Archive | May, 2011

This can’t be good

31 May

I haven’t seen Bad Teacher yet. “Yet” implies that I’m going to, but that’s still up in the air. I really have no interest in the movie, unless someone manages to talk me into a free screening. I probably wouldn’t review it—I can feel the bias bubbling up in me already—but I could at least find out if my moral indignation is valid.

What is it about Bad Teacher that bugs me? A lot, really. I guess I don’t find our ridiculously flawed educational system to be all that funny. I don’t want to watch Cameron Diaz shit all over an undervalued and underpaid profession. And yeah, the fat kid in me doesn’t need to see my people get ridiculed while playing dodgeball in P.E. class. I lived that already, thanks. Bad Teacher is just in poor taste.

And still I say, so what? I’m not easily offended by anything, especially when it’s done in the name of comedy. No topics are really off limits, as long as they’re funny. So, yes, while I’m especially sensitive to misogyny and homophobia, I have laughed at jokes about women and gay men. People are ridiculous as a whole—if we can’t find something funny to say about our differences, we’re just going to feel super awkward all the time. (As opposed to most of the time, I guess.) I do impose certain limits on myself: I don’t make jokes about rape, for example, because a) I find most of them to be pretty weak, and b) I don’t think I’m a talented enough humorist to pull it off without just being an asshole.

Which means there’s something in particular about Bad Teacher that turns me off. I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with a reasonable explanation, and so far all I’ve got is this: it’s a mainstream Hollywood comedy. Am I being fair? Not really. But the truth is, I would be a lot more open to this film if it were a dark indie flick. At the end of the day, I don’t trust Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, and Justin Timberlake to star in a true satire, which is what Bad Teacher would need to be to work for me. If the trailers are any indication, this movie is broad—like, really broad—which means more jokes about teachers saying naughty words and less intelligent commentary on a fucked-up institution.

It’s a real shame that I don’t trust a major studio comedy to be edgy without pissing me off, but they haven’t exactly given me a lot to work with. I just assume that the jokes about teachers (and women and queer people) won’t be funny—they’ll offend me not because of their existence, but because they’ve found nothing new to say. Most of these movies find humor in the same stereotypes; after all, that’s what makes the majority of the country laugh. So when I see the trailer for Bad Teacher and sit there all frowny-faced, it’s partly because I think there could be a good comedy somewhere in there. Just because the concept is contentious doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work in more deft hands.

Again, I know it’s not fair to pre-judge. As a movie critic, I should try to put aside my expectations and give even the shittiest-looking films a fair chance. Besides, I could be way off: maybe Bad Teacher is the best comedy of the year. (JK, obviously Bridesmaids.) But while I’d like to believe a big Hollywood comedy can be good, smart, and subversive, I highly doubt Bad Teacher is going to be that movie. Then again, I’m the guy who hated The Hangover—who cares what I think?

Title origins

26 May

I stole my blog title from Parks and Recreation, which is my favorite sitcom currently airing. The original line: “God, why does everything we do have to be cloaked in, like, 15 layers of irony?” It resonated with me the first time I heard it—you can tell because I made it a quote on my Facebook profile, the highest of all honors. But it makes sense to me. I’ve often been frustrated by my inability to do something for the sake of doing it. That sort of thing makes me miss sincerity.

And it’s partly my fault. I’ve embraced a whole lot of terrible because I’m amused by things that are bad. But do I own From Justin to Kelly ironically, or do I genuinely appreciate the trainwreck for what it is? I guess it’s a little of both: I like the movie (on some sick, masochistic level), but I also enjoy the irony of owning something that is most definitely not worth owning. (Related: Last Action Hero on Blu-ray is going for $6 on Amazon. Do I dare?) Perhaps the mere act of owning trash isn’t ironic. On the other hand, praising a movie like Valley of the Dolls as “great” surely is.

