It has been more than twenty years since David Wallace put together a magnificent book on human beings and addiction. The ability to put together a book, which may even reflect on the lives of people in the future, is a rare talent. Other authors published their books during the same time Wallaces book was published. However, a majority of these books have not had a significant impact on the lives of people today. Most authors prefer to specialize in specific genres. However, there are authors who find satisfaction in compiling books, which are inspired by more than normal phenomena. David Wallaces Infinite Jest is one such book. The suggestions made by Wallace in the book have become even more powerful in todays world. This paper seeks to explore the ideas proposed in the book.
The theme in Wallaces story is an addiction and how people find themselves hooked to different interests. According to the author, one of the things that make one human is being addicted to something. The power of addiction comes from an individuals inability to choose what he or she may find him or herself addicted to. Hence, Wallace believes that everybody has that individual thing which he or she worships. The only choice one gets is having something to worship. In the book, the author centers mainly on characters around the Boston area. The setting is a hilltop close to Brighton. The hill separates a tennis academy comprised of elites from a halfway house, which consists of a mischievous crew of recovering alcohol and drug addicts.
According to the author, worship is more complex than television, alcohol, or narcotics. For instance, the boys at the elite tennis academy worship their perfect games and their rising ranks. The task of worship is replete with devotion, rituals, and superstitions. However, some of the boys use the game to avoid, failure, family torment, and any other personal faults. This way, the need to play tennis games also starts to resemble the other addictions in the book. As for the halfway house dwellers, their addictions are alcohol, cocaine, opioids, cannabinoids, and killing insects. The most addicted character is a staff member, Don Gately. He has exchanged his worship of anesthetics for A.A.
The thing that brings together the two groups is the entertainment. The strong allure of entertainment makes it difficult for viewers from both groups to look away. Hence, they even forego some basic elements such as the hierarchy of needs just to enjoy what they are watching. Wallace states that a piece of entertainment is so captivating that it results in certain death. Wallace focuses on the seemingly harmless videotape, which is referred to as entertainment in todays world because he finds that entertainment is the greatest addictive force. Television entertainment is very alluring and dangerous to the characters used by Wallace. It is an antagonistic and never-ending interest in the lives of many Americans.
Television is an individual form of worship. It presents potential addicts with the desire to be voyeurs. The desire to be seen by others makes voyeurs feel approved and part of the community. Nonetheless, it is important to note that television concepts have changed tremendously since the 1990s. During this time, television was a boob tube. A low form of art, which many acknowledged as an aesthetic driven by TV shows such as The Price is Right, and Cheers. Today, televisions golden age is all but passed. The seduction and duplicity of the media are now hidden behind compelling acting, good storytelling, and brilliant cinematography. Shows such as The Wire, Arrested Development, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones have changed the landscape completely. Television has turned from a simple affair into a sophisticated and worthwhile business.
The majority of the shows that marked televisions golden age were first aired in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During the same time, the opioid epidemic was starting in the country. This is a very scary correlation. Since 1999, the number of opioid overdose cases has quadrupled. Heavy marketing by pharmaceutical companies, increased prescriptions, and societys familiarity with casual drug usage has contributed to the opioid epidemic in America. Also, in this century, there is a nationwide desire to be euphoric, tuned out, and entertained. The most unfortunate thing is that those who worship television are not even aware of it. To them, entertainment is a necessity just like food or clothing. However, those who have other forms of worship such as drug and alcohol addiction have a more comprehensive understanding of what the effects of addiction are.
In 2015, a sobriety study showed that the death rates among middle-aged Caucasians in the country were increasing. The increase in fatalities was greatly attributed to alcohol and drug abuse. This revelation has become harsh and rife in many small towns in America. However, the study also shows that other regions in the Midwest and New England are also greatly affected. Evidently, a majority of the victims are users of heroin and fentanyl. These drugs are common especially in America where some people find that they are unable to achieve individual success in the country. This situation is similar to that suggested by Wallace where some people feel left behind.
