It occurs to me as I place the yellow sticky note in Reality Hunger, the cover of which is red with yellow print, that red and yellow are trademark colors for McDonald’s. That is reality: Yellow + Red = McDonald’s, not orange. Come to think of it, Fast Food Nation uses red and yellow for its cover, too. Red and yellow are primary colors seemingly metonymic for the ills of modern culture, if not modern culture itself. At five my son told me he wanted to work at McDonald’s when he grew up. Being the modern mom I imagined myself to be, I took pride in telling him that if he wanted to cook hamburgers for his job, being careful not to use the verb flip, so as not to be flip, was fine with me, which admittedly was not completely true. He looked me squarely in the eyes with some surprise and said, “No mom, I want to run the place.” I said, “Oh, you want to own a McDonald’s.” He said, “No, I want to work in the big office and run all McDonald’s.” Reality: I was ashamed I reduced McDonald’s to burger flipping. Reality: I was ashamed I reduced my son’s ambition to burger flipping. Reality: I had allowed my perspective to narrow with the comforts of suburban life. I had become what Emerson calls the “spawn” rallying with the “popular cry.” Thinking back, being even slightly concerned over the future career of a five year old seems ridiculous. Though unaware of Emerson, thankfully my son “raise[d] himself from [my] private considerations” and avoided my judgments. He saw beyond my narrowed focus into a wider future than the one I used to define him. I let the meanness of my unspoken desires for my five year old define a moment. Yes indeed, children have a way of placing reality front and center.
In this McDonald’s memory sparked by the yellow sticky note, I found the connecting pieces between Emerson’s essays and Shields, and not just because Shields mentions Emerson, but because Emerson in all three essays encourages us to move forward in our thinking providing precedent for Shields (not that Shields needs it, even by Emersonian philosophy) who categorically gives us 120 reasons we must review our collective desire to define today’s reality using yesterday’s thought patterns. Emerson calls this pattern “grave mischief” and deconstructs the thought pattern in which we determine importance: The writer was a just and wise spirit: henceforward it is settled, the book is perfect; as love of the hero corrupts into worship of his statue. Instantly the book becomes noxious: the guide is a tyrant. Historical constructs shattered by one of their own. I never imagined the reality painted by Emerson in this sentence: Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books.
…And so goes Shields, in construct number thirty-eight (for lack of better identification) using Emerson’s own words to keep the past in perspective, to argue for a new view, one Emerson voiced as “a new literature” the all inclusive genre. If I had done service to my own education when my five year old boy announced his desire to work at McDonald’s, I would have remembered Emerson’s teaching that life is built upon experience and inevitable change. In each of his essays and in varying degrees of philosophical depth, Emerson tells us to value the teaching life’s experiences provide us. In “Circles” Emerson writes “Our culture is the predominance of an idea which draws after it this train of cities and institutions. Let us rise to another idea: they will disappear,” and in “Experience” he encourages us to “set up the strong present tense against all the rumors of wrath, past or to come,” and in “American Scholar” Emerson points out “Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the succeeding.” Currently, information abounds in its various forms seducing us into thinking we are thinkers, just enough to be dangerous to ourselves. Our consumer oriented society invites us to blur the lines between our selves and our technology. It is our reality that our reality feels unreal.
Perhaps David Shields did not accidentally choose red and yellow for the cover of Reality Hunger; but if he did choose the cover colors by accident, he at least subconsciously recognizes the reality of current culture: a reality defined by the ever present golden arches, green mermaids, bookselling chains, network television, and planned neo-traditional housing communities that create and define the moments by which we measure our lives—whether we intend or not.