Why Do We Live Vicariously?
On our insatiable cravings for inspirational stories
Why do we love fairy tales? What lures us to narratives that are always a little too uncanny, a little too far-fetched, a little too perfect to reflect possibility? And at what point do we jettison common sense and let the bright and shiny world of self-marketers rob us of hope and replace it with their greed?
Pondering how we might unlock our potential won’t get us anywhere. Potential is like intelligence, we all have some but we don’t always tap into it. Instead of creating we often default to consuming, especially when the product is thrust in front of our eyes with much fanfare. Many of us choose the path of least resistance, the quick fix, the productivity hack, the shortcut to riches instead of engaging our brain.
Because we lack the curiosity to figure out solutions for ourselves, we co-opt the definition of dreams sold to us by self-marketers. And we do so without doing our due diligence, pausing to ask why they’re selling the dream so hard, or even who funds this dream.
The only thing we’re interested in is the formula, the foolproof recipe that will bake us a perfectly large golden fame cake frosted with fortune. So much that it blinds us to the rest; context, one, and sometimes even the message concealed between the lines all get lost. We want what they have and we’re prepared to pay through the nose for the privilege of allowing them to inspire us with their rags-to-riches tales.
You can do anything with other people’s money. And what better example of this in popular culture than the Fyre Festival, the high-end luxury festival that was to redefine an industry? It was a mirage, a collective dream that harnessed the power of marketable aspirations, like exclusivity, wealth, and success.
Sold through social media, the Fyre Festival was going to be the kind of event guaranteed to strengthen anyone’s personal brand provided they could afford to attend it.
And it worked, lavishing instant street cred and social currency upon the one who created it, Billy McFarland. However, it was consumers — those who enabled the collective con that was the Fyre Festival — who ended up picking up the tab. They were publicly ridiculed as simpletons on account of their gullibility and greed by proxy.
The con artists behind the project, meanwhile, continue to garner praise and admiration for daring to pull off such a stunt despite their cunning ways. Most importantly, their failure lives on as some kind of success, at least when defined by the standards of a culture that measures human worth in dollars.
All success has a price. Do we fear it because we believe we will never be able to afford it, or because we’re terrified of what we will achieve if we ever let our brain loose?
And where does that fear come from? Are we so terrified of being unable to survive we cannot see life beyond what little safety we have? Are we so terrified of being unable to survive we still see life as a blood sport? Must we bleed to lead?
Are we worried about what we might find within if only we bothered to look? Might we discover that we, too, aren’t made entirely of light as we like to pretend but of a variable amount of darkness inhabited by our ego? Do we even know who we are? And what we might do if we knew for sure we could never get caught?
Everyone likes a good story and anyone can write one but few of us trust ourselves to do so when it comes to our personal narratives.
We could, if we wanted, rewrite ourselves and the lives we lead. We could, if we wanted, compose our own fairy tale from scratch instead of scavenging through the ashes of hope some con artist ignited. We could, if we wanted, get to know ourselves and set out to discover what we’re capable of by stoking the flames of hope with our own experiments.
Why let anyone copyright your dreams and sell them back to you?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.