One Step Beyond – The Journey of Steve

The minute he walks through the door, my heart sinks and I can taste the bile seeping up from my tense, overworked belly. Whatever you are, Steve, you are not welcome in my already troubled head – a slim vision, chrome-dome, New Jack douche-bag slinging a red scarf over his shoulder, floating through the Best Buy doors in slow-motion, like a bank robber in an action movie. That must be the reason for the red scarf! So he can toss it aside in mid-pursuit from the fuzz. Genius!

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“Look at my scarf! Just flowing in the wind!”

I understand madness, for I am her prisoner, but Steve takes me one step beyond. He strolls into Best Buy (to the theme music from “Rocky” no less) and everybody’s eyes light up, presumably because they know he’ll be making an ass out of himself in due course. The employees are excited because they know they’ll be getting commissions just in time for the holidays. Only they won’t be dropping their hard-earned dollars at the Best Buy coupled with an insulting employee discount. No. They’ll be stocking up on canned food at the nearest 99-cents store. Commissions are not what they used to be.

If ever there was a cry for help like a sinking sparrow in a pool of pungent mud, it is Steve and his blood-lust for acceptance, acknowledgement, and attention in this maddening and frighteningly lonely world. Steve believes that the only way he can gain the respect and love of his peers and familial relations is to spend absurd amounts of money at his local Best Buy. I mean, is he seriously going to fork out $3000 for an Ultra HD television? Is he looking to claim an inheritance from a forgotten Uncle? You know, a visit every now and then pays off in greater emotional dividends.

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“I am Steve, King of the Mindless Consumers!”

Of course, we know none of this is true. Like Facebook’s “Hope” (living her dream!) before him, Steve is a figment of a zealous advertising agency’s bloated, tedious imagination. Steve is what corporations want us to be: a mindless consumer so bereft of enterprise and creativity that all he can do to not french kiss a light socket or step in front of an oncoming bus is buy a big-screen television. He samples terrible Bose headphones while snapping his fingers, looks at overpriced smart phone screens, and monitors his escalating heartbeat on a ridiculous wristwatch contraption. If Steve had any sense (any sense at all), he would turn around and walk out the door, while giving the middle-finger-salute. But he won’t. He could try to find happiness through other means – whiskers on kittens, the laughter of a child. But he won’t. He could volunteer at a soup kitchen. But he won’t.

Materialism is defined as a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values. While that definition carries a bit of pretentious baggage with it, it still rings true. But I wouldn’t simply define materialism as a consideration, but more a necessity to those who cannot identify that weakness within themselves. People like Steve feel the need to fill the pitiless void at the core of their souls with merchandise. The void might be filled with smart phones, tablets, and trendy headphones or it might be filled with Fabergé eggs, Baccarat crystal goblets, or Michael Kors handbags. As the concept of love retreats, sucked down into the toothy, hellish maw, perhaps Nietzsche’s abyss, if you will, and human contact dies a very lonely death, possessions and needless materials become more prominent in our lives.

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They don’t let me play music at my Best Buy, so what the Hell is he listening to?

I saw a television commercial the other day where two girls are sitting at opposite ends of a sofa, giggling and tapping on their phones. Their befuddled dad asks them if they are texting each other. They both look at him like he is the most clueless moron on the planet and they say, “Yes!” This is what Steve, Best Buy, and countless other entities want us to believe. They don’t want us to consider that heartless pit to which we assign our half-consumed souls and weeping existence. They want us to buy their wares. They don’t care about us. In fact, they’re laughing at us, and they always will. Is it because they know in their heart of hearts we are nothing more than children bedazzled by the latest toy? Perhaps.

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One for each day! Oh wait…

When I walk into my local Best Buy (conveniently right down the block), I don’t see happy, excited faces, copious amounts of cash changing hands, or employees high-fiving each other. I see misery and suffering, envy and greed. I see unwashed faces standing in front of big televisions, shaking their heads, hating themselves for not having enough money. I see crying children pleading with their parents to buy them the latest iPad. I see quick-witted shoplifters peeling lo-jack stickers off compact discs (yes, they still sell them) and pocketing them before a Best Buy employee can bat an eyelash – the famous five-finger-discount.

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Objects in the simulated image may appear less expensive than they actually are.

There is hope, and, appropriately, it emanates from the wisdom of a child. In the run-up to Christmas (most years), I get what I can only call vehement requests from my daughter for the latest toy; the latest distraction, the latest preoccupation that will keep her busy, maybe even keep her mind engaged. I can’t count on both hands how many times I’ve sought out that toy, proudly presented it to her only to have her roll her eyes after two hours of playing with it, bored to salty tears and then having her ask me for something else, something newer, something shinier. The vicious cycle continues. We can only hope we will reach an impasse wherein adults (both young and old) will become bored and demand a newer, shinier toy to play with; perhaps wisdom begins when the child finally puts down the toy.

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“Make sure to get the Best Buy logo on screen as you raise your bag, or else you’re fired!”

So, Steve? I know you don’t exist. I know you don’t go to the Best Buy and make irresponsible choices with your money. In fact, most people I actually know (real flesh-and-blood humans, no less) don’t purchase ridiculous items they either don’t need or can’t afford (or both). Don’t be tempted to play that role just because a television told you to, and whatever you do, don’t wear a red scarf. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

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“Hope Is Living Her Dream. What About The Rest Of Us?”

