I thought. We filed in, signed our names on the attendance sheet, and grabbed the proposal.
The pastor started the meeting with a prayer, making some vague reference to “contentious issues.” Then the council president gave a brief run-down of the proposal.
“We found that few people are interested in council positions,” he started, “We changed the wording in these two rules to allow for women to serve as council president. Any discussion?”
The church remained silent for a minute. I figured that this vote would be nothing more than procedural. But one of the older and highly respected members of the church raised his hand.
“It’s not that I don’t support this,” he started, “but I believe that women are the heart and the center of the family. Their role is so important. I don’t want their responsibilities on the church council to take them away from that important role.”
The congregation sat in silence for a few moments, considering what had just been said.
Another respected member of the church raised his hand. “I support this idea, but are we doing this for the right reasons? If we’re only allowing women to fulfill this role because the men don’t want to do it, aren’t we just ignoring the real problem?”
Again, there was silence as the congregation considered his words.
A woman spoke up, “Here’s the way I see it. By not allowing women to serve as president, we are essentially leaving half of our talent pool untapped. Why would we do that?”
The conversation continued in much the same way for another half an hour. Each member humbly offered his or her opinion. After each person spoke, the congregation reflected on their words in a few moments of silence.
From the outside looking in, people might be shocked that a group of 21st century Americas were actually having a conversation about whether women should be in leadership roles. But from the inside, that’s not what happened at all.
On Sunday, our community came together to have a discussion. In a very authentic and intentional way, we decided how to change our culture.
The respect that had been built from decades of mutual work and experience allowed each member to talk honestly and openly. Everyone was shown respect for their opinion and words – not because it was the right thing to do, but because they had earned that respect from years of service to the community and by their evident spirituality.
Furthermore, we talked thoughtfully about how this change would affect our community and culture. Popular and homogenized culture demands that people change according to the will of the masses, but a true community examines the value and merit of changes that will affect its culture, even if their choices put them out of the mainstream.
That’s why I respect the Amish so much. They have spent centuries, as a culture, determining how new fashions, new technology, and new beliefs would affect their culture. And overall, they’ve decided the culture of the populous is not a healthy culture. Instead, they have kept the family and the community at the forefront of their values.
In the end, we did decide that women should be allowed to be council president by a vote of 42-2. It was undoubtedly the right decision even if it was a few decades late. But more importantly, we had the conversation. That’s were the hard work of community begins.
On my Facebook page, there is a small box that proudly proclaims how popular I am. “You have 182 friends,” it states. According to Facebook, my social life is represented in 182 tiny thumbnails pictures of my “friends” and my interests in life are tidily summed up on my “Info” page.
Every morning I wake up and scan my “News Feed” where an algorithm feeds me the latest news from my 182 friends. It determines what information I should see. I scan the page in 30 seconds, quickly perusing the latest news and minutia from my 182 friends’ lives. Feeling content that I have kept up on my social connections, I grab my lunch and head out the door.
In the evenings, I occasionally load images or messages to my Facebook page. Isolated from others, I carefully curate my latest photos, deeply thinking before I assign captions and “tags.” I consider how to phrase my status update, knowing that 182 friends may see my picture or my status. This thought gives me feelings of grandeur.
My entire social life has become incredibly efficient. In a matter of minutes, I have kept up with my 182 friends. This, according to many, is the “new” way of connecting socially.
With 600 million people “connected” to one another is this way, we have to wonder whether we will eventually forget how to truly connect with each other and our community. As an MIT professor has recently said, “there is a difference between the ‘performance of self’ and ‘self.’”
I would argue that true community requires a level of both privacy and intimacy that is not possible with “social” media. I think deep down, we recognize this. When I look at my “news feed” I do not see the following status updates:
- I’m thinking of leaving my wife
- I’m lonely
- I’m grateful in an inexplicable way for the wonders of life.
- I’m not sure how to parent my kids
- We got into a huge fight
- I feel a sense of contentment and spiritual peace.
- I’m lost in life.
- I don’t know what I believe.
These are the sort of intimate details that we only share with those who are closest to us. They’re not the sort of things we share with 182 near-strangers. And so our social media is actually filled with pointless statements:
- I made brownies today
- I finished my essay
- I went for a jog today
- I love “Glee!”
At the end of the day, we think we’ve had meaningful interactions, but all we’ve really done is publicly postured our lives; all we’ve done is played the role of ourselves; all we’ve done is talked about things that don’t matter. And we’ve done it in an extremely “efficient” way. We have reduced the work of community to a few words and mouse clicks.
