These words rain down on the upturned faces of the insane, the fearful, the sick, and the exhausted. We are speaking to the people; the people know their symptoms. Alienation, technoboredom, neurosis, and frustration are not diseases of an unlucky few, nor even of the many. They are built into the structure of this society, twisting beggar and businessman alike, spitting them out like shards from a flawed machine, anemic shadows of human beings.
We do not profess to be immune. We claim only to have given some thought to the problems which affect all of us. This project is a desperate attempt to fill the unfillable void created by the conditions of existence in consumer culture -- that gap in personality, the yawning but never sleeping of the work-leisure cycle, always one step removed from the immediacy of experience. And if, by our meager example, we inspire even a few people to re-examine themselves and their world, to find out what their lives could be like, then we will not have failed entirely.
How many people do you know who feel trapped where they are? How many of your friends have sworn to kill themselves or die trying? How many have you seen burning with that nameless fever -- fingers closing around whatever's closest, desperate to kill the pain, then, unsatisfied, dropping it to find something better? Do you really think this is natural human behavior? Do you really believe that a healthy society would create such dysfunction among its members? Trust us, friend, these aren't problems you can solve with higher taxes, or by drawing peace symbols on your blue jeans, and it's far too late to simply scrap everything and "go back to the basics." To overcome, you need to shift your perception.So there you are, staring out at the world through bugging, bleary eyes, "entertained", getting your buttons pushed, but always restless. You're in slow-motion death on your feet, and you want to know what the hell we intend to do for you. Well, just putting up flyers isn't going to fix it. We know that. But we're trying to help. To solve any problem, you first have to know what it is. The real wound runs much, much deeper than the come-and-go "issues" in the media arena; it's the arena itself which must be redefined . We can't do it ourselves. What we are trying to do is change the way other people look at the world, because it's people who ultimately make the system what it is.
Sound cliched? Just remember this: the decisive point which determines the quality of existence is the point of interaction between the individual and society. It's not all in your head -- the universe is quite real, despite all philosophy to the contrary -- but neither is the world quite the same for any two individuals. Our individual perception shapes our experience of a very real world, and the bumps and jostles of life shape our perception. Only a sturdy bridge between mind and matter -- or indeed, the realization that they're one and the same -- yields the proper balance. And only through significant interaction with other humans can that bridge be strengthened. There are many forces at work, but it is here that the doctors must shine their light if they want to find the tumor. Interpersonal relations: the frictional surfaces between one person's awareness and another's. These surfaces have grown flat and impassive as distrust, fear, and the lust for commodities have become standard modes of interaction, so that all we have to offer one another is an inventory of products and hobbies, draped in a sort of cynical self-consciousness.
Listen, your life can be an incredible and satisfying thing, but there are forces at work which deny you that. They make you bored. They make you hate yourself. They destroy your ability to find fulfillment in yourself and other people. They sell you cheap plastic substitutes for the REAL THING.
For all our bitching, though, we're with you. We have no easy solutions. There are none. The choices are escape -- be it through drugs, suicide, or madness -- or struggle. We choose the latter, hoping that struggle itself will at least dull the pain in a non-self-destructive way. We are not Puritanical, we are pissed off! We want to be able to indulge our primitive desires. The difference is that we see the options for indulgence presented by this culture as inherently and deliberately unfulfilling. We have all been raised to be anxious and dissatisfied consumers, constantly in search of the right "fix". Well, Abrupt isn't buying any of it. At the very least, we hope to create an awareness of some of these problems, and perhaps give hope to people who currently just survive from day to day.
Do you think? That is, are there ideas in your head that are at least partially your own? (And even a creative synthesis of old ideas is better than repeating the same old commercial patter minute after minute.) Then make it move -- find the words or the motions or the bodies that can carry your thoughts into the steam and whistles of the real world. It's doesn't help much sitting in your head -- take it to the streets! Spray-paint stencils of cryptic symbols, ornament trash cans and cracking sidewalks, leave a message in a bottle with your address in it, sing in public restrooms, scratch your words on school desks and playgrounds, singe their skin with your molecular love, put up hundreds of flyers anonymously, make loud Doppler-shift sounds as you pass people on the street, or lace bank windows with shaving cream question marks. At every moment a million possibilities lie open, beckoning the explorer to break the patterns that trap and enchain, to find new ones that drive back the darkness.
We adhere to the credo "Make your mark heavy and dark.' (Plus the qualifier, "If you must erase, erase completely.") It seems that beneath the bureaucratic blandness and psychic trauma of our high school years was a call to action, an ontological rallying cry for those frantic souls out there who despaired of finding their voice. Make your mark heavy and dark. Be decisive. Know when to stop planning and act, and be ready to defend your position. Realize that you can't please everybody, and use to your advantage the prejudices of those who disagree with you.
Sure, everyone is responsible for his or her actions; you can't just run away. But that responsibility is the price you pay for freedom -- and that's not the freedom to buy any brand of shampoo you want. We're talking about the freedom to set your sights higher than the school-work-nervous-breakdown cycle that most of us find ourselves in. Ask yourself, are you a hamster, or a human being? Do you dare to step off the treadmill and run amok in the pet store? If nothing else, it can be fun. And dangerous. But more importantly, you might learn to twist your perception enough to see the window, and the world beyond the pet store. It's a world much bigger than you could ever see in its entirety, much stranger than drugs or God or UFO's, but it's there. It's already around you right now; you've just forgotten how to see it: even as mass communications and transportation have made our planet seem a thousand times bigger than before, our private worlds have atrophied. Perception has been narrowed to a single dim point, experience has become an alternating parade of "stimulation" and frustration. We have memories, but our memories no longer tell a story. We have voices, but we have nothing to say. The struggle to survive no longer inspires us to transcend mere survival, so that at the moment of our greatest technological achievement we have become emotional infants, floundering in a pool of frustrated desires and failed illusions. Still, all is not lost. There will always be a demon in the human spirit, an animal raging in its cage. It can only be beaten or anesthetized so much before it gets fed up and breaks out, dragging its owner to either prison or Paradise. The nature of its restraints will determine the nature of its escape; as things stand now, most options for real animal passion are devastating, not to mention illegal. Rape, suicide, murder: symptoms of constriction, the starved Animal blindly feeding itself into extinction.
These are not the only options. There are healthier ones, and they need not take the form of sudden outbursts or compulsions. No, under healthier conditions, the release valves would be built in to our daily lives. Not a sudden seizure of hate, but a million tiny outlets would appease the monster inside us, or at least keep its rage in balance with its beauty, so that each of us would harbor a proud tiger, and not a rabid, mangy dog.
Defeatism is seductive, it's true, and despair beckons at every corner when you look at what has been done to us over the past several decades. But total despair is useless, because it just reinforces the feelings of helplessness which you've been taught from day one. The only solution must start with the assumption that existence need not be miserable, and with the knowledge that the current state of affairs is relatively recent. Instead of giving up in any of the billion ways that you are told to give up, take an active role in pursuing life's potential for intensity. Fight the pall of laziness and helplessness that weighs down on you all day long. You owe it to yourself to struggle.
Think about some of these things we've said. You'll have to, since we can only tell you so much before we run out of words. It's up to you to figure out what your own strengths are, and what exactly is wrong with you. Perhaps you will find out there's much more wrong with you than you thought. Perhaps not. Just remember that this life is yours, and if nothing else, you deserve a shot at living it well. Do you believe this? Then begin making your plans today.
Abrupt Flyer #3, Jun. 1991 (Revised for WWW July 1995)