Originality and the Invisible Man

I’d rather not have TV. There is nothing on it I care much about, and the fact that my father stares at the TV every second he’s home, as well as my brother’s obsessive watching of Voyager reruns, has made me despise television and wish it didn’t exist. But the cable for my room is included in the price of cable for the entire apartment, which wouldn’t decrease with two terminals instead of three; and, every time I unplug my cable box and leave it in front of my brother’s door to be returned, he just places it in front of my door, and back and forth, until i really have no choice but to put it back in my room. The same is true of the little Sharp TV set belonging to my brother that is on permanent loan to me (and, like everything that is supposedly “mine,” is really something my brother has control over that is mine only in technicality). If I try to give that TV set back to my brother, he insists on storing it in the closet in my room. So I essentially have television shoved down my throat and eventually break down and end up watching it. That, however, happens for very brief periods each week, and for the most part I’ll have something like a baseball game playing in the background while pretty much ignoring it.

Which brings me to what this blog post is really about: the commercials that play during baseball games. The advertisers in Toronto advertise only to people who have money to spend, of which there are fewer and fewer in this city every year, so the ads are typically for investment brokerages, luxury cars and $2,000 touchscreen computers–the greed triggers and flashy toys of the rich. Once in a while you get an advertisement for something that an ordinary Torontonian can afford, such as an $18 movie (because, last I checked a few years ago, a ticket to an IMAX theater did cost $18). And it’s those movie trailers I find particularly disheartening, because, of the dozens you see every year, all look like the same three or four movies that have been advertised every few months for the past decade. Honestly, even the non-sequels look exactly the same as all the others. You rarely, if ever, see something that deviates in the slightest from the same, old, tired formula.

Which finally brings me to what this blog post is really about. It’s easy to blame rapacious businesspeople for the drab banality and sameness of movies, arguing that they keep making the same three or four movies over and over again because that was what made them a fat profit last time. No doubt that figures into it, but there is another, deeper reason why people waste their money and time on watching the same movie ad nauseam–and also why they waste their money and time buying the same book, listening to the same song, playing the same sports, cooking the same meals. That reason is the comfort of the familiar. While the public sphere is full of preaching about the value of the new and innovative, for the most part people are uncomfortable with new things and tend to reject them. The same is true of genuinely unusual things. Of greater value to our species is the repetition of the same thing over and over again, with minute and really meaningless tweaks that introduce some small element of novelty that is trivial enough not to be threatening and fools our minds into thinking the whole thing is something new.

Has our world always been a world of endless repetition? I don’t want to be the typical old fart who bemoans how things were better back when he was a kid. The fact is that things were not any different when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s from how they are today. The desire for familiartity and routine has always been the strongest aspect of human psychology, and always will continue to be. It’s not only those of us who call ourselves creatures of habit that really are creatures of habit. Every person who’s ever lived has been.

For me, the value of realizing this has been to stop putting excessive emphasis on so-called “originality.” It’s arguable that, after 200,000 years of homo sapiens sapiens, originality has become impossible, and even became impossible long ago. It has probably been about 150,000 years since human lives have been a hamster wheel of repeating the same experiences our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents had, with us being fooled about it by youth and lack of collective memory. Even if originality were still possible, however, it’s very likely that people would viscerally reject anything truly original, and some possibility that they wouldn’t even perceive it. It’s my personal belief that the photos of the surface of Mars have already showed us what Martian life looks like, but we haven’t seen it because it is so different from earthly life that we lack a frame of reference, and therefore completely fail to perceive what we see. Genuinely original human beings would probably suffer the same fate: they would all be The Invisible Man.

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7 thoughts on “Originality and the Invisible Man

  1. I think what really separates people from the television-watching sheeple that people have become (not that there’s anything wrong with that of course) is the drive to look for originality, whether it exists or not. And no, it doesn’t. And yet it does in that each of our personal stories is as unique as our fingerprints. The difference between this and the stories they play ad nauseum on tv is that the writers aren’t trying to create anything original – they’re out there to please the sheeple.
    If writers wrote their own stories, people would relate – sheeple would probably reject, as you say.

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    1. Words such as “sheeple” are dangerous because everyone uses them. I have met armies of people who consider themselves unique and original and, in fact, have much in common with tens of millions of other people on this planet. I’ve even seen comic strips making light of that phenomenon. It’s something that definitely deserves writing about. But then I’m a 49-year-old guy who is also very shy of complaining about how much better life was back in my youth and how young people today bla bla bla. One of my reason for not using words such as “sheeple” or bemoaning the deterioration of the world, ironically, is that I don’t want to become a stereotype myself. I value whatever is unique about me, as I am sure you value whatever is unique about you. One of a writer’s primary goals could perhaps be to color our expressions with that subtle tingue of uniqueness that makes them ours rather than someone else’s, while necessarily making them comfortable and familiar by leaving them substantively the same as someone else’s.

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      1. My point exactly. Anything that is “unique” (because nothing really is) has to be able to relate to the human condition otherwise it is put aside as crazy.
        I don’t think things were better in our youth (I don’t know where you grew up but I’ve never lived more than 5 hours away from Toronto, where I was born) than they are now. They’re different only in that social media has made the gap between the educated and those who are not more obvious.
        So call me a stereotype – I’m 50 years old and I’ve come by the observation of the human race as honestly as anyone. My bad for using the term “sheeple,” but in my experience I’ve seen it fit since before it was a term. Am I really any different than someone who follows blindly? Absolutely not. We all have things in common. But there is no denying the fact that there are people who have no interest in thinking for themselves.

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        1. Very well put. I’m sorry I misunderstood where you were coming from. And I’ve lived in the heart of downtown Toronto for the better part of 39 years, with occasional sojourns in Ottawa, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Florida. What do you think of my blog post about Toronto from a few days ago? Let me know whether you want the link, but it’s in the index of posts above.

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            1. I’ve toyed with the idea of saving whatever meagre amounts of money I can and then investing them in a day trip to Brockville. The bus there from Toronto transfers in Ottawa and requires a 15-hour overnight wait, but VIA Rail goes there more or less directly and, at last look, cost only $41 each way, with several trains scheduled each day. It’s probably too late for me to do that this year before the cold weather sets in, but maybe in the late spring, when the boat tours reopen and I can admire the 1,118 Islands (I think that’s how many there actually are) and explore the local tourist traps. What do you think?

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