Thursday, February 17, 2005

Pretty Woman!?

Note: I apologize for how lame the following "essay" is. It's actually pretty entertaining to read because you can tell I had no idea where I was going with it and, frankly, I still don't.

I was hoping to have something positive to explore as I sit here and relay my stream of consciousness to the nether regions of the blogosphere, but I've got too much trouble on my mind - not personal troubles, but worldly troubles. Recently, I've read a couple of stories about the Rwandan genocides and the conflicts between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Then there's the similar situation developing in Sudan. Of course there's the War in Iraq and the developing turmoil in Syria...and Iran...and North Korea. All of these things create a number of mixed feelings, in particular an overriding sense of guilt - guilt about my recent preoccupation with material possessions, guilt about my myopic self-pity in light of the plight of the average citizen of this planet, and guilt because one is duty bound to at least try and improve things in what little time he is given in life.

We are all very fortunate that we are able to discuss such things as happiness, no matter how unattainable it might be. I think for people here in America and in most of the civilized Western world, the idea of 'happiness' is something that comes as an adjunct to having all of our basic needs met, as opposed to the countries where people suffer from political and cultural instability, whose very existence is rooted in the ambiguity of whether or not there is a sense of happiness outside of living a life undisturbed with all basic needs met. I'm really tired, but what I'm trying to get it at here is that Americans tend to look at happiness as something akin to a material possession, like a stereo or a computer. That is to say, if enough of our wants are met, then we certainly won't be lacking in happiness. It is usually a given that our basic needs are met. But our needs, by virtue of living in this country, are completely different than that of most of the rest of the world. Granted, I would never say that happiness is easy to come by for anyone. No, not at all. But it is maybe a little bit more practical for those who require what we consider "God-given rights" such as freedom of thought and action, than we who strive for fleeting achievements and life-status affirmation.

My idea of happiness, I'm sure, doesn't vary much from the average person. But if I am considered an average person, then certainly my requirements for happiness become increasingly more complicated than those who would do with just having their mind, body and soul belong strictly themselves..

What's hilarious about all of this, (aside from nothing, that is) is that the impetus to this, my notion of cultural variables in the search for happiness is the movie 'Pretty Woman.' (Stay with me here now.) I seem to remember a suspicious number of female acquaintances with whom I grew up absolutely adoring this movie. And this is the kind of movie that is tantamount to the point I'm been trying to make regarding desires fulfilled posing as the notion of captured happiness instead of the 'needs-met' paradigm being equated with organic happiness.

For those of you who don't know, the plot of Pretty Woman goes something like this: a lonely playboy tycoon who has everything, save for that elusive holy grail called love, is willing to go out and spend a bunch of money on a hooker, whom he soon falls for. The plot doesn't inspire much admiration for either of the characters as much as it does nausea. Why any young girl would be so enamored with such a morally suspect situation is beyond me. But somehow, through dramatic, real-love-is-undeniable-thirteen-year-old-sensibilities-pandering, the film pulls off some sort of emotional connection. To be honest, I don't know which character is more despicable, the rich playboy or the hooker whom he pays to fall in love with him.

Granted this entire scenario is fictional, contrived solely for the purpose of entertainment, but I think it says a lot about the flawed view that a minor portion of our population sees as admirable. I don't blame anyone. It can't be expected that the movie producers would feel any responsibility for inspiring young people to want to achieve happiness through these sort of means. But something about American society and its profoundly skewed sense of priorities makes Pretty Woman less of a simple "love" story and more of a powerful culturally-ideal example of material happiness. And such a thing may very well be the fundamental difference in how and why people who live in such countries as Rwanda and Iraq may have an entirely different and, consequently, more practical take on what is, and is not happiness than we here between the safe shores of America.

The moral here is: don't write long, confusing, bullshit essays when you're tired - you will paint yourself into a corner and will run out of paint thinner trying to rectify the situation.

2 comments:

Drewl said...

So then the question comes down to: what is a practical sense of happiness?
Is it more practical to find joy in becoming free or to find joy in getting some shiny new baubles?

Personally, I think it is most practical to find happiness wherever you can.

Korbot said...

Well, relative to any one given situation, it is certainly most practical to find happiness wherever one can. But what I should have explored a little more thoroughly is the fact that we privelaged are allowed to ponder this abstract notion of happiness and try to achieve a manufactured, paradigmatic version of it, rather than just appreciating the liberties we have that so many others lack. We Westerners have a preoccuption with the pursuit of happiness, outside of a 'quality of life'. We are still afforded the privelage of giving happiness a definition outside of the context of quality of life, no matter how convoluted it may be. In my opinion many other cultures would probably love to have happiness defined as something other than some sort of quality of life. But then again, this is coming from a Western perspective, I can't say I know what goes on in those other cultures, but I assume it is a little harsher than our own.