“Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever
Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see”
The Beatles: “Strawberry Fields Forever”
It’s a down-the rabbit-hole feeling , that slippery, squashy, lurking sensation that the real meaning and purpose of everyday interactions, products and institutions are systematically hidden behind familiar facades, like the inner workings of a giant machine. As that feeling gets stronger, born out by exposes and blog posts, conversations and after-the-fact analysis, the temptation to close my eyes is becoming almost overwhelming.
I don’t want to turn into some crazy, tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoiac, like Mel Gibson’s character in the 1997 movie “Conspiracy Theory”. I would much rather focus on the books I’m reading, the recipes, garden ideas and hairstyles displayed in gorgeous photos on Pinterest or the surface-skimming topical conversations occurring on my Facebook page.
My disillusionment with the world around me started in the 1990’s, when I worked for a large law firm as a litigation paralegal. To my horror, I found my clients making decision like: a model of school bus has a problem with its braking system. What would be cheaper – paying for the kids who get killed or fixing the problem?
Later, I helped design retirement schemes for the top five or ten executives at fortune 500 companies. After working with the concepts for a while, it all became a game: rigging things to take advantage of the tax code was my life. I didn’t realize how deleterious these smoke-and-mirrors executive compensation arrangements were. They were a building block in the foundation of unreality fast becoming the norm for US companies. It ceased to matter if a CEO provided actual value to his firm; a CEO was due huge sums of money just because.
I wasn’t surprised to find chicanery in the banking or mortgage businesses. My distrust of large companies’ financial arrangements and their liability acceptance was firmly in place when the 2008 financial crisis came along. But now the up-is-down, green-is-blue method of doing business is becoming more apparent everywhere I look. And I’m becoming tired of seeing; a huge part of me doesn’t want to know. The other part of me can’t look away.
Just this morning, I read articles about natural beauty products that are anything but, fake Facebook accounts used to build “likes” for political purposes without disclosing anything about their intentions and a Presidential candidate’s effort to make voters think that the President is trying to keep military members from voting in Ohio. Nothing is real.
Perhaps the same uneasiness I feel is a driving force behind right-wing nostalgia for the black-and-white days of the 1950’s. Fonzie never worried if there were weird antibiotics and hormones in his milk shake. Andy Griffith wasn’t concerned that the First Bank of Mt. Pleasant was cheating him on his mortgage. Lucy and Ricky didn’t have to concern themselves with fake fans, pretending to praise Ricky’s singing while actually shilling for some obscure political group that they would total disagree with.
Behind-the-scenes shenanigans were doubtless going on in the 1950’s, but without the internet and its instant, pervasive information most people probably had no idea what was really happening. It was much easier to “misunderstand everything you see”.
I get the need to go back there; continually questioning is so tiring. I don’t want to deal with fast food as political statement. I don’t want to feel that I need to read rows of tiny, tiny print on every product I purchase to be sure that I’m not getting poisoned.
Living would be easy with eyes closed.