I really have nothing much to say about Halloween. So I’m going to talk about something completely different.
A few months back I saw the first season of Walking Dead and a bit of a ways into season two. I was intrigued by it at first and liked the first few episodes but was starting to get pretty bored after a while. I then checked out the first two volumes of the comic book from the library and read those to see if I might enjoy that better.
I didn’t think the writing was all that great or the story was all that great or the characters were all that great. But it was zombies so it could have been a lot worse I guess. It could have been the exact same story without even the pretense of barely ever present zombies. That would be truly horrible. I was mostly in it for the mystery. I wanted to know the deal behind the zombies. I always want to know even though these zombie apocalypse stories never have very satisfying explanations.
But anyway volume 2 ended with Rick, the main character, who is a self righteous arrogant prick that I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with IRL, with a crazed look in his eyes ranting like a mad man and totally convinced that everyone was hanging on his every oh so self-important word. “WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD!!” End volume.
Then a month or two later we were in a book store and happened to pick up one of the later volumes and just started flipping through it to see if the series had gotten any better. And lo and behold we turned to the back and saw Rick giving yet ANOTHER insane crazed one armed self-certain speech to end the volume. Does EVERY volume end like this?
So that told me everything I need to know about the Walking Dead. Discovering that the story hadn’t changed or improved at all in that many volumes was a truly terrifying experience. And it STILL sells.
I truly hope the TV series is a lot better.
One thing that struck me back during the times when the first major Snowden revelations were being leaked was how nonchalant the majority of people were about it. Indeed the overwhelming concensus seemed to me to be that the burden of proof was on Snowden to PROVE that his leaks were not harmful to anyone.
The premise is this. Spying is basically OK unless it’s done in a way that might possibly be harmful to people or that people don’t want.
That’s a strange twist in morals. To me, the world desperately needs to flip that equation around. Spying, all kinds of spying, needs to be seen as deeply WRONG unless it can be shown that it saves lives or helps people in some kind of substantive way. Until we start to see it that way there’s no real protection you can have against external spying that can’t be thwarted by the masses of intelligent people working 24/7 to spy on everyone because they think it’s the right thing to do and it’s their job to do so. All we can do is make it more costly and difficult for them to spy on you and even those actions that make it such have the trade off of making you look more like a suspicious target that ought to be spied on hence inviting greater scrutiny. Only in a world where most people do the things that make it costly for spy organizations to spy on us would it start to become beneficial to do so. The more people do it the safer it is but there’s a chicken and egg problem. The people who do it first put themselves at greater risk.
In any case the big problem is that they don’t have to prove that they should, we have to prove that they shouldn’t. And that’s why nobody feels any guilt about it. And half the country thinks it’s fine and thinks Snowden and Manning were endangering soldiers lives regardless of the facts. It’s all become normalized. We are seeing a disturbing trend toward this reverse reasoning in numerous aspects of life from Torture, to Assassination, to Kidnapping. It all started to go in overdrive during the Bush administration, though it existed before. Something about 9/11 changed things though. Everything got flipped on its head and authority was given a sense of overriding benefit of the doubt in any and all circumstances and critics of authority were told to take a hike.
I’m ok with a Government that sometimes has to do bad things for the greater good and feels bad about it. I’m not ok with a Government that routinely does ALL the bad things and only stops when you show them they’ve gone a bit too far. That’s not the kind of country I want to live in and I’m surprised so many people seem completely ok with it.
The same goes for Corporations that have grown so powerful they are effectively mini-governments holding sway over large segments of our lives. In some ways they are even worse since they don’t even have to pretend to care what anyone thinks if their actions make them profits.
One thing that has bothered me of late is that I can’t stand being yet another anonymous cog working together with everyone else to crap out this morass of weird stuff that we call the internet. If I’m going to post weird stuff I damn well want someone to recognize that I posted the weird stuff. Not just letting it blend into the chaotic background.
Yet these days it seems almost everyone is exactly such a cog and they are all perfectly happy being such an anonymous cog. Worse… on some sites everyone seems fine with it even though they are denied the one and only beneficial part of such an arrangement… anonymity. So they get none of the benefits of recognition while taking on all of the risks of being seen.
