Tag Archives: The Simpsons

Taming the Rage Monster

hulk

The Troggs had it wrong:  love is not all around, rage is.  At least that’s what it seems when dialing into any form of media of late.  We’re a perpetual powder keg, frothing at our keyboards to spew a storm of digitized incendiary rhetoric into the nearest available outlet given the merest hint of provocation.  It’s about as ludicrous as that old Simpsons gag where a guy taps another on the shoulder and says “Hey you, let’s fight,” and the other replies “Them’s fightin’ words” and takes a swing at him.  We seem to be spoiling for it in our interactions, seeking out opinions (or venturing them) designed to raise blood pressures and elicit profanities and threats of bodily harm.  And yet it’s not as though you’re seeing fistfights break out in shopping malls on a regular basis, or a global “Red Hour” – if you remember the Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” – where the collective agrees on a time and place where they may just as collectively lose their shit.  Day-to-day society proceeds apace, unencumbered by the simmering monster apparently lurking under everyone’s skin ready to Hulk out at the slightest shift in the breeze.

Why are we so angry all the time?  One of the most intriguing arguments is that popular culture, the glamorization of “fame” and the gradual dumbing-down of the education system are to blame for creating a perpetual sense of false expectations amidst the great majority of the world’s population who are fated to live quiet and largely unrecognized lives (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Our concepts of “success” and “failure” have been altered to a state where they barely resemble the truth of what they once were.  We’ve seen failure removed almost entirely from schools lest the fragile feelings of the precious snowflakes inside be hurt.  (As a parent, I don’t mind when my kid flunks a test, because I’d rather he learn that he needs to try much harder to pass rather than know that no matter how little effort he puts in, he’ll always get by.)  Consequently you have a generation of children believing for the first eighteen years of their lives that they are perfect and infallible, and when adulthood arrives and they don’t ace that first job interview, or they come up against any task that is beyond them, they implode, as reliably as a calculator attempting to divide by zero.  Failure does not compute.

Success, on the other hand, is defined again and again, in a manner resembling brainwashing, in terms frankly unachievable by 99.9999999% percent of the population:  seven-figure salaries, a constant stream of supermodel companions, jetting to the Riviera for the weekend to win the Formula One while top-lining the latest blockbuster action movie.  You are invited constantly to compare the dregs of your life with the riches and wonders of the lucky few and find yourself forever wanting, while being indoctrinated with the lie that the only thing you need is belief in your dreams (that doesn’t hurt, but it is most definitely NOT the only ingredient).  How many people were in that record-retweeted Oscar selfie, versus how many millions more were only wishing that they could have been standing to Bradley Cooper’s right?  Is it realistic to think that we can all be movie stars and sports heroes and retire to Malibu mansions overlooking the sea?  Yet ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up and the number one answer is “famous.”  The purveyors of celebrity gossip have become rich themselves convincing the rest of us that we’re just a happenstance discovery away from the big time.  We don’t actually have to do anything to merit it; we’re owed it.

Yet that golden ticket is not going to arrive, and millions grow increasingly impatient for it.  And to paraphrase Yoda, impatience turns to anger, anger turns to hate.

Once again, the boys seem to be the greater offenders here.  Given that we are prone to insecurity as it is and the media’s far-fetched depiction of what constitutes “manhood,” it is unsurprising to see that fireball into unrestrained fury.  I was made aware of a hashtag that circulated Twitter a few days ago, that blissfully I missed out on, #LiesToldByFemales.  Basically, a venue for a cabal of misogynists (who would not dare say any of these things to a real-life woman, naturally) to whine about the endless ways women had done them wrong, either in actual fact or perception (I chance to assume the latter).  It hearkens back to the redefinition of a successful relationship for a man by countless movies, music videos and men’s magazine articles as:  scoring a smokin’ hot chick who will do whatever he wants and subsume her will and personality to his desires, only as long as he deigns to keep her around.  A prurient fantasy, which of course does not exist in the real world, but doesn’t stop men from wanting it anyway.  They’re entitled to it, the magazines have told them, and the movies have shown, in any number of stories where the beautiful goddess eventually succumbs to the persistent charms of the unwashed, inadequate nerd.  Fade to credits before the inevitable consequences of such an ill-gotten romance take hold.  But no matter, the lie has been pre-packaged and sold, and the men who fail to replicate it in their own lives have a perfect justification to assist in brewing their lifelong resentment of reality.  The perceived “safety” of anonymous online posting of same then entitles them to let it out, so the like-minded can holler “Right on!” and retweet and feel vindicated for harboring the same sentiments.  Regardless of how much damage it may do – and how little in fact their lives will change for the better.

