03 July 2013

On the elevation of self-serving heroes

There's an ever-present danger in comparing the present to the past, especially in the world of entertainment.  Even if we assume for the sake of argument that, as consumers of pop culture, we're all a bunch of louts, no two louts' experiences will be the same.  I, for one, don't expect any more than a tiny fraction of my peers to have come of age watching the works of Hayao Miyazaki, and it seems as if those who grew up to Beavis and Butthead did okay.  (For those of you who expect these names and works to come linkified, c'mon -- how hard is it to copypasta into a search engine or wiki these days?)
That said, I find myself a little fascinated and somewhat more troubled by the emergence of self-serving protagonists in today's popular works -- namely, big-budget cinema.  Going through the top-grossing movies of the past four years and throwing out movies I've watched but had a protagonist so drowned out by the plot that I could scarcely remember the protagonist as a character (I'm looking at you, Inception), here's a sample of what we're watching these days, in no particular order:

Iron Man
Star Trek (as envisioned by J.J.Abrams)
The Dark Knight trilogy (Christopher Nolan)
Skyfall
Twilight Saga

To make my uneasiness a bit more clear, let's take these one at a time.  Tony Stark of Ironman has some good and endearing qualities but, by his own admission, is a self-absorbed playboy billionaire.  Abrams' Captain Kirk is an arrogant firebrand who doesn't get an arc so much as vindication that his chimpanzee-style problem resolution (if angry doesn't fix a problem, get angrier) is the way to go.  Take it away, Abigail Nussbaum:
The way that Khan sees himself, as a superior being who by rights shouldn't be bound by conventions and the laws of other people, is exactly the way that Abrams's Star Trek films want us to see Kirk, so if Khan and Kirk have the same motivation, why is one of them the bad guy and the other the hero?
Nolan's Batman ended The Dark Knight as someone who sacrificed his legacy to protect the town (mind you it's not like the guy actually spent time in jail for a crime he didn't commit -- something real people do all the time), but again as Nussbaum observed, a lot of the final movie's underlying themes are about how wrong this sacrifice is; this billionaire who's lost a loved one needs the people to wuv him.  While Bruce mourns his lover, the loss the movie mourns is the character assassination of a creation that's more image than substance even within the movie itself.  Really, we're making this movie about how an image was destroyed for the sake of good.  Hell, if that turns a broken city into a safe one, that's really cheap!  I'd do it a dozen times; you can always give that battle armor a fresh coat of paint and a new name, like "Flash Man".
Hey, this guy made a career of it.

As for losing a loved one, that is tragic, but I know people who've suffered comparable losses and found the strength to move on without piles of money or the love of a city.  Instead, they had to keep paying bills in relative obscurity.  Come to think of it, it's remarkable how little the actual city dwellers are involved in a war for their approval.
Next up, Skyfall.  It's a James Bond movie.  Bond is Bond -- a slick, sociopathic, high-living lady's man.  Even as a kid, I couldn't take these movies seriously if I tried.  Next.
 Twilight.  One for the ladies, I guess, if the work wasn't so misogynistic.

These examples aren't disturbing by themselves, even the odious Twilight.  My concern, and it could be a bit unfounded here, is that we're looking at a trend.  These days I'm genuinely surprised if a movie protagonist has the empathy and compassion of a normal, well-adjusted person.  But wait, aren't they supposed to be heroes?  Holy hell, when did my standards fall this low?

It's not all bleak, of course.  Harry Potter is a shining being of light compared to the above collection of emo self-serving douchebags.  Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games shows a refreshing combination of sympathy and grit, at least when the plot calls for it.  But when push comes to shove, her reaction to the notion that she must manipulate the audience to survive isn't met with disgust for the farce so much as discomfort due to inexperience.  And speaking of Jennifer Lawrence in manipulative roles, Silver Linings Playbook was elevated as some sort of thinking person's rom-com for tackling the issue of mental illness.  Which is all fine and good, but I found myself downright horrified that while every other character is called upon to own their mistakes and tackle their issues, Tiffany does downright horrible things to Pat and in the end it's shrugged off as "romantic".

