I have been trying to avoid the early election shenanigans. The mutant right is constantly making headlines with total insanity. I don’t mean to infer that to condemn anyone that is a Republican. I am simply referring to the freak pack that seems in control of the national party at this point. (Scott Walker being one of the many in this realm.) I am someone that believes in voting. I don’t think voting is enough if you really care about what is going on. However, I don’t think disengaging from the political realm due to dissatisfaction is an option. I am not a big fan of the Clintons and would rather see someone like Bernie Sanders capture the nomination. Bill, in his term, was actually a rather right leaning corporatist Democrat that did many things that I believe harmed this country. (NAFTA, Telecommunications Act of 1996, and so on.) However, if you can’t see that there is a difference between Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton and Scott Walker, than I don’t know what to tell you. (Those that believe that all politicians are the same only need to look at recent headlines having to do with Iran and then imagine what those headlines would look like if “Bomb,bomb,bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” John McCain had won in 2008.) But what I think is important is that it is okay to disengage until it matters. I don’t need to be paying attention to the right wing horse race, as I will certainly not be voting for anyone that wins that. I can’t help, in trying to keep up with the news, catching a headline or two. I mean I try to pay attention enough that if I am having a conversation with someone, I can refute whatever insane argument someone might be making on whatever policy issue, but having a deep emotional investment in who is ahead is only going to destroy my health, make me angry, and burn me out on this whole circus before there is really anything I can do about it. The news is really good at destroying one’s soul, only to have you speaking gibberish by the time it comes down to canvas for an issue or candidate you believe in. Also, please keep in mind that I am talking about ignoring the election and not what is going on in general. It is important, extremely important, that a citizen of a democracy stays informed. But at this point in the election cycle it is much more important to pay attention to what is going on, rather than who is saying what, if you get my drift. So try to keep abreast of current issues, but whenever a circus animal like Donald Trump gets paraded out on TV, instead of turning your mind into rat soup, exercise one of the very few freedoms you have and turn the damned thing off.
The above link is a Rolling Stone article about former NYT reporter Judith Miller, who played a role in making the country think that Iraq was a war of necessity. She has just released a book and is trying to redeem her reputation. But there is nothing she can do to redeem herself at this point, especially when she still seems not to understand the full ramifications of her actions. She helped lead this country into a war that has caused untold pain and suffering, with thousands of dead soldiers and even more innocent Iraqis killed, along with untold numbers that were either maimed or now face psychological trauma. She betrayed the public trust in a way that I don’t think can ever be fully forgiven.
When I watch the news I often think of the movie Apocalypto. This is a Mel Gibson directed movie that deals with the Mayans. The movie is an insane spectacle filled with ideas and blood. The characters speak in ancient Mayan dialogue, but the movie is brilliant because it manages to tell the story in ways that are mostly visual. It is an extremely intelligent piece of entertainment, an action movie with ideas. It is barbarous, batshit insane, kinetic entertainment.
Now why do I think of this movie when I see the news? This is not due to the themes of the movie. The Mayan empire is depicted as a civilization on the verge of collapse due to environmental calamity and human exploitation. It came out during the Bush years and the Iraq War. Gibson even commented that the Mayan rulers were very similar to Bush in his boys. Sure, the invading Europeans put the nail in the coffin of the Mayans, but the Europeans are aided by the Mayan leaders’ tyrannical rule. That is not to say that is true in history, but Gibson is trying to draw a parallel through art. He is saying if we don’t quit oppressing people, if we don’t protect the environment, history shows that we and our way of life is in trouble.
However, none of that crosses my mind when I watch the news. The greatest emotional quality of Apocalypto is insanity. When I watch the news and they focus on the trivial and ignore the important, I feel emotionally like I do when I watch Apocalypto. When I see war and oppression trumpeted as normal, when I see global warming treated as not real, when I see celebrity eclipse the common good, I feel the same as when I watch Apocalypto.
There is intellectual truth and emotional truth in art. Even if you argue that the movie doesn’t have the former, it has the latter in spades. It feels like what happens when the world turns upside down. It’s why the movie makes me happy, even though it is largely an action movie and a quite dark one at that. Someone connected to an emotion that is all too common in the modern world. It’s always uplifting to know someone feels like you do. If there are others, you might just stand a chance.
Today was my day off. I spent most of the evening recording a home demo, as I’m trying to get things as mapped out as possible before I hit the studio later this year. Earlier today I was in a restaurant and I caught a rare glimpse of CNN. It was dealing with the horrific and sensational. Everyone has heard the saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” It says nothing to me about my life. That’s not because I am unsympathetic to pain and suffering around the world. But just showing a horrific incident doesn’t teach me anything. We all know that the world can be a tragic place at times. But day after day people face little decisions, that in and of themselves may be insignificant, but as a whole lead to more pain and suffering around the world. What we eat, where we shop, how we travel, and what ideas we consume, all help to create the daily world that we all inhabit. We’re in a maze and the light isn’t very good. A thousand things are going on around the world at any one moment. We should know about A,B, and C, but cable news is constantly showing D. Some people think what is on cable news mirrors the world at large, but it is a funhouse mirror at best.
