July 13, 2005
Joel Stein is Stupid Stupid Stupid
Our whole life is but a greater and longer childhood ~ Benjamin Franklin
Joel Stein and critics/comics like him need a cookie. Not just any cookie. I'm thinking something in the Neiman Marcus urban legend recipe variety.
This editorial is one example of how some hopelessly sardonic individuals vent revenge for not feeling kindred to the little things in life that many of us indulge in with carefree childish glee. The trade of superiority complex in lieu of playfulness isn't a wise investment. In this particular case it's also misplaced and sloppily reasoned.
I think all of us feel a trickle of disgust on occasion about entertainments the masses embrace which we personally find vacant. I have never felt so apart from my fellows than the day I sat in a theater watching Titanic. Sure, I give my friends a good spoonful of grief for some of their guilty pleasures -- we're required to make fun of our friends to keep them honest. But there is a difference between poking fun and being mean-spirited.
Besides, I have eaten my share of crow for the poking. I was merciless to friends who enjoyed Buffyverse for years until I sat through a few episodes and was converted into a Whedon addict.
I've also taken my fair share of hits. I've put up with Trek digs my whole life (although, to be fair, after going to my first and last convention in 1993, I understood why). I'm not even going to get started on the Disney heckling I've endured.
Yes, there is something to be said for not falling too far back into childhood fantasy. If you accidentally spend your rent money on action figures, you may have a problem. If children's books are the only books you read, then it probably wouldn't hurt you to expand your horizons. But I find Joel's statements to be wildly inappropriate for the point he claims he's trying to make:
"After a generation of boomers choosing to remain in a state of stunted adolescence — wearing jeans, smoking pot and cranking their BMW stereos to blast Eminem songs they clearly don't like — the next generation has opted for a stunted toddlerhood. Adults see "Finding Nemo" without bothering with the socially accepted ruse of dragging an unwilling 11-year-old nephew along. Grown men play video games and couples go to Disneyworld on their honeymoon..."
Dems awful strong words for a guy who admits to having a unicorn collection in his bio. Plus, Disney World is two words, you asshat. What does it say about a grown man with press credentials that can't be bothered to spot-check his articles before submitting them for publication? Further, Stein claims to have only had to read 50 pages of the first book in the series to come to his "you are all stupid, stupid, stupid" realization. I'm sure, by that logic, he condones those who diagnosed Terry Schaivo from video snippets. Let's hear it for a guy that wants to talk down about immaturity in his generation, but who doesn't have to read or research thoroughly to come to a conclusion and hand in his op-ed assignments.
Oh, wait. I was making a broad sweeping generalization from an incomplete data set? Bad me.
And, bad Joel.
The irony here is that the Harry Potter books haven't only jump-started a generation of children into reading, but likely they have spurred functioning illiterate adults, too. I worked as a reading counselor in a community college and I saw many adults who didn't read so much as a newspaper. I took one lesson away from that job: anything that gets people to read is good. I think The DaVinci Code is tripe, but if it gets someone to read who wouldn't ordinarily pick up a book, then I say go for it. Ditto Harry Potter.
Rowling has come a long way from that first novel. As a writer and an avid reader, that has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Potter experience; watching her talent develop. Of course, I don't consider the Potter series to be children's books. They are, at least, for a teen audience. I think Rowling herself actually said she didn't set out to write a child's book, just to write a book about a child. That's a fairly accurate description.
I'm not going to rhapsodize about the books in terms of "keeping my inner child alive" or such. I like them (albeit not in an "dress as my favorite character and wait in line at midnight" way). I am looking forward to Amazon bringing my copy to my door on Saturday, but the Potter books don't take the place of my *real* reading. Still, I make no apologies for them. Nor do I think anyone else should either.
I know they're fluff, but they're good fluff. They deal with their share of complex issues like the dangers and limits of a bureaucracy and what happens when world leaders engage in petty behaviors or don't face realistic problems.
Joel warns: "A culture that simplifies its entertainment down to fairy tales is doomed to simplify the world down to good and evil." It's a point well made. Which is why even 50 pages should have made it clear to him that Potter books are not fairy tales. The last book, Order of the Phoenix delved into the discovery that the concept of "evil" is complicated. We learned that someone doesn't have to be "evil" or under the influence of some magic evil to commit evil acts. It was also explored that people who claim to have our best interests at heart can be blinded by their own fears and limitations. We have an entire nation of adults unable to grasp that right now. And you don't see it being tackled by "adult" fare like Mr. & Mrs. Smith or the latest Kay Scarpetta novel.
Other social matters woven into past Potter plots are things like slavery, prejudice, media irresponsibility, etc. These books are not Clifford the Big Red Dog as Joel snickers and the fact that he snidely infers a similarity demonstrates his own ignorance on the topic. It's reminiscent of Bill Maher panning the Lord of the Rings films as being nothing but "three hours about magical midgets."
It is exactly this kind of mean-spirited snobbery that creates backlash from the "Average Joe" toward institutions of education and it fosters the exact opposite effect Joel is likely trying for. It's this kind of sentiment that makes "college educated" come off as a negative in election years. Talking down to people and making fun of them never won anyone their point in a debate. This isn't writing to make a point, it's writing to feel superior. Which I guess I'd have to do a lot more if I had a unicorn collection, too.
Okay, I'll stop with the unicorns. But, hopefully I've demonstrated that glass houses are brittle places in which to live. I wonder if he was just feeling a moment of childish glee when he admitted the unicorn thing in his bio.
I've got a degree in English Lit. I'd happily take on Mr. Stein any day of the week and twice on Sunday if he wants to have a little reading comprehension / advanced literature challenge. I know about three dozen Potter readers who could equally take him on any intellectual setting of his choosing.
