Monday, June 23, 2008

On the Weather, and Its Propensity to Make Me Whine

I don't recall ever being as affected by the weather as I am now. Maybe it's all part of some process of adjustment I'm currently working through, perhaps just below consciousness, or maybe it's the inevitable result of aging. I'm not the same person I was, I won't be this person forever. Today I feel bored and melancholy. I feel like the gray sky and I feel like the dead weight of the moisture in this humid air. I feel like there's little to do beyond letting the wet, warm world slowly suffocate me. Still, I lash out, I try so desperately to breathe.

I ran this morning, but I feel like going for a second run. I feel like sweating out the vague anxiety that's been hanging off of my heartstrings lately, purposeless and heavy. I'm a little afraid today. I'm alone, and it's strange. It's not so much that I can't bear to be with myself, but that I've come to realize I really enjoy sharing myself. Sharing what I've read, what I've heard, what I've discovered. The things that I assimilate and constantly refashion into some fleeting picture of "Dan." I endlessly seek information, and I really hate that I have so few interested parties to share it with, and that, today at least, they all seem to be inaccessible. I hate being excited about something, but having to bottle it up for so long that when the time comes to share, I've forgotten it, and then it is lost even to me.

Occasionally I wonder if I'm a difficult person. Not someone who is unbearable, drawn to strife, or needlessly complicates the lives of others, but someone who is composed in such a way that others have a hard time forging a deep connection with. Most days, I feel like people don't want to engage me on any challenging level. It's certainly their right, and I can't say I really blame them. I want to be eccentric and weird, and I want to be intellectual and thoughtful. I want people to realize what a great combination those things are, and I want them to join in, too. I want people to riff off of, I want explosions of the absurd. I want highbrow inside-jokes and secret romantic signals.

I want someone to appreciate and respect. And someday, someone who can bring themselves to extend such things to me. I want connection and sincerity.

I wish I was a blinding summer's day. I wish I was a turbulent thunderstorm. Today I'm a muggy, overcast smudge on the calendar. Today I am a victim of meteorology.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On the Deep Psychology of Certain Advertising

It's pretty bad when I almost never watch television, but every time I turn it on I encounter some commercial that either sends me on some deep, bizarre investigation or completely perplexes the hell out of me.

Yes, I'm aware that commercials have a long and storied history of being stupid, fairly obnoxious, and willing to stop at nothing to ensure that whatever product they're pushing is messily branded somewhere on the hide of your cerebral cortex. And yes, I'm aware of the fact that incessant, irritating commercials are just as likely to goad buyers towards particular merchandise as funny or touching ones.

What perplexes me is some of the examples of human behavior that are exhibited in commercials with the intent to appeal to some aspect of the viewers' very nature. I guess the ones I'm thinking of the most right now are the Time Warner Cable commercials with the smug dudes that say things like: "I'm all about buy one, get one free. I like what I like, and I want it when I want it, etc," as though most humans were some impregnable id that remorselessly grabs life itself by the fistful. I don't know, maybe I shouldn't give humanity as much credit as I'd like to, but are the collective masses really that infantile? I always believed that people left such extremes of ego-centrism behind with their pampers and binkies. Do the vast majority of individuals really have such a monstrous mentality of expectation? And are we really to believe that if people do choose to act in such alarmingly neurotic ways, that a major corporation truly "likes the way [they] think?" When has consumer narcissism to the detriment of corporate profit and feasible delivery of goods ever been a sound business model? Don't invite us to be the bratty Freudlings we all have the capacity to be unless you're ready to put your money where your mouth is.

Because I want free high-speed internet that beams directly onto my retinas and can be activated and deactivated by sheer force of will. And I want it now. Actually, I want Time Warner to pay me to use their services, because without me, they wouldn't be serving anything. I want the ability to create my own TV channels, and to be able to choose who must watch them. I want a Time Warner Cable company truck and 401K. I want to know if God exists. Tell me, Time Warner, or by potential-God I'll take my business to the friggin' dish network.

Actually, I could get used to this. I suppose those commercials really did cut right to the core of me. Hmm. I wonder how much their basic cable/internet bundle is? I love saving money.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On Storm Euphoria

What is it about the storm on the horizon? All of the earthly hues become dulled, desaturated, as though their vibrancy was tapped to fuel the roiling darkness in the sky. What is it about the ebb and flow of the wind waves, the way they tousle the trees and leave them shimmering with nervous energy? The leaves struggle to right themselves, to hide their pale, exposed underbellies. Then a flash in the clouds; brief and bright, diffusing through the sky like the firing of some Godly synapse. What is it about the slow, low crescendo that sounds seconds later, the guttural, escalating rumble that never fails to catch one by surprise? Car windows are rolled up, fans are taken out of windows, children are ushered indoors. What is it about the pleasure of anticipation? The delight of an impending summer storm? What is it about the cerebral tickle that such empyreal foreplay affords?

