Saturday, June 13, 2015

Nostalgia II

In the interest of full disclosure, some of my curmudgeonly response to my nephew and the era he is coming of age in was due to my feeling of obsolescence. My nephew doesn’t really know this, but he taught me how to be an uncle. When we first met, I didn’t know what to do with babies or little tykes anymore than I knew how to split an atom (now an infinitive I could split, and still can). So he showed me, crawling up on me when I was hesitant to pick him up, and cornering me and demanding answers to his childhood questions (even when I had pretty bad ones, he didn’t seem to mind). I learned that it wasn’t so hard, really, to care for a kid—you just paid attention, treated them like they mattered, and they responded. Even bloomed. Like flowers that needed just a little water to flourish.

Now, those days are gone. When I come to visit, he doesn’t have a movie already picked out for us to go to. We don’t watch cartoons, and we don’t discuss the important questions anymore, like could Batman beat Superman in a fair fight (one that didn’t involve kryptonite). Once, it seemed we would be addressing the great questions forever, but now he either has figured it all out for himself, or he figures I have been faking it all along and don’t really know more than all those other phony grownups (he once considered me not grown up, not really, and that was a great compliment from a six-year-old).

So I wanted to avoid the bench press question, wanted to get his attention, wanted to feel like my past was worth something, and get a rise out of him, to engage with me about something. I wanted to feel visible to him again (and maybe to all the young world he lives in). I wondered if my brother was feeling the same kind of irrelevance, but I wasn’t going to ask him (we’re Irish, and don’t go in for this soul searching type stuff, at least not with each other).

And then there is my aforementioned sense 2015 really and objectively sucks. Oh, I know you can’t really prove something like that, but I am going to try anyway. Try and show that his generation is inward and narcissistic and immature, that they are complacent and lack a certain amount of guts and creativity and joie de vivre. I think of those long German words when I think of 2015—the zeitgeist (spirit of the times) gives me weltschmertz (world weariness), almost as if this were the end time, the Gotterdammerung (twilight of the Gods).

My biggest gripe about “Modern Times,” of course, is that we have sacrificed our freedom for some elusive and illusive guarantee of security. As if it is only terrorists, and not our own government, that we need freedom from. Benjamin Franklin said that those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither. He also said fart proudly, but he still has a point.

I also hate the way today’s news is often about the news. News outlets, desperate for something to add to the dumbed-down discourse, cover the way other news outlets pander, the way the other ones (but no, not us!) appeal to our lust for the lurid and voyeuristic. As if this faux news about the news was not pandering in and of itself! And reality TV sucks, too, while I’m at it. It is a way to not pay real actors to portray real characters. They are less then real, these “real” people on “reality” television, because when you put a camera on them they are not what they truly are any longer. It’s the Heisenberg principle in action—the observer (the omnipresent camera, on smart phones, on street corners, in the sky, observes our every move, and we respond not naturally but the way we think will look best to our audience) alters the thing observed.

Then there are the politics of victimization—everyone trying to get a leg up on the rest not by being smarter or tougher but by having more handicaps (I know you are not supposed to use that word, which is why I am using it). I couldn’t help being an axe murderer because I have ADHD and was abused as a child, and I am part of a marginalized social class, blah, blah, blah. I understand that everyone has a load to bear, but give me a break—it shouldn’t be a race to the top by racing to the bottom. Case in point—Hope Solo (what kind of name it that?) She immediately got on TV and painted herself as a victim after her arrest, knowing that there was refuge in that status if she could obtain it, like a pity passport. Now that the facts are coming out, it appears she was at least as much assailant as assailed, but even if she had not been, I would have been annoyed at her blatant grab for mercy, to be coddled.

While we are at it, our present attitude towards female sexuality is weird. We sexualize pre-pubescent girls by making them think their worth is based on being a size 5 or less, by looking provocative at an age when they don’t even really know what being provocative means or entails, and then we get our collective panties in a twist when Janet Jackson’s breast goes live on National TV. Or we cluck and tut-tut as we read about the epidemic of anorexia, and then go out and get Halloween costumes for our six-year-old-daughters that make Madonna at her worst look like an Ivory Girl.

