Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Whass Wrong Witchu?

Extra ! Extra! All the Idiotic News that's important to no one!

What perfect timing to report on such specific and relevant matters. Perhaps Hurricane Katrina has revealed more about America than we would like to acknowledge. The following news stories are a great indicator of what is wrong with America/Americans.

from: http://www.imdb.com/news/sb/2005-09-06/

Forget the Eye, Katrina Has Legs

Television news executives say they are anticipating that the Katrina aftermath will remain a major story for at least weeks -- and probably months -- ahead. Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president of CBS News, told the Hollywood Reporter that she expected TV news to focus on the human tragedy left in the hurricane's wake and on questions like: "How do people start to rebuild their lives? How do they find members of their families? How do they find out if their family and friends are even alive or dead? Where are they going to start their new lives?" But Bob Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs said that he expects journalists to focus on such matters as government preparation, polices and response to the hurricane. He told USA Today that the story "doesn't just have legs, it has tentacles. ... Its implications reach into hot-button controversies involving race, poverty, economics and partisan politics. The reach of this story will make the O.J. Simpson case look like a news brief." Meanwhile, the storm has brought the cable and broadcast networks huge ratings increases. USA Today reported that Fox News's audience of 4.8 million viewers in primetime last week represented a 142-percent rise over the news network's average audience in July. CNN's audience rose to 3.9 million viewers, up 466 percent, and MSNBC's surged to 1.6 million, up 470 percent.

and, from: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20050906/ap_on_re_us/katrina_refugees__hk4

Use of the Word 'Refugee' Stirs Debate

By JOCELYN NOVECK, Associated Press Writer 43 minutes ago

NEW YORK - What do you call people who have been driven from their homes with only the clothes on their backs, unsure if they will ever be able to return, and forced to build a new life in a strange place? News organizations are struggling for the right word.

Many, including The Associated Press, have used "refugee" to describe those displaced by the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

But the choice has stirred anger among some readers and other critics, particularly in the black community. They have argued that "refugee" somehow implies that the displaced storm victims, many of whom have been black, are second-class citizens — or not even Americans.

"It is racist to call American citizens refugees," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said, visiting the Houston Astrodome on Monday. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed similar sentiments.

Others have countered that the terms "evacuees" or even "displaced" are too clinical and not sufficiently dramatic to convey the dire situation that confronts many of Katrina's survivors.

President Bush, who has spent days trying to deflect criticism that he responded sluggishly to the disaster, weighed in on Tuesday. "The people we're talking about are not refugees," he said. "They are Americans and they need the help and love and compassion of our fellow citizens."

The 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention describes a refugee as someone who has fled across an international border to escape violence or persecution. But the Webster's New World Dictionary defines it more broadly as "a person who flees from home or country to seek refuge elsewhere, as in a time of war or of political or religious persecution."

The criticism has led several news organizations to ban the word in their Katrina coverage. Among them are The Washington Post and the Boston Globe.

"We haven't used the word since the beginning of the crisis," said Kenneth Cooper, the Globe's national editor. "Some of us had different reasons, but we all came to the same conclusion: not to use it."

The AP and The New York Times are among those continuing to use the word where it is deemed appropriate.

"The AP is using the term `refugee' where appropriate to capture the sweep and scope of the effects of this historic natural disaster on a vast number of our citizens," said Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. "Several hundred thousand people have been uprooted from their homes and communities and forced to seek refuge in more than 30 different states across America. Until such time as they are able to take up new lives in their new communities or return to their former homes, they will be refugees."

The Times was adhering to a similar policy.

"We have not banned the word `refugee,'" said spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. "We have used it along with `evacuee,' `survivor,' `displaced' and various other terms that fit what our reporters are seeing on the ground. Webster's defines a refugee as a person fleeing `home or country' in search of refuge, and it certainly does justice to the suffering legions driven from their homes by Katrina."

William Safire, who writes the weekly "On Language" column for The New York Times Magazine, said he did not believe the term "refugee" had any racial implications.

"A refugee can be a person of any race at all," he said. "A refugee is a person who seeks refuge."

He first suggested using the term "hurricane refugees." After thinking it over, though, he said he would probably simply use the term "flood victims," to avoid any political connotations.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I love tennis! (Suddenly).

Also, football. Yay!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Ultimate Exercise in Narcissism: Everything you never wanted to know about me.

I (I write the letter I more than any other letter, probably because I’m always talking about myself) have always fantasized that I would take part in some kind of self-congratulatory roundtable forum wherein I, by this time being a legitimate or at least noteworthy writer, would answer questions regarding just why it is that I write. In this fantasy, I would go on and on about how important writing is and what it means to me and how necessary it is for me to go on living because I bring so much meaning into people’s otherwise meaningless lives. Since I will likely never take part in such Kory revelry, I have decided to explain why I write to the only audience that will ever read this: me.

I write first and foremost because I have things to say and no one to say them to. Plain and simple. I write because I have ideas that I think mean something and I want to remember them. I write to practice my communications skills. I write for therapeutic reasons. I write to amuse myself. I write to distract myself. I write things about things I want to read about that I feel nobody else has written about. It would be a lot easier for me if other people would write them for me, so I could read them without having to put the effort into writing them first and these other people’s writing would surely be more thorough and entertaining than my own version. Sometimes I write about things that have already been written about that I feel haven’t been appropriately addressed or maybe have been and I’m just rehashing old ideas.

I’m proud of a lot of the stuff that I write. I don’t know if any of it will ever get published. I don’t know if I’ll ever show any of it to anyone. After all, most of it is very personal, but not in an embarrassing way. It just deals with my opinion mostly on pop culture phenomena. Most people probably wouldn’t want to read my opinions about shit that they don’t care about, which is fine, because I probably wouldn’t want to read theirs either. After all, just what gives me license to write about such topics? I don’t have any more (or less for that matter) knowledge about these things than anyone else. Maybe my insights are unique, but I highly doubt it. My writing tends to be a little philosophical in the way that philosophy always makes the reader think to himself, “Well, duh. That’s all pretty obvious.” My hope is that whomever reads my material will think the same thing, but also say the second thing people think when they read philosophy, “I just didn’t realize it/never could express it/never heard anyone else express it.”

There’s an importance in striking a chord with an audience. Nowadays it’s important for an audience not to feel alienated by the material. They want to be in on the joke. (*It should be noted here that when I say, “audience” I mean me. Again, keeping it purely solipsistic here.) Who can blame them? True, some people want to be blown away and tricked and confused and surprised. But people also want to feel that they are just as capable of expressing things as the writer is, they just don’t have the time/inclination/knowledge/interest to write it out.

I wish that I were interested in writing fiction. But to be honest, it’s too hard. I ‘m not much of a visual person. I can’t write imagery. I think I lack story imagination. I believe I’m a pretty good storyteller, but only in the oral tradition. My fiction tends to get bogged down with too many boring details. The ultimate reason I’m bad at writing fiction is that I’m generally not interested in it, so I generally don’t write it. Sure, I have as many tales I’d like to tell as any lonely, half-crazy septuagenarian and I have the strong urge to write a good novel as much as any bored, under-stimulated housewife, but in the end it just doesn’t currently interest me. Though I have toyed with it from time to time, I find that it’s best left in more capable hands. And also, I’m really lazy. But, I am working on that (a little).

Though a person wouldn’t know it from reading this crap, I write to be funny. Nothing inspires me like a funny idea. Unfortunately, I tend to run short on those lately, so I write things of inconsequential subject matter, such as the reasons why I write about things.

As I said earlier, I like to write about things that I’m interested in. People are interesting to me. Culture is interesting to me. Unfortunately, I can’t get too serious about writing nonfiction, either. That would require research. Research is like studying – boring. I didn’t study in school, so why start now? Sure, if a potential employer wanted me to research a story, I would probably do it, assuming that it’s an interesting topic. One of the great things about writing solely for self is that you have only one person to please. If you don’t want to write about local events like you would at a crappy local newspaper, then you don’t have to. End of story.

I do imagine that one day, however, I will take a stab making it as some sort of hack writer. I would really prefer to be an essayist. I would love to make a living telling people – I won’t say my “opinions” because I hate opinions – but my ideas about certain subjects. Though it hardly seems possible that anyone would ever want to hear my opinions. Sure, if I were some sort of Lester Bangs-esque, charismatic run-on-sentence “genius” writer like Dave Eggers, people would want to listen, -er read I mean.

The problem with the personal essay is that people read it and think, “Hey, this seems easy. I can do it.” The thing is – they can’t. Oh, wait, yes they can, but don’t tell them. People - and I include myself in that lot - really love to give their opinions. If they’re anything like me, which they most certainly may or may not be, then they have really no business telling people their opinion, unless they want to come off as a hack, or a jerk, or a dork.

Still writing for the self is rewarding. I like to snicker at my own cleverness or “intelligence.” I never really applaud my own literary acrobatics, but sometimes a phrase or two pops up and I surprise myself. I mostly write stream-of-consciousness stuff. When I hit a wall and run out of ideas, I get bored and the piece suffers. (I hate using the word ‘piece’, by the way, it sounds overly snobbish and should be used only in relation to sculpture or should be appended by the words ‘of ass’ or ‘of pie’ or something. But for lack of a better term - piece it is!) The last thing you want is a suffering piece. Who knows what kind of unhappiness a suffering piece will bring. To quote the old timer in the mailroom in my favorite movie, The Hudsucker Proxy, when I hit a wall, “I usually just throw ‘em out.” I don’t literally throw anything away (anymore) but I will definitely sit on a piece for, oh, say – forever. Though, I have recently been going back and touching up old unfinished material, an experience that I find rewarding and frustrating at the same time. It sucks to see an unfinished idea you know has some merit, but still can’t bring into focus.

