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Overanalyze ALL The Things: Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared – Creativity

(Note: since I have reason to suspect that the final episode will be coming out tomorrow, and since I’d like to at least address all of the episodes, these will be more like bullet points than full essays.  Management reserves the right to rewrite or expand them later, even though they’re probably wrong.)

What’s your favorite idea?
Mine is being creative.

And so the lessons begin.  Through music and visuals, the Sketchbook attempts to teach The Red Guy, The Yellow Guy, and The Green Duck Guy about creativity.

Red and Yellow show a dramatic and excited reaction, leaning toward the Sketchbook. Yellow’s mouth is agape, and he looks wholly amazed.  But Green does not even move.  He is completely unsurprised – either because similar things have happened before, or because the very same thing has happened before.  As stated in the previous essay, the characters behave as actors waiting for their cues.  Perhaps Duck Guy is weary of this role, after many takes.

This question and its response come on like a koan.  The notion of having a “favorite idea” is bizarre.  Treating “being creative” as an idea unto itself is stranger still.  Creativity is not being treated as a process or method, but as an entity in its own right.

How do you get the idea?
I just try to think creatively.

Creativity is treated as both cause and effect here: Sketchbook got the idea for being creative by thinking creatively.  This doesn’t impart knowledge to the unfamiliar. You need to accept the wisdom of the answer and be capable of applying it already in order to gain and apply the wisdom in the first place.

The rhyme scheme is also simplistic.  “Idea” is rhymed with “idea.”  “Creative” is rhymed with “creatively.”  Tautologies are the antithesis of creativity.

Now, when you look at this orange,
Tell me, please, what do you see?

It’s just a boring old orange!
Maybe to you, but not to me.

A bold move, ending a line with “orange,” one of the English language’s most famously-rhymeless words.  Almost any other fruit could have worked – like “apple,” or even “pear.”

Why, then, an orange?  Given the nature of the puppets as puppets, the attempts at inculcation, and the hints of authoritarianism, it evokes A Clockwork Orange.

Strangely enough, when you stare into this fruit basket, the fruit basket stares into you.

DHMIS Fruit Basket.png

Something blue is at the back of the basket.  It has a googly eye and either a feather or a tuft of hair.  This seems to be yet another entity that has a face, yet is not treated as a character.

The orange is, however.

I see a silly face (Wow!)
Walking around and smiling at me

I don’t see what you mean!
‘Cause you’re not thinking creatively!

The Yellow Guy, who comes across as somewhat naive, childlike, and unintelligent, is at least playing along, expressing enthusiasm at the Sketchbook’s creativity.

Red is somewhat more ambivalent, and his character comes across as apathetic.  He reacted to the Sketchbook’s appearance, but not as dramatically.

Green is more pragmatic and more fussy.  He’s trying to learn, in that he’s questioning the Sketchbook and attempting to get her to explain herself in a way that might make more sense to him.  However, his failure to learn this way of thinking is being treated as the reason he failed to learn this way of thinking in the first place. His inability to see the world the same way as someone else is being called “uncreative,” and he’s being told he should change how he thinks. This is conformity dressed as creativity.

The attempted rhyme scheme reverses here.  The first two lines of each couplet don’t even come near a rhyme, but me / creatively succeeds.

So take a look at my hair (Cool!)
I use my hair to express myself.

That sounds really boring.
I use my hair to express myself.

While Green is trying to engage with the Sketchbook and to demand , Red seems to be more random.  He played along in the beginning, mugging a reaction, and his voice can be heard saying “Cool,” though Green’s cannot. However, Red also resists the Sketchbook, saying her attempt at expression is boring.

When confronted with the idea that her attempts at wild and colorful self-expression are, in fact, boring, the Sketchbook’s only response is to repeat her assertion that she’s expressing herself. It as if she cannot conceive how her personal self-expression could be seen as boring to anybody else, and therefore Red must not have heard her the first time, or must not have understood her – his response couldn’t possibly be his own genuine self-expression.

There could also be some mockery of those who’d wear “wild” hairstyles to express themselves in the first place – given that hair grows out and can be dyed, making it a safe and risk-free way to creatively express oneself.  Perhaps the argument is that real creative self-expression entails more risk – and doesn’t need to be explained or asserted.

Perhaps Red is saying that her hair is cool, and it would be cooler if it was there for its own sake: her insistence that it’s “expressive” gives it meaning and purpose, and therefore makes it dull.  Ars gratia artis, after all.

She never risks letting others draw on her, or drawing on herself – she doesn’t seem to express herself by her own hand, or to facilitate creativity in anyone else.  Rather, she just acts as a presentation, flipping from already-existing illustration to illustration.


Now, when you stare at the clouds in the sky,
Don’t you find it exciting?
No.

It’s not looking at clouds that’s engaging – it’s the search for patterns. (Even then, it’s not “exciting,” it’s generally more relaxing.)   Still, is pareidolia a creative act?  It doesn’t analyze or recreate or compare – it just involves looking at an amorphous or ambiguous shape and recognizing the shape of something familiar.  Being able to see more things might denote higher creativity or adaptability.  So might an ability to see things in both the positive and the negative space. But I would argue that there’s nothing creative about seeing a shape in a cloud or a face in a rock formation on Mars. The mind simply recognizes a pattern in things as they are, comparing them to other things-as-they are, whereas creativity involves an ability to imagine things as being other than they are.


Come on, take another look! (Oh wait!)
I can see a hat, I can see a cat, 
I can see a man with a baseball bat.
I can see a dog, I can see a frog,
I can see a ladder leaning on a log!


Curiously, “creativity” appears to involve each person seeing the same thing at the same time.  Genuine creativity would arguably result in a wider diversity of perceptions.  Still, the Sketchbook asserts that they’re on the right track.


Think you’re getting the hang of it now!
Using your minds to have a good time.
I might paint a picture of a clown!
Whoa there, friend; you might need to slow down.

The Duck Guy still looks dubious and unimpressed, even as the Skechbook says they’re doing well.

The direct connection between the mind and time is somewhat odd.  In the phrase “have a good time,” time is being used in a much more abstract sense. But the picture illustrates both very literally – the mind is a brain, and time is a clock.  This is a very reductionist approach for someone who supposedly advocates creativity.

It also foreshadows the second episode, which focuses on time – and which begins to address the idea of time as a human invention, not an actual entity.

And so is pausing the entire song to dump black paint all over Yellow’s painting of a clown.

Why should he slow down?  Even if he’s comprehending creativity (or the Sketchbook’s concept of it) more quickly than The Duck Guy, there’s no sense in destroying his progress or holding him back – unless, of course, even the Sketchbook realizes that she’s not advocating real creativity, and is just encouraging a sort of versatile positivity within arbitrary authoritarian constraints.

What sort of creative exercise does the Sketchbook support instead?

Here’s another good tip (Yeah?)
Of how to be a creative whiz kid:
Go and collect some leaves and sticks
And arrange them into your favorite color.

Again, this is koan-like insensibility.  It does make much more sense to have a favorite color than a favorite idea – but arranging “leaves and sticks” into a color can’t exactly be done.

And so they arrange the leaves and sticks into the words for colors – the signifiers instead of the signified.


Blue!
Red!
Green!
Green is not a creative color.

The Red Guy picks the color blue. The Green Guy picks the color red. Yellow picks Green, and is scolded, his work covered with a large black X.

Yellow was not asked to arrange them into a creative color, just into his favorite color.  He’s punished for taking the Sketchbook at her word instead of paying attention to the subtext – that his favorites should now be in line with her ideals.

No reason is given for why green is not a creative color.  Perhaps it’s because leaves and sticks are already greenery, so using greenery to spell “green” requires too little imagination or seeing-things-as-they-aren’t.

However, again, the Sketchbook thinks creativity is nothing but seeing whatever everybody else sees. Whatever complaint she has about green, the fact that it’s not truly creative enough is unlikely to be one of them.

Perhaps there is something else that is wrong or threatening about the color green.

Blue and red, both primary colors, were fine – but green is a secondary color, made by combining yellow and blue. It is, itself, created, a sum of disparate parts, and it is therefore an objectively creative color.  It looks all the more as if the Sketchbook is only interested in asserting authority – legitimate displays of creativity are blacked out, X’d out, or otherwise maligned.


There’s one more thing that you need to know
Before you let your creativity flow:
Listen to your heart, listen to the rain,
Listen to the voices in your brain.


This would be three more things. The depiction of a heart shows a more anatomically-correct heart, aorta and all – another very literal depiction.

“Listen to the rain” seems more abstract, but it’s not an encouragement to listen for patterns, melodies, voices, or anything else in the rain besides the literal sound of raindrops hitting surfaces.

On “Listen to the voices in your brain,” the Sketchbook shows a simplified image of the lobes of the human brain.

DHMIS Brain.png

An image of grey matter would have sufficed, but the lobes have been created – and color-coded.

The forebrain is blue – Red’s favorite color.  This is the part of brain that controls decision making, reasoning, planning, problem solving, and ethical choices.  It may be worth noting that damage to the frontal lobe can result in a lack of emotional affect – a failure for emotional states to be reflected in facial expression or tone of voice.  This evokes Red’s muted, neutral reactions.

But the lobe in green is the temporal lobe.  It’s the lobe that processes sensory input, recognizes language, and forms long-term memories.  If green is a forbidden color, and the temporal lobe is green, then the Sketchbook is cautioning against accurately processing the evidence of the senses, against comprehending language, and against remembering events of the past – all of which could be used to refute or disbelieve authority.

Come on, guys, let’s get creative!

The fridge shows “Get Creative” in colorful fridge magnets – and then the image snaps from live live action to rather-dated CGI, as might be seen in an extremely low-budget children’s cartoon.  The letters fly off the fridge and toward the camera.

A montage of live-action creativity begins – the characters using traditional childrens’ craft materials like glitter and googly eyes, popsicle sticks and potato stamps to create random-seeming amalgams of matter.

The camera returns to the live-action shot of the three characters sitting at the table.  The image flickers between this and a crude CGI representation of the characters and the kitchen.

DHMIS CGI Before.png

The camera pans around the table, and the kitchen falls apart – the walls slip aside, and the cuckoo clock swirls through the air.  Soon we see what has been behind the “fourth wall.”  The characters are being filmed, and are aware of this: there are cameras, a boom mic, a clapboard, and a director’s chair – all manned by creatures that appear to be nothing but giant eyeballs on yellow birdlike legs. The background is the pale blue-green with confetti, as in the title card.

