People I Will Never Be Friends With

A partial list.

  • Anyone who says, “Sup, bitches.”
  • Women who think it’s cute to roll their eyes in pictures.
  • Those who think turn signals are optional.
  • People who find a way to bring Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump into any given conversation.
  • Anyone who uses an anime character for a Facebook portrait.
  • Guys who hate cameramen for catching criminals in action (it’s always guys).
  • People who write horror stories and call it “creepypasta.” You can’t call it creepypasta if you’re writing and submitting it to a website, okay? You can only call it that if you copy it from, and paste it to an image board! Otherwise it’s just more bad horror fiction.
  • Mud runners.
  • Men who despise women for expecting decency from men. True, such women are idealistic, but you don’t get to despise them for it.
  • People who share details of any kind about their digestive habits.
  • Anyone who uses chat acronyms in everyday speech.
  • A person who says “I’m on fire for God!” Well, a person who says he or she’s “on fire” for anything, really.
  • Those who treat YouTube as a career option.

The President We Earned

All hail President Trump! That’s right folks, you’d better prep your palates for crow, because you’re going to live to see the first term of President Reality TV!

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Yeah, I think it’s going to happen. I really do. While Dems are getting all pissy and sensitive about the differences between Clinton and Sanders, and pledging to stay home on Election Day if their guy or gal isn’t nominated, Trump is cleaning up. With his no-nonsense, no-prisoners, no-knowledge strategy, this guy is a freaking freight train headed straight for the White House.

Like most people, I initially thought Trump was a joke. I had no idea that he’d make it this far. Then he hit the debates, and dick-slapped his opponents with nothing but his massive ego. As a Democrat, I found this highly entertaining. I loved seeing the likes of Chris Christie, Carly Fiorino, and especially Jeb Bush, looking flustered, confused, and seconds from crying. They weren’t ready for this, not in this seemingly easy election that was a presumed gimme for the Republican establishment. But Trump blustered, bullied, and bothered, and he revealed those empty suits for what they were: bought-off puppets with no voices, no ideas, and no solutions. All these dopes thought they had to do was throw out facts that no voters would check, spout off figures no voters would look up, and make fun of Hillary every now and then. Caught off-guard by ad hominem attacks from a blowhard no lobbyist had reached, they had no answers. They turned into cattle, and now they’re getting slaughtered, one by one.

Over here on the left, we’ve got Sanders and Clinton picking on each other’s records. Clinton does have a lot to answer for, having bent to the wills of her donors a few too many times. Sanders talks a big game, but even I’m getting tired of his spiel. He just keeps saying the same things over and over again. Yes, evil corporations, yes, outsourcing, yes, the shrinking middle class, but this shit has been going on for nearly forty years — how in the hell do you plan on fighting it now?

Not that any concrete plan of Sanders will matter if and when he goes up against Trump. Nobody on the Trump train cares about how he actually plans to accomplish anything, and I don’t think Trump does either! He doesn’t see American issues as challenges to face, he sees them as obstructions to step around, and let’s face it: in a campaign, that attitude works.

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I used to think that George W. Bush was a stupid man. That’s right: I used to think that. The more I read about the guy, though, the more I realize that he wasn’t really stupid. He was just lazy. He had every advantage a young white man could have in this country, and he took them, even if he didn’t really make the most of them. He coasted through Yale and got a C, but hell, even I’d be proud to get a C at Yale without really trying! He was given a couple of oil companies, but his heart really wasn’t in it and he let some family friends buy them up before they collapsed. He ran for governor of Texas and lost because he presented himself as the smart guy, well-versed on state issues. But here’s the pivot point: Bush learned something from this. He discovered that voters don’t care for smart guys. They find them cold and unapproachable. So he tried a new angle. He decided to be the easygoing, fun guy with a relaxed approach to being the boss. The kind of guy who lets the subordinates handle the real work, and bring the answers to him to choose from. Of course, this worked, and we had eight years of the Connecticut Cowboy making our nation’s most important choices. What’s funny is that when the press conferences went down, and Bush was faced with the idea that people were actually unhappy with him, he was flabbergasted, and that’s why we got that smirk. He simply couldn’t fathom that anyone could have a problem with the golden ideas he was presenting us with. Or at least, the ideas that Cheney and his yes-men told him would work out so beautifully.