Now’s a good time to reveal that I have a horrible memory and this, coupled with pathological laziness, creates for an inconsistent creative output. I will often visualize and write out a good piece of material in my head, only to forget everything but the subject when I sit down to write it. This could be any period of time from a few minutes to a few years. Fortunately, I have a sort of memory for forgotten material. It always seems to pop up in one form or another. It’s too bad I can’t immediately recall it when I want to.

Now seems like an equally good time to mention that the quality, frequency and topical nature of my writing seems to be influenced by many factors, over which I have little, or no, or complete control, depending on the circumstances. Suffice it to say that I am an erratic person, inconsistency creeping into just about every aspect of my life, but one thing I can say is that I am pretty consistently lazy and I’m kind of proud of myself for being able to hold onto that one.


Since I’ve always wanted to be interviewed and since I’m also in a weird mood, I’m going to keep this gas going by conducting an interview of myself.* Interviews, if conducted properly, are really awesome. The interviewer can ask interesting questions and, depending on the subject’s importance, either to the interviewer or to the subject himself, he can answer questions as arrogantly as possibly imaginable. I like the prospect of interviewing myself because I can really think my answers through, then go back and amend them to make me appear (even more) interesting and articulate. And no question will take me by surprise, since I am also acting as my own publicist and have full veto power over the content.

*Due credit must be given to Vincent Gallo, who interviewed himself to hilarious effect on his website, www.vincentgallo.com So I admit it, I stole this idea from him.

Question: So tell me a little bit about myself. Where am I from for starters?

Answer: Well, I usually tell people I’m from one of two places, depending on the situation - South Dakota or Montana. If I don’t care what the person thinks of me, I will usually just say South Dakota. If I want to impress some good-ol’ boy charm onto someone or if I’m trying to get laid, or both, I will usually say Montana. For some reason that always goes over better. People tend to be more interested, so it goes down smoother, if ya’ catch my drift. But, it’s pretty complicated, actually. I was born and lived for nine years in South Dakota, then moved to Montana, then back to South Dakota when I was fourteen, then went to college back over in Montana. However, a recent development has given me cause to tell people I’m from South Dakota almost exclusively. HBO has had some success with their show Deadwood, which is based on my hometown. True story: I find that people are now more impressed with my being from Deadwood than they are with my being from Montana. However, I have yet to get laid because of this fact, which is truly a bummer.

That being said and to answer your question succinctly and concisely - I’m from LA.

Q: What, if any, formal education do I have?

A: Regarding writing? Well, none, really. I’ve always felt I was pretty articulate and pretty funny. I don’t know if anybody else did or still does. But, you know…fuck them.

Q: Okay. So, what is it that I like to write about? Break it down for me.

A: Um, I like shit that’s probably pretty boring to other people. Which is fine, ‘cause other people tend to be stupid. Just kidding – kind of. I am fascinated by the phenomenon of religious and ideological cults. I dig on cultural criticism – both popular and ‘un.’ I like satire. I simultaneously loathe and love celebrity culture. I went to film school, so I am programmed to feel that I can comment on just about anything at anytime and people should want to listen to what I have to say.

Q: Wow, was I neglected as I child or something?

A: No, on the contrary. I had/have a kick-ass family. I don’t know what it is about me that makes me want to ramble on as if I know about shit. I certainly got attention when I was growing up. Maybe it just wasn’t enough. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t given a lot. It just means that nothing is ever enough. I’m never satisfied, but I never do anything about it either. I don’t really know how I get by to be perfectly honest. I’m pretty lazy. I currently work in television and somehow people seem to fail upward in that world, so naturally, I’m on the fast track to superstardom. But, I’m currently on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I’m very fragile and unstable and that’s very crucial to the cultivation of the creative personality. At least that what I think I’m supposed to think. Well, that and a nagging drug habit.

Q: Tell me a little bit about what I think shaped my worldview. What makes a person like Kory Lanphear tick?

A: Hmmm. That’s an interesting and cliched question I have posed to myself. I’m not really sure how to answer that. I can currently divide my life into about five basic parts and those are, in chronological order: pre-cognitive, the part where I pretended I was a ninja, the part where I played a lot of sports, the part where I was a dickhead (carries over into the following two portions), the period where I found out a lot about myself and started hating who I used to be, and the pseudo-genius you see before you now.

Q: (returns from looking lovingly in the mirror): But you, I mean I, have a pessimistic streak in me. Nihlism, maybe? Existentialism?

A: Oh, I don’t really subscribe to any philosophical indoctrination. I will concede that my life has been marked by bouts of depression and rage, which continues to this day. I’m trying to change all of that, but it’s definitely had a huge influence on my work. I find that if one has lowered expectations, they are not surprised when they fail. And conversely, they are elated by small victories because they’re not anticipating them. It’s not such a bad way to think, when looked at that way.

By the way, did I just refer to my writing as “my work.” My work?! Oh, man, I truly am one dork of a kind.

Q: I have a point, there. Speaking of influences…

A: (Laughs) Man, this is weird. I’m a fuckin’ weird dude. I mean I’m interviewing myself here! But – my influences - that’s a good question – and one I’ve always wanted to be asked. My influences are many and I can hardly do justice to anybody by mentioning them, but I’ll give it a shot. From a writing standpoint, I can’t think of any one writer who has inspired or influenced my work, though I’m sure there are some. Oh yeah, Chuck Klosterman – love his shit, though I don’t always agree with it. Some random influences I can definitely cite: The Big Lebowski and the Coen brothers in general, heavy psychedelic rock bands like Dead Meadow and Fu Manchu, Disinformation, pop art, sketch comedy like the Kids In The Hall, Monty Python, Mr. Show, movies - lots and lots of movies - too many to name, in fact, but nothing in black and white, besides Mildred Pierce for some reason, Lolita and Dr. Strangelove, I guess though I’m not really a big Kubrick fan. There are some others, but I can’t really think of them right now. I’ll have to add them when I revise.

Q: Okay, lastly. Sum up my goals for me.

A: Oooh, I’ve got a great answer for this. Real witty ‘n’ shit. I work on the basis of a certain maxim, you might call it my “mantra”, or hell, even my personal philosophy and I am proud to say that it worries my parents. That motto, simply stated is: “Minimum effort, maximum results.”

Thursday, April 21, 2005

My Brief Dalliance with Intellectual Greatness or Tales of a Fourth Grade Something

In my school days, I never considered myself the “scholarly type” or the “academic sort” or even really a good student. There was, though, a certain period – in my younger days – when I was allowed to brush my prepubescent lips across the cheek of the great Goddess of Academia and I shall relay that story presently.

I wasn’t much of a learner in my early days. I was a good boy, I suppose. Yes a good boy - a good boy who liked to leave school early, sometimes under the auspices of a sudden and suspiciously short-termed sickness, sometimes not. Mostly the former. I was in the school office to call home sick often in the early days, so often that I recall that one of the kind office ladies who would often be the channel through with much of this elementary school psychosomatic cloak and dagger drama took place had a sticker on her desk that read, “A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind.” I didn’t get it then and I’m not sure I get it now. Anyway, I would usually place my sick plea calls before the noon hour for the following reasons: there was more time to make a miraculous recovery in time for playing with my friends or sisters when they returned home from prison…er school; I could have lunch at home and eat something palatable that didn't include Tater-tots as an ever-present side dish; and finally, because the cartoons on television in the afternoon were more watch-able than those that aired after 3:30. Occasionally, though, I would call my mom at around 2:45 to see if she would come pick me up and take me home. She would try to reason with me that there was only a half hour or so left of school and couldn’t I wait until the day was over. I could not be moved by such logic. I had had my fill of school that day and that was that. I was ready to go home. Besides, I knew that I had to go straight to the dreaded “day care” immediately after school, which wasn’t home, but some other halfway house parents stick you when they are off doing grown up shit.

So, my schoolwork suffered. Well, it didn’t “suffer”, per se. It got done. And it was done pretty much correctly, give or take a few misspellings and factual confusions. But the work that was school suffered. I suffered. I just didn’t have the patience for putting “work” into “school”. Then one day, my fourth grade teacher happened to notice that I was always the first one done with my in-class assignments and they were (more or less) usually pretty satisfactory-ish. She decided, for whatever reason, that I must be some sort of super-genius. (Ha! Finally someone sees my potential.) This decision lead her to consult the school counselor and the two of them colluded to subject me to a battery of tests – mostly regarding readin’ and writin’. (Math was never my strong suit. I nearly failed high school Geometry, which is typically the poor math student’s favorite class. I much preferred study hall myself.) Unfortunately, the nature and extent of this testing, I cannot recall. But what I do recall is the results indicated that as a fourth-grader I was reading at a 7th grade level (or was it 5th or 6th – shit, I can’t remember)! This put me into a league above the other poor, unfortunate, less intellectually endowed and consequently academically inferior fourth grade students.

I was alerted to this fact and likewise notified that I would be undertaking an independent reading course seperate from my contemporaries that would offer me more of a challenge than the current curriculum. It was going to be a scholastic journey, wherein my talents of extra-ordinary reading and comprehension skills would be cultivated so that they would reach their fullest potential, instead of withering away with the rest of the Joe Sixpack 4th grade class. (An appropriate analogy, I might add.)

Suddenly, I was an intellectual elitist. I can recall looking at 6th graders, and thinking to myself, “I probably have more in common with that person than I do with all of these lame 4th graders.” Or, looking at 5th graders, awash in scholastically average playground filth and thinking, “I wonder what he would say if I told him my reading and comprehension skills were superior to his? He probably couldn’t even comprehend what that meant!”