But as the scenery is changing and previously-unrevealed entities are being shown, the characters are changing as well.  When the camera returns to its initial position, Yellow and Green are significantly different:

DHMIS CGI After.png

Both are taller and broader.  They appear to be adults.  This could be seen to represent the same characters, only older – or it could represent their parents.

The image becomes pixelated, then returns to a live-action view.  The puppets are no longer the same, and no longer appear to be puppets at all, but rather people in full costume.

DHMIS Live Action After.png

Another craft montage begins.  A raw human heart sits on a yellow background. Shredded confetti is haphazardly stuck to an ill-painted round disc.  Red – or the elder Red – covers the heart in gold glitter.

The three stand in the kitchen again.  The table is gone, and the letters of “Get Creative,” presumably having flown off of the fridge, now hover in the background. The calendar still shows June 19th. Yellow dances erratically while Red and Green look on.

The view looks out the window, where dark storm clouds roll in and a thunderstorm begins.

The music grows more and more frenzied – violins sawing, occasional discordant notes played over them.

All three characters now dance wildly.  Red rolls the heart from the glitter, exposing the unglamoured flesh.  He shakes and gyrates, rolling the heart in the glitter, blood smearing the pale yellow surface.

The original puppet Yellow is seen again, convulsing somewhat, while the Sketchbook looks on in apparent approval.

The three larger, adult characters sit at the table again, excitedly cutting into a cake bearing pale blue frosting and the words “Get Creative.”  Red and Yellow clap as Green removes a slice.  The cake is full of offal.

Red and Yellow, two of the three primary colors, are represented in these characters.  So is Green.  Perhaps Blue is in the cake.

The three hug and spin as the music reaches a peak of screeching frenzy.   Green’s potato stamps spell “DEATH” and the H trails off into a smear as his limp hand slides down the frame. Fallen offal is pulled into the mousehole by an unseen agent.  The small version of Yellow convulses again, even more wildly, and the Elder Green scoops more offal into the cake.  The DEATH potato stamps are seen surrounded by skull stamps and smears and by the potatoes themselves, and Green’s hand casts them away as cymbals crash and faint screams echo.

Through this cacophonous phantasmagoria, creativity is shown to be far from the tame and rulebound ideal expressed before.  It is unhinged, it follows no pattern, it is heedless of time.  It confronts mortality.  The raw matter of the world, of plants, of animals, even the very hearts of animals and the innards that work within them, is distorted and changed.  Potatoes are used as stamps, hearts are covered with glitter, organs are made into cakes.  Food, life, art, and death are all intertwined.  It is unclear what the dancing is meant to celebrate – life and art, or death itself.

Perhaps this is a view of the past – of the characters’ parents, on June 19th of 1955, another Father’s Day, performing some sort of creative / destructive rite, a summoning or appeasement of horror, which the main characters now have to live with.

The screams die away, and we see the Sketchbook and Green again, Green in his original form.  The original view is shown once more – Red looking at the Sketchbook, Yellow looking distraught, but not making eye contact with the camera, the Green Duck Guy looking vaguely toward the book. Nothing has changed in the kitchen.  Time does not seem to have passed, to go by the clock.

Yellow looks around, as if confused, though the other characters show minimal reaction to the events. The upbeat music strikes up again.

Now let’s all agree to never be creative again.

With a discordant honk of a woodwind, the Sketchbook falls backward, its cover closing over it once more, and the screen goes black.

Next Entry: Frenzied Nigh-Random Bullet-Point Observations About Other Things In The Rest Of The Series.

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Overanalyze ALL The Things: Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared – The Establishing Shots

Silently Setting And Subverting Expectations

After the title card of DHMIS, there is a series of seven establishing shots, all silent save for a faint background hum. Some are close-ups, and some pan along walls of the room, until the seventh shot, which shows the full room – and is the first appearance of the three main characters. Despite the lack of dialog, narration, or music, these shots establish the physical setting of the episode, establish the mood, foreshadow themes and later events, and establish the viewer’s expectations – but, already, they also subvert those expectations.

DHMIS Air Mail

The first image is not of any establishing shot, nor any character, but of a felt air mail envelope, complete with red and blue edging and a plane-shaped stamp symbol – one that does not appear to have been cancelled.  This indicates that the letter is waiting to be sent – and it’s being sent by air mail.  Moreso than a typical letter, air mail is emblematic of communication across great distances – often, places hard to reach by land. It implies that there’s a tremendous gulf between one end of the conversation and the other, and that the sender is possibly quite isolated.

Not all communication is cut off, however: next comes a shot of a newspaper called The Right Wing.

DHMIS Right Wing

It’s not a glossy magazine, it doesn’t have a charming human interest headline about a celebrity or a local event. Rather, its headline speaks of stocks, and the picture shows a coin featuring a crowned duck.  This has connotations of business, investment, rigor – in short, adulthood. A child is unlikely to read about or have interest in finance; even if one did, they wouldn’t be earning their own money, most likely, and couldn’t engage with the information.  This implies that there is at least one adult involved in whatever we’re about to see.

More symbolically, the newspaper may imply certain things about the socioeconomic system the characters are in – probably right-of-center, given the title; probably led by a single powerful figure, given the crown; possibly favoring corporations over individuals, given the focus on finance, and therefore conceivably fascist.

However, the implication may not be political as much as it is psychological.  In light of later context, the use of “The Right Wing” and the monarchy-implying coin may instead evoke right-wing authoritarianism.

To lazily quote Wikipedia, if just because its citation link is broken, “Right-wing authoritarians are people who have a high degree of willingness to submit to authorities they perceive as established and legitimate, who adhere to societal conventions and norms, and who are hostile and punitive in their attitudes towards people who don’t adhere to them. They value uniformity and are in favour of using group authority, including coercion, to achieve it.”

As will be seen, each episode of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared features at least one authority figure who, presenting itself as legitimate, tries to inculcate at least one main character with the societal and cultural norms or scientific “facts” it presents. This authority is, at the very least, hostile toward resistance, despite that the information it presents is often spurious and may not even represent diegetic truth.

DHMIS Shelf with Prism

 

Though the newspaper establishes the presence or influence of at least one adult, the next shot pans along the well-lit kitchen shelf, where we see a red-and-blue ball cap with a yellow brim.  With its bright primary colors, the hat looks like one that a stereotypical storybook child might wear. Though the soft felt objects already bore connotations of harmless childhood entertainment, the presence of the cap reinforces the notion.  The camera moves then moves along past a plain-looking white-and-blue canister.

And then we see the first face: a red prism-shaped object with a tuft of hair at its apex, its front face sporting two googly eyes and a flat mouth.  Yet the camera keeps panning, putting no focus on this object.  Just when the viewer has seen enough felt items to expect puppetry, just when the viewer has prepared to suspend disbelief and accept that inanimate objects will be treated as characters, we see a felt object – one with eyes, a mouth, and even what seems like hair – but it appears to be no character at all.

What is it doing there? What is it meant to be?  In the context of the world being established, it’s hard to say.  But the object was created, placed there, filmed, and not edited out: its inclusion is a conscious choice.  What purpose does it serve, then?

It’s essentially an expectation subverter: a false alarm that compels the viewer to acknowledge what they expected and why they expected it, acknowledge how they could tell they weren’t getting what they expected, and address what it the difference is between fulfilling the expectation and failing to fulfill the expectation.  In this case, the sight of the faced and motionless prism compels the viewer to acknowledge that they expected puppetry because of all the other soft felt objects and the presence of googly eyes, hair, and a smile. It compels the viewer to acknowledge that they don’t recognize the object as a character because it’s not being focused on and because it’s not being moved.  It compels the viewer to acknowledge that this is what puppetry is: an unseen agent moving and manipulating an inanimate object in order to construct a narrative.  And it calls on the viewer to keep that in mind in the later shots, when the main character puppets are introduced.

The prism isn’t just there to kick down the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, though. If the faced and motionless prism were shown after the three main characters were introduced, after the viewer had put into practice their suspension of disbelief in order to accept that these face-having inanimate objects would be treated as characters, then it would seem to have little purpose but to disrupt the viewer’s suspension of belief.  The viewer would keep expecting it to move – any shot now, any time now; after all, every other faced thing was expected to move, and did move, and is still moving. Instead, by showing a faced and motionless prism four shots before the characters are seen, it creates a brief hiccup in the still-growing suspension of disbelief.  The dissonance begins and ends before suspension of disbelief becomes necessary to engage with the work.  This lets the prism work as a symbol – a symbol of what it means to be a puppet. A reminder that it is not a puppet, but the characters to come are.  And why are they puppets?  Because they are being manipulated by unseen agents – not just literally, but metaphorically.  Somebody is controlling them, somebody is influencing what they do, somebody is putting them where they are.

Given the rest of the context: some authoritarian adult is manipulating the characters we’re soon to see – manipulating them, possibly through coercion, possibly through force, into accepting that adult and their indoctrination.

 

DHMIS Calendar and Knives

The next shot is of a recurring sight in all videos: a wall calendar reading June 19.  The camera pans down – slowly revealing a wall-mounted knife holder, all the blades pointing up at the calendar.  This creates an association between that date and danger. The sense of danger is reinforced as the camera pans down further to a stove.  On the stove, there is a pot.  And in the pot, there is an egg.

DHMIS Knives and Egg.png

Nothing needed to be on the stove in order to establish that it was a stove.  It wasn’t necessary for there to be a pot.  Even if there were a pot, it wasn’t necessary for there to be anything in it. Even if there were anything in it, it wasn’t necessary for it to be an egg.  It could’ve been beans or spaghetti or virtually any food. It takes work to make these props, and it’s reasonable to believe that anything that’s present and focused-on – especially during establishing shots – is meant to be important.  What is placed, and where it’s placed, matters. In fact, a real egg wouldn’t float that high in water, and anyone who was actually about to boil an egg or two would have it in the pan, immersed in water.  It wouldn’t be visible from this angle.  But it seems that the creators went out of their way to handwave physics, just so an egg could be seen.

A clear connection is drawn between June 19th, knives, and a stove with an egg on it.  Why?

Let’s take these in reverse order, just for dramatic effect.

Eggs are offspring.  Even though the eggs we eat are unfertilized, an egg is still symbolic of youth – of a new generation.  In this case, the young egg is in a cookpot.  The heating element is in black felt, not red, so the burner’s supposedly not on – but there’s still a looming threat.  This egg, this offspring, is going to be cooked. This kitchen is a threatening place to the young.

Above the egg is an array of knives, reinforcing the idea of violence.

And above the knives, the calendar showing the date of June 19th.

What’s the significance of that date?  This video, itself, does not hold any direct clues. But beyond this calendar itself, and the other identical calendars present in every episode, there are still other allusions to June 19, 6/19, or some other form of the date throughout all the episodes (as will be described in later entries,) so it certainly isn’t arbitrary. But this video was released in 2011, and June 19th had no particular significance in that year.

To skip ahead to the second video for a moment, though, a character says “The past is far behind us” while pointing to a framed photograph bearing a placard that reads”19-06-55.” This gives us one other year to look at in order to determine the date’s significance.

In 1955, June 19th was Father’s Day.

Father’s Day is on June 19th this year, as well.

This establishing shot establishes a connection between Father’s Day and danger to children.  It implies that some father figure – perhaps the adult in this household – poses a threat to his offspring.

DHMIS Red Radio

Next, the camera pans right to left once more, showing a red radio on a windowsill. Again, this has a connotation of communication, but it’s communication that only works one way – it can be received by the people in the house, but not transmitted. The tuner is off to the left, implying a low-frequency station – one that could be broadcasting from farther away.

DHMIS Cactus and Radio

On the other end of the windowsill sits a small potted cactus – and a rather anthropomorphic one, at that.  Here, again, there’s a blurring of the lines between “face-bearing inanimate object that could be a character” and “face-bearing inanimate object that’s just an object.”  But, taking the liberty of assuming it’s meant to be an actual cactus, not some novelty cactus sculpture, it may imply that somebody here does not have a green thumb: they’re not trying to tend something as finicky as an African violet or as commonplace as a Boston fern; they’re tending something that’s even more hardy – and harder to kill.

In short: the adult of this house may not be a particularly good caretaker.

DHMIS Get Creative

Next, we see what appears to be an assortment of things on a desktop: one edge of the earlier air mail letter, a fairly large skeleton key, a red and angular object off to the left – and a sticky note scrawled with “Get creative.”

Sticky notes like these are generally used as reminders for quotidian tasks – tasks more like “get eggs” or “get milk” than “get creative.” There’s something strangely contrary about the idea of reminding oneself to be creative, as if it’s something you might otherwise forget to do.  It could be argued that creativity is a skill more than a trait – that it can be practiced and fostered as much as anything else. This idea that some people fixedly are or aren’t creative is just another manifestation of an entity theory of intelligence, as incorrect as the belief that some people are or aren’t “math people.”   While the next entry will analyze this episode’s approach to creativity in much more depth – suffice it to say that its approach to teaching creativity has a variety of contradictions – this establishing shot is a summation of the core concept: that creativity is or should be less about self-expression and more about fulfilling external expectations.

The note appears to sit on the same small table as the air mail letter, and is shown to be somewhere between it and some unknown red object to the far left.  The only other object seen in full is a single key.  While this could be a metaphor meant to be linked to the “Get Creative” note itself, implying that creativity is a key to success or a key to opening new doors, it may not be meant to relate quite so directly to that message.  Instead, it might bear a more literal interpretation: something or someone is, or will be, locked up.  As the key is not a modern car key or door key, but rather a more old-fashioned lever-lock key, there’s a suggestion of age.  Perhaps it’s a house key and the house is old.  But perhaps the key is simply metaphorical in a different way: something or someone is locked up in an outmoded system of beliefs.

At last, the camera moves to the final establishing shot: the one that also establishes the characters.

DHMIS Characters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This gives us an overview of the entire scene: a somewhat poky kitchen.  Considering things in counterclockwise order, starting in the bottom right, we see again the small endtable with the sticky notes, letter, and key.  The red object is revealed to be a red telephone, reinforcing the subtle association of red with communication that was earlier established with the radio.

Above it, the wall shelf.  The orange prism is still present, and is shown to be next to something that might be a cookbook displaying an image of a fried egg and some bacon.  This second depiction of eggs being cooked recapitulates the threat to offspring that was earlier established by the egg in the pot.

More of the top of the refrigerator can be seen, and it’s a somewhat strange assortment of items: a scale; an iron; some sort of yellow, red, and blue ball; a percolator; what may be a blue toaster with toast; a blue canister of some sort in the back; a small potted plant in the front.

But each might be interpreted in some way: the scale might be seen to imply measurement and analysis, a weighing of things so that they might be portioned out accurately.  It could hint that the people and things in this room are being evaluated somehow.

The iron smooths out wrinkles, when used properly.  However, when used improperly, it can iron-in a wrinkle and make it worse, or could even burn the material. This could reinforce the idea of an authority that is attempting to suppress deviations and create a smooth path, but that may be causing worse problems.

The colorful ball may be a pet toy, or a child’s toy, held up and out of reach – another indication of a power dynamic where an authority has control over an inferior.

The percolator is a tool for making coffee, a drink that is generally distasteful to children and preferred by adults, again implying the presence of an older authority.

The toaster, like an iron, applies heat – but an excess of heat could cause burns.

Whatever the blue canister may hold, it’s rather hard to get to, and it’s odd that it wouldn’t be placed on the shelf instead – perhaps where the hat inexplicably stands. Is it a sugar bowl being kept away from a child, perhaps?

Finally, the potted plant sits in front of everything on top of the fridge, rather than being placed in the sun or on the endtable or on the kitchen table.  Is the plant dangerous to children or animals, perhaps – or is it a temptation with which they can’t be trusted?

Moving along, we see the calendar and knives again, and also see a small rack of dishes from which also hangs some cutlery.  Five dishes are on the rack, though there are seven slots.  Seven is, literally, an odd number for a set of dishes. Perhaps this could indicate that there were once seven people in this house, one dish for each person – but that two people are now gone.

The window shows a green and featureless landscape to the horizon, and a blue sky with small white clouds.  They aren’t in a desert, on a mountain, or in some other clearly isolated place; it seems to be nothing more than a suburban lawn.

Below, we see the three main characters: on the left, a tall red creature with a moplike head, large eyeballs on the top of its head, and no visible mouth; on the right, a shorter green bird, possibly a duck, wearing a brown twill jacket; in the center, looking directly at the camera, a yellow person wearing denim overalls and a somewhat concerned expression. Mugs that coordinate with the blue striped canister (and with the light above) are near each person; a red teapot is near the middle of the table, near what appears to be a basket of fruit.  The newspaper is on the lower right corner of the table; what appears to be a book is diametrically opposite it on the upper left corner.

On the left wall, previously unseen, there hangs an image of a sailboat, and to the left of it hangs a cuckoo clock.  By the baseboards below, there is a mousehole; near it is a food dish and a water dish, most likely for a pet.

The picture shows a sailboat on dark and wavy seas.  There are subtle things wrong with this ship, however. The hull appears symmetrical, from this angle, making it hard to tell bow from stern.  There is no rudder. Since much art in Western culture tends to depict movement from left to right, that might be the initial assumption – that the bow is on the right, the mainsail is therefore red, and the jib is yellow. But this may not be the case: it’s the yellow sail that seems to be attached to the boom, and it sits higher up than the red sail – where the mainsail would be, at least per the most simplified diagrams. Therefore, while it may seem to be true that the red is the mainsail, the driving force of the ship, while the yellow is simply an additional airfoil, the reverse may be the case.  This may be true of the red and yellow characters, as well: The Red Guy may at first appear to be the driving force behind the action, the character who propels progress, while The Yellow Guy is his dramatic foil  – one who also drives progress and plot, but who provides a stark contrast.  However, it may in fact be Yellow who progresses the story along, while Red is his foil.

Of all the possible wall clocks to create for this scene, they chose to create a cuckoo clock.  Given the ornateness and complexity of real cuckoo clocks, it seems unlikely that the creators would choose to spend the additional effort necessary to make one out of (apparent) felt if a more ordinary clock would do the trick.  Therefore, the question changes from “What is the significance of a clock on the wall?” to “What is the significance of, specifically, a cuckoo clock on the wall?”  What features distinguish one from the other? The cuckoo.  At a certain time, a door automatically opens, and the small mechanical bird is shown – or is extended somehow – and sings.  Until that time, it’s trapped inside the house-shaped timepiece.  The cuckoo clock therefore reinforces an idea of this house as a place of isolation and control, a place of specific schedules, a place where action, free movement, and singing do not happen freely, but happen only at their appointed times.

The presence of the mouse hole below implies that this house is being eaten from within.  Natural creatures that cannot be reasoned with are, by their nature, seeking warmth and shelter and food, and are destroying the unnatural structure in the process.  The homeowning adult, apparently, has responded to this threat by getting a pet – presumably a cat.  Its food bowls sit near the mousehole, as if to make it associate the area with a food source.  A literal game of cat and mouse is being played within this home.

Finally, to return to the characters: the shot lingers on them for a somewhat awkward span of time.  We don’t catch them in the middle of breakfast, or a conversation.  They simply sit and look straight ahead.  The Red Guy seems to shift uncomfortably.  They appear to be doing nothing but waiting for something else to begin.  Their expressions are neutral at best – The Duck Guy looks weary, and Yellow seems confused and possibly distraught.  This is an unnatural sort of waiting.  They’re not looking out the window, idly reading the newspaper, sipping tea, or even resting their heads on the table.  It is more like they’re awaiting their cue, or expecting somebody else to initiate the action.

And somebody else does: the sketchbook on the table flips itself open, revealing a face – and, as music begins, the book begins to sing.

Next Entry: Get Creative

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Overanalyze ALL The Things: Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared – The Title

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared (frequently abbreviated DHMIS) is a surrealist vision of children’s educational content. In each episode, didactic felt puppets employ catchy music and cheery animations to teach a lesson about a specific subject, creating surface similarities to media like Sesame Street or Schoolhouse Rock.  In DHMIS, however, the lessons are disjointed and incorrect, the rules being taught are arbitrary, and things often take a turn for the grotesque and overwhelming.  At its (glittery, raw) heart, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared evokes the dangers of submission to authority via parallels with the helpless horror of childhood.

I’d originally hoped to do a shot-by-shot analysis of at least the first episode – ideally the whole series.  While there’s certainly enough to read in to every shot — isn’t there always? — that’s not going to be sustainable for the entire set of essays.  Instead, this first entry will cover the title card and the silent establishing shots shown before the song begins.

Before there’s the first bit of action or dialogue, and even before the characters are first seen, these shots help set the viewer’s expectations – and already begin to subvert them.

In fact, in the title placard alone, there’s incongruity, ambiguity, and the establishment of the entire series’ atmosphere of cheerful malevolence.

