Willa Paskin at Slate poses a very good question, and sums up her subject nicely, when she says, “Humans have always been obsessed with things. Tulips and Twin Peaks and the Beatles did pretty well in their day. But adults used to obsess about things in a more steadfast manner, by having long-term interests known as hobbies…Why are we getting hysterically excited about very good but not hugely original cultural products seemingly every other month? Why have we turned into compulsive obsession-seekers?”
She offers what seem to be plausible explanations. She points out that social media makes things seem more popular than they actually are because all of your Facebook friends are as obsessed as you are. Paskin is right. I poked around and found out that 30 million people watched the regular season Seinfeld episode “The Soup.” Twenty years later, only 3.5 million watched the season finale of True Detective. The truth is, everybody wasn’t talking about True Detective. When everybody was talking about Seinfeld, everybody was actually talking about Seinfeld.
But just because she’s right about some facts doesn’t mean she’s really onto something. If data were truth, there wouldn’t be separate degrees in Sociology and Statistics.
Maybe we are on the cusp of a realization. Perhaps our psyches, stretched as thin as celluloid and cell phone screen protectors, are about to make a breakthrough. After all, isn’t it always darkest before dawn?
In times past, Keats obsessed on the images on an urn, Pope upon a pastoral scene, and we obsessed on those poets. But the book, while not dead, is dying, and with it the poet. Ten thousand years ago there were no books. But there were flowers, and I’m sure someone was obsessing on them. Our screens have become our books and flowers. Up through the concrete sprouts a colorful little thing called True Detective and a group of hominids crouch down, grunt, stare and point.
Is it possible that some of us are about to realize that enlightenment is in the details? That anything can be meditated upon, and that meditation leads to deeper realizations about one’s place in the universe?
The problem is of course that flowers and poems don’t move and talk. Movies, TV shows and YouTube videos are more likely to distract the eye and overload the mind. Moving faces literally speak to us in ways that flowers and urns cannot. Still, isn’t it possible that some individuals, after a few decades of drifting from one obsession to the next, are about to detect and break a pattern?
Is it possible that some of us are about to realize that it is time to stop, sit quietly, and meditate on the beauty of an actual flower rather than upon the flickering image of one?