by Rhian Sasseen on July 13, 2012
412 LinkedIn connections. 746 Twitter followers. A profile on every social media site; a resume stuffed with a long list of internships, paid and unpaid. Sunday morning brunches; a closet filled with H&M professional wear. Sentences that begin, “During my summer co-op…”
These are the markers of success for a particular breed of ambitious youth. They are ambitious in name only; in the day-to-day business of their lives, they remain unconcerned with the content, just the image. Commerce, not creativity, rules their actions. Witness the entire career of someone like Taylor Cotter: list-filled clips and a relentless careerism aimed towards a job, any job, rather than producing a body of work that actually matters. It is telling that her apparent idols are Carrie Bradshaw and Harriet the Spy: one, a child, and the other, a grown woman characterized by her childish fixation with shoes. Both fictions, both surrounded by objects, endless objects. Joining them: the individual’s sense of self.
In the recession our generation has been taught how to package ourselves. The self is a brand that can be marketed, the sum of our existence reduced to the brevity of 140 characters: we are all tweets. Twits. I don’t mean to sound like a luddite – I’m not. But what confuses me is our apparent lack of imagination. For the first time, we as a society have complete and unfettered access to the whole of human thought and history – and we’re supposed to use it to make ourselves look better?
The Internet’s freedom of information is truly revolutionary, and we are using it to turn ourselves into consumer objects. It is not enough that we are constantly surrounded by the lies of advertising – now we must start advertising our own personalities, too. We are not human beings, we are “communications professionals.” Vague phrases, all designed to please, to make ourselves palatable to authority figures – what, after all, does “communications professional” even mean?
Images, a pile of images. Of course Taylor Cotter began to romanticize poverty; on web 2.0, the dark corners are folded over, the more destructive elements of human nature hidden, though not erased. Buzzfeed instead of 4chan. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to a certain glamorization the likes of which can be seen in every stupid Thought Catalog article that peddles and panders the vanity of faux-bohemianism to the college and postgraduate crowd. The ease of self-categorization – but the answer is not to comply with a wrecked economic system by turning the complexities of the self into a sanitized consumer object sold to the highest bidder. No: we must instead resist this kowtowing, and question the very image to which we adhere.
The images, as it would turn out, are lies anyway. “[W]hat about that 10-cents-a-word life that I always wanted?” Taylor Cotter asks, tone-deaf, on the Huffington Post. “What about New York City? What about freelancing, penning newspaper columns and urban adventures?…the tales of credit card debt and ramen noodle dinners?” But do lives such as these truly exist? There is nothing particularly fun to poverty, only to the image of it as presented to us. We are all liars, these days – on Facebook and real life, we lie to make ourselves look good, our situations better, our lives a little more glamorous. But Carrie Bradshaw isn’t real – she is a fiction, a fantasy, an electric and empty dreamscape for us to consume and for some of us, apparently, to foolishly base our lives on.
Form without content. Images without ideas. Pop culture over high art. The lies gleam as bright as the baubles around Carrie Bradshaw’s neck; we must reject them. A career for career’s sake means nothing at all when the career in question does nothing, says nothing, creates nothing. Of course there is no such thing as “having it all,” Taylor Cotter – decisions must be made. The line has been drawn. It is time to grow up, to stop basing ourselves on a child’s game of make-believe. It is time to stop packaging ourselves in the mistakes of our elders. It is time, finally, to open our eyes – to arise, arise, from the inconsistencies of sleep.