Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Best (Unfairly?) Maligned Piece of Pop Culture. (The Best Of... Things That Don't Fit Elsewhere.)

When did Americans lose their hating skills?

I'm not talking about bad hate -- the kind of hate that spurs violence and Racist Tea Party organizations. Americans are still really good at that, as evidenced by every single piece of news you read.

No, I'm talking about how US citizens have lost their ability to engage in good hate: the kind of hate that helps us discern what's good and bad in our lives, the kind of thing where we say "I hate Tina Fey!" but we don't mean that we, personally, wish ill on Tina Fey, not in a particular way: we just mean we hate everything she stands for and wish she hadn't entered our lives.

Which is, I assume, true, for everyone in the world, vis a vis Tina Fey.

While we're increasingly good at bad hate, we are increasingly bad at good hate. And that's very problematic, for reasons I'll explain (as you probably guessed.)

We, as a people, are going to hate. We just need to face that. Human beings, it turns out, aren't so good at seeing shades of gray, at making fine distinctions. So we just divide the world into two parts: This part, and that part. Up, and down. Black and white. Good and evil. Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch, and everything else.

We have two lobes of our brain, and, it seems, we have two lobes of existence: You're here or there but not in between.*
*Take that, Schrodinger!
Which poses a problem, since it means that we either like things or hate things; we can't be indifferent to things. We can't say "Meh. I have no emotions about that thing one way or another." Nope. We have to look at something and pronounce it good or bad.

Think of the things in your life. Take people. How many people are you indifferent to? Get on the bus, or the subway, or drive to work, and look around. I bet you form an instant reaction to every single person you see. And that reaction is good or bad.

At least, I do, and if you're being honest, you do, too: you look at that guy crossing the street and either think "My god, who wears a hat like that? What a tool! I should throw the rest of my latte at him!" or you think "Holy cow, is that really January Jones in her underwear, just walking through Madison, Wisconsin, on an ordinary Friday morning?"

Yes, it is.

Well, that's what I think on my way to work, and I assure you: my commute is AWESOME.*

*(Full disclosure: I don't ever drink lattes and I'm not sure what one is. I just wanted to spice up this otherwise entirely nonfictional post a little. I apologize and hope that a federal investigation is not needed.)
Since we are predisposed to line everyone up into two camps, that causes our emotions, too, to line up: We produce yin and yangs of emotions: We make some happy (January Jones in her underwear!)

Pictured: Happy.

And some angry:

Where'd I put that latte?**

**see previous footnote. Sorry.

, by the way, is not the opposite of happy. Angry is. I can prove that scientifically, via this formula:

velociraptors x 2

Put more simply, when you're happy, you like the world and the people in it: you want to buy everyone a double cheeseburger, or hug them (Especially if they're January Jones.) When you're angry, you want to throw lattes at the world or become a Republican. Those things are quintessential opposites.

But when you're sad, you don't want to do anything -- you don't want to hug, and you don't want to cut taxes on the rich. You just want to sit around and listen to old Billy Joel songs and think "I know what you're going through, Brenda and Eddie! I've been there!" Sad as an emotion is the opposite not of happy, but of a little known emotion that Emotionologists refer to as "Getting on with your life.")

We produce a lot of hate -- an abundance of it -- because we have so many good things in our life:

Our society, in America, just keeps on throwing the good at us, a cornucopia of so much awesomeness that we can't keep up with it. We're constantly getting new phones with better games to play while we drive our quieter cars to jobs that are easier than we can imagine, and to cap it all off, they keep on coming up with newer, better, more ranch-ier sandwiches.

And do I even have to mention the 100,000 different varieties of candy bar we have?

With all that good, our bodies begin to generate a lot of bad, in the form of hate, and we need to get rid of that hate, vent it out. Which is where the good hate/bad hate dichotomy comes up.

Good Hate is useful by getting society united over something that's not all that important, letting us vent some negative emotions and blow off steam without, say, banding together into Racist Groups that will then insist that we cut all social spending in order to let a few rich people not pay 3% more in income taxes. Good Hate helps prevent the buildup of hate that then turns into Bad Hate.

(And if you're thinking "Hey, Hate sounds a little like cholesterol," well, shut up. We're all sick of hearing about cholesterol, which I'm starting to doubt exists at all. I think cholesterol is like Ring Around The Collar: a problem created to sell a product, instead of the other way around.)

Hate is not cholesterol.

