Yesterday I was looking at pictures of friends in France. They’re about my age and their kids are the age of mine.
Now, most of my pictures on line (though not all) are of conventions and fan events, because my facebook page is a professional page, not a personal one. (I would start a personal one, but most of my personal life is just my kids, and if they’re looking on FB for pictures, they’re ill. Now this might change as the kids move out/get a life/live in other states, but right now there’s no point.)
So, my pictures are different. But we also have family pictures. We used to do a thing every year where we took pictures of events throughout the year, and the things the kids participated in, then narrated it, put it together, and sent a CD to the grandparents.
We don’t do that anymore – mostly time issues – but we do still take pictures, now on the – increasingly rare – occasions when the four of us do something fun together, like go to a special event at a museum or take an overnight trip somewhere. (The last one I can remember, absent cons) is the Van Gogh exhibit in Denver which we took in last year on Black Friday.)
The thing is, in all these pictures, my kids are smiling, or goofing off, or even giving each other the stink eye.
Our family pictures involve stuff like mini-golfing together and posing around fiberglass animals. Or pretending to be swept out with the monumental dust-pan and broom outside the Denver Art Museum. Or Marshall looking very sophisticated (but not bored) in his leather blazer, looking at pictures.
Yesterday I read this at Ace of Spades, so I was primed to think how much people, consciously, try to make their lives look like “they should”.
And then I looked at pictures from France. I think all of us have watched at least one French movie, right?
Well, pictures from France, even pictures of people my kids’ age all transmit that “the world is a dingy place and we’re all hard eyed realists with incredibly complex sex lives” look of French movies.
Is it true?
Oh, heck no, no more than street cars mentioned by Ace are romantic or beautiful or anything like that. This is just the image sold in the movies. Most people in France, except for the issues brought on by socialism (break up of families, high unemployment, pervasive bureaucracy) live the same small, happy lives as anyone else. You know, someone to love, something to do, something to eat. Lives just comfortable enough they don’t struggle for more.
But how much you enjoy how you live and what you perceive as “the good life” can definitely be influenced by what you see. And that in turn changes what you do and what you see around you, and therefore your mood.
It’s probably not a coincidence that France has one of the highest rates in the world for consumption of anti-depressives.
For some reason – and it has to do with taking a really weird turn at the romantics and then getting stuck with more socialist realism than should be possible outside the Soviet union – they internalized the idea that high art is vaguely boring and definitely pessimistic (here I think it’s a great deal too bad that most of their “art” is protected from competition with foreign art by various stupid laws, and is subsidized with stipends allocated by bureaucrats, for whom, of course, life is both boring and pessimistic, with shades of sadism.)
And so, even though they might have been able to get around the blight of socialism, in time, and even though they live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, they’ve internalized self-hatred, unhappiness as a sort of chic accoutrement, and the meaninglessness of their own quotidian life. (Which, even without socialism would make their family lives a mess and taking daily pleasure in things difficult.)
So, what does this have to do with anything other than beating the French? (Admittedly always a good pastime, particularly since I’m writing stuff in Liberte seacity.)
Simple: a lot of our high culture is French. It is sometimes French by way of Germany, but it is French. Most of our glitterati love French culture and by that I don’t mean the good stuff like what Mr. Du Toit appreciates (I have some favorite French writers, myself.) No, most of them admire the more recent stuff, not even the French cinema, but the pictures they get from friends who go on vacation there. They admire the air of being unutterably bored and depressed and the way everyone there seems to accept the world is on a handbasket ride to h*ll. It’s so… sophisticated!
In their minds, most of our glitterati are hanging out in cafes, smoking thin little cigarettes and sneering at the world.
I mean, most of them aren’t even looking at France but at American movies that show France, but they think it’s all so unutterably romantic and so much better than our cowboy can-do attitude, and they want to think life means nothing and all is lost so they can be just like the French.
In fact, the insanity in SF/F now reminds me a lot of the French science fiction of the seventies. (It was excusable. It was after all the seventies.) Stranger and stranger sexual identities, tearing down of all taboos, life is a bitch. Humans are evil. And then you die. Check.
Look, yesterday a friend sent me a picture of what can only be called a cave-world in China. The first comment was “Now that it’s discovered, humans will destroy it.” And it was followed by upteen comments agreeing with this.
Now, the caves will almost surely be despoiled, because it’s a communist regime. (duh.) But not because it’s “humanity” and even if it were, why the heck SHOULDN’T they be despoiled? (Other than scientific investigation, natch.) I mean, what is their intrinsic value outside of humanity studying/admiring them? And yep, a dozen of the comments were “Humans should just die off, they ruin everything.” Uh… everything for whom? If there are not humans, who appreciates/gives aesthetic value to anything? If an elephant paints in the forest and no human sees it, did it really happen?
These people clearly did not believe in this – no, seriously – For one, they were all still alive. No one can go to life hating themselves that much and survive. But it was the pose to strike to appear intelligent, in comments, in novels, in drawings, in…
To be hopeful and happy is to be low brow. To show yourself intelligent you need to despair in the approved Socialist-realist way.
The problem with this is that this sort of thing seeps into the culture by forming the younger people. It forms their attitudes and their beliefs. They are too unsophisticated to know the adults don’t really mean it, so they mean it a little more.
After a few generations you’re stuck with people so depressed, they will accept overlords, even barbaric overlords who stone women and gays, if it will save them from their ennui and their depressive view of the world.
And therein lies the rub. The helplessness of modern “realism” is a gateway drug to being sheep in thrall of totalitarians.
You’re so tired of despair and sadness, and yet you know the world is terrible and you want to atone for any happiness you still feel. So you give in to petty tyrants like the people in SFWA who change the rules and tell you you’re bad because you used the word they just forbid. Or whatever. And you abase yourself and feel dirty and miserable.
Until a really big tyrant, like, oh, Mao or Stalin or the despicable Che, come along and free you from your guilt by more than likely killing you, and if not making you wish they had.
It doesn’t have to be like that. On comments, on books, on drawings, refuse to follow the blinkered “chic unhappiness” of the elites. Laugh at their poses of sadness and thoughtfulness. They’re like little kids trying to look serious so we’ll think they’re grown up.
Mock, contradict, ignore, replace.
In the end we win, they lose.
It has to be so, if humanity is to survive.
Refuse the easy rewards of the merchants of despair. Build your life on hard work and can-do.