Topsy-Turvy Turnabout   (2016Jan09)

Saturday, January 09, 2016                                               10:47 AM

How has the world changed? Maybe it’s just me, but I think we’ve lost shock value and fashion. All those years of movie-makers trying to top Hitchcock at fear and horror, to top DeMille at sin and sensuality—we have no limits in film any longer—only tightening demographics and a rating system that affects ticket sales projections. Censorship has only taught us to hear dirty words as ‘bleep’, where even suggesting profanity was once forbidden.

Over those same years we’ve had so many career comebacks, period fads, ‘I Love the [decade]s’ TV shows, and retro fashions that no haircut, no pair of shoes, no ensemble is truly out of fashion—that monolith doesn’t exist anymore. We only see shadows of it in boardroom meetings and comic-cons—where participation requires a costume. But I remember a time when you weren’t allowed in a restaurant without a tie—when girls couldn’t wear jeans to school—when you could actually be judged by the clothes you wore or the length of your hair—nobody cares anymore. Are there exceptions? Sure. But where a man with long hair was once the exception, now the exception is those few people who still think such things important.

And good riddance, I say—both shocking our morals and dictating our appearances were based on a rigidity of mind that we are well rid of. It was the main target of the sixties counter-culture—a generation that saw JFK put an end to men’s obligation to wear a hat when outdoors was made afraid of authority. And authority gave them plenty to fear—a pointless war, destruction of our ecosystem by industry, persecution of women and minorities—protest and rebellion were the order of the day. Conformity for its own sake finally became visible as an enemy of our collective pursuit of happiness.

But conformity goes hand in hand with authority—accepting authority is conformity. The emperor’s-new-clothes of politicians and business leaders has been revealed as naked power and corruption—Nixon wasn’t our first bad president, he was just the first bad president to be publicly shamed—the tobacco industry wasn’t the first bad industry—they were just the first industry to be proven, in court, to be liars and their products killers.

Back then the good guys, the champions of justice, were the grass-roots, behind-the-scenes influence, fighting against publicly recognized authority. After the truth had won one too many battles, we now have the rich and powerful generating non-truths through grass-roots, whisper campaigns—fighting against publicly recognized humane ideals—like clean air or abortion rights. They have developed tricks of public debate, ways to twist the truth around, which we refer to as ‘teaching the controversy’, but are simply the latest methods of bullshitting the disaffected.

The fat cats love that crap—until ISIL does it—then we call it radicalization. But ISIL is just another organization funded by rich people, selling their bullshit through modern methods—they may be more bloodthirsty than the climate-denying industrialists or the profiteers of arms manufacture, drugs, or GMO crops—but in the long run, they are far less dangerous—ISIL only kills people the old-fashioned way, by hand, one at a time. Not that I’m a fan of those dickwads.

It’s a topsy-turvy place in time, the present—the tough-guy bullies whose favorite phrase used to be ‘Be a Man’ are now urging all of us to run and hide under the bed—from everything and everyone—cowardice is the new American way. Cops aren’t ashamed to panic at the sight of tween minorities—they proudly declare they emptied their service piece into a pre-pubescent because they were afraid of a little boy. People aren’t ashamed to be terrorized by the sight of a turban on an airplane. Politicians are stealing material from Hitler, advertising their fear of a religious group that has been around since before they were born—since before America was born. Then there’s my favorite—immigrants—this nation of immigrants has decided to be afraid of immigrants—what the actual fuck?

What’s my problem with being afraid—I’ll tell you—it’s unproductive. Being prepared is productive—I’m not saying I don’t protect myself. But I don’t own a gun. I live in a place where guns are bad news—and I want that—I want to be surprised when someone shows a gun—I want to say ‘what the hell, man—where’s the invasion?’ I know there are places, like Syria and downtown Chicago, where that is not the case—and I feel for the people that live there—but the answer is not for all of us to start living as if Syria has come to our town. We pay a shitload of money for the United States Military—if they need my help, they’ll let me frickin know. I wasn’t afraid last year or the year before—I ain’t going to be afraid today. The News is messed up—it’s their business to get us excited about stuff—and we have to kick that monkey off our backs.

