The Cactus Curse of the Internet.
Years ago I was a student and a barmaid, It wasn't the place I'd have chosen to be if I'd had the choice - it was just paid work. But I'd amuse myself and keep busy in quiet times by washing glasses, re-stocking shelves and wiping the counter, thinking my own thoughts about the Universe and Life; generally minding my own business, while looking out for customers to serve. Sometimes there were nice people to chat to. I listened well, kept a clean, tidy bar and gave fast, pleasant, and polite service.
You might assume the standard of my work would be judged exemplary and that I'd have been considered professional by most customers.
And so I would have been - had I been a man. However there were usually men propping up the bar who clearly regarded a young woman working behind it as their puppet on a string and their chance (as social underdogs with let's face it not much of a future) to lord it over somebody. So now and then, I'd be leered at and patronisingly told to 'Smile!' as if the price of a pint of Courage IPA bought ownership of my face.
Of course there are much worse things which can and did - and still do - get said to women (and men) working in service industries. But being commanded to 'smile', just because you can be commanded, when you are neither happy nor unhappy but just... well... competently getting on with a job... such ingrained lack of respect for your right to exist and quietly think your own private thoughts, is just a teensy bit galling.
One compensation of getting older, is that you no longer get that kind of hassle, possibly because your features have fallen never to rise and you're expected to look as if your face got stuck in a bucket.
No one tries to order me to smile . Perhaps men no longer care or notice. Or possibly I now look and sound so ferocious that they don't dare. Whatever the reasons, it's wonderfully relaxing.
Yet, for me nowadays, the equivalent of those guys standing at the bar years ago is the plethora of commands which are accompanied by randomly collated, facile opinions spouted as fact (usually in large semi-literate capital letters) and disseminated globally via the internet. They mostly seem to originate in the Nation that gave you the Internet (and more recently the 3D-printed plastic gun). You get them in emails; they are posted on Facebook walls and usually have such mawkish or grandiose titles as "Words of Wisdom" or 'Life Lessons' or 'Positive Thoughts'. The imperatives are stuff like "Dare to Dream!" "Be Happy!" "Dance!" (tell that to a Traffic warden). Or they get you with that one that's obviously hardest to disobey: "Live Life!". They're usually accompanied by photos of cute cuddly animals, sunsets or grotesque caricatures of old folks and they contain such gems as 'A hug is a sign of love!' or 'No one ever said life was easy'. (Oh really?)
I was feeling really positive and happy today. And then I opened the powerpoint. It came from a trusted source, so I thought 'What the heck'. There was a photo of a flowering cactus and some music. At first I thought it was going to be a nice bit of Debussy because the opening chords were sort of familiar and mysterious..
That's nice I thought - some great music with pretty pics too.
But then the cheesy stuff started... the mysterious chords disintegrated into a banal song stretched out with cloying violins... accompanied by more cacti and some drifty little pink messages pronouncing 'A Positive Look at Life!'
Of course I should have known better and stopped it then and there. But you see, I'm an optimist - a positive thinker. As such, I'm completely unprepared for this kind of assault on my inner well being.
In fact I learned masses which I'd never ever have known if I hadn't watched the parading cacti. For example, I learned that people who are late are usually jollier than those who have been hanging about (probably in freezing rain) waiting for them. Well that's a surprise! I also learned that 'a laugh is a sign of happiness'! Well! Would you ever have guessed it?
The orange-flowered cactus told me I'm a happy person because I look at the
scenery on detours. Another informed me (with a shade of melancholia and not much positivity) that Walmart keeps reducing their prices but things are never free. Which leads me to wonder whether possibly one of the Walmart People made up the whole thing?
OK I thought - it's trite and fatuous and the music is slowly machine-gunning my soul but I'm a positive person, so I'll grit my teeth and continue to look for the best in it.
And sure enough, eventually the best bit came along: THE END
This was of course accompanied by the usual blackmailing attempt (probably by some sad person in a bedroom in Nowheresville, Nebraska) to exert control over a random and puzzling universe by exhorting us all to Send It On To The Special Awesome People In Your Life - with dire emotional consequences sneakily hinted at for those so hard hearted as not to obey.
BUT I'm enormously pleased and proud to think that I was singled out by a Special Friend as that Very Special (and indeed Awesome!) Person who would benefit from being fed miscellaneous opinions and commands accompanied by cacti. It doesn't happen to everyone, you know.
And in spite of my ears having been assaulted, my intelligence insulted and my soul
machine-gunned by terrible musak, (which would drive anyone into a depressive spiral of cynicism and gloom) I've just about managed to retain a scrap of my initial pre-cactus positivity. Which enables me to consider and even enjoy the irony that someone, somewhere has collated random opinions - not to mention random photos of cacti - and has valiantly attempted to lord it over a few zillion internet consumers - half of them doubtless men - by getting one cactus to issue a list of imperatives shouted in Barbie-pink capitals... one of which was...
you guessed it...