Big Childhood

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Want to go get wasted?

Like truly wasted? Like forget all your cares wasted?

Want to regress?

Now you can hop on your fixie and go to the Romper Room. The invocation of the kids show is intentional, I’m sure, though the execution is all dark and sexy, with candy-like reds and pinks.

But if this is too ‘grown up’ for you, well, don’t forget, there are also bars like Jackalope, where they have an SNES setup and you can play Duck Hunt.

Duck Hunt
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Just like you did when you were…

…a kid.

If you look up at the television you might chance to see the pop star. She is playing her song at the big game. Cheerful! But if the antidepressant-bright colors and major chords fail to distract you from the gaping maw that is your life, then take your s’mores martini and head over to that piece of nostalgia-porn sitting alone in the corner of the bar, the video game standee.

And if you tire of playing Galaga by yourself? Well then, join a Skeeball league for some friendly competition.

Because everything’s a game, right?

Want to lose weight? Well, strap on that FitBit. Shazam! Fitness is a game. Try to get one of the various badges on offer (“Goal Day”, Weekend Warrior”, “Daily Showdown”). Compete with your friends!

Hey, wait a minute—don’t you have a job you have to be at? Ut oh! That’s ok, bro. Just hop on the shuttle and go to where everybody else is, Monday through Friday. Keep in mind that while you’re waiting, you can play more games that encourage pattern recognition and time management, like Candy Crush. This will keep your brain active and pliant, with it’s bright colors and fun movements. This will keep you useful.

You are at work now. But don’t fret—the real game play has just started! And should you find that by X-o’clock, the hours of team-based puzzle play/problem solving have started weighing you down, then a brief trip to the break room with it’s foosball tables, Sony Playstation and/or Xbox 360, should do the trick. This room is necessary. You may be here longer than you think.

At lunch you go to the food trucks, converted ice cream trucks that serve deep fried sodium-based treats. Accompanying you is the manic pixie dream girl, a middle manager who took five tours of duty at the state college before waking up and finding herself in a pup tent at Coachella. “Are you going to the big wheel race next week?”

You hadn’t even thought that far ahead. But yes. Yes, you are. Maybe after dressing up like the Little Mermaid and ‘running’ in Bay to Breakers. Maybe you’ll just run straight there, fish tail and all. Maybe from there, you’ll run straight to SantaCon.

in a few hours, your final meeting of the day closes, with the customary goodbye: “thank you for playing!”

Playing, indeed. But now it’s 5 o’clock. Screw all that work/play! Time to be yourself, again—whatever that is!

Incidentally, are you sick of being ‘whatever that is’? Want to be something else? You can be a sexy cartoon heroine.

Or you can dress like a furry animal.

You can even be in preschool again! Yes, you can! And no, it’s not perverted!

Decision fatigue stressing you out? Too many wonderful, fantastical things to choose from? Ok, then you can pay an astronomical amount of money and attend what amounts to a corporate team building exercise in the desert. With art! Oh, and sex. And did I say drugs? Well, I didn’t. They did. Anyway, here, you can truly release your inner child and be free. Here, you can truly be your self.

But is it really that simple?

Maybe, maybe not. Keep in mind that at any point in your narrative should you stick your head out of the passenger window of your storyline you will see the grimy, buzzard-picked bones of the real world: The Mission, with its families driven southward and eastward; perma-ghettos Bayview-Hunters Point and Western Addition; and Downtown’s neighbor, that open air asylum called The Tenderloin. The difference between techno-prosperity and gentrification lay in the eye of the beholder, in that same way that Burning Man and its closest neighbor, the town of Gerlach, a busted gypsum mining concern with more ghosts than people, are actually the same place. The only difference is one’s condition is a temporary bloom, synthesized from the bubble-residue of the last few decades; the other, a permanent consequence of the swell and ebb of time and economics.

What does this all mean? Well, first of all, this place, with the human feces on the sidewalk, bloody broken glass, and wheel-booted family minivans? This place is Reality. And this Choose Your Own Adventure that you call your life is a facade that has been built right on top of it. If you can’t see it immediately, then put on those glasses. You know–those glasses you found in that box in the alley, those special glasses that let you see people and things for what they are, and then you can—

-KONK-

—Crap! What just happened?

You are in a room. Ropes bind your hands. You struggle with them, then look up to see a familiar looking face looming down at you. You recognize him from somewhere; you just don’t know where.

“Who are you?”

He smiles. “We are the Big Childhood police.”

“What on earth is ‘Big Childhood’?” you ask.

“All of this,” he says, gesturing across the bank of monitors you didn’t even know were there, featuring every action movie, cereal commercial, and TV show ever made, as well as some CCTV-scenes of people in their homes, unaware that they’re being surveilled. “This is the Childhood Industrial Complex, and we run everything.”

God, this guy looks familiar. Who is he?

Bernays
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“Childhood Industrial Complex?”

“Yes. We drive all the consumption in your miserable, hamster-wheel life. You think that buying things will make you happy. You think that buying things will give you an identity, a home in this world. Well, that skinner box you call a home–it’s ours! We designed it! Bwah-hah-hah!”

You protest. He cuts you off-

“-Sure, sure. I know, I know. You think you’re different, right? Because you’re a ‘Millenial’? Because you ate the ‘red pill‘? Well, wake up, sucker! That red pill was just a blue pill with red dye 40! You’re really just like Generation-X: One of the grown ups.”

He laughs, then turns to a fat man in a Pixies t-shirt and kicks him in the belly with his wing tipped shoes. The man groans and collapses.

“You see, whenever it looks like you might experience any kind of lucidity, whenever it seems like you might wake up, and try and break out of the pattern, we strike. We smack you over the head with some imagery from your childhood. Wear you down with some old toy commercials, tarted up for a new generation. And if that doesn’t do the trick then we’ll soften you up with a remade film from your childhood, or a summer-song with a rousing chorus where the whole bearded band claps and goes ‘hey!’ Its cynicism, flavored like sentimentality. And it sells two year contracts. It sells data plans. It sells cable TV. Hell, it sells fuel! Your whole existence is run by Stanford MBAs, who view people as collateral, and creativity as merely a work dynamo. You think you’re part of some revolution…well, you’re not. You’re basically two doors down from Don Draper’s office in 1967.

“So keep playing yer vidyah-games, keep buying yer colorul boozes, but don’t ever forget…we’re the same bastards who made you completely forget there’s a war on! We own you! We dominate you with distraction! HA HA HA! Keep pressing those buttons! Maybe something different will happen next time!” In a giggling fit, he points to a space in front of you. “In fact, press this button! See what happens!”

button
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Indeed there is a button in front of you. What will happen when you press it? Will a food pellet come out? Or will you be electrocuted? Will your mother be electrocuted?

Against your better instincts, you press it. With your nose. No! You hear a cartoon buzz as a bucket of water drops down from the ceiling and splashes on your antagonist. He screams as the ropes that bind you fall away…and…

…He begins to melt!

You run as fast and as far as you can. To the North Bay hills! Away from this madness!

And…back to nature!

You wonder to yourself, as you trudge up the path, whether its possible to quit everything. Yes, everything. All the frenzied consumption. All the choices. All the madness. Just turn down the noise, right? How hard could it be?

You look down. You see footprints. Birkenstocks, from the early 1970s.

footprints
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At the edge of the trail, a discarded Whole Earth Catalog. You pick it up.


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You might need supplies.

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