The worst of fear is that scared people aren’t nice—it takes courage to be nice. That’s why the fat cats like fear-mongering—it keeps us from caring about each other, from coming together as a community. I’ll wait until I meet some Syrian refugees before I decide whether to be afraid of them or not—that’s just common sense.

I’d like to take this moment to thank my foreign readers—I just checked my stats for this blog—and today, so far, this is xperdunn.com’s international reach:

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I don’t want to brag, but I’m being read around the world (in droves of one, mostly, but still). It’s exciting. Even my online poetry book, bearlybliss.com, six years on, is still getting traffic:

Now for a special treat—Pete has returned. Fighting off a holiday shoulder injury (he fell out of his attic getting Christmas ornaments) he joined me yesterday to re-form the Buds Up Restoration Project. We had a special guest star drop in—the fabulous Sherryl Marshall—and join us for a cover of “Norwegian Wood” that was lots of fun. I can’t post that until I ask Sherryl about permission—but afterwards, Pete and I had an exceptional improv jam that I’m happy to present herewith:

 

Cats, Tabbies, Felines… What’s That Word? (2014Dec18)

Thursday, December 18, 2014                        12:39 PM

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Oh yeah—Pussies! That’s the word. Anyone who is afraid to go see “The Interview” at a movie theater—anyone who is afraid to show the movie in their theater—all world-class pussies who bring shame to our proud heritage. Some anonymous hacker makes a vague threat against anyone going to see this movie—and we do his bidding? I could scream with frustration.

Let me be clear. I think the Seth Rogen comedy-film paradigm, even propped up by the legitimacy of his friend, James Franco’s, reputation, has run its course. I anticipated being disappointed with the derivative ‘mad-cap’ zaniness of this farce, but I’m a tough audience—I’ve watched a lot of comedy, decades of it, and I’ve become somewhat jaded. But that doesn’t mean the kids wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

One of the things that made me anticipate disappointment was the crass hook of the story—joking about assassinating a living head of state (even the head of a crapulous state like North Korea) is unquestionably in poor taste, not to mention how it suggests bad behavior—it strikes me as just about the worst premise of any comedy I’ve ever heard of. Plus, the South Park boys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have already used the idea in “Team America: World Police”, although they were talking about Kim Jong Il, not Kim Jong Un. And it must be said that the meta-comedy of Parker and Stone is far more fertile soil for geopolitical satire than this latest offering from Rogen, the reigning king of the rom-coms (at which he is excellent).

But the quality of the film is beside the point. This is an issue of freedom of speech. How outraged we all would have been if SONY had made a boardroom decision not to release this movie for political reasons. How we would have poured into the streets in protest if our own government had tried to stop the release of this movie. But some jerk with a keyboard mentions 9/11, and we censor ourselves!? Unbelievable.

I call on SONY to release this movie immediately, to offer it on DVD, to stream it online. I call on theater owners to run this film night and day, in the name of their country. And I call on everyone to go see this no-doubt-average film, just because they don’t like being told what to do. Stop the cowering. Release “The Interview” now!

The Oscars in the Era of Digital Entertainment

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“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline –an excellent read in its way, a real page-turner–I just finished reading it at 3am earlier this morning—I’ve slept most of the intervening time, but my eyes won’t focus today. See—that’s the difference between age and fatigue—fatigue is something that fades quickly, whereas the limitations of age are more holistic—don’t read an entire book in one day (I was surprised I still could.) if you want to use your eyes for something the next day, and maybe the day after.

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Also, the book is set in the near future, but concerns the nineteen-eighties in an OCD-‘Best of the 80s’-treasure-hunt that is central to the tale. I started in the mid-nineteen-seventies (pre-PC, pre-Windows, pre-WWW) with mini-computers—new sensations in the small-business world, particularly the easily computerized industries—insurance, real estate, mailing lists (yes, this was before e-mail and its evil twin, spam, too). But they were still using up an entire room—an air-conditioned room, too.

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The micro-computers that started showing up a few years later are now known as PCs—and the first way to hook them together was a Local-Area-Network, or LAN. The first modems had misshapen foam cradles which held the old phones’ receivers and worked by analog audio beeps and chirps. My first PC had a two-megabyte internal hard-drive—it couldn’t hold a single hi-res JPEG by today’s standards.

