A lady sits down at a table. She checks her phone, then peeks at the menu. She leans back in her seat. It is quiet.
A man joins her. They make small talk about gas prices, the unusually cold weather, and the latest faux pas committed by some celebrity. The exchange of pleasantries is simple, warming, inviting. But ever simple.
Is any discourse ever in vain? Does not even the most superficial chatter of conversation pave the way for deeper connection? Without the jovial, how could the serious even exist?
He speaks. She speaks. The narrative of their verbal transactions follows a rigid script, one written by the agencies and forces that pen the strokes of popular culture.
Of course, no human discourse has ever transpired outside of human culture. Why then does the genre of gossip and tabloid talk strike us as less valuable than the ruminated prose of academics? Is there not a place for all this creative human articulation, regardless of how banally inconsequential it might be?
What do you make of their conversation? How do you describe them as people if all you ever hear from them is this cornball regurgitation of the weather and surface-level commentary on the routines that comprise everyday life? How do you regard their thoughtfulness or intellect?
We know that the intervals of our existence are lived in the weather, on the waves of pop culture and in the banter of politics. Yet we somehow know there must be more to talk about. We demand it. Perhaps our obsession with the weather, pop culture, and today’s tech toy bespeaks our obsession with something that we hope exists beyond it all. Or perhaps we’re too lazy, too insecure, too unwilling to risk the vulnerability to talk about those others things.
Oh well. What’s trending on Twitter today?
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“Frivolous chatter is meaningless,” says the man who fancies himself an enlightened intellectual. “I am concerned with greater issues in the world.”
“Why does your head wallow in things so alien to the situation of actual living?” comes the retort. “Why do you call ‘meaningful’ only that which is discussed in your ivory tower?”
Perhaps it is impossible to distinguish degrees of meaning by comparing them relative to one another. The production crew of a sitcom, the aerospace engineering team, the employees of a retail outlet, the screaming fans lining the red carpet, and the facility of a university, all share a common trait: they determine what is ‘meaningful’ based on a shared value set and a way of seeing the world that reflects the views of others around them.
The question, “What is meaningful?” seems to be largely inseparable from, “Who do you value?”
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