I know these are cursed words but back in my day, a hero was altruistic to the point of predictable, even unquestioned.  It was taken for granted, then eventually derided as a shallow trope.  I daresay this was not because an altruistic hero was an inherently bad or overused idea, but because writers stopped trying to find ways to make it interesting.  Luke Skywalker was never really confronted with any moral complexity in the Star Wars trilogy until it became personal; right from the start he's a Rebel sympathizer, no one questions it and I daresay the movie doesn't suffer for it.  Han Solo has much more of an arc but even his conversion is rather unforced -- a couple guilt trips and some camaraderie was all it took, and why not?  Heck, in any 1990s video game, as soon as you pick up the controller you assume you're the good guy and everything you kill deserves to die.  Granted this sort of moral simplicity is downright dangerous when discussing real-world policy, but as a form of escapism is it that bad?  When did the idea of a selfless hero become so hard to grasp?  Actually I'm even OK with the moral complexity as long as we stop portraying altruism as foolish and incompatible with pragmatism (not when this guy existed for realz).  You don't need to create a Mary Sue to protect an altruist from a tragic fate; a lot of compassionate people do just fine in the harsh world we live in.  The heroes I see on the screen have wealth and superpowers yet are more self-absorbed than most of my friends, for fuck's sake!  I guess Gen X grew up sick of the goodie-two-shoes trope, but did they take the time to ask themselves why?  That altruism has to be explained lest it be considered unrealistic (and is often considered unrealistic anyway) strikes me as baffling and creepy.

I'm not sure if this is indicative of Hollywood's nature or ours.  Did we raise, or are we raising, a generation of sociopaths?  Does this explain America's rush to dismantle any sort of program that requires the electorate to have compassion for others?  Maybe not.  When I think hard about it, I remember laughing to Beavis and Butthead and decide I'm overreacting.  The Millenials are growing up to a dearth of altruistic heroes, but it doesn't seem to be doing any permanent damage if they're celebrating the death of DOMA in defiance of their elders.
No, not this one, the "Defense of Marriage Act", a.k.a. "We Hate Gays Act".
So much for socipathy.  That said, I can't help but wonder what it's like to grow up in an age when "heroes" are whiny, rich, self-absorbed, anti-intellectual douchebags.  If it means less bigotry I'm all for it, but I doubt there's any meaningful correlation.  And as long as there isn't, is there a reason why we can't have both?

06 January 2012

Gender Roles are Real. . . Unimportant

Okay, so this is the article that set this off.  It says men and women are different.  I mean, personality-wise.  Whee.

As Fark.com's WinoRhino aptly noted, it doesn't spark any outrage by itself because it doesn't say anything controversial. Everyone agrees with the fact that men and women are different. Okay (and for the record, here's where my opinion takes over), there are people who disagree, but they're increasingly marginalized these days. I personally don't have a dog in that particular fight because the debate's usually pointless; the people who care most only want evidence to prove which gender is superior (either humorously or seriously) and I don't give a damn.  And, neither does the article.  It just says we're different, in ways we knew all along.  The usual exceptions apply.

And there's the rub, and where I'm really getting at with this post.  I know how men are and how women are, and they suck.  I don't mean men and women per se, I mean men who carry dick-waving "man cards" and women who think the sole reason for their existence is to have babbies.  They make me sick, disgusted, bored, angry. . . depending on whatever frivolous, ignorant or obnoxious behavior they exhibit, they can bring about just about any negative emotion out of me, to raging extremes.  And it's not just me being a tight ass.  They piss off everyone, even each other and themselves.  You know it; odds are you know one.

I mentioned there were exceptions. I LIKE the exceptions. I prefer them. I've always gravitated toward sensitive guys and laid-back sexual outcasts* and geeky girls because they're less "gender". Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily want everyone to be asexual -- I mean, to each one's own, but I'd personally find life boring without libido -- but I've found that the more gender shapes one's personality, the stupider that person is. No exception to this rule comes to mind, at all. If you think gender roles exist, fine -- you're sane.  If you happen to conform to them, by chance or by choice, whatever. If you think they're important though (manly men and womanly women, but this goes for the people try to deny there's a difference as well); there's almost a 100% certainty you're an idiot.