As part of my new advanced academic course load, I was locked into the library during the regularly allotted class reading time, also known as “story time” in those days. Funny that they should call such a quaint and claustrophobic room a “library” when most sane people would equate it with a broom closet, only somehow smellier and full of about 500 books that you never wanted to read. So, while my classmates were busy (barely) reading and (barely) comprehending “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”. I was deeply affected by such intellectually engrossing classic literature as “Where the Red Fern Grows” and the likes. (I say “the likes” because I honestly can’t remember what else I was to have read.) The point is: I was actually a fourth grade something!

But then, a weird thing happened: from my study room, I could hear the laughter of my classmates, story-timing away in communal joviality as together they enjoyed the splendor of the pinpoint accurate elementary school wit of Judy Blume. I began to feel isolated. It was then that I realized that to be gifted was to be different and to be different was to be alone. I then began to think that my gifts were a curse. I writhed on the floor cursing my maker, (or something similar but no less dramatic) asking why he had left me to suffer with such superhuman reading and comprehension skills.

Epilogue/Happy Ending: So, this whole experiment lasted a very short while, probably only until I finished the first book. My memory is sort of foggy here, but I seem to remember the cultivation of my superior reading and comprehension skills being ruined because the parents of Heather, who had the best grades in the class, caught wind of my isolated study time and demanded that she be allowed the same. That didn’t last long because we couldn’t share the broom closet of a library for more than one session, so we returned to normal class routine, which just goes to prove that if you have the best grades, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are the smartest or the most gifted, just the nerdiest and the person who is the most desperately seeking the approval of his parents-est. Anyway, I was more than happy to have returned to my class, to sit with my fourth grade comrades of significantly inferior reading and comprehension skills and enjoy the magic that was story time.

The moral of the story is: don't be different...ever. You'll miss out on story time.

Monday, April 11, 2005

An Open Letter to My Friend, The Great City of Los Angeles,

Dear Ms. Los Angeles, Greater Metropolitan Area,

Are you mad at me? Did some unsavory or irresponsible and untoward action of mine cause a reaction of ill will amongst us? Have I wronged you in some way? I was just wondering because you seem to have a way of snubbing me when we chance to meet on the sidewalks. Furthermore, you even fail to grant me ample room to pass when I beg a pardon in tight spaces. What did I do to you? Whatever it is, I am very sure that I am very sorry and I shall not let it happen again. It is my full intention to return to your good graces as soon as humanly possible (though I sometimes get the feeling that I was never really in your good graces in the first place!).

I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what I could have done to piss you off. Did I see you and not say “hello” at So-and-so’s party. Or -oh dear - did I not say “good-bye” when I left? The reason I ask is that you seem to be pretty pissed off all of the time and I’m wondering what I can do to ease your burden. I try to catch your eye so I can offer a nod of acknowledgment or a smile of good will, but you turn your gaze elsewhere. Are your feet tired from treading the streets all day long? Can I offer you a soothing foot rub? Will that do the trick? Or maybe you’re short on cash this week; in which case don’t be afraid to ask for a twentyspot. I’m unemployed, but I know you’re good for it ; )

Perhaps my very existence is an inconvenience to you. Maybe my personal being just gets on your damned nerves. Do I take up too much of the space that you consider to be solely your own? It would seem so, given your penchant for drinking beer on the street corner and then occasionally relieving yourself in the gutter, right in my path when I come your way.

I feel very bad that things have taken such a sour turn. I acknowledge that our relationship has been tumultuous at times, but we’ve known each other for a while now and I feel like we should be coming around and getting used to each other. We have to rely on one another because, after all, we’re all we’ve got (or some such patronizing nonsense).

Well, I said really all I had to say. The ball is in your court, so to speak. All I ask is that next time you see me on the street, don’t be afraid to exchange a quick glance or even risk a “hello” or – and I know this is crazy – maybe (gulp!) flash a smile. You might be surprised at the result. I think in the end, you and I could end up being pretty good friends. If only you cared about me as much as I care about you. Please consider what I have said.

Thanks for your time.

Your concerned pal,


Friday, April 08, 2005

The Rise of the Poli-Christians

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

-The Serenity Prayer (I learned this through some weird association to Alchoholics Anonymous when I was about 10. It is to this day the only prayer I know by heart, unless I have misquoted it here, which means I don't know any.)

Conservative evangelism has a grip around American politics and the rest of America is beginning to feel the squeeze. When do we, as sensible constituents of our elected officials declare that enough is finally enough? Organizations exist whose stated purpose is to infuse religion into politics in order to gain ground in the political arena. The watchdogs of the conservative right are attempting to dictate policy in order to promote a predominantly religious agenda including teaching creationism in our schools. Separation of church and state has never been so gravely threatened as it is now.

There are many dangers in infusing religion and politics. The first, and most obvious, is the influence that such beliefs could have on policy and not just of a moralistic nature, but also on domestic and foreign affairs, finances and education. Secondly, common religious beliefs could be culled into statutes of law, thereby all but eliminating jurisprudence and impartiality based on societal moral trends.

The church, from a political standpoint, insults its constituents. The notion that any one person needs as a guide a religious figure is insulting beyond all reason. The prevailing ideology amongst the Poli-Christians is that most Americans are not morally sound enough to make their own decisions. One cannot adequately express how alarming it is that the church is quickly gaining power and influence in our governmental institutions. Surely there are citizens out there who are good Christians who recognize and acknowledge this disturbing trend towards a more puritanical society.

And what of us who don’t believe in organized religion or those are not Christians? Aren’t we becoming underrepresented and/or misrepresented? One might point that out to the Poli-Christians, but they would only ignore the facts and say that they’re not speaking for all religions, just Christianity and each religion (though already at a disadvantage) has the opportunity to do the same.

Where does this infusion end? When is enough enough? When does the average Christian admonish the religious leadership in this country and distance himself from the absurdity of their political ambitions?

One thing is abundantly clear: there is an increasing gap in values both demographically and geographically in this country. However, we of common sense must transcend this gap and let common sense prevail. No religious doctrine belongs in our government. Keep the religion where it belongs – in the church.

Many neo-conservative Christian leaders of the so-called right are called religious fundamentalists. The 9/11 terrorists were also called religious fundamentalists. Clearly there are some very stark differences between these two groups. But there is one commonality and that is the shared belief that God – however different their definitions may be - should be omnipresent in every aspect of life. However, the founders of this country were wise enough to foresee the inherent hypocrisy and inevitable corruption such a melding of church and state could bear and chose to allow citizens the freedom to practice whatever religion they chose as long as it was kept separate from and had no direct on influence the policies of the American government.

One needn’t argue that Christianity doesn’t or shouldn’t have any affect whatever on the social and moral fabric of this country. As the primary religious belief for most Americans, there is a strong undercurrent and indirect influence of Christian moral philosophy present in American policy, which is to be expected. Christianity has and will continue to serve a moral purpose in America in that it allows a frame of reference from which to draw when such policies are being debated, especially in the theater of national politics. However, an increasingly theocratic government would lose sight of any fault in the sometimes hypocritical and impossibly dogmatic Christian doctrine and would therefore be weighted on the side of blind acquiescence to an often times archaic and sometimes morally reprehensible code of conduct.

A government that is predicated on religious doctrine is known as a theocracy.

We must stop giving religious leaders political clout and credibility in the media. Politics is supposed to be approached with an objective, analytical and socially conscious frame of mind. Christianity has predetermined bias certainly against those of other religions and also against those who choose to live outside the strict boundaries of Christian doctrine. True political discourse does not exist in the presence of religious convictions.

Morals, and values are good for any citizen. In this country we are generally quite free in deciding how to conduct ourselves. Each individual is unique in her assessment of what kinds of morals she would apply in her life and pass down to her family. There may be some stark contrasts, but morals, no matter how they derive, are basically the same across the board. People know right from wrong and they don’t necessarily need a religious reference to facilitate the process.

Religious institutions exist so that we may freely explore and decide for ourselves which avenue of spiritual faith we would prefer to pursue. It is not in the best interests of our country to allow any one religious institution to dictate any kind of moral conduct whatsoever, for then our laws will have lost the impartiality which our forefathers held so dear. Many fundamentalists are quick to point out that those who first came upon these shores were doing so to seek asylum from an increasingly repressive and discriminate religious regime in Europe. Perhaps this is the best point they make, though not necessarily in their own favor. Let us not forget this fact. Yes, this country was founded by those who not only sought out the right to practice their own form of religion as they saw fit but also to practice it in a country whose government was untainted by the rhetoric of dogmatic religious law to which they did not subscribe.

I believe I am consistent with the writers of our Constitution when I say: God has no jurisdiction in the government of the United States of America!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Trudging Ever Onward Towards Oblivion

I make a concerted effort to walk these days, testing the LA pavement with each weary step. The streets are dirty and unfamiliar, but it’s the best way to learn how the city breathes and moves, ebbs and flows. I usually drive around town, which doesn’t give you much of a sense of how the street feels at ground level. With driving, it’s almost like you’re flying over some speck of a town in an airplane, the minutia of everyday life dissolved into a solitary dot on the landscape. You don’t concern yourself with your immediate surroundings, but rather what’s going on in front of you, and behind you. But, given the currently obnoxiously high gas prices, I prefer to hoof it nowadays.

Walking can very nearly be surreal at times. It forces you to notice or face things you normally wouldn’t or would just as soon ignore. You are forced to acknowledge the harsh realities of the urban world; the cracks in the sidewalks; the junk piled up against buildings; toothless bums on dirty street corners, howling to some unseen entity for forgiveness. The prayers fall on deaf ears and hence, go unanswered. “I’m no saint,” I want to say these poor, wretched, hollow souls, “I can offer no salvation.”

Walking makes you face your own mortality in a way. As you pass the lurkers and the workers and the single mothers with kids hanging off of every possible extremity, it dawns on you that no matter how different you are from these people, they are no worse, no better. We’re all pretty much the same. They share concerns about the same things, but maybe have less time to dwell on them. “I worry about the environment and high taxes,” their faces seem to be saying. “Just not right now. Just not right now.”

