Contemporary Boredom

Lost in Translation

            In high school I had an English teacher that believed kids today do not watch enough movies. As junior year ended and we were all itching to start summer vacation, he handed out a list of movies he told us we should watch. He explained that there was no assignment and that he hoped at least one of the movies would impact us in any small way.

            Junior year for me had been hectic. I had decided my dream was to go to NYU, and had developed what was not far from an obsession about it. I convinced my parents to pay a large sum of money for SAT classes, took AP’s, IB’s, volunteered, worked; anything was done toward the goal of getting accepted. By the end of the year I hardly remembered what I liked anymore.

            Looking back, I am surprised I sat down to watch a movie with how focused I had been on academic productivity. But I did, and the first movie on the list was Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.

            This movie follows two characters that lead very different lives but are similarly disconnected from them. The two visit Tokyo, meet each other and develop a relationship though they are both married. A stereotypical setup, this movie does not end with the spouses of the characters finding out about the two’s secret meetings. In fact, the plot never reaches a definite climax, and ends with the male character departing home to the United States. Before he does so, the viewer watches him whisper something to the woman, though what he says is left unknown.

            On its surface this movie seems to be a simple story of two people who share the same troubles. The male character, an actor whose fame has reached an end, does not know where he has left to go in his career. The female character is in Tokyo because of her husband’s career, and does not seem to have any true attachments. The two are directionless, sharing a sense of confusion with life. They find moments of happiness by being carefree on their vacation and experiencing a culture they are not familiar with. Both recover a sense of purpose they had lost, however, responsibilities call them back to their former lives. The viewer then can only hope that the characters are able to retain the happiness they had found.

            When this film comes up in conversation, I have been surprised to hear people ramble about how they despise the ending and think the entire movie was a waste of time. These critics complain of how they want to know what he whispered. How it is an unfulfilling film.

            The point of this movie is not what he whispered in those final moments, or whether or not the two characters continue their relationship. What is important is the time they spent together, how if, even for a moment, they brought each other out of a sense of nothingness they had been trapped by. The movie depicts life as it is, boring with splashes of entertainment scattered throughout it. It is an honest depiction of what one can hope to find, of true and even temporary happiness being life’s purpose. It is a reminder to be realistic and appreciate happiness when it comes.

            Since that time, I have learned one cannot avoid moments of confusion where priorities become blurred. Societal pressures to succeed have morphed boredom into a positive and masked it as determination. It is far too common to lose focus, not on where one wants to go, but why one wanted to go there in the first place. From college to careers, life has become a sort of checklist of moments. The question is why no one wonders about this increasing rush to get through life.

            When I watched this movie I had almost forgotten what is important. It reminded me, even if only in that moment, that there is more to life than the name on a college diploma. I acknowledged that I had been drawn into the boredom of modernity, of being preoccupied with the future. The truth is that it is far easier to believe that success in a field will bring happiness, and even a bit frightening to wonder if it might be found elsewhere.

College

            Gabriella had done everything in high school to go to Columbia University. Everyone thought she was going to get accepted, something that she found flattering though she did not admit it. When decisions were sent everyone huddled around her computer with exclamations of congratulations prepared. However, when she opened the email, she saw she had not gotten in.

            The last few months of high school became a blur. She got a full tuition to another prestigious university, and convinced herself that made high school worth it. Her efforts and hours spent studying saved her money she did not have.

            She hid the fact that she had lost interest in senior year activities and was ready for high school to end. She could not shake off a feeling of despair when she thought about the next four years of her life, not because she was not going to the school of her dreams, but because she had gotten her first taste of how disappointing life could be.

The Fall of Icarus

Image

            Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is a 1560’s painting whose creator is believed to be Pieter Bruegel. A rather famous painting, it depicts daily life in a village continuing on as Icarus drowns in the bottom right corner. The peasant workers are too preoccupied to be distracted from their tasks, and thus, Icarus pays for ignoring his father’s warning to not fly too close to the sun with his wings made of wax.

            This painting brings to mind incidents that occurred last year in New York City, in which several people waiting for the subway were pushed onto the tracks. These tracks are too deep for people to be able to pull themselves out on their own, and the oncoming subway crushed many as others stood and watched their plight. People questioned how witnesses could be so heartless, offering claims of how heroic they would have been if they had been there. Not many of the witnesses to these horrible occurrences presented themselves, but the few cases in which a pedestrian did save another were mentioned on the news.       

            Some believe that people have become increasingly self-centered, but indifference has always existed. It is easier to focus on one’s own problems and search for solutions for them than to become involved in the lives of others. Boredom of the eternal drawl of life, of meeting goals and creating new ones, puts one on a very focused path with self-created benchmarks. Caring about others is a waste of time, a situation in which one puts oneself in danger.