"MAN" is the idiot who commutes through the suburbs in a monster pickup with truck nuts and American flags despite not being able to afford the gas, raging at everyone around him. "WOMAN" is the biatchy drama queen who thinks a boyfriend who didn't get up at 3 AM after working a 20-hour shift to get her ice cream is the worst thing to ever happen to her life. "MAN" is the tragically retarded derphead who counts how many (womanly) women he's slept with like it's a score in the game of life, treats everything like a competition and votes for "tough on crime"/"bomb brown people"/"guns & God" because it's MANLY to do so**, even if it's clear the candidate is out to fuck everything else up -- and fucks us all over in the process -- and doesn't care. "WOMAN" is the backstabbing whore who puts the guy who genuinely cares about her on the "friends" list -- or, worse yet, marries him for the money & security -- while fucking unemployed band members (manly men), then has the gall to weep about how it's all her husband's fault for not giving her enough attention.  "MAN" and "WOMAN" are the embarrassingly stupid idiots screeching at each other on daytime TV, on Facebook and everywhere else, all yelling and no communicating, all blame and no understanding, determined to win the who-can-exploit-the-other-more contest.  You've seen it, right?  Doesn't it make you embarrassed for humanity?  I'm not saying this to anyone in particular, but I can't say this loud enough:  MAN, WOMAN, you are basically just hairless apes.  Animals.  Animals masquerading as humans, holding humanity back with your thought-free derp, mindless humping, and inexcuseable ignorance of just how pointless and miserable your existence is.  Having emotions is fine -- it's part of being human.  Embracing your gender is fine; there's nothing inherently bad about what you are. But people were not meant to be this mindless!  I don't want to believe it, especially because people are blessed with the ability to cast off the shackles of pointless, predictable apeishness and be civilized.  It's just a matter of whether you do it or not.

People can be smart, but only if they're people, not glorified animals.  Individuals who think with their brains make the most interesting, empathic and stable people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.  They often don't agree, but they all have thoughts and imaginations and interests and dreams and all the other things that make life interesting.  They also act like men and women, but they're not defined by it.  "MAN" and "WOMAN" suck; they're emotional, irrational, superficial and destructive retards competing for smelliest turd in the septic tank.

*Not the creepy illegal kind, I mean LGBT.  If they don't make a big issue about who they are, and to be fair that can depend on to what extent they can escape torment by derpy social pressures, they are some of the most awesome people I know.  I don't like the term "sexual outcast" but in this crazy world they often are, and I specifically wanted to avoid using "LGBT" right there because the social irrelevance of gender roles is precisely the point.  I mean, I'm hoping we can one day eliminate that damn acronym because we accept people for what they are.
**Let me be clear here.  I know and respect people who take crime seriously, like guns, love God, etc. etc. -- note I make no exception for the bigotry, but I digress.  My point is that "manly" men vote a certain way because they think their gender makes it an obligation, and when they do they overwhelmingly vote this way.  And it's stupid.  And it plays right into corrupt politicians' hands.

08 November 2011

Comment on the Penn State child rape scandal

Being a football fan, and knowing a few PSU alumni. . . and having had some people confide in me some similarly sad stories, it's hard for me to stay silent about these sorts of things.  I just suck at denial; I have to confront.  I'm actually rather surprised at how few forums are discussing this; maybe it's because it's just too depressing to think about?  Well, suck it up.  Even if you read the grand jury report, all you're getting is the nauseating details.  That's nothing compared to having your dignity shredded into a pile of ground meat by a rapist.
Anyway, while people's thoughts should really focus on the victims and the attacker, this is really turning into a story about Joe Paterno*.  That's unfortunate but unavoidable, as he is the face of the football program.  The rest is kind of cut-and-dry, anyway, even if it's far more important.  There just isn't much to discuss.  The accused has a right to due process; the victims have a right to justice.  Justice won't heal the wounds, but it needs to be done.  The political fallout is trivial in comparison, but tricker and much wider in scope.  It's also relevant, because the depth of the scandal is probably why it was buried in the first place.
So I guess the story goes that a visibly distressed assistant told "JoePa" he witnessed one of his coaches with a young boy in the shower room. . . but left out most of the details.  This was after a prior, similar incident was reported some years ago.  And JoePa reported it to his superiors, and considered that due diligence.  After that. . . nothing happened.  Well, nothing to anyone important.  The coach just continued to rape young boys for years while JoePa focused on football.  So some are defending him, asking what else he could do.  Others are calling him a monster, saying he should be fired for enabling the abuse.  The real out-there ones are close to saying he's just as bad.
OK, for perspective, he didn't enable anything.  He did report it.  He didn't hurt anyone directly, and there's no evidence whatsoever that he was apathetic about it -- although he did seem to have stuck his head in the sand and wished it went away.  He didn't report the police.  Some asked what the police would do; after all, from JoePa it'd be heresay.  He didn't even have any details on the matter.  They couldn't start an investigation, could they?

