Chasing Contentment by Erik Reymond, Free for CAPC Members
In Chasing Contentment, Erik Reymond identifies the lie that satisfaction and contentment come through consumption.
For each day of Twelvetide, Christ and Pop Culture writers will point to some of the cultural goodness that gives hope in the midst of life’s messyness. It’s our version of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song, filled with things our writers have found to be life-giving. Some entries are 2018 artifacts, some are from years past. All of them point us to hope.
It’s been two and a half years since I “retired” as the internet culture critic for this site, and in that short amount of time the internet has become an ever-increasingly ugly place. Sometime in 2016, someone (apparently) threw the switch, and “yelling at strangers about stupid stuff” stopped being a way to blow off steam and became literally the only thing we do online (and also offline). I’ve found myself spending less time online and more time reading books lately, so I guess I have the internet to thank for turning me into a big nerd, on top of everything else (BUY MY BOOK).
In each case, the [American Chopper] meme illuminated the same underlying truth: the seriousness of the things we argue about is rarely reflected in the quality of our discourse—also, throwing chairs is fun.Every once in a while, though, the internet still manages to make me laugh, and even to provide a bit of clarity to (semi-) important issues. Here are a few memes that rose to prominence this year that I hope don’t go overlooked:
I can honestly say that I’ve never watched an episode of American Chopper, but the series of stills from the show that exploded on Twitter this year confirm everything I assumed to be true about cable reality TV: It’s a bunch of people throwing furniture and yelling about stuff, at the behest of corporate execs, because that sort of thing is good for advertisers. In other words, it’s the perfect metaphor for the internet.
The five panels (which depict a firing from the bike shop featured in the long-running Discovery Channel series) originally cropped up on the internet in 2011, but took over Twitter this year, captioned to depict every argument under the sun—from absurd things like the eternal struggle we all have with self-checkout machines to more serious stuff like architecture, anthropology, and philosophy. In each case, the meme illuminated the same underlying truth: the seriousness of the things we argue about is rarely reflected in the quality of our discourse—also, throwing chairs is fun.
If there’s one argument the internet has beaten to death and then into then into the ground, it’s the one over whether Millennials are the laziest, most entitled generation ever, or, alternatively, whether Baby Boomers just need to stop projecting already. Still, the numbers speak for themselves: those of us currently in our twenties and thirties came of age in the worst economy since the Great Depression, a time of skyrocketing prices and stagnating wages. Still, that hasn’t stopped everyone else from lecturing us about how, if we only worked four jobs instead of three, we’d be dining on Kraft Dinner instead of dog food.
Exemplifying this, financial advice website MarketWatch posted a tweet back in January that read, “By age 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts”—and everyone my age immediately started laughing.
By 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts: https://t.co/QoVA6EFpHJ
— MarketWatch (@MarketWatch) May 12, 2018
Within a few months, everyone on Twitter was spoofing the tweet, posting about how, by age 35, you should have crippling existential dread, eternal social malaise, and a drawer full of probably-useless cables. None of it got any of us closer to retirement, but we’ll all probably die in an environmental and/or nuclear disaster before we reach 50, so I guess it’s okay.
The story of “Is this a pigeon?” is a long and convoluted one: in 1991, the anime series The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird aired an episode in which its android character Yutaro Katori pointed to a butterfly and asked if it was a pigeon. Sometime in 2011, a screencap of the moment, including the English subtitle, was uploaded to Tumblr, and in May of this year, seemingly everyone on Twitter was re-captioning it to illustrate confusion and ignorance—the mental states possibly most emblematic of 2018.
The basic format put labels on Yutaro and the butterfly, and then changed the final word of the caption. In one popular take, Yutaro was labeled “my body” and the butterfly was labeled “any slightly uncomfortable physical sensation,” while the caption read “Is this death?” In another, Yutaro became a “silicon valley entrepreneur,” the butterfly became “simply ignoring pre-existing labor laws & safety regulations,” and the caption read, “Is this innovation?” The best of them, however, depicted “twitter & tumblr” pointing to “harassing and insulting people” and asking, “Is this how to bring meaningful change?”
No. No, it is not. But maybe we can try again next year, internet.
Merry Third Day of Christmas, all.
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