Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pigs on the Wing

We're at the point where people are so casual about their neuroses they use them as small talk. You're next to someone on a bus, and to make conversation, she starts telling you that when she leaves the house, she has to lock and unlock the door sixteen times because her mother once told her she had fat hands.

There are more support groups than there are Starbucks, and everyone acts as amateur psychologist to himself and his friends. With so many "experts" on the loose, it is not surprising that every layer of every quirk is now assigned an elaborate nomenclature.

Despite all this, there is still one fear that collects no sympathy: fear of flying. When people aren't outright mocking you for having it, they are giving you advice that demonstrates how little consideration they've given it:

"Oh you get scared on planes? Just watch a movie."

No one would ever give this advice to quell other fears. If someone afraid of dogs had to spend several hours at the local pound, you wouldn't say, "Oh, you're going to be surrounded by pit bulls for seven hours? No problem: just watch a few episodes of 'Dexter'."

If you're deathly afraid of something, no amount of booze, comfort food, or cinematic distraction can
relieve it. The greatest film ever can't make a terrified flyer forget the turbulence.

I sometimes wonder if the reason people are so cavalier about flying is because the concept of going 600 miles an hour at 30,000 feet is so incomprehensible that reciting "A plane is safer that a car. A plane is safer than a car." is the closest they can come to processing it.

Fear of flying is truly in its own category. No one lets you blame it on your parents. No one tells you they read a great book on how to deal with it. They just repeat a statistic* they couldn't calculate with Einstein's help and order you to get over it. That kind of callousness is a blast from the past. I'd find it refreshing if I wasn't so afraid of flying. 

*If statistics superseded emotion, the poor odds of your marriage succeeding would prevent couples from getting married. I haven't noticed a lot of wedding planners going out of business.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Twitter Life is "The Gong Show" Without the Gong

Much has been made of how narcissistic and coarse social media users are. People who normally seem thoughtful use Facebook to show pictures of their hand in a Ritz box. And when they're done wiping the Ritz grease off their finger and thumb (opposable?), they spray their Twitter feed with nonstop tweets about the subsequent digestive process. It is difficult not to have a meltdown as you witness the most breathtaking communicating devices yet devised by man squandered on bodily functions and half eaten lunches. Oh, and the occasional rebellious feline...

But we shouldn't forget how quickly all this technology matured. It happened before any kind of decorum could develop. And what helps make Facebook and Twitter such founts of narcissism is that they create the illusion that the world is listening to you. Now everyone feels famous. Better yet, everyone is an overnight success, so we shouldn't be surprised when social media junkies behave as crassly as the suddenly famous so often do.

Overnight we all became like rookie starting quarterbacks for a big market team. We're suddenly "famous" and being scrutinized by strangers without tools to handle any of it. Athletes sometimes take classes on dealing with the press, and even if they don't, they have the advantage of being around teammates - seasoned famous people - they can use as a reference for their own maturation. There were no seasoned Facebook users when it exploded, and the breakneck pace of its spreading meant everyone was doing it before a common code of manners could take root (which might have happened had its dissemination been more gradual).

We all became "famous" without the baby steps, and it shows. Le faux pas we should have used as opportunities for improvement instead became the standard conduct of social media. We are a world of fame parvenus.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Remember when Rolling Stone Mattered? Hopefully you don't

By putting Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone has reminded us it still exists. I'm not so irate about the cover. What I'm irate about is being forced to recall all the reasons I started ignoring the musical press in the first place.

Music journalists seem to get a pinch more respect than their counterparts in film and television journalism. They don't deserve it. I have previously mentioned Rolling Stone's shameless coverage of trends like hair metal:

When hair metal died in the early 90's, they began speaking of it in the kind of somber, unbelieving tones you'd expect from a medical journal discussing the days of leech treatments. Never mind that RS had spent the 80's hyping bands like Cinderella. They now wanted it understood that the days of hair metal were dark and unenlightened. Never forget.