The background is a placid and pastel blue-green color – not entirely blue, not entirely green – festooned with cheerful confetti drawn in reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and pinks.  This is already a bit of a contrast between peacefulness and festiveness, but the real contrast is with the text: over this background, stark white sans-serif text proclaims DON’T HUG ME I’M SCARED.

The fact that the title is in the first person is already rather unconventional, as titles are often abstract – and often aren’t full sentences at all.  The title is not “Don’t Hug The Scared,” or “Why You Shouldn’t Hug The Scared,” or”Don’t Hug Them, They’re Scared,” or “Hugging The Scared: A Recipe For Tragedy.”  It’s personal.

Though I’m frankly not well-versed enough in linguistics to explain how this works, the use of the first person in a title isn’t just a summation of the overall theme of the series, as most titles are – it’s a speech act being made by the protagonist.  Whether it’s “I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang” or “I Accuse My Parents,” “I Shot Andy Warhol” or “I Was A Teenage Werewolf,” we expect that “I” to be the subject of the story.  But who is the protagonist saying this title statement to?

I’d argue that it isn’t actually the viewer: it’s more like a statement in a journal.  It’s a statement that person is making about their identity or their actions or some other aspect of their life. It reads more like a line from the protagonist’s own private diary – something personal and reflective and confessional for them, so much so that reading it as an outsider seems pulpy, sensational, and even invasive.

But in the title “Don’t hug me I’m scared,” there’s an understood “you.”  It’s not just a declarative statement, it’s an imperative. That “Don’t” is a command being levied at somebody.  As a result, teading the title “Don’t hug me I’m scared” is less like reading a line from a character’s diary page, and more like overhearing a sentence of their conversation with somebody else.

Making this assumption, we can analyze this speech even further to attempt to figure out who the protagonist is speaking to, what they mean, and what significance it bears.

Semantically, “Don’t hug me I’m scared” means the protagonist is expressing fear and vulnerability, and it acts to refuse an offer of – or attempt at – a hug.

Pragmatically, though, “Don’t hug me I’m scared” is a fairly complex speech act.  It cannot be uttered in a meaningful way without a significant amount of awareness, confidence, and assertiveness from the speaker.

The vulnerability is established by the sentence “I’m Scared” – something has happened to put the speaker in fear.  On its own, “I’m scared” may be a declarative statement of fact.  But, much as saying “I’m cold” may have an illocutionary force – may act as a request for someone to close an open window or turn up the heat – saying “I’m scared” may have an illocutionary force of requesting the hearer to help the speaker stop or escape the frightening stimulus.

The first half of the sentence “Don’t hug me I’m scared” may be far more telling.

First, we have to step away from linguistics and into non-verbal communication for a moment.  A hug isn’t just any wrapping-of-arms-around-another-body.  If you bump into someone on the train and your arms end up encircling them, that’s not really a hug.  Rather, a hug is a physical act of affection.  At the very least, it’s an act of rapport.

When a person being hugged is frightened, however, the dynamic is different.  The hug is less an act of equitable rapport, appreciation, or affection, and more an act of comfort and support — therefore, it’s an act that establishes the hugger as a protective figure.  The person being hugged is experiencing some form of emotional upset; the person hugging is less affected by that fear and may be trying to allay it. In short: the person being hugged is vulnerable, the person hugging is powerful.

A hug also necessarily involves one person entering the other’s intimate personal space, a reaction zone generally reserved for close and trusted friends or family.  The more frightened or vulnerable a person is, the more anxious, fearful, or otherwise upset they’d likely be at the prospect of being hugged by someone who is not so close — or not so trusted.

Assuming that the relationship dynamics and interpersonal boundaries are equitable between the speaker and the spoken-to, “Don’t hug me, I’m scared” sounds almost like a contradiction: a scared person should want to be hugged, because A) hugs are comforting gestures and B) hugs are only performed by someone close enough, trusted enough, to be permitted inside that intimate reaction zone in the first place.  What scared person wouldn’t want a hug?  What kind of person would try to hug someone if they had the slightest thought that the hug would not be welcome?

What kind of person, indeed.

Clearly, the relationship between speaker and spoken-to, attempted-hugger and prospective-hug-recipient, is not equitable: permission to enter that intimate reaction zone is being refused – and it’s specifically because the speaker is scared.

“Don’t hug me I’m scared” is grammatically incorrect, technically speaking.  They’re two separate sentences: “Don’t hug me” and “I’m scared.”  Conventionally, a semicolon is used when two sentences are so closely related to each other, often causally, that the writer wants to be sure the relation is evident.  While the same title could have been grammatically rendered as “Don’t Hug Me; I’m Scared”, “Don’t Hug Me. I’m Scared.”,  “Don’t Hug Me. I’m Scared!”, “Don’t Hug Me! I’m Scared.”, or “Don’t Hug Me! I’m Scared!”,  all but the first would allow for the interpretation that the speaker’s fear and the speaker’s refusal of the hug are two separate statements with two separate causes.  Instead, however, the choice was made not to render it as two separate sentences, and not to render it as one sentence with its parts separated by a semicolon, but as one single sentence.  Arguably, this is not a grammar error but a stylistic and creative choice: the authors are trying to make it abundantly clear, from the very first image of the very first episode, that the expression of fear and the refusal of the hug are absolutely, breathlessly linked.

The speaker is scared of the person attempting the hug.

However, the sentence does more than express that fear.  “Don’t hug me I’m scared” is an imperative sentence. The speaker isn’t saying “Could you not hug me, I’m scared,” or even “I’d rather you didn’t hug me.” It’s a command.  It isn’t simply evocative of the unequal relationship between a powerful figure and a vulnerable figure, it’s a recognition by the speaker of that vulnerability, of that inequality — and, critically, it’s an attempt by the vulnerable person to shift the balance of power.

In order to meaningfully say “Don’t hug me, I’m scared,” the speaker has to:

◊ Be aware enough of their surroundings to perceive that they’re in danger
◊ Be aware enough of their own feelings to recognize vulnerability and fear
◊ Feel confident enough in the accuracy of their perception to risk making an assertion about that danger
◊ Feel assertive enough to admit that they’re scared and expect the listener to care
◊ Be aware enough of their feelings to recognize when they don’t want to be hugged
◊ Refuse to dismiss, ignore, or otherwise deny those feelings
◊ Feel confident enough in the validity of their feelings – or feel threatened enough by the hug-attempter – that they dare to refuse the hug
◊ Feel strong enough to face whatever negative consequences may result from this refusal

And, most crucially:

◊ Value their safety (or mere preferences) so much more than they value the attempted-hugger’s preferences that they’d issue a direct command and attempt to impose their will on the listener.

It sounds simple.

For victims of abuse, it’s not.

Through tactics like operant conditioning, authoritarian abusers can impel their victims to struggle to act upon – or even admit to themselves – their rights, their agency, their will, their preferences, their beliefs, or even their most fundamental feelings. It may even become difficult to assert objective facts about the world, for fear the abuser has a different belief: the abuser’s personal opinions are paramount, and disagreement is seen as defiance and disrespect.

That the statement “Don’t hug me, I’m scared” would be uttered by the protagonist (The Yellow Guy, hereinafter “Yellow”) at all – and that it would be the title of the entire series – foreshadows that the overall narrative arc will involve Yellow’s recognition that he’s been isolated, manipulated, gaslighted, and abused by his authoritarian father figure, Roy, under the pretense of education; his refusal to keep accepting this treatment or “education;” and his ultimate revocation of Roy’s status as a loved and trusted person who’s permitted to be close to him in any way.
Next Entry: Silently Setting And Subverting Expectations

 

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Preface to a Series of Rants

When I started this blog, I didn’t have any particular idea for what it would be.  Slice-of-life?  News commentary?  A place to share new music I found?  Somewhere to trepidatiously dispense fiction or – dare I suggest – poetry?    Over time, it’s ended up as more of the second.  I’ll read some news article that pisses me right off, and as my main response to that is to vent my frustrations in word-form, this blog bore the brunt.

Although I appreciate having a space for that, and although news topics are Important, it’s really not my favorite sort of rant.  Gender matters, political matters, economic matters… they do matter, and the emotional investment can drive some strong and stirring prose.  However, it’s just a loud yell in an echo chamber.  The more Important something is, the less attention anyone pays to the writing itself, the reasoning itself.   People tend not to respond to the argument itself, but rather to whatever they think the argument is — which is usually based more on their pre-existing views on the subject.  If they pay attention to the writing at all, often it’s little more than the first paragraph, or perhaps just the title.

You’d think I was being hyperbolic, but some commenters on an old entry proved otherwise.  They were absolutely certain that they knew what the post was about better than I did, and asserted that i was really writing about one specific case — despite the clear thesis statement to the contrary, despite the fact that 90% of the article was an exploration of that thesis, despite the clear disclaimer that most of the facts of that specific case were unknown.  It didn’t matter how clearly I indicated that the post was distanced from that matter — was, in fact, a response to the type of response one individual had, not only to that case but to all others like it.  It didn’t matter that this individual’s reaction wasn’t even unique to him, that it was held by many people who heard about that case and all others like it.  No matter how clearly I indicated that the post was a general exploration of the phenomenon at large, nothing more specific than a template — these commenters could not acknowledge it.   They knew what they wanted the post to be about — and nothing, not even the post itself, could dissuade them.

That’s the peril of writing about anything “sensitive” or “political” or “controversial.”  Despite how important it is, despite the greater need for empathy and understanding others’ perspectives, those are the very issues about which we’re most unwilling — perhaps even incapable — of changing our minds.  Blame self-delusions, or logical fallacies.  Blame being human.

But it might be another fallacy to believe that only these Important Issues are, in fact, important.  That, so long as there’s still injustice and stupidity in the world, it’s horrible to use any media platform to talk about anything else.  Because somewhere, people are being persecuted, tortured, killed, and you’re going to write about MUSIC?

Yup.

Is it a harsh and sudden gearshift, given the rest of these posts’ blatherings about Important Social Matters and Important-To-Me Coping Matters?  Rather; thus this bit of buffer.

But I had intended this to be a place where I could write whatever I damn well wanted to write, this time in a place where people might actually find it and read it.  I’m no great communicator; I’ve got no pretensions of changing the world, or even changing one single mind.  I am not Batman, nor The Night; my only purposes in writing are not to A) punish evildoers and B) brood.

All I want of this place is to be a petri dish, a neutral setting in which my amoeboid thought-processes can envelop and digest whatever morsel of information drops onto the agar.  And I’ve fed my thoughts too long on a diet of Things That Make Me Go HNNNNNNNG,

Moreover, since November seems to be the month for writing challenges, this will give me some vague semblance of direction — and might even have me in here posting something every day.  How ’bout that.