We like to read Potter. We also like to read more complex materials. But then I am lucky to have the choice and inclination. Many adults in our world are not as literate as Joel, my friends, or myself. If a non-reader picks up a book of any reading level for whatever reason, then who the hell are any of us to try and make them feel bad about it?
When someone is starving you don't scold them for eating junk food.
Ironically, the higher point Stein claims he's trying to make with his more-adult-than-thou rant is thus:
"When we share our entertainment palette with the Wiggles set — watching comic book movies and teenage singing talent shows — we deny an attempt to understand human emotion."
Human emotion is contained in the Potter, books, you dolt. It's also contained in Finding Nemo for that matter. It's contained far better in a great deal of young adult materials than in other forms of so-called "adult" entertainment because today's entertainment gurus know that parents need to be entertained while they share with their children. It's worth noting that it's easier to access human emotions while accessing childhood thoughts and feelings because that is when our emotional blueprints were drafted. Joel, meet Freud and have a cigar.
I'm all for porn, but it never brought anyone to a better understanding of social injustice. So the concept that something is more socially beneficial just because it's intended for an adult audience is slightly lacking in any kind of mortal logic.
Everyone has their guilty pleasures. Fuck. How could we survive the Bush administration without a little frolicking? I have friends with degrees in medicine that enjoy Xena reruns and computer genius pals who watch American Idol and the only thing I've learned is that there is no line you can draw for others in their entertainment venues. And if you want to try, you're no better than those freaks who want to censor everything.
People who waste extreme levels of energy, time, and money trying to reclaim their childhood are sad, yes. But just because someone enjoys a few childish things doesn't put them on the road to Neverland Ranch. Life is hard; the only way to get through it sane is to remain open to the childhood experience. And if that's the greatest sin anyone commits in this life, then I say more power to them.
In closing, I can't resist addressing this:
"...you might as well buy something from the back of the bookstore instead. You won't have to wait in line for "Ulysses."
Yeah, there's a reason for that. James Joyce is an over-rated cherry-picking bore and while many of us had to struggle through his work in college, write term papers on him, and squeeze every drop of meaning out of his blather to appease college professors that got wet at the mere mention of his name, that doesn't make him the high water mark we should all aim toward whenever we buy a book. People who toss Joyce references around to flaunt their intellectual superiority make my crotch itch.
Someone get Joel a blow job. Then get him a cookie and a velvet unicorn painting so he can lighten the fuck up.
July 12, 2005
Is it raining, is it snowing
Is a hurricane a-blowing
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
~ Roald Dahl
And it started off as such a lovely month, really.
I'm going to let this post serve as a general FYI just in case this season turns into a rerun of last year. Unfortunately I live in an area where electricity, utilities, and cable all tend to be kept functioning by yokel ingenuity like bubble gum and duct tape. Things like strong winds and rain will often leave me without lights and phones. Hurricanes and tropical storms increase the odds of my going unwillingly unplugged for extended periods of time.
Moreover, the ongoing mental stress of "is it going to hit here" leaves me somewhat detached afterward.
So if updates are less frequent check the Tropical Prediction Center for details.
I would expect a great deal of escapism in updates to come.
Hurricane Season. It sounds like the title of some dime store thriller.
Blerg. Next week it probably will be.
July 01, 2005
Bodies of Distraction
Some day people will grow up and realize that the only thing vile about human bodies is the small minds some people have developed within them. ~ Dick Hein
Is anyone not currently subscribing to Babe-a-Licious? If not, why not???
Oh. And let's not forget the daily bounty of delightful goodies that is (and continues to be) Good Shit.
Thank God for porn. I can look at bumpy areolae and forget all about the Supreme Court.
Cheesy Retro Must-Have But No-Longer Funnies
Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he isn't. A sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is. ~ Horace Walpole
Yesterday while chatting with a friend, I realized I didn't have the DuckJob audio file anywhere on my current computer. It didn't seem possible.
If you have been on the net for a certain length of time, there are some files that you just have. You've had them forever. You're not even sure where you got them and the jokes wore out and/or stopped being funny years ago. But you have them. You keep them. They're as built-in as Solitaire and Minesweeper. They've been taking up space on your hard drive with old porn since back when using up those 15 mb actually meant sacrifice.
DuckJob, the exploding whale, 32 doh's, the stupid "ugachunga" dancing baby, that alien cartoon singing "I Will Survive" and a mess of Simpsons / Bugs / Star Wars / Star Trek / Ferris/ Ghostbusters / X-Files / Real Genius audio clips.
It turns out that moving new computers is something like moving in real life, at least for me. You look at things carefully and think "Do I *really* need this stuff? Is it worth the transfer hassle? And you chuck was doesn't make sense to carry. At some point cheesy retro silly audio clips didn't make the cut on my computers, although I have no memory of actually deleting these icons of funny weird and funny ha-ha.
So last night, I found THIS PLACE which has allowed me to refresh my supply. The quality sucks on a few, but that's not the point. Hell, I'll probably never listen to this stuff again anyway. It's a bizarre, unexplainable feeling of just needing them for historical context. Like keeping the tassel from your graduation cap on your car rear view mirror, or the Molly Hatchet album cover with all the razor blade cuts on it (damn seeds).
It even has my favorite Simpsons quote (Groundskeeper Willy teaching French). Although it is missing The STTNG Geordie TechnoBabble fused with Bill Murray's Ghostbusters "Just tell me what the hell is going on" line. If anyone finds that, please lemme know.
And yes *sigh* I'm aware my cool meter just dropped below freezing.