But the second hair metal returned, what did this pillar of integrity have to say about it? "Dust off those mullets, kids! REAL ROCK is back!!!"

Another spree of dishonesty from the musical press came at the dawn of the rap-rock era. Starting around 1999, music journalists began writing with straight faces about this wild and crazy new trick of blending rock and rap. They panted with affected surprise as they discussed how artists like Kid Rock and Fred Durst liked both rock and rap...just like, oh I don't know, every single kid in the '90s. Even more desperate was their pretending that blending rock and rap was sparkling new. Just two years earlier, these same mannequins had been covering rap-rock artist Beck. And Beck's work wasn't exactly hidden: in 1997 Beck was on every cover of every magazine. He won two Grammies and an MTV Music Video Award. But you wouldn't have gotten that from reading the press's take on rock-rap "trailblazer" Kid Rock.

Not only was Kid Rock's interest in rap and rock not a revelation; neither was the compound of rap and rock. I'm not just talking about self-conscious novelty crossovers like Aerosmith-Run DMC and Public Enemy-Anthrax. In addition to non-novel Beck, you had 311 releasing huge rap-rock hits in 1996 and 97. Faith No More had a top ten rap-rock hit with "Epic" all the way back in 1990.

I have to think some of the journalists who pretended Kid Rock's music and musical taste was unique knew better. MTV "personalities" certainly couldn't claim to be unaware of kids' dual interest in rap and rock: their channel had been showing rap and rock videos back-to-back for years. Did they actually think half their audience turned the channel when Tribe Called Quest was followed by Guns N' Roses? If so, I hope they informed their advertisers.

If I tried listing all the other examples of the music press contriving angles about artists and trends - Kid Rock listened to Johnny Cash and Grandmaster Flash! Can you believe it?! Uh, yeah, actually I and all other Earthlings born post-Watergate can -, I'd be here until Russ Columbo's music came back in fashion. Thankfully, the demise of traditional media means anyone can get whatever musical info. they want without having to trudge through all that intellectual dishonesty. At least I hope it was intentional. I'd hate to think those reporters were truly that thick...

To this reporter, it appears that entertainment journalists are no different from political journalists. They can't help sucking up to the status quo.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I Heart New York Tourists

Here's a sentiment you never hear: I like tourists. I work in an area crowded with them, and I don't get tired of their presence.

New Yorkers make a show of gibing tourists, I think partly because so many of the people who live here are transplants themselves; not so removed from those tourists they're bashing. New Yorkers still love crowning themselves "real New Yorkers," and evidently one of the keys to differentiating yourself as a real New Yorker is to ridicule the less real as they stroll these mean streets.

Ironically, New Yorkers spend a lot of time bragging about their city, so you'd think they'd interpret the unending desire of tourists to experience New York as a validation of their boasts. That Chinese vacationer who stepped on your shoe six times in the three minutes he was on the subway? He and the millions of others who visit each year are telling you you're right to be living here! No one in Baltimore has to worry about dodging tourists.

Another irony: Manhattanites frequently crow about how many countries they've visited. On the dating site OkCupid, under the category "Six Things I Could Never Do Without" (surprisingly, I am never on these lists), every New York woman lists 'passport" as one her six things. You'd think people who are so often tourists themselves would have more sympathy for the travelers who are checking NYC off their list.

I'm a real New Yorker, and I'm about to let you in on a little secret: It isn't the foreign tourists that chafe New Yorkers; it is the American tourists from the South and Midwest. They are the unwashed menace New Yorkers view as reprobatic, cultural Luddites. Doesn't matter how green their money is; their states are red, and that makes them the enemy. The current New York mentality is an inversion of the film Death Wish, with people fleeing TO New York to escape the threat of suburbs and small towns. The difference is that while Death Wish is largely fantasy, the danger present in that New York was fact. The danger posed to New Yorkers by Southerners and Midwesterners is entirely fantasy.