#31: a quick rant about stupid sports journalism

I really don’t like Gregg Easterbrook, the guy who writes the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN.com and author of some books, apparently [he really enjoys making sure those of who read his column know about his books. The amount of self-reference borders on parody, if parody were intended to pimp one’s sales]. He’s pompous, he makes contradictory statements within the same paragraph, and his tiresome edict that undrafted / low draft pick players are superior because of their ‘desire to prove themselves’ makes me wonder if he has ever actually watched Peyton Manning play football.

His moral judgement of football’s lack of care for its players, its failure to initially acknowledge and now take on concussions, and the overt way owners hold cities ransom for public funding even though they are all billionaires making billions from these very people already, are things I do agree with. However, this guy also runs a ‘Cheerbabe of the Week’ every column that always makes sure to include a picture of the lady’s boobs in motion. Chauvinism! Football! Tits! Old Rich White Guy trifecta. His definition of football morality extends only to criticize the people in power–it’s really no different than some horny high school dweeb drawing anarchy signs all over the place while trying to look at porn on his high school computer. Gregg’s not actually making a critical analysis of football based on equality; he’s making one based on his own desire to showcase what he considers Manliness Virtues, which, apparently includes oggling underpaid, overworked, not-even-represented, women cheering on the sidelines.

He’s constantly conflating the idea of ‘traditional’ offenses with manliness, lamenting the spread offense and disparaging teams who don’t run the ball when he thinks they should. His entire view of football is that of the 1930s: players should all be Moral, Undrafted Men playing the game for the Sake of Integrity and Grit or some happy bullshit. But then he turns around and talks about how the spread offense isn’t new (which is a fact. Google Mouse Davis) as though this somehow then makes it justifiable for teams he appreciates (the Patriots) to run spread concepts. He will not shut up about Michael Crabtree, the apparent reason San Francisco has not won a Super Bowl since he was drafted. They hadn’t won a Super Bowl for a long time prior to drafting him, and, actually, they were terrible for a while, but don’t let anything like that stop you, Gregg. You keep rolling.

There’s nothing manly about running the football. Plowing ahead for six yards does not prove your penis is enormous, Gregg. Football, despite almost every talking head’s opinion, is not a manly sport. It is a sport of skill, strength, and observational ability. That combination has nothing to do with sex or gender; it has everything to do with being an Athlete, a term, mind you, that is sexless. The idea that football somehow goes beyond Athlete to Manthlete only showcases the ineptitude of football, in general: the placement of a stereotype above the placement of actual success.

[This leads to a second (sub)rant, especially close to me because I cheer for two teams who say this all the damn time: I’m very tired of hearing Michigan people talk about the need to hire a Michigan Man for a coach who will operate a Michigan Football offense / the Steelers owner firing Bruce Arians as coordinator because he called too many pass plays and Pittsburgh needed to get back to running a ‘blue collar’ offense. What the fuck does that even mean? I don’t give a shit if my coach/team ‘identifies’ with the so-called nature of the school/city it plays in. Pittsburgh isn’t even a goddamn blue collar town; it may have been when the steel factories were in full bloom, but it has remade itself into a hipster, white collar, and medical-focused city. What has happened since we fired that goddamn pass happy motherfucker? Well, he took th O.C. job for the Colts, stepped up to interim head coach when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, led them to the playoffs, then took over the Arizona Cardinals, went 10-6 last year in the toughest division in football, and has them with a winning record again this year despite injuries to major defensive players. The Steelers, with their tough blue collar offense? Oh, 8-8, and constant bitching about how terrible Todd Haley is as an offensive coordinator. Thank God we’ve proven we’re tough motherfuckers with our ground-and-pound game because otherwise we’d have to look at how poorly we play and actually deal with it. As for Michigan, well, I’d say Brady Hoke is a disaster. He may be a nice guy or whatever, but his best season was his first, when he had RichRod’s players (and pretty much his offense because that’s what Denard Robinson knew how to run and was damn good at it, too) and since then it has been all downhill with one of the most miserable offenses to behold in the last couple of years. RichRod on the other hand went to Arizona, has put up huge offensive numbers, and has Arizona undefeated and about to play a major game against Oregon. I mean, I know he wasn’t a Michigan Man and he plays that sissy spread game that isn’t Michigan Football and heaven forbid the offense isn’t boring (also, RichRod’s offense is mostly designed to RUN THE BALL, YOU ASSHOLES). Did somebody need to yell at RichRod that he needed to fire his defensive coordinator no matter how close of friends they were and that he needed to recruit defensive players or hire someone who could successfully bring quality defensive players to Michigan? Yes, they certainly did. But this bullshit about how he wasn’t a Michigan Man and that being an outsider made him an inferior coach has led us directly to this moment in Michigan football. Guess what? People don’t want this job. You might think people do, but they don’t. The Big 10 is down, Michigan is down, and nobody wants to inherit this mess. Thank god y’all have showed everyone that you have a penis by sticking to your football ideals because who needs wins when you can flash your balls?]

Gregg’s favorite talking point has to do with where people are picked in the draft. He constantly harps on players drafted high who don’t ‘prove’ enough. He loves to cherry pick late draft picks [Tom Brady!] while ignoring the fact that most late draft picks don’t make it. I’m not trying to trash late draft picks; I think it’s great when a player proves people wrong, but it’s ridiculous to act like this is standard operating procedure for the NFL, as though every sixth-round QB is superior to any first-round one because a first round pick who fails is a bust and a sixth rounder is merely doing what sixth rounders are supposed to do: fail. Peyton Manning went number one overall; I don’t believe he lacks a work ethic or that if he had been drafted in the 4th round that he would somehow miraculously be even better because he’d have more ‘drive’ to prove himself. It’s such a straw man argument, one that can constantly be ‘verified’ by highlighting whoever fits your argument, regardless of overall numbers. What Gregg is really saying, once again, is that he thinks players should revere the NFL with unfailing celebration, that the ‘real’ NFL players are the ones who Man Up and Make It All Mean Something–and somehow high draft picks can’t do this because they are spoiled by being high draft picks. It’s an undeniably American view/stereotype: the praise of those who ‘raised themselves up by their bootstraps,’ showing us real ‘Murrican fans what a real ‘Murrican hero looks like.

Here’s Gregg in action with his most recent column, talking about how making major trades at the draft don’t work out for the people who trade picks for moving up to get a player; please, pay close attention to how he contradicts himself in the middle of the paragraph in the span of only a couple of sentences:

In 2012, Washington gave up three first-rounders, plus a second-round selection, for Griffin, who briefly injected excitement but mostly has been a letdown, with a 13-18 record as a starter. The team’s roster is depleted as a result of the deal — add three first-rounders and a second-round selection to the Washington depth chart, and the Persons might not be in the cellar. The Rams, who received the king’s ransom for RG3, hardly are tearing up the league. Since the Griffin mega-trade, Washington is 14-23 and St. Louis is 15-19-1.

If you’re following along at home, if Washington hadn’t traded those picks for RGIII, then maybe they wouldn’t currently be terrible; but those picks that the Rams got that Washington would have used have netted them a losing record. So, why the fuck would Washington not be in last place with those picks when the Rams are? There is no supporting evidence to say Washington is better at drafting players [because there isn’t any. They’re terrible. Dan Snyder is the worst.], nor is there any way to say draft picks equal all the wins. Gregg loves to point out the Patriots as the team who owns this mentality, as they hoard picks every damn draft, but they’ve won exactly as many Super Bowls as Washington in the past 10 years: zero. You know what makes teams good: appropriate personnel combined with quality coaching combined with quality schematics. You know what else? Luck. RGIII was dynamic his rookie season–it’s injuries that have destroyed him and his ability to win games, not fucking draft picks.

The entire premise of Gregg’s football argument boils down to this: we should value and praise those who most resemble the archaic ideals of 1950s manhood. And, yes, I realise this is not something Gregg alone supports; football constantly folds into itself over and over trying to prove how much of a Man sport it is. I expect that from former players, etc. But the idea that Easterbrook is a sportswriter paid to spew asinine, unsubstantiated opinions using cherry-picked data confuses me. Sports journalism can / should be nuanced, developed, and thought-out. I don’t give a damn if his column is an ‘opinion’ piece about football; the fact that he gives credence to the very base idea of Football is for Men renders his column inexcusable for ESPN to run, and having an opinion doesn’t mean you’re allowed to just fit outside data however you want to make your opinion look better.

Oh, and here’s another great one from this week:
Lots of people are climbing onto the anti-R*dsk*ns bandwagon now, and welcome aboard. I’ve been there for 15 years. I wrote a piece for NFL.com in 2004 protesting the R*dsk*ns name, before this became a fashionable cause.

