“Mean everything in the world to you after you bought it. Simple exchange of values. You give them money. They give you a stuffed dog.” [Bill Gorton]
“We’ll get one on the way back.” [Jake Barnes]
“All right. Have it your own way. Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs. Not my fault.”
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Talking with a senior English major who is certifying to teach high school ELA, I recently reached for my teaching copy of The Sun Also Rises, talking far too excitedly as I usually do when I reminisce about my wonderful high school students from 18 years of teaching in my hometown high school.
I had placed several notes and clippings in the novel, decorated with a number of highlighter colors and marginalia for teaching. One folded piece of notebook paper was a sketch by a student of the key line quoted above about the road to hell; an old Gary Larson Far Side calendar page had a stick-drawing of the novel as well.
I was a Hemingway advocate when teaching U.S. literature, but my students were overwhelmingly Fitzgerald. Yet, in the end, many of my students were just all in with whatever I asked them to do. We loved each other, and we often really just enjoyed having class. I am idealizing some, yes, but those were golden days that I treasure and often get to relive because of the magic of social media and remaining virtual friends with many of those students.
Students then likely didn’t really care as much as I did about our discussions of Hemingway’s insightful portrayal of the emptiness many from the U.S. felt post-WWI, especially the expatriated artists who called themselves the Lost Generation.
As I write this, barely past Halloween 2015, the Christmas season has ramped up as if Thanksgiving doesn’t exist (except for Black Friday), and the seasonal yammering about the war on Christmas has begun.
It is very much a U.S. thing for the majority, those with the upper-hand, to play the role of the oppressed—while simultaneously shaming those actually oppressed for daring to speak against inequity.
As I write this, the Christian horror of the moment is a coffee chain’s choice for cups during the holidays.
I cannot help noting that Christmas is the largest consumerism orgy imaginable—during the season born out of the coming of Jesus to this planet, a religious figure and religion that reject the material world. Lay down your worldly possessions and follow me, and all that.
For a people who beat a false drum about being a Christian nation, founded by Christian principles, we are a soulless lot—never raising much of a finger for the impoverished or the disadvantaged.
Suck it up, that’s our mantra.
And although I do not still teach Hemingway each academic year, I am convinced that the essential message of how our empty consumerism defines us—”‘Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs'”—has now reached its logical conclusion: fantasy sports.
Our precious NFL—violent, sanctimonious, and superficially repentant—does not hold that spot, but now the cash promise of fantasy football (bannered across NFL games and ESPN) does, and does so perfectly.
We are not a people playing and watching thinly masked gladiator sport (as fake as that is, as soulless as that is); we are a people playing a game about a game in hopes of making money—a chance about as likely as the lottery.
Yes, the road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs. We have walked it. We are there.