The constant threat of disappointment
How Coronavirus has exposed more than our lack of freedom Dealing with rejection, loss and disappointment is a learnable skill. A talent that can be honed with experience — the more painful and intense, the better. More let downs derive better coping mechanisms, so by the time we reach adulthood we should, in theory, have thick enough skin to absorb all but the most tragic of events without stepping more than a couple of paces outside the lanes of life’s motorway.
It still hurts to be rejected. And that’s good. None of us want to be soulless cyborgs with muted pain receptors, immune to the hot and cold swings of emotion that make life interesting.
When you lose something dear to you, be it a favourite shirt, client or partner, a gap will always remain — a space in eternal vacuum that shrinks with the passage of time but never reduces entirely to zero.
Being disappointed just means you had an abundance of hope to start with — good for you. Your surplus of high expectations can never be reasonably fulfilled — it’s like a lawn that needs regular mowing lest it succumb to vagrancy.
However much we feel disappointments are a matter of fairness, they’re not. Everyone wants to have all that they desire — be it dream job, piles of money, big house, a rollicking love life — and most people won’t achieve the full house. Dreams change, desires waver, someone always has a life just that little bit more gilded and inaccessible. Chasing such whimsy is a fool’s errand.
Thus, disappointment is unavoidable, inevitable and absolute. Its an oddly constant comfort, although perhaps we’re suffering an overdose right now.
Coronavirus has maxed out national reserves of thick skin and gone into debt in some instances. Setbacks range from our inability to work, see friends and family, get a haircut — things that progress our lives in a positive direction. There’s been a sliding scale of cumulative let downs from the mundane to the global, each of which leaves a burgeoning sense of dread and an aftertaste of foreboding that worse may still be to come.
Take the current smorgasbord of home spun Lockdown adverts. There are some rare gems being pumped out by ad land, for sure, but the par score is abjectly low.
One example from many is UK building society Nationwide — whose legacy in advertising to date is ‘bland, but reassuring’. In their ‘Voices’ campaign, they’ve seemingly splurged, at most, a few hundred quid filming three spoken word ads shot, apparently, by an octogenarian having a nap. According to Marketing Week, they invoke “…real-life stories of how people are coping with life during lockdown, sharing their thoughts about what life might be like post-pandemic”. They’re horribly twee, maddeningly stilted and frankly shite. They’re not alone in underdelivering, sadly. Covid-anchoring is as virulent a disease as Coronavirus itself.
The disappointment may be teased in ad breaks but these are temporary. Glitches you can view and erase from your memory at will. The media are higher up the influencer food chain and in both the UK and USA, the ability of journalists to tap their acrid teeth around the slimmest morsel of flesh and gnaw it to its click-baity bones is unequivocal. It would be impressive if it weren’t so nauseating.
Sick child? Latch onto it.
Hospitalised grandparents? Juicy.
Failing healthcare? Naughty.
Death? Money shot.
These slithering bottom-feeders treat truth like an inconvenience and ethics as a prophylactic, hindering the impregnation of a decent scoop. And that was before a global pandemic was delivered to them on a plate like an early Christmas present. Now, the vermin of the press (not all of them, I should add — just a fairly significant proportion) are lubing up their copy with shock, fear and sadness, primed for insertion into the malleable backsides of the masses. In their ill-conceived wake comes more fear, more sadness and yet more disappointment.
Sadly, for lack of any moral spine in the journalistic fraternity, none of it seems to be in themselves.
At the top of the tree we look to politics — those whose machinations, decisions and actions supposedly reflect the best interests of the people they serve. In the UK, we’re used to being let down by Westminster, so BoJo’s lackadaisical approach to lockdown, testing and PPE was annoying, but far from unexpected. It’s passive disappointment — worn, reluctantly, like an emergency pair of pants when the laundry bag is full. They’re still pants — they function — they’re just not the best fit for the task.
In the States, however, it looks like the population is suffering from active disappointment — they’re constantly being surprised by the ineptitude demonstrated by their flouncing leader. Many from the redneck/ lobotomy latitudes are even rejoicing in it. Trump was famously an egotistical, deluded, misanthropic turd before he inherited power. Now, this Bud-Lite of world leaders has ditched all filters of sense, reason and empathy and started to display his ineptitude like a peacock with fireworks stapled to its gonads.
From the outside looking in, this sub-prime, ego-bloated confusion of a man has treated the pandemic as he does his much loved TV appearances — it’s a gold-plated platform for his spouted untruths, supported by rumours of some fairly underhand smear tactics, specifically via Facebook. Murmurings of the extent of Russian involvement remain sketchy, but what is certain is the mind-blowing scale of the nefarious operation, run from an office in Trump Tower known, apocryphally, as ‘The Death Star’.
Reported in detail in The Atlantic, I’m disappointed elements of such behaviour by an incumbent president during a pandemic haven’t been more widely critiqued.
Covid-19 has left a wake of scars, physical, mental and financial — and the let-downs aren’t over yet. True colours are exposed daily, and collectively, in the UK at least, the mentality of the masses has been one of positive intent (‘Keep calm, etc). It’s a shit storm in which only hedge fund owners are coming out in profit, but perhaps from the gloom, the exposure of dank behaviours will prompt change, even if at a small scale.
Who knows? We’re still stuck in the mire; profiteering is rife, and people are still dying. As a society, we’ve been let down before and it’ll happen again. Disappointment is as guaranteed as tooth decay, creaky limbs and hair loss — it’s simply a by-product of being human. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Germans have a word for our current predicament:-
Comparing a perceived ‘perfect’ situation to the real world will land you a severe case of weltschmerz — the apathy you feel after watching the inevitable destruction of your unrealistic expectations.
But the real let down right now is this:- even in a time of global crisis, with so much time to reflect on the past, present and future, after decision makers have behaved like Medieval overlords granting fiefs to those who best serve their interests, nothing will change at all.
Harry is founder of Brand Architects, a brand and marketing consultancy. Currently bunkered down like everyone else, he’s available to take on brand architecture, channel marketing, copywriting and strategy briefs.