I have remarked many times that I do not have cable. Especially with regards to cable news, it is very freeing. No one needs 24 hours of surface news. I have noticed that several republican candidates have declared. I don’t need to watch endless public relations stories about people I don’t intend to vote for, or even people I do. That doesn’t mean that I am championing staying uneducated about what is going on, nor am I claiming that all politicians are the same. I think in a democracy that it is every citizens duty to pay attention to what is going on. But cable news is the kind of thing you turn on for five minutes, hours later you have seen the same five stories a hundred times, and your blood pressure is way higher than when you started. You can spend way less time reading a couple of in depth articles and you will find yourself way more informed. You can spend all of that extra time reading books and actually learning about the world. Or you can do things that you enjoy that actually bring meaning to your life. At the very least you can space out for a couple hours and be far healthier. You won’t be any dumber. So be good to yourself and turn off the TV news.
I watched Tevor Noah’s comedy special African American on Netflix two nights ago. I was curious after I saw he was set to take over for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Instead of listening to all of the opinions on the internet I thought I’d just make up my mind for myself. I suggest you do the same. However, if you want some kind of opinion, at least based on that special, and his brief stint that I saw on The Daily Show, I think the show will be in good hands. It’s clear that Noah is ridiculously intelligent. He also is also able to be harshly critical of political issues in a clear way that points out the absurdity of the issue, while maintaining a smile. Even when you get the sense his humor is informed by some injustice that makes him angry, he seems able to deliver it in a way that is inclusive.
I was a little unsure of him at the start of his special. The special starts out with a fish out of water comedy as Noah describes some differences between his home country of South Africa and his adopted home in the United States. It seemed kind of like Yakov Smirnoff, even if the observations were sharper and more biting. However, he quickly gained momentum and I got the sense that here is someone that is really able to cut through the bullshit of the world. At one point in the special he mentioned that he knows four languages and he is learning other ones. He was also able to imitate almost any accent from any region or country. He has an ear for language and the absurdity built into the way humans communicate.
He also seemed like a great comedian for this time period. We are economically and socially more a part of the world than we have ever been, yet so many Americans know nothing of the world, and even rarely understand correctly what they do know. His insider/outsider status, his mixed race heritage, allows him to translate how different sides view each other. He seems to both love the US and be terrified of its power at the same time.
I have traveled, by sheer luck, a good deal. People outside of the US often want the best of our country, but are often terrified by some of our behavior. And I am talking about friends and allies. We often don’t understand this, but Noah gets this dynamic dead on.
Whether in his home country, while traveling abroad, or here in the US, Noah gets the absurdity of modern life. His bit on US airports had me in stitches, because is was so correct in observations about it. He was able to point out how ridiculous it is that we take our shoes off in airports. However, if you think he is just US bashing, he is no less critical of other cultures. He then told a story about a US woman taking off her shoes when entering a Muslim country. The Muslims began freaking out because they are so afraid of women exposing any part of their bodies. I’m not doing the piece justice, obviously. But it was his ability to critique absurdity in the US and at the last moment twist it around, to show that he is well aware that we are not the most insane country on certain issues.
Two of my favorite comedians are Bill Maher and George Carlin. Maher, even though he treats his right wing guests with respect, is simply too biting in his comedy to ever be listened to by many that don’t share his politics. Carlin is my all-time favorite comedian, philosopher as much as comedian, but his public persona was one that was someone who was really irritated by what he saw in the world. I could watch him every night, but I wonder how many could.
Despite his biting comedy, and in standup I much prefer the other two, especially Carlin, Noah again is able to deliver this comedy with a good natured charm. I imagine him being someone that people would welcome into their home every night, even when he is challenging their worldview. I think for this reason he is a good choice. He can speak truth to power in a way that just might knock a few people off of the fence.
If our news media wasn’t so bad I wouldn’t hope for so much from a comedian. But Stewart has communicated more information than any of the real TV news outlets. He has big shoes to fill. I think, though only time will tell, that Noah is up for the job. But don’t trust me, check him out yourself.
I just checked out Huffington Post to see the latest news. I think if anything Huffington Post is a good place just to check headlines as it is comprehensive, even if many of the articles themselves are not worth reading. The front page headline is about the European plane crash. 150 people died. While this is tragic and horrifying, and definitely sensational, one must keep in mind that 457 people have been killed in just the state of Texas on the highway this year. Maybe this is news, but it is not front page, top of the page news. If it is news, and I mean this in no way disrespectfully of those who might have lost loved ones in the crash, it is something that should be acknowledged for a brief amount of time and moved on from. I wish this accident hadn’t happened at all, but since it did, that it was the worst thing that we had to deal with. However, given the conflicts that are taking place around the globe, the environmental calamities that are threatening us, and the fact that so many people still exist in a constant state of poverty, let alone many other tragedies that are happening all around us on a regular basis, this is distorting our perception of the world.