Archive for the society Category

A String Of Thoughts On Last Night

Posted in life, society with tags , , on August 14, 2014 by cueball

What is a society?

Is it simply a conglomeration of peoples who agree to live in close proximity to each other without attempting to kill each other?  Is it more than that, is it less than that?  It has to be more.  It has to be more than just a social contract that takes us out of a state of nature by keeping you from stealing my stuff or me from stealing your stuff.

In a real society, the answer to the question, am I my brother’s keeper, has to be one in the affirmative.  If your brother feels aggrieved and beset by you, you cannot respond to that with the back of your hand.  Not in a real society.  If your brother complains that he believes his anguished cries to be unheard, you cannot respond with tear gas.  Not in a real society.

There is never one thing that sets people off and sends them to the streets to protest.  We mistakenly believe in the great man and great moment way of looking at history.  The idea that history is made up of these momentous occasions in which everything changes all it once.  That is only partly true, the world does change all at once, but it is gradual.  The seeds of change are sown over time, but only spring forth once the moment when the combination of rain and sunlight are in perfect harmony. 

If people take to the streets in protest, it is not because one young man died tragically.  If people take to the streets in protest it is because they feel systematically ignored and betrayed by their government and their fellow citizens and feel this is the only way they can finally be heard.

A strange moment occurred last night.  On one channel, the police chief of a small Southern (or near Southern) community used the words “outside agitators” to describe why some of the protests in his city began and on another channel US troops were being mobilized to go fight a war in a place our government seems trapped in fighting against its own will.  The word quagmire comes to mind. 

Tear gas in the streets and troop ships flying off to foreign lands.  All this has happened before and all of this will happen again.  That is one of the depressing things about humans.  While history does bend itself towards justice, it is a very slight and slow bend.  Humans congregate towards the familiar and the comfortable.  When given two choices the human preference is for the one that causes the least amount of work and pain for the greatest amount of pleasure.  History may bend us towards justice, but only with a kick in the ass.

A society whose government enforces the law with two separate standards, a society who creates laws to protect one group over another, a society that treats one group of citizens as citizens and the other group as something less, a society whose government doesn’t accept dissent or allows itself to be questioned in any way is an unsustainable society. 

We must ask more of our government then just to collect taxes and enforce property laws.  We must expect more of our fellow citizens then to drive on the right side of the road.  Everyone in a functioning society must be their brother’s keeper and government must be the main mechanism by which a society takes care of its own.  This country’s government was built to allow itself to be dragged back towards justice no matter how painful the dragging may be.  Ferguson, MO is the latest reminder of that.

Here is another reminder for your reading pleasure. 


We Should Remember To Enjoy Stuff

Posted in life, society, television with tags , , , on September 24, 2013 by cueball

It seems I start any piece I write about the effects of the internet and technology with the caveat that I love the internet and technology and I love all the advancements that have accompanied them for the most part.

However, as much as  I love Twitter, it and its other social media cohorts have fundamentally altered the way we consume entertainment, and not always in a good way.  These new modes of communication have made the enjoyment of, the reaction to that enjoyment, and the announcement of that enjoyment to the world instantaneous.  This makes us judge television shows, movies, music, and books solely by how it makes us feel at the exact moment we first experience it.

We are seemingly losing the ability to judge a work in its totality and to let things percolate.  In addition, and maybe more importantly, we are forgetting how to simply enjoy a thing simply as the thing in the moment.  Deciding something’s cultural importance can be done later (and should be done much later).

I have really noticed this phenomenon with the ending of Breaking Bad.  People seem hell bent on first trying to figure out what is going to happen next, second trying to be the first to say it wasn’t that great, and third trying to be the first to correctly nail its cultural significance.

The part that confuses me the most is trying to figure out what is going to happen next.  Why does it matter what your theories are about how it is going to end?  If today, I posted a blog post or a Tweet that correctly guesses at everything that will happen in the final episode, what would I win?  Also, how does guessing correctly make my enjoyment of the episode better?

The end of Breaking Bad is just the latest incarnation of this.  Every other week another movie, book, or album comes out and the next week is filled with an orgy of people tweeting and blogging about how this is the greatest thing ever in the history of history.  They seem to forget about the thing they said the used the same words on that came out 6 months ago or that there was a movie, book, or album that came out 20 years ago that this new one has cribbed a lot of its DNA from and after the initial orgy of bloviating praise has dissipated will still be seen as better than its newest doppelganger.

That was over 400 words to get to this, people please just enjoy the end of Breaking Bad.  We have been witness to what will probably go down a one of the great runs in the history of the television medium.  Don’t try to outthink Vince Gilligan and guess how he is going to end it.  Don’t get your The Wire fandom panties in a bunch because people are saying this is better than that.  Just sit back and enjoy a great television show that is working at its highest level.