So, I’ll be taking the easy route:  I’ll be doing a 30 Days of Music prompt, one of those semi-memetic things that bounce around social networks sometimes, as they used to migrate through email address lists of yore.  A series of lowballs?  Perhaps — but they still might have the potential for interesting tangents and blatherings.

And, if I happen across any compelling writing prompts — or, yes, any particularly rage-inducing news I need to froth about — that will likely happen as well.

For anyone who’d like to play the home game, here’s the list of prompts I’ll be using.  I’ll try to get caught up to the present day.

Day 01 – a song from one of your favourite albums
Day 02 – a song you would sing in public/at karaoke
Day 03 – a song you know is horrible but love anyway
Day 04 – a song that reminds you or your dad/mom/childhood
Day 05 – a song you like more because of the video than the actual song
Day 06 – a song that makes you sad
Day 07 – a song you wanna dance to
Day 08 – a song you enjoy but don’t understand (foreign language, singer mumbles, historical context)
Day 09 – a song that gets you ‘hot’
Day 10 – a song you listen to/sing on the way to school/work
Day 11 – a song by an artist/band you wish everyone knew about
Day 12 – a song you know every word to
Day 13 – a cover song that is better than the original
Day 14 – a song from the first album you ever purchased
Day 15 – a song from the last album/the last song you actually paid for
Day 16 – a song you need to listen to again right after it’s finished
Day 17 – a song by the first band/artist you saw live
Day 18 – a song by a band/artist you wish to see live (living/dead/together/broken-up/fictional)
Day 19 – a song that describes you/your personality
Day 20 – a song that you thought was sung by a female but was actually sung by a male (or vice versa)
Day 21 – a song from your favourite movie
Day 22 – a song that energizes you
Day 23 – a song by an artist/band that you have no idea why people like
Day 24 – a song that describes your job/how you feel about it
Day 25 – your favourite/the most tolerable musical number (movie/tv/theatre)
Day 26 – a song that tells a great story
Day 27 – a song you think can save the world
Day 28 – a song you’re embarrassed to tell other people you think is good
Day 29 – the theme song for your life if it were a sit-com (doesn’t have to be a tv theme song)
Day 30 – the last song you’d want to hear before you die

 

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C Is For Combat Fatigue

Over a year ago, some unknown cleverperson posted a video of Cookie Monster clips — synched perfectly to Tom Waits’ “God’s Away On Business.”   The similarity in voice and the contrast in content was striking, but hilarious.

The same person has finally made another one:


The first one was funny and well-executed.  This one, though… this is quite a few steps beyond.It’s not as funny as the first, in my opinion — possibly because, having seen the first one already, the surface juxtaposition has been defused.  It’s not as weird the second time around, when you know what you’re expecting. Or when you think you do.

I think it’s even more ripe for analysis — and that it quite possibly makes a compelling statement in its own right.

This song, for one, is different.  Unlike “God’s Away On Business,” it’s not just about the rank and seedy underbelly of society, the damaged demimonde that we can almost romanticize for its foreignness, its abandon, its exultance in its own dissolution.  It’s not about a sort of person or lifestyle we probably don’t know and likely can’t relate to.  It’s about a soldier — and, nowadays, everyone knows a soldier.  It’s about war, which we all know about, which many of us support to some degree.  And, though the horrors of war are usually romanticized and draped in ideals of valor and patriotism, this song strips it away to reveal the mangled and all-too-human face under it.

And here it is, juxtaposed with innocuous clips from a children’s show.

There’s Cookie Monster, demonstrating left, right, left just as he normally would.  Singing nursery rhymes, as well.  Only the rhymes are about body bags, and about leaving the security of childhood, of good homes, of one’s mother, for this Hell.

Another viewing and you notice the little things.

The brief clips at 1:15 and 3:00 where you can see a placard behind him, with a bitterly simple list of how to tell if something is alive.

Telling Kermit, the reporter, of how Hell broke Luce, of how he wept at the death of his buddy, how he left his arm in his coat.

The confusion on the first “left, left, right;” the way that even with clear orders, clear “left, right, left,” the four monsters at 1:24 still can’t all follow the command.

The way the “body bag’s full” line is backed by a clip from an uptempo disco song — one that mourned the loss of a cookie with more pathos and personalization than the Waits song gives to a dead man. It’s not described as a person wrapped in a bag, but as the bag itself simply being full.

Then it cuts to a clip originally from a skit about doing one’s duty, about trying to get “through, through, through” adversity — and the temptation to use the disaster as a justification to fulfill yourself at others’ expense. It cuts off right before the shots of the avalanche, which were (at least to my young mind) some of the scariest moments in all of Sesame Street.  (Also noteable: A familiar viewer might remember that the only way Cookie Monster’s Casey McPhee got through the disaster was by eating all the “snow.”)

His looking left, right, left — sitting quietly at home, and searching for the source of gunfire, his puzzlement at an explosion — mimicking the way battles are no longer on vast battlefields but now tend to scythe through residential areas, where people still try to live.  The way the explosion is followed by a scene with debris and animals flying through the air; the way the disco dance scene seems to celebrate the body horror.

The way C is not for Cookie, it’s for a real bad Cough — and he celebrates eating a goat instead.

And, in the end, “what is next?”  Cookie Monster and all his buddies lying down and fading to black.

Watching it, I was struck by the realization that a great number of the soldiers in combat zones right now — and a great number of soldiers over the past couple of decades — grew up watching Cookie Monster.  That each one of them was a child once, perhaps just 15 years ago, and would have watched Sesame Street like almost every other toddler, learning about shapes and directions and letters and numbers, about how to be polite, how to  share.  How to deal with your feelings when you’re scared, or when things change that you can’t control, all without hurting other people.

Now they’ve been wrapped up in a war.  A mandate to hurt other people, to watch as their own people are hurt. No safety, no security, no certainty.

Death is not a strange and sudden diversion from the usual comfort and happiness.  Death happens because it’s the entire point — to cause enough death that the other side gives up.  Death isn’t Mr. Hooper’s heart attack.  It was Big Bird who learned to cope in that scene — but Cookie Monster, of all the characters, knows most about how utterly gone things are after they’ve been destroyed.  Death is not a passive absence that you can try to understand. Death is blown-off heads and entire bodies ripped apart in front of you.   With the death of war, you know they’re gone and never coming back – you know because you watched them go, or maybe made it happen.  You know that the lucky ones just lose their limbs, their hearing, their sight, their minds.

But there’s no circle of adults who can help you make it make sense.  Because it doesn’t make sense.  There’s nothing that can help you cope but gallows humor and a dose of a drug.  There’s nothing you can do but keep destroying things, because that’s what you’re there to do.  It’s your entire purpose.

There’s still not one good reason why it has to be this way.

There’s only “Just because.”

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Your Daily Rage: “Gadgets, Guns, and Guilt-Free Murder”

First, read Cintra Wilson’s article here, then come back when you’ve finished, and when you’re done throwing things at your monitor.

Fun times, huh!  Ready to rage at it with me?  Let’s go!

MY, what a heteronormative heap this is! My primary function as a woman is “to be critical of the corruptions that divide men from themselves?” No, thank you kindly! I believe my primary function is to determine and aspire toward that which fulfills me and enables me to fulfill others in turn. I believe that’s every human’s function. But apparently I’m wrong!  My real purpose is to nag men when they’re “corrupt.”  But that’s only my primary function “aside from childbirth!”  My REAL function is to extrude more children into the world.  Tell infertile women about how they no longer meet their primary function. Tell it to those childless by choice. My primary function is not mandated by my uterus. I do not owe motherhood to my society.

“Then I wondered if the female currency had been unduly diluted by the unprecedented availability and mainstreaming of porn. The scarcity economics through which Pussy had enjoyed a relatively stable value, most of our lives, was suddenly, abruptly clobbered by the internet.”

Does she seriously believe that is all women are, or are worth, to men or to ourselves? That our only value is in our genitalia? While it’s true that all media – not just porn – relentlessly hammers men and women with impossible ideas of perfection, it is ludicrous to assume that sex is the cause or center of it all. Porn is not a “new normal.” Porn is an old, old normal. What has changed is how accessible porn is — and how ephemeral and disposable it is.   Does she genuinely believe that all the personal relationships she mentions, and all the high-profile celebrity affairs, are truly driven by lust and lust alone?  Maybe it’s not just that men sought younger, sexier women to bed — an instinct which is not new to the media-driven culture, mind you.  Maybe it’s that these women were also, as she indicates, equally shallow and vapid, equally uninterested in personal fulfillment, equally deluded by beliefs in perfection and Prince Charming.  Why should any man want to stay with someone who believed she could or should be doing better?  Who would be eternally unsatisfied so long as the man had flaws?  Why would either party accept anything less than their unattainable dreams?

But when people have no deeper understanding of themselves, or of others, and do not aspire to such understanding or contentment, when they are engineered to simultaneously see themselves as deeply flawed and as people who deserve to have and to be only the very best, there seems to be no choice but to get rid of the other person and replace them with something newer, better, younger, more representative of what they want to be.  Women are not being undervalued because men value porn more.  It’s just that people on both sides of the issue are rarely thinking about what they value anymore, because our culture no longer values the very idea of lasting value.  

Instead of addressing the big picture — the way that capitalism needs disposability  and planned obsolescence, and the way it  disincentivizes fixing or accepting the imperfect — she instead treats heterosexual sexual dynamics as the core of the issue. Men don’t throw away women because porn has taught them to only want young, perfect girls. Men throw away women because men and women throw away EVERYTHING. Men throw away the imperfect and women wait for Mr. Right because capitalism teaches us that we deserve The Best, and teaches us that The Best is something we obtain from outside ourselves, not a peace and contentment we find from within.

“Valor, honor, nobility and courage are virtues now exclusively relegated to sports and warfare. Men are not really encouraged to cultivate the interior qualities that have classically defined a warrior/philosopher/poet/ king/hero (or, for that matter, an adult man).”

Well, a fine fuck-you to that. Nobody’s encouraged to seek those qualities anymore, I can say that much — our heroes are now just as disposable as anything else in our culture. But to lay all of this out with the clear implication that these traits are For Men Only? I have just as much ability to seek and attain those traits as any wang-bearing human out there. Who the hell is she to suggest otherwise?  Everyone can undertake the Hero’s Journey.  Everyone can identify with the philosopher king. These are not the qualities of an adult man.  They are the qualities of anyone – male, female, trans*, both, neither – who has reached Apotheosis and the Return.