Examples of good hate in recent years are harder and harder to come by, and that's why I'm writing this post -- to warn America that we're losing our capacity for Good Hate because we are misdirecting our Good Hate at things that are not worth hating. We say we hate these things but we don't really, or we shouldn't, really, which means that we're not getting rid of our hate; it's building up in our bodies, until we're bursting with hate and we end up doing something we regret, like electing Michele Bachmann to a position of power.

It's like steam -- to steal a metaphor from Tom Wolfe. The steam has to be let off, in a productive, or at least nonharmful way. And it used to be that Americans could do that. Back in the olden days, we used to vent our hate in relatively easygoing, relatively okay ways.

True, it was easier, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, to get rid of the hate, because there wasn't as much good stuff back then, so we weren't producing as much hate to get rid of. When the only good things in life are Three's Company, the introduction of Chicken McNuggets as a food, and a then-young Samantha Fox:

Take that, Schrodinger!

... well, as good as those things are, they just don't produce an overabundance of hate to cope with, so back in the 1980s, especially, we could release the hate productively, by, say, ridiculing keytars:

And everything was all right.

But with the explosion of good things in our life at the turn of the century, we also had to deal with the overabundance of equally-produced hate. Now, right at the turn of the century, that was okay, because right at the turn of the century we had a lot of sitting-duck targets to hate on, those being "People who insisted on talking about when, exactly it was the new century began," and "People who ever used the phrase Y2K"

I was going to put a picture of a Y2K consultant, but isn't this better? Also, doesn't she look a little like Samantha Fox?

Okay, maybe not.
But it was still worth checking out.

As those two hateful things passed into nonexistence, though, we were left with all these good things that kept happening and nothing really bad, even pop-culture-wise, to hate on. Pop culture, too, got better than it had been, and that's an empirical fact. Here are the top 10 TV shows of the 1979-1980 TV season, according to some site I found on Google:

60 Minutes
Three's Company
The Jeffersons
The Dukes of Hazzard
That's Incredible
One Day At A Time

I think we can agree that's a pretty pathetic bunch of television shows; the only two worth mentioning at all are Three's Company and That's Incredible, and the latter show is only worth mentioning because once they had that swami who could fold himself into a tiny box and have it put underwater:

Rencontre avec Le Yogi Coudoux | Record du Monde by liloumace

That's the same guy, if my completely not researching it at all is any proof.

Now, true, the top 10 TV shows in the 2000s were nothing to write home about -- most of them were reality TV shows, but by the time we hit the point where TV was dominated by weird looking women who looked like they were featured on When Plastic Surgeons Attack, we'd expanded our ability to watch things far beyond simply TV -- we had the Internet, and Netflix, and on-demand movies, and Hulu, and phones that we could carry around and watch things on, and iPods, and other things that should go on this list but you get the point, so while TV itself continued a steady progression into awfulness, including the still-baffling refusal of network TV to reboot Three's Company for a new era --

-- how has that not happened yet? We have rebooted everything, including The Hulk twice in 10 years, and yet not a single person has proposed a reboot of Three's Company? Do I have to do everything?

-- the rest of pop culture got around to making up for it by giving us other things to watch, thereby increasing the general abundance of good while at the same time fracturing our attention so that we couldn't direct our hate -- our good hate -- at anything in particular. There were (are) too many targets, and we weren't paying attention to many of them, and sometimes they'd fold up on us just about as we began hating them, or the target would shift, confusing US.

Take, for example, Kate Gosselin: a worthy subject of our good hate. Kate began her public career by demanding that the public take care of the babies she'd decided to have on her own, and despite the sheer gall of such a maneuver, the public decided to do that, by funding a television show that eventually would see Kate Gosselin paid to take her kids to Disney World, and America got good and ready to hate her... but then we got diverted from all that good hate by the fact that Jon Gosselin seemed determined to bring it on himself, and at the same time Octomom came around and seemed to be deserving of some hate, too, and then suddenly Kate was on Dancing With The Stars and the Emmy show with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Fallon, didn't we used to hate him, too?

And it all got fragmented and led to an era in which Glenn Beck could have, even for a brief time, two successful television shows, and the installation of body scanners at the airport. One thing leads to another, as we were once told by a band that desperately wanted to be The Clash but couldn't.