First, you’re not smarter than Vince Gilligan so stop it.  Second, at a certain level of greatness distinctions don’t matter.  Distinctions of quality matter when comparing something like The Sopranos to Work It.  They even matter when comparing two quality shows like The Good Wife and Mad Men.  However, once you hit the rarified air of The Wire, Mad Men, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad you have differences with little distinction.  The dividing line in most of those shows is personal preference of style and content.

We as consumers and Internet denizens are so often geared to trying to be the first, the quippiest, and most though provoking, we sometimes forget to sit back enjoy and let the beauty of our entertainment wash over us.

The One In Which I Channel Will McAvoy

Posted in society with tags , , , , , on March 14, 2013 by cueball

Every human being has a value beyond money.  The belief in that concept is what tells me I may be living out of my time.  Almost everything in our pop culture seems to break people down into commodities.

You have someone like Darren Rovell whose job is, apparently, to break down everything an athlete does to tell you how much money it is worth.  You have actors/musicians who live in this strange reality where everything they do is worth page hits and magazine sales.  If you include reality shows in this, it now makes it possible for “normal” people to achieve the same level of “success” by becoming a brand.

That word disgusts me when applied to actual flesh and blood human beings.  Rovell always talks about athletes as brands.  Actors/musicians who want a certain level of fame do things in public that accentuate their brand.  The nitwits that go on shows like MTVs The Challenge are always conscious of their brand in terms of staying culturally relevant.

For many of these people (particularly the denizens of reality television) the fame they get from being a brand on television replaces their own self-respect.  A person wanting to watch them even in their worst moments is mistaken for that person loving them.

Human beings are not brands.  We are not commodities to be traded like pork bellies.  The idea that attention is the same as adulation is the same as love is twisted and wrong.  This is what I mean by living outside of my time.  Our culture as a whole seems to have accepted both of these things as second nature to life.

There seems to be a whole section of our culture that only sees human beings as entertainment delivery systems.  This part of our society doesn’t see them as flesh and blood.  They are only there to entertain us and that includes anything that happens in their lives.  There are two tracks to this: sports and entertainment.

In sports at some point you must eventually show you can play.  In that sense it is a little less forgiving.  However, once it is established you can’t play, you are forgotten and the culture moves on.  We have no more use for you because there is no more stage for you to perform on unless you were once great and still have some sideshow freak value (hello, Dennis Rodman).

Harrison Barnes by all rights seems like a good young man.  He has the potential to be a great NBA player and, for me as UNC alumni, he was (for the most part) a joy to watch in college.   However, almost from the moment he signed his letter of intent (I will rage against these in a post after the tournament) he seemed to be as concerned with his brand as his actual play on the basketball court.  Advice to future professional athletes: Become at least competent at your sport at the professional level before you create your own logo.

Entertainment is different in that the shelf life of talent is longer than in sports.  That means you will get more chances.  Usually, right up until the point where you OD or kill yourself.  Someone somewhere will always find a use for you.  There are always movies and television shows being made somewhere at some level.

Lindsay Lohan is our current cautionary tale of talent wasted because of excess and no guidance.  I hope her story takes a Robert Downey Jr. turn and doesn’t end tragically.  As many chances as Robert Downey received he also got sent to jail a few times before it clicked into place for him.  So far, all Lohan has gotten is excuses and chances.  If it ends in tragedy for her our hands are at least a little bloody.  We almost encourage this outrageous behavior by treating it as entertainment as much as any of the movies she has been in that float across our screens.

We use these people up like husks and throw them away.  We watch them at the height of their powers and we keep watching them as they go all the way down the rabbit hole.  If someone young and pretty dies by overdose or via their own hand, we will have the sad montage on E! or CNN where they will speak of how tragic the death of this young and talented person is, then they will move on to the next mess of a human trying to hold on to fame they replaced their self-respect with years ago.

My Delayed Return and Reality Television Scolding

Posted in society, television with tags , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by cueball

I’ve written about it before, but I don’t really like reality television.  First, I generally find most of the characters repugnant.  There is little time to do all the things I want to in this world and wasting that time by spending it with people I don’t like and don’t want to be around seems idiotic.  Second, to call a lot of this reality is a disservice to reality.  Most of these shows are scripted up to a point and they are certainly well edited to convey what the producers want.

This leads to my third point, I find it much more fun to speculate what is going through Aaron Sorkin’s, Matt Weiner’s, or Vince Gilligan’s mind as they create this world for their characters.  When done right, these fictions say more about humanity and the world in which we live then most of the reality shows on television.

The first point is probably the biggest point for me.  I have watched parts of episodes of most of the big reality shows (happily, I have never seen a second of The Bachelor or The Bachelor Pad).  I can honestly say I don’t want to ever meet any of these people.  Let me amend that, I don’t want to meet any of these people as they are portrayed on their reality shows.  Again, these shows are scripted and they have better editing then most scripted shows.