“Only a close, sustained human relationship, with all of the rigor, ordeal and misery this implies, can actually tell you where the termites live in your psychological foundation.”

So nobody can lead a complete, healthy, and sustainable life, emotionally and physically and mentally, unless they are in a relationship? Because that’s what “only” implies. I’m sure Buddhist monks, Catholic nuns, and other single spirit-seekers would appreciate the knowledge that their psyche is inherently fragmented and flawed, despite and in fact BECAUSE of the fact that they forgo these human relationships to seek a higher truth or connection with the inner and outer world.  She strongly asserts that monogamy is vital to combating the more noxious aspects of capitalism, and holds that polygamy (which she conflates with infidelity) is emblematic of the capitalist drive.  However, in this, she asserts that being single is inherently undesirable.  That the only way to develop and stress-test one’s own psychological foundation is to enter into a long-term relationship.   This is the kind of cart-before-horse inanity that causes relationship problems in the first place: the belief that one NEEDS to be in a relationship, that one NEEDS to define oneself in terms of another person, that one logically cannot know oneself without someone else’s input.  This kind of thing is why people rush into relationships that they cannot fulfill, making promises they cannot keep.  They do not know who they are, much less who the other person is, and they believe it’s the purpose of the other person to help them identify and exterminate the problems in their life.  This is the most poisonous suggestion she could possibly make.  You cannot simultaneously extol monogamy — not even serial monogamy; she rails just as much against divorce as against infidelity — and also deny the individual any ability to know themselves and cultivate themselves while single.

So, in sum, women have no place in seeking valor or honor on our own, and in fact our only purpose is to enable men along their road to valor. We cannot both be single and know ourselves, nor can we be single and still fix the flaws in our psychological foundations.  However, even though we inherently won’t have a complete sense of who we are and what we want, and even though our psychological foundations will be troubled, we must seek a monogamous relationship as soon as possible in order to remedy those problems.  And we must stay in that relationship for our entire life.  Men are the only people capable of the Hero’s Journey, but they are divorced with it completely if they enjoy pornography or play violent video games.  They are also destined to die alone, because apparently no female would ever masturbate, no female would ever play such games, and any person who does either thing should be ashamed of themselves.  Women also do not ever spurn the ideas of Disney princesses, hookers with hearts of gold, or dream weddings.  It is absurd to think that women AND men might be able to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives alone or in same-sex relationships.  Gender is completely binary, and sexual diversity does not even merit a mention.  Also, something about drones and prisons and Goldman Sachs and G.I. Joe.

In leaping from attacks on capitalism to attacks on very specific elements of media and culture, she belittles women and their purpose as strongly as any simpleton senator, she undermines men, she rails against certain implications of gender roles while heavy-handedly endorsing others, and she disregards the personal integrity of anyone who leads a life of solitude.  All the while, she forgoes any discussion of what connects those elements, what drives them, how they in turn drive capitalism and drive its Perpetual Dissatisfaction Engine — Dissatisfaction which both creates and is created by the undue sense of Self-Entitlement that lurks closer to the heart of these interpersonal and cultural issues.

For a person to treat a relationship or a person his- or herself as disposable is shameful.  It indicates an inability to accept flaws or imperfections in the other, it may indicate a lack of desire on the other’s part to fix or even address those problems, and it indicates a lack of communication that would enable both partners to understand and accept each other, flaws and all, while they grow and mature and seek their goals.

But our culture teaches that our flaws are more outward than inward, and that they can be remedied by seeking something new.  That our inner dissatisfaction comes from dissatisfaction with our goods.  That we are represented by our goods, that we are what we wear, what we drive, what we watch, what we listen to.  That we should think about our goods more in terms of What This Says About Us than What It Does For Us, and we think about What It Does For Us far, far more than we think about What We Can Do With It.  It is a heresy to stop oneself and ask “Do I want to have or do this thing, or do I want to be The Kind Of Person Who Has And Does This Thing?”  We are made to think these are  — and should be — one and the same.  We are more manipulated by our tools than manipulators of them ourselves.  

We don’t fix anything anymore. When something breaks, or gets damaged, or has flaws, we throw it out and get a new one.  Whether discussing computers, phones, shoes, clothing, or cars, it’s often easier, cheaper, and usually more advantageous to just get a replacement instead of repairing the old one.  In fact, more often than not, what’s being thrown away simply can’t be fixed — it’s engineered to be unfixable.  It’s made with hidden screw-holes that require proprietary tools; it’s made to self-destruct when tampered with; it’s just too cheap and flimsy to be worth sewing or patching or darning or cobbling.

And, worse, if our goods show the signs of patches and repair, they make us look like we’re Not Rich, which is one of capitalism’s greatest sins.

What about designer jeans with holes in them, you ask?  What about “vintage” style tees, already soft and thin and faded when you buy them off the rack?  Aren’t you paying extra for the status of owning something that looks like it’s been around the block a few times — something that looks “authentic?”

Yes, and that’s exactly the issue.  Because that very pre-worn nature means that the clothing will be less durable as time goes on.  They will rip so much that they don’t function as pants; they will fade and fray and be useless as shirts.  The prestige is not just in saying “I can afford these expensive objects.”  The prestige is in saying “I can afford to buy expensive objects that have already been damaged enough that they have only 30% of their utility left.”  It’s tearing and wear that are valued — there is no trend for patches.  There is no trend for mended seams.  There is no trend for artfully sewn-up holes.

Patches and visible repairs also make us look Not Young, which is another sin of capitalism.  We’re old enough to have had these objects for a long time, and for those objects to have become worn and damaged.  If our items are old, then we too must be old. This is why it’s trendy to buy new vintage-style items, but it’s a mark of the mildly countercultural to buy actual thrift clothes.  Feigned authenticity is more desirable than actual age, actual wear, actual damage, actual ugliness — the actual admission that the styles of even one decade ago are now so undesirable as to be subjects of mockery, something that can be worn as a joke, or to assert an understanding that modern trends are just as ephemeral.

And yet actually sewing your own clothes is still largely considered something well beyond the popular/counterculture dynamic and squarely in the category of things done by poor kids and losers.

Because the biggest issue of fixing the old or making things from scratch isn’t just being Not Rich and Not Young, it’s being Not Busy.  Capitalism works best when a person’s time is worth so incredibly much that it’s more expedient to spend money than to spend time.  This critique of How You Spend Your Time can be heard levied against all sorts of fringe groups, from DIY enthusiasts to foodies to computer nerds to artists.  Why spend TIME on these things?  Don’t you know how much your TIME is worth?  Your life is short, and you are running out of TIME.

And so it’s no surprise that we treat other people as we treat our objects.  If that person shows age, shows wear, shows the scars of a life lived hard, shows eyes that have seen both too much and not enough, shows calloused hands and wrinkled faces, lines where years of emotion have visibly etched themselves into the flesh, that person is clearly Not Rich enough to get cosmetic surgery, to get a new nose and new boobs or new hair.  That person is clearly Not Young anymore.  And that person has clearly spent too much time doing things that didn’t have a goal of maintaining youthful perfection — not enough time exercising, or moisturizing, or doing makeup, or doing anything else to conceal their bodies.  They’ve spent too much time doing other things they value more than the way they look, the way they feel, the way they act.   Therefore, their very appearance is proof of the passage of time, proof of the ephemeral nature of life and beauty, and is therefore undesirable.  And if we define ourselves by what we own, and if a woman’s place, particularly, is as an object or tool by which men are to be satisfied and kept in check, an object or tool by which more children enter the world, then yes, a man will discard that woman as swiftly as he’d disregard any other outmoded product.

And if there are flaws in the relationship itself, flaws in what motivates each partner as a person, or motivates them both as a couple, flaws in how one copes with the world, copes with these very processes of aging and feeling obviated, we are not taught to fix these flaws.  We are not taught to admit to having them.  Youth is valued, and age is valued by the degree to which it still has the appearance and abilities of youth.  Experience, understanding, and wisdom are irrelevant, because our culture thrives on an inability to learn from past mistakes and a willingness to make the same mistakes over and over again, forever believing that the Next Big Thing will solve all our problems.

And so people throw away relationships when the other person gets too human, too old, too real. They reach out to someone else who is more of a fantasy, abandoning it again when the genuine human frailties show through.  Monogamy isn’t in opposition to capitalism, like she asserts.  It, too, is just another instance of seizing onto whatever sounds best at the time — most self-affirming, most reflective of the you you’d like to be, most useful toward one’s own ends — then enjoying it and using it until it’s expended, then seeking out the newest model.  Serial monogamy is monogamy, too. And whether that’s done while still in a relationship or after a divorce, it’s the same concept of expending / disposing / replacing, frequently with something that more closely embodies the fantasy of what they want in someone else and what they want in themselves.

And, yes, they frequently reach out to their own inner fantasies, using them more and more as a crutch.  It doesn’t even matter what that fantasy is.  Maybe it’s a sexual fantasy.  Maybe it’s a fantasy of wielding guns and swords to save the world.  But maybe it’s a martyr syndrome.  Maybe it’s a belief in religious or cultural superiority.  Maybe it’s keeping up with the Joneses.   Maybe it’s a fantasy less about what you hope to be, and more about what you fear. But, whatever it is, it perpetuates that drive toward believing oneself to be undeniably and objectively valuable and simultaneously believing oneself to be somewhere irrevocably behind where one Should Be.  It keeps you running like mad just to stay in the same place, simultaneously believing that something better is just around the corner and that it should have come to you already.  It keeps you unsatisfied, unfulfilled, unable to even explain to yourself why you feel this way, or to realize that you feel unsatisfied at all.  You will dispose of everything you can, replace everything you can, buy everything you can, in hopes of finding the secret.

But so long as it’s something that perpetuates that drive toward dissatisfaction, it’s nothing but cultural spackle — something with no purpose but to give a false sense of fulfillment and a false sense of repair.  Something that exists to smooth out all natural variation, to make a bland and neutral surface — a surface that’s receptive to whatever somebody else wishes to paint you with. To make you feel, believe, and know that your true self is weak and unworthy — and that you are only beautiful, only strong, when painted.

Wilson does not challenge us to seek our true selves. She does not fully address how culture motivates what we keep and what we dispose.  She does not encourage us to look at the way capitalism tries to sell us ourselves.  She just tosses out these sexist assertions, throws in a peppering of jabs against porn and video games, adds some scary noises about Wall Street and drones and prison, jumping from concept to concept without ever saying anything concrete about what she thinks one should do, how she thinks one should live — except, of course, for the sexist parts about what a woman’s purpose may encompass.  At every turn, she misses the chance to clearly address the disposability and entitlement at the heart of so many of these issues. And I can only guess that it’s because she isn’t able to pin it down as such.  That she, too, believes herself to be simultaneously enlightened and unfulfilled.  That she finds more value in what she can throw away — like capitalism, or women’s liberation, or sexual freedom, or coherent thesis statements — than in what she can cultivate.  As a result, this article becomes just another kind of spackle, and she only wants to coat us with a different kind of paint.  

