I had to go to church growing up, and I never understood how anyone believed any of it. Every week, Sunday School & then a sermon. Nothing ever clicked. But being so constantly exposed to something I saw as a complete facade & yet saw so many people blindly following actually prepared me quite well for living in this current hellscape of late capitalism. It used to be the preacher providing the public with forgiveness; now it’s a coordinated ad campaign.
Capitalism provides options for consumption and brands it as freedom. There are just languages of forgiveness. Post-consumer recycled bags for organic produce and free-range meats. It’s all diet cola, it’s all a Hail Mary.
Brand loyalty shifted in the West from Protestant or Catholic to Apple or Google. Institutions of power providing a sense of relief to those loyal, and a feeling of immense anxiety to those simply subject to it.
some days the difference between ‘feeling better’ and ‘feeling better about lying to myself’ is impossible to discern
how the internet has affected the human psyche is anyone’s guess for now, but i have to imagine that for a group of us born between 1975 and 1995, the internet added an existential burden. like, it was this group—a bit of gen x, a bit of the millennials, and a few in between—that saw the internet before it was moneyed, around the time the USA peaking and calling it a joke. for a few brief years there, the world online felt truly revelatory & full of potential. now it’s facebook and nazis.
what i mean is, for a segment of the population, we’re watching two realities die at once. late capitalism came home to roost in the united states as global warming consumes the earth, while the internet has gone from the most concentrated source of human potential ever to a giant mall. go outside and the world is on fire, go inside and google tracks everything you do. not only has there been no stable concept of how to exist for any significant length of time since the late ’90s, but all options are going to hell anyway so there is very little apparent reason to give a damn.
there’s absolutely no way the technological acceleration and shift to a digital social environment hasn’t rewired humanity in some way (that is probably ongoing). we’re just seeing the beginnings of it, which is probably just adding to why nothing matters these days. shit gets exhausting.
though I’d imagine anyone who knows me would disagree, I actually enjoy being wrong about things (from time to time). being as cynical as I am, it can be a nice sense of relief to begrudgingly admit that sometimes not everything is awful, and that stereotypes are still fallible. recently, two such instances have occurred.
the first acute, immediate: getting stoned in echo park with carola mid-day, I notice a guy on the other side of the lake wearing tie-dye & hauling a back pack, handing out photocopied fliers to everyone he crosses paths with. keeping an eye on him, I return to our conversation about the view: completely surrounded by fencing with some sections still off-limits since the LAPD violently removed the houseless camp that had become common to the park. recently re-opened, it still remains a sick reminder that surrounding a public park with a fence to support property values is a surefire sign we’re doing things wrong in our society.
after a while of taking in the sun, I notice the tie-dye guy is beginning to walk the path around toward our bench, at which point I suggest it’s time to head on. nothing against whatever the guy is selling, but my least favorite interactions are being sold causes on the street. people ask if i want to help with global poverty and I reply with, “Yes, I think we should execute the entire billionaire class” and shit inevitably gets awkward.
however, it’s a long walk around echo park lake and at some point, I’m taking pictures of water fowl when he approaches. he apologizes for intruding while coming off against the fences that had been the crux of the day’s conversation. so this guy’s out doing laps around the lake handing out calls for action against the fences while we’re getting high bitching about them. I momentarily consider jumping into the lake to avoid the shame. guy thanks us for the time and is off to the next folk as quick as he appeared—watching him be patently avoided, exactly in the way I’d timed walking away earlier, shook me to say the least.
looking down at the hand-made and impassioned plea for a fenceless park, I couldn’t help but smile and think, Christ, I can be such an asshole.
people will either sell you on their own way or help you find your path, and between his appearance and my experiences, i figured this guy for a salesman. instead, a hand-made proclomation from a community saying, We are trying to change what you’re seeing now. —it’s a distinct difference in approach that is generally lost on American society, as this entire country is raised on advertising & it makes people like me extra cynical.
a more gradual acknowledgment of getting it wrong has been my feelings toward los angeles. not that I ever had a bad thing to say about the city, but over the years I never really gave it much of a thought. visiting here was always memorable, but living here is enchanting. objectively speaking, the past 12 months of my life have been absolutely awful; the only saving grace has, somehow, been existing in this city.
there are any number of reasons why I really have found a sense of place here, but the most telling have more been found in the roots for my current cynicism. the people I love most in the world are any number of months and miles away; it’s stupidly expensive here & generally requires ambition I’ve never claimed much for; I hate my current apartment (and living in apartments in general); I can’t swim. & perhaps most of all, for all its potential qualities, LA is still in the united states.
yet through what has unconditionally been The Worst Year, to which most has been spent isolated in some extreme of emotional throes, any time I’ve put together the energy to actually go outside, I’m reminded of exactly why I moved here; the air just seems to forgive in a way that has undoubtedly inspired some of the greatest entertainment ever made (and/or vice-ridden binges of various sorts).
I tend to figure it has something to do with the fact that at this moment in time, the last American lore is based in ideas of Los Angeles, given it was Hollywood that has informed the national culture for three generations. I have no problem admitting that there are nights like tonight where I’ll take the long way home just to drive down Sunset Boulevard with the windows down and the radio on. there’s a classical romance with a distinctly American twist there that somehow manages to allow a person to escape, to just live outside the nausea of this reality, even if just for the duration of the ride home, or for a single song passing over a scanning radio.
these are difficult times to live in. we are well in to the spectacle, to which the threads of power, the threats of capitalism and the blunt instruments of media compose the oppressive hellscape most are forced to live through.
& if anything, that is why LA has made the most sense to me, in that living here is a constant reaffirmation that there is a distinct separation between the pervasive digital construct of a bread-and-circus envrionment for seratonin & the nature of our shared human reality.
case in point: a couple weekends back, again with carola, this time at malibu, both of us needing to use the bathroom. there was a port-a-potty set-up along the highway, for surfers & the like of us. she goes in first & I stand outside, checking my phone. two range rovers pull up to the highway side of the temporary bathrooms and a security detail gets out. as carola exits, justin bieber turns the corner and cuts me in line to use the john.
in moments like this, LA is more human than anywhere else, because its nature serves as an equalizer. the simple fact international superstar celebrity musicians have to do things like piss when there’s nothing else around and they have to pull their entourage over and cut some normies in line reminds everyone that even though there’s a wealth gap we’ve gotta use guillotines to deal with, we are all still people.
& I suppose that’s the best / worst duality of LA: it’s okay to be wrong here, to fail, to be in some form of perpetual free-fall, because the city seems to work in a similar motion. the sheer scale of everything is practically beyond comprehension, even in witnessing it up front.
the combinations of take-what-you-can-get & go-for-it-all in this place allow for one to exist in the most authentic state of the USA in late capitalism, which can be kind of transcend the immediate issues of life in an existential sense. the simultaneous lack of regard for life, but complete esteem for all that it can potentially create feels like the last honest place to be in a world too confused with its own inventions to function.
but mostly, it’s foreign for me to personally feel a sense of place in a city. for all the places I’ve lived, I never really found a sense of belonging. during my time living in Portland, I would say the city was a wonderful place to lose yourself but a terrible place to find yourself; I sort of feel like LA is the opposite.