The results of Bush’s presidency aren’t the point here, though. The point is that Bush made it to the White House almost solely on personality. You can say family ties and the Supreme Court if you want, but family ties are always involved in such matters, and I have to be honest: the Supreme Court didn’t really give him the presidency. I’m sorry, but it’s true: the SCOTUS only deemed the Florida recounts unconstitutional. Fine line, perhaps, but we have to get over that sooner or later.

Now Trump’s following Bush’s lead, ignoring the details and riding on style. Our leaders are stupid! Everything’s busted and only I can fix it! People like that shit. It’s what they want to hear, especially if you’re a white person who feels persecuted and disenfranchised. And hey, I can understand where they’re coming from. Politics needs some serious disruption. For the last several decades, politics as usual have thrust us into wasteful wars and super recessions. Regular, hard-working, good-hearted people have been fucked over so many times that they’re finally demoralized and worn down. They’ve accepted that anyone who sweet-talks them for their votes will simply bend over for his real masters when he gets into office. They know that the table is tilted, and that things will never improve for them.

So Trump steps in and shouts these puppets down. He wrecks the game and scatters the pieces. Matt Taibbi said that the Republican Party doesn’t hate Trump for his message, they hate him for his autonomy. I think he’s right, and I have to admit, I kinda like that about Trump. After years and years of the same old dopes taking office and then doing nothing to help us, it feels real good to see someone come in from nowhere and humiliate them. I think it makes a lot of other people feel real good too. It doesn’t make the masters of this country feel good, though. No, the big money interests who have this country rolling toward disaster don’t like it one bit, but they’ve been too stunned to react in time, so they scramble the media and their most “trustworthy” personalities to try and discredit the man.

But here’s the question: how in hell do you discredit someone who’s spent the last few decades publicly airing his dirty laundry? What kind of scandal do you throw at a man who thrives on it? And how do you slow him down when he’s already nearing escape velocity?

I don’t think they can. But here’s the next question: what the hell is Trump going to do when he wins?

If the last few administrations have taught me anything, it’s that if rich people don’t want it, it ain’t gonna happen. And it doesn’t matter what party’s in control. Bush I may have helped draft NAFTA, but Clinton ratified it. Bush II may have started a pointless war, but Obama still hasn’t stopped it. No matter what we say or do, or what suit we vote for, this shit just keeps happening. Our true masters have got this country on a rail leading precisely where they want it to go, and if anyone is going to stop them, it’s sure as hell NOT going to be the guy who’s making enemies on both sides of the aisle! Just look at how much trouble Obama had getting anything done, and that was with ONE side against him!

Sooner or later, Trump himself will have to genuflect. Some great force is going to step in front of him and say, “Toe the line, asshole,” and he’ll have to. He’ll simply have to, and all these great promises he’s making right now, that’ve got all these rednecks screamin’ and yellin’ and wrasslin’ with each other? He’ll whiz ’em down his leg. I guarantee you.

I admit that I might be wrong about Trump becoming prez, but I am dead fucking certain that no matter who gets into the Oval Office, nothing, but nothing is going to change. The schools will continue to flounder, abortions and guns will stay legal, the jobs will remain overseas, and the money will keep flowing upward. And the sad part is, those hotheads at the rallies will be too cooled down after Inauguration Day to care. When Trump becomes a lame duck, they’ll just blame the other guys.

Nice try, America. You nearly showed ’em, but you didn’t look at the real problem. You thought that big balls would fix everything, but you forgot that television is an illusion, and that the people on it are just actors. Television has turned politics into a big traveling circus tent, brought to you by Pizza Hut and Coca-Cola, and it’s already too late for you, because you bought lifetime tickets a long time ago.

#DeathToAdvertisers

Speaking of shitty marketing….

A week ago, Slate put up a terrific editorial about the insulting (more so than usual) ad campaign being employed to roll out that new Mortdecai Movie. Read it here.

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Uninformative posters, random hashtags, kooky tweets, it’s the suggestion of some grand event going on somewhere, one that you too can be a part of. That is, if you don’t mind doing a little research.