You can see the pain in the contorted confines of concerned faces; struggling towards hope, grasping at some sense of purpose and deluding themselves into denying the immediacy of death. It almost makes you wonder: how many failures, how many glowing successes and disappointments, highs and lows can one soul take before it all dissipates into one general and all-encompassing concern for general humanity?

We are all like ghosts, I suppose. But we can all see and hear and feel each other. And we walk amongst each other as apparitions, spectral shadows, eyes cast downward nobly disregarding each other, politely damning one another to ignorance of self. But we trudge ever onward, through the dirt and the smog and the garbage towards those golden arches…of McDonald’s.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Final Final Frontier.

I have, for the past few years, had a recurring ‘bad’ dream. I won’t call it a nightmare, because I don’t know if I’m ever in any imminent, real danger. But it is scary as hell, no doubt. (If I had to give it a genre,* I would say it's somewhere in the realm of supernatural thriller/mystery.) I will spare you the details of this recurring dream (a collective sigh whooshes across cyber space) but this dream got me thinking: dreams are sometimes scary, sometimes pleasant, always surreal and always aesthetically inconsistent, both with reality and other dreams.

It is incredible how accurately the unconscious mind can represent things to the minutest of details or distort them to the tiniest degree, but the conscious mind often fails to accurately relay or portray such things in any detail whatsoever when the dream is over. Even more astounding is the relation of how things are depicted in dreams to how they actually are in waking life and the significance of the symbolism of the difference between the two.

Whenever I get those weird images on my eyelids that fly towards you when the eyes are closed for whatever reason, I like to try and explore the variety of images that appear and just as quickly disappear in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I can place these images to varying degrees. Sometimes I can’t place them at all. I’m not sure what these phenomena are called exactly, but for right now I will just describe them as awesome. Occasionally I’m even impressed at how creative my visual imagination can actually be.

Perhaps a person’s grip on artistic visual talent is aided by a better grasp on these random ‘awesome’ images in the mind’s eye, or perhaps a mastery of this phenomenon provides for a better grasp on aesthetics. Or perhaps when a certain version of this phenomenon happens on the conscious level, it is associated with synesthesia. In fact, now that I think about it, the ‘awesome’ images can often happen when I am in pain. Furthermore, I find that exploring and cultivating these images can temporarily help divert the attention from pain, and help dispel the sensation. But I ain't no scientist, so I digress.

Star Trek posits that space is the final frontier. I submit that the Final Final Frontier is in fact the mind, for we can theoretically explore the ends of space. The mind, however, may go forever uncharted. To know the mind would be to know God. But, I can't get into that right now - I have a therapy appointment. Big surprise, eh?

*Note to self: explore the notion of dream genres. Hilarious!!!

Monday, March 28, 2005

If it’s one thing the world does not need, it’s yet another freakin' flavor of Fruit Roll-up.

How many varieties of certain things is enough? We humans have been trying to perfect the chicken sandwich since the dawn of time. Why? Why do we need so many different kinds of dish soaps of varying strengths? I’ll just take the strongest stuff you got, thankyouverymuch. Is it really possible for my shampoo to be formulated to treat my specific hairstyle?

Technology has evolved so much over the years. How much of it is realistically indispensable is debatable. Computers, while not a necessity, have certainly made things a lot easier and computer technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate, which is fine. But is there actually such a thing as a perfect or even a better toothbrush than the one we already have? Imagine if we put as much energy into developing our individual and societal moral structure as we do into consumer culture.

It stands to reason that eventually certain things reach a sort of stasis where they can no longer be improved upon. Unfortunately, human emotion and logic have not yet reached this point, but you would hardly know it judging by the way we act. Cognitive dissonance is a frighteningly common part of everyday life nowadays. Hypocrisy finds its way into every corner of our culture. It’s amazing how far tangibles in our culture – the actual products of our existence – have come. It is likewise alarming how little progress our sense of morality has evolved.

If only we were inclined to put so much thought into our actions as we put into developing our cultural byproducts. Recent – ahem – “political” events have further polarized a nation of ideologues. It is clear that opinions vary widely on issues of morality, as evidenced by the oft-cited and just as oft-denied culture war that is currently being waged (or not waged, depending on who you ask), not just in the U.S. but worldwide as well.

I’ve been reading a lot of literature referencing Aristotle's great work Nicomachean Ethics and it occurs to me that the great minds of the past spent much of their lives pondering what is and is not ethical and furthermore, what set of ethics constitutes a virtuous person. Nowadays, many of our leaders rarely question their own morals, as it is a given that the best ethical position is whatever an individual decides it is. This individualistic approach is a sort of stopgap solution to the exploration of a universal set of moral principles and, consequently, it makes the search for such a system even more difficult. Furthermore, our political leaders have a habit of anointing themselves as our appointed moral guides. Thusly, it is arrogantly presumed that our elected officials’ view of morality is somehow superior to that of the common Joe Sixpack.

Morality has become idiomatic; we blame our differences with other cultures on cultural relativism, instead of a lack of focus on moral development, both in our society and theirs and, most importantly, between the two. It is the dogmatic adherence to the notion of cultural relativism that prevents any two cultures from a working system of shared beliefs, especially in the newly emerging climate of the global village. We rarely challenge ourselves to step outside of our own dogma and try to reach a middle ground with these other cultures, instead of further alienating each other as cultural relativism has a tendency to do. Sadly, few of us view ourselves as citizens of the world, or few of us act like we do.

Throughout the world, morality is for the most part influenced by religion. The degree to which people ascribe to the ethical framework of a given religion varies. Here in America, it appears that there is a current trend towards divine command theory, which states that a person’s choices are virtuous as long as they are in accord with whatever their religion dictates. Ironically, the same can be said for Islamic theocracies, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia which are in many ways the antithesis to Protestant morality. The problem is that these established moral systems, such as divine command theory, are ill-equipped to deal with newly emerging questions of morality, especially in the context of the so-called cultural boiling-pot of the global village. Much of what prevents our culture from fully integrating into a symbiotically moralistic society is a failure to remain flexible in regard to differing opinions. For example, many immigrants move to this country and choose to take on whatever qualities they see fit, instead of fully assimilating into the mass culture of the society, which is their privilege as American citizens. This diversity, while providing for a wide range of ethical stances on an even wider range of topics, is hardly problematic until it is compared to the social value systems already in place via the short history of American cultural practices.

Most of us, however, extrapolate what we consider to be rational and righteous from many different sources, including, but not limited to religion, family and social networks. We then implement these qualities into a varying and ever-changing set of values, as opposed to wholesale adherence to a previously established ethical paradigm. The most important element of a diverse moral system, then, is the ability to adapt and evolve as culture dictates. The evolution of morals is not universal and it is the failure to evolve that is so striking when compared to the other progresses we have made throughout our existence.

Certainly any evolving system of morals necessitates periodic debate. Unfortunately, it seems that the only current forum for debate is when there happens to be a “hot button” issue in the media. Instead of using such issues as a chance to introspectively explore our own personal ethical position, many of us seize the opportunity for the purpose of political soap-boxing in an effort to passive-aggressively impose our beliefs onto others, or promote some sort of ideology irrelevant to the matter at hand. Ethical questions are all too often employed in a negative context in an effort to further some political cause.

How many of us actively seek out moral theory? How many of us consciously try to nurture and further develop our ethical preferences? Perhaps instead of trying to impose our beliefs onto others, it would be wise to sit down and actually decide what it is that we believe is right and whether or not these beliefs are consistent with our other beliefs. One wouldn’t want to contradict oneself when engaging in a battle of morality.

The question we are left to ask, then, is this: How can so many elements of a society become so advanced, while other, more important elements are so shockingly underdeveloped? If we put as much effort into developing our moral fiber as we did into making a more tasty Fruit-Roll up, maybe we would be getting somewhere.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Infamous or Unfamous?

In this increasingly culturally myopic society, the notion of celebrity has evolved into a fully mechanized, self-propelled marvel. What was once an earned by-product of high-profile success has now become an all at once fleetingly, over-emphasized achievement sometimes achieved through happenstance that ultimately ends in insignificance and confusing ambiguity.

While growing up, it was always a given that one was to trust celebrity culture. Naturally, I have always had a deep seeded distrust of this American invention. It’s one thing to not particularly care about celebrities and their lifestyles, but it’s another thing altogether to distrust what it is that they stand for either personally, or as a representative of the machine of Hollywood.

It’s clear that the impact that celebrity has had on world culture is profound and abundant. Tabloids, as either agents of dissemination or harbingers of eventual celebrity doom, are as equally responsible, if not more, than any of the other professional, “legitimate” media. Therefore, the rampant availability of celebrity claptrap has allowed for an interweaving thread of media-imposed consequence in world affairs and thusly a valid impact on world society. Rarely can one watch a world news report about serious and consequential events and not eventually be confronted with the latest news of celebrities pairing off or splitting up or taking sides in a dispute.

There aren’t currently any official distinctions of celebrity types but there are certainly many potential categories: professional, circumstantial, sex-scandal, political, literary (just kidding), so-called reality, etc.; the list could go on and on. Just exactly what the term celebrity means in this context is ultimately insignificant, but what it connotes is incredibly complex and constantly evolving. Celebrity can be gained or lost through acts of notoriety, good or bad. Celebrity is achieved or attained through any combination of effort, hard work, luck, skill, good looks, shrewdness, timing or none of the above. Celebrity has become the most intangible of tangibles in our society. No one can accurately describe what it is or precisely how it is granted or lost, but people certainly know it when the see it.

