On Decisions

“In passing from history to nature, myth acts economically: it abolishes the complexity of human acts, it gives them the simplicity of essences … it organises a world which is without contradictions because it is without depth, a world wide open and wallowing in the evident, it establishes a blissful clarity. Things appear to mean something by themselves.”

Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)

Lockdown has been ticking on and on, and I’ve found myself living out the same days as almost a year ago in the same tedium and claustrophobia that now has officially lost its novelty. Every day we see the numbers of vaccinations going up and up, with those most vulnerable in my family now close to receiving the first dose. But since the start of February I’ve just snapped. A lot of what I do everyday consists of applying for whatever open calls there are that may not even take place and are so oversubscribed I won’t even receive a rejection email (which was the story of 2020). Most of those around me have been cycling through the same emotional ups and downs, encountering each other at different points in the stress-eating, panic-buying, yoga-practicing scale.

During my semi-conscious hibernation of the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that I’ve been thinking more and more about the idea of doing the right thing: making the right decision, having this voice inside you that you trust to guide you to where you’re ‘supposed to be’. Most of this ‘listen to your heart’ idea is definitely Disney-fied, but I’m really craving that instinct at the moment, as I have a nagging little bastard voice questioning all the decisions I’ve ever made, and leaves me scared about the future. I would love a more productive voice inside to tell me what to do, and trust it to all work out alright. This is, I think, what I find so appealing about the medieval martyrs I researched for my Delphyne project; all the Joan of Arc’s who had such seemingly pure certainty of purpose.

I’ve also been watching a fair amount of Adventure Time over the last few months, particularly when I am sick or hungover, as I was last Sunday when I lay on the couch groaning and watching the whole of season 4. I’ve particularly, this time around, been so captivated by the plot line (if I can explain this correctly!) involving the grass demon which lived in Finn’s arm combining with the Finn sword (a part of actual Finn somehow) to create a problematic and tortured green Finn-twin. Grass Finn (or Fern as he is later known) is a toxic doppelgänger which I really empathised with, a good Finn heart corrupted by a green demon squid-spider combining to create this perpetual identity crisis, a boy not knowing where to fit in, turning to evil actions just to feel something, or do something to mark himself as different. To take revenge on the world. When we’re in a bad place we do bad things. It is cathartic watching Fern enact all the terrible ideas that Finn would never do; making all the worst, unhealthy decisions because he is conflicted and in pain. And is made of grass and demon.

Finn and Fern, Finn’s grass twin, (Adventure Time season 9 episode 13, Cartoon Network)

Rupaul’s Drag Race UK series 2 has also been the light of our lives recently, and especially Glasgow’s own Lawrence Chaney, who we have completely fallen in love with – probably another example of the over-emotional aspect of lockdown life. Still, Thursdays are now known in our house as Lawrence Chaney Night.

But we love getting to know the drag artists, their journeys and personal struggles and how they relate to the performances they give, or the bad choices they make that jeopardise their success and condemn them to a lip synch for their lives. Especially interesting was the ‘Queens on Lockdown’ (BBC3, 2021) documentary, making the point that artists of all kinds are not furloughed and struggling to survive in the creative industries, unsupported. So I completely am on the same page as Veronica Green not getting out of bed for months obsessing with what we’ve lost or are missing out on.

Lawrence Chaney and Bimini Bon Boulash on Rupaul’s Drag Race UK series 2 (BBC3, 2021)

‘Married at First Sight: Australia’ series 6 is our current binge-watching of choice. There really is something special about the Australian setting, as the UK or American versions would be totally unwatchable, both too cringy/close to home and too fake-seeming respectively. The Australians are far enough away but relatable enough to create a perfect recipe for addiction. The women are all makeup artists or hair stylists, the men are all ‘tradies’, they all live in the same kind of minimalist modern houses, living a lifestyle of beaches, beers and barbecues. This is a gross generalisation of Australian people of course, but the show allows access into a sunny, glamorous world so far away from the wine-stained onesies and grey winter days of the current UK lockdown.

Married at First Sight: Australia (Nine Network/Channel 4, 2015-Present)

Based on a book I’ve read recently, Roland Barthes’ Mythologies (1957), it could be perfectly true that by isolating components across various TV shows I am mythologising them for my own purposes. The mythology created here is that, by making the right decision, you can achieve such things as saving the Candy Kingdom, winning a RuPeter badge or finding true love. All these examples suggest the existence of a higher power who has the ability to grant wishes or give good things if certain requirements have been met. Perhaps I’m giving RuPaul Charles and the relationship counsellors of Married at First Sight a god-like status, but if I am it is as an acknowledgement that in reality (in my reality at least) there is no such thing, and I crave the authority and certainty of being told I am on the right track. To be told what is wrong and what is right would be a great thing; it suggests a path to follow or stray from, a future already decided.

Mythology is a stolen language; it robs from meaning. By creating this overarching mythology, I’ve negated the struggles of drag artists to reach their potential; the writers and animators behind Adventure Time who are creating their own artwork; the struggles of botoxed Aussies to maintain positive relationships. Myth, also, by denying these meanings, transforms History into Nature; i.e, it makes possible the belief in this all-deciding power who maintains the divide between right and wrong eternally.

To defy myth, we must reconnect with reality, and take a step into an uncertain world where destiny doesn’t exist and our fates are undecided. This is a world in which we can empower ourselves to change, and decide our own futures. Theoretically.

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