Wait a minute! Why am I doing the research? The marketers are hoping I’ll become invested in the movie by diving into the “world” of its ad campaign. By the time the movie finally premieres, they expect I’ll be so frenzied with curiosity that I’ll throw myself at the theater to “complete” my Mortdecai experience. Insidious. The Slate writer does a terrific job of delineating his outrage at such manipulation, but I’m a little surprised that this seems to be his first exposure to it. Mortdecai is hardly the first offender.

mindy-kaling-02This goofy shit has been around for a long time. Batman logos, Bubsy the Bobcat, Who is Keyser Soze? I don’t know! You tell me! I’m not giving you my money so I can find the answer to some question you keep buzzing in my ear. Social media has only made it worse. Advertisers are wicked, manipulative people. They know we like to feel smart, busy, and savvy, so they throw us tidbits of silliness that are only marginally related to the product they’re selling, and then shove a hashtag in our faces. If we see it enough, and lord knows we will, one day we’ll be looking on Twitter when that little turd they planted in us will float up to the fronts of our minds. “Huh. What about that #invisiblemindy thing? Search.”

And, they’ve got you.

I have a problem with hashtags in general. They’re specious little things that give people delusions of significance. I imagine they can be helpful for people who need to coordinate, say, a governmental revolution, but less ambitious citizens are throwing them all over the place now. What, exactly, is #marking #every #word #in #your #tweet #with #a #freaking #octothorp supposed to accomplish? Do you really believe there are crowds of people out there searching for the subject #mykids? Why would strangers be interested in your kids?

When the internet first got to its feet and started walking, and became accessible to the average computer user, a lot of people (including myself) went through that delusional phase: “Oh, I can’t wait to see what the world thinks of my website! I hope I don’t offend some guy in Luxembourg with my witty opinions! I’ll put a guestbook up so I can see the signatures that flood in from around the globe!” Then we got fewer than ten hits, most of them from family members, and the truth hit home: the standards of fame may be a little lower on the net — or in the case of YouTube, a HELL of a lot lower — but you still gotta have it before you’ll get any attention.

tothereader (should you exist): I write this blog more for myself than anyone else, as a fun little exercise. It helps me get my frustrations out. I don’t expect that anyone’s looking for it, or actually interested in what I have to say. Whatever tags I put on my entries, they’re usually related to vague subjects so they might show up in searches, if people really do search for blogs at all (I don’t). In other words, I know I’m nobody, and I’m all right with that.

But now we have Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, and a whole new generation of internet virgins is diving into the pond with the expectation that the whole world is watching them, like this is a game of Big Brother or something. So now we get hashtags for every fucking thing.

I know my rant here won’t be heard in the maelstrom of “lols” and “omgs” that clogs the internet these days, but I’ll rant just the same: No one’s watching you, okay? Get over yourself! Unless you’re threatening to kill the president, no one gives a shit!

But the hashtag curse has another evil effect. People with a lot of money can use a hashtag to fool us into thinking their shit is something everybody’s talking about. Alongside tags like #jesuischarlie or #blizzardof2015, which refer to serious events that actually affect our lives, we get things like #OneBoldChoice (promoted by Toyota). What the fuck? Who’s looking for that? Who’s going to tweet with that? This is astroturf bullshit at its most blatant, because the advertiser isn’t even trying to hide! They’re happy to co-opt and corrupt what was once a user-driven set of communities, and then twist it to make people feel like they’re missing out on something.

Gabbo-is-comingI say that consumers should fight back. Let’s use the advertisers’ hashtags against them. The same way that commercials mess with our heads, showing us images unrelated to their products, let’s tweet to plug our own personal projects and slap their phony hashtags on them. The next time someone caves and searches for #OneBoldChoice, I hope they get a gallery of tweet-pics showing people on the crapper. Man, I’d love to see the indignant PR response to something like that. “How dare those little ingrates! Abusing our tags that way!”

Now THAT would be a bold choice.

Don’t Rainn on His Parade

So that new Backstrom show just came out, and already, things are looking grim for it. When I first saw the ads, I didn’t have high hopes for the show, as it looked a little too much like NBC’s The Michael Richards Show, in which the kooky guy from a previously successful series attempted to make it on his own (also as a detective). Now, I hate television as much as the next hipster, and I can think of a lot of shows I’d love to see ripped from the air, but for some reason, I feel bad for Backstrom, and I don’t want to see it fail.

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Like AMC’s Low Winter Sun, Backstrom was cursed before it had a chance. The comedians I follow on Twitter tore into it weeks ahead of its premiere. The ire was strong, too. They called Wilson’s character “Dwight Lite.” They said he was the afterbirth of House M.D. And man, they hated that damn Slurpee cup. I mean, really hated it.

