The suburban fast-food franchise may be an adjacent teenage ecosystem to the local high school. Depending on the context, its affordances differ. There may be more or less freedom from the high school hub for those within, relative to the location. Labels like geek, jock, weirdo, or preppy are shed at the door. They are replaced by a uniform and the uniformly grim act of flipping burgers or taking customer orders.
Teenage burger employees are part of a different kind of team, one without real athletic requirements. Heroes are made on the line, and the future leaders of America are developed from ground chuck to double patty with cheese. At least that’s what the training video tells you. The music swells. A flag waves proudly in the wind. A job in fast food is the beginning of greatness.
That is, unless you’re Beavis and Butt-Head, and you work at Burger World. Then you’re stuck in some middle-of-nowhere town in the Southwest, and you’re not going anywhere. All you can do is suck at your job, suck at school, and then go home and watch TV. That’s your life.
You pay a regular tithe to support the community. In public, you wear symbols that identify you as one of the faithful. When you gather with other adherents, it’s often in small, close rooms. Breathing gets heavy; bodies sweat. If anyone speaks, it is to moan, or occasionally to shout in triumph.
Exercise classes often function just as much like a church as they do like a gym: They gather people into a community, and give them a ritual to perform. The comfort of clipping your shoes into a beloved SoulCycle bike or landing the first blow on your favorite heavy bag at a boxing gym is not so far off from the reassurance of arriving at temple on a Friday. You know who will be leading the evening; you can anticipate the general contours of its energy. You know you will recognize familiar faces among the participating crowd.
Away from the grand chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords, away from the lofty corridors, away from the imposing committee rooms with their carved doors, the palace is tatty, dirty and infested with vermin. Its lavatories stink, its drains leak. Some of the external stonework has not been cleaned since it was built in the 1840s, and is encrusted with a thick coat of tarry black that is eating away at the masonry. Inside the building, intricate fan vaulting is flaking off, damaged by seeping rainwater and leaking pipes. Its Gothic-revival artworks are decaying: in the Lords chamber, the once-golden sculptures of the barons who signed the Magna Carta are now dull grey, pitted and corroded.
Beyond its state of disrepair, the building is all too obviously a remnant of a predemocratic age. It was built not to welcome its populace in, but to impress them with its fortress-like grandeur. It was designed when women were, at best, crinoline-wearing spectators of parliamentary life, consigned to the public gallery. With its chilly colonnades of sculptures of male politicians, its heavy, ecclesiastical furnishings and gentlemen’s-club atmosphere, it provides the perfect stage-set for Britain’s “very aggressive, very masculine, very power-hoarding democracy”, as political scientist Matthew Flinders put it.
As with roller coasters, no one remembers how novels end. Sooner or later they just run out of gas. And pages. If it’s a mystery, they catch the killer. Or did they? Is anyone ever really caught? Until the next episode, maybe. Books are generally too long and too full of bullshit. And endings are usually cheap and too-cute. There are very few epiphanies in real life. No one in real life lives happily ever after. And love is never really the answer to all of anyone’s problems. It is, generally, an introduction to a bunch of new problems. But these days you have to be a novel, a graphic novel or a video game to be a movie. And everyone likes movies, even crappy movies.
Where ever you are in the writing of your latest book, even if you are on page 1, you are closer to the end than you think. Did I need seven 900-page books to tell me what I already know? That Arya Stark will sit on the Iron Throne as Queen of the World at the end of Game of Thrones? I didn’t. Even though I like reading George R. R. Martin books, they were definitely 900 pages I didn’t necessarily need to read. And could use if I ever got back. Do I really need a red herring plot about another Targaryen heir to the throne? I do not.