It only took me two months to make the 5-block trek from my apartment to the Kara Walker exhibit at the soon-to-be demolished former Domino Sugar Factory. And it’s true: it’s impossible to convey the enormity of the sugar sphinx through a cropped Instagram photo on a smartphone screen.
Still, that’s not even my most prominent memory from the exhibit. Instead it’s entering the exhibit — finally, after waiting in line outside for so long — only to discover another, separate line forming inside the factory. I scanned this second line, from the last woeful soul all the way up to the giddy frontrunner, until I landed upon the main attraction: a hole in the factory wall that looks out onto the East River, and through which only one person can look at a time. And this was all going on, even as a woman working the exhibit patrolled up and down the line to expressly state that the hole is “not part of the exhibit.”
It’s something we’re softening up to at a disturbingly rapid rate, this habit of choosing to not see what’s directly in front of us, and to be totally ignorant to it — and totally cool with that too.
I tend to think that the only reason my generation is the first to hashtag weddings is because we can hashtag a wedding; that if my parents’ generation had the same tools and resources we do now, they probably would have acted the same way. But is this really true? 50 or 60 years ago, were people’s values similar to ours today? That is, would they put more time and effort into their wedding hashtag (or whatever the equivalent was at the time) than into their actual marriage?
Recently I witnessed an engagement that was called off. That, in itself, is lamentable enough, but to make matters worse the couple was about 9 months deep into a very active Mark-and-Isabel’s-Wedding hashtag. In the words of Joseph Conrad: The horror! The horror! Today the newlywed mentality seems to be: perfect and polish the wedding hashtag to a Tee — and then, only if there’s time, focus on the actual relationship.
It’s pretty safe to assume that those who went to the Kara Walker exhibit have, at some point in their lives, seen the East River. It’s also likely that they waited on line to gain entrance to the exhibit for an hour because of some desire to see the exhibit — not the East River, which will be there upon entering the Domino Sugar Factory and (unfortunately) upon leaving too. And yet, despite all of this, people still waited on this curious second line, neglecting the colossal-sized sphinx figure right in front of them so that they could glimpse something they probably see every single day. And, like the East River, Mark-and-Isabel’s engagement photos will unfortunately continue to exist too; it’s their relationship and their love for each other that’s subject to change. So why not just worry about that?