Structuralism In Consumeristic Today

struc·tur·al·ism
/ˈstrək(t)SH(ə)rəˌlizəm/
noun
  1. a method of interpretation and analysis of aspects of human cognition, behavior, culture, and experience that focuses on relationships of contrast between elements in a conceptual system that reflect patterns underlying a superficial diversity.

I enter the home and am greeted by many familiar faces. They are my friends. People I see as my family, though we are not, but certainly my tribe.

There are also people I do not recognize or have only met in passing. There are children as well and I am lukewarm on children unless I know them, and I am even more lukewarm on children when it is a birthday party. But that is where I have found myself. My friend’s son’s birthday party. He turns 3 today.

The house is decorated like Skip and Joanna Gaines just left, though perhaps less farmy and more practical… and with Pergo floors–and to hell with shiplap. Not everybody that shit hidden behind sheetrock when their remodeling.

My wife and I put down our presents and mingle with friends. The kids all run about, too excited to say hello and too jacked on sugar to keep their voices down. I fix myself a little plate of snacks before remembering my wife and I have given up meat and I slide my sliced bit of salami over to a friend amid our little circle’s laughter.

Then it’s time to open presents.

The children cluster around the stack in the center of the living room. All of those who the presents aren’t for look on with jealous eyes, wanting what they can’t have. I remember the same feeling when I was a child and went to birthdays. I always wanted whatever it is a friend processed, even if I’d have never asked for the thing myself.

I missed the same event last year due to work, but my wife attended. Now she leans over to me as each present is unopened, cast aside and the little boy looks for the next thing to unwrap.

My wife says, “it’s interesting. Last year he wanted to play with each toy as soon as he opened it. This year he sees what it is and then wants to open the next one.”

Of course, the child has been taught to open all his presents. That is, after all, what people wanted him to do last year. Open the presents–then enjoy them later. But as I watch I see a tiny person who’s true joy is the opening, not the experience of the toys themselves. In a year he has been taught that the excitement and success of this event is the opening, the flitting from one thing to the other rather than the contentedness of enjoyment one may feel when one is focused on a specific item or action. Now that contentedness, that focus, is trained toward the action of opening presents. Never again will this little boy have the experience of opening a present, forgetting the rest of the unwrapped ones and wanting to play with the toy he has just discovered for the first time.

So, how is this connected with structuralism?

Structuralism, as a concept, is predicated on the idea that it is our social structure, our norms and influences dictate what we can believe in and/or accept as fact.

For instance, if you were a peasant or merchant in the year 1300, everything about daily life was so influenced by religious that you would inevitably come to believe that whichever religion was prominent in that area was, not only the correct religion but obviously the truth. You’d still be capable of conceptualizing a world without God or gods, but nothing in your lived experiences would naturally bring you to that conclusion.

Similarly, my friend’s son will never be content with the present he has just opened. Every time he opens a new present, the adults surrounding him laugh and clap and give him positive attention, then put another present in front of him. The excitement this 3-year old feels isn’t due to contentedness–instead, it is tied to the fleeting satisfaction of something new and the positivity he gets from those around him.

This is structuralism in a way, as the concept is based upon binary attributions to complex situations all based on cultural mythologies. The mythologies of birthdays being the mystery and excitement of the new. If this boy is deprived this in the future he will then view his birthday as a failure. Here, again is a sample of these binary attributes, i.e. success versus failure.

As I watch this little boy who I am quite fond of opening presents, casting them aside, and reaching for the next, I can’t help but feel a lurch of unease in my stomach. The structuralism of consumerism creates a mythology that is unsustainable, both environmentally and emotionally. The excitement flushing into this little boy’s brain will quickly fade and all the new things he has obtained from friends and family will quickly feel old, boring, and not worth his notice–only giving way to the next holiday in which he is rewarded with new items, which perpetuates the structuralism and mythologies we all share concerning consumeristic holidays.

