Don’t become an ouroboros

Don’t let consumption consume you in return

More stories from Winter Heffernan

April 3, 2023

Perpetually gnawing and crawling, the serpent is half-blind; all it knows is hunger.

Perpetually gnawing and crawling, the serpent is half-blind; all it knows is hunger. The reptile’s primordial brain knows only what it will eat next.

The ouroboros is an ancient symbol of eternal creation and destruction. I see it, however, as a symbol of a problematic habit I see in myself and others: tying self-worth with consumption.

Our identity is influenced by what we enjoy listening to, watching and playing. This is normal acceptable behavior, but at some point, someone can make this their entire identity. I believe that this is one of the most obnoxious and self-sabotaging things you can do to your personality.

Whole books could be written on overconsumption and exploitative advertising, but I want to focus on how these forces can poison creativity and self-esteem.

Linking yourself entirely to the media you consume can lead to extending this identity to your self-worth and self-image. Once you are in this state, it is natural to start comparing yourself to your peers. Do they also like the media you like? Are they as “well-read” as you?

The answers to these questions can be harmful. If the answer is yes, they do enjoy everything you do, it can feel like everything that makes you you is interchangeable and cheap. This may lead to you pushing harder, trying to find more obscure media to set yourself apart.

If the answer is no, it is tempting to begin judging others, to emphasize what sets you apart. There is a hipster stereotype of mentioning how they, “liked something before it was cool.” 

Judgments can be made of the variety or originality of what someone else enjoys. I have a deep and burning loathing for people who invalidate others by judging them for enjoying “bad music” or “bad movies.” Please just let people enjoy things.

What happens when someone consumed by their media identity tries to create things? They become paralyzed. There is a gap between taste and talent. This is true for everyone, but when it comes to our hyper-consumer, it becomes utterly defeating.

In fear of creating flawed material, they may never actually try to improve or even create. When you are used to just consuming, you get the finished product immediately, you don’t see the hours of refinement it took to turn something flawed into something great.

Once again, it becomes tempting to start hating on everyone who is trying to create. It is tempting to be spiteful and tear down those who are learning and growing. Being a critic isn’t inherently wrong. Being a critic for reasons of pride instead of constructive reasons is wrong.

As an aside, please let people create just for the sake of creating. Creativity should not be reserved for people who are trying to create a product. Not everyone who writes a story or draws a picture needs an obligation to become a master artist or author.

Creativity is something that everyone should be allowed to take a part in, not just the talented. By judging people who are just having fun, you are gatekeeping and you might even turn away someone who would have been very successful if they kept at it.

The problems I laid out in this article are really just symptoms of other problems like low self-esteem or social isolation, but I hope that bringing it up helps people begin to recover how they see themselves and how they act around others.


Heffernan can be reached at [email protected]