For some reason, yesterday, I was bombarded with messages from many of my friends, family, and general acquaintances. Ok, in reality, I do know the reason, as yesterday marked the occasion of me completing yet another lap around the sun. Although November 20th marks the date on which I was unleashed, screaming, onto the planet, I, however, don’t see that as an occasion to mark. What I want to discuss today is the reason why people feel the need to celebrate birthdays.
So what exactly is the celebration for? There are many occasions to celebrate, despite the societal shitstorm that we live through. We celebrate achievements, like when we have some success, or overcome a difficulty or challenge. The reasons are vast and varied; artistic, professional, sporting, academic, health, adventurous, etc, We celebrate getting a promotion, starting a new career or business, climbing a mountain, breaking a record, recovering from serious illness, a political victory, smoking 40 cigarettes in a single afternoon, graduating, to name but a few. Ok, I’m not so sure about the last one. I’ve met an awful lot of idiots with degrees, so maybe graduating is no longer that great an achievement. But in general, all of these things require work, effort, willpower. Yet many people still decide that the mere act of being born, the one thing that everybody in the world has ‘achieved’, is worthy of commemoration. What is a celebration of? Nothing. It’s like getting a participation medal for something in while you had no choice about doing anyway, and received without any work whatsoever. It’s rewarding absolute mediocrity.
This obsession is amplified when we complete a decade of laps, which I did at around 8pm yesterday. We are digitally-obsessed beings (in both senses), and anything with a base ten is cause for reflection and jubulance. Many of you will remember all the hoopla around the ‘millennium’ at the end of 1999. I recall watching a cringeworthy programme on that New Year’s Eve, where the top 100 ‘musical artists of the millennium’ were being discussed. I only watched a few minutes of it, long enough to note that Robbie Williams had been chosen as being more important than Mozart. That aside, what was the point of this ‘millennium’ of music? Was it being contrasted with the previous 1000 years of recorded music?
In addition, it was two millennia of what? The Western Calendar has this year as being 2018 years since the birth of Christ. I always wondered about this. Since he was (allegedly*) born on December 25th, was this at the end of 1BC, or 1AD? It’s almost as if it is a load of make-believe nonsense… These dates would mean that the ‘millennium’ should have been commemorated at the end of 2000 or 2001 respectively, not at the end of 1999. Despite the obsession with numbers ending in zero, we couldn’t even get that right.
So the base-10 system is convenient for calculation, but there is no need to amplify non-achievements just because we have ten fingers. If we had sixteen fingers, would our bigger commemorations be based on a hexadecimal, or maybe binary, system? Maybe if we stuck to binary, then we would be allowed four birthdays as kids, one as a teenager, and two as an adult, going by world average life expectancy. If you lived to 128, I would definitely give you a pass on celebrating your birthday day. As that would be quite remarkable.
In general, the birthday fad is just another aspect of our consumerist society. We are bred to spend and buy gifts, and keep the wheels of commercialism greased. Especially so when there is a perceived ‘big’ birthday to spend money on. The previous time I completed a ten-year orbit I was ambushed with a surprise party from friends, involving a bird of prey and having an entire cake smashed in my face. I’ll leave that entirely to your imagination. The last time I actually organised something for my birthday was when I turned 21. Now looking back, I wonder what the hell did we celebrate turning 21 for? It’s a completely arbitrary number, with no significance. Maybe it’s an American thing, since in the US you can’t legally buy alcohol until you are 21, so they always have a big party to celebrate turning that age. We do love aping American capitalist traditions after all. I can see why we celebrate turning 18 here, as at that age we are legally adults. We can vote. We can buy booze without fake ID. But 21? Meaningless, like every other age apart from 18 and 67, current retirement age.
So, one last point on your ‘special’ day. Remember that there are over 20 million people alive today with the same birthday as you. So, don’t get ahead of yourself. I’m going to continue to think of November 20th as the date of the death of Franco, and I metaphorically spit on his grave every year. Could the current tide of rising fascism please follow his example and drop fucking dead? That’s all I ask for on my birthday. Thanks very much.
Oh, and if today is your birthday, many happy returns.