Perhaps the most irksome trend of select celebrity personalities is the recent proliferation of political soap-boxing. Most people find this at the very least insulting and sometimes extremely aggravating. But it should come as no surprise that we who worship at the altar of celebrity idolatry would by our very nature encourage celebrity politicking no matter how misinformed or misguided it might be. American pop culture gives celebrities so much credit in so many ways that it should come as no surprise that they would harbor the misconception that they are the voice of reason in this oft-misguided world.

Politicians no doubt have made great use of celebrity support to their own advantage: hanging out with U2 and “The Boss” gives voters the impression of a hip down-to-earth political persona who would be just as comfortable groovin’ to the blues as balancing the national budget. However, public reaction to celebrity pandering can often be mixed. It’s probably best not to have Mickey Rourke campaigning on your behalf, at least not in any crucial swing states.

The line that our culture draws between serious celebrity, political discourse and incredulity of the scope of celebrity political opinion is unclear. The same culture that often sees Sean Penn as an over-opinionated condescending windbag finds it not a touch ironic to vote Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of one of the most populous, culturally complex and economically viable states in the union. Perhaps it is because Penn’s history of political activism makes him divergent from the mainstream of politics while Arnold has an “in” through marriage and a history of conservative Republican politics. What is most confusing about this phenomenon is that because Penn is so historically outspoken about his politics, his stance on issues is and has been clear for quite some time. On the other hand, before the 2003 California recall election, most Americans only knew about “The Governators” politics through his stint as President Bush 40’s Fitness General or whatever his title was.

Schwarzenegger’s successful campaign for governor and heretofore popular, if not relatively silent term at the helm of California government has spawned a new crusade on his behalf. There is a small, though legitimate contingency of Arnold’s peers and constituents who would like to see the United States’ Constitution amended to allow foreigners, specifically Arnold, to run for president. One gets the sense this misguided attempt at revolution is a hubris attempt at change just to see if it can be done. Whatever the motivation, the short-sightedness of this challenge to the Constitution is alarming.

What is particularly distressing about the confusion of celebrity culture is the ease with which certain notorious people achieve fame through infamy. Violent criminals are often handed the lofty status of accidental or circumstantial celebrity, though albeit in a different context than movie stars. Take, for example, Scott Petersen. No one in their right mind would argue that Scott Petersen is deserving of celebrity status, but the media fixation on his trial for murdering his wife quickly reached the proportion of a self-evolving phenomenon wherein even peripheral players are allowed airtime to discuss their thoughts on the case.

A surprising factor in the business of celebrity is the manufacturing thereof. Fox’s concept for American Idol is nothing new for anyone that’s seen Star Search, but the twist is bizarre. The show aims to seek out talent and personality and infuse the two with national exposure through competition into a final product of celebrity where none previously existed. One could argue, presumably quite accurately, that this is how many of the celebrities we now adore are made. But by revealing the process to its audience and actually allowing the audience to participate, simultaneously eliminating any X-factors, American Idol is essentially democratizing the previously intangible process of celebrity engineering, thusly removing any of the mystique of celebrity itself. This exercise in post-modernism marks a disturbing trend in celebrity culture and that is that celebrity does not necessarily come pre-ordained. Any delusions of destiny are clearly removed when the next flash-in-the-pan is elected by an astute television audience. If only electing the President were so truly democratic.

The end of celebrity for some people can certainly be devastating especially for those who were suddenly granted celebrity status then just as suddenly had it revoked. Those unfortunate souls have been rendered “unfamous” and suddenly culturally inert and even worse, insignificant. Few words of consolation can dull the impact when the ruthless fickleness of American pop culture rips the status of celebrity from the ordained.

However, most often, celebrities unintentionally manufacture their own undoing usually in a megomaniacal attempt at furthering their already lofty status. “Celebrity schizophrenia” is a common problem for the elite. It can be simply defined as anytime a celebrity suddenly has an epiphany and changes in the public eye for the worse. Just like the onset of celebrity, any number of factors can bring about destruction: marriage to an unpopular and decidedly greasy back-up dancer, joining a mysterious religion (read: cult) several misguided career and love-interest choices, blatant and repeated public breakdowns, ignoring the demands placed upon the self as celebrity. This phenomenon is not to be confused with “reinvention” which is territory that has and continues to serve Madonna and, previously, Michael Jackson quite well.

Perhaps the great unraveling of celebrity is best exemplified by Wacko Jacko, or rather the delusion of near-divinity his remaining fans still cling to. These people continue to ignore his most obvious faults, holding to the once universally agreed, but now disputable claim that he is an artist of great consequence. Of course, any sane person would have long ago distanced himself from Jackson, whose significant and prolific career achievements are quickly becoming obscured by his relentlessly questionable behavior. It used to be sad to consider that Jackson’s legacy may not in fact be his music, but his ongoing struggles with the law and the media. Now it is just common sense to believe this will in fact be the case. Jackson had long ago passed into unintentional self-parody, becoming a caricature of some sort of creepy Vincent Price-obsessed man-child who has holed himself up in a fantasy land holding court with only children. But now as his child molestation trial progresses past OJ territory into some new and uncharted realm of celebrity humiliation, Jackson is steadfastly and willfully increasingly bizarre. His once-certain future in the halls of pop idolatry now firmly entrenched in the tome of celebrity infamy. Essentially, Jackson has conducted his own undoing by rendering himself unable to distinguish the difference between Michael Jackson the performer and Michael Jackson the person.

One of the most tragic and ironic twists to “The King of Pop’s” legacy is that, unlike the majority of celebrities, he can never return to anonymity. He passed the point of celebrity no-return sometime in the mid-seventies. It’s painfully obvious that a personality like Jackson feeds off of his fame, lives off it, even cannot survive without it. This unique celebrity does not afford him the benefit of eventually becoming “un-famous” but in fact solidifies the likelihood that he will live on in infamy, just not the way that he had intended.

And so, sadly, this is the fate of those who dare venture too far into the realm of celebrity culture. The realization that there is, in fact, no way out must all at once bring on conflicting feelings of divinity, hopelessness, dread, fear, and supreme confidence , culminating in a sort of mania that enables the uber-celeb to act in whatever way he deems appropriate, whether or not the rest of us agree. Then we can all salivate at the prospect of seeing yet another celebrity cornered by his own notoriety, much of which we are all responsible for perpetuating. It can be safely said that the only thing celebrity culture loves more than a shooting star is a falling star.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

How the Infamous become Un-famous

I recently watched a segment on one of CNN's many shows that are indistinguishable from the rest of its daily line up in which the topic was Ashley Smith, the woman who was able to survive being kidnapped by the Atlanta courthouse shooter, Brian Nichols. Now this segment wasn't as mundane as to praise Ms. Smith for her bravery or calm in the face of such trauma. No, CNN was actually progressive enough to suggest that this average woman, whom none would even think to call a celebrity, at least not in the traditional (read: common) sense, was in danger of succumbing to that fateful killer of human interest causes: media overexposure.

CNN went on to examine just what causes a person like Ashley Smith to fall victim to media overexposure. Apparently, CNN failed to see the irony in exploring such a topic. Fortunately, I did not.

So here, I have decided to expand on CNN's hard-hitting newsreporting regarding such a terrible fate as media overexposure by providing a brief guide of some key factors that may indicate a person, such as Terry Schiavo is dangerously over-exposed:

1. Public scrutiny of private life: The das machina du media has a tendency to dig up and expose some tawdry, scandalous or questionable detail(s) of a person's past, thereby tainting or even totally derailing whatever positive view of a person the public might have towards a hero, or further stoking the fire of negative sentiment the public might have towards an already scandalized individual.

2. Private scrutiny of public life: An infamous person may suffer a serious backlash in their personal life that may affect their standing in small social circles, their family, their professional life or in the community as a whole. If they're lucky, they may get to experience all of the above!

3. Making the rounds on the talk show circuit: There are certain shows that are an absolute must - Oprah, Letterman, The Daily Show. There are some that require careful consideration before the potentially over-exposed commit - Leno, Jerry Springer, Larry King. Obviously, one should avoid Dr. Phil at all costs, 'cause he'll dress you down real proper-like.

4. Appearing on a make-over show, getting breast implants, posing for photos at a movie or television premiere/party/awards show: Inter-mingling your pedestrian happenstance celebrity with the godly creatures of Hollywood and their powerful, cherished and well-deserved celebrity is never a good idea. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of John Revolta and the Belush, however, will create great comedic juxtaposition.

5. Getting dissed on People Magazine's worst-dressed list: This is a major blow to credibility. One doesn't want their wardrobe to garner a lot of attention, one way or the other. However, one should be bold enough to make a statement, but subtle enough not to over-do it. I find that a sense of personal elegance or the calculated-casual look works wonders.

6. Dating/getting engaged to Tommy Lee/J. Lo/Winona Ryder AND/OR hanging out with Courtney Love: You're on your own if you dare to make time with media whores. This is not helping your cause out at all.

7. Carefully constructed and staged public-relations stunts for the purpose of regaining some legitimacy in the eyes of the woefully short-sighted and painfully semi-retarded mainstream of America: Includes saving a little girl from a car accident that nobody saw, making a large donation to the dim-witted marionette Texas politician of your choice, appearing in mid-western high schools as a lecturer railing against/rallying for whatever it was you did right or wrong in the first place.

8. The appearance of a sex tape that you "knew nothing about" and from which you stand to gain no residual benefits whatsoever...honestly!: This one is pretty much self-explanatory. It depends on how graphic the sex is on the tape and how sexually desirable you are to the internet-perv public. Extra-points if the tape sees a DVD release. Double-extra points if there is a premiere party celebrating the release of said DVD and you show up.

