Bauby and Existential Questioning

(Note: the following post is based on a paper that I wrote for my Medical Humanities class in Fall 2016. I sincerely hope that you will find it thought provoking.)

At some point or another we all ask “why me?” Inevitably, circumstances emerge, often in the form of physical ailments, which do not seem fair. We, as humans, tend to consider ourselves undeserving of the terrible conditions, which we frequently face. As illness looms and robs us of our good health, we can have the tendency to feel cheated and bitter as we compare our current state of sickness with our former state of wellbeing. Implicit but often unstated in this line of thinking is the fact that when we think or talk about health in terms of it being something that we deserve, we are implying that it is our right. This leads us to the question “is good health actually a right or should it be considered a gift? Jean-Dominique Bauby in his book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly wrestles intensely with this question as he remembers his past and is initially resentful and distressed about losing his health. As his life continues, however, he gradually comes to accept his condition, appreciate his past, and feel grateful about his current abilities.

It is understandable that, upon waking from a coma and realizing that he can move none of his muscles but his left eyelid, Bauby would be at least a little bit distressed. And as he comes to a fuller realization of his condition and its far-reaching implications, this frustration and despair becomes even more apparent. During an interaction with his son, these emotions seem to overwhelm Bauby, as he wordlessly proclaims, “Grief surges over me. His face not two feet from mine, my son Théophile sits patiently waiting—and I, his father, have lost the simple right to ruffle his bristly hair, clasp his downy neck, hug his small, lithe, warm body tight against me” (Bauby 71). Embedded in this statement is the assumption that things are not as they should be. Fathers should be able to show affection to their sons and his sense of happiness is obliterated by the fact that he once was able to physically interact with his son and is now unable. Bauby does not ask for a lot and the realization that this small but significant pleasure has been taken from him plunges his spirit into a state of anguish. Another gratification that eludes him is the ability to bathe. The embarrassment of having to be bathed, as an adult, is exponentially surpassed by the bitterness that comes from knowing the joy that he used to experience bathing himself. Bauby describes his thinking, “The delectable moment when I sink into the tub is quickly followed by nostalgia for the protracted immersions that were the joy of my previous life. […] Rarely do I feel my condition so cruelly as when I am recalling such pleasures” (Bauby 17). To Bauby inability is difficult but remembering life without these impairments makes life even more arduous.

Bauby does not remain in this condition of despair for long. Although it is unclear whether this transition is linear or cyclical, it is apparent that gradually Bauby moves on. At one point he quite starkly but unresentfully states the permanence of his condition and the reality that there is no hope for change, “I have indeed begun a new life, and that life is here, in this bed, that wheelchair, and those corridors. Nowhere else” (Bauby 129). The general tone of this statement and the fact that he talks about a new life expresses a state of acceptance. He is no longer bitter but rather desires to make the best out of his current condition. He expounds upon these thoughts, “I am savoring this last week of August with a heart that is almost light, because for the first time in a long while I don’t have that awful sense of countdown—the feeling triggered at the beginning of a vacation that inevitably spoils the good part of it” (Bauby 130). The removal of the pressure to get better and the acceptance of his condition allows Bauby to actually enjoy the life that he has.

This acceptance gives Bauby a different lens through which to see his past and current experiences. He now considers all of his abilities to be gifts which he should be grateful for. Rather than feel bitter or cheated when considering his past, Bauby thinks about how he used to live and marvels “I mechanically carried out all those simple acts that today seem miraculous to me: shaving, dressing, downing a hot chocolate” (Bauby 120). This change of mindset also impacts the way Bauby considers his current situation. Bauby writes, “This is astonishing: my hearing does not improve, yet I hear them better and better. I must have butterfly hearing” (Bauby 97). This change in mindset allows Bauby to appreciate both the past and the present and to have a thankful, not bitter, frame of mind.

There are many lessons that can be gleaned from the way Bauby lived the final period of his life. He was forced to deal with the reality that illness does not discriminate based on virtue, and, regardless of the deservedness of sickness, we are responsible for how we react to the situations that we face. Bauby seems to realize that every second of life is a precious gift and as he overcomes the initial despair and resentment of his condition, he is able to enjoy the simple and few pleasures of his remaining time on earth.

 

For further reading, check out Bauby’s book.

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I hope you enjoyed this post and I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email with your perspective on these issues. Thanks for reading!

The History of Advertising in America

(Note: the following post is based on a paper that I wrote for my Digital Culture class in Summer 2015. I hope you will find it interesting and thought provoking.)

A study of the field of advertising can be quite revealing since advertisements attempt to sell products to consumers and consequently require an understanding of consumers to do so. Therefore, the nature of advertisements in a culture speaks to the nature of the people in that culture. The history of advertising in America is quite eye opening and can be seen as “a metaphor of the descent of the typographic mind, beginning, as it does, with reason, and ending, as it does, with entertainment” (Postman 58).