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Back then, everything was B&W, just letters and numbers, logic and calculations. When I first saw Windows 2.0 I asked what the point of it was—I was told it made it easier for people to use a computer. I replied that people who didn’t understand how to use a computer weren’t going to have any more luck with a GUI (Graphics User Interface—aka ‘Windows’—except for Macs). What I failed to realize was the pressure digital-era literacy would force on us all—suddenly typists needed to learn Word Perfect and bookkeepers had to learn Lotus 1-2-3 (early spreadsheet software).

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I spent my late teens and early twenties learning computer-literacy and computer maintenance systems that vanished practically overnight, sometime around 1985, and was replaced with home-video games that killed the arcade industry, the WWW, which killed the LAN and WAN industries, and MS Office Suites, CorelDraw Graphics Suites, and Roxio Audio-Visual Suites (and their Mac equivalents)—all of which killed the individual programmer-maven job market. Hot-shot coders were supplanted by Nintendo, Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Facebook, I-Phones and other industrial-sized app- and mega-app-creators.

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So the 1980s digital watershed as experienced by the writer (I’m assuming) came around the time I was losing the ability to indulge in childish things without embarrassment. For instance, Matthew Broderick, a central figure in the book, is much younger than I am—and I won’t get into how depressing it is to see him graying with age in the present day. Yes, boys and girls, if you live long enough, even the sci-fi makes you feel old.

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By 1980, I was in my mid-twenties—this made me a generation older than the oldest man in the book. So, I’m reading a sci-fi thriller set in the near future and all I feel is ‘old’—that’s just so wrong. But enough of my whining… let’s discuss.

Society used to imply a fixed point of geography—but no more. The way I see it, any place or time that has fixed morals applicable only to that place or time, is a ‘society’. For instance, Commuter Traffic is its own society—indeed, commuting has at least three societies—the drivers, the bus and train-takers, and the walkers.

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Walking the sidewalks of mid-town Manhattan during the morning rush seems very cattle-like, especially to the people in its grip. But it actually requires a very heads-up approach—you need to watch the whole 360 degrees around you, your pace should be brisk but not breakneck, and the only real crime is to behave as if it weren’t rush hour, when personal stopping and going and distraction won’t impact the entire flow of the press of people all around such an out-of-place fool.

Walking is usually the last step in the journey. And there are many who go by subway—but in my relative inexperience, I leave its description to someone more inured to its ways. Nevertheless I have spent years on both of the other circuits, ‘driving in’—and ‘taking the train’.

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Taking the Saw Mill River Parkway into Manhattan’s West Side Highway is not for the faint of heart. Its lanes were designed for the days when it was truly a scenic parkway—and for cars which topped out at, maybe, 30 mph. It’s modern reality is a cross between Disney World’s Space Mountain and the Grand Prix—hurtling cubes of steel, inches apart, doing 60, 65—and some of them are in a bigger hurry than the rest—these restless souls try to pass other cars as they go and will push their driving skills to the limit. This forces anyone in the lane beside them to be just as razor-sharp in controlling a vehicle that may not have the road-hugging quality of a BMW.

Taking the Harlem-Hudson line into Grand Central has had many changes since my day—the locomotives were diesel, there was always at least one smoking car and the night-time commuter trains had a bar car, which was an automatic smoker. The seats were upholstered but badly sprung—and larger. But some things remain the same—the etiquette of boarding as a group, of sitting beside a stranger (don’t read their paper—get your own!)

And the strange race for pole-position when debarking at Grand Central. This took planning. Firstly, one had to rise when the train had neared its platform, and move towards the doorway. If you weren’t first in the doorway, there was no way you would have a chance to sprint towards the exit ramp with the other contenders. The choice of when to rise was a personal one—some rose quite early and simply stood in the doorway for a good ten minutes, others waited until the last minute and relied strongly on line-cutting bravado. Once the train stopped, there were maybe fifty yards of empty platform which the prepared passenger sprinted across, hoping to avoid the human condensation that made that exit a twenty minute delay for those who took their time getting off the train.