9. Marching in a protest parade/making a political statement on behalf of an organization/stumping for fringe religions like Scientology: Nothing ruins credibility faster than trying to gain credibility from things that have no credibility in the first place and for which you have no credibility to be attempting to gain credibility from anyway.

10. Appearing on a reality show alongside other fallen and forgotten sadsack celebrities: This pretty much seals the deal, unless you can somehow miraculously make yourself the most ridiculously idiosyncratic, hopelessly dramatic or notoriously difficult person on the show, which is nearly impossible, considering the stiff competition.

If the now potentially "un-famous" finds himself in danger of being overexposed, he should consider relocating and going "off the grid" for an indefinite cooling-off period. Prime locales include Montana and Eastern Europe, preferably one of the former Soviet countries. Some side benefits include: becoming part of the local scenery and eventually part of the local lore as people will look in your direction and whisper, but only periodically approach you because you are now considered freakish and potentially dangerous. Eventually, you will experience yet another fleeting moment of fame when a popular culture magazine runs a "Where Are They Now" segment and they come to cover you living a "normal life in a normal town."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Dubious Fortunes

Fortune cookies are weird. They operate under the basic assumption that everybody wants to be happy or distracted with good news. Perhaps it might be more helpful if fortune cookies told a more pragmatic tale.

More realistic fortunes may look something like this:

- Your presence is of little consequence to those around you.

- You will find that the anxiety and woe you feel about your life will only get worse.

- Be wary – the people you work with are plotting against you.

- Generally, most people are offended by your hygiene.

- Your younger brother will be prosperous, you will not.

- Tomorrow will be worse.

- The only purpose your hairpiece serves is comedic.

- You’re ugly when you make that face you think is funny.

- The frequency with which you masturbate is alarming.

- Tomorrow you will develop a rash on your face – it’s not going to be pretty.

- Yes, he’s cheating on you – now stop wondering.

- Your funeral will set the new record for low attendance.

- She faked it last night.

- Your life will be short and you will be plagued with ill health and erectile dysfunction.

- People laugh at you behind your back

- Sell the convertible; you’re having a mid-life crisis.

- You look like an idiot in that shirt.

- People feel a general sense of panic when you’re around.

- The prostitute you saw last night was a transsexual – and you knew it. Also, you might want to see a doctor and/or a therapist.

- Your wife knows about your homosexual tendencies.

- Your daughter is even more sexually promiscuous than you feared.

- Yes, you are getting fat. People are growing tired of lying to you when you ask.

One thing I love about fortune cookies is how ambiguous they are. What if they were a little more foreboding, while maintaining ambiguity?


- Watch your back – some shit’s gonna go down. Your health may or may not be at risk.

- Be forewarned…*sniff*

- It’s only a matter of time before yours is up.

- There is a person in this room who would love to watch you suffer.

- You will live to regret.

- There is devilry afoot.

- You should probably upgrade your life insurance, just to be safe.

- The meaning of life is…(to be continued)

- Run…

- The meat you just ate was not chicken.

Other fortunes are just plain generic. Here are ideas for some universal, nonspecific alternatives.

Some Obvious “fortunes”:

- Killing people is bad karma.

- It’s impolite to stare at your boss’s wife’s breasts.

- Trix are for kids.

- Tomorrow is another day.

- Things will work themselves out...eventually.

I can now Italicize...

"Unless we can so enlarge our interests as to include the whole outer world, we remain like a garrison in a beleagured fortress, knowing that the enemy prevents escape and the ultimate surrender is inevitable. In such a life there is no peace, but a constant strife between the insistence of desire and the powerlessness of will. In one way or another, if our life is to be great and free, we must escape this prison and this strife."

-Bertrand Russell
The Problems of Philosophy

(Now if I could just understand the rest of the fucking book).

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Wu Tang Manual Says...

About a month ago, I dropped into Border's bookstore to seek out a couple of books for my purchasing pleasure. It is not a rarity these days that when I walk into a bookstore with a specific purpose in mind, I become totally sidetracked by an enticing alternative. In this case, I intended to buy the latest copy of Dissent magazine and find some yoga literature or flashcards in lieu of actually paying to join a yoga class. But immediately upon entering, my eye was caught by the unmistakable Wu-Tang Clan logo staring up at me from the cover of a book entitled, "The Wu-Tang Manual" by the Rza. I picked up the book and flipped through it, smirking to myself with irony at how much I used to love the Wu-Tang Clan and would probably have devoured and cherished the book about ten years ago, instead of scoffing at the very idea of it now. I read a few passages in the book and made a mental note to come back and purchase it for the purpose of coffee-table kitsch (assuming I will eventually own a coffee table).

Well, this weekend, I made good on my promise to myself and actually bought "The Wu-Tang Manual" and I have this to say of it: I really like it. Now let me explain a little about the book first. The fact that it is a manual presupposes an air of didactism on the part of its author, which is to say one expects the book to be about how one should act to be in accordance with the Wu-Tang way of life. However, the book provides more of a context in which to put the Wu-Tang philosophy, lifestyle and musical output and is a detailed account of the many cultural infulences - both ancient and pop - on the Wu-Tang ideology.

Let me say that I can't believe that I am actually discussing a Wu-Tang ideology to begin with. Nonetheless, the Rza has compiled on exhaustive ideological framework from which he and his cronies have drawn over the years. While not terribly credible in terms of his belief system as a whole, (at least not to a white person who finds the notion of the Nation of the Gods and Earth aka the Five-Percent Nation terribly insulting and rather frightening - not like the Rza could care less)I find the sincerity with which the material is presented rather refreshing. It's like a pop culture junkie's dream reading this book. Always a fan of Kung Fu and Eastern philosophy and mysticism, I relish the opportunity to actually have explained how what used to be my favorite rap collective infused their work with these influences.

The very idea of the Wu-Tang juggernaut is brilliant. What's even more staggering is the fact that they've managed to carry on this long and still be influential. I haven't bought a Wu album since their second official release came out around 1997. I was and still am, falling out of love with hip-hop and into love with rock and roll. I am becoming the much-decried "mountain climber who plays an electric guitar"-type that the Gza maligns in the seminal Wu anthem "Protect Ya Neck", but that doesn't mean I don't have a soft spot in my heart for something I used to hold dear.

The Rza is no doubt a charimsatic personality, and surprisingly deep at that. He's created a virtual empire that has somehow maintained its presence, influence and credibility in both the mainstream and on the street. The influences on the clan, which, it seems are mostly channeled through him, are no gimmick. He's very earnest about his respect for and desire to learn from a wide variety of ideological and philosophical sources, including, but not limited to: Gangster films, capitalism, rap history, Islam, the Bible, and the aforementioned Eastern triumvirate of mysticism, film and philosophy. Nowadays, it's passe for a rapper to be ensconsed so in such trite cliches. But it's also rare that a person is so impassioned about such things that his depth of knowledge and admiration for the material would allow him to speak so authoratively.

In all honsety, I was hoping to be able to read the Wu-Tang manual and provide some sort of parodying and ironic commentary, but try as I might, I couldn't help but feel touched by how sincere it is, disagreements over the Five Percent nation notwithstanding. I'm glad I made the decision to buy the book, but for completely different reasons that I thought I would be. It reminds me of how influential the Wu-Tang Clan were on my late teenage years and allows me to appreciate that one day, I may be referencing the Wu-Tang manual as one of my own varied and treasured influences.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Forists versus the Againstists: A One Act Play (on words)

A meeting of some sort is assembling. A Speaker stands at the front of the room, addressing his acolytes.

Speaker: Mr. Secretary, please call this meeting to order.

Secretary: I hereby declare this inaugural meeting of the Organization of Against-ness into order.

Speaker: What is the first order of business on the agenda?

Secretary: A statement of principles of our against-ness, sir.

Speaker: Right. Prinicple number one: we are for nothing and against everything. Principle number two…

Secretary: So, let me get this straight for the notes: we are for nothing, but against everything?

Speaker: No we are against everything. We are for nothing.

Acolyte #1: But isn’t that just another way of saying we are for being against something, especially if you consider nothing something?

Speaker: No! Shut up! We are for nothing! I mean, we are against everything.

(A Master enters, attended by attendants)

Master: Salutations!

Speaker: Who are you?

Master: We are the organization of for-ness. We seek to promote for-ness in solidarity with any organization with any stated purpose of for-ness or against-ness. We have come here to state our support for your Organization of Against-ness.

Speaker: We reject your endorsement on the very principle of its for-ness!

Master: And we embrace your rejection as it is your right to exercise your against-ness in response to our for-ness. Nonetheless, we are still for your against-ness.

Speaker: I resent your being for our against-ness. I cannot allow our organization to formally be for your for-ness of our against-ness. I repeat myself: We are against your for-ness!

Master: Your stated position of against-ness of our for-ness is completely acceptable to us. We are totally for your against-ness of our for-ness of your aforementioned position of stated against-ness for your previously vocalized stance of against-ness in response to our for-ness of your against-ness.

Acolyte #1: Is anybody else confused?

Speaker: No! Shut up! (addressing the Master) How can you be for something that you are so obviously against?

Master: We are for everything, including against-ness. We are against nothing.

Speaker: Aha! So you are against nothing!? Then you have now contradicted yourself!

Master: No, I simply said that we are for…

Speaker: No, you said you are against nothing. Hypocrite…

Master: So, does this mean that, if I am against nothing than you are for our being against nothing?

Speaker: As I told you before, we are for nothing and against…

Master: Aha! Now you have misspoken. So you are for something! Even if it is just nothing!

Speaker: No, we are against nothing, by which I mean, we are for nothing and against nothing all at the same time.

(A Leader enters, leading his Followers)

Leader: Greetings!

Speaker/Master: Now who are you?

Leader: I am ambivalent! I am neither for, nor against nothing or something. I remain neutral.

Speaker: Then, surely you can talk some sense into this guy, he is for everything!

