joebelknapwall: (Default)
Revisiting Arrested Development as it's being rebroadcast on IFC, I'm reminded how absolutely mind-boggling it is that a steaming lump of shecky-shecky stand-up schtick like Seinfeld managed to stay on the air for almost a decade, with legions of dimwits dully mouthing the catchphrase of the week around the water cooler and hurf-durf laughing like they've said something just hilarious, oh my GAWD.

Huh huh, master of my domain!

Hurf-durf, yadda yadda yadda!

Har har, close-talker!

Where do they come up with this stuff!?

You know, maybe it's just too hard to watch a brilliantly-written comedy without a laugh track. I mean, you people have jobs and mortgages and important things to worry about, like the manufacturers of Crocs going out of business and which emasculated overmarketed idiot pop star will be best to stave off sexual curiosity in your girl children. Hell, I'm with you there—it's just crazy hard to know when to laugh without someone pushing a button on a panel to make robots laugh the way you're supposed to laugh. God forbid I have to draw on my own experiences, interests, and personality to know what I find funny. Time is money, people!

What do I know? People sat on their big asses and guffawed like hyaenas at Everybody Loves Raymond, which I watched a time or two out of curiosity, before having to switch off the television and lie on the floor with a cool damp towel across my forehead. That experience, at least, was useful to me as a writer, giving me an essential understanding of what drives people to suicide, but I'm still a little damaged and twitchy in the aftermath. It's not that I'm some effete middle-class borge who haughtily claims "oh, I only watch PBS" (and admits to watching Project Runway as if it's some hip and naughty, naughty little vice instead of yet another tiresome habit of effete middle-class borges)—I have seven episodes of Jackass on my DVR, for pete's sake. It's not dumb humor that makes me despair—it's humorless humor.

It's just, well, you watch something like Arrested Development and suddenly, it's so clear how very, very tired most TV is. I mean, there are people out there who still think The Simpsons is "edgy." Can you really name one edgy thing you've seen the writers on The Simpsons do in, say, the last five years? The once-rich characters have drifted aimlessly, being rewritten to suit one celebrity product-placement episode after another (hint: they're ALL celebrity product placement episodes now), the plots just plod, the dialogue is just one wannabe catchphrase after another or one more we're-so-clever metafictional rehash that's not nearly so funny as the writers think.

So Homer gets dumber for twenty years, that crazy Jerry gets in another zinger, and everybody still loves Raymond even though he makes me want to hurt small children and then myself, and Arrested Development goes off the air in three years. I'll give you one thing—it makes American politics make perfect sense.

Now my head hurts again. I'm going to get in the tub and read a book, and maybe drop the toaster in the water, too.
joebelknapwall: (Default)
You actually enjoy shopping.

I mean—you actually enjoy it, not ironically or on some level of moral expedience.

Just writing that down gives me a little chill, just like the kind fundumbmentalists must get when they imagine the day that jackbooted gay marriage troops finally achieve one world state and start issuing the mandatory divorce decrees to the previously righteous among us. It's a scary world, run by zombies, and they're all down at Bed, Bath & Beyond right this very second, picking out spring-themed dessert plates to match their bathroom drapes.

It's on account of my teapot, of course. I was just giving it one last rinse when it slipped up from my grasp, bouncing once on the rim of the sink before I could catch it, and there's a long, narrow crack from base to lid now. I've been carefully patching chips and cracks in this thing forever, but this is a fatal one, long and deep enough to render the best glues impotent, so I got my shopping list together, climbed into the car, and went looking for a new one.

It's always the same, too. I go out for a few select items, and there it is, that crawly, panicky feeling I get whenever I'm forced to mingle with my zombie countrymen. Having had poor luck with my last teapot from Ikea, I think to try out Bed, Bath & Beyond, which is a shopping concept that largely eludes me. What's the "beyond?" Am I going to round the corner just past the jungle- and autumn-themed kitchen mats and suddenly fall through a cosmic doorway into the great metaphysical beyond? What's beyond bed and bath, anyway? I assume they mean the kitchen, but god forbid they call the place Bed, Bath & Kitchen—those advertising middlemen need to earn their money, I guess, and a nice vague concept's far better than, you know, calling things what they are.