But it went past that in college, a time in which I did all sorts of not-that-fun activities because they sounded absurd and I wanted a good story to tell. I remember the first time I went to a frat party, but I can’t remember why. It smelled like cheap beer and cheap weed and B.O. (the consequence of wearing cheap deodorant). I was drinking, because this was before I realized I don’t like drinking or being drunk. And I’m sure I knew at the time that I had no real interest in being at a frat party (or most any parties, for that matter), but I went because it was something to laugh at. You know, a party to attend ironically.

Then there were things I did—and this was likely far more common—that I pretended to be disenfranchised from. And I think that’s why the Parks and Recreation quote really struck me. It’s not so much about doing things ironically as it is about pretending to do things ironically, which is actually way worse. It comes from a fear of genuine enthusiasm, of showing an unhip and unironic appreciation of shit. Like when someone looks at my DVDs and asks, “You own The Simple Life?” I say, “Yeah, I love it.” And he says, “But do you really?” How do I answer that in the affirmative without outing myself as a Paris Hilton fan? It’s less awkward to feign detachment.

I don’t do it as much anymore, since I’m trying to be more honest about my feelings in general. Besides, who cares if I love Paris Hilton? She looks like a bird, and that’s pretty great. But I also feel like doing things under the pretense of irony is a waste of time. I’d rather people know that I’m super into something than have them think I’m a facetious asshole. (I guess I can be both.) With that in mind, I’m not sure the title of this blog is appropriate to what I’m trying to do here, but I like it and I’m going to keep it. Please stop making me feel weird about it.

Incidentally, I stole my header from The Golden Girls, which is my favorite sitcom maybe ever. I never said I was a role model.

Don’t “like” this

23 May

I’m not the first person to note that maybe we need something more than a “like” button on Facebook. There are campaigns for this sort of thing! But I was reminded of how inappropriate it is this morning when a friend of mine posted about the devastation in her hometown of Joplin. And someone (I shit you not!) “liked” it. Not the destruction itself, presumably. Perhaps this was in response to my friend saying that her family is safe and accounted for, or that we should keep the people of Joplin in our thoughts. Still. Does “like” make sense in that context?

You know what would be even worse? A “dislike” button. “Dislike”-ing a status would be just as shallow but with the added offense of mimicking support. I’m horrified by what has happened to Joplin—doesn’t mean I need a button of any kind to express that. I don’t think any of us do. What bothers me about Facebook “like”-ing is that it’s made us lazier than ever. Clicking a button is one of the easiest things you can do, and in nanosecond, you’ve made something resembling a statement.

I’m not advocating for the abolition of the “like” button, because that’s silly. And it definitely has its purpose. If I read a funny status update or see a particularly shitfaced picture, I’m liable to “like” it. On a larger scale, however, I recognize how insipid this is. I’ve seen people on Facebook “like” articles about convicted murders being sentenced to death, break-ups (maybe the relationship was unhealthy?), and job changes. Surely there is more to it than a thumbs up. “Like”-ing is a half-assed way to say, “I saw this. I get it.” How is that ever enough?

It’s not the only lazy thing we do on Facebook. Birthday wall posts are almost as silly, although given how few people remember to actually call on birthdays, I guess they’re better than radio silence. But nothing on Facebook makes me more livid than someone changing his or her status/profile picture for a cause. The term for this is “slacktivism,” and I really wish I’d coined it. (I fucking love portmanteaus.) Again, I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but I think that Facebook slacktivism is more harmful than we give it credit for. It’s not only annoying—it’s damaging to the way we think and act.

I think we all look for easy outs, and “like”-ing a status or changing your profile pic is an all-too-simple way to delude yourself. I know it’s not necessarily a “one or the other deal”—you could change your picture to a cartoon character from your youth to combat child abuse (seriously, what?) and still donate money to the appropriate charities. I just don’t think that’s the norm. There is something so smarmy and self-congratulatory about all of these meaningless acts: “If you really cared about gay marriage, you would change your Facebook status for an hour. I did.” That allows people to take a step back and admire their own “effort.” Give yourself a pat on the back. You ended hatred. I “like” this!