That’s the saddest part of this.  Where is all the rage getting us?  You have a tremendous irony in that profound dissatisfaction with the status quo has fired some of the most expansive changes in our history, and yet, 21st Century rage is an end unto itself.  We are furious, yet benumbed.  We’re not starting riots in malls.  It is enough now to be angry for the sake of being angry, to make a few heated comments on a message board, and go back to the drudgery of the day.  We’re addicted to indignation, seeking it out like junkies who can’t abide the space between the highs.  The result?  A climate where everyone is on edge at every moment of the day, a perpetual chill where many are afraid to speak up because it’s like lighting a match to see how much gas is left in the tank.  Reading highlights from the CPAC conference (for the enviably uninitiated, it’s an annual gripe-fest for conservative politicians and celebrities to blame the world’s woes on liberals and their Kenyan Islamofascisocialist president) I can’t help but be reminded of Woody Allen’s character in the 1967 Casino Royale, whose master plan was to detonate a bomb that would render all women beautiful while simultaneously killing all men over four-foot-eleven.  I don’t know what pipe dream of a regulation-free, rootin’-gun-totin’ right-wing utopia where anyone with less than a billion bucks in the bank is deported to Mexico drives these folks, but they seem awfully pissed off that they don’t have it, and that they’re getting no closer to it no matter how many veins they burst in their forehead while they rail about Benghazi at the podium.  Sponsors are raking in advertising revenue from the anger that Fox News foments, but those in whom it is fomented are no further ahead.  In fact, the stress they’re accumulating is shortening the remaining days they have to get angry in.

So much misdirected energy out there.  Just imagine what we could do with it if we could find a way to direct it somewhere else.

As always, dear reader, the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.  So we need to take a page from the Serenity Prayer – accept the things we cannot change.  We need to let go of this idea that we have a divine right to sit at Brangelina’s table, and that Gisele Bündchen only stays married to Tom Brady because she hasn’t met us yet.  We need to cement in our minds the idea that a relationship with a real person is infinitely more rewarding than empty fantasies about surgically-sculpted, spray-tanned hot bods.  We need to stop thinking that we deserve jobs, fortunes or even people that we haven’t gone out and earned.  We need to remember Captain Picard’s one-time advice to Data:  “It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose.  That is not a failing; that is life.”  So yes, we need to accept that by virtue of birth, talent or plain old dumb luck there will always be those individuals who have things better than we do, and that choosing to resent them for having it is truly like that old saw about drinking poison (or ingesting gamma radiation) and expecting the other person to die.  They won’t, no matter how many times we swear on Twitter about it.

What if we tried living life to our own standards instead of what is foisted on us by marketing reps who are trying to sell us things?  If we were able to take the energy misspent on rage and resentment, pull it out of those bottomless pits and refocus it like a laser in furtherance of working on ourselves and our lives, we’d find the reasons for those feelings diminished.  We wouldn’t envy Tom Brady because we’d know what an incredible partner we have standing right next to us and holding our hand at each step.  We would not need to be on movie screens entertaining anonymous masses because the people we know, closest to us, would never question how much we value them.  We would find ourselves replenished with accomplishment and joy – the kind of deep inner assurance that cannot be bestowed by thousands of screaming fans.  Let’s not forget the cautionary tales of those who seemingly “have it all” yet drown and lose themselves in drink and drugs because standing ovations can’t fix pain.  No matter where you go, there are you are.  Instead, change how you feel about yourself and realize you could have a pretty amazing life if you just started living the one you have and not the imagined one that everything you read and see is telling you that you deserve.

Endless rage will never get us what we really want in life – namely, to stop feeling so angry.  It is the very definition of self-defeat.  So no, Hulk no need to smash.  Hulk need to calm down, be nicer to wife and kid, plant tree and take up productive hobby.  Hulk might find he happier and other stuff not bother him so much.  And everyone get along better.

O Privacy, Where Art Thou?

