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What Colour Best Defines Me as a Person and Other Dilemmas

I have trouble going to the mall — or really partaking in any shopping related activity — without thinking about Brave New World, Fight Club or both. Since reading/viewing these works, I’ve been acutely aware of our consumerist culture and what a bad thing it is for our humanity and our individuality. This, in itself, isn’t so awful. But, I’ll be brutally honest with you, I’m very materialistic. Which creates quite the internal conflict when paired with my immensely introspective nature and my awareness that my materialism completely goes against all my morals and beliefs. 

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When I say I’m materialistic, I don’t mean in a I-like-a-good-pair-of-shoes kind of way — that is completely acceptable and normal behaviour.  I mean I’m materialistic and consumeristic the way consumerism is portrayed in Fight Club. You know how the narrator reflects that he would wonder about which Ikea dining set defined him as a person? Well, yesterday I was at the Apple store, on the verge of a panic attack. Why, you ask, was I on the  verge of a panic attack? Because I needed to buy a protective skin or case or something for my new MacBook and I couldn’t decide which colour best defined me as a person. Not which case — I had already decided to get the same one everyone else has — but which colour. Because that’s the kind of thing that concerns me. What colour best defines me as a human being. What colour best conveys my personality, my strengths and my vulnerabilities. 

Of course, then we could have a whole other conversation about how Apple plays into the whole advertising-consumerism-identity debate. Whenever we have one such discussion in class, iPhones and iPads and Macs (oh my!) always find their way into the conversation. One of my favourite points to rehash is that Apple’s ads and products (sometimes subtly, other times overtly) claim to sell you individuality. Buy an iPhone, there’s an App for whatever you need, so you can customize your phone and make it unique to you. But then, half the reason people are switching to iPhone now is because everyone else has one. Buy our product, so that you can be an individual — just like everybody else!

I may be making some valid points, but while I was making them I paused to check my iPhone. And, if that weren’t enough, I’m typing up these points on my shiny new MacBook. The real irony of it is how I came to my decision to switch to a Mac. Earlier this year, I had to give a presentation for my English class about how Brave New World is relevant to today’s society, including quotations from the book and examples from modern-day society. I chose to focus on consumerism, identity, individuality and conformity (which I put together into a brilliant thesis that outlined how interconnected they all are).

For my current examples, I obviously picked out an Apple ad — I wanted to find just the right one from their “I’m a Mac — I’m a PC” campaign. So I spent an evening watching them all on YouTube. While I did this, I was taking notes and making connections to the novel and figuring out what to say to my class about basing one’s identity on material possessions. In the end, I went with an iPhone commercial, because it fit my purposes better and related more clearly to my argument. And those ads, that I though so deeply about and “completely saw through” were what pushed me over the edge and made me realize that I really needed to make the switch to a Mac. Of course, when I finally got one, I had a panic attack because I didn’t know how to use it and I wanted to get it all personalized (and individualized) but that was just too overwhelming. I was also concerned that it was stealing my individuality one click at a time.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that a laptop isn’t anything on its own. It’s a vessel, it’s a vehicle. It’s what you do with your laptop that counts, that makes you an individual. I use my laptop to blog. I use my laptop to write. I use my laptop to watch movies like You’ve Got Mail, Emma (the one with Gwyneth Paltrow) and Romeo and Juliet. And maybe that’s what makes me an individual, not the fact that I’m doing these things on a MacBook Pro and not that my fancy new Mac is covered in a hot pink case. 

At least that’s what I keep telling myself… To reconcile with the fact that maybe I shouldn’t have gone with hot pink — because really, that’s just not the type of person I want to portray myself as.

Do you define yourself based on arbitrary material things? What colour would you say defines you as a person (this is different than just your favourite colour. Obviously. There’s, like, an exact science to it — I’ll let you know when I figure out what that exact science is.) Are you a Mac or a PC? Do you think that reflects or affects your personality? Maybe that’s just me. It could be that I’m just crazy… And a little to susceptible to manipulative advertising campaigns (despite my ability to notice how manipulative they’re being).