BULL.  FUCKING.  SHIT.

First, this is Joe Paterno for crying out loud.  He could call the fucking Governer of Pennsylvania at 3AM if he was serious enough, and he's smart enough to know it.  Second, he had direct access to an eyewitness.  Even if he didn't know the details, hear the words "coach" and "young boy" and "shower room" from a visibly shaken assistant and what other fucking details would you need to hear??  He could have easily arranged a meeting between the assistant and the police.  And who the hell reports a crime to their boss?  "Uh, hi Mr. Lumbergh, um, one of the guys in my department just witnessed a possible sexual assault of a minor.  I was just wondering, would HR be cool with that?"  What the hell!  This is what 911 was invented for, and he treats it like an administrative problem.  There was PLENTY JoePa could've done. I'm also not thrilled that he released a politically mealy-mouthed statement that sounds more defensive than anything and basically lets the university dictate his approach to the press, but whatever.  We'll get to my verdict on that.
So to review, on one hand he's saying he didn't do anything wrong (basically, not literally), and I agree.  On the other hand, I'm not accepting excuses about his inaction.  On one hand he's crafted a legacy of generosity and integrity; he's donated millions and hundreds of young men are better off for having met him.  On the other hand, he was right in front of a witness to sexual assault and didn't even call the cops.  Now that he can't hide it anymore, he's getting all political in front of the media.  So what do we make of JoePa?  Is he good or bad?

Good.  I would still say he is a good man.  Good, but a coward.  Pathetic.  Useless.  Just one among millions of Americans who confront adversity with the shamefully irresponsible initiative of "not my job".  Yet another disappointing loser who, when faced with the tough choice between blowing up the prestige he built up from decades of work to do the right thing or go all Genovese syndrome and abandon a young boy to his tragic fate, he chose to bury his head in his desk and hope the problem went away.  That doesn't make him bad, and I know plenty of people who aren't in any position to criticize his cowardice.  It doesn't take away from the good things he did either, but if you look at it, none of the good things he did are particularly brave.  Funding a library puts him on moral ground well above the vast majority of millionaires in this country, but it's not like throwing around donations put his career at risk.  He's generous, but he's no Chiune Sugihara.  For those that wish he could be remembered for decades of success and generosity and think of this as "tarnishing" his legacy. . . THIS IS his legacy.  It isn't tarnished; we just now know it for what it is.  This had been going on for years.  Don't you dare bury the victims again just because your precious little bubble burst.  It will define him, and it damn well should.  When I think about how he was able to concentrate on 4-3 schemes while a young boy might've been screaming in a shower room, I tremble with rage.  If he's the decent man I think he is, he won't be able to look in the mirror again without shame sucker-punching him in the gut.

*To those not familiar with Joe Paterno, he's one of the most venerable and well-respected coaches in college football history.  Even those who think of football as a corrupt fraternity of corporate greed and enabled thugs would concede that he was one of the "good guys".  So this is really about whether or not the college football is ready to have their last stronghold of integrity shattered like a hand grenade in a house of mirrors, all over a handful of boys.  My answer?  YES.  When children are truly victimized I really don't give a rat's ass about how anyone professes to be shocked or horrified.  You're not the effin' victim here.

21 September 2011

So let's agree that "government is the problem". . .

Look, I don't think there's a person in the country who thinks government is entirely free of corruption.  I was raised in a government town, I live in a government town, many of my friends work in the government.  And -- surprise, surprise -- they'll be the first to tell you how wasteful, inept and corrupt government can be.  The funny thing is, their stories sound a lot like the ones I hear in the private sector, but never you mind.  Let's assume that government is hopelessly broken.  Actually, I take that back.  It IS broken.  Having watched the debt ceiling debate debacle play out, pretty much EVERYONE -- including me -- hates government now.  I don't know anyone who even really liked government before, but now I don't know a single person who'd call the federal government anything better than dysfunctional.  Regardless of what may have been in the past, the Republicans are 100% correct now.  Government is the problem.  It's broken.  It's hopeless.  So. . . what?

YAY??  CONGRATULATIONS??

