Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Living in Wonderland

It has not been uncommon for many years now to see articles about how it is that people nowadays have lost contact with the earth, especially those who live in urban areas. You know, the children have no idea where milk comes from, they have never seen a vegetable grown,  never consumed an egg that had not been in cold storage, never tasted a ripe tomato, and have no personal connection to the food they eat, and so on. This is, alas, true, at least for some. But there is another dimension to this problem that I think has not had as much attention, or if it has I am not aware of it. It has more to do with the psychology of growing up in a kind of wonderland than with the material aspects of the problem. And while the personal experiences of everyone are in some respects unique there is a kind of pattern that probably repeats itself with many, especially those growing up in highly urbanized areas. Think what life is like for Americans as they grow up and mature.
As children many of the most pleasurable moments and activities center around Disney movies and Disneyland, where there are animal characters dressed more or less like humans, talking and behaving often in strange ways. Mickey and Minnie Mouse,  Donald Duck, and so on. Then there are characters like Snow White and the Dwarves, Cinderella, Wicked Witches, and more. Apart from the regular Disney fare, are the many other cartoon characters to grow up with: Elmer Fudd, Wiley Coyote, Woody Woodpecker, and so many more. Granted these experiences are not the sum total of young experiences they certainly play a role in growing up. We should not forget such other strange things children are told: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and such. These are all completely wonderland phenomenon having nothing to do with reality, just make-believe.
As one grows older one can still enjoy such childish fantasies but they lose much of their salience. Motion pictures and television become more important as we watch our many heroes take on the problems of the world. We now have characters like Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and others that portray good winning over evil while doing daredevil feats of superhuman effort. Even the apparently real characters are entirely fictional as they battle for good: The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Bruce Willis, Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, Perry Mason, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, and so on. But again these are basically all fictional stories even though they are passed off as perhaps true, at best they have the virtue of verisimilitude. They, too, are just make-believe.
There are also, of course, video games. I know nothing about them other than they, too, are completely fictional, fantastic creations that allow the players to kill and destroy, fight and win, and indulge in wonderlands even more divorced from reality than any of the above. You can also engage in fantasy football and other sports, just more make-believe. I should also mention such internet activities like Facebook and such where you can, if you wish, indulge in fictional romances or other adventures, or so I am t told.  
And all the while we are buffeted constantly with television and other advertising, every bit as fantastic as Disney. We see talking cars, talking cookies, talking insects, talking dogs and cats, talking vegetables, precocious children, silly adults, and any number of celebrities dripping false sincerity and mouthing obvious untruths and exaggerations. We are told if we use such-and-such a deodorant women will desire us, if we imbibe such a such medicine we will be free of ailments of all kinds, if we drive the right automobile women will adore us, the right hair product will have similar magical effects, if we do “X” we will lose weight, and if we do “Y” we will have a winning smile, and so on and on and on in a never ending barrage of clever falsehoods designed to get us to buy, buy, buy. The degree to which people are exposed to all this fantastic wonderland varies, of course, but if you grow up in America you are doubtless exposed to this kind of stuff just as part of everyday life. Virtually from birth to death you exist in what is little more than a wonderland of unreality, fantasy, make-believe, and depending on your personal circumstances, you may or may not have much of a connection with the “real world.” You might well grow up never seeing the stars, a wild animal, knowing where butter comes from (or even if there is such a thing as butter), expecting doors to open automatically, make and interact with “friends” thousands of miles away that you never ever meet, and live a life totally unlike any previous human experience. I wonder, what is the effect of living in such a wonderland on the human psyche? Are people changing psychologically or otherwise from this new and developing human experience? How might it be affecting us, if at all? Might it be for better or worse? I do not know. When someone asked me today if I thought things were better now than before I said yes,
We don’t have as many flat tires as we used to.

No comments: