Happy Easter to those of you that celebrate. For everyone else, if you at least know the Easter Bunny and that there is some connection to “Easter eggs,” that’s all you’ll need to follow along.
My easter gift to you is a brief discussion of one of my favorites words: meta. It’s been pointed out that maybe I use the word too much given that most people may not use it at all. I’m willing to change a little if you’re willing to learn a little, so let’s start with an approximate definition:
Meta: referring to itself or the conventions of its genre.
Imagine you’re an alien and you’ve been dropped off in an American mall. You see the kids in line and the signage for the Easter Bunny. WTF. Is it a giant rodent? No, that bunny over there is just a guy in a suit. What’s going on here?
When we think about the Easter Bunny, we ask a meta question – we are wondering what the hell is going on, aka we are asking what are the conventions of this genre? Plainly, we are wondering what is that bunny supposed to be referring to? As an alien – how do you approach making sense of this scene?
Without getting too into Christian mythology, Easter is the holiday to celebrate Jesus being resurrected from the dead after being martyred for the sins of humanity. Think of this as the literal layer of the story (just go with me here, if we don’t start with the literal-label we’ll get stuck forever). To get “meta,” we need to think about the figurative layers (yes, plural). We have to look at those genre conventions and context.
Why is Easter in (the northern hemisphere) at the start of Spring? Well, notice how the grass that died in the winter starts to turn green again and kind of rises from the dead?
Why a rabbit? Notice that whole procreation thing rabbits are known for?
Why an Easter egg? Notice that emergence of new life from a dark tomb-of-sorts imagery?
THIS is meta. These are the figurative stories that the literal story fits over the top of. We are looking through the story and at the skeleton. It’s like all of the metaphors (ahem, meta-phors) combine to create a supportive architecture. Can you see it?
In all aspects of life, and art, there exists a relationship between the surface level story and the meta details. The better we can understand these often subliminal context clues, the better we can understand the nuance of the story that is on the surface.
We’ll end with my favorite Easter subtext: the theme of Jesus’ martyrdom for the forgiveness of sins. His death and resurrection is a metaphor that with forgiveness, all things can begin anew. It’s a simple beauty of being human and having a very finite lifetime. You don’t need to be a Christian to take that sentiment to heart.
Go forth and add meta to your daily vocabulary. Discuss with friends and family whatever meta topics collectively interest you. Never just settle for the story on the surface.