This is your life.  Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons
This is your life. Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons

On Twitter today, Joyce Carol Oates shares a quote from yesterday’s New Yorker about privacy, in which artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg opines, “we are probably the last generation that will realize what we’re losing.”  You can’t help thinking that she’s right.  An entire generation is growing up with their lives chronicled meticulously for the world’s perusal through Facebook, Instagram, blogs, what have you, either by proud parents or by themselves, seeking connection in the digital space.  For the vast majority of the population, these connections will be benign, the consequences minor or nonexistent.  Traditional media is certainly keen to hype up the instances of social media gone wrong, and certainly the latest revelations about the National Security Agency are cause for justifiable alarm at what is being collected and by whom for what purposes.  To me, it seems that privacy has become a malleable concept.  People are okay with sharing to a certain degree, but there is usually a line they won’t cross, and that line differs from person to person.  Yet everyone is happy to abdicate at least some of what is uniquely theirs to the great unknown masses; the absolute recluse is soooo last century.  (Even Thomas Pynchon lent his voice to The Simpsons a couple of times.)  Is Joni Mitchell right, though?  Will we not know what we had until it is gone?  Or is the march to a completely open community inevitable and privacy a willing sacrifice?

The flexible line intrigues me.  A while back, I read a post (I don’t remember where, sorry, or I would provide the link) in which the writer suggested that the level of detail provided in certain “mommy blog” posts about children encroached on the territory of potential libel litigation once the child reached maturity – tired moms calling their kids “little shits” online, and so forth.  As a blogger and a new adoptive parent, I too had a choice to make about how much or how little detail I would include about my son in this space.  Mindful of my own rule that you should never put anything online that you wouldn’t carve in concrete on your front porch, and not wanting to burden my son with a digital legacy not of his own making, I chose to be quite spare in the amount of information I reveal about him.  Where I do post about parenting it’s about my thoughts and feelings – which I can control – and my son is more of a relatively anonymous factor influencing me.  You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned his name, and if someone who knows me personally accidentally drops it in the comments, I delete it post-haste.  (I have not mentioned my wife’s name here either, for the same reasons, though if you really want to find it, it’s not that difficult.)  The siren song of the Internet is calling to him with increasing volume, and he’ll have plenty of time to forge his own footprint his own way, when he’s ready (you know, in about 30 years or so).  He doesn’t need me blazing an embarrassing trail with catty remarks about cranky moods or off-color remarks spoken in innocence that will come back to haunt him in his first job interview.

Even if you are cautious about sensible things – not posting your address or phone number, or photos of your house or of you blistering drunk in a pair of your mother’s underpants and so on – you are still giving up an aspect of your privacy when you share your thoughts, whether they be in short bursts of anger at the latest dumb thing done by right wing politicians or long, carefully-reasoned pieces like this one.  If someone was a diligent reader of the preceding 200-odd posts here they’d have me at a considerable disadvantage were I to meet them in real life.  (Honestly, at any given time I don’t remember half of what I’ve written here.)  You don’t know where I live or where I am this very second, but one could argue you know a much more intimate detail about me.  You know how I think.  That is, assuming you trust that I’ve been truthful and I haven’t been pulling your leg for almost two years with the old unreliable narrator gimmick.  And that raises another interesting question.  Given the absolute tabula rasa of the digital space for the creation of an online identity, why the presumption that the majority of folks who use it are being absolutely honest about who they are and what they think?  I could have created a completely opposite alter ego just for fun and gone to town.  But I wanted to be me.  And I wanted the digital me to be consistent with the real me, otherwise Lucy would have a lot of ‘splaining to do at dinner parties.  So I have in fact given up an integral component of my privacy.  I’ve opened my mind to you.  There’s an implicit contract then that you are not evil incarnate and you’re not going to find some way to use it against me in a future I have not yet conceived.  And even if you do there’s not hellish much I can do about it.  I’ve handed over the mallet willingly and it’s your choice whether or not you want to bludgeon me with it.