I get a nice parking spot near the entrance, my tiny four-door economy sedan neatly sandwiched between the brutish hulks uninformed parents like to believe will protect their squalling offspring rather than, as the actual facts more clearly demonstrate, jettisoning them out the back windows in low speed rear-end crashes to land on the pillow-soft hoods of the offending cars. The "beyond" is right in the door tonight, a pyramid of those insane "snuggie" sleeved-blanket things that four million of the very stupidest of my fellow citizens have bought because, well, hurf durf, putting on sweaters is hard! I arrive simultaneously as a lumbering couple pause there, chattering about the "snuggie" like it's something freshly released from top secret status in the space program, and then they actually pick one up to buy it.

I'm never sure if I'm suffering from acid reflux or just too much choking back of bile everytime someone near me does something unforgivably idiotic, which seems to be on the increase.

Sure thing, stupid. Go ahead and look like the member of some weird cult of brain-eating eunuchs if you like while you sit in front of your flat screen. It'll just make it easy for those of us who are still mobile from lack of lower body atrophy to catch you and grind you up into sausages for emergency rations in our bomb shelters when civilization falls.

Well, maybe that's a bit harsh.

"Can I help you, sir?" some poor sap asks me as I manage to pass the snuggie couple and get inside.

Why on earth is it that there is always some tragic prole stuck in the front door of every establishment in which I require absolutely no assistance whatsoever, but never anyone there to talk to me in, say, the emergency room or the computer store? It's always someone standing there, at the entrance of Wal*Mart, where I shop only when I need the one thing no longer sold in any other store in America (proper waffle-weave long johns), asking me if they can help, and I always want to snap right back at them.

"Um, yes, ma'am. I'd like you to help me to have made better career and life choices that would have ensured I'd never have to set foot in this cavernous cosmodrome of slack-jawed republiconned numbskulls and fight with some flaccid fishwife over the one stinking pair of long britches in my size that you people bothered to stock while you laughably have literally hundreds of pairs in small. Did you ever once see anyone shop in here who could fit into a small, even as a drunken joke at a squirrel barbecue? I mean—I'd love for you to help me with that. Is there anything you can do for me?"

Sadly, I was raised, as they say, to be somewhat more tactful.

Instead, I just brood and walk really, really fast.

The tenth person asks me if they can help, and I repeat the same thing.

"Teapot."

"They're over there, sir," he says, and gestures.

"No, those are tea kettles."

"I'm sure there are teapots over there."

"Show me, please."

Yep, that's a tea kettle. Uh-huh, that one too. Yes, still a kettle.

Hell, I'm not a snob, for heaven's gate—I drive an eight year-old four door economy sedan and eat scrapple for breakfast every morning. Is the distinction between a tea kettle and a tea pot really, really that elusive? You boil your water in a tea kettle and steep your tea in a pot.

At least four billion people in the rest of the world have a pretty clear idea of how that works, you sad zombie store associate.

I give up. He suggests "Home Goods," another gloomy shopping option three stores away.

Getting out of those places always feels like a rebirth. Me? Born again? Hoo-boy, have I ever been, over and over, every dang time I try to buy socks, underwear, a dishmop, or a teapot. The sky is indigo and gorgeous, so utterly wasted on the zombies, staggering around the parking lots. I head three stores down and almost don't even go into Home Goods—you can see it all right through the glass doors, just acres and acres of seasonal matched themed crap for people's stupid, hideous suburban houses (or "homes," as the realtor zombies have redubbed the concept of a pile of moldy drywall and vinyl siding these days).

I take a breath and go in.