I mean, isn't this what the Republicans have been wanting and trying for years?  They not only tried to tell everyone who'd listen (and scream at those who wouldn't) that government is the problem, they finally succeeded.  So. . . when's the party?  What the fuck is the endgame?  The right-wing trolls have been mocking Obama's "hope & change" message (and, look, most of those who voted for him never bought that bullshiat; the GOP counteroffer was Sarah fucking Palin) by calling it "rainbows and unicorn farts", but what does "government is the problem" offer?  What the hell were we supposed to expect?  I mean, as a result of total collapse of Americans' faith in government I see a lot of paralysis and despair.  You know, like living in a truly broken country.  Wait, is that the endgame?  Why are we supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy about that?

For whatever the hell it's worth, I'm not gonna defend Obama.  He IS part of the problem.  Merely pointing out an irrational level of extremism as irrational does not make me a spokesperson for some hypothetical idealistic left that wants to dry-hump Capitol Hill.  I did just say I hate the federal government.  It's just that now that everyone in the country agrees on this. . . well, I can see how it's good for the GOP, but I don't see how it's good for anyone else.  If anything, we're all now seriously bummed.  Again. . . yay??  See, the main difference between me and the teabaggers is that I think you can't solve a problem until you adopt a problem-solving mindset.  I'm not an idealist; I don't expect the government to ever be corruption-free or even efficient, but there is something to be said for productive approaches to bad situations.  The offered proposal is to "shrink" government until it can be "drowned in a bathtub".  Logic being, if it's useless yet inevitable, then at least being smaller means it will do less damage.  Um, look, as an engineer let's just say I've been asked to solve a variety of problems in my time, and fixed quite a few bad ones, but never by using that idea.  It's a preposterously single-minded approach; it never knows when to stop, so the really the goal here is total destruction.  Just apply this logic to anything else and try to get somewhere.  Even the right-wingers who preach scorched-earth politics really don't apply this sort of mindset to anything else, for very obvious reasons.  Just for kicks, let's equate politicians with termites as an example.  Both are no good, right?  They only destroy all that you hold dear; everything they touch turns to garbage, right?  Well, what do these political nihilists try to do with a termite infestation?  Do they declare defeat and torch their homes?  Of course not.  They try to exterminate the termites with as little damage as possible.  So even when they're literally dealing with destructive parasites that can never be reformed, reasoned with or completely eliminated, they're willing to consider a constructive, problem-solving approach because if at all possible, they'd rather not lose their homes.  Well, guess what:  When it comes to politics, America is our fucking home.

Stop trying to burn the whole country just to get rid of some parasites.

Regulation: More or Less? Wrong Question!

The problem with the whole regulation argument is that there is zero context about regulation in the public discourse (media, blogosphere, etc.). It's always the amount, like we're measuring an ingredient in a baking recipe. No context. As in, none. Zero. I just haven't seen it. And it confounds me. Why the hell not??

Let me explain the very serious problem with this using an example. Let's say in some theoretical world that I have become the undisputed despotic master of I-90, superceding the authority of even the federal government. You drive on I-90, you drive by my rules. So I promptly require all vehicles to be purple-colored four-door sedans weighing exactly 2723 pounds with Nepal's flag (exact dimensions, mind you) painted on the trunk lid. If you don't comply, I throw you in jail, and I use tolls to fund an army to enforce my arbitrary rules. Which also change next week. Maybe. But if you work in Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland or Boston, what else are you going to use? You Seattlites gonna jam 520 even more, or brave the infamous I-405??

Oh, but no speed limits. Or seat belt law. You can also drink, text, do drugs, whatever -- while you drive. So of course, my fantasy I-90 suffers from a downright grisly rate of fatalities.

Now, does my theoretical I-90 have too much or too little regulation??

You can bet ideologues will debate to end times whether it's too much or too little, when the problem is so painfully clear that it's too much of the wrong regulations and too little of the necessary ones. But you never, EVER hear that from a pundit, politician or even a blogger, do you??

09 August 2011

The Mismatch

Among the political punditry tactics I find most infuriating, the one I'll focus on today is what I call "the mismatch".

