The Absurdification of Culture

dog1It was a flash of mobile irony.

Driving home after dropping off my teacher-wife at school, I was listening to National Public Radio. I enjoy the unique way they narrate the news.

The story was about a dog grooming salon in Taiwan where the proprietor/groomer, Xiao Mo, is experimenting with canine quaffs created in distinct geometric shapes.

Using skills honed over his 13-year career, he was shaping Poodles as flowers, Spaniels as triangles, Terriers as spheres and in particular, a Bichon Frise’s frizzy mane into a perfect cube. He even related that he was working on a doggy ‘do shaped like an Apple computer monitor!

Now for the irony.

busAt that very moment I was following a school bus as it made a right-turn into Wickham Park. This is the large park in our city that houses a growing number of homeless families. It dawned on me that the bus was going to pick up children who had just slept in tents and transport them to school.

That’s when it hit me…hard.

What kind of culture readily accepts children boarding buses from homeless encampments while finding newsworthy a dog’s $100 hairdo!?

Talk about the proverbial fiddler on Rome’s burning roof!

Here was  the clearest of pictures of the absurdification of culture.

Absurdification (I know its not a real word!) is the process whereby culture has become so anesthetized to reality and inoculated to truth that the nonsensical begins to make perfect sense to the masses.

It is that state when the concerns of the individual are so watered-down by the superficial that everything is a crisis and everyone a victim. Being unreasonable is respectable. The ludicrous is logical. Irrationality strikes the ear as coherent.
It is a world gone…Cray

Whether the triviality of red Starbucks cups or the Trumpification of politics, it appears we no longer know the difference between what is meaningless and what matters. We seem to have so little to fight for that we are determined to fight about every little thing.

We shrug at children going to school from tents while we simultaneously mount soapboxes to decry stuff that won’t make a bit of difference a year from now.

Oblivious to real problems and obsessed with the frivolous, our society has become incredibly adept at making mountains of significance out of the molehills of impertinence. The ease with which we get offended over every miniscule issue creates a culture of little boys crying wolf!

The pervasive presence of social media has exacerbated the problem by allowing us to broadcast our trivial irritations to our little worlds without taking even a second to contextualize their importance.

To be fair, I’m guilty as anyone.

It is easy for me to allow the little distractions of my comfortable life–traffic jams, slow Internet speeds, lousy customer service–to bloat in importance to become a cause de celeb.

That is the absurdification of my own life-priorities.

It is good that we care about things enough to defend them–to fight for what matters. But…

Too often the matters we choose to fight about in our culture turn out not to matter much at all when weighed against the things that actually matter.

There are so many real issues we face. Human trafficking. Racial inequity. Corporate corruption. Political compromise. The marginalized and alienated at the edges of society.

Like children riding school buses from tent cities filled with homeless families.

It isn’t hard to craft a laundry list of things we should be upset about. But how will we ever engage these real issues if we allow our time and energies to be dissipated on ridiculous offenses or insipid distractions that culture elevates to the level of cataclysmic importance.

I wonder if this tendency to invert priorities might have been behind Jesus’ challenge:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

Perhaps He was considering the times when we become so trivialized by the world that our faith doesn’t sting or flavor the culture around us. Or seasons when our light is no longer bright enough to be seen outside of our sheltered lives or sacred buildings.

I think I have an idea that might begin to erase these absurdities.

How about we turn into the park and follow the bus to the tent community. Let’s ask those families who are trying to hold it together long enough to get back on their feet what really concerns them.

Maybe then we’d get some context for what matters and be able to build a construct of concern that sets the agenda for what we really ought to care about.

It certainly would help close down the absurdification factory that is working all shifts in this culture of the crazy.

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