Master: I am indeed for everything, as you are for nothing. So therefore you are for something because even nothing is something.

Leader: I cannot intervene, for I am neither for nor against for-ness or against-ness and I am also paradoxically for and against neither or both your respective stated positions of alternating for-ness and against-ness.

(A Representative enters flanked by his constituents)

Representative: Ho, there!

Speaker: Oh, who the fuck are you now?

Representative: I am a representative of the Organization Against Against-ness.

Speaker: Ha! We stand against your against-ness of our against-ness!

Master: (to the Representative) Ah, Comrade. We are for your against-ness of against-ness, even if we are also for their against-ness.

Representative: Not so fast! Your support for our against-ness of against-ness is but a thinly veiled endorsement of the position of against-ness, which means you are against the againstists against-ness and therefore, we are against your for-ness of both the againstists position of against-ness and our position of against-ness of against-ness.

(An awkward silence as everyone tries to recount what the Representative has just said.)

Acolyte #1: (to the Speaker) Anyways, so, um, what’s the second principle of our against-ness, then?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Stopgap solutions

I was reading an interview with David O. Russel in the I Heart Huckabees script last night and he said something that really stuck with me, and that was something to the effect of that American's have a short term memory, politically. He was flabbergasted when Ronald Reagan died and the media was portraying him as such a great man and a significant leader. I felt confused, too, because I remember Reagan's much decried economic ideology and his decline in popularity as a result of the Iran Contra affair. True, Reagan did play a role in the end of the cold war, but he left behind many problems when Bush, then Clinton took over, some of which are still prevalent and are even getting worse.

Now the Reagan thing is kind of tangential, but I thought Russel's simple observation about Americans having such a short memory is incredibly prescient right now, especially considering Bush's campaign promises and what he has done since regaining the Presidency. It seems clear that Bush and his regime are using our intense political complacency against us. Dick Cheney is claiming that he will use a questionable tactic to break a Senatorial filibuster on the appointment of ultra-conservative Supreme Court Judges. Bush ran on the notion that he has done well in protecting America from terrorist attacks and that his opponent would have been inadequate in this regard. Yet, he has made it clear so far in his first few months that he's clearly repaying his corporate cronies by promising tort reform, privatizing social security, rolling back bankruptcy and continuing his overall assault on American's civil liberties.

The rollbacks are spreading fear and elation alike that our country is regressing to a more conservative society. However, one hopes that this movement will create the kinds of dialogues in art, politics, and culture in general that have been so important in subverting such periods in any era, not just contemporary American history. We can all look forward to a further polarization between the elite and those oppressed, but it can't last long. Some of the most exciting and bold changes take place after a long and bitter war for a return to supposed innocence.

In the context of the bigger picture, America has continued to be progressive in a number of ways that can't be negated so easily. Although the state of Civil rights still inspires a desire for more change, we are a society that has universally embraced the ideal of equal rights, even though it fails to appear that way from time to time. There is also a growing moderate contingency of unaffiliated voters and thinkers who tend to vote their conscience and their heart, striking a balance between the two extremes. I hope and believe that many politicians will recognize the absurdity of this tendency towards roll-backs and draw a definitive line as to when enough is enough. Eventually the scales will be tipped back into balance. One doesn't wish to see them tip too severly the other direction, as it seems that is what we are currently experiencing.

It is a confusing time for those of us who liked pre-9/11 America and there is potential for us to return to that state. We just can't make the mistake of becoming too short-sighted. Bush and his administration may succeed in enacting several stopgap policy initiatives, but those of us who can see the bigger picture know that we will live to fight another day. The hearts and minds of Americans are easily won over by fiery rhetoric in times of uncertainty. Unfortunately George Bush has created and perpetuated a time of uncertainty, which makes his current agenda incredibly vulnerable to those of us who are patient enough to seize the moment when the timing is right.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Cult of Politics

I have spent the large part of my “adult life” (am I there yet?) realizing, acknowledging, and subscribing to ideas that have been part of a greater consciousness for a period of time that transcend certainly my worldview, and seemingly that of most of my peers. Indeed, John R. Searle asserts that philosophy is known as such only until we have enough empirical evidence to draw a semi-concrete, rather than abstract conclusion or hypothesis. It is at this critical juncture that what was once known as philosophy is renamed as science. But isn’t it that which we can’t see, touch, taste, or smell that moves man to second-guess the nature of his being? What is recognizable in the physical world doesn’t threaten the human psyche as much as what is unknowable, unseen and unheard. If we cannot bear any sort of witness to an event, then how do we know such phenomena truly exists? For example, think of floating alone in the sea. Which do you fear more: the creatures you know be lurking below or the other, possibly more dangerous creatures that you don’t know about?

I have recently chanced upon a book (for the second time) that, in an effort to reaffirm faith in one religion, systematically (and subjectively) disassembles the doctrines of others. In his book, Larson’s New Encyclopedia of Cults, author Bob Larson puts forth the notion that, through the annals and rigors of recruitment and initiation, ritualistic cults promote and instill a sense of “intellectual sterility” in its members. In various ways, Larson goes on to “disprove” the rhetoric of each “cult” with evidence offered in the passages of the King James Version of the bible. It is funny how one is so bold to refute one school of thought which lacks empirical basis with another equally questionable ideology.

What goes unaccounted for in this book and possibly so many other analyses of cultic sociology is the so-called cult of personality. Cults, by very definition often have a sort of ideological thread on which most of the pattern of belief/behavior is based. Having recently become enamored with the American partisan political system, I have come to find that each of the two major political parties in our country are fast becoming cults of personality. For evidence, one need look no further than the agenda respective to each party.

Democrats, easily denigrated as liberals, as are Republicans conservatives, operate on what is known as a platform that is generally homogenous across the board to all members. When one faction is so ideologically complete, a difference of opinion can be construed as a declaration of secession either intentionally or unintentionally by one of its constituents. In essence, someone with a dissenting view that differs from the stated position of the affiliated party to which they belong can often be viewed as an outsider or in extreme cases treasonous. The term heresy can very nearly be applied in these cases.

It is because of this intellectual sterility that the bi-partisan political system operating in the United States is becoming increasingly cultish. Never has the homogenization of ideas become so apparent than in the recent Presidential race, wherein no politician dare take a stand on an issue that could possibly delineate them from their political affiliation.

“This recent election was a very close one with hotly contested issues on the line.” This sentence could be applied to just about every Presidential race ever run in the history of the United States. But the lack of fresh ideas or at least the lack of knowledge of such ideas made for an increasingly polarized pool of voters in November 2004. The race was less about progress than it was about gaining or retaining control of the ideological juggernaut that is the United States government and consequentially, it’s two most influential entities worldwide – the foreign policy thereof and the popular culture that is a direct result of its domestic policies.

Life in Post-9/11 America is more hypothetical than real. People fear an ominous terrorist threat that is not and has not been immediately apparent since the events at ground zero. Focus has been placed on issues that do not even remotely pertain to the issue at hand - protecting Americans and American interests at home and abroad. Granted, plenty of attention was paid to Iraq, which is a black hole financially and in terms of human casualties.

The race was a war of morality. Many people claimed to have cast their vote for the candidate they felt most closely resembled traditional American values. The war in Iraq and the war on terrorism were at a close second. However, it is apparent that Americans are greatly concerned with being a moral majority. It is this way of thinking that is most disconcerting, that Americans don’t trust themselves or others enough to conduct their affairs in a morally justified manner, they feel that they have to vote morality into office. It is clear that Americans don’t think much of each other’s moral compass.

It can be safely said that the majority of moral sentiment in contemporary America is generated in any combination through one of the following three institutions: family, social environment and religion, specifically Christianity. It is then no surprise that a conservative Christian with strong family ties will be voted into office without fail most of the time, even one as morally suspect as George Bush. In a war of cults, a personality has been assigned to lead the collective ultimate cult of personality, the American voting constituency.

It is within this framework that intellectual sterility in terms of social and moral policy has its greatest affect. The policy directives within such an administration are confined to strict codes as dictated by the pre-designated aforementioned influences. Any “thinking outside the box” would be deemed in contradiction to said influences and would be quickly reduced, changed or re-thought to fit neatly in to the preset conventions. Therefore, progress becomes increasingly difficult and the forestalling or complete lack of intellectual ingenuity becomes inevitable. Change comes painstakingly slow and at a great price. Only those who are willing to risk ostracism dare question the ranks. The cycle of intellectual sterility becomes clear at this point as the veil of democratic politics is lifted to reveal the ugly face of the electorate and the cultish behavior that it perpetrates.

Monday, February 28, 2005


As I take a rare moment to flip through the four channels I get on my television, I come across at least five commercials for new reality dating shows. Is there anything more pathetic than watching somebody try desperately to fall in love? Lack of quality entertainment is why I stopped watching television in the first place (well, that and you know – I lost my remote control.) It’s typical that I can’t get a date, but when other people are having trouble finding love, something has got to be wrong. It seems that everybody has the same problem: they don’t know where to meet good people.

It used to be that a person could go to places like a church to meet a potential mate. But, who the fuck wants to date some crazy religious zealot? I don’t know about you, but I value not having to get up early on Sunday. Another typically safe place to meet a potential lover was the grocery store, but people are too busy stocking up on supplies for the coming apocalypse to notice another attractive person. It also used to be that you could go to a bar to find a lover, but with the advent of date-rape drugs, and the variety and wide availability of venereal diseases floating around these days, not to mention that Michelob Ultra crap, the bar is no longer safe courting grounds.

It’s clear that the American dating system of courtship until marriage is breaking down. This could partially be due to the fact that marriage is becoming an increasingly doomed enterprise. Think about it: how many people under of the age of thirty do you know that are divorced? With all of the marital problems I constantly hear about, it’s a shock that we still celebrate the exchange of vows and console those who are getting a divorce. Logic holds that it should be just the opposite.

