In other Places

Stop giving me what I ask for and start giving me what I want.

I don’t mean to start another blog post with a comment on Mad Men but the show just gets me thinking. This week it’s a season 5 episode, Signal 30, that got me thinking. The subject? Our ambitions and what we truly want. In it one of the characters, who has worked tirelessly to get everything they wanted, realises that they are desperately unhappy. Despite having everything, they seemingly have nothing. It’s a rare moment of brute truth in the series, a character finally admitting that a lie they tell themselves everyday isn’t true.

It got me thinking about the way our lives work. We spend them pursuing things that we think we want until we find ourselves in a place entirely unexpected. This can be good, we might accidently find ourselves happy, or it can be disastrously bad, such as the case of the Mad Men episode. So it got me thinking about the choices I have made to get myself here. If I spoke to my 16 year-old self he’d probably be quite surprised that I’m in Korea studying History and Politics. It’s interesting to reflect on it, especially as I had a dream last night where I was confronted by several of my old high school teachers.

Last week I also read a book called the White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk. It’s mostly about a character obsessed with the self, who asks the question why am I what I am? The White Castle is introduced much later in the novel and it’s not really a spoiler to reveal that they never reach it. Perhaps the white castle is a metaphor for the self. We often see ourselves as virtuous, aiming to be good people, but is that an attainable thing? The White Castle for a time paints a man confessing his sins and another disgusted by it, claiming that he would never do something so horribly. It’s interesting because throughout the novel we are told he regularly visits brothels, he regularly does bad things. He sees himself as purer though, as an unreachable white castle.

It’s odd because the character in the White Castle pursues something so madly that he ends up unhappy, despite getting everything he wants he relies that he never really wanted any of it. Instead he found himself after something completely different. He was simply trying to find what it meant to be who we are, are we just a sum part of our actions or are we something more? Signal 30 seems to suggest we are something more. The character has always lied to themself, thinking that they wanted everything they now have, but in the end realise that it simply isn’t true. We are much more than what our conscious mind lets us think we are.

Finally, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube today by a man named David Boyle. He’s a conspiracy theorist who believes in some very weird and strange things. What struck me was the question of how he has got there. He says he has studied thousands of works and consulted thousands of sources but he rejects pretty much every proven theory, from science to history, which has ever been accepted by their respective communities. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the thought. How could someone who obviously have intelligence come with, to be frank, ridiculous notions based on nothing more than the wildest speculation? Yes, the world has its mysteries but, if you watch his videos, what he offers is madness.

Anyway, it got me wondering about how we end up where we are. It would be quite a good story to tell how a man ends up rejecting everything our world is based on but try and do it in a believable way. I suppose the only problem with that is what if you actually manage to convince someone? If you succeed in making it believable you probably would. Anyway, I suppose the ultimate question is always what has made me, me? What decisions led me to here? Were they the right ones? And, perhaps most importantly of all, is it what I truly want?

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A Rambling on the Personal

Contains spoilers about the 4th season of Mad Men, or a vague hint as to what’s going on.

I’m currently obsessed with the current season of Mad Men. It is an incredible achievement and is possibly the best 13 episodes of TV you will ever watch. It effortlessly depicts a certain time and place, filling the scene with perfectly drawn characters that are complex. What’s more is that it’s set in one of the most fetishized eras of history; the 60s. You’d think the show would be obsessed with the cultural revolutions that are happening but they’re only placed in context of the characters and a very occasional a mention that generally feds into a storyline or character development.

Yet I find myself thinking about the latest episode over and over. In it Peggy, who works at an advertising agency, is arguing with a member of the counter-revolution. He thinks its morally questionable that the agency is producing work for a company that refuses to employ African-Americans. She says she’s not political. He replies that she is political, whether she likes it or not.

The immediate echo for me is the feminist mantra of the personal is political. Peggy has managed to climb a career ladder mostly closed off to women and she views the civil rights struggle, and the 60s counter-culture at this earlier stage, irrelevant to her as a woman. The feminism and sexual revolution is yet to come but the show sends an echo out to it.

It got me thinking though, not just about Mad Men and how everyone should watch it but about the line. “You’re political, whether you like it or not.” This moment seems to be a good time to point out that every life decision we make has a political consequence whether we like it or not. What job we get, if we vote or not, who we marry and where we live. It turns us all into a statistic, can paint us as either opposing the establishment or joining it, and certainly turns us all into a political tool.

After finishing the episode I found myself on Russell Brand’s YouTube show, the Trews. It made me think of Brand’s refusal to vote. He paints it as a political decision that opposes the system. It’s not apathetic, he says, as we should still actively seek revolution through other actions. He can certainly get away with this, he has so much wealth which equates to power, but can the rest of us? How many of the youths, who are the most likely to follow his advice, are going to join in the active fight for non-violent social revolution when they stop voting?

Brand also pulls out a Kindle in some of the videos. So I’m guessing he still supports the global capitalist system and Amazon, who must have changed their tax and employment policy for Brand to give his money to them. I must of missed the memo. Like I say, almost every decision we take has a political consequence (I must point out that I’m guilty of this action with regular visits to Starbucks and orders off Amazon but I like to make excuses for myself).

Barely any of us really understand the fact that the choices we make are political, whether we are aware or not makes no difference. Take the example of benefit cheaters, their actions are not politically motivated but they are used politically. Often the action of one person in an isolated moment, normally young acting in a negative way, is used to paint a picture of decline. A thousand examples spring to mind but the most recent is the tragic death of Ann Maguire, a high school teacher in Leeds. She was apparently stabbed by a teenager who had normalised violence through playing video games. Damn the fact he was mentally ill, ignore the broken mental health system. The “broken” implies that there was a time it was fixed, was there? Probably not. Instead of pointing out a real issue the actions of one man are a turned into a political tool, mostly by the right-wing, to brand the technological advances of the last decades as dangerous. The personal becomes the political.

There is no way of escaping this and it’s worth reflecting on. Its nothing new but I think with the rise of instant news and instant comment its definitely worth bringing up again. Do you all have to turn into angels? Should Peggy quit the ad agency that produces work for a racist company? Should Brand and the rest of us simply stop supporting Google, Amazon and pretty much every other multinational corporation? It all seems too impossible. Perhaps we can only dream.