No, not that disease that meant people had to move to Arizona for the dry climate. In case you weren’t aware of that disease (to be honest, I’m rather vague on the details myself), it seems to always show up in Victorian era stories via the heroine coughing delicately into her lace-edged handkerchief. If I were in a blackly comic frame of mind, I would probably try to insert a joke here about 19th century consumptives traveling through cannibal country and the cross-cultural misunderstandings that might then occur about the word “consumption,” but I’m not.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the fact that Americans are so obsessed with what they eat. What they consume. Everyone from Michelle Obama on down tells us that we are obese. The experts tell us that our eating habits are completely out of whack, that we’re consuming too many carbohydrates and sugars and meat and butter and dairy and monosodium glutamate. I love monosodium glutamate. I put it on my bacon. Conversely, the experts tell us that we need to eat more spinach.

Okay, I’ll agree that what we eat is important. You are what you eat. It affects your health in profound ways. Only stupid people would claim that what you eat doesn’t matter to your health. Are we mostly agreed on that? If you don’t agree, please re-read the fourth sentence in this paragraph.

So, what about what we consume with our minds? Does the food of the mind affect the health of the mind? The mind’s food would be anything that the mind takes in: books, TV, film, music, video games, thoughts and ideas that we dwell on, moods, emotions, etc.

There are only two options here: either the mind is not affected at all, or it is affected–it is altered, influenced, changed, debilitated, strengthened. If you spend any amount of time around a small child, you will rapidly come to the conclusion that their mind can be easily changed or influenced by what they watch or hear. I’m afraid the same goes for all ages. Spend some time around teenagers and you’ll observe how their thinking is altered by their friends, their interests shift and center around a film or TV show they just watched, the latest vampire book sparks a flurry of reactions and shiny eyes and excited talk.

Ideas have consequences. All of this mind food, whether it be a book or a film or a song, it all boils down to ideas.

And here we finally get down to my real question: how careful should we be about what we let into our minds? Consequently, as creatives, as authors and directors and composers, how careful must we be about what we create? I’ve run into plenty of writers who blithely say, oh, I’m not responsible for my readers. I just write. What they do with it, what happens to it, that’s someone else’s problem. Perhaps. To a degree. But you created the thing in the first place. Are you telling me you can honestly say, without a shadow of a doubt, that you have zero responsibility for your creation? If you shout “fire” in a crowded theater, the word, as it escapes your lips, is completely separate from you? You have no responsibility for the utterance of that word?

That’s a load of garbage.

You have a certain amount of responsibility. I don’t know how much (the line is elusive and it stubbornly seems to be the sort of thing that can best be seen out of the corner of one’s eye), but you have some. The net result of what you create either ennobles or it degrades. So grow up and figure out what that means as a creative. We are not islands.

If I write a story that ultimately offers nothing of ennoblement to the human condition, I have failed as a writer. I don’t care how good the story is. I don’t care how technically and artistically brilliant it is. A technically and brilliantly executed painting of garbage is still garbage. At any rate, the argument that there is no responsibility inherent in art ultimately devolves down to nihilism. And if you subscribe to nihilism as a philosophy, then what is the real point in the creative act? According to nihilism, there is no point, so why create?

Consumption and health. Do you really want to try and separate the two?



2 thoughts on “Consumption”

  1. Consumption, the disease, as you are no doubt fully aware in spite of your protestations to the contrary, is an old name for TB. The reason it disappeared from literature not long after the Victorian era is that it was pretty much eradicated at that point. And I think you’re just trying to bait me with statements like that to make me go off into nerdy lectures.

    Here’s a thought for you: the American approach to all the issues that bedevil this culture with regards to its food consumption habit is to make rules. Thou shalt eat thine broccoli. Thou shalt/shalt not (depending on the fad of the moment) drink red wine/eat butter/eat margarine/use sugar/use aspartame/eat carbohydrates/eat fat/eat protein/eat MSG on bacon. (I’m still kind of puzzled by the American phrase of calling rich foods like chocolate cake “sinful”.)
    Now, I’m fully in agreement with your idea that what we consume with our minds is just as much a matter of health as what we consume with our bodies. But I’m wondering: is it perhaps just as strange and ineffectual an idea to write a set of ten commandmends of exactly what is sinful or virtuous to write about as the ever-shifting ten commandments of American eating?

    1. I totally agree with you on the ten commandments issue. It’s impossible to draw the specific line anywhere (other than really glaring things like porn, etc). I think I mentioned that in my original ramble, didn’t I? Making a list for food would be much easier…thou shalt not have any MSG before you…

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