Thursday, August 6, 2015

Go or Stay

The first time I heard it on a date, I was a little rattled: "Let's get out of here." Delivered with a Brooklyn-ese sneer, it was perhaps meant to be funny, but sounded harsh to my ears. The phrase casts aspersions upon the "here," a pleasant restaurant or shuttering Starbucks. What did the "here" do to you that we must "get out of" it? After all, you brought me "here." 

Those are the situations I thought of while reading Virginia Heffernan's "Should We Stay, or Should We Go?" "Let's get out of here" is one of the most common phrases in American cinema. 

But this high-minded passion for new vistas is rooted in something less noble: an aggressive, adolescent disgust with the familiar. “Let’s get out of here” is our bold spin on the innocuous “Let’s leave,” sending a signal to the nervous system that we’re slipping the knot, and we’re doing it together. The offhand contempt in the phrase is what makes it so satisfying: When we’re getting out of here, we’re not going to some idealized destination. Who knows where we’re going, really? Anywhere but here.
They were just taking me home. Not really "anywhere but." Hm. 

But Heffernan has noticed a perceptible shift in current movie jargon: Staying. "Getting out" can apply to a multitude of different situations; so can "staying."

Commitment. Discipline. Focus. Choosing the hard way, rather than the easy way.
This emphasis on staying suits our times: The people writing and watching these movies are all part of an introspective, if not isolationist, culture that’s still licking its wounds after plotless wars and a traumatic recession. Those who choose to stay express a steadfast commitment to a cause, a family or a discipline — or (when it goes wrong) to lethargy, inertia and abstinence from action. Where “Let’s get out of here” is all bravado and yang, stay is self-absorbed yin. In this context, the balance of cultural power seems to have shifted from the getting-outta-here rebels who used to tell the squares and schoolmarms to kiss off to the squares and schoolmarms themselves, who just wish everyone would hold on a second and think this thing through.
I'm a square, and pretty close to a schoolmarm! This is my kind of language.
“Let’s get out of here” addresses itself to the anxiety of an earlier age: that a would-be hero might never get off the starting block. He’d get stuck and never leave his hometown, his high-school girl or his “dead-end job,” as screenwriters once wrote. Today’s anxiety is something else. It’s that our heroes in training — ourselves or our children — won’t settle on a path at all. We’ll scatter their attention to the four winds, get lost in diversion and frivolity. More than malaise we fear distraction. More than tragedy we fear trivia. On highways we die not in high-speed chases but because we can’t stop texting. 
Maybe that's why I found the "Let's get out of here" utterance on a date so off-putting; it seemed to intimate that he would be going, rather than staying.

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