To be fair, the other side of this is texting for disaster relief. Texting is lazy as shit, too—you type some numbers into your phone and bam, money donated. But I can’t really crap on that, because hey, at least you’re doing something. Given that I’m not exactly the most proactive person myself (hold your gasps, assholes), I can appreciate the ability to do something without breaking a sweat. But what you’re doing has to have some value past words, words, words. (He says, as he’s blogging.)

Slacktivism aside, I’m also just bummed at the way “like” has halted so many conversations. And I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that another button would somehow solve that problem. It’s like those news stories with words you can click on the side—is the story “gross” or “sad” or “WTF”? God knows the ability to choose from those hasn’t halted internet commenters, but it’s still so obnoxiously reductive. Why even give people the option of limiting their response to a one-word reaction? As far as I’m concerned, saying nothing at all is preferable to clicking a button.

But while you’re here, feel free to click the “OMG that is SO true” button at the bottom of this page. (Right??)

Not the end

21 May

Last time I wrote about May 21, I admitted that I felt a little bad for those people foolish enough to sell their worldly possessions and await the apocalypse. Today I experienced another twinge of sympathy reading this article about Harold Camping’s disappointed flock. One of the men interviewed for the piece was Keith Bauer, a 36-year-old trucker. “I was hoping,” he said. “I think heaven will be a lot better than this earth.”

What a thing to say. I get down on this planet a lot—well, mostly the people on it—but I can’t imagine thinking we’d be better off after the Second Coming. (In part, because if such an impossible event were to occur, I know I wouldn’t be saved.) But I was sorry for this man, reading his lament, knowing that he’s broken up inside because the world didn’t end. How sad for him, you know?

And then I just felt pissed. Because the paradise Bauer (and all of Camping’s followers) imagine is one in which I don’t exist. We sinners will be tortured and destroyed while the righteous few ascend to a higher plane. Seriously, fuck that. How could I experience even a moment of concern for this man’s feelings? His salvation is at the cost of my existence. I’m part of what makes this world a place to be saved from, and the reason—according to Camping—that God is so livid.

For most of us, for anyone reading this I’d hope, we recognize how backwards that is. As several comedians and Twitter humorists pointed out, we’d be the ones benefiting from a post-Rapture Earth. I don’t want to live alongside anyone who condemns me to eternal damnation. Go ahead and spirit away Camping and all those who spew hate—it wouldn’t solve all of our problems, but it would make day-to-day life a lot less annoying.

I wish the anticlimactic reality of May 21 were enough of a slap in the face to faith-based idiocy. It won’t be. There are always more lunatics on the fringe, and we continue to let their voices be heard. Sure, I’m as guilty as anyone of tweeting jokes about the Rapture and, um, writing Harold Camping-centric blog posts. But in my mind, there’s a difference between mockery/analysis and legitimizing insanity. The news has been reporting on May 21 as if the billboard plastered around the country were anything more than drivel.

All distinctions aside, of course, I’m still perpetuating the conversation, which either makes me a giant hypocrite or completely un-self-aware. So why am I talking about Camping’s Rapture? I guess for the same reason I talk about anything—it got under my skin. I felt something, not fear or dread about the end of the world, but compassion for people with no compassion for me. And I want to smack sense into them. I want these assholes to know that the world is a shitty place because they are part of it.

But I can’t get through to them, even if any did somehow stumble onto this blog: my words to them mean as little as their words to me. We’re forever at odds. Buying all the billboard space in the U.S. wouldn’t change that.


20 May

I’m trying to get better at expressing my anger. Frankly, expressing it at all would be a step in the right direction. I’m cranky kind of a lot, which you might have noticed from my Twitter feed and blog and general bad attitude, but I’m rarely open about my anger toward people I know. (As opposed to celebrity abominations like Gwyneth Paltrow and Russell Brand.) I can count the number of friends I’ve yelled at on one hand, even though I’ve been pissed or at least mildly twitchy far more than that. I would need a freakish number of fingers to count those instances, probably.

