Perambulating the Bounds

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

All you need is anxiety

On red eye flights, your connection to reality comes unmoored. The whole business gets started when everything is shutting down, the streets are dark, the airport is closing up. Once the flight gets going, maybe I sleep, but more often I go into a semi-conscious stasis. That’s where I found myself on the redeye I took last week. So I watched the TV without the sound, listened to my iPod instead.

After the movie they show segments from TV shows. There were three segments. One was Rachel Ray doing a travel piece where she went to Jackson Hole and showed how you can eat out for $40 a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack all at cool places. Then there was a 20/20 segment with two reports, one on people whose kids eat so compulsively that they have to lock up food (there was a CSI episode on this syndrome this season so it must be a vital part of the culture), and parents who put their teenagers under surveillance, all of which seemed to be inspired by one guy’s book. Finally there was a bit by someone named Katie Brown who does home décor and cooking. She’s hyper like Rachel Ray, with the hand gestures and all, but not quite as cute.

These segments were consumed with anxiety, one after another. It’s obvious with the 20/20 stuff. The first bit, about the eating disorder, a biological problem where the person does not receive the signals that they are full and will eat so much to do damage to themselves, is no doubt extremely rare, but it gives every parent whose kid is overweight (or not) a reason to freak out even more. About something that basically won’t happen. Then you show families who have introduced the surveillance regimen into their households: video monitors, GPS tracking on the car. The footage made it seem like the kids were kind of going along with it. Of course I’m not listening to the soundtrack during any of this.

OK, the anxiety is easy to see there. Do my kids have a debilitating eating disease? Should I be using technology to keep a closer eye on them? But it’s there in the food and decorating too. Rachel Ray’s piece says you need to take the right kind of vacation, but make sure you eat at nice places but don’t get in over your head with the cost. Rachel will ease your concerns about how to take the right kind of vacation and not feel your poverty too much or feel like you don’t know what’s good. Moreover, the segment tells you these are things you should be worried about. Then it tells you a solution to the problem it has posited. There’s an easier solution to the “problem” of your vacation. Don’t accept the premise that it is a problem. But this is hard, because the creation of these false problematics is infused throughout the information environment in which you live. The obvious methods of entertainment, like an appealing host, pull you in and make the anxiety familiar and comforting.

Katie Brown also helps you solve problems you might not know you had. How to throw a charming dinner party. How often are you really doing that? In the atomized world we live in, you don’t entertain the boss like Blondie and Dagwood did very damned often. And she remodels this couple’s living room using very inexpensive materials (how can I have a fabulous house without much money to spend on it) and ends up with something more color coordinated but uglier and colder than the original room. With some really strange features like candle wall sconces made from copper tubes.

Sitting there in a transcontinental daze, I marveled at how unhealthy every bit of the video stream was. No comfort, no ease, no health. No pleasure, only the chance that you might avoid some humiliation by adopting things endorsed somewhere out there.

3 Comments:

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Jon Morris (Matis), at 8:21 AM  

  • Amen my brother. I wonder if we (let's say "we" as people in "the arts") are a self-selecting group of dissidents, eschewing a steady diet of anxiety in favor of something more nourishing?

    I hope that's not the case, since it would follow that art will always be an underground / subculture that will never reach the vast majority of the population? However, my own cynical perception is that we may be somehow the only ones not drinking the kool-aid? i guess i'm hoping that i'm just arrogant and it's not so bad, really (the situation, not the kool-aid).

    And I suppose this issue is really more about commerce than substance. I find that air travel is incredibly disorienting not because of the travelling - but because of the treatment we get as a captive audience for so much advertising...

    By Blogger Jon Morris (Matis), at 8:22 AM  

  • You probably don't absorb as much television as I shamefully do (I'm a compulsive late-night channel surfer). You might be horrified to realize that the segments you saw are a very accurate sample of what most cable stations feature under the guise of entertainment. There are more than a handful of remodel/budget-design shows that have exploded onto the television in the past few years, enough that there are at least three cable stations devoted specifically to makeovers and cheap design. You are so totally right, that in addition to endorsing Hardware Depot and other corporations, these programs are designed to peddle insecurity and insatiable self-doubt. But if the majority of people under the spell of these shows cannot afford to indulge in such impractical frivoloties (no matter how cheaply they can be done) what sort of epidemic of emotional discontent are we creating for ourselves?

    By Anonymous jason driskill, at 7:05 PM  

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