Field Notes From a Sick Society

There are two kinds of people on the covers of magazines in supermarkets: those whose lives are falling apart and those who have their act together. The majority of society hovers somewhere in-between, but never mind that for now. Have we stopped to think about this enormous contradiction between adoring competence and gawking at broken lives?

Divorce, unfaithfulness, pregnancy out of wed-lock, and marital disputes fill up half the magazine covers while tips for losing 5 pounds in 5 days, how to get the man of your dreams, and how to feel great about yourself are just a side panel on the positive, you-can-do-it-because-I-did-and-I-was-a-fat-loser-who-is-now-hot magazines.

What are we after with this mix of crazed and constructive? If only the makers of each magazine could send copies to the subjects of the other respective magazines, then perhaps we’d be getting somewhere. The perky perfect people would learn to live dangerously and do the occasional stupid thing so they have a good story to tell at their perfectly planned cocktail parties, and the overdosed celebrities would learn a little moderation and control. Can’t you feel the world getting better just by reading that idea?

I suppose it’s always comforting to read about people who are far more troubled than ourselves and at the same time to read about solutions to our problems that are so simple we can’t help but try and fail. It’s so much easier to pick up a magazine from the check out line, read the 3-page article about changing your life, and then making up excuses for why it didn’t help while reading about some stupid celebrity in a gossip magazine.

God’s solutions are something like this: give up and let me take over, but you can’t pick up something like that in the check out line of the supermarket. Even if God’s offer is free, it’s a lot of work. Wouldn’t it be easier to buy a candy bar and a magazine or two about changing your life?