Good for you, Gregg! You’re a fucking superstar! All the way back in 2004! I mean, my junior year in high school was 1997-98 and my history teacher asked the class if
Washington should be forced to change its name, and my guess is my middle-of-nowhere high school wasn’t exactly on the cutting edge of political movements.
Maybe instead of acting like you’re some kind of Movement Crusader, you could write about how important it is that this is gaining traction; maybe instead of patting yourself on the back, you could ask why an obvious racist epithet is taking so long to change; maybe instead of declaring yourself so fucking awesome, you could talk about the cultural impact of using that name and why our culture has, for so long, embraced / allowed its use so openly. No? Well, thank god you’re here, Gregg.

#29: zen and the art of discovering you have way too much anger

It is a disquieting moment, the realisation that one’s anger has reached an uncomfortable level. Mine occurred when I tackled our dog, Dude, a Great Dane who had elected to lose his mind when he saw people and a dog walk by our window. I have lately been frustrated with his continual downward spiral into a dog-aggressive pet, and, when the chance to take out these frustrations happened, I, sadly, was far too brusque with him in my attempt to subdue him. The thing we don’t want to admit about dogs as our pets is that they are a reflection of how we have trained them; yes, they have personalities, and yes, they will see what they can get away with, but, in the end, Dude losing his mind at other dogs is because I’ve failed him in some way, and that failure is a bitch to admit to.

I have long clung to the notion that I am a chill dude, a misplaced beach bum or something along those lines. I’ve worked at developing such a personality, honing it over the past 15+ years, and placing far too much emphasis on the belief that acting like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo is a worthwhile endeavour. The idea, I think, was that limited reactions to the stimuli around me meant I was in control, but I didn’t want to be a control freak, so the best of both worlds equals surfer stoner or something. Clearly, the entire premise of this paragraph is to set-up the following sentence: it’s pretty much all a farce. The problem, if one sees it as such–and clearly I do–is that the enduring belief in chillness coincides with a major problem of mine: an inability to emotionally relate to pretty much any emotional moment. Algebraically, the equation would go something like this: Inability to React to Human Emotions + Anger is a Bad Emotion = Don’t Express Anything.

G. likes to joke that I’m a sociopath, including sending me online quizzes testing my psychopathy. These are all in good fun, but are also because we have had fights created because I completely failed to understand the emotional gravitas of a situation, and, therefore, have basically railroaded right over her emotional upheaval. It’s embarrassing because objectively I’m aware of how a person is supposed to react, but I have no idea how to actually do it. To each other, we call it my emotional retardation. To the outside world, they’d probably call it ‘being an asshole.’

It’s weird to hear people say anger is a ‘human’ trait, because it’s almost exclusively a masculine description. Angry women are never just angry–they’re ‘crazy.’ Anger exists as an expression of one’s manliness. Of course we question when anger becomes overblown, too violent or out-of-control, but that is often seen less as a negative and more of a man who has been ‘driven too far,’ once again finding a way to create blame on someone or something other than the man expressing the destructive anger. We find ways to celebrate ‘controlled’ anger–just look at the glorification of football players. And then we act shocked when they do something like punch the shit out of their girlfriend in an elevator. It was shocking in the terms of an unbelievable thing to witness, but not actually shocking. These are men who have been taught, over and over, to use their anger as a motivating tool, to harness it in an effort to prove themselves better than the rest on the field; in what way is it surprising that a response to a non-football situation would be one of typical football violence? I don’t even react when I watch football players swing at each other (aside from wondering how daft you have to be to swing at a dude wearing a helmet); this is the sport where Albert Haynesworth stepped on a dude’s face because, well, he was pissed, I guess. But, if you can’t handle it, it’s not because anger is bad, it’s because you are not a Man.

When the NFL suspended Ray Rice for only two games after knocking out his girlfriend [now wife], plenty of idiots defended the decision. Stephen A. Smith, ESPN blowhard, managed to suggest that women shouldn’t provoke attacks in order to prevent such situations from occurring, a typical male response that fits right with the ‘don’t do things that might make a guy want to rape you’ mentality. In the simplest terms, a man is incapable of controlling himself, which actually means that a man can never have out-of-control anger because he is apparently incapable of controlling himself in general. And, yet, a man also expresses no emotions, but we don’t actually mean that; what we mean is, a man doesn’t express feminine emotions–does not showcase fear or vulnerability or neediness. Except, of course, a man has needs and therefore there is inherent neediness, but those needs are ‘rights,’ and therefore, it’s not the same. The absurdity of all this, despite the benefits afforded me by my race and sex, makes it difficult to navigate the terrain of daily manhood.

What we actually want is to confine anger/manhood/emotions to specific regions. The Angry ‘Murrican is not the Angry Black Male. The Angry Teenager is not The Angry Adult. The Angry Woman is not the Angry Man. We create definitions that work for us because that way our emotional reactions can be defended. It’s wildly unfair, hypocritical, and makes life far more difficult than it has any need to be. Douchebag extraordinaire Sean Hannity spent quite a while defending the hell out of Angry ‘Murrican Cliven Bundy who threatened federal agents with violence and guns over land rights; then Hannity defended the cops after they shot a teenager in Ferguson, MO, while also saying the protestors were out of control. Angry white guy with guns desiring violence against the government = okay. Angry non-white people desiring an explanation for, and change in, violence against their community = threat. The way we justify anger often highlights how we actually see the world. And, clearly, Sean Hannity is a racist dickbag.

The problem with anger, especially in light of finding ways to justify it, is its cathartic nature; in underdog movies when the bullied person explodes in a fit of rage and ends his torment, it’s a celebratory moment. When G. and I fight, I waver between feeling ashamed of my anger and feeling righteous in it. When I yell at Dude or video games or Michigan football, I can’t help but feel like I’m ridiculous and that I’m powerful. But things that are important where being angry might actually be justified in some fashion? That’s when I bail. It’s a bullying mentality–yell at only those things which I am confident cannot come back at me, and it’s fucking pathetic. Dude needs trained, not yelled at. Video games can’t hear me, and Brady Hoke isn’t going to hire me to run a better offence [even though he should]. G. doesn’t need me stomping around a room showing her my frustration with whatever fight we’re having; she needs me to communicate. And all of that seems simple to follow through on, up until the point where it happens again.

While this is a rather weak defense, it is the only one I have: a lot of this derives from my inability to emotionally connect with people. Anger, even unjustified anger, is an ‘acceptable’ emotion for me to express. It’s also a very easy one. Combined with a constant cynical view of life and a total dependence on sarcasm for dealing with emotional moments, it creates a personality that is aloof at best, caustic at worst. I’m not and probably never will be a chill dude. The problem is, the general consensus of leading a happy life is to ’embrace who you are.’ But if who you are is a difficult person, should you really embrace that? I’m a lazy perfectionist, a guy who wants chores done a specific way, but who also doesn’t want to do chores, wants them to, like, magically be accomplished. It’s unfair to and difficult, especially to G. I want to be a chill dude because it seems like that makes life easier, but I’m not. I’m a guy who has difficulty with hugs with anyone other than G. and my mother. I’m a guy who just called a Fox News pundit a racist dickbag. I’m a guy who goes on weekly rants to G. about the unfairness of corporate political influence, but I’ve never actually voted. Maybe the easiest way to not be angry is to admit to the things that make you angry and then work on fixing them. But, seriously, fuck Sean Hannity.

#28: Joe Carroll, The Lord Voldemort of bad serial television

When it comes to staying dedicated to terrible television, I am a savant. I will, despite all indications to it being terrible, watch a show for at least one season. Because of this special dedication, I have watched such gems as Men at Work on TBS, Under the Dome, The River, and, of course, The Following. For the uninitiated, The Following pretends to be a serious show about a serial killer so charismatic he ends up with a cult. Because he really likes Edgar Allan Poe and has a British accent, or something? I really have no idea. But Kevin Bacon is involved as our hero, and it was created by the dude who wrote most of the Scream movies, so I thought it might be, you know, not completely moronic. I was wrong.

Charisma is, of course, a rather indefinable attribute. How one portrays it in a tv show must, in turn, be pretty much impossible. The Following tackles this by simply having people fawn uncontrollably over Joe; this means, as the viewer, we get no real understanding of the relationship between Joe and his followers, simply because the entire relationship is based on a charisma that cannot actually be felt. So, the show devolves into a really strange experience for the viewer: a boring dude who apparently likes to kill coeds expounds high-school-sophomore-stoner-philosophy about Poe and death, and this stirs the inner soul of a bunch of serial killer wannabes. Or something. And, in turn, they flock to him and do his bidding like lemmings, but we are supposed to see them as a terrifying group of “Anyones”: these people are everywhere and could be right next to you, aghast! Anyone, everyone, is a psychopath!

