We Are What We Are

I drive a 14-year old vehicle.  It’s been paid off now for a couple off years which helps make ends meet in our expensive little community, but it has the quirks and oddities of any mechanical device that old, let alone one as complex as an automobile.  Most recently, the retracting radio antennae no longer retracts, perhaps because it partially melted and fused into place during a recent sojourn  in Las Vegas for the world billiards tournament.

These things happen.  Things age.  You can’t expect a 14-year old car to function like a brand new one.  It would be foolish to think that somehow a vehicle – or any other thing – could remain independent of it’s actual age.  It’s a reality brought home to me more  and more, as some of my other possessions – particularly books – begin to show their age.  This was brand new when I bought it, but despite hardly being read, the pages are yellowing and the binding is cracking!  Duh.  I bought it brand new 30 years ago.  Things age because  they are what they are.

People are no different, though I think popular cultural mantras try to tell us otherwise.  There’s this idea – perhaps I shared it when I was younger – that we can objectively critique reality and ourselves and those around us.  We can isolate ourselves from what we are and objectively judge reality.

But the reality is that we can’t.  We are what we are, and part of what we are is a product of our time.  We may like that or not.  We may think about it or not.  But it’s true.

Since the radio antenna is stuck on, I turned on the radio today and sought out a station that would have made me shudder 30 years ago.  I turned on the 80’s station.  I hated 80’s  music when I was in the 80’s.  Mostly because it was popular and I saw myself at odds with everything popular and fashionable – mostly because I was neither.  But now, I seek out that station.  I hum along with Duran Duran and even Culture Club, despite hating them in the 80’s.  There is nostalgia there now, and comfort.  I’m a product of the 80’s,  when I came of age and became aware of the artistic culture around me.  I can’t change that.  I can be ashamed of it, I can embrace it, but I can’t divorce myself of it.  When I try, I end up sounding stupid.

Like this article.

I watched this show somewhat when it came out.  Growing up on reruns of the original Star  Trek series, I thought this basically did a good job of picking up the mantle and carrying on while trying to do so in original ways.  Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t.  Not all the episodes were great, but they were overall enjoyable.

So this article is annoying and naive.  It critiques the series by and large for aesthetic issues related to when the series was made – the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It presumes that somehow the series should have been able to create an atmosphere completely disassociated from current cultural norms and trends.  As though the show could be or represent something other than what it  was – a group of actors and writers and designers and producers who were influenced not only by the original series but by their culture at the time.

One can like or dislike aspects of the culture, but to critique the culture for being the culture at the time is ridiculous, and to presume that it is possible to create something completely new and unaffected by current cultural fashions or ideas is arrogant.  We are what we are, and part of what we are is products of our culture,  even if we’d rather not be.

Not being God, we can’t create ex nihilo, out of nothing.  We can simply recombine things that already exist into other things.  This can be done in surprising and impressive ways, but it remains an act of creating from raw materials already there, so there will always be residue of what materials were available or plentiful or desired at the time.  And while I can lament that I seek out music I grew up on even when I grew up hating it, I’m reminded that I am formed and shaped even by the things I reject, and sometimes there is  comfort to be found there.

I’m considerably older than my car.  I shouldn’t expect myself to feel or be otherwise.  Hopefully I find a way to appreciate and enjoy who  and what I am now as I grow in my understanding and appreciation of the One who not only created me ex nihilo, but continues to shape and form me.

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