I don’t know what it is that bothers me about these people most.  It is probably there need to be famous and their willingness to do whatever is needed to satiate that need.  I may be old-fashioned, but I still believe if you are going to be famous you should be famous for doing something that requires talent.  Not just the ability to be pretty on camera and do outrageous things to make people talk about you on Twitter.

There is a difference between living your life out loud and being who you are with no filter 24-7 and turning your life into a commodity to be consumed by people just so you can be famous and probably well compensated.

I was there.  I remember the first season of The Real World.  It was fun and interesting to watch strangers be thrown into a house together and bounce off each other like normal people.  That isn’t what happens anymore because those people became minor celebrities by accident.  Today’s participants want to be celebrities.

In the end there is nothing wrong with that.  Someone wants to light themselves on fire and scream, “Look at me,” whatever.  I’m not going to watch it.  It doesn’t make me a better person for not watching it (trust me; I watch a lot of crap).  That is the beauty of this situation.  I have 600 channels of television, including a bunch dedicated to my favorite reality show: sports.  I also have books, music, and movies to keep me entertained.

As I said, there is nothing wrong with someone prostituting themselves to get famous.  There is nothing wrong with a network being willing to show those people.  They are just whores trying to make a buck by providing a service they know people want.  My problem is I don’t think we know where the line we are not willing to cross as viewers is?  What is it that would come on television that we would be willing to turn away from?

Actually I do have one other question.  If you treat your life as a commodity, what happens when no one values that commodity anymore?

The One Where I Babble About Not Dying

Posted in life, society with tags , , , on March 8, 2013 by cueball

We worry ourselves too much about not dying.  I was in the grocery store today and the cashier and the bag boy were having a conversation.  Usually I get to ignore these conversations because I have my iPod in my ear listening to music or some podcast, but today I went in with my ears naked.  The cashier said, “I’m staying out of high rises and off airplanes.  That’s where the terrorists or the Koreans will attack us.”

First, this is Grover, NC, there are no high rises.  Second, why are you worried about dying in an attack from the terrorists or the (presumably) North Koreans?

Of the many, many things I worry about in life, dying isn’t one of them.  I know I’m going to die.  So, I do not fret too much about the manner of that death.

Worrying about death and bodily injury is something we do too much of in this country.  Yes, if you live in an area plagued by crime and drugs, you should worry about injury and death on a daily basis.  That may actually keep you alive.  However, most of us in this country live in places of relative safety and should not worry about catching a stray bullet from a drive-by.

Why do we worry so much?  I think it has a lot to do with the 24-hour television news cycle and the hourly internet news cycle.  These beasts must be fed and the only way to do it is constant streams of information and content.  Also, as local television news has taught us, “If it bleeds it leads.”  So, not only do content providers have to provide us with constant content, they have to make their content stand out to draw viewers and page hits.  That leads to the most sensational stories possible, which means a lot of murder, mayhem, and tainted food.

The news tells us everything can kill us and we have the ability and money as a first world country to protect us and our children from almost every physical danger.  So, we try to stave away all danger and pain.  However, we can’t, and that makes us try harder and harder to do it.

Oh yeah, you can also get sued by anyone for almost anything today.  Someone slips on ice in front of you house, that’s your fault and you will be sued for millions.  Run over someone’s foot in a grocery store with your cart, they will try to take your house.  Now, we are scared of hurting ourselves and dying before we are ready (This leads to one of my favorite quotes from Band of Brothers by Lt. Ronald Spiers, “The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function: without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends upon it.”  My mind is a wonderful place.) as well as hurting someone else and having them sue us for everything we own.

There is no real point about this except to say we are becoming a country of neurotics.  The cashier just said something that was funny to me.

The One Where I Ramble About Battlestar Galactica And Torture

Posted in society with tags , , , on March 6, 2013 by cueball

I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right! – Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness in The Untouchables

Which side are we on?  We are on the side of demons, Chief. We’re evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. – Michael Hogan as Col. Saul Tigh in Battlestar Galactica

These are two of my favorite movie/television quotes.  They say a lot about the movie and show they are in and they say a lot about those characters.  Both men were simply using what they had to fight their fight the best way they could.  However, they were different.

Elliot Ness was righteous.  He may have done bad, but he knew he was on the side of the angels.  He was cleaning up Chicago and if he had to bend or break a few laws to put Capone in jail, he would.  He could sleep at night because he was at heart a good man defending the flag and apple pie against the evil mobsters and bootleggers.

Saul Tigh was not righteous.  He was doing a job no angel could do.  They were fighting on the losing side of a war and killed and maimed as many as possible to gain just a little traction.  He ordered people to kill innocents as well as themselves in suicide bombings to disrupt the Cylon Occupation.

