Contemplating the Millennial experience: Ryan Lewis — Fake Empire

Characteristic to the millennial experience is frustration when attempting meaningful connection with others. This video contemplates why.

Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) here portrays a young man struggling to connect with a lady friend. The context for his struggle is today’s media saturated culture in which we find ourselves. It’s one driven by consumerism and defined by materialism. The music samples The National’s “Fake Empire” stating, “We’re half-awake in a fake empire.”

(No, Katy Perry, only half-awake;)

jk. But seriously.

I find this video indicative of the millennial experience. Full disclosure: I am a millennial. That is I was born between 1980 and 2000.

Here’s why:

Two major themes in this video tell our story. The first is the difficulty to connect in meaningful and personal ways to people we care about in part because most of our communication today is mediated. We peruse Facebook, send a text message, or write email. Face to face communication is the exception these days. Not the norm. I think the video attempts to highlight the irony that media allows us to communicate any time, anywhere, to anyone. Yet we don’t feel connected. My intuitive sense is that media itself somehow prevents us from connecting in personal, meaningful, and fulfilling ways.

The second theme is an economic commentary. The visual themes are communicated through the still images of people with mouths taped over with corporate logos. These images suggest a strong experiential connection to brands we like: Apple, McDonald’s, Nike, for instance. Their brand presence is ubiquitous. They pervade nearly every aspect of our existence. We understandably feel a connection to these brands.

And yet these brands, to which we do in fact feel connected, are not persons. We can’t have a life-changing, soul-touching conversation with them around a camp fire. Rather they are corporations. No. Worse. They are representations of corporations. Reflecting on this, realizing this truth exasperates the soul!

I believe that’s why the Lewis-Haggerty duo chose to put these brand logos covering the mouth. Experiential connections to these brands is not like a conversation face-to-face with another human soul. It cannot be. It is not rewarding or fulfilling like meaningful human relationships. Yet these brands to which we do feel connected, are nothing but a farce, relationally speaking.

This is the thematic connection to the lyrics, being half awake in a fake empire. Attempts at meaningful human relationships go unfulfilled. Relationships that are real to our experience aren’t actually human relationships, and therefore go unfulfilled. Instead they are connections to corporate entities, carefully crafted only to elicit particular responses from us. On both accounts we are foiled in our attempt to connect with another human being and thus find satisfaction.

This is just one reason I like Ryan Lewis productions so much. They are thoughtful reflections on our contemporary experience. In this case the reflections is characteristic of the Millennial’s experience. Not to mention the music’s good and the video’s compelling. That always helps.

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