And why, like some fleeting spirit, must it vanish when the first drops make their violent contact with the earth?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

On Space Disasters and Disbelief

I had a rather strange experience today, and after reflecting on it for a few minutes, I realized that it was actually pretty frightening.

I was reading the cover story in the latest issue of The Atlantic, entitled "The Sky is Falling." The article addresses some of the recent concerns of various astronomers regarding the number of potentially hazardous space objects that are in Earth's vicinity. Some new considerations of evidence of past strikes by space objects, coupled with new methods of locating hard-to-see objects near the Earth have led some researchers to believe that we are in a lot more danger of getting hit by a careening asteroid or comet than we previously thought. After presenting the evidence, the article spends most of its length addressing the fact that NASA has no interest in diverting any funds into researching this risk, let alone to develop methods to better track space objects or attempt to divert them should they make a b-line straight for our planet.

Now, the frightening experience I had regarding all this is the fact that I caught myself scoffing in skepticism at the article. As I read it, I found I had a really hard time taking it seriously. Then suddenly it dawned on me: not only is all of this obviously very possible, but the very attitude I initially reacted with is the attitude most people seem to be displaying, including those in the best position to actually study and/or plan for such a disastrous event. Currently, the number of people on the planet that are concerned about the very real possibility of a decent sized object hitting the Earth or exploding in its atmosphere is very small, and these folks must be extremely frustrated. I'm not sure if movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact have had a negative cultural influence, if people just can't comprehend such a thing because it has never occurred in a historical context most people can grasp, or if humans in general have developed too much of a feeling of invincibility. Regardless, were scientists to discover tomorrow an asteroid that will likely hit Earth within the lifetime of most living people, it's doubtful that anything could be put in place in enough time to have any impact on the course of events. That's pretty frightening. But even in realizing that, it is still very difficult to grasp.

I think people in general avoid getting too deeply involved with things regarding the greater universe because they are so complex and humbling and nearly incomprehensible that people feel immensely uncomfortable. Space is too large a reminder of our finiteness and our insignificance, and space disasters are hard to take seriously because they've always be relegated to the realms of science fiction and big screen cinema, and almost always involve gross oversimplifications of astronomical concepts and objects. There is no way for a layperson to grasp the subtleties of our very solar system, the forces that are interacting within in it, and the objects with which we share a common space without investing a lot of time into research and contemplation. There's also little chance for the common man to gain an understanding of the diplomatic complexities involved with even orchestrating an effective defense against rogue space objects without accidentally spurring international disputes or even physical conflicts. The whole situation operates in a realm far above what the average person likes to consider in their day to day life, and so long as officials who are in a position to know and act are content with maintaining working relationships that only insure a constant money flow, the threat of an Earth impact will remain quite distant from the concerns of the public at large.

Or maybe it's a mistake to even assume that we have the capabilities to divert such a disaster. There are limits to our power, however immense we believe ourselves to be. But pessimism like that doesn't seem to fit right; it's not a garb our nature can wear convincingly. The result then is even more disturbing: we believe that we have the ability to control our own destinies and manipulate the universe, but we lack the willpower or interest or foresight to actually prove we're worth our salt. It seems feasible that we can divert disaster, but we don't want to think about how to do it until we have evidence that such a disaster is worth our consideration.

And sadly, we too often find this corroboration only after the disaster has already struck.

Friday, June 6, 2008

On Self-Inflicted Testicular Abuse and How It Changed Everything

Ever since the early days of America's Funniest Home Videos, the groin shot has occupied a special place in the heart of the country. Whether it be little kids with flailing arms, a mis-step at the pool, or a bike ride gone wrong, it seems as though the TV viewers of this nation have always rather gleefully embraced depictions of men injuring their manhood. Though this fascination seems outwardly sadistic, there is also a decidedly masochistic bent to the ritual, as any man can tell you of the uncomfortable tightening in his nether regions when he witnesses someone else get whacked in theirs.

