American consumers are in an abusive relationship with our economy, more often than not. We hand over our money, accept mostly mediocrity in return, and either complain about it amongst ourselves or sublimate our dissatisfaction and turn it against ourselves and each other, instead of reminding companies (big and small) that it’s their job to serve our needs, not the other way around.
Most Americans these days are consistently making due with less, and getting less for their dollar, while the economy continues to flounder and jobs continue to be scarce and/or inadequate in terms of pay and benefits – even as profits remain high and the rich remain well-paid despite having screwed a whole lot of stuff up.
The prevailing messaging coming through The Screen continues to minimize and deflect us from this reality. For the past several decades, while we were absorbing a predominantly one-way narrative controlled increasingly by special interests, those same interests were squeezing more and more out of us. And now we’re nearly juiced and still they squeeze and still they trust that their narratives will keep us docile and subservient so long as they continue to control the messaging.
Sure, there’s a vocal minority out there who demands more from life than simple consumerism, but we shouldn’t be a minority. To be honest, I’m not even as vocal as I used to be in this fight – not because I’ve given up, but because, as often as I can, I just stop. As much as I can help it, I only open my wallet for, and pay attention to, companies and professionals that earn it.
Okay. Perhaps my wallet is also pretty light on the disposable income, but that’s not the point (though it’s partially the point).
The crucial point, though, is that too many of us seem to have forgotten – though it looks increasingly as if some good people are waking up – that the decisions we collectively make or don’t make every day are our power in this conflict between us (average Americans) and them (the wealthy in control of The Screen).
An advertisement only wins your attention and your dollar if you choose to ignore the fact that your lens is being focused for you – on a one-way narrative designed most often for no other purpose other than to part you with your money. Spend what you want on what you want, of course, but I think we owe it to ourselves to respond to most advertising messaging with more in the way of initial distrust.
With all apologies to those for whom it isn’t so simple – though many of us could stand to spend less on the distractions and diversions and foods engineered primarily to keep us distracted and sated and quiet – money only leaves your hands if you let it. We need so much less than we buy and consume. That’s an American pastime as well, but it’s one we may have to let go of a little bit if we want to regain our freedom. We’re as complicit in our own repression as those who lord over us, until and unless we change the narrative of our economic lives away from one steeped purely in sales and consumerism and back to one of reasonable, community-centric supply and demand.
What does this have to do with The Screen? Well, how else can we be expected to band together? The economic reality I’ve been discussing exists in direct correlation with a now “normal” way of life wherein the majority of our consumer population lives out most days shackled to jobs that, for us, remain linked to sustenance (money for food, shelter, transportation, health care). But for them (the intransigent old guard), our continued participation as workers and buyers only islinked more importantly to the bottom line. As has been established, the wealthy and privileged special interests that run our country aren’t interested in matters of livelihood. Many of today’s wealthy don’t even understand livelihood. They only know privilege and power, and want to maintain both, again, at all costs.
Should we blame them for that impulse? Not entirely, in my opinion. Human nature is what it is. But human nature isn’t only defined by greed and opportunism, a combination which historical precedent has shown invariably always gives way to subjugation and oppression. At the end of the day, we have to stop pretending that we aren’t collectively responsible for the mess these machinations have created. In very real terms, they have caused – and continue to cause – the deaths of a large numbers of Americans that our crumbling social compact has left behind.
Beyond this, I think we need to shake off the narrative we’ve been indoctrinated in for decades (that America’s past successes came about because of individualism and free-market capitalism only) and remember that human nature is also about community. More importantly, in terms of the task that faces us, human nature is also about emotional expression.
That’s where, for me, it all comes back around to what the proliferation The Screen, and of social networking in particular, means to our prospects for deliverance. I believe Facebook and Twitter and the like emerged and rose to such importance because of a symptomatic need on the part of everyday people to free ourselves from the one-way narratives that have failed us in life, and on which we have mostly soured as a result of their near-total corruption. I believe we turn to The Screen in part because it has always been there, talking to us, but that we fill it now with our own faces and the faces of our kindred because we crave the authenticity and connection that we have lacked for so long while we were bombarded with agendas on the television at night and were pushed in front of computers, often in service of similar agendas, during the day.
Even those of us who fail to understand this in any way, our privileged white whiners and our imitative hipsters, they turn to The Screen and the internet for the same reason the rest of us do. It’s not just about attention in their case. It’s about the intense sadness that is their life. It’s about the emotional neediness that pervades an existence that has been defined by the lie that life is anywhere near as shiny and fatigable as it has historically been shown to be on The Screen, a lie that has been blasted into our faces since we were children. The lie lords over the lives of such people even as they purport to exist in total opposition to it, because in doing so they ignore the fact that they are realigning their point of view using reactive rather than active energy.
I believe it’s crucial that we acknowledge all this, and that, further, we act upon it by attempting to share our experiences and our collective pain and broaden our perspective. It’s, admittedly, confusing. We are used to a world where The Screen speaks and we process and respond mostly from our own point of view and for ourselves. Now that The Screen has been paired with the internet and has proliferated into more evolved iterations, and we have begun to speak more frequently back to it in earnest, we need to engage with one another, more often, on real and honest terms. And we should do so with actual people, especially those who we were previously led to believe were different from us (they aren’t).
We should reserve our online energy for, and wield our own little versions of The Screen in service of, the real-world fight. Most important of all, we must remember when we interact with one another, that we are all in the same predicament. We can all, myself included, do a better job of remembering the crucial difference between the old narrative of The Screen and the new one: that the new narrative is a dialogue, and that we have a say the conversation.
Take it from someone who’s spent the last ten years stumbling after a means of engaging in a more honest cultural dialogue through his work. A two-way conversation is, admittedly, infinitely messier and more difficult than a one-way conversation. But it’s also truer, more human. Dialogue equalizes us, and we need so much more of it if we’re to ever bring validity back to the increasingly hollow claims we put forth in this country: that we’re all equal, and entitled to our fair shot at fulfillment and happiness.