Add to the mix the fact that income inequality is the greatest it has been since the Great Depression, and that no one seems to really care, and that we are fiddling while the environment burns, and you can see why I am exercised over the whole era. Millennials, Generation Z, phooey.

To be fair, there are some good things nowadays. BREAKING BAD, THE SOPRANOS, THIRTY ROCK, RAY DONOVAN, SONS OF ANARCHY—all of these are better TV shows than the ones of my generation. Of course, you have to pay for cable to get them, but still—better. I feel nostalgia for THE ROCKFORD FILES and COLUMBO, SOAP and BARNEY MILLER, but are they even in the same league as the current crop? Nope.

Now movies—these were better in the 70s. For one, we didn’t have all these damned sequels, although to be fair, JAWS and STAR WARS were the start of the dreaded block-buster-franchise trend. But now, that is all we have—any movie that is even marginally successful gets spun off and retreaded ad infinitum and ad nauseam. There is no substance, just special effects and body counts, cartoons and computerized special effects. Blech. And don’t tell me that it’s what the people want to see, as they are staying home in droves to watch TV.

Basketball in the mid 70’s was worse, before Larry Bird and Magic saved the game, and passed the torch to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James. The ratings were through the floor, and the players all seemed to be taking and dealing drugs. You did have DR J, and Bill Walton and the Trail Blazers had a dream season in 1977, but besides that you had a blasted waste between the Knicks’ last championship in 1973 and Magic’s first championship in 1981. Then again, sports interviews nowadays suck, completely scripted as they are (talk about the observer altering the thing observed). Typical is something like this: “Did your collapsing zone in the second half help you shut down Dwight Howard?”

“Well, Bill, I think our collapsing zone helped shut down Howard in the second half. And remember, we all have ADHD and have had to give a hundred and ten percent to be where we are today. And we didn’t have anyone that has recently died to dedicate our effort to tonight, and we won anyway, which is a testament to our willingness to step up, take it to the next level, draw a line in the sand, to look inside ourselves and pull together.” Oh, and one more thing, as it just stuck in my curmudgeonly craw—in the 70s, we did not have Rush Limbaugh, talk radio, and the worst genre of talk radio there is: sports talk radio.

Still, on the upside, the Catholic Church is presently suffering, which is good, since they have caused so much suffering themselves. The pedophilia scandal is hitting them in the holy pocketbook, and they are also in a bind because they are behind the curve on gay marriage and women priests, especially since the Church is not known to be able to make lightning quick changes in policy. Claiming that you got your policy directly from God makes it hard to do so. Still, they got around that earth-as-the-center-of-the-universe thing, and back stepped on that no-meat-on-Friday thing, so they might get out of these theological and public relations (and, more importantly, economic) jams also.

So, although Hoops is better now, and TV too, and I am happy to see the church get a little of its own medicine (at least in terms of suffering, as I don’t think they are all that capable of guilt), we’ve presently handed over our freedom and jettisoned the environment because we don’t care or we just feel it is too hard and costly to fight for them, especially when Dancing With The Stars is on. We whine about being victims and demand much while contributing little. We turn inward and life becomes one big virtual reality exercise, even as we need to reach out to fight against the haves as they turn more of us into have-nots. And even if the Catholics go by the wayside (and they have shown remarkable staying power so far), people will always be willing to pay someone a little hard cash for a perceived hedge against the harshness of life and the inevitability of death. There are fanatics of all stripes out there, the only difference between them being what kind of stripes they decide to wear. All in all, I still think 2015 sucks.

Wow, that was a rant. I feel a little better. But what about the entertainment industry—movies, books and music--in terms of its quality Now and Then, in terms of how it reflects the society it is imbricated in, of the accuracy of the images it presents, its motivation for choosing the images it does, and the effects those images have on society and vice versa? All that for next time.

Mike Welch

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