Culture Clips: Everything Is Awesome (But Not Really)

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Culture clips happy

When it comes right down to it, we’ve got it pretty good.

Oh, sure, we all have our problems. But think about it: You do have some sort of computer-ish device with which you’re reading this blog right now, which puts you materially ahead of most folks in the world. You’re taking the time to read this blog, which suggests you’re not trying to stave off starvation by hunting and foraging or defending your property from rampaging Philistines. By most measures, in fact, we’re living in a veritable utopian world, filled with incredible devices and entertainment diversions never dreamed of even a few decades ago.

So why are so many of us so unhappy?

Nathaneal Blake, writing for The Federalist, unpacks this sad paradox. Blake reminds us of several trends, many of which we’ve mentioned here, from suicide rates to alcohol abuse to our shortening life spans: “Never before in human history have so many, with so much, been so miserable.” Blake points out that as prosperity increases, so does envy. And he suggests that the only way out of this prosperity trap is through love—and embracing the hurt and suffering that can come with it. He writes:

What our culture needs—recognition of the realities of human nature, the instilling of self-control, living with love and charity in community, and offering hope for the hereafter—is what churches should be preaching and, more importantly, exemplifying.

People seem to be hungering for that sort of genuine, difficult love and, by extension, the bedrock values that often go hand-in-hand with it. Take the 84-year-old man whose wife is going blind: He  does her makeup for her every day. (His YouTube tutorial went viral, naturally.) Or we can point to the success of Crazy Rich Asians, a surprisingly sweet comedy exploring love and different cultural values, even when love turns difficult. (Though, admittedly, a push by Asian-American movers and shakers to get folks to see the flick didn’t hurt.)

In an essay in Christianity Today, John Lee reminds us that while the world pushes us to be ever-more visible, more successful and more self-focused—to post and tweet and Insta more, more, more—there’s a beauty and strength found in being quiet, too. “The essence of a person is really who they are in secret. When these people become public, then the years of hidden strength will emerge.”

‘Course, culture often offers another suggestion on how to escape our prosperous malaise:  Bigger! Better! More! That explains why so many folks are pretty excited about the new iPhones coming out this year, which are expected to be the biggest, snazziest ever. Video game makers seem to want us to spend less time in the real world and more playing games—leveraging science and psychology to make them ever more compulsive.

And certainly, the entertainment industry’s been patting itself on the back for this summer’s blockbuster numbers—the most lucrative in decades, we’re told. (But MoviePass, the membership service that some has cited as one reason for all that summer success, is ironically suffering some problems of its own.)

But even in Hollywood, we sometimes see acknowledgment that real connection matters. Take Hilary Swank, the two-time Oscar winner who took a three-year hiatus from her career to care for her ailing dad. (He’s doing “really good” now, according to Swank.) Or that ABC selected an admitted virgin, Colton Underwood, as its latest Bachelor. (Some people were pretty furious with the selection, apparently.)

And when Lady Gaga—famed for her outrageous outfits and lens-friendly persona—walked in for the upcoming remake of A Star Is Born, future co-star Bradley Cooper asked her to remove all her makeup. He didn’t want Lady Gaga in the movie: He wanted Stefani Germanotta. “Completely open,” he is quoted in the Los Angeles Times. “No artifice.”

And then there’s this story from Bend, Ore., home to the very last Blockbuster Video outlet in the world.

As most anyone over the age of 30 knows, Blockbuster was once ubiquitous—a wildly successful chain offering the latest, biggest, flashiest movies for rent. Netflix, Redbox and a host of other technological and consumer changes wound up killing the chain. It’s yet another reminder that success—material, temporal success, at least—is alarmingly fleeting.

But now that last Blockbuster is offering something else: a beer, created in collaboration with 10 Barrel Brewing Company that has “a light body, smooth finish and hints of nostalgia.” The Blockbuster store will unveil that beer at a party Sept. 21, which will include munchies and an “iconic summer blockbuster on the big screen.”

With all due respect to the brewery in question, I think that story’s less about beer and more about something else: connection. Think about it: This one-time gigantic-but-faceless franchise has been whittled down to one storefront. Now, instead of offering gazillions of videos, it’s hoping to bring people together to eat, drink, and share a movie. It’s not about the blockbuster, but the bonding.

And as The Federalist suggests, it’s good for us all to be reminded that real, loving connections are what makes us really happy.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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