It should not be so easy to mock the basis of this show; instead, it should actually frighten the viewer. It highlights a near baseline human fear: with the possibility of any one person being evil, no one can actually be trusted. Unfortunately, instead of terror, we get incompetence. In order to prove the genius of Joe Carroll and his followers, the show elects to showcase the sheer stupidity of the F.B.I. Having one organisation be stupid does not create a scale on which the other side immediately becomes intelligent; instead, it reinforces the overall lack of intelligence of everyone involved and, thus, highlights, again, the failure of the writers to create an understanding for the viewer about why this person, Joe, matters so much. This is not just a horror show; this is supposed to be a meta-commentary on how the world functions: we are all obliged to fear that which we don’t know. If the show could successfully comment on that fear and how such fear rationalise judgment and bigotry, that would be exciting.

If you really want to understand The Following, then, you only have to read Harry Potter. At the end of the fourth book, Harry reveals that Lord Voldemort has regained his powers. Most wizards do not want to believe this because, if true, it means they can no longer trust the world as they wish to. The idea of evil here is not just demonic and otherworldly, but one of minutia: the day-to-day trivialities take on larger meanings–is that person acting in such a way because s/he’s evil or cursed? do I know my neighbor as well as I think I do? who do I trust with even the most mundane tasks? The terrifying aspect of such evil is that it [possibly] lies within the very people we consider ‘normal.’ Joe Carroll (Lord Voldemort) and his followers (the Death-Eaters) battle Kevin Bacon [Ryan Hardy] (Harry Potter), who not only is the main protagonist, but to further the Potter parallels, is actually scarred by Joe when Hardy interrupts an attempted killing, barely surviving, and thus shoots to fame for being The One Who Stopped Joe Carroll; the scar/survival in turn marks Hardy as ‘important’ to Joe and his followers–the necessary component of Joe’s games and the person for whom all evil planning must revolve around and whose death must be performed by Joe. The Ministry of Magic and the F.B.I. remain incompetent in almost all facets of resolving the issue, culminating in the denial of return of Joe/Voldemort, only to be proven wrong. There are evil insiders at all levels of the F.B.I. and others who have been coerced into helping (i.e., Imperius Curse). Here in season 2 we even have our own Hermione in Hardy’s cop cousin who actually provides most of the intellectual muscle Hardy needs to continue his pursuit for proof of Joe still being alive and his remaining, now under-ground, Death-Eaters (clearly, the Emma character is Bellatrix Lestrange).

The divergence is in our understanding of the central evil character and why he has drawn such people in his grasp. For Voldemort, people clearly fear him; they wish to act upon evil impulses, but in a way that demonstrates they do so for the purpose of winning favour from him. He gathers those to him who can benefit his singular ideal: to be the best, the most powerful, and to avoid death. Joe Carroll on the other hand draws people to him through a perverted notion of love and gift-giving; his speeches about death describe it as a gift that the murderer bestows upon the lucky chosen. This idealisation of death renders it much harder for the viewer to grasp the relationship between Joe and his followers. Voldemort falls squarely into our general understanding of the evil, power hungry demon; Joe Carroll’s evil requires us to get past the bad philosophy and worship to a far murkier, ethereal understanding of evil–his followers wish to commit crimes because he has cultivated their inherent sense of evil, but they do not commit them to appease him; they do so to prove their love and gain his.
There are two ways of looking at this:

1) J.K. Rowling successfully portrays the common understanding of evil to her readers, and, as such, creates a real villain. There are no ambiguities; evil people are drawn to the power of the utmost evil, craving power of their own, and willingly giving up some in return for the freedom to be evil. This evil is then undermined completely by love–in that Harry is protected from Voldemort by his mother’s loving sacrifice, as well as the fact that the insider who enables the good guys to know as much information as they do and who sacrifices himself for the good of the cause, Snape, did so for a life-long unrequited love of Harry’s mother. This fits inside our prototypical vision of how evil acts, and while it doesn’t challenge our understanding of evil’s possibilities, it makes sense to us as outsiders participating in the story–Voldemort isn’t just bad, he’s oppressively bad, driven by a desire to basically no longer exist within the confines of humanity. He’s at once both Other and the personification of the Id gone wild, which means he somehow is someone/something we can’t see as human and an example of our base humanity without confines.

2) The Following, in an attempt to create a more, let’s say, holistic version of evil, grinds against this ‘normalcy.’ The evil here is one built out of a desire to feel a sense of belonging that goes beyond a simplistic Collection of Evil People–it is, paradoxically, about the emergence of emotional connections between individuals who sense they fail to belong in the real world; they are not drawn to Joe Carroll because they fear his power; they are there because he grants them the space to be themselves. By going against what we have come to understand as the prototypical version of evil, this should be intriguing, a notion of evil with something to say. Unfortunately, the show has nothing to say; it just wants the viewer to be scared by the ‘unknown,’ and, in the end, that’s why the show disappoints.

The real discussion, then, should focus on how we, as participants in these works of fictions, psychologically respond to something we often consider so easily defined: ‘evil is bad.’ But what we consider to be ‘bad’ often morphs according to context, giving layers to the meaning of evil–the contextual understanding of an action creates an opinion, one which we don’t necessarily recognise as malleable, i.e., if I were to steal your data, that would be considered a criminal act; when the government does the same thing, that’s considered [by some] to be an act to preserve our safety. The act itself is the same; it’s our understanding of why the act occurs that changes it–it is assumed I would steal your data for personal benefit, whereas the government does it for protection. The idea that safety is, in fact, a type of personal benefit doesn’t register because that type of benefit lacks the key component of greed, at least on the surface. It’s within this schism that the Voldemort/Carroll split occurs: Voldemort is the data hacker, performing deeds for his own personal gain; Carroll is supposedly not doing this just for himself but because he wants to create a ‘safe haven’ for the psychopath misfits he cares for; it doesn’t matter that it’s a long con, just like it doesn’t matter that government data collection at this point has almost nothing to do with terrorist prevention, because the veneer of safety creates, contextually, the reason for specific actions.

My guess is people don’t inherently like the idea of evil being malleable; they want it to be concrete, a highly specific thing to point at and declare with utmost certainty, ‘that is evil, that is wrong,’ i.e., the Devil. Yet, we do this all the time: mass murder, bad; dropping 2 nuclear bombs on cities, okay because it was during a war, despite it instantly killing tens of thousands of people. We constantly create justifications not just for our specific actions, but for what those actions mean. This is why Joe Carroll is a closer reflection to what evil in real life is, philosophically (not necessarily in action), because the idea of evil constantly changes and/or adapts to the current situation, but Voldemort is an easier, and, thus, stronger, character; Voldemort’s vision of evil always remains concrete; we can, without hesitation, point at him and declare him bad.

What this means then is not that evil can be contextualised or rationalised, but that evil is determined by other people and their decision to either accept or deny the rationalising for such an act. This is the basis of the American model of the justice system: a criminal act is argued and other people–a judge, a jury–determine the context of the act according to a set of laws; the act itself, oddly, is less important than its place within the context of laws and other people’s response to an explanation for the act. Both a defense lawyer and a prosecutor will attempt to rationalise whatever happened within the confines of the decision they wish to get. The interesting aspect of all of this is how the job of being a defense lawyer has created an entire stereotype of lawyer and is almost entirely the reasoning behind lawyer jokes, complaints, etc. Their defense of perceived evil people means evil extends to them, despite, objectively, people knowing they are performing a necessary component of our justice system. Evil becomes a coat anyone can wear, even those whose job we inherently understand as needing to exist.

And, so, it seems what we really need is a devil. A devil, within all possible configurations and capitalisations of the ‘d,’ represents an extraordinarily concrete vision: a creature against the good of humanity. The notion of ‘good,’ of course, is a fluid and dynamic thing, which makes a devil so ingenious: it can be anything or anyone who obstructs us from our particular brand of good. Too often, then, the construction of evil starts with a simple pretext: fear–the fear that what we know as good has changed, is changing, or will change (fear, clearly, is an all-encompassing urge with no regard for the boring logistics of ‘time’). It would make me happier, mostly because it would help justify why I keep watching the show, if I could label Joe Carroll a devil. I mean, I guess he is, but his brand of evil bores. Perhaps Voldemort’s obvious association with Hitler and the Death-Eaters/Nazis/Muggles/Jews/Pure-Blood lists, etc., creates a tension surrounding a fictional character that, while purposeful, makes it much easier to forgive a fairly stereotypical villain. Voldemort, once you remove the concept of magic, is simply a narcissist suffering from a rather crippling dichotomy of self-hatred and ego; he just so happens to exist with a little extra flair because, you know, wizarding and such–green flashes, talking to snakes, whatever. His drama is a fantastical fiction. Joe Carroll on the other hand is supposed to exist, to be a person whom we, the viewer, actually worry may roam our reality.

As I sit here I realise what bothers me the most is this: Voldemort’s followers don’t love him; hell, they don’t even like him. They fear him and desire to be judged as good enough in his eyes. Carroll’s following has nothing to do with fear. I think this should be an interesting concept, but the show just sucks. It fails to explain why these people are drawn to him. Perhaps I’ve watched too many CSI and Criminal Minds episodes and what have you, and so I have that awful faux knowledge of killer psychology and crime scenes that these shows have concocted and have, thus, turned all of us into (bad) aspiring detectives, but my understanding is serial killers are pretty isolated individuals, not in the sense that they all live in the woods like the Unabomber, but that they cannot connect emotionally with people in a real way; their ego and narcissism prevent real human contact. The notion that a serial killer cult forms because of ‘love,’ then, makes no goddamn sense, and it especially makes no sense when the guy whose supposed to be the leader mostly seems like a whiny drama queen who thinks stabbing people makes him a god. Maybe I’m overthinking this and should instead focus on poor script writing and bad acting. But there’s no need to destroy my whole premise in one sentence. Maybe this is all some elaborate con and Joe plans on killing all his followers in some Jonestown like self-massacre. My guess is that with the introduction of a secondary serial killer group–Lilly Gray and Family–we’re going to have some convoluted situation where Joe rescues Kevin Bacon from Lilly’s band of merry killers because, of course, Joe and Kevin are destined for each other like some sort of horrible recreation of the Devil tempting Jesus and nobody other than the Devil gets to mess with Jesus like that or something and then Complex Conundrums start for Mr. Bacon: Stage 1: confusion; Stage 2: anger; Stage 3: overt resignation to the Joe/Mr. Bacon psychopath parallels already hinted at by Joe’s ‘teacher.’ [If none of this makes any sense to you, you’re probably much better off]. Maybe what this all means is that I want my evil with a dash of oxymoron–to fit safely inside the confines I already understand. And, maybe, really, what this all means is the best combination of ‘safety’ evil and challenging evil is Hannibal Lecter on Hannibal, and I just keep expecting The Following to figure this out. Alas.

#25: a quick rant about Harry Potter

Despite being an adult, at least according to age, I enjoy reading Harry Potter. I also know there’s no real reason to act defensive about that because millions of adults have read Harry Potter. Not all of them can be total nerds. Or, perhaps, I’ve superceded their nerdom because G. and I elected to order all the Potters in hardcover in the original British editions. So, okay, we’re nerds. And as such, it makes me wonder if Draco Malfoy / Slytherins get a bad rap.

Consider: While the 4 houses all have their rivalries, Slytherin at no point has allies outside of itself. Such isolation has to make them defensive. Draco Malfoy expects to be in Slytherin because it’s his family’s legacy; however, how much of the legacy is derived from a stereotype that feel they must live up to? According to the books, all (ALL!) evil wizards and witches in the greater British area come out of Slytherin. I find this to be incredibly difficult to believe. It implies that only a specific type of person has the possibility to commit evil and overlooks the inherent intricacies of humans. Let’s say you are a Muggle-born first year, and just like Harry, you’ve never heard of / known about / had any inkling about the wizarding world, but unlike Harry you receive no information on the train to Hogwarts by others to indicate that Slytherin is the ‘evil’ house; the Sorting Hat elects to put you there because, when sat upon your head, it picked up a drive for power–a drive powered not by a desire to be ‘evil,’ but a desire to prove yourself in the wizarding world. This hypothetical person would then be cast as ‘evil’ by the rest of the houses, despite having absolutely no allegiance or standing inside of Slytherin, simply because of the stereotype of the house. This first year is then immediately put on the defensive, making him/her not only overwhelmed beginning his/her wizarding schooling, but also overwhelmed by the stance against him/her through no fault of his/her own. S/he merely showed up at the school, sat upon a chair, and waited for the hat to declare his/her fate, as it were. Slytherin, the snake house, consumes itself in a vicious circle of stereotypes and defensiveness.

While I understand the need for a (mostly) children’s book series to create ‘blocks’ of people in order to establish the Good v. Bad, I also think Rowling spends a lot of time working to the greater psychological understanding of her main characters. Even Draco in the last book gets some introspection–via other character’s looking at / hearing about him–as he grapples with his task of taking out Dumbledore. The struggle Malfoy goes through, both personally and physically, only highlights the cost of being in Slytherin: the expectation to perform evil because you are told that being in Slytherin means you have to live up to some kind of Higher Evil Purpose. Unlike Gryffindor, the House of Slytherin not only contends with other houses, it contends with the legacy of itself. Any teenagery acts–pranks, rebellion, combustible emotional outbursts, all things others do in the rest of the houses–are seen through a lens of horror; ‘THEY COULD BE DEATHEATERS, AHHHHHHHHHHHH,’ essentially. The most impressive character arc in the entire series is how Draco, after seven years of having to look at himself as a pre-destined monster, actually struggles with that destiny and eventually crumbles in front of it. We all want to glorify the resurrection of Harry because of his parents’ and other’s love, but Draco must deal with being an assumed evil wizard for seven straight years. How hard would it be to look at yourself with any real analysis when the rest of the school looks at you through that lens of assumed horror? He is throughout most of the series a caricature of his father, and, yet, by the end, he overcomes that. Of course he’s an annoying, snobbish git–he’s been handed a silver spoon, something that most people will always hold against him; the assumption is he doesn’t need upward mobility because he’s already reached the upper tier, the 1% if you will; yet what Draco most needs is the upward mobility of socialisation, a wide circle of friends who expose him to the world outside of the Slytherin stereotype, something that everyone else blocks him from achieving because of the stereotype. And, unlike any of the other main characters, he is not allowed to make mistakes; such mistakes become glaring announcements of his perceived evil.

Imagine living your teen years knowing you were supposed to become a specific type of person. In movies, the audience is often set up to feel empathy for the character who doesn’t want to become the lawyer, the doctor, the ‘serious profession’ that his parents want / demand him to become; in Dead Poet’s Society this point gets hammered home by the kid who wants to be an actor shooting himself in the head when his father pulls him from school, demanding the son pursue the serious profession the father wants for him. We are to feel sadness for the son and shame for the father. In this case, we hold it against Draco that he wants to become his parents; yet, in general, is that not realistic? Don’t most of us want to impress our parents? Of course we go through rebellious phases, but that doesn’t mean we abjectly desire to disappoint them. When Draco confronts this dilemma in the final book, he loses weight, he loses sleep, and he confides his fears to Moaning Myrtle. His social circle is so incomplete that he actually has to find comfort with a ghost in a girl’s bathroom. Imagine, again, that you have no one to actually talk to; imagine your psyche as you grapple with who you are at 17 and are convinced the world, on all sides, is against you–from Slytherin, the assumption that he is too weak to perform his assigned task and live up to his destiny; from everyone else, the assumption that he is a Dark Wizard looking to wreak havoc on all of them. The world for Draco is such a cold place, he finds comfort in a person killed by the very embodiment of his house, a basilisk. In not holding it against Draco that the Serpent of Slytherin killed her, Myrtle is the only person who shows him compassion. That has to be psychologically damaging to realise almost no one out there shows a willingness to just listen to him. And, lost in all this, is the immense pressure he’s under with his task to kill Dumbledore–not because, you know, Dumbledore, but because the fate of his life and his family is to be determined by his success or failure. It is an actual life or death situation for him. And nobody shows any care.

Okay, his mother does, but we have no insight into the family dynamic, in terms of how much weight his father and mother each have in leading Draco; the assumption, though, has to lean towards his father having the power because of how much Draco solely references him in previous books. Second, I realise Snape constantly asks Draco to let him help, but we also find out that Snape is a double agent whose true mission is to continue his guise until he can release Draco from his task by performing it himself, as determined by Dumbledore and him in prior meetings. Essentially, Dumbledore allows Snape to make Draco think that his task has been completed, further scarring Draco even as Draco has elected to not death-curse Dumbledore; Draco believes he alone is responsible for killing Dumbledore and that Snape did so just to ‘help’ him. Again, imagine the psychological cost of believing you’re responsible for the death of the ‘greatest wizard in the world,’ when you weren’t even sure by the end that you wanted to follow through on the task [Also, how do we know Dumbledore is the greatest wizard in the world? There is much to be said about the blatant exceptionalism expressed, something that I’m sure could align with the former British Empire notion of self / colonialism and current Unites States assumption of superiority. Hogwart’s basically stands at the center of the wizarding world according to this, with no indication of the (I guess, possible) globalisation of it. We get a Tri-Wizard tournament, but that only includes two other schools, both from European neighbours].

In the real world, there is a cultural and political battle over how to handle poverty / crime. While approaches to solving the dilemma differ, the goal remains the same [sorry, I have to insert here: would there be a way to make a documentary about this using Led Zeppelin music, as in The Goal Remains the Same / The Song Remains the Same?]: to create upward mobility–to move people into better schools, better jobs, better environments. The fight people have, however, has to do with stereotypes: that poor people are lazy; that some groups are somehow ‘more prone’ to crime; that people believe they are entitled to free handouts rather than working their way up the social spectrum. Such stereotyping ignores reality because the stereotypes are often self-fulfilling prophesies: the stereotype prevents a person from serious consideration when that person attempts to better himself. Schools lack funding, educational divides become gulfs, better jobs get harder and harder to obtain, environments continue to wither as the jobs and schools get worse–destiny, if you will, becomes a version of survival, not mobilisation. And, while Draco obviously has the benefit of being part of the 1%, and while he relentlessly takes pleasure in announcing it, his personal character has no social spectrum to move in. As he grapples with his supposed destiny, his only friend is a dead person. Imagine.

#23: I have made a grave, grave mistake–I can’t stop myself from reading the comments on political articles

Look, I use the internet on a daily basis; hell, it’s probably an hourly basis. It makes my job easier, it lets me read newspapers from all over the world, I get to listen to the Allman Brothers on my phone whenever I want, watch entire seasons of shows I don’t even like just because they are there, and even get to watch CFL games. The internet dominates my life, and, in general, I am grateful for it. Just last week, I got to read all about the racial politics of South Africa, checked my fantasy football team, and then read lots of opinions about the U.S. government from papers in Germany, Jordan, Australia, Canada, China, and Saudi Arabia. It’s an amazing thing. All of that being said, the internet is the worst.

I have no idea when stating an opinion became an act of war, but the wars of the Comment Section of any political article rage with vitriol I would assume has typically been saved for, like, terrible drunken Thanksgiving dinners. I actually read a comment today that finished with “I hope you burn in hell.” With such refined discourse seen as acceptable–or, perhaps, necessary–in order to facilitate one’s opinions, the real question isn’t if such opinions are valid, but if conversation via the internet, the so-called fantastical Wild West of human interaction, really represents your ‘average’ person.

The problem with using ‘average’ in anything that doesn’t involve sports statistics is that it more often denotes the middle of wildly polar opposites than it does an actual moderate, true representation of anything. Categorically, ‘average’ statistics don’t mean nearly as much as ‘median’ statistics do. However, in what way is there a ‘median’ person? In the United States, the dilemma of procuring a ‘median’ person has to do with inherent discrepancies in how we see ourselves: we are the exceptional members of the world and, as such, we are all special snowflakes whose opinions matter. To reduce ourselves to mere statistics would be the end of the United States civilisation as we know it. This, of course, is why ObamaCare is bringing the apocalypse upon us, sure to commence at any point in the future, as healthcare will, apparently, make us all the same–enfeebled and dependent on the government for all of our decisions.

First, the ACA is a terrible piece of legislation, but not because it ends the United States as we know it; we are not on our way to some sort of Sharia law communist enclave of heathen activity (I really read that once), nor are we close to turning into Canada or whatever strange fears the far-right feels like conjuring up depending on the day. The ACA is an agreement between the White House and the private insurance companies to get millions of more people on the insurance books, paying premiums, all under the guise of creating affordable insurance. It merely takes a step in the right direction, but Congress failed to properly vet it, nobody knew what they were voting on, and it, essentially, gives yet another handout to major corporations. The complete failure of our congress people to actually read bills they vote on has to be the single worst part of our government. Think about this logically: you are a health care provider, you are told you can no longer charge higher premiums for pre-existing conditions, but, in exchange, you will get thousands upon thousands of more policyholders. You, the company, will be getting full premium pay, through some combination of policyholder and government subsidies. You get to charge more for younger people who, previously, got low premium plans or none at all. You have added billions of dollars in revenue with the risk of paying out more in claims. In what way is this a socialised health care law? It isn’t, and the fighting over it should be in its failure to actually promote true healthcare change, not this bullshit about the Obamapocalypse. Of course, if we actually attempted real change, like getting rid of Medicare and implementing a single-payer Medicaid for everyone, then the shouts from the right would at least be appropriately topical in decrying the socialisation of the United States, so, in reality, the tea party should secretly conspire to promote such a plan in order to extend their time in the bully pulpit.

Second, and this is most important, nobody whom you have voted for in a federal election gives a damn about you. You are not a special snowflake to them because you have not contributed millions of dollars to their campaign. You do not and will not ever matter; they will fake it when necessary, they will bleat out nonsense involving the words “the American people” this and “the American people” that, but at no point will you be of importance. They want your vote, they want your money, but they do not want you to actually exist. Your existence, regardless of political affiliation, means you are a possible hindrance to them keeping their job. They, like you, average American, want to make sure there is a paycheck coming, but, unlike you, average American, their position requires them to feign altruistic notions–these are called townhall meetings, handshaking, terrible TV ads involving those awkward shots of said politician “strongly investing” in regular-people interaction. The key component here is that the United States is an exceptional country, but that does not make us exceptional people; we are not unique in that regard, our homogenous state or lack thereof is irrelevant; we are, instead, non-special snowflakes who are told, constantly, that we are Personal Responsibility Warriors with American Can-Do Spirit born of our Distinct Individualism. This gets repeated over and over by the people we vote in who actually think the opposite of us. We are numbers, we are districts, we are gerrymandered groups of people pushed into pockets where our votes can be pre-counted–you are not an individual, you are a pre-determined statistic. That’s your American Citizen sovereignty.

That is, to me at least, quite depressing. And a bit hyperbolic, I’ll admit. And yet, prolific hyperbole is, of course, standard internet rhetoric. I’m merely keeping in line with acceptable speech patterns here.

I am often baffled at the level of cynicism I accept as normal from myself.

When considering this built-in feature of American-ness, this reverence for Self-as-Unique as cultural characteristic, it makes sense that the idea we should in some fashion be responsible for others in some “forced” way would be alarming. It creates a strange dichotomy: we see ourselves as important and individual, yet, we also cannot see that what we do in our day-to-day lives has long-term consequences because we can only see the impact as something immediate to ourselves. By telling a younger adult that his/her higher healthcare premiums will actually allow others who have no access to healthcare to obtain it, we are asking people to recognise their role on a much larger, non-personal level, to actually consider the ramifications of where a dollar goes and where it could end up. It means having to consider something that does not inherently have anything to do with ourselves, but has everything to do with a social structure dependent on selflessness. The thing that makes no sense is we do this everyday; we trust the people in other cars to know how to drive, we order food made by other people, we ask questions and make payments and interact with strangers when the need arises and we do so with the faith that all these transactions are done with honesty, with the idea that our interests are considered important. As a socioeconomic cultural structure, these transactions represent socialist thinking. But to admit that would require self-awareness that what we do affects what others do, not just those whom we recognise.

The frightening aspect of the Internet Comment Board, then, is not so much the vitriol, although it is absolutely crazy, but how much it highlights our actual lack of individuality. What people appear most fearful of is a change in how they view themselves and their society, a society they recognise best as one filled with others just like them–to each group, that group is normal, average, the median American. The homogenous grouping of people combined with the belief in a unique experience makes the world scarier, the evolving society a thing to stop, to discourage, all in the name of Personal Right and Opinion.

Again, the anger often expressed on the internet in regards to political articles has to do with an entrenched desire to have an opinion that is “right,” as well as to defend oneself against a terrible change. It’s the second part of that sentence which determines the vitriol. Having an opinion means you inherently believe you’re right; it’s what an opinion is–the expression of a self-believed truth about something. My opinion is that both major political parties are terrible because they are in the pockets of big banks, big corporations, and major donors. I believe the banking sector does not just need reigned in, but essentially redesigned, with strong regulations, CEO pay limits, and derivative and speculative trading on things like oil should absolutely be banned. People who disagree with me, I consider to be wrong. However, at this point in time, I do not wish them to burn in hell, except for the Koch Brothers, two people whom I consider top candidates for worst humans currently in America.

The construction of this opinion as Right vs. Wrong, however, creates a dynamic where we start to believe that defense of an opinion instead of analysis of it becomes far more important. On a completely logical level, I understand what the Kochs are doing–trying to make as much money as they possibly can; that’s capitalism; they want to perform it at an extraordinary level. What I actually disagree with is their willingness to let greed dictate their lives, and their lack of long-term thinking beyond their bank account, which means I appear to disagree with their capitalistic drive. And, of course, to disagree with capitalist drive is to supposedly prove my un-American-ness.

In the world of political article internet commentary, the easiest way to classify the fights is in this American vs. un-American context. The righteousness of either side–conservative or progressive–emanates from a desire to protect a personal vision of the United States. However, as I’ve said before, such visions of the U.S. are faulty because neither of those countries exist. The United States, at this point, is an ogliarchy run by major corporations with money available to dump into lobbying–on both sides of the political spectrum. What this means is the same type of jokes I make about how the reddest states need/use the most government funding, an “irony” that I assume vindicates my socialist leanings, is the same joke that somebody else would make about taxing our way out of debt. What the jokes ignore is the lack of awareness implied on the jokee, not because we are saying that the Other does not know the inherent “irony” associated with it, but because the irony, such as it is, almost always has to do with the jokee’s built-in sense of righteousness; the joke is a take-down, but a take-down is not way to change somebody’s views, no matter how many movies tell us otherwise. Real discussion, real analysis is the only hope, and, yet, the jokes eliminate the analysis, make people defensive, and defensive people will never listen; they are too consumed by the need to reassert their correct-ness.

It’s not that we hate the Other [well, sometimes, clearly hatred is the only driving force]; it’s the pressure to defend one’s uniqueness within the safety of a homogenous group. However, instead of citizenry of the U.S. being seen as homogenous, we base it on geographical, ethnic, religious, political, or any other type of sub-grouping one can think of. The classic idealisation of the American Individual prevents us from seeing anyone other than those we accept as part of America–the other is not an Individual, the other is a threat.

The absurdity of all this is that if we are actually uniqure, it inherently implies everyone else is an other, which makes a homogenous group impossible. So, instead, we actively select our group, create whatever artificial boundaries we need, and make decisions based upon that. I don’t see this as wrong, but I do feel that when we start creating opinions/policy, both foreign and domestic, with the intention of eliminating possible threats to our oxymoronic state of Unique-as-the Same, then all we are really doing is finding ways to isolate ourselves. Isolation invaribly leads to defensiveness, defensiveness invariably leads to an inability to properly approach problem-solving. Progressivism, therefore, must not only shoulder the weight associated with creating a balanced social structure, it must also use its shoulder to push the boulders of entrenched traditional thinking.

The United States right now has a limited ability to accomplish much without the use of force–even bills passed in Congress are often referred to as “pushed through,” as though implementing a law is a physical task. If you want to know what the United States is, ask yourself this question: Would a drone strike on U.S. soil from a foreign entity constitue an act of terror? Because if you say yes, and that there would have to be retribution, then you have just declared the United States a terrorist organisation. Which we are. We have conducted countless drone strikes with the belief that we are allowed to do so because we are more powerful; it has nearly destroyed our ability to assert real foreign policy, and we accept no responsibility for our destruction other than to declare we’ve earned the right because we got attacked once. We are no different than the bully we cheer against in every movie who lashes out over and over in an attempt to reassert his dominance.

What I really hate is that having such an opinion is akin to announcing that I hate the U.S. I do not hate my country. I hate what my country is doing. I believe we already have a socialist structure in place, but we refuse to fully acknowledge it, and that embracing it does not mean the end of our society as we know it. What I’m tired of is the immediate link of being American with an overly-idealised notion of America; such thinking lacks long-term vision, prevents us from adapting and growing, and, most importantly, continues to further isolate us from an increasingly interactive global market. In Facebook terms, nobody likes us, and that matters. And what the comment boards reinforce is the impossibility to enter dialogue hurts us, and that the lack of dialogue is active participation in a power grab. The perception is the United States is a desparate power–a warmongering, power hungry, data devouring behemoth–who can no longer see past its own bloat; just like normal life, the reality of the ‘median’ American citizen, no matter what you think of yourself, has little to do with the perception of our country as a whole. It’s the same thing we do to nations everywhere. The question is if we can change it.

#21: a self-cross-promotional piece of writing from logcabinliberal.tumblr.com

Not too long ago, my sister and I engaged in a text conversation in which she called out my inability to think of pretty much anything in unironic or non-sarcastic ways. I have been thinking about this, probably too much, ever since. I have come to the (hopefully temporary) conclusion that I have no idea how to address such thinking. David Foster Wallace and other people smarter and better at writing than I have attempted to tackle this subject, in ways I typically agree with. The problem comes down to something very fundamental: to be left emotionally unguarded by way of acting sincerely in all things feels terrifying and unfathomable. As such, I function in a way where even feeling outrage at things where outrage is justified makes me extremely uncomfortable and the only way I can imagine creating change is to be louder and angrier than that which angers me [see: previous 5 posts]. I do not consider it ridiculous to be angry at the mess that is U.S. politics, or, more specifically, to blame it mostly on the GOP. The question I cannot find an answer to is how to compete with the noise in a way where my [any other] voice can be heard.

The real problem is, despite its many benefits, the internet. The internet allows for ignorance, from all of us. In the same way liberals scoffed at Karl Rove raving on Fox News about Obama winning re-election and how the Republican base was so incubated by its unwillingness to watch anything other than Fox or listen to anything other than Glen Beck, Rush, et. al, liberals do to themselves by reading left-leaning blogs, etc. I do not claim everyone does this, but I will claim it is easy, all too easy, to read things which we agree with, further insulating ourselves in our own opinions. It’s a human tendency, really, just on a vast, technological scale: we want to belong; we want our opinions to matter; our opinions matter most to those who think like us.

The biggest lie America has told itself is that we are Individuals, all capable of making independent decisions because we are rugged, solo warriors who allow nothing and no one to influence us. And yet: commercials. And yet: trends. And yet: memes. And yet: music/movie/book/tv/etc. criticism. The truth is none of us are without notions of ourselves and the world around us that have been created by the shows and movies we watch, the ads we see, the things we listen to, ad nasuem. We like to believe otherwise, and that’s because we have been told that by advertising. The entire modern concept of the United States has little to nothing to do with the Individual and has everything to do with the Manipulation. We are all willing participants in the Manipulation–without it, the U.S. no longer exists as we have grown used to seeing it. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; the problem occurs when we start believing the advertisement as a cultural foundation upon which we construct our social and moral order.

Again, the main culprit in this is the internet, especially in how it has destroyed print journalism. While there is no point in arguing about whether or not the “media” is bias one way or the other [quick sidenote rant that I can’t help: how the hell can conservatives rant about the “mainstream” media when Fox News is the most watched cable news station? Does it get more mainstream than that? I mean, honestly?], it is important to see that by giving the freedom for anyone with an opinion [yes, I see the kettle, and it is black], the internet has turned journalism into an ability to create site hits. So much of our interaction with broad public policy has to do with what site or headline grabs our attention. It makes fiscal sense to say something like “Obama is HITLER!” or “The GOP Hates Vaginas!” because people will click on those things. The actual article matters little after that because the hits create [supposed] financial stability. Newspapers made money from advertisements, and could charge more for those ads based on circulation–that’s simple economics; however, a newspaper was not beholden to the quick attention among a billion voices. A newspaper, as an entity, requires time and thought, and, in turn, its articles were supposed to reflect that. A failure to do so meant lost readers. It’s a fundamental change not just in how we obtain information, but what we want that information to do for us as readers.

I, clearly, as easily indicated by the title of this site, am bias. I will admit, however, that I try to read and / or listen to opposing views. I try to understand policy as thoroughly as possible, and what I realize, above all other things, is that not being ignorant is incredibly exhausting. This is not because of the work involved; it’s because, at this point, I find it impossible to truly know what the facts are, what polls really tell us, what opinions are authentic and what ones are paid for–facts are often, at worst, lied about and at best merely manipulated to give the numbers said person wants; polls are so easily manipulated by simply changing wording that anyone can get the responses that are desired; when the leaders of Malaysia are discovered to be paying conservative media members to start saying nice things about them, it becomes hard to imagine that such a thing is an isolated event. Increasingly it is clear that powerful lobbies have the ability to determine what information is released to the public; as such, it is impossible to know what to believe which makes it so much easier to just read what I already agree with because I don’t have to question it [despite the fact that I should]. This is the common citizen plight.

The ability, then, to obtain so much information means that we really don’t know anything. In the same way we don’t have to know who the 14th president is because, hey, Google, we don’t need to know what Kenseyian economics is because, hey, Wikipedia. We can know and do have access to every single piece of knowledge in human kind, but that doesn’t mean we are equipped in any real way to handle it. This means we feel we have the right to know anything, yet don’t feel the pressure to actually study it. It’s a lopsided and self-absorbed state of thinking.

This self-absorption doesn’t just allow ignorance to become more pervasive, it demands such. And ignorance means less critical thought, of the information and of oneself, which means it’s that much easier to be a raving lunatic because you are no longer capable of performing self-analysis wherein you would recognize that you are, at best, under-informed. The combination of the American Individual and the Internet means people have access to spew their vitriol and then believe they have the right to do so. It’s, on some level, delusion, and delusion is, at its heart, insanity.

People claim they want answers, but in reality they want verification. Facts only work as verification if they serve our opinion; otherwise, they get in the way. There is no better example of this than Paul Ryan’s most recently proposed budget, a rehash of previous Ryan budgets, including the one he and Romney ran on and lost on. Losing does not inherently discredit his budget approach. However, numerous studies, like this one discussed in The Atlantic, indicate his emphasis on tax reduction does nothing to actually promote growth for the country as a whole:

Analysis of six decades of data found that top tax rates “have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth.” However, the study found that reductions of capital gains taxes and top marginal rate taxes have led to greater income inequality. Past studies cited in the report have suggested that a broad-based tax rate reduction can have “a small to modest, positive effect on economic growth” or “no effect on economic growth.”