See—I'm no misogynist, but I blame the fair sex for the peculiar biblical affliction of matchy-matchiness. It's something about our absurd teenybopper culture and the need that we all seem to have to think that our lives should remain perpetually mired in our late teen years, when a girl's notion of color and stylistic compatibility is simplified to the level of Hello Kitty dead-eyed simplicity. Pink goes with pink. Autumn-themed bath towels go with autumn-themed toothbrush holders. Blue goes with blue, red with red, and yellow with cheerful sunshiny yellow. Sometimes I wonder how many people have actually been driven to suicide over color theory, in this land of sorrowful stupefaction.

Gosh, though. I almost swoon, getting that whirly, unpleasant feeling of vertigo. Every single thing in the place so cheap, trivial, and unforgivably ugly that I just want to start shouting, hollering "c'mon—really? C'mon—seriously?" over and over until they haul me away in a straitjacket. I mean, I get the irony of me complaining about style and fashion when I dress like a sloppy janitor and live like a pig at forty in a two-room apartment packed with junk, but people like me exist for a reason, in the evolutionary food chain—to give hope to the men and women of the world who are inveterate "fixers" of the men and women of the world who, like me, just live schlumpedink lives of schlubbiness in semi-obscurity. The rest of you stupid lot are meant to have some taste, or at least marginally more than me.

I find tea kettles, but no teapots. After a while, some hapless woman asks to help me, and I say, "I am looking for a tea pot, in which to brew, not boil, my tea."

There's a glimmer of hope, but it's dashed. She shows me to the teapots, and…well, they're all those stupid pretentious japanese cast iron things, and bad copies at that. I dream of really saying what I mean, but I just shrug and bite my lip.

No thank you, you wretched zombie sales associate. Do I really look like a pompous pseudo-liberal yuppie idiot who would elaborately set up a bastardized abomination of a fake tea ceremony so I could use this tiny, heavy little teapot to brew three whopping ounces of tea to serve in cups small enough to swallow whole to my dear, dear book club friends while we sit around and smugly congratulate ourselves for voting Obama into office? Can you not see my raggedy shoes, my paint-stained twelve-dollar droopy-assed carpenter jeans from Target, and the general look of despair on my face?

"No thank you. These are a bit smaller than I'm looking for."

"How about this one?"

"That's a tea kettle," I sigh, "but thanks anyway."

I head back out, actually aghast, and overhear a conversation that explains so much.

"Can we just drive to Bed, Bath & Beyond?" a decreasingly little girl asks her shapeless mother. "It's far."

I stumble, having failed to negotiate the cognitive dissonance and basic motor skills at once. I'd just walked from the BB&B to the Home Goods, a distance of perhaps a hundred and fifty feet, and was happily walking back, under that gorgeous indigo sky, to get in my car and go to a more comfortable commercial nightmare, but apparently, it's a gulf that's "far" to the next generation.

No wonder all the stores' "mobility scooters" are always out on the floor, trundling this bloated lot from aisle to aisle, where they look for seasonal lotion-saturated tissue packs to match their sunny summer-themed plastic iced tea tumblers.

I just don't get it. I don't get this crazed lust we have to shop.

Where the heck is the fun?

You're not getting bargains, not by a long shot, and the "bargains" you get on sale diminish further when you factor in time and gas money and the cost of having your presumbly immortal soul oozing out of your mounting corpulence via whatever hole is nearest every single time you respond to a carefully planned sales manipulation like a little slobbering lobotomized monkey in a 1950s science lab. It's not even really social, because all you seem to talk about is the crap that surrounds you in these catastrophic temples of decay.

"Oh, honey, remember we need new scented candles for the living room!"

"Mountain Stream™ or Pleasant Orchard™?"

"Fresh Laundry™, if they've got 'em!"

And none of these people actually have the remotest understanding of what any of those things actually smell like, except in the sense of subconsciously connecting the airbrushed pictures on the packaging to the desolate chemical stench of whatever the heck they put in those. Those things in the pictures—well, they're just far.