I’m not saying this so you’ll suddenly worry that I’m mad at you on the DL. (How many of you actually went in that direction? I forget that everyone’s mind isn’t the paranoid sucktrap that mine is.) I’ll admit that I get angry pretty easily, but I get over it just as fast. And in that brief period of rage, it’s almost always internal. I’m big on expressing feelings, just not when they’re negative, which means I’ll let you know when I want to make out but not when I want to punch you in the face. (I am super nonviolent! Just typing that made me uncomfortable!)

There are benefits to not ripping people’s hair out, sure, but being not-at-all assertive is sort of a bad thing. I have had people say some really not nice things about me, and my general response is to shrug it of (read: quietly seethe) because that’s less scary than confrontation. It’s not a rational fear, like worrying that I’m going to get shanked for my insolence. I just don’t like the idea of fighting, of telling someone that he or she has hurt my feelings or otherwise made me stabby.

And part of it has to do, I’ll admit, with an intense desire to be liked by everyone. I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t like me—maybe some who actively disdain me!—but that’s basically out of my hands. For my part, I try to be nice to the people I do know, especially those who are more acquaintances or casual friends than BFF. By “being nice,” I mean being agreeable, not talking back, not getting too openly butthurt about things that bug me. Sometimes my version of “being nice” means being a doormat, and that’s the kind of behavior I want to move away from. I’m self-aware enough to know that my internal anger is misplaced, and that I can be overly sensitive about things that in the long-run really don’t matter. But I also know that some people are straight-up assholes and I let them get away with it.

Like I said, I’m more likely to raise my voice with my closest companions, mostly because I know they’re not going anywhere. Still, I’d prefer a bit more balance. I can actually be kind of a dick to my favorites, and some of that is just residual anger I refrained from using on more deserving parties. It’s like I am a flaky croissant and my anger is the sweet chocolate center: I want it to be evenly distributed. That’s a ridiculous metaphor—chocolate is delicious. Whatever, sometimes it gets on your teeth and looks stupid. Also, calories.

In case you were wondering, here are some things that make me angry on a broad scale: misogyny, homophobia, racism, ignorance, rudeness, apathy. Here are some things that make me angry more specifically: being called lazy, being called passive-aggressive (especially when I’m being passive-aggressive), not being taken seriously, criticism of other people’s bodies, most music reviews, slow drivers, jerk drivers, guys who don’t call back, pop culture pretension, Glee. Anyway, thanks for letting me share.

Happy anniversary

18 May

It’s May 18, 2011, my three-year anniversary of graduating from Berkeley. I’m not gonna lie—I kind of thought I’d be way more successful by now. I think we all did. I won’t lament the economy I graduated into, because, you know, that’s been done to death. Obviously things would have been easier if I’d finished school at a time when jobs were more readily available. Or hey, some time before print journalism became obsolete. JK, you guys, but seriously, dying industry.

I’m not necessarily dissatisfied with where I am in my career right now, because I’m lucky enough to write regularly and have my writing published by some awesome publications I really admire. (Humblebrag? Brag brag?) It would be nice to have even more regular work (or a salary or benefits), but it’s kind of my b for choosing a notoriously tough-to-break-into career. Being a journalist was always hard. Being a journalist in this day and age is a suicide mission.

I’m not even sure what I expected exactly, aside from vague delusions of fame and fortune. (They’re not that vague. I’ve already got some memoir titles lined up. Holler at me, publishers.) And I definitely haven’t given up hope yet, despite my penchant for cynicism. But there is something disconcerting about the date—I can’t not get a little mopey on my three-year graduation anniversary. And that’s only on the career end. We won’t even talk about the personal side of things. (Did you know some of the people I graduated with are getting married and having babies? Guh-ross.)

Whatever. It’s just another day, right? It’s not like tomorrow my aspirations will be any different than they are today, or that I’ll suddenly feel either more professionally secure or professionally anxious. My graduation itself wasn’t all that special—an archaic, overly long symbolic ceremony that didn’t make me feel like any more of an adult. (Weirdly, moving my tassel did rush me through puberty!) So why should the anniversary of melting in my black robe and listening to an exceedingly boring commencement speech mean anything?