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Shakespeare, Brave New World and Wireless Internet Access

I’ve been in London for the past two days. And I’m very excited. But not because I was in Stratford-upon-Avon today and just got in from seeing Julius Caesar there. Yes, of course that’s immensely exciting, and it was one of the most wonderful days of my life. I was really going to post about my trip to Hampton Court Palace yesterday. I really planned on blogging about the performance in Stratford. And I should really tell you all about my trip to Shakespeare’s birthplace. Instead, I have a far more concerning and interesting thing I want to talk about in this post. A thought that totally relates to Shakespeare. The reason I’m excited, is because I finally figured out how to get internet access on my laptop in my hotel room. Which is a bigger deal than it would normally be, because I haven’t been able to track down a “Micro SIM” for my iPhone, so I’ve been effectively cut off from the entire world. Family, Friends, WordPress and Twitter all just outside my reach. They say true ignorance is not being aware of what you don’t know. Well, true agony is knowing what you don’t have (especially when it’s something you used to have), but knowing you can’t get to it.

Mercure The Shakespeare Hotel, Stratford-upon-...

Stratford-upon-fricking-Avon Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But hold on a minute. What!? I was at Stratford-upon-Fricking-Avon today and what makes me happy is that I have access to the INTERNET!? But…But… Isn’t the whole point of the internet to google Shakespeare and Jane Austen? I was in their backyards today!! So why do I need google? I got the full experience — in, like, 4D!

Sure, sure. There are PLENTY of justifications. I have them all down pat and completely believe these sweet little ideas by now. I need to be in touch with my family. I need to be in touch with my friends. That’s totally  legitimate! All we have is human connection… right? That’s what’s most important, right? How can I have fun and enjoy myself without sharing my joy with the ones I love and letting them know all the pleasure they’re missing out on? More importantly, I need you guys! What’s the point of thinking of witty things to say about all the amazing things I’m seeing if I can’t tweet those condensed thoughts? I have all these insights I want to share about all the amazing things I’m seeing, but I haven’t been able to develop and share those thoughts here on my blog. If you think of something awesome, but can’t communicate it to your followers, was it a valid thought? (Yes, I know that last line sounds ridiculous and of course it’s meant to be tongue in cheek, but, however flawed, that’s my legitimate thought process of late.)

Switching trains of thought, but still heading towards the same destination, I read Brave New World  months ago for school. It didn’t overtly change my life, but it was certainly not a book which lost its tight grip on me the moment I finished the last page and closed the cover. It’s horrifyingly relevant to today and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably way too tightly entangled in our brave new world for their own good. They’re probably a card-holding member of the stupid, fickle masses. And now for the Shakespeare connection: there are LOADS of references to Will and his works in Brave New World. Many of these references are in reference to the lack of Shakespeare and his works in “Civilization”. John the Savage is completely turned off by “Civilization” and thinks they are doing things all wrong. One of the major areas of dispute is Shakespeare — John is passionately in favour of the Bard, while the Controller is (rather dispassionately) against Shakespeare and his works.

The Controller’s problem with Shakespeare’s works are not with the works themselves, but with how they fit in with “Civilization”. His plays are banned, but, what’s more interesting, they don’t even have to be. The government has taken care that the citizens have never heard of Shakespeare. Even if a citizen somehow came across one of his works, they wouldn’t even bother with it. They simply wouldn’t understand. John suggests they make “something new that’s like Othello, and that [the citizens] could understand” (ch. 16). However, the Controller explains that “if it were really like Othello nobody could understand it, however new it might be. And if were new, it couldn’t possibly be like Othello” (Ch. 16).