It's fashionable to take the usual classist route and giggle about Wal*Mart and hillbillies and rednecks and all the other people that are still okay to mock, but the zombies roam Ikea, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods with as much atrocity, if somewhat more stylish outfits. There's a good reason why virtually every white middle-class gay guy's apartment looks exactly the same as every other white middle-class gay guy's apartment, and it's Ikea. Ikea? Just a store. Trader Joe's? Just a store. Whole Foods, Teavana, Pinkberry, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel? Just stores.

I get why you're stupid. It's okay. I'm stupid, too. It's the root of my authority, or at least of my bombast.

We all grow up drowning in this thunderous cacophony of advertising, and it's worse than that. It's not that advertising tells us to buy specific stuff. It's that it tells us to buy constantly, to fill every anxiety, every insecurity, and every need with a trip to the store, and you are stupid if you don't know that yet, if you don't wonder why, even though there's no reason at all for us to be unhappy with all there is out there for us, you're always feeling vaguely dissatisfied with everything. That feeling is that antsy feeling you get when you're sitting in silence, momentarily away from the TV or the radio or whatever other distraction machines you need to keep your brain from inadvertently switching itself on, and you start to drool and reach for your keys.

"Honey, I'm going out for some refills for the scented toilet paper holders. Need anything?"

"We're all out of Swiffer pads, and see if you can get them in Baby Fresh™ scent! Also, see if they have the 'eco' kind, 'cause we're trying to be green."

I retreat after a run at Target, returning with four t-shirts, five pairs of underpants, and a roll of toilet paper, but no teapot.

All I want is a teapot, a nice plain one that'll hold four or five cups worth of tea and will last a long time, and all the zombies have to offer me is kettles and pretension. It's not that I'm a misanthropist, even though, of course, I am, in a way.

Fortunately, with the economy teetering on the edge, I'll be in the catbird's seat to watch a whole lot of stupid people find that world outside the strip mall, and I'm just grumpy and cynical enough to really enjoy the prospect. Call it sour grapes, but it'll be sweeeeet seeing the herd of people who don't know how to do a dang thing but shop trying to get by in the middle of a depression.

"Honey, we're out of refills for the Senseo and the Target is on fire."

…and I feel fine!
joebelknapwall: (Default)
I've been in a bit of a mood. It's been a while, too.

Thing is, I've been running this idea around my head lately, about just surrendering to my inner crank and really belting out the bad news like your average disaffected american grump. We're a culture that loves to be abused, a nation of ninnies that cry out for the whip out of some misplaced sense of puritan self-hatred rooted in our loving, forgiving lord who we're all supposed to fear and grovel before. What other culture has a huge-selling line of books so gleefully tagged "For Dummies" (and others going by "For Idiots," and "For Loathsome Wretches," and more of that ilk)? Feeling low, suffering from Attention Deficit Hypoconsumerist Chocoholism™, beleaguered by Seasonal Affective Disaster™, Social Antipathy Discombobulation™? Pick up a copy of Self-Esteem For Complete Gibbering Idiots Who Will Never Ever Find Love or Succeed in this Complex Veil of Tears We Call Our Tragic Suburban Lives over at Amazon! It's that easy, as easy as 1-2-3, as easy as pie, and oh, what a sinful, wicked pie, that makes us fat when we really, really want to lose weight, but just can't for some weird reason.

We love to be told how dumb we are, how miserably wicked we are, and how there's some complicated reason why we seem to fall flat on our face, time and time again. Not enough ketosis! Too much high fructose corn syrup! George Bush! Gangs! Our failing transportation infrastructure! Attention deficit disorder! Vaccine-induced autism! The right-wing conspiracy! The left-wing conspiracy! The homosexual agenda! Our lousy medical system! Our evil liberal teachers who won't teach reading using phonics!

Honey child, I am here to help. I got a whip right here, ready to crack on your flabby middle-class buttocks. It's boot camp time, you snivelly little ass weasel, and you know what I think?

You are stupid.

Yeah, you heard me. You (please picture my neatly-manicured finger pointing angrily in your direction) are stupid.