You can see, then, that we've gotten really really bad at hating, and we're now indiscriminately hating, but indiscriminate hate doesn't do any good. Indiscriminate hate just spreads hate around and doesn't diffuse it; it remains in us and gets more and more concentrated until someone taps into it and it either spills out all over something that doesn't really warrant that (which isn't that bad, as we'll see, but is kind of not so great) or it gets used by someone for really really bad purposes.

Leave aside the really really bad purposes for a moment -- I'm not going to spend (much) more time in this post pointing out that when people start to seriously hate, they do things like support politicians' efforts to cut teacher pay and give corporate tax breaks to millionaires, because they're confused and overwhelmed with hate and they need to let it out somewhere and evil men and women tap into that. That's a big problem, but one for another of my blogs.

Instead, focus on what happens when good hate gets misdirected at the wrong pop culture item: We end up killing off something that (while maybe not the greatest thing ever) doesn't deserve to be killed off, and letting other things live.

Let's look at some examples from recent history. Take Jar Jar Binks.

It's hard for me to think of more than one other thing that was more hated by people than Jar Jar Binks in recent memory. Jar Jar is almost the poster child for this entry -- a completely maligned character in a movie, a character so universally reviled and ridiculed that he was relegated to a secondary role and eventually credited with casting the vote that caused the Empire to exist.

Got that? Jar Jar = holocaust creator.


Ever stop to wonder why it was the fanboys got so upset over Jar Jar? Was it that he looked kind of silly? Talked sort of funny? Was a light-hearted element in what fans had assumed was going to be a serious movie?

What was it, exactly? And if it was any of those, or all of them, still, why was Jar Jar so hated on?

I mean, considering that all of those things had happened before in the so-called "good" Star Wars movies. Let's look at the one that fanboys elevate above the others -- The Empire Strikes Back, generally regarded (by everyone but me) as the best of the Star Wars movies because it was dark and serious and full of action and pretty much the opposite of what people say about Jar Jar and the newer movies.

Or was it? The Empire Strikes Back had funny-looking aliens-- the Ugnaughts - -playing catch with C3POs head:

And it had a puppet. Not just a puppet, either, but a puppet that talked funny and got into cute wrestling matches with R2D2:

Yep. All those fanboys who hated on Jar Jar forgot completely that Yoda once fought Artoo over a lantern and was originally introduced not as a revered Jedi Master, but as a comic foil. Did anyone ever look back at that and say "Wait a minute, why is a Jedi Master acting so foolish?"

Nope. Because back in the 1980s, people knew how to hate, and they knew that hating on Lucas for introducing a puppet into a movie wasn't worth their time, when they could instead be hating things that were more worthwhile, like breakdancing.

By the way, here's the only way that scene isn't Jar Jar 1980:

Back in the 1980s, George Lucas could put Grover in a swamp and people still went to the movie. In this century, Lucas puts some comic relief in a movie and the Star Wars community gets ready to pull a Heaven's Gate.

That's the way it is now -- people hate on things that don't matter and don't hate on things that do matter, and our perspective gets all warped up. Which brings me to the true subject of this post:

Rebecca Black's Friday.

I can't post the original video anymore because, honestly, you people are insane and it got pulled off of Youtube in part at least because it generated more dislikes and hatred than any other video on Youtube.


Think about that, and think about the things you've seen on Youtube, and just ponder for a moment: no video has ever been more disliked than that song?

I'll just say this: I don't mind the song, not all that much at all. I listen to it quite a bit, actually, and only part of that is because I'm very contrarian. The rest of the reason why I listen to it is because it's simply. not. the. worst. song. ever.

I'm sorry to have to have overpunctuated that sentence, but the point needed to be made via many periods.

It was with Friday that I first realized how overboard people had gone with the hate and how misdirected the world was in hating this more-or-less innocuous song. And not just in hating it, but in hating it so much that you practically drove that poor girl out of the public life, and for what?

Because it wasn't a great song?

Have you listened to the radio?

Because I haven't, and that's because I can't stand most of popular music nowadays.

I don't listen to the radio almost ever anymore, because almost every single thing I hear on the radio is either garbage, or worse. Music these days is terrible and almost unlistenable, which means not only that I don't listen to the radio much, but when I do listen to it, and hear a song that's not immediately awful, that song has done something that 99% of the music world could not -- it has attracted my attention, in a good way, and that's a tough thing to do for someone who has never liked pop, Top 40 music.

So by that measure, Friday, simply by virtue of being listenable, and not awful, has risen above most of the rest of the music -- and yet it was derided as being the worst song ever by all of you.

