What we talk about when we talk about reinvention
In the beginning it was fun. We read that David Bowie was the king of reinvention and we thought about all those characters (Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke) that he had incarnated onstage in order to interpret his songs. We read that Madonna had reinvented herself again and thought about a new look or a different producer who would make her hits go in another direction. However, now we read about Miley Cyrus reinventing herself when she forgot about Hannah Montana and started appearing naked and sticking her tongue out on pics and… it all seems kind of innocuous, banal and predictable. But the word, like a virus, has entered our organisms, conquering our everyday language: Reinvention.
In recent years, the term has become something of a journalistic cliché. It’s cooler talking about reinvention than doing it merely about change. Everything is liable to be reinvented: local markets to transform into gourmet spaces such as the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid; restaurants to become gastro-technological shows such as Sublimotion in Ibiza; bookshops to sell wine like Tipos Infames in Malasaña; series such as True Detective and Fargo to change their whole cast on their second seasons; gallants to look like Ryan Gosling or Jake Gyllenhaal… Reinvention, indeed, is a synonym of adaptation to the present and also something new, modern, current. The old Lampedusa saying (“everything needs to change in order to stay the same”) summarised in a single word. The term has been abused up to such point that the press has granted us some ridiculously delirious headlines: “Lady Gaga and Shiseido reinvent the concept of beauty” (Beauty Magazine), “Valencian chefs reinvent the sandwich” (La Vanguardia), or my favourite, “Reinventing the concept of the wheel” (Ciclismo a Fondo). However, while it was circumscribed to the fields of leisure and show business, the word was quite harmless. The problem came when it started being used in work environments.
When the crisis started in 2007, the crisis we’re still undergoing, we started thinking about reinventing ourselves. Before the more than probable possibility of not being able to find a job or of getting fired from the one we had, we were told to change our profession. Well, they didn’t exactly tell us that way. The message was that we had an opportunity to develop, to grow, to improve. However, in practice, reinventing oneself in terms of work meant being ready to accept any kind of job, renouncing our academic education and our design for life. After years selling us the myth of personal realisation, in the end it seemed that we were just re-programmable robots depending on the necessities of the moment.
During a Thinking Party organised by Telefonica (hem) two years ago, the famous psychiatrist Luis Rojas Marcos encouraged unemployed people to reinvent themselves. “In moments of crisis there are examples of people who discover that they can have a different profession and that place all their hopes and energies into achieving it. And they are successful.” What the doctor proposed was, nonetheless, creating a new I. “It’s like having a revelation making me think that I have to transform, to create a new personality, to have new interests or a different job. And this implies transforming my values”. Your old you sacrificed and substituted by a new one. “It’s as if I saw myself as a company and needed to make decisions because something came up that forced me to change.”. In summary: this man thinks that a person can be equalled to a company and also that one can build a biography in the midst of the most absolute work arbitrariness.
Rojas Marcos’ pep talk proves that the word has changed its meaning and has become a new case of language perversion. With language, we can create realities, but we can also hide them. There is perversion when things are not called by their name. There is perversion when language is used to lie. Nowadays, reinvention is a euphemism for failure. It’s also a synonym of punishing ourselves: if we’re jobless it’s not the fault of our environment, but our own fault, for having chosen a wrong life plan, for having chosen the wrong profession.
It’s cruel to indoctrinate people in trouble, who don’t have a job or can’t find one in accordance with their education, by telling them that the solution to their problem lies within them (the old neo-liberal story regarding meritocracy, you see). Our common sense confirms that, in life, we should be open to change: life is evolution, adaptation, but always within a certain degree of stability and truth towards our ideas. Moving with no direction, without a concrete goal, creates frustration and, above all, alienation.
In politics and economics, a perverse and concealing use of language is our daily bread. The crisis has brought about tons of examples: external mobility for exile, asymmetric impact for increase in inequality, flexibility for cuts in work rights… The message behind this entire reinvention thing is the following: don’t try to change the world, change yourselves so that the world fits in with your ideas. And to that, we should add the classic aphorism of “live the way you think or you’ll end up thinking the way you live”. Or shouldn’t we?