Who am I to tell you that? Weren't you paying attention? I'm a crank. It gives you a lot of moral authority, buddy.

So

You Are Stupid: #1 - The Gorgeous Blue Glow of Child Abuse

It's never been so easy to identify child abusers as it is right now. Of course, there are the old standard methods, like peeking through the grating of the confessional, looking for suspicious bruises, or finding guys named Larry or Walter with beat-up old vans, but there's something even easier than a Google Maps mash-up, right out on the roadways.

It's that blue glow.

You see it as you slide up on 'em on the highway, that flickery light of flip-down LCD displays. Sometimes you'll get a falsie, a mis-read based on all the numbskulls who can no longer drive anywhere without a big distracting GPS display propped right in their line of sight, with a soothing female voice murmuring "turn right at light, watch for Hickamadingdong Street, take a slight left at…" and so on. These people are just sad techno-drones, doomed to eventually starve to death in the parking lots of abandoned K-Mart Super Q Megacenters because their GPS missed a wireless upgrade and failed to inform them that Faunchimo Avenue was temporarily closed for water main repairs. They'll just sit there in their cars, too terrified to set out for help, just swearing at the GPS as the batteries fade and die, leaving them in the dark, without even an energy bar or vitamin water or wicked Trader Joe's Bon Bon Deluscious Treat™, and they won't even have their trusty copy of Starving to Death For Dummies to tell them how to slip gently into the Lord's loving embrace.

It's not those guys. It's the Little Mermaid brigade, or whatever is showing in the Cinerama de SUV at the moment. You seem 'em from miles down the road, the screens all aglow, filled with some cartoon or CGI nonsense, written by dumb committee writers at Disney or wherever, and the kids are there, as stupid as you are, staring at the screen while worlds rush by outside.

Why even put side windows on cars anymore?

You stupid parents do your best to eliminate them, with windows plastered with stickers and those ridiculous sun-shades and all that, but once you turn on the flat-panels, you needn't bother. The little brainwashed media zombies follow their programs, look up, and then down to their iPhones, where they're simultaneously texting their idiotic little friends with whatever idiotic little thought is racing around the tiny go-kart track in their little plastic busy box brains, then up, then down, then up, then down, but never out.

Heck, the outside world is scary. It's full of crime (it's not), it's full of terror (it's not), and full of boredom (it's really, really not). Besides, it's just soooooooooooo hard to be a parent these days. You just don't understand how hard it is, or how tired we are, or what the challenges are that face the modern parent

—And I say "blah, blah, blah," you stupid, stupid person. Don't cry to me about how hard it is to be a parent. I'm the one who advised you to take a coathanger to that little lump of crying debt while it was still legal to do so, before it gave you stretch marks and a caesarian scar. It's not like the world really needs one more kid, leaving candy wrappers all over my lawn on their way back from the corner store. If you weren't up to the work, you should have really reconsidered answering that reproductive alarm clock. You got the kid, you seem to be fond of him, her, or them—now be a parent, or "parent," as you stupid lot love to say in your "proactive" way of communicating that leads you to turn everything into a verb.

There they are, though, all the back windows on the road with that gorgeous blue glow of child abuse, as lurid and explicit as can be, each car filled with the fury of an upholstery-chewing Faye Dunaway and wire hangers a-whippin' and I'm torn as to whether to feel a little giggly and pernicious or to let myself have genuine compassion for kids having their brains sucked out, pixel by pixel, through the magic of omnipresent television all because their whiny, stupid parents can't seem to do what my generation's parents had no problem doing.

I AM GOING TO PULL THIS CAR OVER RIGHT NOW IF YOU TWO DON'T STOP FIGHTING BACK THERE! DON'T THINK I WON'T 'CAUSE I WILL SERIOUSLY PULL THIS GOLDARN CAR OVER RIGHT NOW AND LEAVE YOU SITTING ON THE SIDE OF ROUTE 29 AND YOU'LL BOTH HAVE TO WALK ALL THE WAY HOME TO SCAGGSVILLE!


