“My mother did drugs, hard liquor, cigarettes, and speed,
The baby came out – disfigured, ligaments indeed.
It was a seed who would grow up just as crazy as she,
Don’t dare make fun of that baby cause that baby was me.”
— “Criminal” by Eminem
In the song Criminal, Eminem paints a lyrical picture of a childhood scarred by a troubled mother and absent father. It was a unique upbringing which formed the contact lens by which the rapper came to view and interpret the world around him.
In this post I’ll examine the eras that formed, and continue to form, my contact lens.
Note: For the audio version of this post, click here.
I’m 29 years old.
Upon reflection – and usually with the help of several alcoholic beverages – I often conclude my life has been split into 3 separate time periods, or, if you prefer a fancier term, “eras”.
The eras last roughly 10 years, and each share a role in shaping my conscience and forming the ‘contact lens’ by which I view and interpret the world outside my door.
Every individual human has a unique contact lens mixture. You have one. I have one. Donald Trump has one. Gandhi has one. Wayne Gretzky has one. The homeless man on the corner has one. Everyone has one.
A brief summary of my contact lens mixture looks like this: white, male, middle class, small town Atlantic Canadian, straight, mediocre intelligence, public school educated, non-ugly-but-just-average looks, sports.
Really, nothing in there that stands out as unique or interesting. Quite a different reality than that of the Real Slim Shady. My contact lens has been untouched by any damaging outside presence allowing freedom to view and interpret the world through crystal clear resolution. Which makes me a very lucky individual. And also, kind of boring.
Through this ever evolving lens, I’ve experienced 3 self described eras:
- The Parents Era
- The Television Era
- The Social Media Era
Perhaps you can relate. Let’s analyze:
The Parents Era (0 years old – 10 years old)
My parents had a baby and raised me.
They taught me how to walk, how to read, how to wipe my ass, how to play sports they liked, how to play games, how to eat, etc, etc.
From my perspective, this is a fairly simple era.
No further analysis required.
The Television Era (11 years old – 20 years old)
My parents bought a TV for the living room, and from that moment forward the television raised me.
I had friends too of course, and my parents were still there, but this was the 90’s/early 00’s and family sitcom-dramas were all the rage on the small screen. Especially on networks such as the TBS Superstation, which for an Atlanta based cable TV station, impressively reached millions of Canadians like me through their family friendly programming on evenings, weekends, and anytime the Atlanta Braves weren’t playing.
These television programs taught me values.
Family Matters taught me the value of family connection. Saved by the Bell taught me the value of friendship. Fresh Prince taught me the value of acceptance, overcoming obstacles, and hard work (thanks Uncle Phil!). Seventh Heaven taught me the value of spirituality. Dawson’s Creek taught me the value of sex (is sex a value?) Full House taught me the value of Bob Saget.
In fact, those days you didn’t even need diverse taste in show choice to obtain each value mentioned above. Each show’s vault had an episode dedicated to each value.
For example: the episode of Saved by the Bell when Jessie takes pills to stay awake and study vs. the episode of Fresh Prince when Will takes pills to stay awake and study. Same premise, different show. Same value: don’t do drugs.
Parents had it made! They didn’t need to do anything, the TV had it covered. All you needed to be a fit parent was enough money to afford the monthly cable bill. If you couldn’t afford a TV you were shit out of luck and had to revert to the old fashioned parenting method of raising the children yourselves. And let’s be honest, anytime you decide to raise the children yourselves, you’re asking for trouble.
If you were lucky, maybe Junior had a cool teacher from school with a well-rounded outlook, a brief history of LCD experimentation, and a block of spare time.
Did I mention I watched a lot of TV?
The evolution of the television, followed by the cable television, followed by the color-cable television, followed by the flat screen television created tension among generational gaps when it came to the subject of parenting style.
Grand-parents of the Silent Generation passively resented the parenting styles of the Baby Boomer Generation, worrying the kids of Generation X and Y would grow up soft or not equipped to handle life’s everyday problems. Because from the looks of it, all they do is stay inside, watch pointless TV, and play pointless video games. And “that’s not what we did and is obviously the wrong approach!”
The result of this mindset is a theory I invented called The Missing-Thing Theory. Here, whenever a modern day societal issue raises its head and angry groups of people are starving for someone or something to put the blame on, they’ll take 5 seconds to think about it and form the following hypothesis:
People: “Why are awful things happening?”
Person A: “Because people today are more fucked up than they used to be!”
