You know better.
You know most people would rather eat what they always eat, think what they’ve always thought, drink what they’ve always drunk, read what they’ve always read. You know that so many people have no idea how interesting a world of diversity and difference is. They say “Everyone does it this way,” whether explicitly or implicitly, because they wish everyone was just as boring as they are.
So many people — is it wrong to say most? I’m not sure it is — couldn’t be bothered. They’d rather just stay in their rut. It’s comfortable, it’s easy. Sure, the rut is a little wider in some societies: some people will be willing to eat Americanized Chinese food, for example, or takeout curries or try some other mass-market watered-down tasteless beer. But wide or narrow, vast numbers of people live in that rut and aren’t really interested even in expending the energy to hop up to the edge of it and see what’s out there in the world beyond.
Rut is actually the wrong word, except insofar as it reminds us that people are indeed stuck in them. Ruts are for wagon wheels, though; ruts imply going somewhere, however routine, however mundane, however familiar. Ruts, at least, implying some sort of movement.
What were once ruts have been dug too deep, though. They have become trenches. And the people stuck in them have become unwitting soldiers in a war they don’t really understand — like soldiers in any war. There they hunker down, compelled by Sony Music Corporation (or JYP) and Microsoft Windows and Budweiser (or, for you Canadians, Labatt’s, or you Koreans, Hite and Chamiseul) and 20th Century Fox and Hyundai a million other companies, tastemakers and marketeers and profiteers of bored petulance and re-treaded crap.
And even some of those who do venture out into the No-Man’s-Land beyond the lip of the trenches, mostly don’t open themselves to it, don’t take it in. They go out there and live in a foreign land and return home without much sense of what they were immersed in for years. They insist on finding a McDonald’s in Bangkok, a KFC in Beijing, they critique the subtle differences of fast food chains in Seoul and Paris and Buenos Aires, and they bitch and whine if there is no Burger King to be found in Delhi, or if they have to go without kimchi for a day in Phnom Penh. (Sadly, such homogenoautism at least are all too easy: for the trenches stretch across so much of the world today…)
In other words, once they get out into the interstitial place, they long for the trenches. They’re used to the damp and the stink and the cold. They want it. They’d rather see dirt walls all around them than the sky.
In the face of that: expect such behaviour. Plan on it. Don’t be cynical and write everyone off, but be realistic enough to know most people — even smart, intelligent people, and to differing degrees according to social conditioning — are just too plain stubborn, or closed-minded, or lazy-assed, to ever imagine moving beyond their comfort zones. If you offer people who are trapped in the trenches a hand, don’t be shocked, angry, or bowled over when they decline aid in a chance to escape.
Be surprised (and pleased) when it is not exhibited, though. There are people in the trenches who want out, who want to see an enjoy more. They want to hear songs they’ve never heard before. They want to taste foods they’ve never heard of before. They want to wear something other than the clothes they wore yesterday, something other than whatever everyone else around them happens to be wearing. Not just because they want to be nonconformists — for nonconformists often make a great effort to conform with other supposed nonconformists — but because they crave alternatives to the rut, to the trenches. Because they know they were born for more than the same junk everyone else is endlessly, inattentively filling their lives with.
These people are like you. These people are previous. Appreciate these people who do dare to follow their noses instead of the crowd. Save your energy for encouraging them, nurturing their healthy tendency, and helping them to broaden their own horizons as they see fit — and letting them, likewise, direct you to orchards of unknown fruits, fresh and ripe for the sampling.
Don’t expend your time and energy putting pearls on pretty velvet cloths when you know they’re just going to be stomped on by hooves, to the music of snorting. Set out slops for the herd, put the pearls in a corner, and see who wanders over with the telltale sign of interest on their faces.
Meet those people. Make an effort to meet those people. Make an effort to connect them to one another, for they need one another desperately, and you need them too. Open up your time to them when you can, for you will learn from them as they do from you. Invite them to events that the herd would never consider attending. Suggest new experiences, media, foods, and so on… and listen to them when they suggest things to you. Build or join an underground of interesting people. Fortify it, strengthen it.
Grow. Don’t build an alternative trench and settle down in there. This trench warfare crap doesn’t get better just because you’ve built a new trench. Trash your music collection every once in a while. Give away your paintings and start over sometimes. Burn (or box up) your DVDs and books, and reboot your tastes sometimes.
Build. Network. Grow. Build tunnels, a network of them, an underground railroad for thinking, growing people. A network that is almost — but not quite — hidden from the view of the stunted. Take risks with those people. Mount a live music series for free. Paint on the sides of buildings, or people’s faces. Make a photo exhibit online, or find some other way to get your creativity to other people.
And yes, you need to be creative. It’s you, or corporate rock, corporate art, corporate fast food, corporate TV and film, mass-market corporate fictions. We can only bludgeon the Big Mac, Harry Potter, and Britney Spears off the stage by presenting something as interesting, delicious, or exciting in its place.
This will confuse the swine. They think anything on a stage is good. For them, the stage, rather than taste, is the defining factor.
Once we have the stage, we can take over the culture, or build a significant subculture. Make the things you love cool, insist on it, and gape in shock at the gauche dorks who are so not with it, who are still listening to yesterday’s crappy pop song and wearing the same sorts of threads their predecessors wore ten years ago. It’s been done before. The Beats did it. African American musicians did it. A small core of black American musicians sent American music in a completely different course, several times in its history. The Impressionists did it to French art. The significant, active core of American modernist poets could probably fit into a modern classroom, and they changed poetry.
What we need is a Rebirth of the Cool, but not as formulated by companies, by brainless bureaucrats and crack salesmen (for corporate pop music, fashion, food culture, and everything else is like nothing as much as it is like crack — addictive, mind-rotting, worthless, and a black hole for culture). What we need is Cool as formulated by people who are interesting, intelligent, and mentally equipped with the ability to be different.
As for the others? Why waste time trying to help them see? They don’t want to see, any more than swine want to have brain modifications and chat about philosophy and architecture. Let ’em scramble to catch up. They’re not the point of this world, they’re shitty leaders, they’re awful decision-makers, and they’re mostly just not worth the trouble en masse. They crave leaders… why not let them follow people with their brains switched on for a change?
Corporate Everything is in collapse. Thank you, Internet. What will take the place of Corporate Everything?
We have to. It’s not job, it’s not duty. It’s the only hope we have of not being bored to bloody tears by whatever crap the masses, in their infinite boredom, deem bland and tasteless and familiar enough to adore. For our own sakes, much more than for theirs, we need to take the dangling reins, and move the hell forward.
And when our creation has become the New Corporate Everything — when the companies have zombified it, done a Herbert West on it, then it’s time to grab the gas can, douse our creations, and burn them… and start again.
Cultures are supposed to grow, change, develop, branch off, and variegate. If someone has installed a braking system on our popular culture — and most certainly, someone has, because that facilitates factory production, replicability, and more — then we need not only remove the brake pads. We need to saw off the braking system completely, so that the brakes cannot be repaired, put back into place, or used again.
It’s time for the interesting people to step up to bat. Some have. Have you?