Miranda July’s Modern Understanding of “Entitlement”
No One Belongs Here More Than You.
The above is the title of performance artist/actress/writer/filmmaker Miranda July’s 2007 collection of short stories. As evident from her diverse repertoire of work, July is something of a creative genius. Great art supposedly has the power to change the way you think about about the world. If you’re familiar with any of July’s work, you know that it holds this power. It forces you to take an honest look at some of the lonelier, less pretty, more pitiful aspects of human existence and realize the inherent, harder-to-see beauty.
One scene from her film “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is a great example. July’s writing and direction frames a couple’s ordinary stroll down a residential sidewalk and extends its meaning to encompass the entirety of their relationship. The end of the block (“Tyrone Ave”) is the end of their relationship. The question is, how far away is “Tyrone Ave”: a day, a year, twenty years, the rest of their lives?
In this fashion, July exposes the universal implications of an ordinarily-perceived mundane moment. She does this by tearing down those discriminating walls we all construct as a way to guide and instruct our perception. These walls we rely on — plans and dreams, concerns and anxieties, assumptions and stereotypes — present us with a filtered view of reality, a view that is less than true. Their construction is in itself an act of denial, undermining the fleeting and fragile nature of life. July’s work is an argument to live in the moment, to treat a simple afternoon stroll with the same intensity that you’d treat a lifelong relationship. For, what do we really have except the present?
What, then, is July trying to evoke through her title: No One Belongs Here More Than You. How do you interpret it?
You can read it as a flattering compliment – an acknowledgement of the unique significance of your existence. But this can’t be July’s message. It relies on many of those phony walls which her work is dedicated to tearing down. Rather, I read the title as statement of a simple, existential truth. No one belongs here more than you; but no one belongs here less than you, either. You are special, but no more special than any of the other 6 billion+ people on this planet Earth. This isn’t a condemnation. It’s an aphorism — one that would be good for many of us to take a moment and chew on. Why?
A capitalist world depends on a level of individual entitlement to prosper. Businesses function by responding to people’s “wants” and “needs.” In this way, capitalism fosters a populace that is constantly unsatisfied, bogged down in little complaints over what could be better. A better-tasting coffee, a faster smartphone, a more attractive face.
Before I descend into a rant that is too parochial and too cynical, let me alternatively acknowledge that this democratic, consumerist mentality is not all bad.
One of the main characters in July’s film “You, Me…” works as a shoe salesman in a massive department store – a place that may well be the epitome of our consumerist culture. In one scene, he kneels before Miranda July — herself starring in the film, playing his love interest — in the stuffy department store. She tells him, as he runs his hand along her cut-up heel (the result of a pair of shoes that doesn’t quite fit), that she’s fine. She doesn’t need a new pair of shoes.
He looks into her eyes and recites solemnly: “You think you deserve that pain, but you don’t.” This is July’s broader moral lesson, no?
July’s work offers a modern understanding of “entitlement.” Thanks to the hyper-focused incentives of capitalism, and the rapidly-”leveling” effects of new digital technologies, we’re at a point in history where the problems and concerns of the 6 billion+ people on Earth can no longer be ignored, and can increasingly be solved. It’s an exciting prospect – exciting for everyone except those powerful minorities which have historically prospered off ignoring such “lesser” matters.