In todays America, being rural in an economy that is focused on technically skilled labor and urbanized workers makes one feel left behind. This leads some people to venture into practices that are more sinister. For example, in the rural areas of New Hampshire, opioid addicts have become common. Many opioid addicts succumb to the feeling of pleasure and well-being that opioids provide. The drug activates a persons reward centers and relieves them of the stress that comes with daily life. It provides momentary fulfillment and unreal satisfaction. Availability of prescriptions for opioids makes it cheaper and much easier to access the drug.
Infinite Jest is set during the mid-2000s. However, Wallaces novel is inherently dystopian. The time setting in the novel is similar to the period when the drug epidemic in the country was at its peak. Just like in real life, the addicts in the novel have become more ordinary. Two agents from opposing governments in the novel discuss an influential experiment conducted in the 1970s. The experiment was conducted on rats to evaluate the effects of drug addiction. The study showed that when rats were provided with a rich and fulfilling environment, they seemed to avoid water laced with opiates. However, when placed in a denuded cage, the rats were hopelessly addicted to the opiates. In the case of individuals, the denuded cage could take the form of faltering relationships, economic stagnation, and other challenges in life. It is at this moment that the agents appear to realize the power of entertainment because they find that instead of fearing it, people are actually admiring it.
Throughout the novel, Wallace tries to paint a picture of what it means to be in a denuded cage. Narcotics obviously present the easiest and most fanatical way. However, the author asserts that television offers a more wholesome method for American households. It is the perfect release. Instead of testing the limits of ones cage, it is better to rely on something that helps one escape the hardships in life. Television offers perfect families, perfect jobs, and all the challenges are deemed manageable. The implied promise of triumph amongst characters in a show hooks viewers to the next season and those that follow after. However, their actions render them unconscionably trapped in an obscure force field. This is the most distressing image of addiction. It is to not get that one is slowly dying and to not know that one is the most disgusting of creatures.
The viewers are so hooked they do not realize the efforts the media is making to keep them hooked. The families appear more real. The plot lines are extremely complex and thus the viewer feels smart and sophisticated. For instance, when watching Breaking Bad, as an involved viewer, one understands that Walter White is the antihero. In another show such as The Wire, one gets that the contrasts between the police and the drug dealers are of somewhat equal merit. The fascination that people get from realizing these facts can be compared to delicious scraps of self-confidence. They help complete the little puzzles in ones neural reward centers. What majority of the people are not conscious about is the intentional hand that laid down every aspect of that show. They use all means to draw viewers further in as the show progresses. This ability has enabled television to snuggle up with critics who once found the idea as trivial and stupid.
Like narcotics, television has an intention. The economies of broadcasters, advertisers, and other firms in the entertainment industry require as much viewership as possible. The internet makes it even easier for television to lure viewers. The web is filled with new low forms of art such as Reddit, YouTube, memes, and viral videos. These internet entertainment components have dominated the repetitive desire that television used to have. Hence, television has had to change tactics. The first change saw televisions strongest critics turned allies. This brought about the quality entertainment, which practically leads people to the front of their screens.
According to Wallace, television culture has evolved into something that appears invulnerable to any transfiguring assault. It has gained the ability to capture and counteract any effort to change the attitudes of passive cynicism and unease that television requires of its audience. For instance, it is hard to go on public platforms such as newspapers and post something like the new season of House of Cards is low-quality and expect people to stop watching it. The ease of access to such deeply enchanting television makes it even much harder for individuals to stop being addicts. Furthermore, today, television is available from cheap and reliable sources. This leads to binge watching as noted by Wallace. People are now familiar with the concept of consuming TV shows in large swaths. This makes television no less similar to other addictions such as alcohol and drugs. In Wallaces novel, one of the characters is addicted to online streaming. The addict has a strangely discerning moment filled with anticipation and predictions. This behavior shows how binge watching can cause addiction.
Wallaces novel is a loop. The story pushes one to return to the first page to start putting all the pieces together, and then understand clearly, what the author is trying to communicate. The fascinating thing about the novel is that it is also as enjoyable as the addictions it depicts. The fascination is endless. Hence, one may find him/herself reading the novel repeatedly. Nonetheless, I believe the authors intention is to let readers know they should not miss the worshipping hidden beneath the joy of reading the novel.
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