A mismatch is a valid tactic in many cases.  In war, skilled commanders will always try to defeat their enemies through favorable mismatches (and avoiding unfavorable ones) when possible.  The phalanx was vulnerable to cavalry, which could flank it.  Insurgents lure tanks into cities, where they are most vulnerable.  In basketball, there's the pick-and-roll.  Football, soccer and any other formation sport utilizes mismatches, although they vary in complexity.  The point is, it's easy to succeed when you successfully pick your opponent based on known weaknesses.

I've seen this in political discourse; in one particular odious example, the media set up an argument between an pro-abortion activist and a corporatist economist about economic policy.  What the hell was the activist doing up there??  Yes, the left certainly has its loony fringe -- the science-fearing, alternative medicine, save-the-whales idiots who basically oppose any economic activity they don't understand (which is just about everything).  The right also certainly has its fringe, the science-fearing, bedroom-legislating corporatists who believe business can do no wrong and government can do no right (never mind they're both run by humans).  Both sides also have their legit arguments and smart people, so it's easy for the media to rig any left-vs.-right argument with a pre-determined outcome.  If one side steamrolls the other in debate, it's usually by design.  I've noticed a recent change, though. . . lately both sides have been represented by stupid.  I don't really know if they have a bias so much as a despicable desire to turn politics into spectator sport.

The difference, though, is that the loony left didn't just hold the entire U.S. economy hostage for six weeks.  I'm hearing my right-leaning friends whining about how the Tea Party is always represented on TV by idiots, but that's precisely the problem, fellas -- all the leaders of the Tea Party are idiots!  The media can make the left look stupid any time and it does when it wants to, but in the case of the Tea Party they really don't have a choice.

P.S. If you want to know how unbelievably stupid the Congressional debate on the debt ceiling was, read up on Modern Monetary Theory.  We basically almost ran our economy into the ground over nothing.

02 July 2011

Why the Arts Matter

When it comes to government funding for the arts, self-proclaimed "fiscal conservatives" angrily regard it as a completely unnecessary use of money.  Well, guess what:  They're 100% correct.  Sure, it's unnecessary.  But in every case where someone crunches the numbers, the amount spent on the arts isn't even a rounding error; it's the government equivalent of change between the couch cushions.  Guys, if you're complaining about high taxes, gutting funding for the arts might get you a dollar back.  But that's not a convincing case, is it?  One could say the same thing about the proverbial mayor's nephew's crony desk job.  So, I guess someone needs to explain why the arts matter.

I just moved from Ohio*. You know what Ohio is like? Endless cornfields, endless strip malls, franchise restaurants. The biggest year-round attraction where I lived is a soulless, plastic mall. The downtown is in shambles and the biggest club in town is a redneck bar.  There's an orchestra in the town, I guess, but the only way anyone would mention it would be. . . well, in a response to this post.  If you want a taste of diversity, you have maybe one option and a dozen places that serve steak & potatoes.  It's like living in Brave New World without the sex. This is what happens when culture is purely dictated by the market -- the market has no culture.

Aside from running organizations that are inherently incompatible with profit motive (like a regulatory agency), government is one of the more convenient ways to subsidize unprofitable sectors of society. Just don't confuse "unprofitable" with worthless. Life's more interesting with art in it, and America's hardly starving.** Without the funds to let artists, dancers, musicians, etc. keep doing what they do, you've just got more bored slobs to deflate labor pool wages.  At our current unemployment rate, do we really need more of those? If an artist is willing to do something s/he likes for a pathetic wage. . . hey, I get that it's technically a drag on society, but yeesh, catching the austerity bug over this is like whining that a book in your trunk is slowing your car down. At least they're doing something besides just collecting welfare payments. Yes there are private sources of funding, but be honest here: They're already tapped out, and especially unreliable during times of economic hardship.

On the other hand, if something can make enough money to profit, it'll be done by the private sector without any help because someone will eventually get the brilliant idea to, well, profit off it.  The pop culture side of the "arts" sure doesn't need any help, but that's not what's art funding is for (if government money's going to, say, James Cameron, sure, I'll say we have a problem).  And while the buggy whip industry should expect to collapse without any government intervention, it's in society's best interest to at least preserve something with historical or cultural significance, such as the first buggy whip factory. Turn it into a museum or something so it has a revenue stream so it's not completely funded with taxes, but I personally wouldn't mind if it was subsidized to an extent. I'm certainly not suggesting a significant percentage of funds go to the arts. But that's the thing; the arts don't get a significant percentage of our tax dollars!

