You Must Remember This. Or Not.

I was watching the local news last week, when a story aired about a holiday Festival of Lights.  This one is located at a racetrack.  Residents are invited to take the family to drive around the track and ooh and ahh at the illuminated displays and discover the real meaning of the holidays or some such bilge.  But one short sound bite popped out at me.  The guy who runs the display said, “We’re in the business of creating memories.”   I can’t stop thinking about that.

My first reaction was Really?  Creating memories?  Isn’t it more about living in that particular moment?  Memories would seem to be a by-product of that moment, and if it’s wonderful enough, then it’ll be remembered. 

But you hear that a lot these days.  About “making memories.”  And it occurred to me that what the guy said was quite meaningless.  And then it occurred to me further that a great deal of what we hear, particularly at this time of year is also quite meaningless.  Just after Halloween,  the Christmas… excuse me, I mean Holiday… decorations are trotted out and the commercials come on about what a special and wonderful time of year it is, and we’re all steeped in the fake meaning and wonder of it all, because the real meaning and wonder of what used to be Christmas is officially buried deeper and deeper each year.  We can hardly bring ourselves to utter the word “Christmas” publicly anymore.  In an office or other official setting, there’s a giddy feeling of danger and subversion when one refers to the “Christmas” party instead of the “Holiday” party.

I saw a commercial yesterday with an equally meaningless slogan.  I think it might have been for Hallmark:  “Traditions Are Special Occasions.”  That’s bad enough.  But it was followed by “Life Is A Special Occasion.”    Exactly what do these statements mean?  I’ll tell  you what they mean:  Nothing. Nothing at all.  But they sound like they mean something.

We live in a time in which we seem to try to create occasions, rather than let the specialness occur spontaneously… and that’s what makes a special occasion really special, not an artificial build-up of expectations and forced festivity.

I remember watching The Peoples Court a few years ago, when good old Judge Wapner was presiding.  Quite frequently, a bride and her mother would drag some poor schlub into court… generally a florist or a photographer or a disc jockey or a caterer… and sue him for a mistake made, which “Ruined what was to have been the most wonderful day of my life!”

Well, if you build  your expectations too high around anything, you’re bound to be disappointed.  In the case of a wedding, for example, isn’t the union of two people who love each other supposed to be the special thing, and not whether the florist promised pink roses but could only get red ones?

One of the best days in my memory is one that happened about 25 years ago.  A bunch of us went on a day cruise off the coast of Florida.  As we returned to port, we were sitting around a table on deck… it was about midnight, I think… enjoying drinks and conversation in beautiful weather.  There was laughter, and camaraderie, and joy.  And I remember thinking that it was one of life’s perfect moments.  I had no idea that night that I would remember it all these years later; that I do is simply a by-product of the moment.  We certainly didn’t board the ship that day with the idea of “creating memories,”… we just wanted to have fun.

And as for a tradition being a special occasion, I guess that’s debatable, depending on your definition of “special.”  I’d love to grab the copywriter who came up with that garbage and ask him or her exactly what he or she meant by that.  And he… or she… would have to admit that it means nothing; it just sounds like it does.  Sort of like those annoying “War Is Not The Answer” bumper stickers that were plastered all over Priuses a few years ago.  Doesn’t war being or not being the answer depend largely on what the question is?

And “Life is a Special Occasion”?   Please.  Doesn’t something become “special” only when compared with something else that’s not “special”?   So in that context, what does the statement mean?  Nothing.

We seem to cling more and more to phrases that sound like they mean something but don’t, and artificially built-up expectations to occasions and events that are simultaneously being robbed of any meaning they once had, and replaced with official joy and forced festivity.

Does anyone else find this sad and disturbing, or am I just being a Grinch?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Charlie N on November 21, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    I read about you and Regis but after this remember – there is an opening at 60 minutes!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Guy Houk on November 23, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    Hey Steve.

    I’m glad that your health seems to be improving. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Your post raises an interesting question: how do words create “meaning” in culture? That is, when an advertiser states “We’re in the business of creating memories,” should one decode that message “literally” (whatever that means), or is the real point that you must partake in the advertised activity or risk missing out on something vitally important? The message that advertisers have come to rely upon to sell products is that you’re not good enough (not attractive enough, not thin enough, not wealthy enough, not stylishly dressed, not young enough, you smell bad, your car is cheap, so no woman will have sex with you) and using the resultant anxiety to whip you into the stores. The “genius” of advertising in late twentieth-century America was to do exactly what you have described – strip words of their traditional meaning, and replace that with the relentless message that only perfection is good enough. Since we are imperfect, we live in a constant state of neurosis about the inadequacies of our lives, which, among other things, results in lawsuits over the wrong colored roses. Only a perfect wedding (car, house, child, spouse) is acceptable; for anything less, we must suffer the torments of the damned. And if you don’t create the right memories (at whatever the going rate) your children won’t love you. Market capitalism in America rests largely on a foundation of terror. If people stopped buying things they don’t need, the economy would collapse.

    The implications are apparent; a culture in which peope are expected to engage in constant competition to prove that they are good enough, and the only acceptable outcome is being “NUMBER ONE!” Anything else is failure. So you’d better buy a (fill in the blank) right now, because your friends and neighbors are already pulling out their credit cards.

    It ain’t easy to resist the tyranny of advertising. It requires thinking for oneself and the courage to stand alone, openly rejecting the cultural imperative to win the imaginary game (the one who dies with the most toys wins). Not many can do it.

    A final note: your post has, appended at the bottom, an advertising clip with the catch-phrase “Where there’s Pepsi, there’s music.” Life has its ironies, no?

    Reply

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