Now, such studies mean nothing to many people because the studies don’t confirm what those people want to say/hear. The other problem goes back to the idea that information cannot be trusted, that we have little to no idea where information comes from and how much of it we can believe has no bias. As such, even fact checker websites get accused of liberal or conservative bias; the world of information stagnates in its own ability to question itself. The questions no longer create in-depth analysis of the problem at hand, but actually enable the problem at hand to split into pure ideology.

The Republican line is, “Cut taxes, promote job growth.” The Democratic line appears to be, “Raise taxes, invest in job growth.” Clearly, I disagree with the Republican model, and all anyone has to do is look at Europe’s austerity measures to see such draconian actions are ineffective. How the right wing deficit hawks can shout about the evils of socialist Europe while copying their exact model for recession recovery has become such a mind-boggling oxymoron that I don’t even know how to address the idiocy. However, I don’t believe in the Democrats either, but not because I disagree with their message, at least on the surface, but because President Obama, for all of the GOP’s “Hugo Chavez-Stalin-OH MY GOD LOOK AT GREECE-HE’S A COMMIE SOCIALIST RED MUSLIM WHO HATES AMURRRICA” shouting, is damn clearly, outside of wanting to tax the wealthy, a moderate Republican.

What I hate most about U.S. politics is the Republican stance that if you don’t agree with them that you hate the U.S. I don’t understand this at all. The GOP is not just the party of No, but also the party of Defensiveness. Any disagreement with them is an “attack,” on America, on money, on “freedom of religion,” on and on. They have positioned themselves to disagree with everything by way of a two-year old tantrum: the world can only be as I see it, and anyone who disagrees or interferes with such shall be forced to endure my screaming and crying until I am pacified with exactly what I want.

And the Democrats placate them. There is constant talk of a Grand Bargain; nobody does anything to stop the dismantling of the Electoral  College by states who want to go Red in presidential elections except to hope that such talk gets squashed by “clearer thinking;” both sides act like the 2014 mid-term elections are more important than the current state of things because who ever wins those can get their way, but somehow such thinking ignores that the Republicans have found a way to filibuster anything and everything and even if they were to win the Senate, the Democrats would just follow suit. Nothing will get done because getting something done risks one’s job in 2014 and onward. Apparently, the constituents whom these politicians work for have no problems regarding work, money, health care, etc., so it’s good that the politicians can prioritize their own.

For those of you who blindly accept Obama as better simply because he’s a Democrat, then you are just as silly as the people watching Fox News. Obama has made moves to liberalize certain aspects of our society, and for that he should be applauded; however, he rarely, if ever, actually takes a strong stand on anything, except for higher taxes. His presidential transparency is opaque at best. Gitmo is still open; drones are horrifying; he says we need to work on green technology but hasn’t denied the Keystone XL project that wants to carry the dirtiest oil on the planet, instead, he keeps finding a way to step around it; there has been no real movement to truly stand behind marriage equality and gun control–just enough talking points to make it clear he thinks it’s probably a good idea, but does anything happen? I know, most of the liberals will say the Republicans won’t allow any of it to occur. That shouldn’t matter; if Obama truly believed in progressive causes, then he shouldn’t just stand behind them, he should be leading them.

In the end, Obama has some liberal social notions, but very few of which he will actually look to make happen; and, fiscally, all you have to do is read Matt Taibbi’s ongoing journalistic take-down of Wall Street and banking industry to see that the president doesn’t actually give one god damn about fiscal justice. Piles and piles of proof of jail-able offenses by banks and bankers exist, and yet no one goes to jail. HSBC pays a fine that amounts to about a month’s worth of business for them, and it’s lauded as being a victory, but if you the average citizen had accepted any money from a terrorist organization or drug dealer, you’d be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Here’s a solution instead of saying jailing bankers would destabilize the economy: instead of allowing the very people who destabilized the economy continue with their horrendous money practices, you put people in jail and install individuals in their place. The bank keeps functioning and the new people in place will be expected to behave accordingly or the process of jail/replacement continues. The bottom line is both parties are subject to Big Money. Just go here: How Congressional Democrats Spend Their Time. That’s the Democratic side, and if you don’t think that the Republicans follow the exact same schedule, well, you’re delusional. This should have been the biggest news story of the year, yet it’s basically buried on Huffington Post. Welcome to the democratic process where raising money for future elections is more important than knowing, discussing, and determining solutions for America’s problems.

The GOP has won the media battle in terms of delineating sides: they alone are the defenders of American Individual Liberties and Rewards of Hard Work; Progressives are the party of Giving Away All That We Work For and Everything America Stands For. The question is, how are conservatives so much more successful at the media game than progressives? Why, for instance, does Paul Ryan’s budget proposal garner so much more attention than the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ budget proposal? The answer is simple: page hits.

Being angry makes it easier to create headlines. As the Defensive Party, the GOP has entrenched itself as the place for the self-righteous to congregate. They control political talk radio; I can name three huge conservative talk radio hosts–Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity [sidenote rant: I hate Sean Hannity. Hate him. It’s hard to put into words the level of hate here; it’s on par with Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets talking about having to take pills.]–whereas, I can’t name one progressive talk radio host; I’m certain they exist, and those on the right would probably just say something like, “NPR, duh,” or, “the whole media empire, duh,” but, No. Progressive talking points don’t have the immediate headline grabbing impact that conservative ones do; therefore, they don’t lend themselves to modern society’s stance on getting information, and, yes, we can thank Nirvana for their prescient and psychic notions: I want to be entertained! Despite, in general, being a party of outdated old white guys, the conservative movement has successfully built itself into the cultural landscape by providing for people the page-hit-attention they crave. Anger motivates people to get loud, and if you’re always defensive, it doesn’t matter how angry the other side gets, you can always be angrier about their anger, a cycle that doesn’t even break when one is proven wrong because, hey, facts aren’t necessary in this “post-fact” world. Facts do not equal attention; not having attention equals not having money; not having money means your voice has no reason to be heard.

People  like to say the internet has freed us; to an extent this rings true. However, that freedom has fundamentally changed how we think, not in terms of what we believe, but in the actual, physical way in which we create and consider thoughts. I read an interesting article not too long ago (unfortunately, I don’t remember where, so I can’t link. My apologies.) about how countries who don’t suffer through winter have, in general, an inability to do long term planning because they’ve never had to long term plan about food as it is always growing season. To the average American citizen, this seems ridiculous, and, yet, our current political process is entirely built on short-term thinking. The truth is this: the United States cannot continue to think of itself as a significant world leader when it cannot find a way to even take care of itself. Our infrastructure is a mess; our reliance on fossil fuels is short-sighted; no matter what the climate deniers want to yell, climate change is occurring at a rate even faster than scientists predicted; the amount of money thrown at Defense is nothing more than the U.S. entering a penis-measuring contest–look at us, we got huge dicks! You can tell because we got a zillion missiles!; there’s a lot of talk about how the deficit is taking away from our “children,” but very little talk about how lack of planning, in terms of energy/health care/technology/grid and city planning/education/etc. efficiency, threatens all future U.S. residents; there is plenty of waste at the government level, but that doesn’t mean reduction has to be made based on ideological lines–how about instead we locate the waste and find ways to streamline it? We are at the mercy of fear/class/war -mongers because they, again, have found a way to be the loudest. Just like my sister pointed out to me, if you’re always angry or sarcastic or ironic, that means you don’t feel anything or don’t want to feel anything, and if you can’t/don’t feel anything, you can’t be concerned with anything other than yourself. It’s short-sighted to think that U.S. is special enough to never fail; it’s criminal to allow that short-sighted view dictate our policies.

#20: I finally watch the Dark Knight Rises

It is not a highly supported argument, in terms of the general fan, to say Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is not a good movie. However, the fact is the movie is not particularly good when considered as a single entity; instead, it is an overly-reliant-on-twists Explosion Spectacular Revenge Story by way of Lifetime Movie Network. [A second] However, as a rebuttal, Nolan’s determination to consider the psychological costs of what it means to wear a mask throughout the trilogy as a whole means Rises still has the ability to mean something. [The third] However, in the end, Nolan’s failure to truly address this psychological layering in this last Batman episode is what ends up rendering this as that Revenge Story and why the movie actually fails to deliver on the promise that seems so readily available after the first two movies.

When considering the psychology of masks, most people assume a mask has entirely to do with Hiding and Protection; strange as it may appear on the surface, these two terms can be mutually exclusive: Batman hides his identity, whereas Superman protects his by pretending to be much weaker. In the real world, a person may hide his identity to protect himself—the Witness Protection program, say—or, in a far more common trope, a person may use the protection of never having to identify him/herself to become an internet troll, and, thus, the mask most used today is the computer screen.  For Christopher Nolan, however, in the Batman trilogy, the mask is not about H&P; it has everything to do with cultural projection, an interesting twist on how we—the viewer, the community of viewers, society at large—think of ourselves.