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This was the most cattle-car moment of any commute—people actually touched each other while we crowd-shuffled towards the open terminal beyond the platform gate. This was a world-class pot-luck situation—the people who crushed against one could be very attractive or quite repellent, even odiferous. There was no logic to the Brownian motion of the crowd—you couldn’t position yourself to mash against someone of your own choosing.

Eye contact, personal space, split-second go/no-go choices made at traffic-lit corners or when spotting an unmarked traffic cop car in the work-ward rally—all these and more were self-imposed by the natural human reactions to the different intimacies of rush-hour mass motion. And, not surprisingly, all these societies have a night-time, complimentary society, with different rules respecting the fact that everyone is in an even bigger hurry to get home than they were to get to work that morning, but with the luxury that no one got fired for getting home late.

These societies have a geographical ‘location’ (if an unsupervised racetrack can be called a location) but they come into being for a few hours in the morning and again at night, each time fading away almost as soon as it peaks, barring delays and bad weather. The ‘train stuck in a blizzard’ has a society, too—which only comes sporadically and can skip whole years at times.

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Talking on the phone is a society—or, again, several societies, based on context. A phone conference, a sales call, a relative calling to gab, a friend calling with an invitation—each one has its own little head-dance and body language. And we could hardly leave out Facebook or the internet in general, when cataloguing the many sub-societies we join and quit all through our days.

These were my musings on Society this morning after I read the New York Times Art Section article reviewing the Oscars and the reviews others gave it, particularly PC groups that disapproved of the irreverence and insensitivity of the jokes and songs—and of Seth McFarlane, personally. The Times article pointed out the discrepancy between the Academy’s need to bring in ratings, especially from the younger demographic (call it the “Family Guy”-factor) and to appear sensitive to the community-watchdog groups that have been attacking “Family Guy” since its premiere in 1999.

Seth McFarlane is a media juggernaut with three (yes,3!) TV series now in operation: [Family Guy (1999–2002, 2005–now), “American Dad!” (2005–now), “The Cleveland Show” (2009–now)]. His ‘tastelessness’ finds favor with a younger audience because it embraces (as far as a TV show can) the new Internet society—which has few editors and even less censors. This younger entertainment society accepts the crassness as ‘bold honesty’ of a sort (which dawned, IMHO, upon the Seinfeld episode when Jerry, et.al. all repeat the phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” until the defensiveness of PC-speak becomes its own post-modern joke/attitude).

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PC-abandonment is the new humor in this society—if it makes old people like me wince, it’s funny. And television, in many ways, is still bound hand and foot by wincing old people. These dinosaur-people miss the point—we joke because we love—and we love ourselves—even our bigoted, foul-mouthed selves. And we won’t pussy-foot around about it anymore. Any old geezer that can’t let go of the militancy that served human rights so well in the twentieth century can’t help but be scandalized by our new-minted idols, like Seth, who are comfortable making a joke about Lincoln being shot in the head without being suspected of hidden racism or some twisted fundamentalism.

I would like to join in—but I’m too old and set in my ways to reinvent myself as an aging hipster—besides, comedy was never my strong suit… But my point is this: we have two major societal paradigms that are at something of a disconnect—Network TV and the World Wide Web. I can’t get in the spirit of it—for me, half the fun of a show is watching it when it’s aired. The feel of live TV—even scheduled, recorded, first-run TV shows—is lost for me whenever I have to find the show on the cable-box’s VOD menu—but my son watches all his ‘TV’ online, using our Netflix account. And I grew up admiring martyrs to the cause of civil and gender rights—I’ll never be able to speak lightly of those momentous changes that informed my lifespan.20130226XD-Googl-RPO_004(SMcFarlane)

I can handle Seth McFarlane, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Matt Groenig—all the new-wave, internet-capable entertainers, but my laughs are a little repressed by the sheer effrontery of their attitudes. When I was a boy I wondered why it was so hard for my parents to see my point—now I understand—by their standards, I didn’t have a point. I wasn’t seeing everything through their experiences, I was seeing everything as new and without emotional context. And now I’m trapped in my memories of what our children see as ‘history’, if they notice it at all. Paperless, wireless, unconventional families, uncensored entertainment, the disintegration of traditional religious institutions’ power to shape people and events, access to everything—information, encyclopediae, maps and navigators, definitions, language translations, 24-hour news cycles—all the things that have remade what was once my stable little spot on the Earth—our children take them as givens—the same way we took drinking from our lawn hoses for granted (back when people still felt safe drinking from ground wells).

