Monday, February 20, 2012

The death of fun?

This is something that's been rattling around in my brain for a few days: are we, as a culture, forgetting how to have fun? (Or is it just me?)

I watched a few minutes of a documentary on, of all things, Tupperware, while taking a break during my workout (yes, there's some irony there, as I'll note later). They showed film from the get-togethers that the Tupperware sales people - I guess the top-sellers? had, where people (mostly women, because the people who hosted the parties were women) were water-skiing, and speedboating, and even doing a few reckless looking things (I remember a shot of a boat actually being started up on land, and propelling itself into water).

And yeah, yeah: I know the common belief that the 50s were an awful stifling time to be female (though from what my mom's said, being in grad school and a young-married in the late 50s and early 60s does not sound so bad: she and my dad gave dinner parties with themes, and they learned how to cook different international foods, and they went to plays, and they had cookouts with friends, and there seemed to be a culture of "let's get together on the weekends and hang out or play badminton or something" in the department my dad was in at the time)

But now, so much, it seems that a lot of stuff people used to enjoy is now clearly marked Bad For You. (When was the last time you heard of a cocktail party? I don't remember my parents ever giving them so much, but I do remember when I was a kid and they'd have dinner parties, they did serve a few types of cocktails (they didn't have an extensive bar set-up, they weren't regular drinkers) for the people who wanted them.). Or how many times have you seen someone be served a delicious restaurant meal or dessert, only for them to say, "oh, this looks SINFUL."

Stop it, people. Stop. It. Can't we just enjoy something for once without telling the world how guilty we feel (or, more likely: pretending to feel guilty because we think that makes us look virtuous).

Or: going for a drive. The price of gas now makes that prohibitive but even before that, it seems that just tooling around in your car is now sort of looked down upon; it's something that's "not done" any more. (Of course, some people have such awful commutes that the last thing they want to do on a Sunday afternoon is to go for a drive). But I know Sunday drives used to be a common amusement: heck, when I was a kid (after the oil embargoes ended), my family used to do them occasionally.

And a lot of things that used to seem fun have been so regulated, so controlled, so vetted for safety, that they're no longer spontaneous - look at the playgrounds where things like swings have been taken down, because a kid might hurt himself or herself.

And other things are now made "medicinal" - there's a PSA that runs on the cartoon channel about "Get out and play, an hour a day" exhorting the kiddies to run around lest they become obese. When I was a kid, running around an hour a day was just a given; going outside to play after school was the reward for either not having homework, or getting your homework done. Now it's been turned into something people "must" do. And adults exercise for health - I do an hour-long workout most days, and it's not fun. Oh, maybe the first 20 minutes or so is, but after that, it's just enforced, because I know I need to do it for good health. (If I had more free time in my life, maybe I'd hike. Or I'd bike, if my balance and the horrible potholey streets and the terrible drivers in my town didn't make me feel I was taking my life into my hands). When I was a kid, getting exercise was easy, and we didn't think of it as exercise....

And other things. Certain foods become "approved" because they have health-giving compounds. You "should" eat a certain amount of fatty fish in a week. Or, a small square (but only a small one!) of dark chocolate - because it's good for you.

And hobbies: I know people who take up hobbies not because they want to relax or have fun, but because they've read that Sudoku or crossword puzzles or bridge slows down mental decline.

And stuff like Farmer's Markets....or shopping at local businesses. I started doing it because it was fun, now I'm told it's a virtuous thing to do. And you know? Going to the Farmer's Market is less enjoyable when you have people walking around talking loudly about how much "better" they are than the louts who shop at wal-mart. 

And it seems that any more, we spend a lot of time either apologizing for stuff that seems "sinful" (because it's not expressly good for us) or justifying things as being "good for us." And for me, I don't know, that saps a lot of the enjoyment of things away. It's like we all now have giant checklists of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots (Or at least If Thou Dost, Thou Must Express Thy Feelings of Guilt).

And the thing is: in a lot of arenas, we aren't really allowed to talk about the things that traditional religions would classify as sins: cheating on your spouse, lying to people, being unkind to others...

And it also seems that there's a frantic but fruitless attempt to have fun - I would argue that a lot of the cheating-on-spouses falls into this category. (And I'd imagine it's not really fun, not in the long run, and causes more guilt, even in the most debauched person, than eating a big slice of chocolate cake would). Or we go after more and more loud, flashy, and in some cases, violent entertainment.

I think of what older relatives talk about having done for "fun" back in the day - they played cards. Or they made popcorn and sat around the table and talked. Or the kids rode bikes all over town. Or they jumped off the railroad trestle into the river and swam (wow, would that ever be illegal now. But my mom said she never heard of anyone being injured or killed doing it...). People had less "stuff" (especially in my mom's family), but they spent more time just enjoying themselves - no one really "exercised" (except for the guys on the football or track teams, and that was to build themselves up to compete), no one really worried about what they ate except for a few people with health problems.

It seems to me we're turning into a nation of worriers...unable to have fun.  That we overestimate some risks (and maybe, underestimate others).

Oh, I'm sure some of this is colored by my own feelings right now: I'm working a really tough schedule this semester, and it seems most days I come home, do what I "must" (Grading, generally) for the next day, and then am too tired (and it's too late in the day, at any rate) for having fun. And it seems the people around me are equally weighed down by work: I can't remember the last time a group of us from the department went out to lunch together (we used to do that several times a semester).

And I don't know how to change things or fix things...

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