Friday, July 22, 2011

the furrows in the brows.

Adbusters, the magazine, is really - really insightful. An old friend from college used to have a subscription, and I'd sit in his dorm room and read them cover to cover. Recently, I unearthed an old copy from 2003 that was in the bottom of a stack of readables in a friends bathroom, and naturally, I took it and devoured it. A stand out article was written by a man who goes by the name Rob Wipond:

"I'm rolling down well-travelled tracks, chatting with an acquaintance about the weather, gardening, a TV show, a sports team. Or depositing money at the bank, or thinking about my errands. Life is unfolding by rote, pre-scripted by an invisible hand. Then suddenly, without warning, bang. An eruption.
I'm off the tracks, improvising in uncharted territory. That casual acquaintance is crying as she tells me about her recent emotional meltdown and inability to work. My bank teller softly confides that she has a softball-sized tumor on her kidney which she believes was caused by food additives and indoor pollution. My mailman asks, out of the blue, if I'm as disturbed by the prospect of war as he is.
All of a sudden I'm standing in the middle of the street, in an apartment hallway, or in a bank, sharing intense personal feelings and radical views on society with a near stranger.
It's like one of those moments when the thin illusion of the play is stripped away, and instead the actors are gaping straight into each other's own naked fears and longings.
Maybe regular folk talked this way in the streets and bars and shops in the days leading up to the French Revolution, or the American Civil War. Maybe we're starting to do it more today.
It seems that way.
But we often resist being yanked out of our collective social and psychological customs. The first one to break the established order always feels overly exposed. No one wants to spoil the party. And yet, doesn't it seem ever more difficult to avoid?
Take the potluck dinner I recently attended. Mid-way through the meal, someone joked about someone else's vegetarianism, and that led to mutually contemptuous exchange. The volatile energy quickly spread around the table. The ham roast from the factory hog farm; the soy loaf from the edge of the disappearing rainforest; the unfairly traded chocolate, coffee and sugar in the cake - each person's dish became implicated in everything from environmental ecocide and indigenous genocide to infanticide and slow suicide. Then the moral finger-pointing expanded to people's sweatshop clothes, corporate jobs, mutual funds, pollution contributions, techno-gadget fetishes, and holier-than-thou attitudes.
Like never before, I could see what a meager film was ordinarily insulating us from all of these painful facts about our society. Even when people tried to move the conversation to lighter topics, chats about football and the weather soon slipped again into ruminations about unfair concentrations of wealth and global climate chance. We had stepped through the door. For this night, at least, there was no going back.
It's ultimately futile to resist these shifts from the rote to the all-too-real. They're coming, as surely as reality itself is encroaching on our dreams and illusions. I've decided the disruptions are a good thing; in fact, I encourage them. It doesn't take much. All you really have to do is look and listen, and you'll see a person's deep struggle hinted at in the tone of voice, the body posture, the furrows in the brows and the furtive eyes. Eventually, inevitably, something will slip out. One of you will mention a tragedy in the news, a money crunch, a longing for a loving partner. It may seem ordinary or trivial, but if you watch closely, you'll begin to sense that a deep-seated desire to find another way of life is tentatively rearing its head. It's a fleeting chance to connect more profoundly, to re-open and re-shape the automatic social relations in NUMBED society.
To confront, together.
Nourishing and pursuing these shifts, I now see clearly why so many workplaces have to be so strict and mainstream media, so propagandistic. I understand why we need judges, police and soldiers to enforce the established rules of human relations.
IT'S BECAUSE SO MANY OF US ARE SO CLOSE - SO DESPERATELY CLOSE - TO ERUPTION."

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