Morning Pages 11/10/19

When he found the woman’s body it was unrecognizable. The smell of burned hair and clothes the flesh rose from the scene like mist of a dew-drenched field, but with none of its beauty. The husky corpses were all smoldering.
“Check them!” he called to his men. And they went to work checking for survivors. Byers knew they would find none.
He looked down at the skeletal head of the woman and his eyes strayed to her bloated belly. It had boiled and cracked open from the heat within it. Amid the blood that flowed warmer now for the fire within her, he could just make out the smallest of fingers. Had her whole body fissured?
It had heard of children cut from the wombs women in times of modern war. But he was no frontline soldier. No crazed beserk. He was a man of Arifel. A man of a God-Angel, and even Arifel, he knew, would not look kindly on this.
“What do you see?” he asked his men.
“Dead. Their all dead, Sir.”
He nodded and looked to more corpses and as his men said, they were all dead.
“Do you see the children?” he asked.
“Aye. Each one, aye,” said Worsten and captain Byers looked up to see the young soldier.
Worsten’s sandy hair was a mess of sweat and his smooth cheeks were streaked with dirt and grime and smoke from the seething bodies. He looked not a boy at all.
As Captain Byers approached the other bodies he examined their strange and distended stomachs. Each has burst even down through the womb and inside each, he could see a couple fingers of a tiny clenched fist. Even the men. Even the children.
“It is not possible,” said Worsten, behind him. “Men and children with child? It is not possible.”
Byers straightened from the corpse he examined. He had been burning witches since–since before Worsten was born. He thought he’d seen everything, and more than once. Aye. And now this. This. He looked at the young soldier and he saw the same fear and doubt in the boy’s eyes that filled his own heart. That the world was not neat. Not orderly and that there would always be magiks and gods unknowable to him was the only certainty.
He ordered his men back to their horses.
They road out not one speaking to the other. Each in his own thoughts. Each with the weight of an unknown world within.

Evening Pages 10/31/19

Their stomachs were distended. All of them. The fifty or so wuddies, as Worsten called them. Even the men looked to be pregnant. Or were they starving? No, couldn’t be from the cows milling in the small clearing, the chickens cluckin’ round their roost.
“Who’s in charge here?” asked Captain Byers, astride his horse.
the wuddies didn’t say nothing. They all looked at the Captain. In stark contrast to themselves, he wore shining armor, emblazoned with the fiery crest of Arifel. The town folk, by comparison, wore grubby sacks for tunics and if any knew how to sit a horse with any grace Byers’d be damned.
“I said, who’s in charge here?”
The congregation didn’t say a word.
They hadn’t since the soldiers rode up. Not a one had made a noise.
It’d been eerie riding up through the trail, their horses clipping along loose rocks and the occasional root and year no sound of talking, only the wind in the tress the occasional patter of water dripping from the trees as the wind blew the settled rain from branches. Byers didn’t like it. No more did Nemeth, his second, or Worsten, the young recruit they’d picked up a town or two over some days back. Right holy child he had been.
And they had ridden right up and seen all the wuddies working without a word. Some milked the cows, others tended the potat beds, and some simply nursed children or wove baskets. But no matter the job they did, Byers was yet to hear them speak a word.
The captain drew a scroll of parchment from a satchel at his side. He spread it open and read.
“By the law of the order of Arifel, I hereby order you to reveal and deliver unto us, the witch or warlock who has taken residence in your community. Failure to deliver and any attempt to conceal said individual shall be seen as a crime against Arifel himself, and merciless justice shall be carried out upon you.”
Byers folded the command and put it back in his satchel.
The wuddies exchanged glances. A middle-aged man looked to a young woman who was believably heavy with child. But the middle-aged man with red hair and beard carried the same strange and bulbous bump in his stomach. It seemed that his breasts had come swollen just as his woman’s had.
A couple rows back an old man with a staff pushed and prodded his way forward. He stood straight enough but leaned on the staff as though he carried a great weight on his shoulders. When he came to the front of the congregation and inhabited the space between the mounted soldiers and his own people he opened his mouth to speak.
At first, no sound came out. And then, slowly, as though he’d long lost the habit of using it, he spoke.
“Our people have no leader,” he said, like dried being set alight.
“Come now,” said Byers. “Even in primitive cultures like your own, someone makes decisions. Let him step forward.”