            Over four hundred years ago Bruegel was inspired to depict tragedy where no one is affected besides the person involved. Today, we have become so accustomed to hearing of murders and disasters that it does not create an impact. The city officials’ only solution for the subway killings was to implement speakers that repeated a message to stand far from the subway’s edge. Some who had pushed others in were caught, and now the only reminder of the deaths is the speakers’ constant warning. People never stopped riding the subway, and for a while one could hear mutters of how the city had never been safe in the first place.

Sandy

            No one believed New Jersey could be hit by a hurricane. Those who lived in South Jersey were asked to evacuate, but many refused. I was one of the lucky few that lived north enough to not be too impacted by the storm. The next day, my house regained power and we were able to turn on the news. Images of the disaster Sandy had brought were baffling.

            Benefit concerts were conducted almost the following week. Governor Chris Christie spoke about the plan to rebuild the Jersey Shore. Many were shocked to see real sincerity in the politician.

             Curiosity led me to make the drive down to see the shore in person. The further south I drove the more the town being passed had suffered. Trees were all uprooted and houses were broken down to their foundations. It seemed almost post apocalyptic. The strangest feeling was to drive back up a few hours, from where people had been left homeless, to home, where it seemed as though there had simply been heavy rain.

            The images of Sandy that had earlier affected me began to recede into my memory as I went on with my everyday obligations. I almost altogether forgot that Sandy had occurred until summer came along and I was back at the beach. I then realized that for many, Sandy was still something remembered every day as construction continued on their homes and businesses. It was something I forgot as soon as the initial shock wore away, as soon as I was no longer reminded of it. Forgetting about it was something alarmingly easy to do.

Gorky’s Boredom

            Gorky was a Russian writer who traveled to the United States and hated it. In an effort to impress him with the American way of life, Gorky’s friends brought him to Coney Island. Instead of being moved by the action and ostentatious splendor of Coney Island, Gorky was devastated by what he thought was a sad attempt for distraction from boredom.

            Gorky mentions several details about Coney Island in his piece Boredom, including the evils of the city itself or its, “Melancholy wail of life driven by the power of gold.” He believed it was all an example of losing oneself to the masses, or of being mindlessly distracted by modern innovations. Gorky saw everyone huddling along in the amusement park as emotionless people lacking an identity.

            Quite an interesting point Gorky brings up in his essay is the idea of people finding pleasure in cruelty. Here, one reads it to be cruelty towards the animals at the park. The animals are depicted to be smarter than the humans who come and gawk at what is no longer part of their everyday life, wild animals in cages being an easy amazement. This represents the boredom of life causing people to lose morals that average intelligence should have otherwise instilled.

            In Coney Island, Gorky found the darker side to an idea almost synonymous with the United States, that of the American Dream. He saw soulless people spending the day paying to find pleasure in life. These people force themselves to enjoy what Gorky believed were the monstrosities of Coney Island. All of this with the intention to alleviate boredom created by every day work and obligations, from the focus on material gain.

            Gorky writes about observing a preacher who seemed to barely believe in what he was preaching. It seems as though today this is all too common, apathy to what life means develops through a feeling that one cannot change much besides one’s economic status. People mindlessly recite why they work, go to school, or have their specific goals without the passion that is supposed to be the backing of dreams. Everything is meant for tomorrow, but once tomorrow is reached, it is the same as today. This has led to a sense of disillusionment, to the modern existentialist crisis of not knowing where to go when what one has worked for is not what one expected.

            Gorky saw in Coney Island the desperation of modern boredom, of a grasping for fulfillment to prove to oneself that the struggles of work are worth it. It seems as though convincing oneself that one is living to a full potential is an everyday occurrence, and mindless entertainment is the means to achieve that. Many people dream to attain continuous entertainment that they equate to happiness, and when picturing it, do not aim to think past the man made land of Coney Island.

Closing Thoughts

            I was recently asked in Spanish class whether I would rather live in a different decade. This was not the first time I have been presented with this question. I went on the same spiel I had given another, of how I would choose to live in the 1960’s. In that time, I said, people knew how to live.

            When I made that comment no one questioned it. In fact, many in the class agreed that it was boring to live in today. There was more freedom back in the sixties, music was better and people were happier. There was less of a focus on things that are unimportant.

            It was later that I realized what a ridiculous comment it is to say one would rather live in the past. Boredom has always existed, and though boredom today is different than the boredom of the sixties, it does not mean it was not there. People always tend to strive for more, to rid themselves of an eternal lack of purpose, of boredom. Today, this has reached the point of mindless entertainment; of forgetting one’s values when fixedly thinking of the road to wherever one believes is worth going. It has made today’s culture detached and future driven. The correct solution for boredom has not been found, but I would not be surprised to go to the sixties and ask someone what decade they would rather live in, and be told the twenties. One can only hope that eventually people will find the secret to absolute contentment, or more so that the secret exists to be found.  

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