‘April is the cruellest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain’
TS Eliot’s Wasteland
Fun and love – those cynical marketing buzzwords. Where they appear, so too does the profit-fed machine, huffing up dreams into a miasma of purple haze. Those engulfed are happy, and comfortable, nestled in the artificial-fur-covered monkey mother’s empty breasts. A rat wired up to a direct dopamine stimulator will die of pleasure, forfeiting everything else.
We are sold fun without responsibility. We are encouraged to consume, but not to consider our impact. We drink bottled water at enormous environmental cost because it’s convenient. Our small habits, cheered on by corporate interests, are threatening our future. We are being turned into children, lulled into the belief that benign parents will clear up the messes that we make.
The ‘Holi Colour Festival’ is nothing new. It is an ancient Hindu festival celebrating the end of winter from a time when that meant more than a return to the parks and beaches. Cheap airfares and gap year trails have spread naive travellers’ first impressions across affluent Western nations in the form of colourful parties, devoid of deeper significance.
Travel is a way to broaden the mind. But it is also an exercise in exposure to spectacle, indeed a journey to become something of a spectacle oneself. Our lives are lived in public, filtered by Instagram filters and ranking algorithms that value angry engagement and saccharine sights over the reality of the everyday. Incentivise me to dance and I’ll doubtlessly do so.
People buy what they don’t need when they feel like they’re not enough as they are. Where painting sought to preserve the present as enjoyed by the already-wealthy few, advertising photography is set perpetually in the future, selling the billion newly crowned Kings and Queens the idea that they are less than some, but may yet become more than most with a simple purchase.
A fish has no knowledge of water. Grow up in a culture and you’ll never realise how it dictates your actions in contradiction to your nature. You think you are incomplete because you’ve been sold the idea that completion is possible. Adorn your personality like an avatar. Get ripped abs, drive that car, wear borrowed expressions in selfies that broadcast your existence as a commodity in your own right.
Fun and worthy of love. Adventurous. Creative. Different, maybe unique, possibly better. Special. We dress ourselves up in products and services designed to fit the personality profile we aspire to be or to become. With a face covered in colour surrounded by cheering friends, who could fail to lovingly envy our crazy lives? #me iz trending rite now…
Self-interest, that siren song. Google is a gateway; Facebook is a destination. And the user-generated content? Faces. Far from checking on our friends, we scratch their egos in the hope that they’ll scratch ours. ‘Like’ reciprocity is the engine of a company whose inflated value is itself a technicolour hot air balloon pulling the strings of the greatest debtor nation the world has ever known.
It wasn’t long before companies swooped in to appropriate the online engagement and outpouring of heightened emotions the Holi Colour Festival provoked. Ironically enough, Desigual, or ‘Not the Same’ paints everyone with the same brush/ powder in their 5km world’s most fun ‘run’; the other corporate sponsors get their own turn to brand the shuffling crowd with their own vivid colour. From global media agencies to Smint, Skoda and, appropriately enough, a cleaning product manufacturer, driving up social media engagement for the annual report has never been this cheap.
And it’s fun. Increasingly, we’re being sold that fun and happiness are ends in themselves. This isn’t what the ‘boring scientists’ have found though. Happiness is the temporary fulfilment of pent-up desires, a necessarily transient experience. Party-poopers are shunned. In fact, happiness is largely genetic, barely based on what we get or do, and mainly just on how we choose to see things.
When reality doesn’t match expectations, a cloud descends to obscure the happiness of being. We’re made to strive by the gnawing feeling of lacking something. Sometimes it’s temporarily linked to something tangible, but there’s no satisfaction to be had, because completion is a modern myth. Our compulsive consumption is the fuel for the growth that Capitalism calls for.
And burning through fuel creates waste. What a bitter irony if we desecrate the world upon which we depend pursuing imaginary money just so we can feel like we’re happier than our Facebook friends. This is what we’re doing, all over the world. The black rhino has just gone extinct; how many millions of years went into its evolution? We’re made selfish, facile and demanding by companies that would profit from our labours. And so we foul our own nest, laughing as we do so.
The power of habit has been recognised as the fundamental force for shaping individual lives, and therefore society at large too. Nudge the people into the ‘right’ altruistic choices, so the thinking goes, and we’ll all benefit. But what’s good for many may contradict what’s better for some; and they’re the ones with the results of a thousand psychological studies that will have you dancing like a puppet.
Hear that clicking? It’s the drip drip of dopamine that’s steadily addicting you to the empty immediacy of pocket distraction. The internet is new. Millions of AB split testing results are still being collected in vast data centres. Your every action is being collated by companies whose products you never bought, and governments you likely never had the opportunity to vote for.
Smoker? Why wouldn’t you be when emotions trump rationality with dogged persistence? It’s not the passive smoke that’s the issue but the habits formed. It’s easier to toss a fag-end than it is to bin it; do so thirty times a day and you’ve changed your sense of right and wrong. Throw a can, throw a bottle, turn a blind eye to consumption’s piled up detritus. A diamond ring is a noose around a child’s neck in Liberia. An iPhone is paid for in wasted Chinese lives and senseless suicides. Neither is necessary.
A few disparate ‘likes’ and you’re done – your personality presented to companies more accurately than if they’d interrogated your friends and family directly; and forever. How far we’ve come when you’ll happily swap your personal details for free email and photos of friends. The gypsies and Jews did so for welfare in Depression-era pre-Nazi Germany. For now the owners of your data are happy wasting your time and money.
A new totalitarian state would be perpetual. Visibility is a trap, and we’ve never been more visible than we are now. Big data doesn’t scare us because it wears a friendly face. But expressions change. We are volunteering enough information for future artificial intelligence to be able to predict, and therefore control, our actions better than we can.
We are being pimped; hooked on the potent drugs of unpredictable ego stimulation and momentary releases from the bars of social conditioning that imprison your true nature, we smile and dance for our corporate masters. The deal is stacked against us on the back-end. Let’s close our eyes to growing extremism and economic collapse and hope that the will to power is a forgotten memory.
Fun and love. We are alone.
More photos of the Holi Colour festival are available here – http://barcelonaphotographycourses.com/holi-colour-festival-barcelona-2015-photos/