amw (amw) wrote,

beautiful things

I have watched several documentaries and documentary-adjacent things over the past month or so.

The first one i watched was Nomadland, which i actually mistook for a documentary when i started watching it, because i recognized some of the characters as real life rubber tramps and hobos. As the movie progressed i became more and more confused about its documentary-ness, because some of the shots were way too good to be true, like tracking shots across the desert, that kept up with what should have been unscripted "walk and talk" dialog.

Anyway, it turned out that it was just a fiction, but a lot of it lands home, even as more of a "slow" traveler than the folks depicted in the movie. The hobos i know who watched it think it was pretty accurate too.

It's weird, when i hear from people who watched that movie outside the traveler community, they think it's a really depressing movie, an indictment of late stage capitalism, death of the American dream etc. But for travelers it's an ode to the freedom of being on the road, and the beauty of having a simple life, unattached to anything except the place you're at right now.

Anyway, coming off that i watched two other documentaries about odd corners of America. One was called Jasper Mall, about a dying mall in small town Alabama. The other was called Some Kind of Heaven, about a weird retirement community in Florida.

Both of those two show off almost the exact opposite dream of Nomadland. In one case, you have these people stuck in a dead-end town trying to maintain the gross, ultra-capitalistic, anti-social megastructure that is an indoor shopping mall. In the other case, you have people who willingly migrated into a gated community larger than most small towns, who live the good life in an exclusive bubble of middle class, mostly white people. Wonderfully, the documentary-maker found a van dweller who was trying to live under the radar in the community, which tied the movie back to Nomadland in a way that couldn't have been scripted better.

I suppose they're all different facets of the American experience. It's interesting how all three seem heavily rooted in the idea that vehicle ownership is a basic necessity of life.

The other day i had to walk 45 minutes to pick up a package. And then i had to walk 45 minutes back. Waiting for a bus would have taken longer. People who drive cars wouldn't even think about the distance, it's just a couple miles up the hill. Their lives are so different. We live in the same country, the same province, the same town, but we're completely alien to one another. Our lives rarely, if ever, intersect.

Anyway, then just the other day i watched this show about a British celeb's quest to start an upscale caravan park. The show is Johnny Vegas: Carry on Glamping. It seems weird to juxtaposition this with the American documentaries, but watching it made me reflect on what is important in people's lives. In the show, you can tell that this guy is fantastically passionate about aesthetics. He wants this caravan park to be a work of art. And it is! The outcome is this sort of fantastic, whimsical construction that i've only really encountered at festivals, or open air nightclubs. Every vehicle standing on the property is unique, and the interiors look like they fell out of a top-tier influencer's Instagram feed.

But then i think of how much money and time got sunk into it, and i think about the people living in less ostentatious vans, or people living in the back of a Prius, or a truck with a camper shell, or just in a tent down by the river... I wonder if their idea of the perfect home is this sort of bespoke, artisinal RV? And it makes me think again about the contrast of values, a sort of entirely different understanding of what is important in life.

A while back my landlord came in and took away two plants from my suite, which i had completely ignored. I literally had been living here over 6 months and didn't even notice the plants were there, or that they had died. I don't notice the pictures on the walls or even the couches and seats and items of furniture that i don't use. I sleep, work and eat breakfast in bed. I sit at the table for dinner, mainly because that food tends to be harder to clean if i were to drop it in bed. I cook at the hot plate. I do the dishes. I go to the toilet. I brush my teeth. I have a shower. That's it. I don't pay attention to anything else in the house because it doesn't matter. I don't even want it to matter. The more i pay attention to that stuff, the more i feel suffocated by it.

Where Johnny Vegas (or my landlord, or whoever) sees beauty, i see unnecessary cost. Unnecessary dust traps. Unnecessary maintenance. Why waste time putting art on the walls, or the floors, or whatever, when you could enjoy it all with far lower environmental impact on your computer screen?

And it's weird because i love the idea of art. I love the idea of supporting artists. I think artists should be able to create what they want to create, without having to fear that they need to be starving to do it.

But also, i don't really want it in my house. I don't want to own it. I don't get any joy out of "having" art. I don't get any joy out of "having" anything. I feel like if it's not in a public place then what even is the point? Although, what even is a public place nowadays, when the great outdoors is carved up into gated communities and shopping malls and caravan parks and private gardens and private patios and private parking lots and "public" roads where human-sized people can't legally go because they're reserved for car-shaped objects?

It makes me think about the car culture, the idea of property ownership, how people legitimately get pleasure out of gussying up their space, or buying all manner of knick-knacks because that's their hobby. And i just think, the older i got, the less and less that all mattered. Perhaps it never really did for me, but now it absolutely doesn't. So i don't have a car, because i don't go to the mall, because there's nothing there i want to buy, because i don't want anything, and it seems weird to me that people do, or that they would structure their lives around going out and buying all those things.

And yet, there they are. And here i am, "treating" myself to cheap booze and coffee, as if those were the finest luxuries that could be.

The world is a funny place.
Tags: american dream, movies, simple living

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