True community is both more public and private than this. It is messy and inefficient. In true community, we learn that living peacefully means listening more than talking. It means keeping things to ourselves. It means only allowing the handful of people into our lives who we trust.
At the same time, true community is far more public than “social media.” We cannot curate an image of ourselves when we spend time with each other. Building a house, backpacking through the wilderness, or worshipping beside one another necessitates a certain level of authenticity. We get to see each other’s true selves. This means that true community requires a certain level of vulnerability and tolerance. We find that we must show our true selves — vices and all — to our family, our friends, and our immediate community. In that sense we are vulnerable and trusting in their mutual trust of us, despite our failings. It is these interactions that create the sinews and ligaments of community. And it is these interactions that can never be recreated on a social network.
“But there are an enormous number of people — and I am one of them — whose native religion is Christianity. We were born to it; we began to learn it before we became conscious; it is, whatever we think of it, and intimate belonging of our being; it informs our consciousness, our language, our dreams. We can turn away from it or against it, but that will only bind us tightly to a reduced version of it. A better possibility is that this, our native religion, should survive and renew itself so that it may become as largely and truly instructive as we need it to be. On such a survival and renewal of the Christian religion may depend the survival of the Creation that is its subject.”
– Wendell Berry from “Christianity and the Survival of Creation”
As previously noted, I am a high school teacher. As a high school teacher, I am part of a large bureaucratic structure called the “educational system.” Previous to being a teacher, I was a youth worker and thus a part of a large bureaucratic structure called the “church.” In both places, I’ve had the chance to be a part of gatherings, retreats, and conferences. And in both places, the environment of these conferences is largely the same: good food and luxurious accommodations; charismatic speakers; discussion on innovation and change; fog machines, lights, and loud music.
We are always promised something life-changing. We leave believing in that promise. But somewhere along the way, we lose our energy and our passion. The life-changing innovation is not working and the world is largely the same. Eventually, we end up questioning whether it wasn’t all smoke and mirrors. We become, at worst, cynical and discouraged.
Contrast this with a few disciples and seekers on a hillside. There are no luxurious accommodations. There are no lights. There are no fog machines or big-screens.
The venue is free. Here, you will only find soft human voices and shared bread.
I’m always trying to figure out how to change the world (it’s on my to-do list). And what I’m realizing is that I’m not seeing a lot of “world-changing” happening in hotel ballrooms or in stuffy conference halls. I think things change when people sit together and talk softly. No agenda. No lanyards. No gimmicks. Just open space, shared bread, and authentic words.
Show me a conference like this. I’ll be the first to sign up.
What do we celebrate?
It seems like a good question to me. By determining what we celebrate as a culture, and how we celebrate as a culture, we can gain an accurate picture of what we hold dear.
For some reason I am obsessed by this video (and not just because it is vaguely pornographic.) This song reached the #1 spot on the charts this summer in the fastest time since the 1960’s. It was the summer anthem of 2010. I admit that it’s catchy. The lyrics and the images both celebrate youth, beauty and sexuality, and while I’m not opposed to celebrating any of these things, it’s the way in which they are celebrated that greatly troubles me.
We often celebrate a beauty that is not real, a youth that is not real, a sexuality that is not real. It is contrived, but not for the sake of imitating the real. On the contrary, the contrived is preferred to the real. Give us airbrushed bodies instead of ones that wrinkle and sag, we say. Give us pornographic fantasies instead of sex. Give us bodies taut with chemicals and surgery instead of real youth. Why do we prefer the unreal instead of the real? I think it is because of what we celebrate.
If we celebrate only youth, beauty, and sex, we are only celebrating those things that are fleeting. They fade and pass; they cannot remain. By celebrating what cannot last, we are always disappointed. That is why the imitation of the real is so much better, we think. Skin may lose the glow of youth, but plastic does not. Sex may not always reach the heights of passion, but the fantasies of our pornographies always do. In this way we try desperately and foolishly to celebrate the eternity of fleeting things.
Why do we not, instead, celebrate the eternal? Why do we not celebrate the stories, and the words that, over the ages, have given countless weary souls respite? Why do we not celebrate the spirit, that eternal part of us that will someday unite with God? Why do we not celebrate eternal cycles of birth, love, and death?
Instead, we celebrate the transitory . We celebrate that which decays, and fantasize of wrapping and preserving these things in plastic and cotton candy…