Another Week Ends

1. Perhaps it was fated that, as the Seculosity Train pulled into our hometown of […]

1. Perhaps it was fated that, as the Seculosity Train pulled into our hometown of Charlottesville, VA, for the book launch, there would be a whole host of articles detailing its newest incarnations. The Seculosity of Work, of Ice Cream, of Kanye, of Happiness, the list goes on. First off, here’s one from The New York Times, detailing how women continue to pull the short straw in a meritocratic work environment. Despite reports of wages evening out, despite near-universal championing of women who “show up,” “lean in,” or “wash face,” when it comes to the ultra-competitive workplaces of lawyers, consultants, and analysts, there’s no way for a woman to make the money and have the family. Most of this has to do, Claire Cain Miller explains, with the fact that these work environments prioritize a worker who never stops:

This is not about educated women opting out of work (they are the least likely to stop working after having children, even if they move to less demanding jobs). It’s about how the nature of work has changed in ways that push couples who have equal career potential to take on unequal roles. ‘Because of rising inequality, if you put in the extra hours, if you’re around for the Sunday evening discussion, you’ll get a lot more,’ said Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard who is writing a book on the topic. To maximize the family’s income but still keep the children alive, it’s logical for one parent to take an intensive job and the other to take a less demanding one, she said. ‘It just so happens that in most couples, if there’s a woman and a man, the woman takes the back seat.’

Rather than being a women’s issue, Miller writes, it is a cultural value structure (or seculosity) of work, a trend that is demonstrative of our beliefs about human purpose—namely, that we are what we do, and how much of that doing we do. The end of the piece points to systemic ways out of our current environment of workism, but when everything is always available 24/7, and will continue to be, it’s hard to see office expectations moving in any other direction but to more, more, more.

Humor Interlude #1, from the Onion: Woman’s Parents Accepting Of Mixed-Attractiveness Relationship

2. Where else are we worshipping? On our couches, of course, remote in hand. Soraya Roberts talks about the phenomenon of “pop culture homework,” how the ever-expanding landscape brought to us by Netflix and Hulu has led consumers to feel mandated to watch certain shows, even if they don’t want to. What this creates is a joyless entertainment experience. She writes (quoting our old friend Oliver Burkeman),

Creating art to dominate this discursive landscape turns that art into a chore — in other words, cultural homework. This is where people start saying things like, ‘Do I HAVE to watch Captain Marvel?’ and ‘feeling a lot of pressure to read sally rooney!’ and ‘do i have to listen to the yeehaw album?’ This kind of coercion has been known to cause an extreme side effect — reactance, a psychological phenomenon in which a person who feels their freedom being constricted adopts a combative stance, turning a piece of art we might otherwise be neutral about into an object of derision. The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman called it “cultural cantankerousness” and used another psychological concept, optimal distinctiveness theory, to further explain it. That term describes how people try to balance feeling included and feeling distinct within a social group. Burkeman, however, favored his reactance as a form of self-protective FOMO avoidance. ‘My irritation at the plaudits heaped on any given book, film or play is a way of reasserting control,’ he wrote. ‘Instead of worrying about whether I should be reading Ferrante, I’m defiantly resolving that I won’t.’

(This was written in 2016; if it were written now, I’m sure he would’ve used Rooney).

Humor Interlude #2, from The Hard Times: “New Wes Anderson Movie About Sad Guy Who Joins Bird Watching Group or Some Horse****”

3. And duh, this same reactance/defiance was also at play in the ice cream you bought this week. Eater published this hilarious, insightful (and long!) essay about the artisanal ice cream industry, and the narcissism of small differences found therein. Turns out, no matter how special your ice cream is, all ice cream follows the same rules:

You can put organic bilberries or biodynamic sapodillas foraged by an elite cult of yodeling eunuchs into your product and slap a $20 price tag on it, for all the United States government cares, but what’s inside had better be ice cream, if that’s what you’re calling it. Not gelato, not sorbet, not ice milk, not frozen yogurt, and definitely not the ever-enigmatic ‘frozen dessert.’

…Maybe the truth is that all ice cream, even the worst, is good enough. Ice cream tastes like something forgotten. It’s a perfect example of synesthesia — faded memory in the edible form of perfectly smooth, barely frozen butterfat. Its flavors, no matter how long you infused those tea leaves or spices in its base, are fuzzy around the edges. When we indulge in it, we’re not looking to experience the purest, most concentrated version of a bunch of fresh mint leaves, or for the deepest expression of caramel with salt. We do so to access a feeling. That is why, as Smith says, ‘even the cheapest, crappiest commodity stuff is good on a summer day, because it’s still ice cream.’ And if you grew up on that cheapest, crappiest commodity stuff, you might even prefer it, because its familiarity makes that nostalgic connection stronger. Or, to put it more cruelly, a line from Sam Lipsyte’s novel The Ask: ‘It was horseshit, of course, nostalgia for a nonexistent past, but it warmed the cheap parts of me.’

Ice cream reduces grown people to the children they once were. It’s why the entrepreneurs who have committed to improving or ‘elevating’ ice cream stubbornly, maybe irrationally, believe in their fool’s errand. It’s why those who are willing — and able — pull out their wallets for $10 pints, convinced that what’s inside is worth it. Our faith in heaven may be long gone, but we haven’t given up on ice cream, even if packaging is all it is. Here, the frames are often the content, the source of a holy commercial aura that comforts and drives us. It’s the American Way.