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Other People’s Words: Sam Biddle Hates Everything

(Fair warning: this is not just a rant, but one of those high-powered caffeinated 3:00am-and-onward rants that I may not even remember clearly in the morning in the mid-afternoon.)

Gizmodo contributor Sam Biddle has the following insights to share in his article, “It’s OK To Be A Hater Because Everything Is Bad.”

The opening salvo:

Almost everything is bad. Usually, really bad, and not even bad in an interesting way. Tech is no exception—if anything, tech might be the worst of the bad. The Internet? Gross. The people who use it? Ugh. And it’s fine to hate it all.

The final blow:

It’ll go on like this forever, because people will never change, but technology will only get faster. Well, we might change, in that technology is turning us into ever-stupider, ever-strunger-outer attention anorexics with a thirst for nothing but meme gristle and Internet lists. Before we implode from the psychological strain strains of saying, doing, making, buying, sharing, and generally slathering about the worst ideas and products in the history of humanity, let’s all agree that it’s OK to whine. It’s OK to say that things are terrible, because they are. It’s OK. It’s true and it’s OK. Try it with me. Try it with me and then go to hell, because you’ll probably share a Scumbag Steve pic later today.

In between, he rails against various material goods and kinds of people who buy such material goods and such peoples’ focus on popularity and, somehow, on Internet culture.  The Internet is gross and ugh and bad?  And how, Sam Biddle, staff writer at gizmodo.com!  And how.

But I can’t say it’s an unfamiliar sentiment.

I remember being a kid and seeing how my parents never seemed to enjoy anything, or have fun with anything. And how I wasn’t supposed to enjoy things either, because none of the fun stuff was necessary. They got by without it. So I could, too — whether I liked it or not. (And no sir, I didn’t like it, and grew to cope with being a perpetual alien to my own peers  – not by embracing my own unique qualities, but by resigning myself to the futility and giving up on social acceptance. But that’s another story.)

I remember being a disaffected and misanthropic “tween” and teen, who wanted to believe everyone else was stupid or inferior somehow.  All those normals with their Abercrombie shirts and their iPods and camera phones and their low-cut flares.  What sellouts, what dupes. Despite my virtually nonexistent self-esteem, I still at least wished I were better than them.  In times of more clarity, I just wished that the preponderance of people valued the same kinds of things I did – things like “preponderance” and other cool vocabulary words, for instance – and would value me as a human being to some degree as a result.

All throughout childhood and high school, I remember telling myself that I wouldn’t be like that when I grew up. I’d know how to have fun, and wouldn’t hate myself for doing, wearing, or buying something unnecessary sometimes, if it were still a useful thing that I thought I could enjoy for a long time.  I told myself that I wouldn’t be content with being bored and dismissive of the world around me. That I wouldn’t have a knee-jerk contempt for novelty. That I would know how to separate “squandering” from  “frivolity” from “mostly practical, but also fun,” instead of lumping them all into the same category and turning my back on it all.  I thought there was always something of value, something to think about, something to learn, from everything in our culture.  Maybe I only started to think that because I was seeing it all from the outside, or because I had to maximize the value of whatever pop-cultural fragments I had access to.

But I knew this much: I didn’t want to grow up to hate everything all the time. I hated everything and everyone already. How could I let that same miserabilism, that same stoicism, that same ennui run my life when I was finally an adult, free from the peer-pressure pressure cooker of school life, and finally free and independent enough to make my own choices?

Why would I want to?

Who would want to live with this much bitterness and contempt in them?

I don’t know what the author’s damage is, but it must be something. There could have been a whole article here that said something meaningful about critical thinking skills, about arguments from popularity and arguments from authority, about the apotheosis of the ignorant and the cultural concept of idiocy as freedom.

Instead it sounds like a sad old man shaking his cane at these young whippersnappers and their headphones, and all these newfangled iPads. Back in his day, ain’t nobody needed any iPads. They used a desktop PC and didn’t move their bodies for ten hours a day or walk on the grass but twice. and, by gum, they liked it. It’s not making any argument for why these things, or more accurately these people, or far more accurately these thought processes are bad/faulty/lacking — it’s just I Hate This. Codgery, curmudgeonly I Hate This, with a not-so-subtle subtext of You Should Too And If You Don’t, You’re What’s Wrong With The World.

I Hate This As If Hating This Will Make It Better For Me Or For Anyone.

It occurs to me that this is why people don’t listen to such arguments. Because griping about young people and new technology and other new stuff is Just What Old People Do.  That’s why the young have a knee-jerk contempt for authority: they see them as speaking only about Things or about People These Days, the outward manifestations of which can hardly be expected to stay static, but completely unable to draw parallels between their pasts and the young peoples’ presents.  They’re too distracted by the material differences to recognize the cultural and emotional touchstones.

There are always trendy and useless products.  There are always trendy and ridiculous-looking clothes.  There are always idiots.  There are always cheats.  There are always TV shows that seem to herald the end of all civilization.

There are also always people who overreact to the “threat” posed by these specific products/bands/media or their consumers/fans.

But products are products.  Stuff is not a statement.  If someone buys stuff to make a personal statement about themselves, that’s probably a little absurd. If someone buys stuff because they think it will make them More Like The Kind Of Person Who Has This Stuff, yes, that’s absurd and a little sad.  But if someone makes a moral and intellectual judgment about someone else based on the stuff they own, presuming that the purchase means they bought it because – and only because – they’re trying to be The Kind Of Person Who Has This Stuff, that’s significantly worse.  You are buying into the stuff-as-statement pretense, too.  You’re believing they’re either That Kind Of Person, or that they aspire to be That Kind Of Person, instead of acknowledging that, of the various but still limited options, someone decided to purchase that particular piece of stuff for some reason or other.  Maybe it’s a logically sound reason.  Maybe it isn’t.  But you don’t know what it is just by looking at the person.  If you think you do – positively or negatively – you are just as duped. You are not better for owning different stuff.  You are not better for not owning any such stuff.  You are not worse for not owning stuff.

Stuff, stuff-buying, and even stuff-as-statement, is not the point Biddle is even trying to make, I don’t think.  I think he does have a point in all that ramble, but he’s dancing around it.  Rather, he chooses to rail against these specific currently-trendy products (and the people who own them) and means of communication (and the people who use them,) instead of talking about the timeless but preventable characteristics of shoddy thinking, where the lessons actually are.

Why would he do this?

Perhaps because people don’t want to admit that they once liked or coveted popular and frivolous things, too. Or that they once wanted to be “cool,” and have had to content themselves with the fact that they can now be no more than “pretty cool, for an adult.” If you can look at how ridiculous youth culture is now, you can feel advanced and wise, and can also feel pleased for yourself that you didn’t fall into the trap of looking as trendy-foolish back when you actually had the chance. But for some reason, it’s easier to not only detach from popular culture, but rage at it as you do. It makes the dividing line clearer, for the sake of everyone who cares… which is mainly only you. It makes it a lot more clear to others that you aren’t one of Them. You aren’t one of those people who define themselves by certain things they buy – you define yourself as one of the people who HATES people like them, and who buys certain other things instead!  It’s easier to hate. Easier to hold things in contempt, to waste time and thought and energy on loathing what you can’t change.

That’s why 60-year-old-men and 16-year-old Goths sound surprisingly similar – and similarly wearying – when they talk about mainstream culture.

Biddle is correct when he vaguely, loosely, tangentially alleges that youth culture lacks self-awareness or the ability or willingness to use critical thinking or reason (as implied by his very loose allusions to the arguments from authority and popularity, and the fact that the Monster cables he derides are indeed the homeopathy of the electronics world.)  But it’s not just the youth, and it’s not just the Internet. It’s everywhere.  Hell, by this very emotion-driven and material-goods-focused screed that makes sweeping generalizations, appeals to ridicule and to spite, he’s doing this, too.

He’s not helping.

He is, in short, part of the Bad.

Even if he’d approached his actual complaints directly, the author would have had a hard road ahead of him. Primarily because the youth culture and Internet culture that Biddle so derides has a little phrase of its own:

Haters Gonna Hate.

A “hater” is, in its original usage, someone who, for whatever reason, won’t allow another person their own happiness or success, and instead must cut that person down. Someone for whom nothing is ever enough. An irrational grudge, generally. But although it started out specific, as a way of brushing off hostility and unwarranted criticism, “Haters Gonna Hate” has developed into a brushing-off of not only hostility but also virtually any kind of reaction other than agreement and encouragement. It’s an automatic and unthinking dismissal of virtually any unpleasant response. Yes, it also gets applied to people making well-reasoned arguments. But it goes further than the similar “Everyone’s a critic,” in a way that is symptomatic of the greater critical-thinking problem Biddle so very tangentially attempts to sort of allude to (I think.)

“Haters Gonna Hate” recontextualizes any criticism, critique, correction, or even any comment into an emotionally-driven argument. Its persistent use evinces the fact that people, especially young people, are not equipped to diferrentiate a rational argument from an emotionally-driven attack. Moreover, it implies a difficulty in rationalizing other points of view.  It presumes that the criticizer must feel jealousy or actual hate – that nobody would possibly have any other reason to give anything but praise.  Therefore, “Haters Gonna Hate” speaks to a deep-seated sense of self-entitlement. A strain of “I’m okay just the way I am” that’s somehow been bred for aggression, becoming “Fuck you, I do what I want.”

To such people he describes – presuming, for a moment, his sweeping generalizations of selfishness and immorality and inhumanity were actually founded – Biddle would be seen and dismissed as a hater. He seems to embrace the idea of this – or at least he would embrace it, if his joints weren’t acting up and if he weren’t fresh out of liniment. (No, he isn’t even old, but he speaks as if he wants a head start.) He welcomes hating.  In more than one way, he invites contempt. Because, intentionally or not, Biddle IS making only an emotional argument. He’s not actually calling for discourse. He’s not calling for reason. He’s not calling for anything but whining and hate, not realizing that his semi-strawman targets are already well-prepared to dismiss it.

