A worthwhile book to check out is Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by journalist Eric Schlosser- it always had a big impact on me. I’ll admit it, before reading that book I still had a nostalgic craving once in a while for those mini-cheeseburgers at McDonalds (I think this had some connection to childhood). A happy clown, the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese- they were all created to seduce children into eating this slop- and make them customers for life. But Oh Lordy, after reading Fast Food Nation, I NEVER ate fast food again. No need to get into the specifics about industrialized meat production- I’m sure you can use your imagination here. Also, a pretty interesting read regarding the mass production and homogenization of pretty much everything in our modern world today: from suburban housing to chain stores. The more efficient our economy gets, the more mass-produced and devoid of identity our landscape becomes. The car-driven modern areas of Atlanta look the same as the modern suburbs of Los Angeles, of Silicon Valley, of Houston, and well, just about everywhere is becoming the same as everywhere else. Frappuccino anyone?
More than giving me a Clockwork Orange style bodily revulsion to junk food, the passage that always stuck in my mind more than any other was the chapter that detailed a marketing conference in Colorado where Christopher Reeves was the guest speaker. This was after his tragic riding accident that had left him paralyzed from the neck down. Prior to his speech, the audience heard from numerous marketing gurus, motivational speakers and house-flipping experts, but it was Reeves’ powerful speech (and Schlosser’s description of its effect on the audience) that still stays with me to this day:
“As the loudspeakers play the theme song from Chariots of Fire, Lowe wheels Christopher Reeve onstage. The crowd applauds wildly. Reeve’s handsome face is framed by longish gray hair. A respirator tube extends from the neck of his blue sweat shirt to a square box on the back of his wheelchair. Reeve describes how it once felt to lie in a hospital bed at two o’clock in the morning, alone and unable to move and thinking that daylight would never come. He thanks the crowd for its support and confesses that the applause is one reason he appears at these events; it helps to keep his spirits up. He donates the speaking fees to groups that conduct spinal-cord research. He has a strong voice but needs to pause for breath after every few words. “I’ve had to leave the physical world,” he says. A stillness falls upon the huge arena. “By the time I was twenty-four, I was making millions,” he continues. “I was pretty pleased with myself. . . . I was selfish and neglected my family. . . . Since my accident, I’ve been realizing . . . success means something quite different.” Members of the audience start to weep. “I see people achieve these conventional goals,” he says in a mild, even tone. “None of it matters.”
His words cut through all the snake oil of the last few hours, calmly and with great precision. All of those in the arena, no matter how greedy or eager for promotion, all 18,000 of them, know deep in their hearts that what Reeve has just said is true – too true. Their latest schemes, their plans to market and subdivide and franchise their way up, the whole spirit now gripping Colorado, seem to vanish in an instant. Men and women up and down the aisles wipe away tears, touched not only by what this famous man has been through but also by a sudden awareness of something hollow in their own lives, something gnawing and unfulfilled.”
Ouch, I don’t think you can be human and not feel something reading that passage. I think our culture often pressures us into pursuing these conventions goals as the be all end all of our puny existences: a degree, a flashy car, the model girlfriend, a prefabricated house in the suburbs. All of these things can be nice- but it’s kinda like drinking a spoonful of Draino: sure it cleans you out- but it leaves you feeling hollow inside…
What conventional goals are you grinding it out for day-to-day? I’ll be the first to admit I get caught up in bullshit that in the end is completely meaningless. Were I paralyzed or blinded tomorrow: losing my temper in traffic, feeling crummy about work, comparing myself to other people- it would all really just amount to a hill of beans wouldn’t it? Appreciate your life, your health, your friends and family, the lover you wake up next to in the morning, a roof over your head- it may not be there forever. In fact, I guarantee you it will not all be there forever- not even Superman.