Humor Interlude #3, brought to you by McSweeney’s: “New Study that I Have Definitely Read but Can’t Find Right Now Proves You’re an Idiot.”

4. And I’d be remiss not to talk about this incarnation of secular righteousness, the kind that comes by way of grievance. An extremely thoughtful look at the language of intersectionality, and how its good, right, and just intentions (to analyze oppression, promote diverse voices) have been undermined by the deeper difficulty of quantifying suffering in human life to limiting, simplistic identifiers:

Intersectionality is a secular religion: it advocates an all-encompassing worldview, which explains the vast interlocking mechanism of human oppression at the expense of critical reasoning. It even functions like a religion, operating on the basis of an original sin of privilege, excommunicating heretics, awaiting a judgment day in which all oppression will be understood and overcome, and promoting figures who are considered beyond reproach (saints) who purportedly embody the doctrine’s best representatives. Ultimately, intersectionality is a quest for meaning in a world from which religion has been thoroughly uprooted. And, like all religions, it functions in accordance with our deeply felt unconscious needs, rather than our conscious choices and actions. Of course, one can no more reject the human impulse towards religious experience than the existence of gravity, but we can engage in our own personal line of inquiry—in which questions hold more meaning than answers. This is our only bulwark against human vice. And always will be.

5. And let us not forget the religion of “doing nothing,” which is itself a rat race, apparently. When I first saw this article on the Finnish principle of “niksen,” I felt a weight lift. Finally! Away with the mandate to “be mindful,” “simplify,” or “practice self-care.” Doing nothing is my speed! The air quickly left when I realized that the last half of the article is all about how “doing nothing”…must be done with purpose.

Prioritize the things that are important to you and the things that bring you pleasure, and outsource everything else when possible. Focusing on the truly relevant parts of life can help you build free time in your schedule. And take advantage of convenient opportunities to practice idleness, like when you’re standing in line or waiting for the children to come home from school.

6. What about these Sunday Services? The New York Times discussed the “Gospel According to Kanye West.” Much astink hath been made about the ridiculous Church Clothes tent, where socks went for $50, which cemented the easy link to all the other times and places where the church’s message got lost in being commodified, its trendiest instance just being this whole preacher-sneaker, L.A.-exclusive, Kardashification of church.

That’s all there, of course. But what makes these Services so much like any other secularized religion, and so far from true religion, is the exclusivity. While the Sunday Services are certainly ways for Kanye to cultivate, as the article says, “the spiritual impulse in secular space,” and while the songs sung were apparently deeply moving and even deeply Christian, there was no cross. There was, instead, on Easter morning, a rust-and-mauve-toned shroud still separating the people from the Holy of Holy Hollywood. The invite-only ensemble, the assemblage of big names and peephole public access, the color codes that designate who’s in and who’s out, did not spell out for the public what Christianity says about insiders, outsiders, and the One we worship. Who knows, maybe the resurrection was preached! I wasn’t there, I have no right to judge; and if I were there, I know I’d be in line to buy the gear; I also agree with Kanye that “I hope this [Christianity stuff] take away from my sins, and bring the day that I’m dreaming about / Next time I’m in the club, everybody screaming out”—“Jesus walks with me.” I, too, yearn for that day, Kanye. But, alas, YEEZter is not the Easter I’m hoping for.

7. At the risk of completing the whitest possible turn in talking about “what Easter really is all about,” let us turn to the words of the consummate white dad: Garrison Keillor. Last week, Keillor wrote about a different kind of Easter choir than the elite one which donned the man-made mountain outside Indio, CA. This presumably was an Easter chorus of lesser known saints, but his experience in church on Easter morning left a mark on him:

Resurrection is not something we Christians talk about in the same way we talk about our plans for summer vacation or retirement, but it is proclaimed on Easter and the hymns are quite confident (with added brass) and the rector seemed to believe in it herself and so an old writer sitting halfway back and surrounded by good singers has to think along those lines. It’s right there in the Nicene Creed and in Luke’s Gospel — the women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away and the mysterious strangers say, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”

And then, on my way back from Communion, the choir struck up a hymn, “I am the bread of life,” with a rocking chorus, “And I will raise them up. And I will raise them up. And I will raise them up on the last day.” As the congregation sang, a few people stood and some raised their hands in the air, a charismatic touch unusual among Anglicans, and then more people stood. I stood. I raised my right hand. I imagined my long-gone parents and brother and grandson and aunts and uncles rising from the dead and coming into radiant glory, and then I was weeping and my mouth got rubbery and I couldn’t form the consonants. I stayed for the benediction, slipped out a side door onto Amsterdam Avenue, and headed home.

That’s what I go to church for, to be surprised by faith and to fall apart. Without the Resurrection, Episcopalians would be just a wonderful club of very nice people with excellent taste in music and literature, but when it hits you what you’ve actually subscribed to, it blows the top of your head off.


-New Gallup Poll, which sounds like an Onion title: People of the World Report Being Sadder and Angrier Than Ever.

-The Mockingcast mentioned this one last week: Why influencers are leaving Instagram…

Stop worrying about the death of humanities.

Inside the secular worship of happiness.

subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


One response to “Another Week Ends: The Seculosity of…Work, Pop Culture, Boutique Ice Cream, Even Doing Nothing At All, and the Perils of YEEZter”

  1. Jim E says:

    Love the Garrison Keillor quote. That’s what I go to church for too, but unfortunately this hardly ever happens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *