Setting The Cruise Control To The Speed Of Social Cohesion

Submitted into Contest #61 in response to: Write about a character who’s obsessed with an era they never lived through.... view prompt


Drama Funny

It is only two days into the six week road trip and Toni is already having some reservations about her choice of co-pilot. She had the option of making this journey on her own, but she couldn't leave Ashlyn alone after the bitter divorce she had just been through. That is what best friends are for. Yet the obsessive nature of her companion has made the first thousand miles of their long journey a bit straining.

"Seriously, Ashlyn, I love you - but if I hear any more eighties music I am probably going to lose my shit and drive us off a bridge."

"I'm sorry," Ashlyn apologizes with a touch of hurt in her voice. "I'm just trying to keep things light so I don't bum you out with my problems."

"It's okay, I'm not mad. I understand what you're trying to do, and I appreciate it, but I just can't take anymore right now," Toni tries softening the blow. "How about some afro funk? That's pretty cheery, right? I made a William Onyeabor versus Fela Kuti playlist I have been dying to test out on this beast's sound system."

Toni pats the dashboard of the RV lovingly like a trophy horse or prized milk cow. The vehicle belongs to a nationwide chain of restaurants that hired her to travel the country visiting their locations while creating content for its social media. It also has a fantastic sound system, far too good to be wasted on Bananarama and New Kids on the Block.

"I have no idea who they are, but I'd love to check it out," Ashlyn lies.

"You really need to expand your horizons beyond eighties pop culture," Toni teases.

Ashlyn was born on New Years Eve at the end of 1989, and she believes this means something; like she is some kind of final embodiment of that decade. She views loyalty to that era as her manifest destiny. As if she is the torchbearer of neon fashion, big hair and jubilant synthesizers; a tragically dedicated Sisyphus of the Reagan epoch.

"I don't know why you hate the eighties so much," Ashlyn responds defensively.

"No, I don't hate it. I just don't understand your fixation with it. The whole sentimentality for a period of time thing just confuses me in general. It is the most absurd human emotion."

"Okay, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you have some point here, other than to make fun of me," Ashlyn concedes, realizing by her friends tone that she is setting up one of her epic lectures, and will not be dissuaded. 

"Why do you think we have emotions?" asks Toni as sincerely as she can, although they both know it's a set-up.

"Why does there have to be a reason? Why can't it just be that we feel what we feel? It's just natural."

"That is circular logic. A phenomena cannot be its own cause. It has to be the effect of a cause. And nothing is just natural. Everything has evolved over time to whatever state it is currently in. That includes emotions."

"Okay then, just tell me why."

"Motivation and manipulation. Emotions reinforce habits which increase our evolutionary fitness, like pair-bonding in humans. The feeling of romantic love did not evolve for the benefit of lovers, it was reinforced over numerous generations to help ensure the survival of their offspring."

"Wow, that's cold," Ashlyn semi-admonishes.

"Or consider grief. It evolved as a way to indicate to your clan that you care about the life of others, and are therefore a trustworthy member of their group. Grief creates a social bond, which leads to cohesion and cooperation. It isn't just some universally dictated response which has existed since the beginning. It evolved over time."

Giggles emerge from the passenger seat, causing Toni to wonder what her companion finds so funny about what she just said.

"The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care. Right? Yeah...yeah, yeah, yeah." Ashlyn sings.

"Wow, that's not even from the eighties. I'm impressed," Toni follows with a reassuring giggle of her own.

"Well, it just reminds me of what you just said."

"Who knew The Offspring once perfectly summed up signalling theory in a single line of lyrics?"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to throw you off track in the middle of a rant," Ashlyn is now genuinely excited for the conversation to continue, rather than just humoring her host in return for the generosity of letting her join in on this trip.

"Right. Okay, where was I? Oh, right, sentimentality for an era. Okay, so if emotions evolved as a way of performing gestures which reinforce loyalty, for the sake of evolutionary fitness, it doesn't make any sense to be emotional about a period of time. Loyalty to time is pointless. Time passes and then is gone forever. It cannot help you survive to pass along healthy genes."

Toni stops to think for a minute, realizing there must be a hole in her own logic. If sentimentality to an era has no social function, then it could not possibly have arisen.

"Okay, well I suppose that it could signal some kind of group identity. It could increase the perception of your value and trustworthiness among others who share that specific emotional attachment. But that still seems pretty pointless."

"Do you ever consider that you might just overthink things?" Ashlyn asks. "I mean, I don't even know anybody else in real life that is into the eighties like I am. How could I just be signalling my loyalty, or whatever, if there is no group to be loyal to?

"Well first of all," Toni says in her pet-peeve-alert-voice, "there is no such thing as overthinking. Thinking is good. More people should try it. Understanding why we do the things we do isn't just some intellectual indulgence. It can help us have more self-control to how we react and respond to the world. We can become conductors of our impulses, rather than just playing second fiddle to them."

"Okay, fair enough. I take your point. But besides annoying you, my love of all things eighties is not really a problem. I have no reason or desire to master the impulse. I enjoy it."

"Alright, well that's fair, too," Toni admits. "But don't you at least wonder why you think and do the things that you think and do?"

"Well maybe sometimes I do, but..." Ashlyn trails off and starts giggling again.

"But?" Toni prompts her to finish.

"But," Ashlyn is now laughing full stop, "but sometimes girls just wanna have fun."

September 25, 2020 21:13

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02:45 Sep 28, 2020

Interesting take on the prompt! I wouldn't have interpreted it this way! I liked how Toni and Ashlyn were almost polar opposites yet still good friends. In terms of personality, I find myself leaning more towards to Toni, logical, questioning, almost robotic. However, I agree that there a balance between the two extremes and you conveyed that well.


That is something I recently came to appreciate about my grandparents generation (Silent Gen) - they maintained strong friendships throughout life, and did not let differences spoil their friendship. Thank you!


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Kristin Neubauer
15:58 Sep 26, 2020

Hah! That is going to be one heck of a road trip. Great dialogue and you've laid out an interesting debate that's going to take some thinking and overthinking. But I think I wouldn't last long with Toni as my traveling companion. Perfect ending!


Somewhere between those two positions is the truth. Emotions have value for their own sake, regardless of how they came about - but recognizing the absurdity of them can help create an optimizing balance. Thank you! :)


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P. Jean
23:53 Oct 08, 2020

I liked the story for the structure. The way you moved it along and kept us wondering where this was all going. But be forewarned! Emotion is a great huge thing! A force of its own, not to be wallowed in but to be enjoyed when the occasion warrants. And the older you get, the bigger part it plays perhaps because you understand how unlikely you thought it was or could be that somewhere deep in your psyche there is a soft lovely place that you will choose to visit often. Men and women alike. I love men who are masculine enough to ac...


I am all for emotion as an experience. The problem is that it has leaked too far into our identity. We are not experiencing it, we are associating with it, and that is dangerous. Emotion should be a zen experience, an expression of being in the present. When it becomes the narrative of who we are, we become slaves to it, and experience it through a filter of delusion. I have lived the misery of that identity.


P. Jean
04:37 Oct 09, 2020

I am not a slave to it but rather I celebrate it...finally! Your chat is interesting!


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