When you think about it in that context, sharing online is an enormous gesture of trust, and an encouraging one, for it speaks to a deep-rooted optimism that our fellow human beings are good people who can be relied upon to be responsible caretakers of the information we’re providing them.  Is it possible that the desire for community, connection and having our voices heard outweighs the wish to protect privacy?  For it seems that today, you cannot have both.  Certainly, those who shun the digital space wind up missing out on a heck of a lot.  There are terrific people I’ve met through blogging and through Twitter that I never would have known about had I chosen to retract my head into my little turtle shell and keep my own counsel.  My life, then, has been enhanced by forfeiting aspects of my privacy.  In her TED talk, Brene Brown talks about how the people who are the most willing to be vulnerable are those who experience the richest love in return.  Yet there’s that catch – being vulnerable.  Putting it out there.  Extending your hand knowing there is a possibility (however remote) that it might be bitten off.  What is worrisome to many, as Heather Dewey-Hagborg suggests with her quote, is that in the future, there simply may be no choice anymore.  We need to know if we’re okay with that.  The reward of a closer-knit human race is a tempting carrot indeed, but the trouble is, no one knows what it will feel like to be hit with the stick.

In like a lamb

A perfect metaphor for March 1st, 2012.

Elmore Leonard’s first rule of writing advice is, never open your book with weather.  So with apologies to Mr. Leonard and his learned wisdom, I’m starting off March with a few comments about the state of the climate.  It was not that long ago that I recall temperatures plunging to the minus twenties in the middle of February, jagged sheets of ice coating my apartment windows and blocking the view of the mountains of white beyond.  I’m not going to complain about a more modest than usual February heating bill, but this is ridiculous.  I’ve had to shovel the driveway exactly twice this entire winter.  I missed doing it so much I actually shovelled both my neighbours’ driveways just to get in the extra few minutes of cardio.  My better half’s allergies have been in overdrive all season as it never got cold enough to kill off the mould and spores of autumn rot.  And we did double-takes this morning when birds started chirping outside.  The geese have figured it out – they never flew anywhere this winter.  Think there could possibly be a relation to, well, I don’t know, um, global CO2 emissions being higher than ever before?  Nah, it’s sunspots.  We’re actually in a cooling phase.   It’s just Al Gore, Solyndra and the Islamofascisocialists trying to sell you solar panels.  Think I’ll fill my Hummer with Super-Hi-Grade and then run over a spotted owl.  Suck it, Mother Nature.  FREEDOM!!!

Yep, it’s gonna be one of those days.

I love the Search Engine terms tracker on the WordPress dashboard.  It is genuinely amusing to see how people find me, and I can’t help imagining the tremendous disappointment that must occasionally result.  I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of hits from people who saw The Grey and are looking for references to the “Live and die on this day” quote – that at least relates to something of substance.  I get a few from people searching for My Little Pony, The Verve, Coldplay, other search terms that happen to coincide with some of my random word strings, like “grahams wall of sound”.  But some of these other search engine terms are just plain bizarre.  The one that really made me laugh was “kesha good looking”.  Someone on the hunt for images of Kesha for what I’m certain are nothing less than the purest of purposes ended up here?  Granted some of what I write can hopefully be very thought-provoking, but those are definitely not the thoughts I’m trying to provoke.  Eeeww.  We won’t have none of that ‘ere, mate.  Keep calm and carry on.  Besides, silly rabbit, you should know that “Kesha” and “good looking” are not terms that relate.  Ooh, how catty of me.  Thanks, try the veal.

I wonder what it must feel like to have a voice that other people love to impersonate.  Do they ever listen to themselves and think, “good God, do I really sound like that?”  My own voice is quite unremarkable, so I enjoy dressing it up with different accents whenever the opportunity arises.  The other day I was watching a YouTube clip of Michael Caine doing an impression of himself, or more accurately, Michael Caine doing Peter Sellers doing Michael Caine.  It was all in good fun, of course, but how frustrating must it be that almost everyone you meet will be some wag who thinks he can “do you”?   As I’m certain even ordinary lads from Glasgow or Belfast must roll their eyes at attempts by continentals to affect their unique, history-nurtured tones.  One of the cardinal rules on whatever film set he happened to be working was that no one was allowed to impersonate Sean Connery, which I’m sure didn’t stop them from trying to slur “Missh Moneypenny” behind his back.  That is the problem, naturally – everyone thinks they can mimic Sean Connery and almost no one can pull it off.  The same goes for John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson and most of Rich Little’s repertoire.  Voice actors, I’m told, often start from a celebrity impersonation when they’re working up a new character.  The scratchy warbles of The Simpsons’ Moe the bartender began from what his performer Hank Azaria called a bad Al Pacino impression.  Somehow I doubt anyone will ever be accused of doing a bad Graham Milne impression – except maybe myself.

