Monday, June 21, 2021

Death in the Afternoon

Anxiety is there. It's only sleeping.

— Martin Heidegger

I'm amazed people watch Hallmark Christmas movies in July—or any time of year.

Psychologists agree these sappy romances release dopamine, but that doesn't wash for me as an explanation.

Psychologists also agree our pattern-seeking brains savor the movies' carbon-copy plots. That sounds better, but doesn't go far enough.

Why do people watch Hallmark Christmas movies in July?

To keep death at bay.

As Sigmund Freud observed, death threatens us from three directions all the time: from our own bodies, doomed to dissolution; from the external world, rife with destruction; and from other people, prone to violence. 

On top of those things, we harbor an unconscious "death wish" that compels us to take foolish risks.

In the face of the threats, we're driven to escape, to experience Nirvana or what Freud calls the "oceanic sensation" of eternity.

And that, I believe, explains the appeal of Hallmark Christmas movies.

They all take place in a delusional fairytale land where no one suffers, no one dies, and nothing ever changes (except the casts, and they all look alike).

I recall from childhood devout Catholics who attended mass every day in hope of earning "life everlasting." 

In its unwavering consistency, the Catholic Order of Mass is like a Hallmark Christmas movie. But for the cast, nothing ever varies.

But old-fashioned exuberance for church-going has become quaint. 

In fact, church attendance in all denominations is cratering.

Now to keep death at bay we just turn on the Hallmark Channel. And we do so with urgency.

"If you think it through," Martin Heidegger said, "life can beautifully be called 'urgency.' But you must then agree that life's essence comprises desire, sorrow, and death—all at the same time."

When you acknowledge death is inevitable, your existence is torn in two, Heidegger believed. 

While you enjoy life's little pleasures, you can't help but be aware that time is finite and that your will has limits—even though your desires do not. 

So you waste time in flight from your awareness of death: you dissociate, daydream, drug, drink, overwork, overeat, overpost... or just dial up the Hallmark Channel. 

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