I admit that I shared some of the same feelings, but hey, I gotta be honest, that’s not the show’s fault. It was the marketing. The ads tried to sell me on all the wrong things. It’s like with Breaking Bad. I didn’t start watching the show until it was well into the third season, despite the accolades and gushing word-of-mouth. The reason for my delay? That fucking first-season DVD set, the one with the picture of Walter in his undies on the front:

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I mean, come onWhat sensible person would look at this and say, “Hey, now here’s a complex, fascinating thriller!”?

I realize that Fox’s marketeers want to re-introduce Wilson to us in a way that feels familiar. He was iconic as Dwight Schrute, after all, so they might as well remind us of that, right? Shoving Wilson’s “different-ness” in my face, though, doesn’t earn my interest. In fact, it gives me the impression that the show has little else going for it. What about the setting? What about the cinematography? What about the rest of the cast? There’s got to be more to it than just a grumpy genius who annoys everyone.

Maybe there is, who knows? Wilson might have a chance to show some impressive range with Backstrom. Maybe, as we discovered with Bill Hader, there’s a dramatic edge to Wilson that we haven’t yet seen. I know he seems like a one-note nutball, but so does DJ Qualls, and he was surprisingly eerie as Detective Getz in Breaking Bad. And speaking of Breaking Bad, who would have thought that this guy…

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…could turn into this guy?

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My point is, Backstrom might actually be good. Must Wilson, and all the creative people who poured their hearts into the show, suffer such invective? It’s not their fault that Fox pushed this show, and pushed it, and pushed it, and kept pushing it until we all got sick of it. I mean, here’s this actor trying to continue his career, and people are just shitting on him. That’s got to be painful. Where does this all come from? I mean, Wilson was pretty funny before, right? Why would we want him to go away? Is it tacky and disgraceful that he wants to try something new?

I suppose this is bothering me because I know wouldn’t appreciate such preemptive judgment. If I wrote a novel that was criticized simply because my publisher screwed up the marketing, I’d be highly pissed. And hurt. And disappointed with the audience that I thought would give me a chance.

Am I going to watch Backstrom? Hell no, I hate television. But that just means I’m not the target audience. I’d like to think that people who do enjoy TV are a little more open-minded than they seem. After all, they fucking got Snooki her own show; why can’t we let someone talented have a shot?

A Pain in the Brain

The mental pain that I experience during and following a panic attack is always the same. There’s a sense of anguish, a physical reaction that’s not far removed from the reaction to physical pain. It’s frightening to know that thoughts can sear as effectively as any fiery brand.

What I believe is happening is a clashing of philosophies. Throughout my life, I’ve attempted to juggle two diametrical modes of thought. I’ve considered describing them as “conservative” and “liberal,” but I think a more accurate terminology is “Shore” and “Ocean.” They are armies at constant odds, columns of artillery continually shelling each other, but there’s never any attrition. One side or the other merely retreats and regroups, and then makes another charge with full force. The only possible casualty in this conflict is myself.

I charted some of this out. Perhaps I’m naive to think that I can make sense of it, but if there’s anything I can make sense of in this world, I’d like to think that it’s my own mind. There are many rivers of thought and possibility flowing through both sides, so I’ve had to filter and condense many of them. Here’s how I broke them down:

The “Shore,” or “Western” nation, fights on the side of culture. It is masculine, hierarchical, goal-oriented, and irrevocably sold on the immortality of the human empire. The motto of the Shore-dweller is “Suck it up, Nancy!” On the shore, you put your head down, you accept your position as it’s assigned from birth, and you collect things (artificial ones) to soothe yourself. The mark of success on the Shore is the accomplishment, or the creation, or the purchase of something “valuable,” as determined by the Shore’s inhabitants. By the Shore’s standards, if you labor long on a work that only has value to yourself, you die a failure, a sad little person who is soon forgotten.

Sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it? Yet, this is the mode that many people not only accept, but embrace. It thrives, not because it is the truth, but because it only needs money to keep it going. The more money that is pumped into it, the bigger and more intrusive it gets. It analyzes us, seduces us, and makes us feel secure. The Message is so pervasive, at all phases of our lives, that it becomes familiar, and therefore comfortable.

Recent events prove that this mode is outdated and dying. Once-sacred institutions are undergoing entropic failures, but more importantly than that, we are aware of these failures. We know that our idols are false, and yet we continue to erect new ones, because we don’t know how else things can work.

We’re scared to leave the Shore.