Advertisements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had a fundamental difference from current ads. These older advertisements “assumed that potential buyers were literate, rational, analytical” (Postman 58). They correctly presupposed that buyers, in this time period, were concerned primarily with knowing the merits and potential defects of the product. Since these buyers were serious and analytical, advertisements, in this age, were crafted in a way to appeal to this brand of buyers. These older advertisements were written in “single-column space” (Postman 58) and had the primary purpose of “convey[ing] information and [making] claims in propositional form” (Postman 59). This typographical form of advertising had merit because it employed language as its foundation. Although “words cannot guarantee their truth content,” they do, however, “assemble a context in which the question, Is this true or false? is relevant” (Postman 60). In the 1890’s the foundation of advertising began to progress as slogans, jingles, and photographs began to appear in advertisements. Appealing to the desires of consumers, these advertisements became primarily focused on displaying an entertaining and pleasant experience. So, Postman explains, “by the turn of the century, advertisers no longer assumed rationality on the part of their potential customers” (Postman 60).

This evolution of the basis of advertisements continued and escalated as the television became more prominent. Television commercials for products and politicians have become a normal part of life in America. These commercials do not assume rationality on the part of consumers, and do not try to make truths claims. Substituting “images for claims,” these commercials are basically dramas that appeal to the emotions and desires of consumers (Postman 128). Since no assertions are made, “one can like or dislike a television commercial, of course. But one cannot refute it” (Postman 128). It seems like commercials try to avoid concentrating too much on their products. Many commercials may be ambivalent towards the product or brand being used until the very end of the production. Because, after all, commercials are not about the product being displayed but, rather, they are about the “character of the consumers of [their] products” (Postman 128). Instead of focusing on the greatness of their products, commercials focus on the greatness of the experience of individuals who have bought into these products. Postman states that commercials “provide a slogan, a symbol or a focus that creates for viewers a comprehensive and compelling images of themselves” (Postman 135). They say that if we buy a certain car, we will possess irresistible appeal to the other sex, rather than focusing on the attributes of the actual vehicle. They tell us that if we buy a certain brand of beer, we will have incredible parties all football season long, rather than concentrating too much on the actual flavor or merits of the drink. Having little basis in rationality, commercials must be brief. The commercial “disdains exposition, for that takes time and invites argument” (Postman 131). Therefore, they cater to the short attention spans and instant gratification mindsets of current consumers by providing immediate solutions to all our problems.

Online advertisements and commercials possess many similarities to television commercials. Employing the same brevity and emotional appeals, these forms of advertising may often be the exact same ones that we find on TV. However, online advertisements suffer from not being able to command our attention in the same way that television commercials do. Commercials can often be annoying so we, as media users, often count the cost of sitting through a certain amount of advertising. And while we often deem this process worthwhile for the sake of whatever television program we are engaged in, I believe online users have a smaller tolerance for commercials than television viewers do. Therefore, online advertisements have to go to extra efforts to remain relevant. One way that they accomplish this task is through using algorithms to determine what types of products consumers are interested in. Many of the ads that you see on Facebook and other Internet sites are assembled using research of your past Internet searches. In order to stay significant, these advertisements have to focus on the desires of the individual online user.

Advertisements are about selling a product, appealing to buyers, and ultimately making a profit. Older forms of advertising accommodated analytical consumers, television commercials cater to entertainment-seeking buyers, and online advertisements appeal to individual wants. So no matter the make up of the consumer base, you can be sure that marketing experts will continue to research the specific factors that appeal to consumers and try to play off of those factors.

 

For further reading, check out Postman’s book.

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Love and Faithfulness

Love is a challenging word to define. It doesn’t help that in the English language we use the same word to describe marital relationships (i.e. “I love my husband/wife”) that we use to describe feeling towards food (i.e. “I love bacon”). That being said, if I had to pick out one definitive characteristic of real love that I think sets it apart from “false love” (if that is even a term), I would choose faithfulness.

My favorite poem of all time, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, does an exemplary job of describing how love without faithfulness is not genuine.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.”

I really enjoy the powerful wording of this poem! Shakespeare argues that “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds” (Lines 2-3). According to these lines, love does not change in the face of changing circumstances. Shakespeare calls love “an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken, ” meaning that real love faces difficulties without wavering (Lines 5-6). Shakespeare notes that genuine love does not give way as time goes by when he writes “love’s not time’s fool,” and “love alters not with his brief hours and weeks but bears it out even to the edge of doom” (Lines 9, 11-12).

This poem provides comfort and encouragement for married couples who undoubtedly  face obstacles in their love for one another. Personally, this poem encourages me through its message that real love is marked by faithfulness. If I say that I love my wife, I show my love for her by remaining faithful to her.

On a different, but related note, if love is marked by faithfulness, then I can have confidence in God’s love because of his faithfulness. The Old Testament, among other things, tells the story of God remaining faithful to his people despite their failure to reciprocate. When I am tempted to doubt God’s love for me, I can find great comfort in the fact that God has a spotless track record of remaining faithful to his people and to his promises (Deuteronomy 7:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:3). I can trust that he loves me and will do what he says he will do because he has proven himself to be faithful.

I realize that there’s undoubtedly a lot more that can be said about this topic. This post has really just scratched the surface of a very weighty and interesting subject. If you have thoughts that expound upon what I said or disagree with what I said, I’d love to hear them. These were just some ideas that I’d been mulling over for a while and thought might be helpful to some.

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As stated above leave a comment or send me an email if you have a reaction to this post. Thanks for reading!