Living Her Dream

It’s funny, I can’t find one single reference to this commercial on the Internet. I can’t find a picture. I can’t find a video. I have to go from memory when I talk about this commercial, which isn’t hard. The commercial plays non-stop on prime time television and features a smiling, ebullient lady (I can only assume is Hope) taking video with her phone while swiveling in her task chair in order to display a rotating panoramic view of her place of work at Cowan Studios.

It occurs to me, a fella can feel pretty lonely on the old Facebook. He sees his friends having such fun. Such fun! They’re out there scuba diving. They’re in England. They’re in Scotland. They’re taking pictures and sampling the local color. They’re out drinking with other friends, other people you know. Parasailing, for crying out loud! Meanwhile you’re scratching your ass because there’s a pesky itch that refuses to go away. There’s too much to do in the day, but you’re not up for it. You’re too tired.

Then there’s Hope, and her smug expression and her swiveling chair. I sit in a chair that doesn’t swivel. She obviously must think she’s better than me. Why? She doesn’t know me. You don’t know me, Hope!

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I know this isn’t Hope’s problem, and it isn’t Hope’s fault. She’s among the very fortunate, the very few who are “living their dreams”. There it is again! Here comes the anger rising up in my gullet like so much partially-digested brie. Why do I have to receive updates about other people’s happiness? Sometimes I ask Bronwyn why she doesn’t post updates on her Facebook page. She runs out of the room and stage-whispers, “It’s personal!” Bronwyn will put up some art-related stuff, or a song she likes, but she doesn’t get personal.

Back to Hope. It occurs to me she really wants us to know what’s going on in her life. She wants everybody to know that she has a new job. She wants everybody to know she’s starting her own business. She wants everybody to know that she’s the boss. She wants everybody to know that she has a swiveling task chair. Why?

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The commercial itself appears to be a total fabrication. Hope doesn’t exist. I’m not being deep here. I mean the lady does not exist as a physical entity. She does not occupy space. She does not breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. She does not reproduce. She is The Flying Dutchman, Krampus, and the Easter Bunny all rolled up into one! She doesn’t exist*. She can’t exist.

Hope is the culmination of a dream. The dream began with owning a small business. I’m not sure what business Hope is in, but I assume it involves art, or something like art. She has a large space to work in, a number of desks and a handful of employees, based on the rotating panoramic view. Did I mention she’s positively giddy not only about the whole enterprise, but the notion of being a boss? I wonder what that guy shuffling about behind her thinks of this? You think he’s screwing around on his phone updating his status to say, “This is my Boss!” and then show Hope’s excited countenance. Yeah, when you’re done swiveling around in your task chair, you wanna help us swing a hammer, Boss?

All of this is fantasy. If starting a small business is, in itself, prohibitively difficult, then maintaining it is comparable to a forced march in Hell while wearing Crocs. The median yearly salary for people under the age of 40 drops off three percent every year, down to $34,000. Of course, those figures don’t account for incredible luck. The only way Hope could start a small business would be with a group of investors (aware that they’re going to lose money for at least five years) or because she has rich parents. I don’t know why but her smug little smile tells me Daddy cashed in one of his blue-chip stocks to finance her “dream”, which is fine, but don’t act like you earned it, Hope! Sorry if I sound bitter.

Did Facebook help Hope? Help Hope. Help Hope. That’s hard to say. Maybe she got some friends together and said, “Hey how would you like to have me as a Boss?” and they said, “Sure!” Because why not? A year later she’s in her swiveling task chair, she got the rolly on her arm and she’s pouring Chandon, and she rolls the best weed ’cause she got it going on!

Back to my point. Facebook, when it first started, seemed to me to be an interesting sociological experiment wherein we could study the public yet personal interactions of people based on their changing moods, their changing desires, their romances, their hang-ups, and most importantly, pictures of their cats. It seemed a perfect forum for the exchange of ideas, conjecture, and debate.

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Of recent (I would say the last three years), Facebook has become like every other societal microcosm, a petrie dish for growing ideas of liberal rage, trending frustrations, and random psychological experiments. Researchers gather information about user habits. Intrusive software monitors our browsing habits, reminding us we are being watched at all times. Facebook now arbitrarily decides what manner of ideas can be labeled as “hate speech” and then take action to delete those ideas. Case in point: the recent flap over the lion-killing dentist, and Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Facebook users have routinely threatened these people’s lives, and that appears to be acceptable. But try making a Bruce Jenner joke and watch the fun!

As we should remember, Facebook itself is a microcosm for our society; a world unto itself, but still following the rigid rules of our cultural construct. Jokes will not be permitted. Dissenting opinions and the aquifer of ideas and debate will not be tolerated, and because of the increasing presence of smart phones and tablets in our lives, our every movement, however trivial, will be monitored. So the message seems to be: “SHUT UP AND SMILE”. Better yet, sit down on your swiveling task chair, and start bragging about being the boss.

*My apologies to Hope (if you do exist).  Damn, Girl!  You hard to find!