For some reason or another I always seem to be restlessly scanning the Internet and devouring the newspapers for interesting or enlightening or even absurd topics to write about and think about, so my mind is always making arbitrary connections that I unreasonably demand achieve some sort of thematic synthesis. This week I found two interesting (?) tidbits:
1) Cambodia is now the tenth worst country in the entire world for women and children to live in. It made the bottom ten. Woo-hoo!
2) Some newspapers in New York are now showing the actual start times of movies, instead of the nominal times, meaning they will tell you that the flick starts at 9:00, yes, but it really starts at 9:23, when you subtract the multiple commercials and trailers that they usually require you to sit through. (Full disclosure: I'm not sure if I used the word 'nominal' correctly in the above sentence. Just had to let you know that.)
What strikes me is simply the, I don't know, gap that exists between those two factoids of information.
In Cambodia, the majority of people don't even have healthy drinking water. They don't have proper medicine. They don't have jacksquat. Most folks here live in tiny villages where the infant mortality rate is disgustingly, astonishingly high. (And, as someone much smarter than me pointed out, think about what that does to a small community, to have a significant portion of newborns die on a regular basis. Think what that ambience of death adds to a neighbourhood. Think of the hope and dread intertwined on a weekly basis.)
And then we can contrast that with the western world, where people are so pissed off at sitting through stupid previews and idiotic commercials that they've got fed up with it all and demanded that they know when the actual movie starts, goddamnit it all.
Now, don't get me wrong. (Wow, what a weird phrase that is -- ' don't get me wrong'. We never say 'get me right', do we? So, I'll try and stop saying it in the future.) I think it's a good idea to list the real show-times in the paper; I'm all for it. It's convenient and considerate for all consumers.
It has something to do with our ever-rising scale of expectations. (And by 'our' I'm referring to humans, although I'm sure it's probably the same for Vulcans, Klingons, possibly even hobbits.) We get water, and then want something sweeter, so we make Coke. We get Coke, and then we realize that all that sugar is not that good for us, so we make Diet Coke. We get grain and rice, and then we realize that that's not all that delicious, so we invent pizza and hot fudge sundaes. We get movie theatres, and then we get pissed off that we actually have to sit through an entire fifteen minutes of product placement.
I don't know if it's healthy or scary to want more, more, more. It's a human instinct, of that I'm sure, but this escalation of desire can become somewhat startling if you ponder it too much.
Last week I was at my old school, talking to one of my old students, one of my first students, a monk. Nice guy. About to graduate with his degree. Will probably stay on as a monk, though, because he likes it, likes the spiritual discipline, even though it's hard. Two meals a day, both before the advent of the afternoon. No alcohol. This dude has nothing but the robes on his back and the knowledge and his head, but he seems happy and content. He's learning. I jokingly said to him that I'm feeling old, being almost thirty, and he smiled and remarked that he was older than me, almost thirty-four, I think he said. And then I remembered that the life expectancy for Cambodians is only, like, 52 or something. So, theoretically, if he follows the norm, he would be eighteen years from death. (It's like me being already sixty or something.)
So, I don't know. Perhaps I'm overdramatizing things. Perhaps my tangents are remaining unconnected.
But it seems that we worry about the small things too much -- the movie times and the start time and which Idol judge is sleeping with which contestant. (I think Paula is probably guilty, by the way.) We sometimes allow those minor slices of life to all too often become the content of life. We let them add up to something that is even smaller than the sum of its parts. And I think we become somehow smaller, too.