The “Ocean,” or “Eastern” nation, fights for the individual. It doesn’t believe in boundaries or categorization. It doesn’t believe in grinding and burning one’s life away in a box for a machine. It seeks opportunity and fights for it, usually at great material risk. Money is a minor concern to those on Ocean; meaning is what matters to them. Any activity that doesn’t reap fulfillment or personal satisfaction is wasteful and pointless. Instead of seeking to collect, the Ocean seeks to prune. It asks, “What can I do without? Where can I simplify, reduce my encumbrance? What shall I release, and what shall I nurture?” The Ocean does not trust in artificial structures built to corral large groups. It takes pride in refusal.

Most profoundly, the Ocean-dweller accepts the possibility that there is no “real” answer, no promise to be kept at the end of life. It clings to nothing, and fluctuates at all times. It knows that humanity and all its creations are finite, and that life is a cycle of birth and destruction. It does not need the opinions of culture as they relate to “lasting” or “enduring” value. The “why” of the universe may never be revealed, so the Ocean-dweller simply hunts for occupation and joy wherever it might occur.

This mode of thought sounds pleasant and idealistic, even heavenly, but the rub is that it demands immense, unshakeable courage. The Shore-dweller dismisses the Ocean-dweller as a loser, a looney, a whack-job…unless he or she makes a lot of money.

The root of my anxiety lies in the conflict between these two ideologies. I’m sure that a philosophy major would tell me that I’m not making any revelations here. I’m sure that I’m just inadvertently repeating the positions of Nietzsche or Heidegger or Plato or some such person. Still, while I’m sure that studying the works of these gentlemen would improve my articulation, I also think that I’d do better to develop my own ideas, basing them on my own personal experience.

The Facebook Problem

There’s something you should know about me. I, Daniel Rocha, made a pledge not to look at Facebook for an indeterminate amount of time, for my own good.

How did I come to make such a bizarre promise? Well, it’s actually on the orders of my counselor.

My counselor, Mary Anne, told me that she has a number of patients coming in to her because of Facebook. It gets into people’s heads. It makes them question their own lives. It makes them feel inferior. She gave me a warning: “Stay away from Facebook,” she said, “lest it devour your good sense and poison your mind.”

Okay, she didn’t say it quite like that, but the message was intact.

So what, exactly, is it about Facebook that upsets so many people, including myself? I’ve asked myself that question many times, and the answer is pretty simple. Looking over my News Feed, and the self-aggrandizing posts that populate it, makes me feel like shit. People use Facebook, and most other social media, as a means to validate their own lives, to feel as though they’re “making it” in our bizarre American culture. In this culture, success is measured by popularity. How many subscribers do you have? How many people follow you? Are you a beacon that lures people with no lives of their own? Do people envy you and your good fortune?

Are you a celebrity, or do you at least look the part? Everything’s A-OK in your world? No problems, no issues, just a picture-perfect life? Well, it’s no good unless you can show it off.

In the First World, where the lower three tiers of Maslow’s pyramid are more-or-less taken for granted, esteem is the true measure of success.

I don’t value esteem. I value the success of my works, but not of myself. I just want people to enjoy the things I make.

The world of social media, however, seems like the perfect opportunity for the rest of us to play celebrity, and God damn, if those folks who need that validation didn’t take it.

I don’t know why it bothers me, or the others who go to see Mary Anne. Or maybe I do. Maybe I don’t like to see people getting recognized, celebrated, even worshipped, for doing nothing more than living their very simple, very ordinary lives.

Do followers, admirers, worshippers, really make you feel better about who you are? Or is it a cover stick for your perceived failings? Does it ease the pain of knowing you’ll never be Kim Kardashian? Or Nicki Minaj? Or any other inexplicably popular human being in this screwy country? If that sort of thing doesn’t affect you, why bother sharing your own adventures online? Why bother presenting the best possible picture to strangers? Whom are you trying to impress?

Maybe I’m just a crusty old thirty-something who doesn’t fit with the flow of today’s cultural currents. Maybe I’m a crazy man who’s suffering under the weight of my own failures, but I just don’t see the need to celebrate myself. I don’t like to talk about myself; I never have. I like to talk about cartoons. I like to talk about movies. I like to talk about drama, emotions, how to evoke the strongest possible reaction in people through words, images, and ideas.

I’m feeling more and more like an old man. Goddamned kids just like a twist, I guess.