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Three Videos, One Argument: People Love Cleanliness

From Inception to Horders: Buried Alive, our popular culture past, and present, indicates cleanliness is key. It has been vital not only to our growth as a species, but is also something we crave.

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Argument: In spite of the mess in your home or the back of your car or the metaphorical mess your relationships sometimes find themselves in, you actually love cleanliness.

Music videos of romantic ballads, such as No Me Compares by Alejandro Sanz (first video), fondly reuse the beach as a setting when they desire a stage that captures the size of the human mind and complexity of time.  Many other works use this setting in similar ways for similar goals: Dover Beach (poem) by Matthew Arnold, Inception (film, second video above) by Christopher Nolan, and Their Eyes Were Watching God (novel) by Zora Neale Hurston; the idea dates back a long time and great minds think alike. However, none of these works compares in sheer size to the mighty Moby Dick. Herman Melville penned the book over 150 years ago, carefully, deliberately, efficaciously picking each of the 200,000 words that encode the tale. Moby Dick may be the largest instance of man investigating the link between mind and ocean. Melville in his pensive novel mentions that, “as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.” But what makes a vast ocean and the tattoo of waves breaking on a sandy coast embody so much meaning so precisely? Simple: cleanliness. The human mind yearns for cleanliness and an ocean shore provides it.

Crashing onto rocks, sand, and whatever else lies on their path, water waves grind these objects down, its everlasting push and pull will polish them, or pull them into their watery source forever. The ocean waves of No Me Compares polishes the wasted pieces of a failed romance; the ocean waves in Inception tear away the crumbles of a forgotten city; the waves on Moby Dick, well, they do a little of everything. Water cleans and people like it for this reason.

Cleaning is a human endeavor, a futile endeavor; the second law of thermodynamics explicitly states the universe loves a good mess and will create it in spite of our meddling. Yet, we clean. Franchisehelp.com reports that “there were 824,394 workers in the cleaning industry in 2010” all which, during the same year, raked a profit of about 50 billion USD. Furthermore, they predict “cleaning services will experience a five percent growth rate between 2008 and 2018” – some of the fastest industry growth in the U.S. But what about the cleaning of the mind?

A commonly held belief dictates that a well organized mind is key to peace and productivity. Health spas, of all kinds, revel in this mentality, setting up shop somewhere secluded and quiet. Cleaning one’s mind, organizing it in some way, fulfills a primal yearning for tidiness, one creates “a still point in a turning world” (T.S. Eliot). Mr. Rochester, a protagonist of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, discloses to Jane “I envy you your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without blot of contamination must be an exquisite treasure-an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment.” Cleanliness if not order refreshes everyone. One can see why we’d choose the beach as a symbol for the subconscious: it blots away any blemish with time, thus having faith that in time, no matter what mess one finds oneself in, will bring cleanliness. The T.V. show Horders: Buried Alive (third video above) capitalizes on this subconscious need by giving people an opportunity to revel in the fear of dirt and ultimately feeds the desire for hygiene and sanitation.

English writer Brian W. Aldiss claims that; “Civilization is the distance that man has placed between himself and his own excreta,” or, in other words, the civilization as we know it stands on a foundation of cleaning tools, disinfecting solutions, and volumes cataloguing knowledge on basic hygiene and general sanitation. Everyday banalities such as life span, life style, and the number of people capable of living in the same location at the same time make modern life possible – all things cleaning made possible. Humanity and you endure and thrive because you actually love cleanliness.

What do you think? Is cleanliness part of human nature? Where and how does art fit into a clean mind? Does cleanliness always triumph over chaos?