Friday, January 27, 2006

This Is My Truth, Now Tell Me Yours

Last night I argued about politics with an old man at a bar (that was my first mistake, I know). I think at first it had something to do with Hamas, but later his main contention seemed to be that I, as a white, middle class college graduate sitting at a bar, had no standing to critique the world. If I had been just slightly more sober it wouldn't have bothered me so much, but as it stood I was irked by this criticism from a fat, white, middle class old man.

He kept asking "what are you doing to change things? what do you think should be done?" I think the implication was that since I was having drinks with friends and not out fomenting revolution on 7th Avenue, I was betraying my own cause. I fell back on the argument that I don't know what should be done to change things, nor am I sure what type of world I want to live in. This is a cop out and later I was annoyed with myself. I realized that I only said it to avoid being seen as ridiculous for any opinions I might offer. To save face in front of a drunk old idiot!

I'm sick of this shit. I should have said that I honestly believe that drugs should be legal, that health care should be universal, and the President should be impeached, that I adhere to the materialist conception of history, that class trumps race, that societal structures are geared towards preserving the power elite and repressing the masses, that white collar labor and the proliferation of communication technologies are annihilating human mental capacity, that the fundamental elements of the modern condition are greed, alienation, boredom and brutality. In a political climate this ridiculous we shouldn't be afraid to say whatever we want.

Later I went home and caught Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation on Sundance Channel. It was strange to go from barstool pontificating to viewing such an intimate piece of work. You may remember the film, it was the personal documentary edited on iMovie and produced for something like $800 that won a bunch of acclaim at Cannes a while back. Well, it's pretty damn good. What struck me most was the central theme (and I'm not sure this was intentional) that the way we perceive our lives and the way we document our lives (through photos, videos, etc.) have merged into one conception of "truth." The film is a compilation of 30 years' worth of home movies and photos that seem almost ready-made for the documentary, as if shot specifically to fit the concept and not the other way around. Caouette is unabashed in his use of the video camera. The subjectivity, and indeed solipsism, of his endeavor is always out in the open. It kind of makes you want to question his intentions, but actually serves as a built-in credibility mechanism. His film is simply a construction, and an acknowledged one, of his life as he sees it. And the central, bracing theme of Tarnation is that in reality this is as close to "truth" as we're likely to come.


RosemaryRuth said...

You caught my eye here because I think about this sort of stuff a lot. What can you do that makes a difference, etc. I usually try to go with the simple, and literal: you do what you can do. If you desire, you can rise to power through politics so that "what you can do" involves a lot of influence, and you can control certain things. Or, for us little people, you can do the things that matter to you.

I must admit, Brenden, that if I was arguing with you in a bar, I would ask you those same questions, what are you doing? Not in a condescending and rude way, but for real. You probably don't have the power to make drugs legal, or increase healthcare, or impeach the president. But you do have the power to do things like support grassroots campaigns toward these ends. And you do have the power to be the sort of non-ignorant, tolerant person of whom you probably wish there were more. You have the power to basically not be an asshole.

Granted, I am going through some sort of hippie devolution right now, so forgive me for all the rainbows and bullshit. I agree that life can often be a construction of how you see it. So why construct a life of greed, alienation, bored and brutality? If everybody else jumped off the Cynicism Bridge, does that mean you have to as well? Not you you, but a general you.

Somebody was smart when they said, Be the change you want to see in the world. Was that Ghandi? I guess hippies don't read philosophy.

patrick said...

Strange, I've been asking people if it bothers them that our lives are basked in mediocrity regardless of what we do. Contemporary social architecture relies on the fact that we don't mind being mediocre. The current political climate encourages and rewards people for adhering to steadfast mediocrity. This has really been bothering me lately. What bothers me more is that I can't figure out if I am ok with my own conception of mediocrity or that I will never figure out how to transcend it.