End of Line

January 2, 2015 in General Topics

The measurement of time as we know it is an inherently subjective animal. I don’t mean that we can’t guarantee that there are seconds, or hours, or that we can’t argue the Gregorian calendar makes a lot of sense. Rather, our end markers for where we define a year are completely arbitrary. I think human beings–whose sentience brings a greater respect for death–associate the “end” of anything with decay, and as the winter season is a time of decay, we anchored the end of the year appropriately.

So I’ve never put a huge amount of stock into our capstones on units of time, or for our odd obsession with the end of “years” in particular. It’s all relative, the way I see it. Just ask the Aussies, after all–right now they’re in summer weather. One wonders what the Gregorian advocates would have left us had they been residents of the Land Down Under.

What matters isn’t that we’re especially reflective at one point of the year–that’s all well and good–but that we retain our ability to be self-aware and observant at all times of the year. That produces more fruit than some sort of one-shot resolution or year-end retrospective. There are a great number of people who marched into Times Square or some other venue on New Year’s Eve, and marched right back out to lives centered on smoke and mirror stuff that really isn’t that important. Their next year will be rife with bad decisions and misdirected priorities. While thousands suffer at the hands of North Korea, and Ebola orphans long for parents, some of us here in the United States will be voluntarily aborting our own children for reasons even the most ardent proponent would find specious. We’ll dream wistfully of new cars. We’ll chase the latest celebrity gossip. We’ll choose careers and stuff over time with our families. We’ll wax about how easy our smartphones are to lose and how the same can’t be said for those spare pounds.

It’ll be another year when practicioners of religion, particuarly Christianity, are told that there’s room for every belief at the table except their own, which they’ll be encouraged to keep to themselves. We’ll see more wars, and more torture (which, unfortunately, a majority don’t understand is not compatible with faith or the American mythos). More people will be wipped into a froth by dishonest talking heads who are little more than paid shills for their political parties. People in this country will continue to avoid holding their leadership accountable for their mistakes, because cheap gas and mediocre healthcare and some availability in the job market are our bread and circuses. We are presently–most of us–well-fed, warm and entertained. Such people don’t usually find much time to be concerned about the transgressions of their government. The Romans knew that; we Americans in 2015 will live it.

Through it all will be the endless drone of our self-absorbed culture. (I will freely admit self-centeredness is a fault of mine, and one I’m working on).

Some of us–hopefully you–will do better.

Because what will continue to matter most are not these macro patterns, but our resistance to becoming propogators of them. Pausing to grasp the ramifications of the year’s headlines was a worthwhile activity, but nothing can replace a healthy respect for history and our world cultures that it created. Nothing substitutes for a drive to understand the nature of the great wheel that we all run along the top of. Perhaps more than any other issue in our education system, we need a much greater emphasis on bringing children up to know that the study of history isn’t the study of dead people and static events from ages before they were born. They need to be taught–as some have said–that history is the study of philosophy told through past events, that ripples made centuries or even millenia ago can and are still affecting them, that a characteristic of any contemporary people is that they often ignore the traps their ancestors stumbled into. Everyone imagines they live in civilization 1.0; the truth is that we’ll never leave alpha testing.

2015 needs to see more people who understand that science can coexist with religion, that there was a time when the mind and soul worked in greater tandem than they did. We need to actively resist those foisting the idea that these two great disciplines must be in some sort of eternal antipathy. People need to learn that the path to enlightenment doesn’t include obtaining a degree in mockery. We need less demagogues and less fanatics; we need reasonable people sitting in the open court of ideas. We need to learn how to respectfully disagree with each other. We need to stop expecting everyone to agree with everything we do. We need tougher skins but gentler hearts, better arguments but less arguing, more cogent views–but less of those derived from a vantage point looking down upon our neighbors.

We can make it a better year, or we can make it like 2014. Here’s to the past year and what we hopefully learned from it.

How the Smut Arms Race Destroys Fiction

September 11, 2014 in General Topics

Rotting BooksRecently I viewed a Netflix original series and nearly found myself as distraught as its protagonists. One might read that and think it’s a good thing. It isn’t.

Hemlock Grove is a series drenched in all-American, old school Gothic horror. When it’s working well, it’s a brooding, atmospheric throwback that reminds me of the made-for-TV movies and miniseries spawned by Stephen King’s books. Watching it felt like coming home. The series has the substance of so much TV and film I devoured in my teenage years.

The first few episodes had their problems–uneven acting, dangling plot lines and inconsistent cinematography–but high points as well, such as one of the best werewolf transformations I’ve seen, and I believed firmly that Hemlock Grove was going to be a wonderful diversion. Lately, though, I’ve found my interest in the show waning. It’s in part due to its uneven quality.

But also the fact that Hemlock Grove is just the latest show to become an active participant in the smut arms race.

To wrap your head around my point, I want you to think about what defines premium content on the top-tier subscription cable channels, and then keep that in mind while I continue. Read the rest of this entry →

The Rise of Emotoporn and 21st Century Grief

August 10, 2014 in General Topics

Americans have a problem. We’ve been bombarded and over-saturated with information to a greater extent than our ancestors. Our fading idealism is on display on Facebook; our angst is broadcasted within Twitter’s character limit. We are a generation that encounters soft-core smut as click-bait on news websites, and we’re driven to consume #trendinghashtags and viral videos. We’re not only living through Andy Warhol’s famous claim, but propagating it in status updates and the almighty share button. We’re wallowing in a constantly-connected world that has geared us to expect short bursts of hyper-focused data.

“Just one more click,” the Internet says.

We are now trained to see the world as a stream of content. And yet, we are increasingly disconnected from that world, experiencing it more and more through a screen accessible everywhere we go. The 21st century digital boy compulsively checks his smartphone. If he isn’t addicted to porn, there’s a fair chance that he’s addicted to the Internet in general, but he’s largely a functional addict, and so it goes. Read the rest of this entry →

The Superman Syndrome

June 19, 2011 in Other Stuff

Turn back the clock to a newspaper stand sitting idly at some miscellaneous street corner in the early summer of June, 1938. Your eyes scan the stand’s publications, flipping past the grim headlines of the day, and settle on the bright artwork and bold title of Action Comics, #1. On that cover, you find a character that is so utterly appealing in that age of financial depression, despotic power grabs, and civil listlessness. This is Superman, lifting that car like it is the easiest thing on Earth — this alien at once a part of home and so enticingly removed from it. Read the rest of this entry →