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The Culture Condition


Some movies are so much fun to not just passively watch, but to analyze their portrayals of our culture’s oddities. The main character Buddy in the movie Elf takes every single thing so literally, like a small child. An advertising sign in a coffee shop’s window claiming, “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” compels him to go into the store, beaming, authentically congratulating each store employee for this massive feat: “You did it!!” Buddy’s behavior is in stark contrast to everyone else, who simply walk on by without giving it a second thought. They are already accustomed to being told not-quite-truths, completely desensitized, merely walking through life without paying notice to so many types of lies. However, Buddy vigilantly and remarkably remains hyper alert, always aware of all that is going on around him.

In another movie, Enchanted, the main character drops out of the fairy tale land, Andalasia, where she happens to end up meeting a divorce attorney. With nowhere else to go, she follows him around while he works, and bursts into tears, appalled, when she finds out that a married couple is trying to leave one another. What happened to happily ever after, the result of “true love’s kiss,” as she had so beautifully sung about earlier? Divorce is a concept so common to us, but so, so sad to the innocent lifestyle which results from living in her perfect world, where anger and hate are nowhere to be found, unheard of.

Similarly, in the 2017 version of Wonder Woman, Diana is kerplunked, down into our society, from her utopian Amazonian island. She really struggles to understand our customs. Questioning what her associate is wearing on his wrist, he explains that it’s a watch, and then, what it is used for. “… it tells the time. When to eat, sleep, wake up, work.” Very perplexed, she asks, “You let this little thing tell you what to do?” “Yeah,” he has to respond.

Now, these examples are clearly fictional, and could be written off as some romantic, extremist writer’s complaint or commentary on our culture. It’s easy to ignore any could-be lessons by assuming that this perspective is from some unknown, crazy, far-off person, or that it was only portrayed in such a way just to make for enjoyable viewing. However, I became excited when I recently came across a real life example.

A couple years ago, author Michael Easter wrote a book called Comfort Crisis, and it’s all about the exact same thing, albeit in a different area. Easter, among other travels, spends a month in the Arctic, hunting, for about a month. He says that after that, he was super conscious of all the comforts we enjoy, and take for granted, in our daily lives. He teaches the 2% idea, that only 2% of people make healthy choices, like taking the stairs instead of an escalator, even when they know which one is the better choice. Easter brings to light many problems with the complete ease of modern Western society. Basically, it’s not making us stronger, better, or healthier, in any way.

Just like the aforementioned dramatized examples, every aspect of whatever culture you happen to be in, whether it’s in a country, state, town, workplace, family, church, or any other group- micro or macro-scaled- may not be the best choice for you. The easy way is to follow the crowd: remain unimpressed with life, leave when things aren’t going your way, instead of working towards improvement, follow someone, or something, else’s directions for your life, or to be part of the 98% of folks who choose the least resistant modus operandi. The habits you practice form your life, so cultivating ones we decide on ourselves will ensure our most prosperous lives, as defined by ourselves. Cheers to that!


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