In college my friends and I talked about what had “intrinsic” value versus what was artificial. What, we asked, had real value?
I thought of that recently as my wife watched an episode of Storage Wars, in which bidders vie for the contents of abandoned storage lockers. In one such locker was a box of Cabbage Patch dolls. For those of you who don’t remember, Cabbage Patch dolls were a collectors item in the late 1980s. In the episode of Storage Wars, the person who bought the storage unit threw the box of dolls on the ground and scoffed, “Once they were huge, now they’re nothing.”
The truth, of course, is that they were always nothing. Children didn’t really play with them, and parents and/or collectors surely must have been aware that they had little investment value in the long run. I recall photographing a long line of people outside a store in 1989, waiting to buy the newest doll. I thought to myself at the time, “What are they going to do with them?” The answer is that they are “collectable,” meaning that they will collect them, which really means they will simply buy and possess them, with the vague, unplanned hope of selling them in the distant future for a large sum of money.
There’s the rub. They guy who bought the storage locker threw away the dolls. But later in the episode, another buyer found some original 1977 Star Wars action figures, still in the containers in which they were purchased. Like the Cabbage Patch dolls, they were $.17 worth of plastic and $.10 worth of Indonesian labor, sold for $14.99 at TG&Y. Unlike the dolls, though, these action figures were appraised to be worth thousands of dollars.
Therein is a microcosm of our value system. Substance is often irrelevant, and image is very often everything.
Flash back with me to a typical night in college in the 45˚ winter mist, walking across the South Oval to get a midnight bite at Orin’s Fine Pizza. My friends and I are discussing the Universe, the nature of being, what is real: the very things we hoped would deepen and widen our consciousness. We pass people discussing infantile masturbation: which frat has the best parties, who drives cool cars, what’s on tv. We feel more important than they are. While that was undoubtedly a conceit, at least we thought about and talked about important things. At least we tried to be deep.
If you are deep and want to see how the shallow half lives, spy on a few of their conversations. Small minds talk about people, and they are all talking about people. Even now, I am talking about people, though I hope my saving grace is that I am talking about them as an abstraction.
Swimming the same deep water as you is hard
“The shallow drowned lose less than we”
you breathe the strangest twist upon your lips
“And we shall be together…” ~The Same Deep Water as You by The Cure
We're all just one self-referencial self-portrait away from complete irrelevance.