The rise of Jackass saw an unusual (and somewhat alarming) intensification of the drive towards injured family jewels, with individuals not being unfortunate victims of testicular misfortune but active and willing participants in premeditated and outlandish methods of genital abuse. At times these antics extended into quite perverse realms, arguably even blurring the lines between mere adolescent pranksterism and the homoerotic. In a way, it is easy to understand why countless teenage boys would flock to graphic depictions of other men's genitals when the ultimate purpose was to watch those very genitals get injured in bold displays of fearlessness and impulsivity. Male nudity could be forgiven, even embraced, for the sake of such seemingly profound statements of rebellion and the unbridled spirit of manliness. Literally seeing your hero's balls as he applies electric shocks to them only reaffirms that he does indeed have the balls to do something so brazen and taboo. And so it seems that in many young minds, the level of bodily abuse that can be absorbed has a direct correlation to the strength of that body, and from this, one could argue that the amount of pain one's balls can endure says a lot about just how big one's metaphorical balls are when it's time to measure courage.

This could explain the proliferation of home-made videos of testicle injury that have spread across the internet in the years following the Jackass explosion. All across the web, teenagers can be observed leaping onto banisters, taking hits from see-saws and spring-loaded playground animals, or imploring their friends to take as many free shots as they'd like. Absent the above Jackassian explanation, such videos seem to defy all logic. What compels a group of youths to film each other actively attempting to injure the one part of their body no male in his right mind would want to have harmed? Who is this document for? Many times, these videos are shot in unpopulated areas, where the performer and the cameraman are the only souls present. What sort of tragic psychology implores someone to undertake such a freakishly impressive feat when there's no one around to witness it? Sure, the video makes a permanent document of the event, but even to those who enjoy watching such senseless film-making, the implications of smashing your balls for no audience and for no good reason doubtlessly spur some strange stabs of confusion or pity, if only subconsciously.

But these videos are feeding two different sets of desires in two different sets of individuals. First, they serve to reaffirm the impulsive and outward opinion-driven adolescent of his masculinity and his autonomy. Not only does he have the balls to hurt his balls, but he has the choice to hurt his balls, and he has chosen to hurt them. Second, the videos pander to the omnipresent show of morbidity that is the American fascination with testicle smashing. People still love to see other people get injured in truly heinous ways, but only if those ways are not gory and can be easily recovered from. It's sort of like laughing when seeing someone trip, providing the tripped person's head isn't bashed open.

A weird cycle is then formed, in which the parties contributing to the continuous motion of the cycle aren't even consciously aware of their participation. The people smashing their balls aren't showing others the video tape of the event because they think people like seeing hurt balls, but because they think people will be impressed with their recklessness and display of strength. Likewise, the people that actually just find it entertaining to see people get hit in the nuts don't think that those hitting their nuts are doing it to reaffirm their manliness, but only because they know people will find it humorous. Both parties still get what they want, despite having erroneous beliefs about the motivations of the other party. Such a loop couldn't exist in the days of America's Funniest Home Videos, because those experiencing scrotal injury weren't actively seeking it. Things were more straightforward in those days: everyone seemed to recognize that people just liked seeing hurt balls, so if someone happened to hurt their balls on film, it made sense to share it with others for the humor value. And yes, on the surface it does seem that simple still, but as shown above, the intentional injury factor actually changes the dynamics quite a bit.

But really, it all just boils down to the endless obsession males have with their own privates. Apparently, sometimes it's alright to extend that obsession to other people's privates, too. But in a way that's totally straight. Totally.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On Really, Really, Really Bad Ideas

Tonight I came across an article about a business deal cut between Staples and a company called Flexplay. It seems Flexplay dabbles in an interesting market: that of self-destructing DVDs. Apparently, Flexplay produces movie disks that are rendered unplayable 48 hours after being removed from their packaging. This is due to a chemical reaction between oxygen and an adhesive agent the disk is produced with. According to one source, the idea is to offer movie rentals that don't have to be watched immediately and don't wrack up late fees.

These Flexplay discs are going to be sold for 5 bucks a pop. Five dollars for a DVD that you can probably only watch once, and then must be thrown away. What sort of deal is that? The cheapest Netflix plan costs five dollars and it'll get you two movies per month, which, when spaced across that time frame, also removes most people's worries of late fees or making time to watch a film. And with Netflix, you return the movies and they can be used again. You can be a film buff with a clean conscience, because you're not producing hugely uncessesary, non-biodegradable waste.

And let's consider it this way: DVDs are almost pure plastic. And we all know that plastic is made from petrochemicals, which means they all involve oil. This is an aspect of the oil crisis that people don't often consider. It extends far beyond the gasoline we pump into our cars. Do we really need one more utterly disposible plastic product being produced? Christ, even plastic bags can be reused multiple time before you are forced to discard them, but these DVDs are only good for one viewing, and then they're good for absolutely nothing. Except sitting in a landfill for the rest of eternity. What is the point?

