A PICTURE OF A PICTURE OF A PICTURE
When I say I live in a “postmodern” world (which I seldom do, but taking this snapshot made me think about it), what I mean is that I live “postmodern-ly.” To me (for me), the word “postmodern” works better as an adverb. A case in point: We’re out at Fort Baker on a Monday morning. Fort Baker is a former military campus at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Talk about gorgeous. Small working harbor. Public walks, picnic areas and stunning views of the bay and the bridge. It’s a very busy place on a weekend, filled with tourists and locals out for a day trip. But if you’re lucky enough to be able to sneak away on a Monday morning, it’s deadsville. Which is heaven.
Okay, so, it’s Monday and there’s nobody much there and we’re strolling. All is simple, elemental. Water. Sky. Fog rolling back. The pleasant dimpling of weathered planks beneath our feet. Screeling gulls overhead. We wander up a path onto a bluff and come upon a guy with a fishing rod. Two fishing rods, in fact. He’s working them both from way up on the rock. This is no weekend warrior. He’s wearing a jacket. That means he’s been there since early and he’ll be there ’til dark. His rods look like they mean business. His tackle box, on the other hand, couldn’t be less flashy. He’s got his lunch in there, a home-wrapped sandwich wedged in between various lures and bait. He neither speaks nor looks in our direction as we come into his space because he’s busy, by god. He’s fishing for his dinner, either his own or maybe somebody else’s for cash.
We’ve gone from Nature to Nature + Fisherman. Technicolor postcard meets Hemingway. Then, as we round the bluff coming down off the rock, a BMW pulls up. Not in a parking space, mind you (the parking spaces are two steps away), but as close to the bluff as a BMW can get without driving onto it. Two guys hop out. Pricey shoes. Casual city wear. Probably famous. Probably faces I should recognize, but I don’t. One’s got a fancy video camera and tripod. In a heartbeat they’re setting up next to our Fisherman, ignoring him because they’re doing a stand-up shoot in this perfect, telegenic location with San Francisco in the background and — bonus aesthetics — a real fisherman for local color.
Naturally, I take the picture. We’ve got three guys who appear to be in the same place inhabiting totally different worlds. Overlapping, contiguous-discontiguous realities. Parallel universe stuff. (From now on, when I try to work my way through some article about string theory and branes and metaverses, I should pull this picture out to help me “picture” multiple dimensions.) But, of course, it gets better. Because I’m there too. Taking the picture. Layers upon layers. Someone could have gotten a great shot of me taking a picture of picture-takers taking a picture next to a fisherman who has become, by virtue of all these cameras, picturesque, framed by the picture of the bay.
Our experience is so layered these days. Maybe too layered. That’s what “postmodern” means to me. It’s an adjective, yes. A modifier of the world around us. Three guys did have to show up on the same rock at the same time. But more interesting (and sometimes more distressing) to me, is the adverb thing. We experience the world in a postmodern way. I took the picture. It’s something we do. So maybe it’s a verb. As in, we “postmodern” our lives…
I’m reminded of one of Robert McKee’s great insights. He’s the guru of story structure (see the link below). His seminars are a hell of a ride. I remember his suggesting that if stories seem different today, that has less to do with story structure or storytellers or story styles. What’s really different, he says, is us: the folks to whom stories are told. Because we’ve seen and heard so many stories by the time we hit kindergarten–zipping through time and space virtually, holographically, traveling around the world in our living rooms, having any and every reality available in our laps, on our phones. We’re flooded with stories. As a result, we can’t look at anything un-layered. We’re always taking a picture of a picture of a picture. Fractylizing by association. Compounding reference into irony.
I had a great time taking this snapshot. I like looking at it now. But as I do so (yet another layer), I feel both what is gained and what is lost as we crowd even our off-hand experiences with more-more-more, morphing snapshots into cultural commentaries, stuffing the frame. I love postmodern richness, but there’s a simplicity I sometimes miss, don’t you?
© i.e. ideas expressed 2011