Sterility is one of the true markers of our time. As we live, try to understand and to create we repeatedly assume that to cleanse, to add a polished shine is to imbue quality in what we do.
In cities we gentrify, bringing order to urban chaos in the form of kit ready assemblies to be erected over the rubble of human growth. That same human growth suddenly dismissed as almost bacterial, disordered and messy. It’s judged as bad, while newly erected chains and cut to template homes are held as pure and good. A concerted effort to appease an imagined middle perhaps, where any number of fears, uncertainties and phobias can be soothed by uniformity regardless of how thin the slice of humanity is which requires such complete psychological security to exist.
In culture even the darkest and most honestly chaotic experiences, truths and ideas follow the same path. Without an ounce of realised hypocrisy or awareness the most fractured and incomprehensible portions of our human condition are buffed to a camera ready sheen where the words might survive unchanged but the force is disinfected away to aid the digestion of the now deified consumer. To do otherwise, to offer the unadorned and un-gilded without comforting context or a soft focus is to break the laws of appeal. An ironic requirement which means even the most unpleasant of subjects need to be sold to an audience by a ready set of tricks, tropes and focus grouped obligations. And even where art ignores those demands and tries to force forward with honesty there’s the whole industry of marketing waiting to insert itself and do the job in the creator’s place. An overwhelming process which can turn even the most determinedly transgressive rejection of the polished product into a marketable asset without the option to resist ever arising.
In our news the same occurs. Unending and unyielding stories are distilled down to bite sized packages, a war is the story of the week and forgotten with the weekend, natural disasters blossom up in live feeds and tragic set pieces before magically being healed in the viewer’s unconscious once the cameras stop rolling. Nothing is so bad, so inhuman or so crippling that it can’t be subsumed into the calm waters of cleansed presentation. An unnatural act, like a story cut off before the final act and one which leaves the audience to wonder why there’s some gnawing doubt digging into them. The news moves on, but humanity doesn’t, even if the outline of events is forgotten the feelings they inspire aren’t. They just add to a never ending pile of oppressive anxiety and insecurity which grows with every rotation of the news cycle. A more bare boned honesty would seldom offer much more by way of resolution but it might at least highlight the need for thought beyond the first hit of action rather than proclaiming the past passed and leaving the results of it to silently fester.
Maybe this is the evolution of human control at work. Perhaps the desire was always to sterilise what we saw and how we saw it. Perhaps this is just the first time in our history where so much force – political, capital and social has come together to give us what we want though. Where before the drive to not see was a desperate aspiration maybe it’s now become a readily offered boon from a society and media which is finally in a position to both offer and profit from it. If that’s so then it’s us who need to shake out of our own overstuffed comfort zone and seek some sense of humanist masochism. We need to start rejecting the comforts of a story, world or home which is marketed to us rather than grown and experienced by us. Or we just need to reject the snake oil salesman whose potion has proven itself, in a way, to work. And if this isn’t our natural desire carried through to artificial completion then why do we have it? Why is such simplicity and razor sharp definition of our world being forced onto us and what lies across the lines beyond which confusion is being partitioned off?
Either way the side-effects of our anti-bacterial fixation are going to keep on mounting up and, sooner or later, we’ll need to face them or let them take a toll on us no less devastating than the messy truth itself would.