The inability to understand comes not from Shakespeare’s crazy (beautiful) language, but from the content and themes. One of the major premises of Shakespeare’s plays is desire for something one doesn’t have and can’t easily attain — money, power, a man or woman’s love, just to name a few. These themes are completely moot and incomprehensible in a society like the one in Brave New World. Those men and women (or grownup infants, as John sees them) have everything so easily and never have to worry about anything. They live in complete comfort in every way, but they are deprived of the suffering that is necessary to reach deeper understanding, meaning and humanity. They live comfortable, healthy lives, but for what? What’s the point of each superficially happy days, if they lead to nothing more than many years of such days? Their society is stable only so that it can continue being stable. Anything that risks that stability is outlawed, but what’s the point of stability if nothing meaningful or productive is being done with that stability? Life is so easy for them, that it makes you wonder why they even bother. The only way they can find any sort of “contentment” is by getting high on soma; sleeping with whoever they want, whenever they want; and going to the “feelies”, because they can’t even conjure up their own emotions. I call it contentment not happiness (and put “contentment” in quotation marks, at that) because obviously their mindless, superfluous entertainment can’t lead to true happiness.

I think that we, like those in the Brave New World society don’t have to try hard enough for anything — “nothing [figuratively] costs enough here” (Ch. 17). This was made glaringly clear to me upon reflecting on my experience at the phone store today. We went to go get SIM cards in Stratford. I was almost as excited about getting to the phone store as I was about being in Stratford, as my iPhone had been more or less obsolete for an entire day because I didn’t have a data plan yet– I think I’m experiencing withdrawal. When the guy at the store told us they were out of Micro SIMs, the very special and apparently less readily available SIM card that iPhones use, I was a little bit enraged. I remarked to my father (with whom I’m travelling) that it was an atrocity in proportion to a Shakespearean tragedy. Reflectively (at least now that I’ve gotten my internet fix) I think that the real tragedy is that I thought such a minor, superficial issue can be equated with a beautiful work of literature in which everyone has died, been brutally murdered or committed suicide by the final page. The Controller says that “you can’t make tragedies without social instability” (Ch. 16), and it’s ridiculous that I equate my (relatively) minor issue with social instability. Even more ridiculous that this is my biggest problem. I think that since people aren’t dying in the streets anymore, we (I) make a huge deal out of little, stupid problems, because there are few bigger problems.

While retaining our humanity seems to entail suffering and risk, human nature seems to want what comes easily. As the Controller says, “we prefer to do things comfortably.” But John wants more than that. Following our human nature comes easily, chasing after our humanity is far more difficult and he wants the latter.

“But I don’t want comfort,” [he says.] “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said [the Controller], “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said [John] defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

Sure, in principal, so am I. I want the right to be unhappy. That sounds very noble and wise. But in practice, if I look at myself objectively and realistically, I have to confess that all I want at the moment is my right to a data plan on my iPhone and wireless internet in my hotel room. And I think being brave enough to admit that (and accept the fact that I’m only human in wanting that) is the first step.

Beach Reads

We’re in Miami for break, and on Tuesday I reflected upon my reading material over the past few years we’ve vacationed in Florida. Today I want to talk (write) about what I’ve been reading this trip.  I brought five books with me, and bought one here (I love Barnes and Noble — books mixed with coffee has to be one of the best scents in the world).

Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org

There’s Brave New World, which I finished reading (for English class) on our first or second day here. I sat reading it by the pool and I was just drunk on the heat of  the sun beating down on my face. I was reading about the problems with fake happiness and being contented into obedience with the help of drugs like “soma”, yet the combination of sun and reading a brilliant book made me feel just like I  was away on a soma holiday. (Soma’s the fictitious, all-purpose drug in Brave New World.) Some people find BNW thoroughly disturbing and don’t like it at all. While I don’t normally read science fiction, aside from 1984 and such for school, I was completely mesmerized by this book. All the super-disturbing parts were just so fascinating. The really jarring part, was that so much of it bears eerie resemblance to the society in which we actually live. Aside from conditioning, (which, thankfully, our society doesn’t seem to have come close to) I really didn’t find very much of it to be all that far-fetched. On second thought, I think advertisements, and even the toys we give children to play with, come do come close to conditioning. Frankly, I think it’s kind of sad that this book has lost (or is losing) it’s power to shock (at least for me). Aldous Huxley probably intended for his imaginary world to stay that way — imaginary. It was ment to be shockingly far-fetched and crazy. And now? We’re already living in a shockingly brave, new world, and insane conjectures and predictions are becoming everyday life.

