The Cultural Utility of Lifestyle Porn

Ideologies that call to us and the symbolisms that lead the way.

Follow the plan: Go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a good job, buy a house, get married, have 3 children and cut one in half…
Wait, am I free?
We live no more. by Alex Cherry. I have no rights to this — but it’s part of a popular meme I indirectly reference above.

We live by narratives that captivate us.

The Sovereign Individual is easily the #1 recommend book among my largest social circle on twitter and it is slowly trending out to others. It seemed to have picked up interest because of a thread about how it predicted the rise of bitcoin and harks on a lot of themes that attract the same demographic.

I can’t afford that book. I can only hear of it through echos of thought filtered through social media. But it speaks to me as well.

As the picture says in the corner: “You are a target market”

And yet, all walks of life in my stream seem to see the reasoning and it resonates. It seems to be a lightning rod for those who seek a form of social approval to support a particular ideological lean. However, it is not just Anti-Statists, Ayn Randian self-interest types. Interests in the topic range from rugged individualism & vulgar libertarian views, to the more egalitarian notions of social equity and Distributism. All of them interested in being independent of the corruption forces of societies ‘elites’.

They seek to undermine the systems that bind us to suffering.

Rick & Morty. From an Imgur Gallery

Fear, Hope, and the Uncertain Future.

My parent’s generation watched “lifestyles of the rich and famous” while they sat in homes they bought on one salary, sipping on $100 bottles of wine. My generation sits in flat-shares, looking at “tiny houses” and follow hashtags like #vanlife on social medial. That is, if they aren’t eating avocado on toast, and sipping starbucks as they dash between two or more jobs with no long term potential.

As society continues polarizing, the middle class as we know it, is dying. These well worked paths, suggested by our parents, aren’t working for us. The ruts carved out by our fore-bearers used to be good for foraging, but now they lead to a bridge that has washed out. Blindly, we keep marching onward like lemmings to the slaughter.

Lemmings without a bridge. (from Retro Yak)

Worse, those who are outcast — unable to gather the necessary social prestige, or are stepped on by others who see them as weak — are not able to get ahead in this system. With little to go around to begin with, it is the weak who starve first. Being impoverished means being disenfranchised. Drowning.

So, as we sit around biting each other within this rat park, drunk off our own stress, what are we supposed to do? We have to think deeply about the systems that constrain us:

Throughout the film, we’ve seen various desperate attempts to change the system by ignoring the usual rules: Batman originally thought he could inspire change by being a cultural exemplar, but only ended up causing a bunch of kids to get themselves hurt by dressing up as him. Dent thought he could clean up the system by pushing righteously from the inside, but ended up cutting more and more ethical corners until his own personal obsessions ended up making him a monster. The Joker had by far the most interesting plan: he hoped to out-corrupt the corrupters, to take their place and give the city “a better class of criminal”.
 — Aaron Schwartz, ‘What Happens in The Dark Knight

These ruts in the shape of our society are cowpaths. They happen because people walk them repeatedly, and they get comfortable. Like Sacajawea and Oregon trail — to be able to walk outside of these ingrained trails, we need explorers to forge ahead and trim back the overgrowth. The trouble is that the ruts are deep, and the stairs out are rickety — they can only be used by a few people. Like the idiom of pulling up the ladder behind you, the stairs weren’t strong enough to get critical mass for a new path to be maintained.

What if that’s good? What if that’s bad? It depends on how you view society. So now you have to ask, are you like the unibomber, who cares about the structure so much that you resort to violent change? Or are you just some lone nut who runs off in the woods to be a hermit and avoids it all?

What if there’s a nother way?

Political Contrarianism.

The fable we were told as kids was a sham. A lie. Like the american dream — it was just a social narrate held in front of us like a carrot. But what drove those of us who were unable to succeed in that narrative was more like stick.

As children, we find ourselves forced to do chores or we get punished. We find ourselves forced to go to school, or we get punished. We find ourselves forced to get a shit job “for the experience” or else we get punished. Then we are an adult. And now We find ourselves forced to go to college, or we can’t get a good job. We are forced to get a good job, or we can’t pay for food and housing.

Sticks? Are we are still children?

Ants, when taken out of their natural habitat, act the same way as humans. Take a colony and transplant it to a new environment, and they either die off, become invasive and destructive like fire ants, or find a balance and a niche like how sidewalk ants were able to naturalize. We are not ants, subject to simple instinctual patterns. While our ideas and technology may have outpaced our environment — we can rewire our operating systems. I believe we can recreate the reciprocal systems that our natural environment doesn’t provide.
 — Of Ants and Us
This is a convincing fake, but the real one is just as bad.

The problems we face when we conflict with society are hard to fully describe. A system that molds you into being specialized and dependently docile. It triggers a form of cognitive dissonance — the personal desires to follow your own interest juxtaposed to the social norms that are enforced via fear of punishment by those you depend on — leading to self-destructive feedback.

Enter: Jaimie Mantzel, Adventure Builder

“I think is a kind of trick in our society to keep people from feeling good about themselves.”

Far too often I’ve seen his video’s described as lifestyle porn: Those stuck in their rut are often dreaming of “dropping out of the rat race”. It’s the same reason why movies like Fight Club, and to a lesser extent the appeal of frozen’s breakout song “let it go’ are so popular. It captures the imagination of those who are looking for hope beyond their gloomy existence.

Ultimately, it is “little decisions that make huge differences” when confronting such a problem. But in most cases our hands are forced. Without the right tools, we effectively find ourselves “doing the wrong work, for the wrong people, for the wrong reasons” no matter how hard we try. The expression of not liking work is a psychological manifestation of our lack of control. What makes our lives full of “work” is more that we feel like we are not in control of these decisions.

Many of the feelings that plague us are deep-seated emotional states that we develop over time as we are “socialized”. Another way to frame it is as the manifestation of nanny state culture that keeps all the good boys and girls in line.

We trade the risks of independence for the security of the tribal structure society runs on. For many, this is a Faustian Bargain. Being normal and predictable is how the behemoth, a form of the political philosophy of the leviathan, operates. Society wants you to smother your flame, and gives you a piece of paper confirming you did so. To work within the behemoth, you must prove yourself to society, and many of us don’t fit the mold.

And here come’s some strange inspiring guy on YouTube who literally burns his diploma.

Jaimie’s way has a utility that is often missing with other radicals. He’s laying a trail. He acts as a symbol as he leads us on a path he’s opening up himself. A way that doesn’t pull the ladder up behind him — because he shares his adventures with us online.

However strongly these fantasies appeal, the real work of re-drawing our societal boundaries requires effort. Jaimie’s way of “going off grid” is one that slowly lowers the risk of breaking those patterns in the ruts —in his own way, he’s forging a new path by bridging between the well-worn ruts of those just plodding along with the herd. Sometimes literally.

For me, I don’t have the social skills to follow the herd, so I’m in the group that struggles to fit. But his journey gives me hope that I might find a way of my own.

So I share his work often, because it is inspiring to me.

“So rise,
and shine;
now’s the time be alive,
to stay awake with me a while,
And Smile!
Hello ingroup, Why So Serious?