Life Without Deep Meaning: You Are What You Like

I was having a discussion with my sons about how people become polarized around things like movies, music, books and video games. Anything related to consumer or entertainment culture can trigger massive amounts of conflict and hostility.

It put me in mind of Freddie deBoer's post "you aren't the sh*t you like." Deboer's argument is that, with the modern loss of what I'll call "deep meaning," our younger generations are increasingly defining themselves through the entertainments they like. Your identity, your particular and distinctive place in the world, becomes your collection of consumer preferences. As evidence of this, consider things like Gamergate and the insanity of Star Wars fans. Basically, because selfhood is being anchored to entertainment culture, differences of opinion about these products, like enjoying or not enjoying a particular Star Wars movie, triggers massive amounts of defensiveness and hostility. Identities are put at risk though the mere expression of different consumer preferences. If you don't like this movie you are passing judgment on me.

Here's a bit of deBoer's analysis:

Famously, the 20th century saw a collapse in meaning...Into that chaos of meaning came, of course, capitalism. If you can't generate real meaning and psychological security in your life, Amazon would be more than happy to sell it to you...

...I think a lot of nerds have fallen into the trap of thinking that liking Marvel movies is a personality. They have steeped themselves so fully inside these products that they have come to think of them when they think of themselves...And this is a mistake. Liking Star Wars simply isn't a solid foundation for your personality; the human psyche needs more fundamental codes and commitments to work with. Star Wars isn't in your control, so if you give yourself up to it and someone does something with it that you don't like, your whole world gets rocked. Ask the people who hated The Last Jedi. And these properties, no matter how sophisticated they are, or how beloved they are, just can't contain enough substance to anchor a sense of self.
This is true. Over the years I've increasingly observed my students defining themselves through their entertainment preferences, and therefore fighting amongst themselves, in an ego-defensive way, about those different preferences. If you like (or dislike) a particular band, for example, that tells us a massive amount about who you are as a person.

Deep meaning has collapsed in the post-Christian West, and facing that void entertainment preferences now anchor our a sense of self. Without deep meaning you are what you like.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply