Monday, August 22, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Why don’t you teach your heart to feel - by Nick van der Leek

I recently wrote an article for a major Sunday paper on the 75th anniversary of the SABC. The idea was to take a pleasant walk down memory lane, recalling all the warm and fuzzy stuff surrounding the early days of television. What surprised me was in terms of my very earliest memories, I could remember virtually nothing. Given the huge volumes of TV I consumed as a child, the meagre trickle of memories was bewildering.

I happen to have exceptional memory under the worst of circumstances. I can recall smells, and colors, and exact sentences over the course of years. Some of my memories are extremely vivid, and rich in detail. Which is why I find the mind-swipe that is TV memory quite sad.

I was able to jog my memories by googling a list of SABC movies in the 70's and 80's, and of course, with the help of a list a lot of TV memory came swishing back. But I think there is a reason TV/movie memory is expendable. Because we achieve absolutely fuck all when we're sitting on our asses watching shit happen. All we learn, perhaps, is the art of doing nothing, and being losers.

Which is why this piece of writing, which I picked up recently in the Energy Bulletin made an impression:

one of the advantages of time is that the most forgettable things get forgotten; there was a huge amount of vapid popular culture in the 19th century, for example, but only the most erudite specialists know much about it now. Your chances of finding something worth reading or watching or hearing or doing goes up as time has more of a chance to run its filter on the results. Second, even if what you find is pablum, it’s the pablum of a different time, and will clash with mental habits tuned to the pablum of this time, with useful results. When the visual conventions of a Humphrey Bogart movie strike you as staged and hokey, stop and ask yourself how current popular culture will look fifty years from now—if anybody’s looking at them at all, that is.

That, of course, is the third reason, the one I hinted at a few paragraphs back: current popular culture, like so much else of contemporary American society, is almost uniquely vulnerable to the multiple impacts of an industrial civilization in decline. Fifty years from now, the way things are going just now, the chances that anybody will be able to watch a Care Bears video are pretty close to nil; most of today’s media don’t age well, and all of them depend directly and indirectly on energy inputs that our society can scarcely maintain now and almost certainly won’t be able to maintain for most Americans for more than a decade or two longer. Beyond that, you’re going to need something more durable, and a great deal of what was in circulation before the era of mass culture will still be viable after that era is over once and for all.

If the above rationale from John Michael Greer makes sense, you might want to act on it, and here are his two suggestions:

1. Pull the plug on current popular culture in your own life. Cutting back a little doesn’t count, and no, you don’t get any points for feeling guilty about wallowing in the muck. Face it, your television will do you more good at the bottom of a dumpster than it will sitting in your living room, and the latest pirate zombie romantic mystery, with or without Jane Austen, is better off gathering cobwebs in a warehouse; you don’t need any of it, and it may well be wrecking your capacity to think clearly.

2. Replace it with something worth reading, watching, hearing, or doing. You may well have your own ideas about what goes in this category, but in case you don’t, I have a suggestion: go looking among things that are older than you are.

In my case, I am a writer, and I am often assaulted by the seeming futility of adding to the clutter of mindless entertainment. I would like to do more than entertain with my writing. I want my stories to inspire change, to inspire deeper introspection, to give us pause. I want my stories to lift through popular culture, and not be submersed in it. I don't want to mire people in endless reruns of some Hollywood revenge formula. I want people to feel their personal truth magnified, resonating, in a story which perhaps empowers them to trust in their own capacities to change their world, and communities. Powerful movies with integrity, and conscience, include AVATAR, The Dark Knight, 7, Inception, Revolutionary Road, A Beautiful Mind, American Beauty, Star Trek and others. These films are more than fodder. They nourish the spirit. They lift us up to where we belong. This is what I aim to produce. What will you do to add meaning, and value to not only your own life, but those around you? Because it boils down to teaching your heart to talk. Those heartfelt actions matter, because above and beyond the cacophony of voices, they can be heard and felt.

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