“We tell ourselves stories in order to live… We tell ourselves it makes some difference… We look for the sermon… for the social or moral lesson… We interpret… select the most workable… We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”
From Essay: “The White Album”
The novelist, screenwriter, journalist, social critic and author of the essay above died on Dec. 23, 2021 at age 87. Joan Didion left a rich writing legacy concerning the moods, motivations, and workings of diverse cultural movements. In the essay above, she sought to describe, give reason and rationale for the chaotic 1960s USA Cultural Revolution.
The essay is personal. Her prime motive was to find meaning, to make sense of her own life during those puzzling times. In the last line of the essay she admits failure. Her reliable search light and resolution tool—writing—did not reveal meaning. The essay makes clear her experience during those “happening” days of the 1960s, but no motive or rationale were found for why her 1960s associates behaved strangely.
Weary and wary but not defeated, she ends the essay with, “I have known, since then, very little about the people who seemed to me emblematic of those years… but writing has not helped me see what it means.” Her conclusion was stunning and unexpected for one reason: she’d lived five years inside the epicenter of the largest ever cultural shift in American history— California.
Failure to find personal meaning to the 1960s culture revolution did not cut short Joan Didion’s writing career. Her authored novels, screenplays and essays will continue to inform social movements, encouraging all to pay attention to human behavior trends. But she died wise to the fact that some situations and social circumstances in life are ineffable. Of late, the USA possesses few with Didion’s sensitivity, humility, or insight into the human condition.
More than 50 years have passed since the 1960s social movement Didion wrote about. Its counterculture mantra— “make love, not war”—has faded to lava lamp intensity. Presently in 2022 the USA is at war with itself and is in a foul mood. They’re “bummed out” from battling a global pandemic. In our fast food, Information Age we feel we’ve earned the right to quick fixes to problems. Conditioned by decades of immediate results, we expect a warp speed solution to this “gnarly” issue akin to the uninvited house guest from hell called COVID-19. Similar to the 1960s, growing numbers today distrust the “establishment”— corporations, our elected officials and our once “just the facts” news sources. For various distinct reasons we now feel betrayed by credentialed people. Ironically, even learned medical pros are distrusted—the same humans who risk their lives every day to rid our country of this pandemic. They’re also the ones who truly know the science of the matter, know the best efficacy practices for winning the Covid-19 War, but more importantly, know what it is they still don’t know about this ever-varying virus.
Yet many in our E Pluribus Unum nation feel they’ve been sold out by “The Man.” The “establishment” no longer has their best interest at heart. They hold diverse points of view on the COVID pandemic. They’re individually fragmented but oddly more united than a hippie commune by their shared worst angels. In solidarity they bond in an orgy of hope, hate and angst and manifest their diverse opinions with the means perfected during the 1960s social movement—videoed protests. The protestors of today share two emotionally charged attitudes: Each is “ticked off” and each feels they’re being “strung out” for their fix.
To them, the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic is simple—“a real no-brainer, Man.” In their Information Age, each has become accustomed to easy access to information. It’s more prevalent than today’s drive-thru hamburgers or yesteryears’ “nickel bags” at rock concerts.
On the internet, information about the COVID sickness, its diagnosis and treatment are only a click away, albeit the information is usually anecdotal, non-fact based, nor peer reviewed by anyone capable of doing an assessment such as medically trained professionals, their nemesis. And they’re cocksure of their free and easy information. More confident than a drunken karaoke singer they’ll proudly inform you: “I’ve researched this so-called pandemic, and I know what I’m talking about.”
Between TV reality shows and bedtime, the newbie researchers indeed have scanned the social media fodder bins that are stuffed with agenda-driven propaganda, provided for commercial purposes. The information is more salacious than a “Love-In.” It’s biased, half-baked and full of silo-thinking that’s often about uncertainty within the medical/pharmacy institutes or the malfeasance of watchdog agents of our governments.
But no researcher takes or accepts that their slap-bang propaganda is like a 1960s “streaking event”—custom designed to grab the researcher’s attention. Its hidden goal is to snare and gather viewer responses to the “streaking event.” The gathered information has monetary value to the provider of the outlandish event. He’ll sell the response data to advertising clients. It’s a perfect con job wherein the amateur researcher is unaware he’s being used as a marketing bird dog. The intricacies of these various guises and internet con jobs are detailed in NYU Prof. Scott Galloway’s book, entitled the four.
In our disingenuous times misinformed freethinkers on the COVID-19 situation abound. They’re more prevalent than “far out” philosophers during the radical 1960s social movement. But freethinkers today differ from Joan Didion in one prodigious aspect: they’re committed to never admitting failure at finding answers to any of life’s gnarly questions.
In the 22nd year of our third millennium, the USA is a place where seldom is heard three discouraging words: I DON’T KNOW. The consequence of this contagious mindset has not been “groovy.”
Maybe we should tell ourselves another story in order to live. It could make some difference in our future. If we interpret our experiences differently, possibly we’d select the most workable solution. A better approach might be found that will fix significant USA social issues that affect our future well-being.
If no new approach is found then maybe hire a good palm reader to predict future calamities.