Culture postsTuesday October 07, 2014
New Answer to an Old Riddle
Jordan started giving Ryan and I lateral puzzles he had been doing in school (like riddles) on the way to play rehearsal. I came back with the only one I remembered from my childhood. A father and son are in a car accident. The father is killed. The boy is rushed to the emergency room and the doctor says, “I can't operate on this child, it's my son!” The answer I remember is the doctor is the mother, which, at the time I learned it, exposed my own biases. Ryan, without skipping a beat, shouts from the back seat, “The fathers are gay!” Yep, worked for me.
Junk Mail for the Elderly
Last year my sister and I bought my mom, now in her 80s, a condo in a 55-and-over building in south Minneapolis. It's both in my name and my mom's name, so I assume that's the reason my mom received some junk mail from the Neptune Society at my home in Seattle. It came in a pale yellow envelope with her name mock-typed on the front, so at first glance it seems like personal mail. At first I thought someone sent us a card.
Inside there's a return envelope and two small, pale yellow pieces of stationery with a lavender banner. One of the pages is a letter from Tim Nicholson, President/COO, using a cheesy, near-cursive font. Here's how it begins:
For a variety of reasons, more and more people are choosing to plan for a memorialized cremation over traditional funeral arrangement—and the numbers are increasing every year!
The other page includes a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about today being a gift (which is why it's called “the present”), a photo of an elderly man playing ring-around-the-rosie with his grandkids at the beach, and an offer to WIN A PRE-PAID CREMATION.
- You mean over *a* traditonal funeral arrangement?
- I would've lost the exclamation point.
- I seriously doubt Eleanor Roosevelt said that.
I have other thoughts, too.
To Like and Be Liked in Return
Last night I watched “Generation Like” on PBS's Frontline and wanted to kill myself afterwards. It's about the online world, and social media, and how corporations pitch to kids and kids pitch to each other, and how little starlets are made from all this. And how money is made from all this.
A lot of it is obvious—your likes are added to the pool of likes and constitute market research which is monetized—so why did it depress me so? Perhaps because it shows some aspect of my own desires (attention, fame, hits) turned to 11. Perhaps because it reveals how bad I am at this game. (Of course, I still think people want to read.) Perhaps because there doesn't seem to be anything else. It's just this airless, clueless world.
I think the most depressing moment was when author Douglas Rushkoff asked kids about being a “sell out” or the concept of “selling out” and they didn't know what it was. They couldn't define it. They had no clue.
Identifying yourself by what you like is an old concept. Milan Kundera wrote about identifying yourself by the method of addition (likes) or subtraction in his novel “Immortality” but he goes further:
Here is that strange paradox to which all people cultivating the self by way of the addition method are subject: they use addition in order to create a unique, inimitable self, yet because they automatically become propagandists for the added attributes, they are actually doing everything in their power to make as many others as possible similar to themselves; as a result, their uniqueness (so painfully gained) quickly begins to disappear.
Wanting to be liked is an even older concept. But that's all there appears to be in this world. To like and be liked by dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions. For doing what? Skateboarding? No, harassing girls. For singing? No, just talking. For pushing this or that corporate product. For being the person with 300K likes. It's all turned up to 11. It's icky.
After it was over, and not learning my lesson, I tweeted something about it, and that tweet was immediately “favorited” by someone else. But it was one of those fake Twitter accounts, with the pretty girl on it, and the garbled tweets, and a decided lack of followers. It was someone pretending to be human. There was no one there.
The State of the Union ... Contains 'A Deep Seated Dislike for Most Things America Stands For'
Three days ago The New York Times offered us this headline: “Obama Pursuing Modest Agenda in State of the Union,” which, since the address is tonight, shows us once again that the news isn't what's happened but what's about to happen. Shame. The news should be so five minutes ago.
Today, the Times is offering us ... well, us: user-generated content. How Would You Describe the State of the Union?: “Please share your opinion with us on Twitter by adding the hashtag #TellNYT to your tweet.” Friends on Facebook are doing the same. “The state of the union is ___________” one asks. Since he lives in Georgia, he's getting all kinds of answers.
Here's my answer. I came across it last night reading on the planeride home from New York:
Seems to be a deep seated dislike for most things America is and stands for.
That's not the current state of the union; that's FBI analysis of the movie “State of the Union,” as reported in John Sbardellati's book, “J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies: The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood's Cold War.” The movie stars Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and was directed by Frank Capra.
Of course, to the FBI, Capra, a Norman Rockwellseque figure today, who made movies steeped in Americana and schmaltz, was suspect. Among other FBI reviews of Capra movies:
- Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: “Gary Cooper sides with the underprivileged.”
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: “First Hollywood movie to show tie-up between Congressmen and Big Business.”
- It's a Wonderful Life: “The picture represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers.”
Plus ca change. You can still be suspect by siding with the underprivileged, showing the tie-up between Congress and Business, and attempting to discredit bankers. And now more people are taking notes.
SLIDESHOW: Tea Shirts
I first noticed them in Rehoboth Beach, Del., during the summer of 2010. There are several T-shirt shops along the boadwalk there, and while in the late 1970s they tended to focus on the pop cultural (DARTH VADER LIVES, etc.), by 2010 they seemed angrier, loutish, sexist and right-wing. Call them Tea-shirts. Last month in Minneapolis for Christmas, I saw the same at City Shirts at the Mall of America. The above one isn't bad, although using a Wayans Bros. catchphrase for a backwoods reality-show star who has commented on how happy black people were before civil rights is, at the least, incongruous.
But it's the political ones that get to me. A diminishing number of producers? Having their wealth confiscated? In what world? 1950s America when the top tax rate was 91%? Or today when it was a battle to make it 39%? And that's for wages not capital gains. The above tee is a bigger fantasyland than any of my “Star Wars” T-shirts ever were.
Dude: 1) Those aren't guns; 2) Pres. Obama isn't going after guns. Sadly. Apparently to enact any kind of sane gun laws in this country, we'll need a Nixon/China thing: a politician less likely to be besmirched for doing the thing because he's usually the one doing the besmirching. We need this because armed men coming into our schools and killing our children isn't enough.
I've said it before, I'll keep saying it: America is a man eating filet mignon on a yacht telling a man eating a baloney sandwich in his car to resent the man eating his crumbs on the street.
Then you get to the sexist ones. Here's a T-shirt worn by a dude who will never get laid.
Ditto. This is a sad, sad shirt for anyone who stops to think about it for two seconds.
People on the right do know that John Wayne avoided serving in World War II, right? He fought the safer battle in Hollywood for bigger bucks. And speaking of World War II ...
Is there anything more stupidly American than reducing the worst conflagrations in human history to Sunday afternoon bragging rights? Thirty-seven million died in World War I and 60 million died in World War II and all I know about it is this lousy T-shirt.
Stay classy ...