I can accept the case that it's a more efficient use of funds if the government gets out of funding the arts. I'd certainly axe all spending for arts if America literally had people starving in the streets. But now? This level of austerity is ludicrous. Be very, very careful what you wish for here.

Long story short:  Government spending on the arts is insurance against your neighborhood turning into fucking Ohio.

*For those of you who are from Ohio and resent this. . . suck it up.  I admit I exaggerated a bit, but if you're going to make the case that Ohio does have culture, then this post was written in the name of supporting the very examples you're inclined to bring up.  If there's an occasion to take an ego hit in the name of progress, Ohioans, this is the moment.


**I'm not saying this to downplay the misery of long-term unemployed individuals, but in terms of economic activity, America is well away from any crisis. Frankly, the suffering here is inexcuseable for precisely that reason; our hardships are entirely due to mis-allocated resources and disregard for the social contract.  Our leaders insist people work for a living, but don't do anything to put people to work. We don't have a food shortage, so we might as well pay our artists to do what they do.  That puts them to work in their own way, and as the unemployment rate indicates, we don't need more cogs!

06 June 2011

Responsibility

Let's break down the various ways high-profile Americans tackle responsibility, eh?  In particular, responsibility for error or sin:


Take responsibility (actually do something about it) -- what's that?
Accept responsibility (but don't do shit about it) -- the best we can hope for, in all its meaningless glory
Admit to fault -- very rare
Admit to error -- rare
Non-apology apology ("Mistakes were made") -- par for the course
Steadfast denial -- about 20% of the fucking country, probably as high as 40%
Delusional self-righteousness -- honestly, this happens?? if you don't get outraged by this, you're crazy

If you're still reading and haven't slit your wrists yet, let me point out that ONLY the first option is meaningful in ANY way*, yet it's the one thing you can't expect from anyone.  It gets preached about enough, and while politicians are big on talking about it, very few instances in my mind stick out where a politician actually takes responsibility for anything.  Again, that's take responsibility for something (see above).  Not merely saying they do.

The difference is one that I have only seen, at least in my personal experience, articulated in [East] Asian culture.  Not that Asian politicians are any better at it, but at least they know what it is, so they often resign before it gets to that.  In contrast, Americans are so numb to lack of responsibility that they only react to it as a talking point.  Hey, it's easy to get riled up, but do we really remember what responsibility is in any given case?  When someone talks about taking responsibility, does anyone ask, "What would be taking responsibility for this?  What should be done?"  I never see discussion on this level; it's all outrage, no context.  In reaction to some random news scandal where a politician said "I take responsibility" before reporters, which got modest praise from Americans, one Japanese person I know remarked with indignance, "How?"  And that person is right.  The politician couldn't undo the damage.  He didn't resign.  He didn't pass legislation making it harder.  He didn't impose any punishment or countermeasure whatsoever.  Not only was there no practical way he could've taken responsibility, he didn't even try.  He just said something on the news.  Honestly, I don't know if this was always the case, but if there's any way our society can move forward, it's here.

I'm gonna pound this point home.  As difficult as it is to get an American politician to "accept responsibility", all "responsibility" means in this country is admit they should have been responsible.  That's it.  That's the extent to the moral courage we actually hope for in this country -- not just from politicians, but our leaders in general.  Hell, Goldman Sachs bet against their own securities in their process of profiting off the very economic destruction they worked to set up, and to hell with admitting fault -- they were morally delusional, going as far as to say they're doing God's work.  Is this what we've become?  A nation that doesn't pursue morality, but merely declares it?  These assholes may not speak for all of us, but. . . oh, wait, they do.  They're our fucking leaders.  They run the country.  They represent it.  They speak for us, whether we like it or not.  As for why this won't change, though, see my post, "Politics and Negotiation".

People make mistakes, but generally when decent people they make mistakes, they apologize, work to limit the damage and take measures to ensure it won't happen again.  Got it?  That's three things to expect from anyone decent.  We can barely even yawn anymore when our business, spiritual and political leaders bat a fucking 0 for 3.**  Hell, we're impressed when they don't demand our gratitude!

*Come to think of it, most of them are meaningful in very many bad ways.  Ugh.
**They run the country so I'm picking on them, but to be fair, I see plenty of irresponsibility among unwashed peons.  Like it or not, we really are represented well.   We deserve these bastards, because they are who we are.