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Sometimes a civilisation can become so sophisticated that it believes it can overcome truth. We have become one of those civilisations. As a consequence of our arrogance, we have come to believe that we can circumvent some of the most fundamental truths about reality. We blame inequality on the social structure even though most social animals live in hierarchies. We believe that primitive people are noble even though mankind in its primitive state is more violent than at any other stage. And we believe that we can change the way human beings eat despite the fact that it is making us unhappy.
It is our modern obsession over diet and exercise that I would like to focus on. This obsession has arisen from a society that is too safe, too free, and too prosperous for its own good. This is not to say that safety, freedom, and prosperity are bad things. Indeed, we should get down on our knees and thank God every day that we live in a country that has these things. However, it is also true that too much safety, freedom, and prosperity breeds passivity and complacency. The hardships our ancestors faced – war, poverty, disease – are no longer problems for us. Therefore, we lack the meaning that these hardships bring to our life. As a result, we have come to invent problems. Among these has been a tendency to render the consumption of certain food as something unhealthy, unethical, or both.
Our modern obsession with food is causing significant personal problems. On the one hand, the ease in which food, especially that which is laden with sugar, is causing a rise in cases of obesity. (Note: I am using the word ‘obesity’ as a blanket term for people who are overweight). It is a uniquely modern problem. Our ancestors never battled weight gain because they were only able to find or afford enough food to keep them and their families from starving. Now the quantity, cheapness, and, in many cases, poor quality of food means that the fattest amongst are also often the poorest. But obesity is less a problem that arises out of food and more of a problem arising from laziness and gluttony. (Naturally, I am excluding health problems and genetic disorders from this conclusion).
On the other hand, however, our obsession over being skinny or muscle-bound is also causing problems. I have seen plenty of people who are clearly overweight. In rare cases, I have even seen people who are so morbidly obese that it can only be described as breathtaking. However, I have also seen women (and it primarily women, by the way) who can only be described as unnaturally thin. It is as though our society, having realised that being overweight is healthy, has decided that its opposite must be good. It isn’t. Just right is just right.
And it’s not just individuals who are subjecting themselves to this kind of self-imposed torture. And it’s not limited to people in the here and now, either. In 1998, The Independent reported that many doctors in the United Kingdom were concerned that well-meaning parents were unintentionally starving their children to death by feeding them low fat, low sugar diets. These children were said to be suffering from the effects of “muesli-belt nutrition.” They had become malnourished because either they or their parents had maintained had become obsessed with maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diet. The article reported: “Malnutrition, once associated with slums, is said to have become an increasing problem for middle-class families in the past fifteen years. The victim of so-called ‘muesli-belt nutrition’ are at risk of stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, heart disease and diabetes.”
Our obsession over diet is really a sign of how well-off our society is. Our ancestors had neither the time nor the resources to adhere to the kind of crazy-strict diets that modern people, in their infinite stupidity, decide to subject themselves to. It is high time we stopped obsessing over food and got a grip.
There is great truth to the sentiment that what appears simple and childish on the surface often hides the most profound and universal ideas of human goodness.
A cultural example of this phenomenon comes in the guise of the animated show, Archer. A show centred around the trials and tribulations of the men and women of the fictional independent, New York-based spy agency, ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service).
That the show is both popular and critically acclaimed is self-evident. It has received an audience score of ‘9’ on Metacritic (based on 375 ratings) and an audience score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critically, it has been nominated for fifteen Annie Awards, and has won the Prime-Time Emmy awards, four Critics’ Choice Awards, and two Gold Derby Awards.
Archer’s popularity comes from two places. First, it’s exemplary use of meta-comedy, referenced-based humour, and use of rapid-fire dialogue that creates comedic elements which are, at the same time, crude and witty, nihilistic and meaningful. And second, its ability to create well-rounded characters who, despite their insufficiencies, are always willing to help one another.
It is the second part of this equation that I would like to focus on.
The primary example of this is displayed in the show’s protagonist, Sterling Archer. A man who could accurately be described as an immature, self-centred, narcissistic, and egotistical man-child. Archer is clearly a man who suffers from an abundance of emotional deficiencies. His abandonment issues stem from the lack of love he received as a child. His constant need to overcompensate for his insufficiencies, typically through drink, women, and sheer stupidity, is the result of being bullied at school.
As a consequence, Archer is a socially inept alcoholic and sex addict. And when combined with his narcissism, results in the kind of man who behaves recklessly not because he is fearless, but because he genuinely believes himself to be impervious to harm.
This is actually the primary joke of the show. Archer is not the “world’s most dangerous secret agent” because he is highly competent. Rather, he is the “world’s most dangerous secret agent” because his ineptitude makes him a danger to everyone around him.
Then there’s Archer’s boss and mother, Mallory. In many ways, she is worse than her son. She is, like her son, narcissistic and self-centred, and perhaps a little too fond of the bottle. However, unlike her son, who is capable of showing some humanity in spite of his self-centredness, Mallory is an emotionally cold, unloving, and hypocritical woman. She berates her employees but frequently embezzles money from her own company (usually for one materialistic splurge or another), and she’s perfectly willing to exploit the talents of her staff for her own personal gain.
Finally, there is Cyril Figgis, the mild-mannered and softly-spoken accountant who is, perhaps, the worse of the lot. Crippled with self-doubt and frequently the target of Archer’s provocations, Figgis is a man brimming with hatred and resentment. He is a man who abuses power once he gets it and fails to accept either advice or help from
What makes Archer a compelling show is that these characters are willing to help and forgive one another in spite of all their insufficiencies. Even Mallory Archer and Cyril Figgis are prepared to help their colleagues when they get into trouble, albeit begrudgingly. Sterling Archer may be a self-centred buffoon, but he’s the first person to come to his friend’s aid when they get in trouble. Heck, he even describes Pam Poovey, the overweight human resources manager, as his best friend.
This is why Archer is compelling to watch. It reminds us that human beings are not perfect, but they can still find it within themselves to help one another.