Essay:This is Why I Can't Have Nice Things
In which I admit I am probably a little tacky.
Before I even begin, this is a First World Problem and if you are a starving person in a third world country reading this, you have a free pass to give me a kidney punch. Thank you.
I love nice things. You know, items that you know you don't need. OK, I don't spring for the really expensive sort of nice things. I have no want to drive a fancy car, and I wouldn't know what to do with diamond jewelry unless I was stranded in the wilderness and concluded that the stones' superior hardness was suitable for some kind of practical utility like cutting or grinding. I mean harmless, trivial things that I can be tempted to waste a negligible amount of money on.
Like fancy soaps that smell good, perfumes, candles, pretty non-jewelry rocks to put in my room. I am the kind of person who would like one of those chintzy little indoor fountains in her someday-house, right next to the innumerable pots of houseplants, my eventual collection of knives, panels of stained glass, and wind chimes. Stuff like exotic tea mixes. It excites me when pomegranates are for sale at the market because I always want to buy one even though they stain everything like nobody's business. I would never buy such things in bulk. But perhaps once a month, I will be walking down the street, and there will be a beautiful little stone statue of a horse in the window of an antique shop. And maybe it costs 8-10 dollars. And then it will be mine.
O.K., 'a little' was an understatement. Very tacky.
So why do I like this stuff if it's useless? I don't really know, because when it comes to everything else in this world I get a conniption if I can't somehow fend off bandits or build a raft with it. I guess the answer is one of those unsatisfying, unreasonable answers that can't hold up in any kind of debate: I like them because I like them. I think they are fun and different. They smell nice. They taste good. They are enjoyable to me. So the answer would be novelty. I am pretty sure that a lot of people like things for this reason, and that I'm not alone.
It is bad to have delusions. It is bad to expect that doing strange rituals will get you things for no reason. But there are a lot of things that people do and know that nothing special is going to happen. It just makes us feel a little nicer even if we know it does nothing. Putting our pencils straight before a test. Begging a pair of dice to give you double 6s. Reprimanding a game when the item that's supposed to randomly drop doesn't. Somebody older than 10 years old pressing down+b to catch a pokemon.
But for many unfortunate people, feeling nice is certainly not the only reason.
Knight vs. The Spa.
Sometime I would love to go to a spa again. It is like the land of the Nice Things. There's no reason to be there unless you are going for a beauty regimen or something. But it sure is nice. I was at a fancy one down in Florida once because my grandmother is very generous. And it was very relaxing, no doubt about that. But one little thing kept me from fully enjoying the experience.
Okay, one big thing.
The crap treatments. I tried to avoid everything that was a waste of time, but it was impossible. And while my grandmother didn't notice at all, the amount of bullcrap surely made a dent in her wallet. There is no such thing as 'age-reversing' serum. There is no such thing as a scrub that 'beats cellulite.' There is no such thing as shampoo that 'nourishes' hair from root to tip. Wrinkles are wrinkles. Cellulite is fat underneath the skin. Hair is dead; once it's damaged, it's damaged and isn't going to somehow heal. And you guys must be saying, 'Knight, why was all of this stuff shoved at you? You aren't an old person with wrinkles.' And I'll reply this: it was all supposedly pre-emptive. As in it was an assurance of "Oh, do this expensive 'moisture envelopment' when you aren't wrinkled, and even though you won't see any results at all I promise that you won't get so many wrinkles at some unspecified later date."
Nothing was safe. Even a nice, normal relaxing massage had a goofy 'this will release your tension by stimulating your natural energies' preface. Lying back in the hot tub, listening to the lady natter on made me hallucinate that she was a witch doctor boiling me in a bubbling cauldron of witchy brew. Or maybe that was the pungent scent of freesia addling my senses.
Worst of all, once I left the spa, it didn't stop. That monthly temptation that drifts me into the soap store began to repulse me right back out again when I saw displays of organic 'epidermis repair' shower lathers. It's in every drugstore. There's hardly such thing as buying incense that isn't marketed at woomeisters, or plays off the image. I recently found a source of kimchi near my university: a perilous health food store that stocks every load of crock in the book, and it charges more for a little 1 pound jar than the hMart at home charges for a 3 pound jar.
