The message of the consumer society, pumped out over flat screen televisions, computers and smartphones, to those trapped at the bottom of society is loud and unrelenting: You are a failure. Popular culture celebrates those who wallow in power, wealth and self-obsession and perpetuates the lie that if you work hard and are clever you too can become a “success,” perhaps landing on “American Idol” or “Shark Tank.” You too can invent Facebook. You too can become a sports or Hollywood icon. You too can rise to be a titan. The vast disparity between the glittering world that people watch and the bleak world they inhabit creates a collective schizophrenia that manifests itself in our diseases of despair—suicides, addictions, mass shootings, hate crimes and depression. Our oppressors have skillfully acculturated us to blame ourselves for our oppression.
Hope means walking away from the illusion that you will be the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian. It means rejecting the lust for public adulation and popular validation. It means turning away from the maniacal creation of a persona, an activity that defines presence on social media. It means searching for something else—a life of meaning, purpose and, ultimately, dignity.
The bottomless narcissism and hunger of consumer culture cause our darkest and most depraved pathologies. It is not by building pathetic, tiny monuments to ourselves that we become autonomous and free human beings; it is through acts of self-sacrifice, by recovering a sense of humility, by affirming the sanctity of others and thereby the sanctity of ourselves.
“Kids would talk about wanting something better or leaving,” he said. “Yet they weren’t doing steps to take it. You saw they were going to spend their whole lives here begrudgingly. They would talk stuff. They would never do anything about it. It was all just talk.”
“Substance [abuse] ruined a lot of lives around here,” he said.
He estimates that by age 14 most kids in Anderson realize they are trapped.
“We had seen our parents or other people or other families not go anywhere,” he said. “This business went under. Pizzerias, paint stores, they all go under. About that time in my life, as much as I was enthralled with seeing cars rushing past and all these tall buildings, we all saw, well, what was the point if none of us are happy or our parents are always worrying about something. Just not seeing any kind of progression. There had to be something more.”
“I’ve never seen the heights of it,” he said of capitalism. “But I’ve seen the bottom. I’ve seen kids down here naked running around. I’ve seen parents turn on each other and kids have to suffer for that. Or neighbors. I’d just hear yelling all night. It’s matters of money. It’s always the kids that suffer. I always try to think from their perspective. When it comes down to kids, they feel defeated. When you grow up in a household where there’s nothing but violence and squabbling and grabbing at straws, then you’re going to grow up to be like that. You’re going to keep doing those minimum jobs. You’re fighting yourself. You’re fighting a system you can’t beat.”
Your comforts they don’t come easy
With an hour twenty down the road
We made lives in telling you sweetly
But you can make it, we love you, you know.