The banality of everyday life
“As poverty has been reduced in terms of mere material survival, it has become more profound in terms of our way of life . . .”
6.30am. Get up, get dressed, go downstairs. Put the kettle on and tune in to the relentless drone of the TV. Some reporter in battle fatigues is bringing the dead victims of corporate America to you live, right to your breakfast table. Sanitised images of a dirty war wash over you while you eat cornflakes: smiling men in uniform, tanks crossing a desert, explosions at night, thin, barefoot children petted by US marines. You’re not quite sure whether this is real or a re-run of some old propaganda film; you can’t quite make the connection between blasts in the sky and people dying. But you haven’t time to think or feel: you wash, brush your teeth, put on your coat and are out of the door.
“The crowd commutes in a brutish weariness . . .”
Getting on the bus you ignore the woman struggling with a pushchair and the madman who tells you to fuck off. On public transport you meet your fellow workers in an atmosphere of shared tedium that stifles communication. Sitting next to a face as blank as yours, you protect your body space and avoid eye contact. Jolted around on a grimy bus, you keep your head down and blend with the herd. Welcome to the morning rush hour.
Already you’re thinking of what you’ll do when the daily grind is over. Outside work, you can be yourself. Outside work, time is your own. Except that it’s packaged up, advertised and sold back to you as “free time”: time to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, time to drink Budweiser, time to wear Adidas, time to holiday in Ibiza. A measured amount of time freed up for consumption.
“The obligation to work alienates the passion for creation . . .”
At work, time is money. You work hard, performing your tasks efficiently but with a bored detachment. Tapping at the keys of a computer, you churn out meaningless words and numbers; on the assembly line you churn out shoddy goods in the name of mass production. It never occurs to you that before it became labour, work was creative, the pleasure taken in it offsetting the hours of effort. It never occurs to you that once people had control over how and when they worked. Lacking creative work and control, you have only wages to ameliorate your labour.
But money buys illusions. You don’t just buy a car, a washing machine, a pair of trainers; you buy self-expression, individuality, contentment, a way of life. Created by marketing gurus and peddled through the media, lifestyles come conveniently packaged at the local department store. Happiness is carried home in a plastic bag. You consume illusions. Retail is therapy.
“Forgetting life, one identifies with a range of images . . . ”
The evening rush hour: same as the morning, but in reverse…
You get home, make something to eat, put up your feet and turn on the TV. The familiar round of soaps, game shows and “reality” TV, schedule your week: Monday, Coronation Street; Tuesday, Who Wants to be a Millionaire; Wednesday, Big Brother.
On the small screen, celebrities enjoy romance and adventure on your behalf. You watch passively as they compensate for your inability to lead a fulfilling life. Relating more to a character in a soap than to your neighbour, you’re under the illusion of sharing a real human relationship. Separated from your fellow human beings, an illusory connection is better than no connection.
Waking from a doze, you turn off the TV and crawl up to bed. Before sleep you consider tomorrow’s routine: same shit, different day. You don’t think that there’s a better way to live. You don’t think you have the power to change things. Yet the house of cards is built on your complicity. We have a world of pleasures to win, and nothing to lose but boredom. You sleep. You don’t dream.