Well, excuse me, but here's a sample of songs that all of you idiots have made number 1 over the past decade or so.

Firework, by Katy Perry. Friday has dumb lyrics, you say? Here's your modern-day Wordsworth-with-boobs:

You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow
That is somehow deemed more significant than Friday? On what basis?

Ah, but Friday was simply an ode to the weekend, whereas Firework was an inspirational song aimed at, I don't know, encouraging young women to blow up and never achieve anything again, one brief flare of incandescence over a lasting glow? (Yeah, you didn't think that one through, did you, people?)

So let's look at another big hit.


song stands as an all-important societal commentary on being friends. Wow. Deep. And all the deeper by the repetition of umbrella-ella-ella.

But, hey, both Firework and Umbrella at least stand for something more than just "a catchy beat and partying," right? So they're worth more than Friday because we HATE songs that are just a catchy beat and about partying, right?

I'm not saying Friday is any better than any of those songs.

But is it really leagues below them? Is it really worth hating so much more than all those other songs?

I could go on, as usual, but I won't. The point is pop music -- pop culture-- has never been about being great. Great very rarely intersects with popular. Every now and then something -- The Dark Knight, the Harry Potter books, Rachael Ray -- will be both very good and very popular. But for the most part, appealing to as many people as possible means being more like a McDonald's Cheeseburger and less like a gourmet meal.

Which is fine, because I like McDonald's cheeseburgers, and so does pretty much everyone else in the world -- even people who claim they don't. They do. They're just being snobs.

And we used to be okay with McDonald's Cheeseburgers. We used to accept them for what they were -- a good, mass-produced cheesburger that while maybe not marking the pinnacle of culinary arts was okay if you accepted it for what it was.

But then we suddenly turned on them, and on everything, indiscriminately, and marked down a 13-year-old girl's song for no reason whatsoever. Just like hating Jar Jar when Jar Jar was simply a 21st century Yoda, we-- you -- hated Rebecca Black when she was just a 13-year-old Fergie.

For no reason.

And while you all did that -- while you all hated on Rebecca Black, and Netflix, other, far more worser things, were replicating out in pop culture. While all this disliking of Friday was going on, we were getting ever more Real Housewives -- do we really need more than 1 of those shows? -- and ever more Kardashians, to the point where we have Kardashian Impersonators-- and twenty billion superhero movies and we've now reached a point where I can't watch the original Friday video online but I will get to see Shannon Doherty get married in a reality show

All because people forgot how to hate properly.

There's lots of things to really hate out there. This post isn't about them. It's about the things to good hate on, and how to do that. We've got more pop culture than ever before, and it's becoming harder and harder to discern what's good pop culture, what's the McDonald's cheeseburger, and what's bad pop culture and therefore worth hating.

I know the world moves fast and is a dizzying complex place. But when you all waste your time disliking an innocuous pop song that's no worse than any other innocuous pop song, that affects me, because then not only do I not get to listen to the innocuous pop song I like, even though you get yours, but I get my airwaves flooded with bug-eyed rich ladies and forgotten D-list celebrities getting married and Nancy Grace and all the other things that could be hated into the ground but aren't because everyone in the world for some reason went completely nuts and spent their entire year getting Friday off of Youtube.

So get a sense of perspective, will you? Learn how to hate right again. I suggest beginning with Diablo Cody. I hear she's all set to wreck Evil Dead while inflicting herself on us again; can't you legions of lemmings do something about that?

1 comment:

Rogue Mutt said...

God, yes, please stop Diablo Cody before she makes "Evil Dead." I mean come on, "Jennifer's Body" was godawful (hate!) and proved that the bitch should stick to "Juno."

The difference between Yoda and Jar-Jar is that Yoda was just pretending to act like a dumbass so that he could test Luke's patience to see if he could be a Jedi, though then he realized there weren't any other candidates around so maybe he shouldn't be picky. Jar-Jar was just a moron.

And I think you have to remember a lot of fans were kids when they saw Empire and you have a higher tolerance for stupid shit when you're a kid because you don't know better. Then even when you watch it later and it seems goofy there's the nostalgia factor, which is why I can watch "Superfriends" even though it's godawful (hate!). You fast forward to 1999 though and those fans are older and more ma-toor and they just can't stand a character pandering to kids as Jar-Jar was with all his stupid antics. Then you combine Jar-Jar with whiny Jake Lloyd (deserving of hate!) and if you're a twentysomething, young thirtysomething you're thinking, WTF is this shit?