Saturday, November 17, 2012

When Reality is too Real

I have been taking a course in Cultural Anthropology for the last 8 weeks (I've decided to try to get an edumacation! Woot Woot! About time I done some o that there fancy collage type stuff!)

At any rate, the final assignment was the summary of two aritlces from our Classical Readings text book (500 words per article. A joke! My biggest struggle in blogging is keeping my posts under 2000 words!)

One of the articles I summarized was called "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema" By Horace Miner.
This selection is a somewhat humorous “outsiders view” description of American life. It describes the health and hygiene rituals of the typical American citizen (male and female), but in a way that an outsider might describe them if her were totally unaware of their purpose and rationale. For instance, shaving is described as “a distinctive part of the daily body ritual which is performed only by men. This part of the rite involves scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument.” Not far off from the point of view of someone who has five-o-clock shadow by noon, grows facial hair with the consistency of wire bristles, and is required by his job to maintain a clean shaven appearance every day.
In addition to daily hygiene rituals the author also describes the health practices, including doctors (medicine men), pharmacists (herbalists), dentists (holy-mouth-men), hospitals (latipso) and nurses (vestal maidens… in distinctive costume and headdress.) He describes the (very real) oddities and horrors of modern medicine, including needles, high cost, bed pans and even the fact that the patients do not always recover.
At one point the author briefly discusses body image issues, especially the fascination with breast augmentation and reduction surgeries. He says, "General dissatisfaction with breast shape is symbolized in the fact that the ideal form is virtually outside the range of human variation."
I thought this was an excellent point, if somewhat scary. One need only take a look at magazines on the supermarket rack to realize that the body image presented to us by our culture as our ideal and goal, for both women and men, is quite obviously false. Compare them to the people that you see in the street. Even the healthiest and most active of us very rarely look like the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. The models are starved and exercised, pinched and photo-shopped into a shape that is virtually impossible for most people to achieve.
This fascination with unreality, this inability to accept the real, is pandemic in our culture. Indeed, I would say it is the lynchpin of our culture. It isn't that much of our society is built upon a lie, but that most of our society is thoroughly invested in telling and selling and buying and sharing the lie.
Our preference for unreality takes many forms. I will probably talk about a few of them in follow up posts, but here are a few examples for starters. The whole fashion industry is based upon unrealistic ideas of what men and women actually look like. Video game addiction is the preference of a fantasy world to the real world. Pouring out your heart and soul on facebook instead of phoning a friend is another example of this phobia of reality. Our entire custom of dating is based upon the lie that you can build deep emotional and physical intimacy, and then end that connection and move on as if nothing had happened, and that it will not affect your ability to do it again.
My Grandpa once said, "You know, I think you can make a lot of mistakes with your kids, but as long as you give them one thing, they will be all right. As long as they can acknowledge the truth when they see it, they will never go too far wrong." I was about ten when he said that, or maybe younger, but I remembered it. I think he was right. A life that is not based upon a respect for the truth is going to end up disillusioned and destroyed eventually, and rightly so. It is not a punishment from God for our stupidity. Suppose you painted over all the windows in your car and drove down the road at 50MPH. Would you wrapping your car around a tree be a punishment from God? Or would it simply be a natural consequence of not being aware of the truth, i.e. that there is a tree in front of you. God letting us crash and burn is mercy, not punishment. He gives us chances, many and varied, to come to the knowledge of the truth before we close our eyes forever and it is too late. Every failure of mine that crushes me and makes me question Him, is really just me not paying attention and bumping into the curb, or scraping along the guardrail that He has put there for my protection.
Holy Spirit, open our eyes.


  1. The article that you write about has been around forever and is no more or less true than it was when I had to critique it in my Intro to Sociology class back in 1981.
    Your grandfather was wise when he said what he said. I have seen it in action and I have seven siblings and six children who are testament to the truth of it. I look forward to your follow up posts.

  2. I'm more than ever convinced it's going to take a severe national catastrophe to bring the sad state of affairs home to people. I mean a real catastrophe that takes everyone out of their nine-to-five, like hyperinflation. We never learn until we feel consequences, and every generation has to figure it out all over again.

  3. A wonderful post, though I am still glad that my university studies focused on philosophy and theology and not anthropology (though we did a bit in courses in teacher's college, and phil./theo. cover that area as well), :). Firstly, thank you for your last poem and for graciously allowing me to copy one of your other poems. Secondly, it is so true that our culture is living in a world which has created its own reality, thus living in 'unreality.' Our world/culture does not want to see the truth, and will do almost anything to avoid it. You mentioned many forms, which I completely agree with. I would add that these forms of 'unreality' are also forms of dehumanization and objectifying, refusing to know and love people. Your example of video games is a case in point, since so many children spend copious amounts of time playing games in which they are in control, they create themselves. There are even more consequences I feel to war video games. I enjoyed your example of ignoring the truth, for it is true that just because you can't see something when your eyes are closed does not mean that it does not exist. Though it sometimes makes us feel better at first. Your Grandfather was right! My Mom says something similar... give children filet mignon (what is true, and good and beautiful) and they will know what leather is (ie, what is not).

    Thank you and God bless,