So, in the end, Seth McFarlane did a great job hosting the Oscars—he also did a terrible job—it depends on your age.

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Pope Deferred

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I’ve been where the pope is at—I can sympathize. He doesn’t feel he has the strength to do all that a modern pope is expected to do—the travel, the heated debates over orthodoxy, the public pronouncements and appearances across the globe. He is undoubtedly unhappy about ceding his life’s greatest achievement before his time—but he knows that he simply hasn’t the strength to do the job properly.

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And I know what it’s like to be barraged with outrage and questioning—‘all the other popes died in office!’—‘how can he let the church down this way’—‘what is the real reason he’s abdicating?’ ..and so on. The questions only deepen his sadness at having to appear to ‘quit’ when he is actually acting in the best interests of his flock. How disgusting it must be for him to have pederasty be the most publicly discussed aspect of his church. How conflicted he must be about the conditions caused by overpopulation in the world’s poorest areas—and reconciling that with church dogma forbidding birth control of any kind.

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It won’t be long before we have to discuss the status of manufactured humans—or, worse yet, creatures with only partially-human DNA. Are they property?—are they a crime against nature?—do they have souls?—is owning one a venal or a mortal sin—or no sin at all? The pope that gets that one in his lap will need a degree in biology just to issue an edict.

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Women are being accepted into many faiths as pastors or priests—how can the Catholic Church respond to the self-evident equality of men and women when it contradicts their deepest beliefs? And consider Celibacy—it has been made painfully clear that priests have sexually abused children as far back as living memory—which implies that it’s gone on longer even than that. What good is a vow of celibacy when it is connected to that horrendous history? Catholics might be better off with married priests—they certainly can’t be any worse off. Can a modern pope process this unfolding tragedy into a renewal of dignity and self-sacrifice that has been, until now, only a false gloss over the real activities of working priests? I’d hate that job—kinda like being the judge and the defendant at a murder trial.

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But worst of all is Obedience. It is a central tenet of the Roman Catholic Church—it really can’t be removed without losing the entire structure. But obedience is a problematic concept when it is used to hide stupidity and corruption. This is a problem for many faiths, really. The idea that authority shouldn’t be questioned is part of the zeitgeist of a religion—it draws a parallel to the concept of questioning the faith itself, and thus makes it forbidden.

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This is the crux of the conflict between modern civilization and the major faiths—the world has learned that government should be accountable—that it is our duty to question our leaders and criticize their mistakes. The world has also learned much science—a practice based on never-ending questioning of everything! The validity of disobedience has been glorified by the American Revolution and the more-recent Arab Spring. The validity of scientific inquiry is even more desirable—weapons, medicines, agriculture—you name it, science will add some nitrous tanks and boost the hell out of it.

 

Where once caste systems, total power, and superstition made a nice, neat fit with Religion, the modern world has inverted the principles of both Government and Reason. Those two legs of the tripod of tyranny have become actively averse to their old teammate, Religion. Separation of church and state becomes more true with every passing year—even in places other than the USA. The Neo-Cons made an impressive effort to roll back time, for a while. But their need to do so was even more impressive—church memberships are plummeting, as are the number of divinity students and acolytes.

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It can’t be helped, really. The example I always use is the bible story about God stopping the Sun in the sky. The fundamentalists have come up with debate-points that ‘teach the controversy’, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that the people who believed in God back then also believed the Sun moved across the sky. Science has overtaken this myth, just as it has turned ‘Heaven’ into our ‘Upper Atmosphere’, followed by ‘Outer Space’—places we regularly fly through.

We’ve gone ‘all in’ on global technology—and, too late, the pious have realized how thoroughly incompatible Knowledge is with Religion. In the Middle East, countries use nuclear-science-based weapons to threaten the infidels (the people with different religions) and blithely overlook the fact that the science of our universe is unchanged by one’s faith. No matter what superstitions we cling to, Einstein still applies. But then, Einstein believed in God—so, there you are.

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