Strangely enough, one of the more intriguing interpretations of mask psychology occurs in the aptly named The Mask, a Jim Carrey vehicle that also helped introduce audiences to Cameron Diaz. While it’s easy, and correct overall, to see this movie as just another way for Carrey to act a loon and perform as many impersonations as could be thought of, at its core it asks an important question: Who am I? For Jim Carrey’s character, Stanley Ipkiss, the answer has two parts; on one hand he’s a mild-mannered man who just wants to be loved, on the other, he’s apparently a wildly outgoing man capable of seducing women through sheer will—the Superego and the Id. What we learn while watching, however, is that neither of these two presentations are truly who Stanley Ipkiss is; both are, in their own ways, masks he uses to create a version of himself he believes is most necessary; as the “nice” man he can prevent himself from taking risks that may hurt; as the “mask” he can take whatever risks he wants without any consequences because the masked Stanley is merely a cartoon, a non-reality that eliminates any possibility of hurt. The breakthrough (shallow as it may be) for him is discovering he can win Diaz’s heart by being a combination of the two.

Nolan has long dealt with the idea of identity of self versus the projection of self. In his early movie Memento, with Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a type of short term amnesiac trying to track down his wife’s murderer, we have a narrator who must cope with knowing exactly who he is but is physically incapable of remembering what he does for longer than a few minutes. He literally has no idea who he is in the present moment. Instead of a mask, he covers himself with tattoos, things he has determined to be essential to his identity. The movie is shot in jarring fashion, unraveling backwards, each cut a way to reinforce the memory faults of the clearly unreliable narrator. What we know of Shelby is learned by way of a phone call he is having that acts as the Plot Developer, but we eventually learn that  Leonard has no idea who he is talking to; as such, how much of his story can we accept? The audience is privy to a host of possibilities, including Shelby being an escaped patient or being used to murder people for a dirty cop or purposely setting himself up to commit murder out of anger or some combination of those. By giving no clear indication of the answer, Nolan dares the audience to come up with it—Do You Know Who Leonard Shelby Is? could have been a pre-Facebook meme that considers an important facet of living in modern society: do we know who anyone is and if we can’t answer that question,  does that means nobody can answer that question about ourselves? And suddenly things start getting complicated.

In the later films, The Prestige and Inception, the complications associated with identity aren’t just investigated but are completely unraveled. In The Prestige, for the sake of art Christian Bale’s twins dedicate themselves to being one person, maintaining the illusion through actual physical disfigurement; what is witnessed is far more important than what is true.  Hugh Jackman, in turn, finds a way to clone himself, the ultimate mask in reality, only to kill off the extra version of himself for the sake of “magic;” more troubling to the viewer, though, is the question that never quite gets asked: Who is getting cloned? Is the original Hugh still in existence, or is each clone a copy of the previous clone, and, if so, how real is he? How real could he be? And is there any more obvious question to ask of Inception than, what the hell is real? Isn’t the very idea of entering into someone’s dreams a harrowing violation of self? Are we at any time any more “unmasked” than when we dream, but does that make our dream-selves more or less real than our awake-selves? Of course, Nolan elects to only leave the top spinning as an answer.

Considering this strange fascination with identity and its role in determining what reality is, it should be no surprise Nolan wanted to work on the Batman reboot. While the trilogy has been praised for gritty-ing up the comic book genre, in truth it should be most praised for pushing the layering of mask psychology to previously, in comic book movies at least, unexplored levels. What Nolan has been most interested in each movie isn’t so much the cost of being Batman but the cost of self-understanding. Ask yourself the following question, if you were a citizen of an actual Gotham City, who would you consider more real, Batman or Bruce Wayne? The obvious answer is Bruce Wayne; he was actually born, his existence has been determined through various governmental channels that we understand, he has a history that can, to a certain degree, be traced and understood. Batman, on the other hand, has none of those attributes.  Yet, there is very little of Bruce Wayne that matters to you, average citizen that you are, whereas Batman may have a direct influence on your day-to-day life; Batman exists as an actual being creating change in your city; Bruce Wayne is an abstraction, a money sign that roosts over the city in general.

Knowing this, Nolan presents an interesting thesis: Batman is the real Bruce and Mr. Wayne is the mask he wears. In Nolan’s mind, Batman and Superman have far more in common than just capes.  Mr. Wayne is a caricature of the Rich Playboy, easily able to have people believe he has absconded the Russian ballet on a whim or, more importantly, people believe him so incapable of committing to justice there is no chance he could ever be confused with Batman. Mr. Wayne is Batman’s most vital mask. As such, it is clear that the greatest cost of being Batman is not the physical risks but that at no point is the real Bruce able to be anything more than what other people need him to be; for Gotham he is Batman; for Batman and those closest to him, he is Mr. Wayne; Alfred knows of the two masks, and he clearly hates both. What must it mean to the human psyche to never be anything but Another in all situations and then to have the closest person to you desperately want you to give all that up?

This is, to put it bluntly, some deep shit to take on. We currently reside in a society where the ability to craft a self on multiple social media platforms means a person can have as many “selves” as s/he can come up with; the limits of our self-creation are whatever parameters our moral and / or imaginative guidelines determine for us. As such, Reality, as most of us most likely understand it, has very little to do with the world around us, and far more with how we project ourselves into that world. The dilemma of this is that such projections have nothing to do with reality, in a completely objective way, because self-reality is created by beliefs. Consider the response to the Guns-In-America debate: on one side, people assume gun control is necessary in order to prevent tragedies; on the other side, people assume tragedies are an inherent part of modern living, and, as such, they must take protective steps. Neither side can refute the following statement: Guns are designed to kill. What they do refute is the belief of how and why that gun is wielded. In essence, reality is arbitrary because its construction is one of billions of personal projections all seen as having the right to exist.

Therefore, the very idea of Who Am I means parsing through an incredible amount of internal and external stimuli. The fascinating part of this Batman trilogy is that it actually reflects much more on celebrity culture than anything else. Obviously, political overtones—extradition, due process, war on terror, etc.—are the things given most attention, but Nolan clearly, on purpose or not, has an understanding of the Cult of Celebrity, and this understanding feeds directly into the Idea That is Batman: if you are a celebrity who are you except that which the audience has decided? The question Who Am I has far less meaning than Who Do You Declare Me to Be. Batman / Mr. Wayne, even as Bruce himself struggles with the idea of Mask can be nothing more than what Gotham thinks of him. This is beaten over the movie audience’s head at the end of the second movie where Batman elects to be the villain in order to save Harvey Dent, in order to create a hero out of nothing, because Batman and James Gordon know that the objective reality of the moment has little to do with the projected reality the people will need. It becomes much easier to believe, despite all previous evidence to the contrary, that the abstraction in the mask is concrete evil, somehow existing as both specter and physical.

Such reductive thinking is no different than standing in line at the grocery story reading cover stories on the (incredible amount of) magazines dedicated to the lives of celebrities, giving its viewers and readers insight on the lives of people who the normal person only understands in a one-dimensional way—celebrity—brought to us by way of the ever astute “insider.” We, as the audience, may never truly believe what the magazines state, yet we cannot help but to include any statements into our “knowledge” of said celebrity. Combine this mentality with the internet where websites exist just to proliferate the grocery-store-line magazines and give people a chance to comment on these celebrities, and difference between rumor and reality no longer exists. The reason Mr. Wayne can supposedly run off with the Russian ballet, as stated to earlier, isn’t just because people believe it is possible of him but also because it verifies the opinions of him the people held. The reason LeAnn Rimes apparently deserves to be publicly destroyed in some modern version of the Scarlet Letter, to have each tweet, interview, picture, and PR move dissected for its layered and hidden revelation of her Horribleness, is because doing so enables people to continually reinforce their moral opinion of her. LeAnn cannot be anything other than The Woman Who Stole A Man, in the same way that Mr. Wayne cannot be anything but The Spoiled Rich Bastard, and in the same way that by the end of The Dark Knight Batman cannot be anything but The Unhinged Vigilante. There is no self but the one projected upon them by outside forces.

And this is why The Dark Knight Rises fails. Instead of continuing to build on the turmoil created by having no self but the one projected on him, we get a movie that at its core is about a woman fucking a man to fuck him over. Meanwhile, an epic opportunity to explore the layers of masks, self, reality, and projection are lost when very little actually occurs between Bane and Batman. Yes, Bane breaks Batman’s back, but even the backbreaking fight could be seen as merely creating a way to further complicate the twist of the Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter being revealed. Bane is the Batman the ending of The Dark Knight implies; he is the unknown masked terrorist, enacting justice as he sees needed, regardless of actual laws. In some parallel universe, Bane and Batman could easily reverse roles and nothing would be different. For Nolan, who so closely examined the idea of self in the first two movies, to ignore such fertile territory just to bring back Liam Neeson for a brief cameo and to give the viewers a “surprise” goes against everything that he previously established. It is sad, really, that the trilogy should end on a twist and a surprise because it could have been much more; it could have been a chance for Batman to look into the mirror and tell us what he sees.