Garbage Pick-Up, Gaming & Proust: The Ironic Beauty of Dystopia

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I came across a fascinating article by Vice’s website about a rather strange video game: “Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor.”  Unlike every other game that propels you into a fantasy world, “Diaries” is very much real, maybe even too real.  While it takes place in a fictitious world full of weird species and spaceships, the challenges are very relatable.  Maybe even too relatable.   You play out the seemingly mundane, sometimes stressful, practices of everyday life.  Instead of positioning you as a hero or heroine, imbued with superpowers and rewarded for achieving the seemingly impossible, e.g., slaying the dragon, gunning down hordes or bad guys, throwing the longest football pass EVER,  etc., this game celebrates the anti-hero and the “anti-adventure.”  In “Diaries” one must deal with the harshness of a dead end job as a janitor, the desire to escape one’s daily predicament — if only there were enough money saved up to do so, and getting robbed on the way home after a long day.  There are certainly tests and tribulations but they mirror those in so many of our daily lives.

What is the allure you may ask?  Why would someone play this?  I can see why it would begun to try it “it out” for the novelty of it.  But who wants to relive our lives, especially the boring or frustrating parts of it?

But I get it.

And I just spoke about a related notion last week in Milan, Italy  at the If Italians Festival for the creative advertising industry.  Among the various insights I shared, I spoke about why we love to upload, download and share the mundane stuff of everyday life.  When we can have access to so many images of fine artwork via the Internet, why do we spend so much time look at sunsets, our dogs doing something funny or our dinners?  These pictures are not crappy by any means.  Many are often well shot or juxtaposed to offer us a new perspective on these everyday things.  But still, who cares?

WE ALL DO …  and it’s deep.

Throughout history we have always tried to see the beautiful in the mundane.  We crave it.  Marcel Proust talks about this.  And Ancient religions, authors, and playwright have been doing this since the beginning of time.  Turning the everyday into the beautiful allows us to feel like our daily lives aren’t boring, wasteful or downright sad, but rather, beautiful, exciting, and magnificent.  We desperately need this.

This game may not satisfy our hero fantasies but it fulfills something else deeply fundamental: it allows us to see the beauty in the routine.  As the article states so well, this game “find(s) such beauty in the banality of a truly awful job.”  In the ever-changing, dynamic world we live in, so many of us are looking for new new thing — the new job, new house, new mate.  But sometimes there’s beauty in consistency, in the every day trials and tribulations, and being able to know what’s coming next.  We just have to recognize it and appreciate it.

Oh, and for those of us who travel by subway everyday, consistency is the ultimate fantasy come true! LOL 🙂

When Beauty Is Right In Front of You

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Sorry folks for being down this past week or so… we had to do some maintenance thanks to all those pesky hackers out there.  But all is good now!

One of the many positive attributes of our digital, mobile and social lives is how we have opened our eyes to the beauty right in front of us thanks to our constant access to technology.  So much for our digital lives are spent capturing, sharing, viewing and engaging in images or photos of everyday things.  We researched this and came up with the term, Fascination with the Familiar, to describe it.  We may marvel at the occasional piece of art.  Yet, if you actually count the minutes of our day spent in the digital world, most of it is not evaluating masterpieces, but, rather the beauty of the everyday.

People may bemoan the advent of the camera phone because of all the seemingly self-indulgent selfie-taking we do.  On the flip side, however, our access to our cameras have made us that much more acutely aware of the beauty — the everyday beauty — around us.  And this everyday beauty reminds us of how special our very own lives and surroundings are.

And here’s another reason to keep our cameras handy: artful manhole covers.  Yep, the Guardian came out with a piece a few days ago of photos of gorgeous, artistic and historic manhole covers from around the world. (See pics below)

I bet these pictures will have us look at manhole covers — hell, our own streets — in a totally new way.

Will we have survived without ever knowing the existence of these pieces of everyday art?  Sure.  But seeing these quiet sources of beauty and imagining the possibilities on our very own streets just makes our world that much brighter.

We may be living behind a camera much more than ever.  And I do value witnessing the beauty around me without the filter of a lens.  But if our reliance on these digital accoutrements allows us to see new sources of beauty every single day, then I think it’s a net gain.

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What Sugarman Showed Me

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I watched Searching for Sugarman yesterday.  I was moved to tears.  It was quite powerful.
The documentary captures the story of a bunch of South Africans who unravel the mystery behind Detroit, musical genius, Sixto Rodriguez.
There is no question Rodriguez is an inspiring character on so many levels.  First, his music is beautiful and deep.  Second, while he never reached any level of fame in the US, and ended up being a hard laborer his whole life, he never complained.  His lack of success never kept him back from loving life.  He still loved music and was content to have followed his passion despite never fulfilling his dreams as a full-on musician.  He shared his love for philosophy, (he even got a degree in it in college!) art and music with his children throughout their lives.
Finally, he looked at everyday-life as beautiful and as something to be elevated and celebrated … even if it meant looking nice for a hard labor job.  His co-workers describe him wearing 3-piece suits to work as a construction worker.  As one friend says in the film: Rodriguez would “elevate things…get above the mundane, the prosaic.”
Rodriguez lived in an ugly city, in near-shacks with his family, and worked in a world that didn’t always embrace beauty, and, yet, he did.
Lesson learned: there is never a reason not appreciate and enhance the beauty around us, even in the smallest ways.  Not only will it make others a bit cheerier, it will surely motivate and lift our own spirits as well.