As part of my recent vacation, I enjoyed three days at Universal Studios. Believe me when I say, I use the term “enjoyed” loosely. A few weeks before my vacation, I had begun to play with an idea in my head about theme parks as a metaphor of life. So regardless of my personal satisfaction, this trip was really a great experience in field work. That said, I’m pretty sure my accountant would never agree to this as a business trip.
The Despicable Me ride at Universal is apparently one of the newer and most popular attractions. After observing the lines on day one, we noticed the line had gotten longer throughout the day, but never shorter. So, we decided our second day that we would stand in the 60 minute wait line. About 20 minutes into the line, an announcement came over the intercom informing us that there was a problem that the “minions” were trying to repair, but they didn’t know how long it would take. If you’re not familiar with the movie, minions look like twinkies wearing denim overalls and big round glasses. We waited about another ten minutes through a few more repeat announcements and gave up.
On day three we decided it was now or never to enjoy this ride and got into the line as our first stop of the day. The board said it was an 85 minute wait. And so we added ourselves among the millions of other cows and stood in our cattle line inching our way closer to the ride. Line standing is often a time to bond with other people who are suffering the same misery. It’s also a great place to people watch in order to entertain yourself. And roughly 85 minutes later we were relieved from the heat, but not the standing as we were herded into a small crowded room to watch a short movie about the ride. Then the doors opened and we moved to…another small room with a different short movie about the ride. And finally, we were herded towards the bins to pick up 3D glasses and finally, the ride itself.
The ride was a delightful 4 minutes of 3 or 4 D (I can never tell the difference) action that include bits from both of the Despicable Me movies. Then the lights came on simultaneously with the announcement of where to return our glasses and asking us to quickly exit the auditorium. As we made our way towards the exits, I could see the next group of exhausted line waiters and room watchers piling in. These seats were no longer ours, and were about to become theirs.
So the idea is this. Amusement parks are a metaphor of life itself. Most of us spend the majority of our time in the mundane routine, non-exciting, and even sometimes painful chores of everyday living, working towards some brief time of exciting, satisfying moment. But those moments are short lived, only to have us once again return to the wait lines of the next anticipated moment. Some people look at the wait times and say “nope, not going to do it”. But the reality is, they only trade one wait line for that of another kind.
The rides, no matter how pleasurable are inevitably short. This is true both literally and metaphorically. My children being toddlers, was too short, the great meals I had on vacations ended too quickly, even getting a haircut I really like grows out quickly and I can’t get it back to the way it used to look. From the big to the small, pleasure is a fleeting experience that cannot be sustained. Even if we could logistically allow something to go on longer, our own psyche begins to diminish its sense of pleasure within us after a time. A job we were thrilled to get hired for becomes mundane and routine over time. The lover we once couldn’t keep our hands off becomes boring in our eyes. A male client once said to me that he suspected “Even Cindy Crawford’s husband gets tired of having %#@ with her after a few years.” And so, often, our remedy is to go stand in another line looking for the next thrill.
The French philosopher Jacque Lacan, made addressed this issue with his theory of what he called registers. Lacan designated the term demand as that part of our selves that wants and wants and wants, but can never truly be satisfied. In contrast, he used the term desire to describe a more mature experience of yearning for something with the knowledge that it will ebb and flow. That which we desire, are not things we expect to last and thus, are not disappointed when they pass. In fact, part of their satisfaction lies in the knowledge that they are temporary. The very essence of their fleeting nature does not over tax our psyche.
Another way to reduce our imbalance between wanting and getting is to reduce the disparity between the two. This doesn’t mean to buy a fast pass and shorten the line, but rather to embrace the wait itself as a pleasurable or at least neutral experience, rather than simply a means to an end. Often, what makes the wait line bearable are factors like, who are you waiting with, how much can you learn to play while waiting. Is it possible to even enjoy the wait instead of using your energy to either fight against it, numb yourself out from it, or complain about its every aspect of discomfort.
I’d love to hear your comments.