I'm just baffled by the whole thing. By the number of people involved in orchestrating the production and introduction of a product like this, none of whom seem to recognize that it's just a tragically moronic venture. You can go to WalMart and buy movies for 5 dollars these days. Permanent, enjoyable, re-watchable movies. Not that I want to concede even a little bit that any of this makes sense, but 5 dollars for a self-destructing rental (I find it odd to call it a rental, too, because afterall, you do own the useless piece of garbage after you've left the store with it)? What about one dollar? If you're going to make something that disposable, why not make the price worth someone's while? The fact that they have to charge a pretty unreasonable price (likely to recoup production expenses) should be enough of a hint that this is a really bad idea. That, and the fact that a company already tried this nearly a decade ago and was driven into extinction within months.

It's not that they're not trying, though. A visit to the official Flexplay website yields this message:

"All Flexplay discs are recyclable and no different in their environmental impact than regular DVDs. Polycarbonate is a fully recyclable plastic and the proprietary chemical and technology used in the limited play DVD conform to applicable EPA standards for health and environmental protection.

And of course, a Flexplay No-Return DVD Rental completely eliminates the energy usage and emissions associated with a return trip to the video rental store."

Hmm. I guess yes, technically, they are no different in environmental impact than normal DVDs, besides the fact that you don't throw away your other DVDs after watching them once. In fact, I don't know anyone that throws away DVDs ever, unless they break or become too damaged to function (which actually takes quite a bit of effort). Most people just keep them, give them away, re-sell them, anything. And are they honestly suggesting that they're actually benefiting the environment in the long run by reducing trips to the rental stores? I wonder how embarrassed or pathetic they feel for even venturing that suggestion. Sure, some emissions are being prevented, but is it really enough to offset all the junk DVDs that will be thrust into circulation? Unless of course lots of people frequently drive semi-trucks to rental stores many miles away from their homes. I bet there was a lot of debate over whether or not to let that one lie or if it really might be better than not addressing environmental concerns at all. Netflix has them beat on this one too, and badly. Walking to my mailbox produces no emissions (unless I have an upset stomach) and results in no plastic-y trash. And don't even say the mail deliverer's vehicle is replacing the emissions that I'm avoiding by not using my vehicle. They were coming to my mailbox either way, smarties.

I don't know. The more write and the more I think about it, the more nonplussed and grumpy I get. Honestly, haven't we arrived at the point yet where we realized how screwed we are?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On the Pool of Profundity, and Why One Shouldn't Always Dive Right In

Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of diving into a body of water, only to have it be far more shallow than you were expecting? If so, hopefully it didn't paralyze you, and hopefully you'll agree that it's terribly unpleasant. I recently had this happen to me while driving behind a vehicle in Augusta.

I should add that this was a metaphorical dive into a metaphorical body of water, and that the injury was no so much to my spine as it was to the well-being of my mind.

The springboard of sorts was a bumper sticker. You see, whenever I read something that has even the slightest chance of being interesting, my brain leaps upon it with a ravenous hunger. As I came to a stop behind this vehicle at a traffic light, one bumper sticker jumped out at me. It said:

"If you can't change your mind, are you sure you still have one?"

And so my mind mind sprung into action. The result, as I've indicated above, was very similar to diving into the shallow end of a pool. If the pool of profundity can be said to have a deep end, that's the one I feel most comfortable in. If this bumper sticker could be said to have been floating in the pool of profundity, it most certainly was floating by the steps in the shallow end. Maybe even half-draped out of the pool.

But really; change my mind about what? I can think of plenty of instances where not changing one's mind about something is a perfectly reasonable attitude. In fact, I can think of circumstances where the only reasonable stance is that of steadfast adherence. Would the maker of this bumper sticker really say that a person who refuses to change their mind regarding the necessity of pants in public might very well be lacking a mind? Or what about a person's opinion on the permissibility of murder? I'd say that if someone is convinced that it's probably not a good idea to senselessly slaughter innocent people, then it's actually a little rude and stupid of you to insult them by suggesting that their unwillingness to budge on that point suggests some sort of mental deficit. And I'm also fairly sure that the person who changes their mind to decide that jabbing their finger into their own eye every few minutes is a good idea is the person who maybe should be unsure as to whether or not they still have a mind.

The sad thing about the fact that such a bumper sticker exists is not so much that a company employs enough dim people to let something so obtuse slip through to production, but that there are individuals out there who think that the quote it contains is profound enough to warrant slapping it on the back of their vehicle. And last I checked, bumper stickers, when left on for an extended period of time and exposed to the elements, do this lovely thing where they sort of fuse to the back of your vehicle and help drive its value down. Especially really stupid bumper stickers. Which, incidentally, also help to drive down people's opinions of you.

In sum, I refuse to change my mind when it comes to entertaining such a bumper sticker as something with any value whatsoever. If that means I've lost my mind, then haul me away.