Monday, July 7, 2014

* Mouseclicking Past a Graveyard

794 Ways in Which BuzzFeed

Reminds Us of Impending


  (New York Times)

 . . . Finally, in “Rabbit at Rest” (1990), cultural tidbits start to take on the same indistinct shape as his own life’s events: “Like everything else on the news, you get bored, disasters get to seem a gimmick, like all those TV timeouts in football.” As hard as Rabbit tries to beat back his dread with the “win” signifiers of his era — wealth, an affair, a few chummy but superficial friendships, an uneven golf game — none of Rabbit’s fixes last. His powerlessness, his rampant sexual urges, his unrelenting nostalgia for his own lonely past are encapsulated and eventually superseded by a steady flow of trivial distractions. That moment in the novel when a leap of a man into the air on a Toyota commercial (“Oh, what a feeling!”) yields to the cold air above Lockerbie demonstrates exactly how the enthusiasms of American life thinly mask the specter of death. When Rabbit unceremoniously falls dead of a heart attack, it’s clear that this is how most stories will end. Even as he lies dying, his son insists on Frosted Flakes over bran cereals, and the newspaper arrives, blaring “Hugo Clobbers South Carolina”. . .


BuzzFeed offers a transfixing cultural snapshot of our times because of its pure distillation of this American urge: the manic-cheeriness-at-gunpoint feeling that saturates our culture. The BuzzFeed formula — not just personalizing pop trivia, but treating it as an inexorable element of our emotional makeup — feels like the natural outcome of several decades of plug-in room deodorizers and Toyotathons and hamburger-slinging clowns. Our responses are predetermined and mandatory. Each button suggests the appropriate emotional reaction. And there are no buttons inscribed with the word “sad” or “unsettling” or “melancholy.” Wisdom, in our modern world, may boil down to recognizing that LOL and fail and trashy and omg don’t actually represent different categories of human experience . . .


This is why Updike’s decades-old novels are so helpful in deciphering the ways our current culture kicks up so much ambivalence and regret. Updike illustrates what we stand to lose when we mask our dread with peanut brittle and daiquiris and “If I Didn’t Care” by Connie Francis. Rabbit Angstrom sought salvation from his domestic and spiritual trap, but he never achieved it. He did, however, respond to Nelson’s urging him not to die with a single word: “Enough.”

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