Thoughts & life experiences of a Chicago area graphic artist

22 May 2020

Of Diminishment and Wish Fulfillment

Habitual use of electronic devices can take our attention away from important matters.
Sketchbook Spread drawing © 2020 by O. Douglas Jennings

From reading my Twitter feed and surveying self-help videos on YouTube, I can tell I'm not the only person to notice the diminishing effects of social-media and habitual use of electronic, 'smart' devices upon my attention span. Without going into a lot of detail (I don't have the attention span for such an exercise), I can just say that my awareness of such "diminishment" has prompted me to attempt a reversal of my atrophied powers of concentration and focus.

This reversal will involve breaks from social media and electronic device use. In addition, I will establish a pattern or habit of writing 500 words each day. Hopefully this will counteract the increasing intolerance I have developed --or perhaps, I should say the DECREASE in my tolerance for long reads and long-form media.

It has become so that I can hardly read even a COMIC that has more than a few lines of dialogue or narrative! But I realize this will be a matter of taking "baby steps". There are other factors besides the use of social media and smart devices that could be a part of the diminishing of focus I have mentioned. It could be a matter of my own cognitive decline which could be caused by aging or some other physical cause with which I have yet to have diagnosed. A reason could also be found in the context of our society's current spate of maladies in the way of strife, division, fear and natural disasters (the COVID19 pandemic included). Such upheaval can be distracting to say the least.

And I further have come to sense another dimension of causes for the widespread distraction that seems to have beset our culture. At one time I would have felt this other-dimensional cause to be self-evident. I would have had no compunction to call it "Spiritual Warfare" of the kind that was the premise of such Western literary classics as Paradise Lost, Pilgrim's Progress and Screwtape Letters besides the warnings found in the Bible.

Why do I hesitate to use such religion-laden terminology now? I will hazard to admit that it's because I've succumb to a mindset more attuned to a secular sensibility. It's as if I lost the facility of my first language from my upbringing. Like when one becomes so accustomed to a second language that one forgets words in one's "Mother Tongue".

Even so, as I entertain the concepts of the culturally well-pedigreed spiritual underpinnings of human existence, I realize it's like an arcane, nearly-dead language. But that my mind has become accustomed to the more secular language of the times, I see no impasse. This dichotomy of thought is centuries, even multi-millennial in length of duration.

For the sake of discussion, I will frame my "double-mindedness" as a matter of being "multi-lingual" in thought forms. Setting aside judgement and moving forward, I continue to analyze the state of distraction from another angle. Specifically, the perspective of Super-hero comic themes occupies my reference at the moment. I can hear the dismissive groans! But in the wider popular culture, the Super-hero genre in books and film is inescapable.

I think that the wish-fulfillment function of the Super-hero genre has superceded, in many ways, previous generations' understanding of the world as having a layer of spiritual/supernatural causes and interactions. It's been written that the creator of Superman, Jerry Siegle, was moved, in part, by the trauma of his store-owning father having been robbed to create a super human character who would guard, protect and perhaps avenge such victimization. I'm not the first person to compare modern super heroes with supernatural gods and angels of old in cultural imagination.

Think about it. Isn't one of the basic wish fulfillments of the Superman mythos that of the wish for a good man who is not corrupted by immense power?
Color pencil sketch on color paper by O. Douglas Jennings © 2013

Wish-fulfillment narratives are a powerful expression of human consciousness. In modern historical calamities, they have been used in everything from helping to fight fascism in World War Two to mourning the terrorist devastation of 911 and celebrate first responders in every crisis since then.

More recently, in popular films such as Infinity War and Endgame as well as animated features like Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, super heroes channel the popular imagination to symbolically confront humanity's global survival. In these fictional, wish-fulfillment narratives, the existential threat to humanity is personified in the characters of Thanos and Darkseid who are ultimately defeated by the super heroes of our planet. The longing for a savior to protect and rescue humanity has never been stronger. 

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