If you’ve visited this blog during the holidays, you know my feelings about Christmas music. It’s my tradition to unleash a primal, Munchian scream against the unbearable, tinny, maudlin, manipulative, manufactured dreck that the Sentimental-Industrial Complex annually sees fit to inflict on us. But this time, science is here to help us.
On the morning of November 9, when the votes were counted and we all knew that Donald Trump would become our next president, I put the following statement on social media:
Well, folks, it’s been a nice republic.
It got a positive response from friends on the left and the right. They all sensed that something very important had been lost, though it was hard to pinpoint what. But those who find profit in that loss are leaving no end of clues, and it’s our job to read those clues.
(Warning: It’s possible that I’m about to directly insult some of you.)
There’s a stupid and wasteful tradition, dishonestly masquerading as “charity,” that’s been going on in the UK for some years now, that has recently made its way to the United States. I’m talking about Red Nose Day. It’s coming up on May 26. The gimmick is: you buy a red clown nose for a dollar, and your dollar (or at least a small fraction of it, after multiple layers of administrative costs) gets used to “fight” something called “child poverty.”
I got a book through Amazon Prime called “The Good Neighbor,” by A. J. Banner. It was billed as a suspense novel from “a phenomenal new voice,” and it was praised to the heavens. It would, they promised, “forever change the way you look at the people closest to you.”
Big promises, right? And based on all this hype, the book quickly became a bestseller. But I’m not convinced that those things were written by conscious human beings—because this book is godawful bad. By the time I was only a couple chapters in, I was already angry at them (the publisher and promoters, not the poor inept author) for tricking me into choosing it. So I annotated my copy with all the things that made me roll my eyes, grumble frustratedly, or laugh out loud. Then, based on my notes, I went back to Amazon and wrote the following review (which leaves out a lot):
“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” It’s universally accepted—and exactly backwards. Consider this scenario that (I hope) remains far away.
Smith: Help! The president signed an executive order criminalizing my beliefs! They’re seizing my home and taking me away! Tell someone!
Jones: Sorry, neighbor, but I didn’t vote, so I can’t complain. You’re on your own. Good luck!
Brown: I voted for the current administration, so my complaint would be hypocritical. You’re on your own. Good luck!
If you see an injustice being done, do you really think it’s your duty to silently go along with it just because you didn’t vote? Should others, if they see it being done to you?
Today I did something that will make every writer want to be me.
As part of the job, I’m always submitting my beautiful words here and there, and the inevitable rejections have a way of toughening the skin. But last night I got whacked in the face by a whole new level of rejection. A place that had already rejected me apparently lost track of their place in the process, and sent me a second rejection notice, months after the first one. You know, just in case I had forgotten that I wasn’t good enough for them.
I could have been dejected, but I realized they had handed me a stunning opportunity. I wrote back, and I rejected their rejection. Here’s what I sent:
Yesterday, I could have gone to the mob and told them that Nero burned Rome. I could have offered them a new emperor in General Galba, and so set my seal upon the times. But I did not … because out of force of long habit, I’ve become content only to be an amused cynic … leaving others to shape the world.
—Petronius, Quo Vadis (1951)
Here’s an article that resonated with me, at Cracked, titled “I Can’t Tell if the World Is Being Serious Anymore,” by Daniel O’Brien. O’Brien is a very talented humorist and a sharp observer, the kind of guy I’d love to have a beer with.
He observes that there are more and more cases where you can’t tell satirical stupidity from actual stupidity. More and more, the world is forcing us to choose between cynical, self-conscious irony, and incompetence. But like me, O’Brien is starving for things he can take seriously.
The article is from 2011, but it’s current for me because I’ve been painting similar themes in florid color here. We live in a cultural so barren that a lot of us don’t even know what originality and depth look like. Many would run from it if they ever had to face it.
O’Brien wants to face it: