Issue #8: ExpectationsMay 15th, 2012 by Claire
As someone who tends to end up going against the grain, popular media and I have never really gotten along.
I remember the eye-opening day my mother dragged me out to the mall for some preteen back-to-school shopping, because it was the day that all those giant posters of sexy designer-clad women finally hit me. It was the day I realized that there was this looming, attractive cultural image that I was expected to grow into… that sex was the real driving force behind the majority of minds and money everywhere… and I didn’t like it one bit. In fact, it made me nauseous that day. I spent the rest of the afternoon holed up in my room, trying to figure out why I felt so dejected.
The driving force behind all the lives I paid attention to in my childhood, whether real or fictional, was something meritable. Something purposeful, grand, intelligent.
Up until that moment, I had expected more of the world. I grew up listening to people telling me I could achieve anything I wanted and falling asleep to bedtime stories about good triumphing over evil. The driving force behind all the lives I paid attention to in my childhood, whether real or fictional, was something meritable. Something purposeful, grand, intelligent. But the world was beginning to show me her true colors.
As I began to take a look around at current trends and popular culture, it became very clear to me that the real world was anything but purposeful, grand or intelligent. A friend of mine once told me that most people seem to get about halfway through the game and then settle — and he wasn’t talking about settling down for a family, he was talking about settling for less than what they had hoped to achieve. A lot of people out there seem to be comfortably numb with where they are in life, and if they weren’t, they’d be dissatisfied.
Our culture has a knack for dissecting our innate human instincts and emotions in order to cheapen and exploit them. We post giant photos of heart-clogging hamburgers all over our cities because we know that there are those who can’t control their appetities, and profit is the bottom line. If it wasn’t, we might be more concerned with creating and promoting a product that contributed to the well-being of others. Likewise, we might be more liable to advertise less invasively. And let’s not forget the tall, shapely woman holding said burger… because there are plenty of others who have a hard time pulling their eyes away from sex.
The media introduced me to a new friend that day at the mall: Depression. And, little did I know, we would turn out to be quite the dynamic duo for the next decade of my life.
Some of my best childhood friends had been guys, and it is sad to say that we came up with more inventive, constructive games and intelligent-for-our-age projects in elementary school than we ever did in high school. We had been real friends — partners in crime and confidantes — the kind that stuck up for each other no matter what. Forget “bros before hos,” it didn’t exist because we were all on the same level.
Suddenly all anyone seemed to care about, talk about, or laugh about was sex, attraction, popular culture, and breaking the rules…
Everything seemed to shift over the course of one summer, and suddenly all anyone seemed to care about, talk about, or laugh about was sex, attraction, popular culture, and breaking the rules. I was no longer buddies with my boys. I had been pushed outside the circle of confidence to be regarded on the ever-insulting scale of sex appeal, of which, I’m sure, I scored rather mundanely.
Hormones were ruining my life. Instead of using their brains, everyone around me had stopped thinking for themselves and begun to follow blind instinct, irrational desires, and popular influence.
But more importantly, why hadn’t I?
I still don’t have the answer. That was the real kicker. It would have been tolerable, had I too been excited at the prospect of a Britney Spears concert or the next MTV Real World episode, but being unable to care or identify was isolating. Once my friends learned I didn’t have a laundry list of classmate crushes to trade with them, I became the boring prude. Instead of hopping on the bandwagon, I flopped through my adolescence, stressed, frustrated, blank, and bewildered. I was more like the ankle-roped outlaw tethered to the back of the bandwagon as it sped forth, galloping horses and all.
Now that I’m not chained to a desk in a classroom full of my media-driven, sex-obsessed peers for eight hours a day, I’m able to say that I’m a happy person. I’m able to escape a good amount of media bombardment now that I have the freedom to choose how I spend my time. That might not sound so amazing, but for a disheartened girl who never thought she would ever be happy again past the age of fifteen… I feel like it says something.
Media influences are everywhere. TV commercials, billboards, bus-side advertisements, the radio in your car, heaps of junk mail, internet pop-ups and sidebars… you can’t escape them, they never cease. I sit at an intersection for about thirty seconds each day on the way to work, and there are ten different businesses within a two block radius, complete with roadway signage and some poor guy dancing around in a pizza suit. And during tax season, Pizza Suit Guy gets to compete with crossdressing Statue of Liberty Man to see who can pull in more cars. When I check out at the grocery store, they even print sale items and business ads on the back of my receipt. Department stores design and lay out their merchandise in orders and methods scientifically proven to compel customers into buying products with the greatest profit margin.
Everyone wants to shove products into your hands that you don’t need and goals into your head that you don’t believe in.
It’s fascinating when you stop to think about it. There are all of these intense visual, auditory and even subliminal messages flying at us every hour of every day, and how many of them to we really even consciously notice anymore? Everyone seems to be vying for pieces of our time, pieces of our lives, any remnant they can get their hands on. Everyone wants to shove products into your hands that you don’t need and goals into your head that you don’t believe in. Everyone wants to tell you what’s right, what’s wrong, how you’re supposed to feel and how you’re supposed to act.
So, how many decisions have you made that were really yours? And how many decisions were made on your behalf because you let the world carry you along? Does it matter? It might…
With instructions abound on how to do this and ways to achieve that, it’s easier than ever for a person to walk through life without ever making a decision that is wholly their own. It’s easier than you might think to wake up one day, forty years down the road with a half-remodeled house in suburbia, ten years of to-do projects you just never got around to, a numbingly blue collar job you swore was just a stepping-stone, a family you don’t have enough time for, and a stunningly average mortgage payment. A disheveled mess, half planned and half done. It’s one thing if you truly want these things… but if you didn’t consciously make the decision? You’re going to be wondering how the hell you got there, and more importantly, why the hell you’re not somewhere else.
I see people in my life who are well on their way to pictures similar to what I’ve just described, but not because it’s what they want. Because it’s what they’ve been told they should want, and they can’t even imagine questioning it. Because it’s what they’re “supposed” to have, when in reality, they’re not supposed to have anything like it if it’s not what they want.
My Facebook feed, once full of party-hard college gals, is now full of single moms corralled by credit card bills and car payments…
My Facebook feed, once full of party-hard college gals, is now full of single moms corralled by credit card bills and car payments, clinging to inspirational quotes, updating the world about how their life is too hard and the world is too cruel, how hungover they are, how they just can’t keep a man in their life or keep the weight off their thighs. They gripe over not knowing how or why they’ve arrived at their current destination. I’m not sure what I think of it all… I’m not sure how we grew up in the same town, yet ended up on such opposite grounds, but I do know this: I am not one of them. And for that, I am extremely grateful.
The world can be meaningful and purpose-driven… but you have to make it that way. You can’t rely on everything Man has created to clutter it all up — you have to look past it all and figure out what you want and what you need according to you and not anyone else. As simple as that idea might sound, it is pretty astounding just how many people there are out there who have yet to attempt it.