I like to listen to whispering, soft-spoken, and other ASMR/'brain tingling' videos online because I find quiet sounds relaxing (and I probably will write about the ASMR phenomenon/community here at some later date) but the listings are inseparable from all sorts of audio woo, such as binaural beat music for so-called brain hacking, new age music, and guided meditations about chakras and dolphins and other such goofiness. If I had a microphone, I would contribute relaxation videos that are critical-thinking-friendly.
I throw up my hands at the sky, as if trying and failing to escape the grip of gravity. Why?! Why is every goofy thing I like beset by woo? I don't like it because it harmonizes my aura! I like it because it smells good or something!
If people like it, sell it.
This. This is the reason. This is why I can't have nice things. Nobody who likes this kind of woo likes it because it's woo. Nobody re -balances their humors just to re-balance their humors. They do it because the ceremony in which it supposedly happens is relaxing or pleasurable.They like it because they think it's pleasant or is doing something pleasant. People who sell this stuff are sneaky enough to so strongly identify their snake oil with things that people like that their faithful buyers come to associate the woo with pleasantness.
Novelty sells. It sells because everybody has stuff that they like and things they will buy impulsively because they like them. From goofy souvenir snow globes (something that even I hopeless as I am think is super-tacky) to that mysterious and exotic acai berry/durian fruit smoothie superfood subscription plan, people think it's nice and buy it. Woo is an easy way to make people buy your particular novelty over options. I like something and it's inexplicably turns me into Superman? Wow, I can't think of a single person that would hate something like that if it was real.
From the time we are kids, to when we grow up, stuff that's good for us is usually unpleasant. Eating vegetables is icky. Studying your homework questions is boring. Paying your taxes can be arduous. Taking medicine when you're sick tastes nasty. In turn, stuff that we like is usually bad for us. Eating ice cream and french fries makes you fat. Drugs and alcohol can probably mess you up. Goofing off when you should be studying is fun but will hurt your grade. Buying stuff that is fun but useless is expensive and hurts your wallet.
This kind of woo is insidious this way. It professes to take away the penalties of stuff that we like. It's OK to drink this tasty sugar-filled juice because it's got magic berries that make you thin in it! It's OK to buy this goofy crystal because it will bring you great prosperity! So what if some of the 'benefits' are made up? You're totally justified and guilt-less in consuming these things because they aren't really indulgences! They're cures, solutions to problems, and useful to us! Right?
I think that in a way, we are all guilted into pretending we don't like things. Buying goofy things sometimes can be seen as a sign of irresponsibility. Fruit is sissy food unless you're a woman on a diet. You don't have time for frivolous things, you're a super serious person with a super serious job that gets things done and is a real grown up adult-type person. Yet, we all still like novelty. Maybe not all the same things, but we all like things that are pleasant and different. So how does one reconcile their want for nice things? Many people end up buying into scams. And if scams are the only way to get a lot of nice things, the prices are marked up as high as people will pay. And many people will pay anything, for their fix of nice things.
And it gets worse in my case in particular. I don't want to be seen in that perilous health food store. I don't want to support them by buying that jar of kimchi, even though I love it. I feel guilty allowing them to control things that I like. They shouldn't have it. I don't follow their ideology. I don't want them to tell me that the things I like do stuff that doesn't make sense, and then charge me more for them. Sometimes, fermented cabbage is just fermented cabbage. Soap is just soap. They're nice things. That's all.
I really wish that,
Someday, maybe there will be a world where nice things are just nice things. When you walk into a spa, it will be a place for relaxation and therapy. Sure, funny treatments, but offered because they are fun. Everybody loves that cucumber eye thing even though it does nothing and they know it. Wouldn't it be nice to walk down a drugstore shampoo aisle and have the products competing for actual cleaning performance and pleasant experience of use rather than claims of boosting hair color or 'repairing' damage to dead cells? Wouldn't it be cool if we could all lose the guilt about stuff we like, let go of that baggage, and move on? And wouldn't it be neat if snake-oil treatments, broscience tips, and nail salon farces were a thing of the past?
No promises that people can't keep. No safety hazards due to shady treatments. No propagation of terrible ideas.
We'd all be free to be as tacky as we wanted.
I think that would be nice.