Another related concept among that so-despised youth culture and Internet culture, “drama” generally consists of somebody doing something emotional and irrational, then refusing to acknowledge the consequences, the irrationality itself, or the legitimacy of any complaint. It’s sometimes a result of the inability to contextualize or to plan, of an underdeveloped sense of empathy, or of difficulty accepting and recovering from unexpected hardships.  Sometimes it’s intentional attention-seeking.  Regardless, the “drama queen” seems to thrive on such conflict in lieu of almost any other kind of interpersonal interaction.

Biddle’s screed is no bold dramatic monologue, addressing conflict, reasoning through problems, making difficult choices, reaching a conclusion, and taking a stand.

It’s just drama.

(And possibly even trolling.)

Drama is also not exactly a new phenomenon, and its spread has only been easier as communication has grown more pervasive.  There are scores of avenues to spread gossip, rumors, and general unsubstantiated crap, most of them with ever-lowering barriers to entry.

However, it might be argued that the self-entitlement mentality and lack of critical thinking skills that spur drama (and therefore spur the “Haters Gonna Hate” defense mechanism) seem to be more pervasive and more shameless now than in the past.  Which is also not a new sentiment.

But is it any wonder that it seems true now more than ever?

Advertisements don’t just talk up their own claims and run the viewer through a gamut of fallacies and appeals to emotion – they also bash the competition by name. No more “Brand X,” no more “the leading brand,” no more slightly-different spoofs.

In the 80s and 90s, talk shows featured histrionic freakshows of namecalling and chairthrowing; from the 2000s to the present, it’s “reality TV.” Both purport to demonstrate how people respond to criticism or to conflict. Both tend to rely on subjects with a disproportionate sense of self-worth who cannot acknowledge their own shortcomings, no matter what.

And then there’s the 24/7 cable news quandary, where a lack of verifiable information is no longer an impediment to continuing coverage. Where user comments are reported with the same authority as journalists’ observations, because  opinion, speculation, and hard data are rendered virtually indistinguishable – it’s the attention that matters.

Anyone can write anything on the Internet, and one can easily pick and choose one’s own news sources to get only the information with which they’re already inclined to agree.

It’s not just the media, either.  Good sweet unmerciful crap, don’t get me started on political “discourse.”

Or on parents who simply don’t know how to teach their children, give them guidance, set an example, or otherwise help a child learn any sort of structure, self-discipline, empathy, or understanding.  Possibly because they don’t have those skills, either.

It’s all added up to teach people to value attention for its own sake.  The more undeserved the attention, the more it becomes a grotesque point of fascination.

We have more sources of information than ever before.  More choices, and more freedom to remix, satirize, recontextualize, and otherwise augment that information.  Short of some revolution that annihilates the Internet (and with it most of our economy and social structure,) that’s not going to change.  It does not have to turn us into, as Biddle says, “ever-stupider, ever-strunger-outer attention anorexics.”  It will require – already does require – nuance and the ability to parse multivalent statements.

Information can’t all be taken at face value – that makes you one of the literally unbelievable people who can’t distinguish an Onion article from a non-satirical article.

Information can’t all be dismissed out of hand – that makes you one of those people who thinks they’re always right in the face of all evidence.

Contrary to Biddle’s insults, regular Internet users are probably more likely to navigate this information successfully, out of familiarity and necessity.  Learning how to identify trolls, detect sarcasm without intonation or gestural cues, recognize reliable sources of information, and identify common hoaxes requires a certain kind of information literacy.  Moreover, it’s been among the Internet culture – which is rather more broad than Biddle acknowledges – that I’ve personally found the strongest reactions to mainstream media culture.  Before denouncing memes entirely, Biddle would have done well to observe what kinds of content are given the “I Don’t Want To Live On This Planet Anymore” reaction.  Intolerance, vapid pop music, idiotic statements, poor grammar, Twilight, and other offenses are all given this summary rejection of not only the post itself but of the mainstream culture which created it.

So, the problem is not “information overload.” It’s not the Internet. It’s not technlogy. It’s not the media; it’s not consumerism; it’s not capitalism.  It’s not the kids or the adults, the democrats or the republicans, left or right, high culture or low culture, elitists or idiots.  The problem starts and ends in the three pounds of matter within every individual skull, which processes that information, processes other information around it, figures out how to perceive the world, and figures out how to act upon it.  The problem is – always has been, and always will be – a lack of or willful suspension of critical thinking especially when such thought would create cognitive dissonance with one’s sense of self-entitlement.

There have always been those who thrive on conflict, outrage, attention, and fear, in lieu of empathy, acceptance, humility, and wisdom. No matter how much you whine, no matter how much you hate, your contempt and your loathing will not challenge or change them.   It will not change you, either, except to make you more of the kind of person who can’t stop thinking and talking about how much you hate everyone and everything and how everything’s gone downhill.

Yes, this will make you sound more like an adult.

No, It does not make you sound more mature.

It certainly does not make you sound more wise.

It might make you feel better though.  And that’s okay, though I question the mechanics.

Refusing to acknowledge large swaths of unpleasant or inconvenient reality might also make you just as detached as the people you vituperate.  And that’s okay, too – if you’re going to make rude and sweeping generalizations, maybe you’ll be happier keeping to yourself?  But I suspect that, if you feel this angry, it’s not because a bunch of young dumb brats have somehow displaced you, but because you’ve let yourself grow so estranged from what you value, and maintain such a tenuous hold on it yourself, that you’re able to perceive a total stranger wearing expensive headphones as a threat.

Maybe what you really want is for your intellectual values to be shared and reaffirmed.

The funny thing is… these strangers don’t have to share any of your intellectual or moral values.  They really don’t.  They’re okay with making what we might see as mistakes all the time.  They’re okay with looking stupid.  Or being stupid.  Or not even being able to acknowledge their own stupidity.  And they’re probably happier than us.  Remember, they probably don’t even care what other people think, as long as they’re happy.  And there’s not much we or anyone else can do to change that.  Even if we – individually or culturally – did a better job of equipping them with the intellectual tools, and the knowledge of how to use those tools, and even a social structure that better rewarded people who used those tools and used their intellects, it would still be up to the individual to actually use them.  Do they owe it to themselves to think well and wisely, spend well and wisely, live well and wisely?  Sure.

But they do not owe it to you.

If you acknowledge this, and you’re ranting anyway, maybe you’re really trying to reach out to other people who are already like you. Smart, angry others.  Frustrated, disaffected others.  Others who are tired of feeling all the shame and humiliation that these materialistic simpletons refuse to feel.  Others with whom you might commiserate, here in this dystopian world-gone-mad of Monster cables and Honey Boo Boo Child and swag, here at the end of all days.

I don’t speak for anyone for myself, but I’m tired of misery, private or shared.  I’m tired of whining.  I’m tired of hate, hating, and haters.  I’m tired of drudgery and deception and excuses and shallowness and injustice.   I’m tired of nihilism and tired of those who only enjoy things ironically. I’m tired of antiheroes and impossible ideals.  I want to see sincere, self-aware pursuit of individual goals.  Even if those goals are ridiculous.  Maybe especially if those goals are ridiculous, so long as they’re also positive or at least mostly harmless.  Whether it’s a thesis paper on ancient Greek philosophy or a Viking longboat made out of cereal boxes, I want to see people who know what they want to do, even if they don’t know why they want to do it, and DO THE HELL OUT OF IT, and feel accomplished of the thing that they did as a result.  I don’t want to see people stop being proud – I want them to stop being proud of STUFF and stop being proud of MONEY and stop being proud of ATTENTION and start being proud of what they’ve done and earned and made and meant.  I don’t want to see people being bleak and apathetic and backsliding into sarcastic 90s nihilism as some pendulum-swing response to “swag.”  I don’t want to see hipsters playing games with authenticity and clinging to irony as plausible deniability.  Admit that what you like may or may not be popular, and may or may not be popular among some other subgroups as a direct result of the original popularity value, but that you like it anyway.  Just like what you like anyway.  If it’s not hateful or harmful, like what you like, do what you do, and do what you’re like (if you’re lucky.)

I’m as tired of stupidity as anybody else, but I’m also tired of tedious self-important misanthropes wrapped in a threadbare cloak of intelligence and a homemade crown of moral superiority, who – instead of offering even the most condescending advice on independent thought to these lost little iPad lugging lambs – spend their time flogging those who have fun the wrong way or who have the wrong stuff. You who would do this, you have the Curse of Greyface upon you.

Fun is not the opposite of work.  Happiness is not the opposite of honesty.   Hope is not the opposite of truth.

And hate is not the cure for selfishness, for stupidity, for arrogance, for irrationality, or for anything but serenity.  Your hate changes no one.  Your whining means nothing.  It is not a clarion call for reason and discourse.  It will not crumble the halls of the media.  It will not humble the unjustly proud.  It will not even clearly or thoroughly express your own discontent.  It will only make you another loud, angry talking head, spouting into the cacophony – a willing part of the Fear And Outrage Machine.

So I see Biddle’s challenge in the final lines, and I raise it.

Let’s do more than whine. Let’s do more than hate. Let’s say something meaningful instead.  Let’s make arguments without anger and hypotheses without hyperbole, and politely tell people off if they won’t do the same.  Let’s learn logical fallacies and teach them to young people – as part of government/econ classes, at least, and ideally as early as elementary school. And also teach self-esteem that doesn’t assume everyone’s awesome all the time, but also teaches how to give and receive constructive criticism.  Let’s stop teaching kids that “stupid” is a bad word – and teach them what things really are stupid, and why.  Let’s regain our tolerance for thoughtful pauses and change the channel on shouting matches.  Turn off the TV, don’t feed the trolls, and do things for the sake of genuine personal satisfaction – not attention.  Let’s presume everyone else is as civil, moral, and intelligent as we are, until they prove otherwise – even if they’re carrying an iPad or wearing something we think is funny-looking.   Let’s not confuse censorship for civility, or vice versa.

It’s okay to say that things are terrible.  Believe me, I do.  And I’m no optimist. But it’s even better to recognize exactly what is terrible, why it’s terrible, and to do your part to not be terrible yourself, and to figure out ways to be awesome instead.

The media may take away the lives of children and of the vulnerable inside and out; it may behave irrationally, distort the world, deceive you, tempt you, try to define your dreams, ask you to fear, and reward you with only more reasons to cower – but, like Jareth, it has no power over you, and it’s mostly made of our own imagination.

Maybe we can imagine ourselves something else.  (*ahem*Internet culture*ahem*)  But something more… well, real-world.  Maybe we can.  Maybe we can’t.  But hating, whining, drama, and perpetual conflict – and our cultural fascination with them – are why things are where they are.

I don’t believe they are how we get back out.

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