I’ve had these two quotes in my head ever since seeing Zero Dark Thirty.  More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the torture of detainees and prisoners.  I have come to the conclusion that at least in this instance, we are the evil men in the gardens of paradise.  However, in this case those evil men were maybe not necessary, but understandable.  Those that were behind these evils should step up and say, “What we did was necessary, but not right.”  They should stop hiding behind the idea that because what they did, they did to protect this country it makes it all right or in some ways noble.  Just because you were trying to protect the country doesn’t make what you did legal or even noble.

I am not stupid.  Nor am I naive.  I understand that there are legal and diplomatic consequences to current and former government officials admitting to participation in torture.  Part of being an adult is admitting when you are wrong and accepting the consequences of your actions.

I don’t care about the souls of the men and women behind the torture program.  What I care about, is the country and the ideals they supposedly wanted to protect so much.  They did this in our name, which means we have done this thing.  We are all complicit.  We are the forces of death who sent in the evil men.  To pretend otherwise is to twist the soul and the intellect into inextricable knots and leads to nothing.

This all goes back to those two quotes.  Both men know what they have done and what they are doing and are comfortable with the consequences.  Ness believes he will be vindicated by history for defeating the evil man.  Tigh believes he will go to Hell whether his side wins or loses.

This is about our soul as a country.  You must confess your sins and ask God for forgiveness in order to save your soul.  That is not a get out of jail free card, there are consequences and there must be penance paid (especially if you are Catholic).

Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Tell Tale Heart” isn’t about a murder.  It is about the psychic consequences of hiding that murder.  It is about the toll hiding your evil takes upon your soul until it drives you mad.  This continued legal, intellectual, and psychic game of kind of admitting but not quite admitting what we did mixed with the rationalizations of many of the primary actors in this story has infected too much of our discourse about who we are in the post 9/11 world.  Unless and until we admit what we have done, this thing will continue to eat away at us and stain us in the world’s eyes as well as our own.

The One In Which I Scold Us For Making Athletes Into Heroes

Posted in society, sports, sports and society with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by cueball

I have been obsessed with the way we look at athletes for the past couple of years.  We have a constant stream of stories that tell us the athletes we have virtually deified are nothing more than humans.  They are on the far genetic end of what a human body is physically capable of achieving, but they are merely humans.

Why do we feel the need to elevate them so much?  Is it something we as a public needs or is it something the “television partners” of these sports need to get non-sports fans to watch?  As always I vote for both.

Pure sports fans hate NBC’s Olympic coverage.   From their point of view, they have invested so much money in the Olympics, in order to receive any return on investment they have to treat the Olympics as some kind of giant entertainment vehicle that features American athletes and a few people from other countries.  They make it almost into professional wrestling with all the talking and narrative and so little actual sports.  Apparently, the drama created by actual sports where you have actual winners and losers and participants who will never compete at this level again isn’t appealing enough to housewives or whomever NBC imagines they are trying to get to watch.

The advent of 24 hours sports channels has created a demand of constant sports programming that can’t be satiated by sports alone.  You can only show so many games and talk about them for so long before everyone gets bored.  This time is often filled by talking about someone’s dramatic journey from the valley to the pinnacle and how wonderful they are.

The 30 For 30 franchise has done so much to elevate the sports documentary that you can and often do forget that they are in anyway about sports.  Besides the brilliant Two Escobars, Once Brothers, or Without Bias, you get these little gems of Run Ricky Run or The Best That Never Was.  Then the NFL Network’s A Football Life does the same thing by following the lives of interesting people in the football realm.  However, these are special cases and not everything has that much quality behind it.  See ESPN’s continuing coverage of the Tim Tebow Saga.

The one story Americans love is the rise-fall-rise story.  F. Scott was wrong.  There are second acts in American life.  The public demands it and eats it up like pizza at a college party.  That is the conceit behind a lot of the sports documentaries you see about individuals.  This person achieved a great deal of success, they lost it all, and then they fought to get it all back.  The narrative basically writes itself.

To me the need for the fall in these stories is the more interesting part.  We build them up because we need heroes.  We need people to look up to and because they are rich and on television, they are the ones we elevate.  The problem is that our sports heroes are more like The Watchmen and less like The Justice League.  Our heroes are flawed humans who have special talents that set them apart.

Sports fans concentrate on the things that make them special and ignore the things that make them human making them into modern day demi-gods sometimes until it is too late.  In our minds their reflective glow makes us feel better and forget about the mortgage that is due at the end of the week.  Then we see them in handcuffs and are reminded that they are more like us then gods.

However, why do we search out these human flaws and ridicule them for them?  I guess the question I’m asking is why do we care so much about whether these people are good human beings and why are we still surprised when they are not?  They can’t be life sized action figures that come out and perform for us and then go back into their box when the game is over and be human heroes.  We need to stop asking our athletes to be more then flawed humans.  We will all be better off and happier.