No One’s Real Anymore

Disorganized thoughts on the idea.

So many movies and so much literature portray characters as lacking the self-doubt fundamental to post-90s-level self-awareness, cynicism, and irony. Good examples are the characters from There Will Be Blood and anything written by Ernest Hemingway. Contrast these characters with a few stereotypes of non-impoverished Americans today — the aspiring artist who unwittingly spends most of her energy on trying to get other people to call her an artist (via social networking behavior) and mimicking the behavior of more powerful artists so as to better judge to what extent she feels like/ is The Artist, rather than just being The Artist; the fashionable Man who seeks his identity by tacitly receiving information from advertising and pop culture outlets, purchases it at department stores, and stands in front of a mirror and judges to what extent he feels like/ is a Man, rather than just being a Man; maybe you get the idea.

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One of the most rallied-around critiques of our generation is that we’re full of shit. A related idea is that there’s a pervasive desire among members of our generation to become certain kinds of people who don’t exist anymore. This idea seen through a pessimistic lens includes something about recent generations of Americans becoming progressively more infantile. A realist might just say that there is a very frightened tendency that the comfortable share, and it’s to avoid doing anything new, anything new at all. Another related idea is something like this: People who’ve lived lives of steadily increasing comfort are likely to become very upset when faced with the prospect of losing any of that comfort, whether or not that comfort is totally excessive or a privilege of non-earned status, or whatever. This might have something to do with entitlement mentality.

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There Will Be Blood is an adaptation of a novel called Oil! by Upton Sinclair. The main character of the movie is an entrepreneur called Daniel Plainview. After unexpectedly striking oil while mining for silver in isolation somewhere in the American Southwest at the turn of the 20th century, the film follows Plainview dedicating his existence to his oil venture and swallowing up competitors as they come. It may or may not be obvious by now that this article is more self-analysis than cultural analysis, and if it’s valid cultural analysis, its ideas have probably been articulated much better a thousand times over by writers much more legit than me, probably ~10 years ago. Plainview conducts his oil prospecting ruthlessly and with unwavering purpose; everything falls by the wayside in the face of his goal and there is never a moment of self-doubt, maybe even self-reflection. The viewer admires Plainview for how plain his view is. An aspect so far insignificant to the theme of this article but which will be stated to maintain authority is that Daniel Plainview is also a terrible monster.

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Life Is Not Like The Movies, except for some of them, like documentaries, but even those can be edited into traditional narrative arcs and skewed by a director’s bias. Some of the types of people that Americans typically want to be are Stable And Satisfied In A Stable Relationship, Talented, Driven, Sexy, Cultured, Intelligent, Alpha, Young And Successful, Winning, and more. The types of people the vast majority of Americans are are Trying To Be Stable And Satisfied In A Satisfied Relationship, Trying To Be Talented, Trying To Be Driven, Trying To Be Sexy, Trying To Be Cultured, Trying To Be Intelligent, Trying To Be Alpha, Trying To Be Young And Successful, Trying To Be Winning, and Trying to be more. The movie character Daniel Plainview is more real of a person than I will ever be. It is thought that having an awareness of self at the level of consciously knowing you’re Trying To Be [Identity] brings with it a level of self-doubt and self-monitoring that will, ironically, indefinitely, prevent you from earnestly ever becoming [Identity]. It is thought that having an awareness of self at the level of consciously knowing you’re Trying To Be [Identity] will forever mutilate the Meaning that Authentic People allegedly use to perpetuate their authenticity into ‘merely’ an experience of pride or shame stemming from the judgement that you have successfully or unsuccessfully been a desired [Identity] (rather than an experience of uninhibited meaning an [Identity] allegedly feels).

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The original idea for this article was to write an Insightful piece on the state of American identity, but after coming to the conclusion that Intelligent People probably figured out whatever I was planning on writing years ago (the publishing of which would have indicated that I wasn’t an Intelligent Person), along with swimming in a sea of “WTF am I trying to say” for about an hour caused me to give up writing the article a Successful Young Writer would write, and instead attempt to opt for a more abstract target of Talent, one whose authenticity is easier to fake and mistake, one that — because I couldn’t figure out a way to present my thoughts at the caliber of a Successful Young Writer — allowed me to just write down a bunch of unorganized ideas, separate them with line breaks, and legitimately claim control over it by engaging in a kind of doublethink that the article’s sufficiently organized under the theme of disorganization. It’s also hard to discern if I care about imparting whatever useful information is in this article to an audience, or if I’m just trying to maintain an identity.

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An ironic worldview is a self-aware one from which there may be no escape. Personally, I have worries about this belief. David Foster Wallace wrote of irony, “Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. Once everybody knows that equality of opportunity is bunk and Mike Brady’s bunk and Just Say No is bunk, now what do we do? All we seem to want to do is keep ridiculing the stuff. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.”

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It is as-yet unknown if Authenticity is an illusion. It is also unknown if it is desirable in the way this article conceives it. It is now worth considering that Successful Daniel Plainview was a terrible monster. It is now worth considering that Talented Writer Ernest Hemingway was an egotistical dick who probably wouldn’t have been your friend. It is also worth considering that Genius Steve Jobs could have (arguably) saved himself, that Talented Magic Johnson slept with like 300 women a year when he was in the NBA (Google it), that Legend Jerry Sandusky is an alleged child molester who allegedly helped facilitate a child pimping ring, that Successful Writer Bret Easton Ellis’ personality seems pretty much insufferable, that Alpha Tom Cruise is a scientologist, that Deep And Depressed Robert Smith is now old, fat and the caricature of someone you might see at Denny’s drinking coffee at 3 a.m. on a weeknight, that Talented Morrissey is, arguably, in the same boat. I’ve spent a good amount of energy trying to make this paragraph a certain length, rather than contain specific information. Irony is maybe the logical product of realizing the bullshit of cliches. It’s easy to roll your eyes at banal sincerity. It is so easy to ridicule those who aren’t afraid to show that they actually give a shit.

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What’s really bothering me is this pervasive feeling of not giving a shit in combination with the pressure to actually give a shit. The modern Intelligent Person or the Person Who’s Trying To Be Intelligent sees that there’s a ceiling of meaning to everything, and by that I mean that I’m presented with way too much choice. That was actually sort of rhetorical — what I mean to say is that it’s hard for me not to eventually experience everything I dedicate time to as essentially futile; that it’s hard for me not to eventually experience the meaning I posit everything I dedicate my time to as a construct of the pressure to feel positive, to feel significant in some way. Such feelings make it easy to be juvenile and find the one inevitable thing that’s stupid about everything. Fortunate for my tendency to feel most comfortable when having absolutely no one or nothing to which to answer, seeing the stupid aspect of everything allows me to avoid doing anything new, anything new at all. This is an unfortunate reality for the part of my personality that constantly pressures me into seeking new levels of significance. Irony is the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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