“Life is but a dream to me
I don’t wanna wake up
Thirty odd years without having my cake up
So I’m all about my paper
24/7, 365,366 in a leap year
I don’t know why we here
Since we gotta be here
Life is but a beach chair”
The opening lyrics to one of my favourite songs by Jay-Z called Beach Chair. Jay-Z needs no introduction. He is one of the most influential and successful modern day musicians of our times. He has sold out shows his whole career; he is married to arguably the most famous woman on the planet – Beyoncé; his name is on the Forbes list with a net worth in excess of $500 million; in the hip hop circles he is considered to be one of the greatest if not the greatest rapper of all time. His life reflects the apex of what our modern culture considers to be successful, the paradigm of the aspirations of society.
Now if anyone would have an answer, or a grasp on some level, of the question that has plagued humanity throughout the ages I would think Jay-Z would. The existential dilemma that haunts mankind – why are we here? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? It turns out he is just as perplexed as me. Is that not the great paradox of our time – that after all the success, the riches and wealth, the fame, power and influence the most fundamental question still remains unanswered – why are we doing what we are doing! Jay-Z says, I don’t know why we are here, but seeing as we are here life is a Beach Chair!
Please don’t misunderstand me this is not a criticism against Jay-Z personally, but rather an observation on pop culture. We hail these celebrities and icons as the idols and sages of our time, adhering to their every word. Their songs and lyrics have become the mantras that define our lives. And yet when the smoke clears, and the thousands and thousands of fans have gone and their thunderous applauds and chants are only distant echoes in the mind – that eternal question which haunts us all begging to be answered, remains unanswered.
Pop culture is selling society an existential product that does nothing. Jay-Z calls it a beach chair. A metaphor for a life of extravagance, pleasure, luxury and material excess. The packaging of the product is what entices and seduces us, but once we unwrap it, we find what Jay-Z had already discovered – there are no answers to your deep and inner desires in this beach chair. Lauryn Hill in her insightful song, The Mysery of Iniquity makes similar observations:
“The Revolving Door
Insanity every floor
Skyscraping, paper chasing
What are we working for?
Reaching social positions
Teaching ambition to support the family superstition?”
Our society has placed more value on obtaining the beach chair than on why you should obtain it in the first place. What I think Lauryn Hill has observed about this beach chair is that it’s a revolving door, a cycle that keeps going around and around in circles and never really goes anywhere meaningful. And every level of society is caught in this insanity, this revolving door, from the man on street to the man with penthouse view at the top. We keep building taller and taller skyscrapers and Towers of Babel; we keep chasing beach chairs and paper but to what end? Why are we doing what we are doing? We keep teaching and passing on these traditions without thinking and strive for social positions knowing they are empty. Knowing that they cannot answer the question of why we are here.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on our musicians, artists and pop icons. Perhaps I am expecting too much from them. After-all the celebrity culture we idolize is a product of our doing. They do what we have demanded them to do – entertain us. They keep us distracted, keep our attention away from the question that lurks in the shadows of our minds- why are we here? Eminem in his song, Sing for the Moment says:
“We entertainers…but music is reflection of self, we just explain it and then we get our checks in the mail”.
South African poet emcee Tumi from the Volume, in their song, What it’s all about? shares similar sentiments as he says,
“Ask your mamma what it’s all about
Don’t look at me, I’m just a rapper – nothing more than that”
But then he goes further on to make the comment,
“Then what you doing with a mic in your hand?
You gotta make use of the music – you a puppet or man?”
Tumi was cognizant of the fact that being an artist puts you in a privileged position because you have an audience. Having that audience means you have the ability to shape and influence culture, you have that ability to provoke critical thinking or just accept the status quo. Right now, our artists and pop culture icons are moulding us into Beach Chair consumers. Russian philosopher and novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky made a prophecy some decades ago, he said,
“First art will imitate life
Then life will imitate art
Then life will find it’s very meaning for existence from the arts”
We need a cultural shift in what is defined as The Good Life, a redefining of what the Beach Chair is. We cannot rely on pop culture to define what life is . So where do we turn to? That is a question for another post, but for now a good place to start would be with what ancient Greek Philosopher Socrates, one of the most influential thinkers in history, said. His definition for The Good life, or the Beach Chair was simply:
“The unexamined life is not worth living”
A life unexamined; a life that has not evaluated its preconceived ideas and environment ; a life that has not pursued truth, knowledge and wisdom – is not worth living. The first place to start is with yourself: What is life all about? Is life really just a beach chair or is there more to it?