So what are my goals for this month?  Thirty-one days of possibility lie ahead, full of opportunity for both triumph and tragedy.  Gonna try to keep blogging as close to daily as I can, have a new screenplay to start working on, and, because I find that putting it out there publicly is a good way to motivate myself, I’m going to begin sending out my long-gestating novel to agents and publishers.  Hopefully the response will be as promising as that which has greeted my musings here.  If all goes well, maybe, by the 31st, I will, like the lion, have a good reason to roar.  Stay tuned!

These are the bricks you’re looking for

A few weeks ago, an episode of The Simpsons took a poke at Lego, criticizing the volume of licensed Lego products and charging that the world’s favourite building toy is no longer about individual imagination and creation, but rather the mindless duplication of whatever the designers have created for you.  Certainly Lego has changed since I got my first set back in the early 80’s.  Back then, aside from the boxes of generic brick assortments, there were only three product lines – Town, Castle and Space.  Nowadays, there’s Pirates of the Caribbean Lego, Harry Potter Lego, Star Wars Lego, Spider-Man Lego, and a forthcoming Lord of the Rings line, where you will finally be able to purchase a Lego Legolas (the mind trips at the metaphysical implications of that one).  There are Lego video games, Lego board games, Lego cartoons, Lego movies, even a Lego Architecture line where you can recreate famous buildings like the Sears Tower or the White House.  YouTube is full of amateur Lego recreations of classic movie scenes and Eddie Izzard’s comedy routines.  And the surest sign that the popularity of the little Danish toy that could continues to swell is that much to the chagrin of parents, retailers almost never put it on sale.  Lego comes as close as any product I know of to a textbook example of inelastic demand.

Upon glancing through the Lego section of your local Toys R Us, it would seem that the trend has moved towards replication rather than innovation.  The instructions enclosed with each set used to be harder to follow – you would be shown stages of construction and it was up to you to figure out which bricks you needed to find amidst the pile.  Now everything is laid out much more clearly, with each brick given its own part number, arrows showing how they should be connected, and a helpful suggestion to assemble your set on a hard surface, not a rug (I guess during all those hours assembling spaceships on my bedroom carpet, I was doing it wrong.)  At the same time, not that I’m keen to disagree with The Simpsons on anything, but upon deeper examination, their assertion is still not particularly fair.  To its credit, Lego has been savvy enough to realize that their sets have different levels of appeal:  some want to collect the licensed sets just to build them as presented, but the majority of Lego’s fans treasure these sets not just for the chance to build an X-Wing, but for the customized parts that can spur their own flights of fancy.  The first Lego bricks were strictly rectilinear, but with the new lines came varieties of curved bricks and specialized parts like flags, steering wheels, fruits, swords and countless others that opened up new possibilities for creation – everything didn’t always have to be ninety-degree angles anymore.  Indeed, builders both young and adult have flooded the Internet with images of fantastic constructions, some inspired by popular culture, others wholly new and inventive.  One could be given a collection of paint and shown step-by-step instructions on how to recreate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but the true artist will always use that paint as the building blocks – sorry about the pun – of their own unique fabrication.  The same as how a keyboard could theoretically be used to retype A Tale of Two Cities, if that is your inclination, or it can help write a new, original masterpiece.  Lego is at its core merely a tool for creativity, and the set designs are only one option for how to wield it.  The use of the tool is up to the individual.

There is still significant merit in “just following the instructions,” as some of my friends used to natter dismissively.  A great number of today’s engineers are kids who grew up putting Lego together.  It can be an invaluable vehicle for the conceptualization of spatial relationships.  Personally, I have a profound interest and obsession with comprehending how and why things work – I’m not one to take the world on faith alone, and much of this I can trace to my fascination with watching Lego spaceships take shape one brick at a time.  To this day I still find assembling Lego to be a most relaxing activity – my mind is at peace and my attention focused on the movement of my fingertips as each piece is connected to the next.  If nothing else, it’s made me a genius at putting Ikea furniture together – so let no man assert that those silly plastic bricks are of no practical value in the real world.  As far as I’m concerned, anything that fosters curiosity and a need for understanding is a good thing.

Now I just need to see if that argument works with my better half regarding that $400 Lego Star Destroyer I was eyeing this past weekend…

UPDATE:  This story came out the morning of January 25, showing the kind of creativity Lego can inspire.