People: “Why is that?”
Person A: “People today are different! Ugh.”
People: “What’s different about them?”
Person A (briefly reflecting on their own individual experience): What is the most obvious missing-thing between my personal upbringing which resulted in me growing up just fine and living a normal life, and the upbringing of millions of other people, today? Well, I tell you one thing, when I was growing up we didn’t have all these video games and TV shows brainwashing us. We played outside in the rocks.
Person A: “It’s the TV shows and video games fault!”
The TV shows and video games are the “missing-things” according to Person A.
Missing-Things, by the definition I wrote for it just now, are tangible factors one generation of people can easily conclude was not present throughout the majority of their life’s experience, however, a newer generation has always had, accepts, and can’t imagine life without.
Quick, name an example of a missing thing from Generation Z.
You’re probably holding it in your hand right now.
Missing-Things are easy targets when horrible events happen and millions of people who share the same point of view direct their anger at a lazy solution to a complex problem.
The problem with the Missing-Things Theory: horrible things have always happened throughout mankind and will never stop. Horrible events that happen today will always appear worse than horrible events that happened yesterday. Tragedy is, sadly, part of life.
That’s why being a superstitious person is a waste of time and energy. I’ve found suitable substitutes for superstition: hard work, character development, and the awareness that bad things happen to every single person, and is therefore pointless to attempt avoiding.
The result of the Missing-Things Theory: confusion and chaos.
Example: In 1999 six teenagers from Colorado took their entire high school hostage and murdered dozens of innocent people. It was terrible. People all over North America wondered, Why did this happen? The real answer to that question is extremely complex, and involves tremendous research and analysis from people who are smarter than me. Who got the blame? Marilyn Manson.
Marilyn Manson was a popular rock star in 1999, with an unconventional style. He had millions of fans, but they weren’t obtained in that hearty, classical way. Like performing Love Me Do on The Ed Sullivan Show, circa 1964 Beatlemania. It was more of a horror-film-meets-metal band to produce a frightening, gothicy death-saddled type of Rock and Roll.
In a way Marilyn Manson was no different than the Beatles. Both acts attained outrageous levels of fame for the same reasons: originality, talent, and the ability to connect with millions of people. Sure, the music was different, but the bras and panties thrown on stage were exactly the same (with all due respect to the evolution of underwear).
The sickening behavior of a group of adolescents was the subject on the table. People everywhere asked the questions “what’s so different about these kids?” “What are they experiencing that we did not? After all, we turned out fine, and they seem to be totally fucked.”
The music and on-stage antics of Marilyn Manson was the bright, juicy, piece of low hanging fruit the pubic deemed convenient enough to pick from the Missing-Things tree.
The result: confusion, chaos, and a lack of meaningful answers.
You may think it’s hacky for me to reference the Columbine massacre 18 years later when everyone and their dog, from Michael Moore to Eminem, have written about it at length.
I would argue that history is hardly hacky.
Even if it is, should I care? Last year there were TWO separate documentaries about the trial of OJ Simpson! OJ! And they were both popular and critically acclaimed! I thought Norm Macdonald’s work on SNL covered the subject, but I guess that old, bruised horse was still breathing.
BTW, today I watch YouTube clips to understand cultural events from the nineties when I was too young to care. I love YouTube. These days, my television has become a place to display family photos.
Which brings us to…
The Social Media Era (21 Years Old – Present)
It’s the mid 2000’s. We still don’t know what 9-11 was all about. The Moneyball revolution is happening across Major League Baseball, and it’s weird. Ivy League MBA geeks with pocket protectors now run pro sports. The tenure of US President George W. Bush is about to expire, paving the way for the first African American President. The Leafs missed the playoffs.
I was 18 or 19 years old, just beginning to emerge from my small town bubble to develop an awareness for the world around me. I knew I had a lot to learn, but I was comfortably optimistic in my expectation for how people thought, and what the future had in store. With this mindset, I chose to study business at the community college, began developing friendships, and started a relationship with a pretty young lady down the street. In other words, I started living life. All of these choices were made with admirable, innocent intentions, that would later on down the line prove themselves as being built on several wobbly values.
(Thanks, TBS Superstation. I trusted you.)
In 2006 Mark Zuckerberg showed up with the social network to end all social networks. One year later Apple released the iPhone.
From that moment forward, social media has raised me.
