So I’m in Salt Lake at a coffee shop last week. Big mistake, of course. Coffee shops are the worst. If you don’t think so, you’re still just as pretentious as any of us. And I’m not saying I’m not pretentious because look, like I said, I was just in a coffee shop myself, walking right down Pretension Avenue with all the other yuppie-Chai-with-soy-ists. Not to mention I was in Salt Lake, the town that defines itself in opposition to all things Mormon. Is anyone else as annoyed at the in-your-face-pre-pubescent-liberalist-we’re-all-exes attitude of some folks up there? I have yet NOT to gag when someone says, cigarette in hand, vintage clad, “Yeah. I live in the avenues,” and then looks over expecting me to be uber-impressed. Just shoot me right there. But wait, before I die, first let me get a cup of coffee with all Deseret’s Rebels! Hmm. Cool band name. Or maybe my next “alternative” blog!
Anyway, so there I am in Beans & Shiz or whatever the place is called, and everyone’s, well, trying to out-liberalize everyone else. I hear a girl talking to some friends about all the liberal activities her and her boyfriend do together: “Oh, we love NPR,” she says, “we, like, fall asleep to it every night together. Yesterday I made vegan cupcakes and we listened to some old episodes of ‘This American Life’ and it was like, you know, so relaxing.” Oh, the eroticization of NPR! Will it end? This story, a seemingly carefree, mundane relating of everyday life, is actually so much more, isn’t it? And we all do it. This name dropping. This nudging of objects into our conversations subtly to “show” who we “really” are. Good (subconscious) salesmanship is what it is. And we’ve learned from America’s best, no doubt.
Bottom line. Here’s what I learned that day:
While the girl thought she was trying to say, “Here’s why you should be friends with me: Because I’m truly interesting,” she was really saying, “Here’s all the reasons why you should be friends with me: Because I surround myself with cool stuff and, uh, well, because I have cool stuff.”
Material things now represent us as individuals in every way, shape, and form — as in, they aren’t windows into personality — they are currency for personality, they signify personality. Nowadays we can lay out very specific lifestyles for ourselves if we put the right objects around us: Gadgets, clothes, cars, Facebook applications. Geez, remember Myspace Kudos? Even that now seems innocent in comparison. Everything I own, down to the very last paper clip, can, if I want, somehow demonstrate my political/musical/sexual/spiritual/technical orientation. And it’s so easy, as Steve Jobs says over and over (and over and over). We have so many options. Things are so easy, so beautiful, so smooth. Sad isn’t it?
It’s so easy to hop on those state-of-the-art objects and ride off, past Pretension Avenue into somewhere far darker where one, so drenched in comfort forgets the state of reality and more importantly, forgets to question it.
Haven’t we got anything more to give than our albums on vinyl, our Netflix nstant play lists, our various collections of stuff? Can’t we just have some conversations about ideas around here?
Remember that one Seinfeld episode where Kramer writes a coffee table book about coffee tables which actually turns into a miniature coffee table? And it’s a hit with Elaine’s publisher? Perfect example of that idolatry for things folding into itself, then folding into itself, until it becomes nothing but the thing itself.
Let us ask ourselves: Am I as “easy” as my Mac? Am I as silent and empty as the objects I consume?