Monday, November 11, 2013

The houses we live in and what is really real

Web Study by Amy Casey @ 2007
(Image used with the permission of the artist)
Our psyche reveals itself through our dreams and through art in the form of symbols or archetypes. A house is a very rich archetype representing our self or our personality. We all seek a secure house that is authentic, that is uniquely our own. I got thinking about this today while reminiscing about growing up in rural NH in what was still part of the 1950s culture. Although I grew up in a nice middle class family and was a good student that was college-bound, my future filled me with existential dread. In high school, I sought escape by partying with my wild friends, drinking too much, and crashing cars.

I was truly a rebel without a cause in the sense of not being able to articulate the cause of my despair. I felt smothered by the conformist society I lived in: I felt like a widget in an assembly line, destined to grow up to live in some bloodless suburbia in a cookie cutter house with a helpmate wife, 2.2 children, and a job I hated shuffling papers in some cubicle. I hated what mainstream America called “The American Dream.”

Malvina Reynolds came along at that exact time, representing the collective unconscious of my generation, to put words to what I felt but could not articulate: she wrote Little Boxes, a song that was an opening salvo of the’60s, a satire about suburban tract housing and conformist middle class attitudes. It became a hit for Pete Seeger in 1963.

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

For those of us growing up to be part of the 1960s generation, these little boxes were empty slots waiting for us to fill them; they represented our fate.  No wonder we rebelled!

We were rebelling against the shell game that corporations pulled off after World War II: tricking Americans into abandoning vibrant local communities, woven out a web of intimate human relationships, in favor of a consumer society where we became widgets in a vast societal assembly line to maximize corporate profits.

If a house is a symbol for our self in Jungian terms, then “little boxes” perfectly represented the state of our psyches in the 1950s. No longer does this symbol of home represent a safe and secure refuge, a place that is uniquely ours. Now it has been set over and against us; we have been conned by a false ideology. Yes, we still lived in real houses but now they are all the same and built out of flimsy material without character, a perfect metaphor of how our human spirit became commodified, starting in the 1950s.

The 1960s upheaval was a revolt against this commodification of the human spirit as represented by the ticky tacky house. We had an opposite vision: going back to the land, learning to grow our own food, to be self-sufficient, and live in simple, owner built homes built out of local material in interdependent, close knit communities.

Thank god that vision is on the ascendant again with the recent explosion of interest in small scale farming, living in concert with nature, buying local, practicing simple and sustainable living. The Jungian symbol of the self in this alternative vision is a small, simple, self-sufficient home with a big garden out front instead of a lawn and solar panels on the roof in a close-knit community in an urban setting.

But, juxtapositioned against this return to what is really real is the explosion in high-speed communication and the web.  I came across a painting today by Amy Casey (displayed at the top of this essay) that perfectly represents the Jungian symbol of what home is becoming under this scenario, as the self become increasing enmeshed in information overload.

Amy Casey’s wonderful painting depicts the next stage in mainstream society from the 1950s home we have already discussed which is built out of real material but is an assembly line commodity, giving a false sense of what an authentic house or human being should be.

Now with Amy Casey’s painting we have moved from a real but false sense of what human reality is to the web where the real is no longer real. As Baudrillard notes, it is no longer a question of just imitation or duplication (picture the cookie cutter suburban, ticky tacky houses): “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is a generation by [electronic] models without origin or reality: a hyperreal…[1]

The question becomes, which house will we find ourselves living in in the future. If we make the wrong choice, the only thing that will remain are faint electronic traces of what used to be a really real, flesh and blood human race.

[1] Jean Baudrillard’s  Simulations “Hyperreal and imaginary”


BobKat said...

Wow... after a brief siesta that's quite a comeback!

The "Ticky Tacky houses" theme you quoted is also the theme song for the popular "Weeds" series on TV. And I thought it was developed for the series. I had no idea this was from a song in the 60's.

It's also obvious that either you matured much faster than me, in that you were a radical in your teens, or that, I was simply a slow learner who happened to find an alternative lifestyle - while rejecting pressure to accept what you described. I pushed a broom and dragged a mop, so to speak working at colleges. The benefits were really nice!

Good post. Good to see you're back.

psychos capes said...

Thanks BobKat,
Glad you like it. You are the second person to clue me in about "Ticky Tacky houses" being the theme song for "Weeds." I am completely in the dark about such things because I disconnected myself from the TV.

SJ Holmwood said...

I like this piece too Jean. I never saw Weeds, but immediately thought of John Mellencamp's song "Little Pink Houses".

psychos capes said...

Thank you Cass.
Thinking about the decade of the fifties still sends shivers up my back