I can’t blame social media for all my problems. Or the world’s problems. That would make me a hypocrite of my own Missing-Things Theory. But ever since the emergence of Facebook and similar social apps, through my contact lens I’ve been on a never ending quest to define exactly what the hell I observe every day across my news feed. What’s going on out there?
We are all in this together – I myself contribute to the chaos all the time (I’m doing it right now). How has the Facebook phenomenon changed the way I see the world? How has it changed the world, in general? What is fake news? What is the alt-right? What ever happened to the Atlanta Braves? Who is Edward Snowden? Hey, look at that cute puppy. Why are people so mean? What is wrong with people? And so on.
I try not to be cynical about the process.
“Cynicism is a disease that robs people of the gift of life” — R. Wilson
Here’s what I’ve concluded so far:
Social media fucks with people mentally by creating an avenue that tells them their life is sad, lonely, and empty with an illusion that everyone else’s life is happy, exciting, and fulfilling. When the reality is that everyone’s life is sad, lonely, and empty. It is. A human’s life is just as empty as a black bear’s life. Or a pelican’s life. If you think you inherited some sort of special purpose by being born human, you’re an idiot. Which is a blessing in itself, because in my experience the happiest people on earth are idiots.
But like I said, I try not to be cynical. (ha!)
Sadness, loneliness, and emptiness are all natural emotions. There’s no need to protect yourself or your loved ones from them. I think it’s important to embrace those emotions and let yourself develop antibodies to fight against them. That’s survival, baby. In the past, when a person felt sad, they were alone with their thoughts. Maybe they picked up the phone and called a friend. If they were lucky, they were self aware enough to acknowledge they felt sad, and thought – gosh, I’m feeling sad. But, I guess that’s life. Oh well, back to work. But today, when a person feels sad, they have a never ending feed of reminders buzzing in their pockets of how happy and excited everyone else is (which is totally fabricated, of course). And they think: everyone else is happy. And I’m sad. And this leads to: Well then, what is wrong with me? Then, they feel sad about feeling sad, and grow even sadder. And it’s a never ending loop.
I was having a chat with Alana about this. She said, and I quote “Today, everyone is obsessed with labeling themselves. What am I? I’m a doctor. I’m an artist. I’m a writer. I’m a traveler. I’m a dog walker. I’m a vegetarian. Whatever. People all think they need some sort of unique purpose in life. When the reality is, we all have the same purpose: to survive.”
My god. That’s the difference between her and me. I have to read hundreds of books, talk to dozens of people, and spend hours writing out my thoughts to form organized conclusions on how I feel about any given subject. It’s a process that takes forever. Even then, I’ll probably forget everything I learned the next day. But for her, the wisdom flows naturally like current through the Amazon. Effortless wisdom, arriving without a thought whilst she clips her toenails. It’s incredible to me.
Perhaps that’s a woman thing? I dunno, I feel reluctant to give them that much credit. Just Alana is not a large enough sample size. I’ve seen enough episodes of Real Housewives to know the difference.
I hear this question a lot: why is depression and anxiety so prevalent among people today?
I believe the social science to that question’s answer is fascinating. It should be added to social studies curriculum in grade school.
One final note on contact lenses before I go
A person’s contact lens is a mixture of their environment, their education, and their experience. No two individuals have an identical contact lens mixture. Everyone’s is different. Therefore, we can reasonably form the following conclusion: people view things differently. And we can use this conclusion to better understand our fellow man. As there is nothing worse than being misunderstood.
Why did your family supper suddenly morph into a Game of Thrones episode between you and your uncle when your little cousin mentioned her friend from school had an abortion? Because your contact lens and your uncle’s contact lens is not the same contact lens. That’s why. The why is easy.
Remember the first time you tried on your grandmother’s reading glasses? Exactly.
“How the hell does she wear these?” you thought. “Her eyes are messed up.”
They may be messed up, but they are hers.
There was once an old french poet sitting in a Paris coffee shop jotting poetry on a wrinkled napkin. He’d been famous for a long time, and was well respected in the arts community. A younger woman of about 30, recognized him and watched as he scribbled. After about 10 minutes the old poet crumpled the napkin and threw it in the trash. As he walked out the door, the woman spoke, “hello sir, I noticed you threw your napkin in the trash. Can I have it?”
“Sure,” the poet said. “For $20,000 it’s yours.”
“What?!” the woman replied. “But it only took you 10 minutes to write.”
“It hasn’t been 10 minutes,” the poet replied. “It’s been 65 years.” ♦
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