On a side note, I really loved all the beautiful Shakespeare references. We just finished reading Hamlet in English class and there are a ton of allusions to it.

“To die, to sleep—
To sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come[?]”

That’s one of my favourite quotations from the “to be, or not to be” soliloquy and seeing it alluded to in BNW just made me giddy!

Photo credit: oprah.com

Next I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver for my Literature class. Last year my former English teacher suggested that I’d love it and I was about to start reading it when I  heard that we’d be learning it in Literature, at which point I decided to wait until this year. I’m really happy I waited, because I enjoyed it a lot more now than I would have a year ago. I finished reading it today and I think I’m still a little too awestruck to share any articulate thoughts on it. I always need some time after reading a powerful book to fully absorb the impact and start thinking full thoughts about it, beyond “wow, that was amazing! How’s the author manage that?” I find that since I’ve started writing and especially since taking Writer’s Craft, I focus so much more on the craftsmanship of a novel. Sometimes even to the point of being distracted from the actual content. I’ll just sit there, dumbstruck, wondering how the author could possibly be so brilliant. How anyone could possible be capable of compiling an entire novel and how that novel can be so perfectly, wonderfully constructed.

Photo credit: paperbackswap.com

I also brought two collections of short stories by Alice Munro. The first one, Runaway, my former English teacher (yes, the one I’ve mentioned a million and a half times) lent me. She handed it to me and pointed out a single story in the collection she wanted me to read. The story, “Tricks”, was absolutely brilliant and I love it so much, especially because it also refers to a couple of Shakespeare’s plays. The crazy thing is, just a few months ago, I think I really would have hated this story, due to its semi-tragic ending. Now the tragic ending is what I find so brilliant. It’s just positively, painfully  astounding and profound. I told this teacher how much I love it, but wouldn’t have a few months ago. She told me that she knew, and that it’s because of my Literature class. I told her I give her the credit, more so than that class. She’s happy, because, now I can appreciate a wider range of literature. Personally, I think she and my Lit. teacher broke me a little. You know, stole (i.e. ripped away) some of my innocence and doe-eyed naiveté. And let’s be honest here, I like(d) my innocence and doe-eyed naiveté, I kind of mourn its loss sometimes. Of course, I guess the whole, wide world of literature, that’s now open for my appreciation and pleasure is a bit of a consolation.

Photo credit: amazon.ca

Then there’s the other collection by Munro, The Dance of the Happy Shades. I started reading it for a short story analysis assignment in Writers Craft, but we only had to read three stories from it for the sake of the assignment. So now I’m working my way through the rest of the book, although I think that the ones I used for the assignment will prove to be my favourites. We only had to present one of the stories we chose to the class and I picked “An Ounce of Cure”, it’s a really great story and I wish I had picked one that I didn’t think was quite so brilliant. I think I got just a little too excitable and didn’t quite articulate my thoughts as clearly as I might of. I also managed to use the “word” “formulaic-ness”. It’s a good thing I’ve been in this teacher’s class for a while and she already knows that I do in fact have somewhat of a functioning brain in my head.

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I also brought a delightful little books of villanelles from Everyman’s Pocket Poets. I got it for my birthday and it’s such a wonderful little book. It also has such a pretty cover, which never hurts. While I was here I bought Sailing Alone Around the Room, a great collection of poetry by Billy Collins.

Whether I’ve made much progress through the latter four books over the course of this trip is another question entirely. I’m here with my siblings and a bunch of cousins and they have been given some of my attention. If I was ever “lonely”, per say, and wanted some company, all I would have to do is sit down somewhere (anywhere) with a book and I’d be joined within ten minutes. And, of course, as much as I like reading, I also happen to love talking, so my various books ended up being closed a lot of the time. I was also expected to attend meals on a regular basis (can you believe such a thing) so that also cut into my reading time.

So, readers, what kind of books do you like to take with you on vacation?

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