That’s just not something I can’t ever accept. There’s got to be a better way to build communities online.
You see a show, a movie, or read a book, or a comic book and you think it’s helluva cool. Awesome even. You love it. Only there’s one little itty bitty problem.
You see it’s actually quite bad.
What I mean by that is that there’s some aspect of this art that to you seems obviously on the surface… wrong. Morally wrong. Maybe it has some kind of demeaning characterization of women or minorities, maybe it glorifies war or makes light of rape or bullying or crime. Maybe it’s supporting lots of economic policies you reject or presenting a world view you despise. Maybe it’s overly atheistic or overly religious. Maybe it’s mocking God or mocking America or insulting wealthy people or poor people or foreigners. There are countless ways a piece of art could be wrong to someone. So this kinda thing happens fairly frequently.
So what do you do? One option is you give up on experiencing that art. But let’s face it, you already know you won’t do that. I mean this thing’s AWESOME. And it’s not bad enough for that or you wouldn’t be having this moral dilemma. The other option is to ignore it and just feel guilty about it. That’s what most of us do. We accept that the art has problems and we enjoy it at the same time.
But for some of us this course of action is simply unacceptable. if you just enjoy it and say nothing they might to think they are deep down a bad person. Worse you might be COMPLICIT in spreading whatever phenomenon you are opposed to by tacitly offering your approval. And you can’t have that can you? So there’s only one choice. You have to take to the internet!!! You have to prove you are still an enlightened wise soul who knows the darkness of things.
So you start to write lengthy screeds about how you are so smart and wise and well rounded that you above all others recognize the inherent problems with the artwork. Often you argue with anyone who dares disagrees with your analysis, anyone who proclaims your critique to be shallow or incomplete, or even anyone who chooses to ignore your critique. You argue rather adamantly about it. They simply MUST see your point. It’s as if you need to make absolutely sure everyone understands that you definitely DEFINITELY see the problem. You see it at least as clearly if not more so than anyone else. You know it’s wrong. Really really wrong. And it’s ok to like and enjoy something bad only if you recognize the deep problems with it. It’s ok. It’s really… really ok. Isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t disagree with the idea that you can like something and recognize the problems with it at the same time. That much is obvious. People do it all the time. But sometimes the people saying this platitude are using it as a shield against criticism of their pointlessly shallow critiques. Because in reality they aren’t really critiquing in good faith. They are not offering unique or even interesting insights into the art nor are they even trying particularly hard to do so. Instead they are simply guilt moralizing
Make no mistake, this, like a lot of the rampant ideological moralizing throughout history and particularly rampant these days, is a lot more about ego than about understanding . It’s more about being rewarded by a community obsessed with presenting sufficient markers of your adherence to their various “causes” than about changing the world for the better. Those who succeed are lauded and know it. You get your page views and sometimes your interviews. So they pick the easy targets. They present the simplest understanding. The choose the least confrontational analysis among the community they are interested in and provide the least substantive dissection of the artwork. And whatever the truth of their statements it is rarely presented in a way that is even particularly constructive. It doesn’t result in greater art and it doesn’t result in better art viewers. It just makes the moralizer feel better about themselves and makes the community to which they belong clap their hands and feel superior to the masses who they imagine don’t really “see” what is plainly obvious to their superior intellect.
Guilt moralizing is basically the flip side of the mindless “fanboy” defense of an art. And while nothing will get rid of either of these phenomena in the near future certainly and likely in the ever after either, we should at least try to recognize it when we see it and do our best to try and avoid falling into the trap ourselves. We’ve probably all done it at least a little bit once in our lives just as we’ve likely all fanboy defended a piece of art we love. It’s ok in small quantities as long as we don’t go overboard demanding that people see things our way and in no other. It’s generally better to have a calm rational approach to our understanding of the arts than to throw our opinions out there like we are God’s chosen emissary who alone has seen the truth of the art we have observed and been charged with the duty to share it with the world.
Like things, love things, feel guilty about liking and loving things. Just chill out a little with the throwing it in people’s faces all the time.