We as a people love to mythologize moments even though most of our time is taken up by the day to day routine. One shower is the same as the next, the things one usually has for breakfast, “my morning coffee” as if to say that they’re all the same. If you were to hear “this mornings coffee” you’d think it odd, even though as a description it’s far more accurate. The mythologized moment is something else entirely.
We take the moment out from time to time, examine it, hold it up to the light to admire its facets and when done, delicately put it back into its place. Every time we do this, it makes the memory more and more special. We add detail or we hone every aspect into a fine sharp point. Ask anyone alive today what they were doing when they heard that terrorists had staged an attack on downtown New York and you’ll hear, in practiced tones, where they were, what they were doing, how things were changed forever. But if you were to bring up an objective account of that day (were that kind of thing possible,) you’ll find there are more things glossed over than remembered. The morning commute into work, the filling out of time cards, making breakfast, having lovers quarrels, they didn’t change but they have been forgotten. The tiny details are thrown out because there’s just no more room on the shelf. The ‘significant’ details take up so much space, the memory is but a shadow. Well defined around the edges, but lacking the depth required for true authenticity.
We’re now primed for these moments. I think this is a product of marketing. The best way to charge for a good or a service is to create value in moments themselves. We’re all painfully aware of the nature of time and the marketplace takes every opportunity to tell us how we can make these moments better, how we can make more of these moments, why we should feel bad for ‘missing out.’ We’re culturally primed by things like the first man on the moon, the Kennedy assassination, the Super Bowl (even though it is a predictable annual event,) so that now everything has the potential to be an event. Every piece of trash can become treasure. That explains the lines wrapping around the Apple Store, the presale of franchise movie tickets, midnight showings of blockbuster films with predictable plots and well known actors. All of these things we now think of as hallmarks in our lives are thought up months or sometimes years before, in some distant conference room that looks like every conference room, by people whose job it is to create experiences so watered down and toothless that mass adoption is all but guaranteed.
The fact that we’ve traded wit for irony should come as no surprise. Irony is based on using that which has come before in an irreverent but safe way. And it’s pervasive, from t-shirts to memes to Doritos commercials to film and television. Wit takes vulnerability and requires that you have an actual opinion. And even if you’re not quick on the draw (I’m certainly not. My best comebacks are thought of in the car or the shower, certainly not in the heat of the moment) you can have an appreciation for that way of thinking and that style of communication. Wit can encompass irony but it’s never a requirement. Wit is a far more versatile tool.
Irony and sentiment are two sides of the same coin. They come from the same place and they’re used in quite the same way. Irony helps us use moments, sentiment enables moments to use us. The sentimentality we attach to ‘moments’ allows for self deception, the trading of our time and money for things of little value, and it cheapens the moments that should actually be cherished. If everything is valuable, then nothing is.
The problem with this realization is that once it has been made, there’s a very large void left by your illusions’ absence. It can so easily be filled with despair and cynicism. The work of filling that hole with quality is part of negotiating true peace of mind. Part of that peace of mind is playing the game, for these experiences you once thought essential to your existence can still be pleasurable—they’re designed that way from the ground up—they’re just not mandatory and not to be acquired at the expense of your own wants and needs.
So the next time you think about where you were when some national tragedy, sports team victory, or some other supposedly significant event occurred, try to remember what you had for breakfast.