That was the exasperation flip-out, something I didn't quite understand until now, but you know what? It worked. We stopped fighting in the back seat. Sometimes, we even stopped fighting and went back to looking out the window, watching the farms roll by, watching the people passing by in other cars, wondering what kind of lives they had, telling ourselves little stories about those people and wondering if we'd ever see them again. Sometimes, we read a book, or played a game, or just talked about…stuff. It was all just stuff, mostly pointless, but still something productive, a way of honing the social interactions.

It's all crank talk, I know, complaining about kids these days, but I don't think it's kids these days. It's their parents, and they is us. I hear perfectly-reasonable friends occasionally defend the blue glow of child abuse, complaining about how hard "parenting" is, and how hard it is to pay the mortgage and two car payments and for a vacation somewhere pre-packaged, and right in the back of my head, I hear my own parents being all giggly and pernicious, because even the stuff they did wrong was usually right, especially in light of the so-called sensitive educated parents roaming the earth these days.

I'll admit this. My hatred of kids is really a pose. I mean, I hate having them in my house, pulling my collectibles down from their places of pride on my antique furniture, and I hate their sticky fingers, sticky hands, sticky clothes, and slobbery, snotty faces, always coming at me, offering a great big lovey kiss to their prudish, uptight Uncle Joe, but they're okay, particularly once they can talk and joyfully repeat my little whispered atrocities to Grandma, who immediately blanches and wags a finger at me. I have a pretty contained little living environment, and kids whack me out, but that's just me. I wasn't born to be a parent, or I'd have a bit more interest in using my genitalia in that manner, but I look around and the streets here are empty.

There are a few kids out, usually going from one TV set in one house to an Xbox in another, but it's not like it was. Rich white kids grow up in the suburbs without ever riding bikes, because there's no world there, nothing beyond the steel and glass cages of the Cinerama de SUV, nothing out there but the fear that their stupid parents instill in them, warning them of a dangerous world that does not exist.

It's that glow, the gentle blue glow of stupid poisoning, of lazy parents rearing empty children.

When I'm angry, caught up in traffic, I rise to the occasion, and curse and swear and glare at the abusers, but soon it'll be a generation who won't know better, because they'll have been reared by their stupid parents, who brought them up in the glow, in the backseat, teaching them that all the adventure they'll ever need is right there, on the screen. They'll grow up watching science fiction that'll get more fictional by the moment, never aware that forty years ago, when we could barely make a car that would survive its first hundred thousand miles, we could put a man on the moon, and that we might never do it again, because there's just no will left, no adventure in our souls.

The world races by the windows and they're not looking out, watching the small towns, wondering what those people are like, or what other people's lives are like, and the stories we tell ourselves are replaced, one by one, by packaged stupid, written by overeducated corporate committee stupid, sold by salesman stupid, bought by stupid parents who've given up on being parents before they ever even tried, because it's just soooooooo hard to be a parent and soooooooo hard to lose weight and soooooooo hard to save money and sooooooooo why even bother.

If you do this to your kids, if you surrender the task of being your kid's mentor to your laziness and "exhaustion," you are stupid. Yeah, I mean you. Maybe I know you, maybe I love you, but you are stupid. Hand them a book, hand them a puzzle, have an aimless conversation with them, for pete's sake. Hell, even drugging them into a stupor with Benadryl for a few miles of peace and quiet is better than the lash of omnipresent television. At least old fashioned child abuse gave kids experience worth writing about, when they grew up and became grizzled old crank writing picturesque despair tales of ol' Oyerlund. Heck, you don't even need actual severe child abuse—you can get by with a little bit and lie about the rest. That's what you get, growing up with an intact imagination; the ability to bluff, to fluff, to find little joys in empty moments, to look out the windows and see the whole damn world, just within reach.

Or you can surrender to the glow, and dissolve into the video mire.

Couldn't you be doing something outside right now instead of reading my stupid rant?

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joebelknapwall

January 2013

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