In the days of yore (1980s), dating was a private and common practice shared between two potential lovers in the hopes that such an encounter would lead to a fruitful relationship. If successful, the first date was usually followed by a second, then a third and after a long courtship, a celebratory adjoining ceremony in which two symbolically become one (AKA marriage). But dating has evolved into an interactive, televised, post-modern spectator event. A lonely single no longer has to cruise the aisles at a grocery store for prospective dates; he can now pick and choose his lovers on a game show – live! in front of a studio audience. Likewise, the recluse no longer has to cruise the mall for ripe, nubile teenage girls, he can just log onto the internet and discreetly meet tons and tons of teenies who are eager to share their secrets with a complete stranger.

Surely we all know of people who have tried their hand at internet dating. Some may work with a casual internet dater, or have one in their family or household, or even, ahem…be… one. But, is this what it has come to? The answer is yes and I’m saddened by this fact, not because it seems creepy and cold to use a medium of technological interface to try and lure a member of the opposite sex to meet at a safe, neutral location – wait, that does sound kind of creepy – but because the world that we live in now requires you to create a login name to score. Have things really gotten so bad that people can’t relate to each other and proceed accordingly old fashioned way – awkwardly, yet casually approaching someone, striking up a conversation, hoping to god that you haven’t said anything idiotic and if you did, she didn’t catch it, then nervously asking for a phone number and walking away feeling either victorious or stupid for even approaching said person in the first place? I believe that they have not.

However, as hinted at above, I have to admit that I have tried web-dating. Initially, my interest was only superficial due to skepticism because of what I thought was lack of actual potential. Predictably, a few ladies caught my fancy and I sent them a clever and non-threatening note and awaited their eventual rejection. But then something unpredictable happened: an interested party actually responded. Then another girl contacted me of her own accord, without prior provocation. Then another. Eventually I felt as though I actually had to turn chicks away for the first time in my life.

I am happy to report that one of these courtships did come to fruition, and am equally sad to further report that it was only for a short while, as the lady in question soon grew tired of my more realistic non-internet persona. And so, I chalk that endeavor up as yet another failure. But it has become especially hard to deal with now because so many fucking people I know are hooking up over the web. Once again the masses are succeeding where I have failed, miserably. In fact, I think I know more people by association through this dating service than by any other accountable and tangible means of traditional encounter. Of course, very few people do I know as a direct result of my personal experiences with web-dating – only through the experiences of others. There is virtually a “virtual” community emerging, composed entirely of e-daters. And I may very well be at the national apex.

Now, in the spirit of individuality, I have resolved to engage in e-dating no longer. I have challenged myself to think “outside the box” (computer) and assert myself in a face-to-face encounter with a woman of my particular fancy. I always imagine that I will meet my soulmate at the library or the record store and we will immediately hit it off because of our mutual love for some seemingly mundane, but personally indispensable pop-culture phenomenon. Then it occurs to me that this may not happen because I don’t even know where a library is and I usually make a habit of not talking to strangers.

Therein lies the main problem with trying to seek and obtain that one true love: people are scared. I don’t know what it is, man, but I’m scared of meeting people. I do know that once I meet a person and become comfortable, I become extremely likable. But, then kicks in what I call the 90 day guarantee: in 90 days or less I guarantee that I will have repeatedly done/said stupid/unnecessary things and will have chased off my muse due to an unconscious, but nonetheless intentional self-sabotage complex. However, I don’t feel like this neurosis is unique to me. I would be willing to bet that it’s an all too typical phenomenon for people to feel responsible for their own failures in the dating world. But the culprit may be the intense social emphasis that is placed on dating.

There are so many rules to dating: things you should do or say. Should I open the door for her? If she’s old-fashioned she may think it necessary, but if she’s a liberated feminist, she may be offended by the notion that she needs a man to open doors for her, literally or metaphorically. Should I bring up past relationships? They are relevant, in a way. History is important. But am I revealing too much too soon? Am I stuck in the past? What if she only believes in living in the now? Should I let sleeping dogs lie? And what the hell does that proverb even mean – ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’?

It’s no wonder that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a mate. Potential mates are becoming increasingly difficult. The older people get, the more set in their ways they are and the more they know what they want and the more exclusive what they want becomes. It’s stubbornness masquerading as choosiness. If you don’t fit the bill, then you get the boot. Who wants to waste their time waiting to see if something happens? Why bother if there’s no initial spark?

So it occurs to me that maybe I should try to meet my future spouse the way my parents met – in high school. Now, all I have to do is rig up a fake Never Been Kissed-style persona, go back to the eleventh grade and steal some nerdy, but potentially hot sophomore’s heart. Or better still, and even more cutting edge and less pedophiliac, I will bite the bullet and go onto a reality dating show. But alas, I have been in the presence of people several times who were approached by casting agents for these shows, all of whom look at me and say the same thing: “I don’t think you’re quite what we’re looking for – you’re too rugged.” I think to myself, what a typically Hollywood way of politely telling someone that they’re unattractive. I feel ugly, but I at least I’m ugly in a James Dean kind of way.

Reality dating shows are nothing new. The template has been around since Chuck Barris took time off from being a professional assassin to create The Dating Game. Granted, the format has changed: the drama is more real(?), the stakes are higher (??), the players are more attractive and the scenarios are a little bit “less contrived.”

The thing that continually blows my mind about these shows is just how far each contestant is willing to go. It’s clear that the people who appear in these programs are not aware of their own stupidity nor are they at all hesitant because of humility. Of course there’s always some kind of ulterior motive monkey wrench thrown into the scenario. It’s love versus money, or love versus vanity, or money versus vanity.

So if I aim to participate, it seems that all I have to do is become a little bit more charismatic, work out a bunch, attract the attention of a casting director, go onto the show, suffer hours - possibly days - of shameful drama, weather relentless gossip and criticism by fans, friends, foes and family alike, wade my way through attractive, but ultimately shallow and brainless drama queens, pick the one that I dislike the least and convince her to go out with me on a disastrous date at a location to be named later. On second thought that doesn’t seem so easy or even necessary for that matter.

So, I’m back to meeting chicks the old fashioned way: going to bars, getting drunk and clumsily hitting on them, or maybe that’s a little ill advised. Maybe the new technique I employ will be to enact an air of coy indifference. Girls love to ignored, right? Or maybe I will hire a personal matchmaker to find the perfect potential spouse. But, do I have to get married? Can’t I just have sex with the chick first and iron out the details the morning after.

Whatever method a person chooses it’s clear that the science of attraction has consistently proven only one thing: there is no science of attraction.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Star Wars - an enduring work of art and commerce?

All right, so I've been wanting to discuss this for a while: I read an article in Vanity Fair of all places in which George Lucas so presumptuously claims that in the future, people will be discussing the Star Wars films as an important and nuanced work of art containing great depth and worthy of much discussion, not only in terms of how innovative it was for it's time, but also how long it has endured. Lucas is basically claiming that his Star Wars films will inspire more questions than it can possibly answer.

The thing is: I kind of agree with him.

I'm no Star Wars Fanboy. I do like Star Wars, but I've hated the last two (first two?) movies. However, consider this: Star Wars is deeply entrenched in at least five or six major literary and philosophical traditions: it's a Christ parable in the form of a father-son savior dynamic, it heavily references Arthurian legend in it's relationship between characters (Luke as King Arhtur, Obi-Wan as Merlin, Leia as Guinevere and Han Solo as a sort of Sir Lancelot), it contains many elements of Samurai philosophy and aesthetic within the application of the Force and its parallel in Bushido as well as the duel being the preferred battle-style and the appearance of the characters, especially the Jedi (Darth Vaders/stormtrooper's helmet), it borrows from and builds on the tradition of fantasy myth and it also has an underlying political complexity that while, byzantine and overly idiosyncratic, is a relatively accurate portrayal of the way such a power struggle is conducted.

No doubt, references abound in Star Wars. The fantasy and Sci-fi elements are perhaps its most enduring and endearing qualities. Like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars creates it's own language, logic and politics. The creative genius behind such a juggernaut is without a doubt a "Force" to be reckoned with. Even the story itself is kind of complicated. Just try to explain the plot with some brevity to someone who hasn't seen it (finding one of these people can be a task in and of itself) and see if you can clearly and accurately convey it without including much of the details. Hell, I've seen the original round of movies several times each and I'm not sure that I can tell you what they're about. And I know I can't recount the plot of the latest round, partially because I'm not sure if I understand it myself.

In addition, it's widely held that Star Wars was the first of the blockbuster films that so many film critics have widely decried in the last thirty years. George Lucas widely retained the merchandising rights in anticipation of a huge spin-off campaign. This led to a new business model for marketing films and related spin-off products that is still very much in place to this day.

Then there's the many cinematic innovations Lucas and his team developed while creating the films, which has led to an adjunct business for Lucas and an ever-evolving new genre of digital effects films. In a twist of irony, though, the reliance upon digital effects has largely been responsible for the widespread dissatisfaction with the new Star Wars releases and the re-releases of the originals, that is, other than the C-level directing in the case of the new crop.

Perhaps what's most compelling is just how many different ways the Star Wars films can be analyzed critically. In one of my first film classes, a professor argued, much to the dismay of the students, that Star Wars was inherently racist and even borrowed scenes from a classic Nazi propoganda film. Here is a link to another, more politically-oriented analysis that may be just as shocking, as the author argues in favor of the Empire: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/248ipzbt.asp

All things considered, George Lucas may be right, the Star Wars vehicle might be pondered for generations to come. Unfortunately it may not be the cinematic power of the films that is remembered, but the many levels on which the foundation was constructed.