I guess the worst part is thinking about where I’ll be a year from now. (If I’m blogging here to lament my four-year anniversary, please convince me to make something of my life. Thanks!) My career path could change a lot over the next several months, or maybe not at all. Such is the excitement of being a freelancer. I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities, but they don’t always present themselves. And while I’ve mulled over taking on new writing jobs, I’m reluctant to give up what I have now.

Good thing today is the first day of the rest of my life! That always makes me feel like I have plenty of time to figure this shit out. I’m going to be 25 this year, and while that seemed really, really old to me at some point, it now strikes me as distinctly young. When I think about how much time I have ahead of me, I feel something resembling hope. But when I reluctantly turn my mind back to 2008, it’s hard to convince myself much has changed.

Maybe I should just be celebrating. I’ll take myself out to a nice dinner, celebrate my BA in English. You can put a lei on me and tell me how great I am. I’ll let you take my picture. And I’ll focus on everything I’ve done, instead of how quickly time passes and how much I still have to do. Besides, the world is ending Saturday.

Judgment day

16 May

Gosh, I really hope the world doesn’t end on May 21st. For one thing, I haven’t accomplished all that I’ve set out to do—still don’t have a Wikipedia page!—but I’d also be pissed if some nutty fringe group was right. Seriously, look at this billboard. The shadowy dude on the right totally looks like he’s pooping. I can’t live in a world where this is an accurate depiction of what’s to come. (I guess I won’t have to if it is!)

I don’t worry about the apocalypse, which is funny, because I worry about just about everything else. I’d say it has something to do with the fact that a big catastrophic world-ending event isn’t something I can control, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about nuclear war, asteroids, and solar flares (OMG, did you see Knowing?). Obviously, the fact that I’m not a religious person is part of the equation. Being an agnostic Jew doesn’t mesh well with The Book of Revelations. But boy will my face be red if Jesus comes back!

Even so, I’ve been dwelling on what it would mean if the world ended Saturday. You guys, what a bummer. I’m not even the slightest bit concerned about the veracity of the pooping guy poster (“Cry mightily unto God, for ye are constipated”), but that doesn’t mean I can’t get lost in the theoretical. Like I said, the fear of not accomplishing everything I wanted to is what gets to me most. Which is weird, because if we all died, our accomplishments would be pretty damn meaningless. (Unless my accomplishment was figuring out how to thwart the accomplishment. Y’all would love me.) Yeah, I’d like to publish a few books before I peace out, but getting burned off the face of the earth puts us all on an equal playing field—righteous losers aside. I am on par with Jonathan Franzen, basically. When all life has been destroyed, my blog posts will be exactly as important as Freedom.

There are other (relatively) less important things that concern me, like never getting to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 or finding out who killed Rosie Larsen. Do you think they get AMC in Hell? If they do, it’s probably just the same episode of Rubicon aired on a loop. I hate the idea of unfinished business, whether or not the business is really mine. When it comes to movies and TV and books, the conclusions have no bearing on my life—at least not directly. And yet, seeing how it all ends is bizarrely important to me. If the world ends, I’m not going to know if I’ll ever get married, but I won’t know if Leslie Knope finds love on Parks and Recreation either, and that distresses me even more. Maybe my priorities or off, or—more likely—pop culture is a lot easier than real life. I could pick that last sentence apart, but it could get kind of heavy. Feelings, gross.

Do you feel bad for the people who have sold their worldly possessions in advance of the apocalypse? I did a little bit, but they should obviously be held accountable for their stupidity. How do you ever get to that point of certainty, though? I understand faith, but I don’t get trusting anything that blindly—throwing your life away because you’re sure it’s all going to come to a screeching halt in less than a week. And what happens when the world doesn’t end? Odds are they’ll keep making excuses. The apocalypse is still coming. It went out for a pack of cigarettes, but it’ll be back. I don’t know. I guess I do still feel a tad sorry for them: they probably don’t have Wikipedia pages either.