Friday, July 31, 2009

Killing Kenny: Introduction

Every year, I attempt to look at some aspect of the world I find interesting. It usually comes from reading some book or pasting together ideas from any number of sources, and it gets to the point where one single blog just won't do it justice. The scope is too large. (In 2007, I looked at Neil Postman and the Media, and in 2008 it was the Medium of Architecture with the rise in gas prices.)

Steven, in a facebook conversation, called me "Unique," which is the highest compliment one can give to another, in my opinion. Many different things have happened recently which have made me think about myself as an "individual" person. What makes me unique? Why do people try so hard to distinguish themselves from the masses? Why have, in times past, people resisted so vehemently against individualism, and who profits from keeping people the same? Granted, I've been influenced by books and philosophies as I've been thinking this through. It might be helpful to list them here:

Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

There's no better way to start than with the show South Park, for as I was thinking about all this, an episode (Season 12, Ep. 14, "The Ungroundable") came to me, the one where Butler joins the Goth group (whom he thinks are actual Vampires) in order to stop Hot Topic, the store he thinks is turning everyone else into Vampires. Turns out that everyone has started shopping there and falling in love with the book and movie Twilight. The Goths, which had been individuals for so long before, were now cast into the masses of people that looked just like them, but not for the same reasons. They have the episode on if you want to see it.

And in the world of South Park, no other character is more unique than that of Kenny, who wears the orange outfit, pulled up past his mouth so he can't talk. In each episode (as if you didn't know already), they kill him off in different and grotesque ways. You could argue that it is the individual nature of Kenny that is killed off, generally by the forces in which the four boys fight in each episode, be it Disney, or Twilight or World of Warcraft. So the title of this series will be "Killing Kenny," in honor of the brave soul.

I'm very interested in why people want to have tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, and other physical expressions of individualism. And has this trend backfired in the form of Hot Topics retail store? How does materialism, the pursuit of goods through credit cards, capitalism, and the free market, actually hurt individualism? Does the NFL actually hurt the talent it tries to develop through parity, and what does that have to do with socialism? How does the education system hurt individual thinking, and how can we change public schools from producing brainwashed clones of today's youth?

So lots of thoughts, and hopefully I'll be able to make some sense out of all of it and tie it all together. It's worth a shot.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Media and the Moon

I only hope, before my time on this rotating orb is up, that I get to witness an achievement as awe inspiring and exalting as the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. That our minds could have crawled out of the caves (of the Garden, whichever), developed the wheel, the ship, the plane, progressing ever and ever forward, molding the rock of the Earth and the ingenuity of his mind into a fire that burned strong and hot, that escaped the force of gravity and lifted us off the Earth, and into space. It was us that did this. More importantly, it was the United States of America that did it. No other country on Earth had the resources, the Government that worked (at the time) with private enterprise, and the drive to create the power that would defy us staying here for all eternity.

How expanded the mind has become in the thousands of years we've been here. The Tower of Babel was man's first attempt to reach Heaven, and since then, through science and philosophy, we've realized that reaching God is not a physical exercise, but rather a mental and spiritual one. That reaching the heavens means evolving and stretching ourselves outward, towards those worlds that Galileo glimpsed in his telescope.


So my mom has been very disappointed in the media's attention to the 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing. Not one magazine cover has it on the cover. Time has Sarah Palin, and most of the others have Michael Jackson. The media has more coverage of the Moonwalk than those who walked on the Moon. The greatest achievement that mankind ever made, and it gets virtually no picture space on the front of the main periodicals. Sure, Astronomy magazine has it, and Life did a special edition for it, but that was it.

The television media irks me even more. Today as I got up to make breakfast, I stopped as Fox News ran a commercial for their Moon Landing special. Friday night... narrated by Greta Van Susteren. Ticked me off. The Moon Landing reports should be handled by the noblest of voices. I expected Glenn Beck, whose admiration for the achievements of man would have made him tear up. Or Mike Huckabee, with the voice of a preacher, aged in oak. I would even have accepted Geraldo or Bill O'Riley. Instead, they get the woman who reports on Aruba and OJ and missing children.

Where are the noble voices, those that take the incredible works of man and form words to express it. Of course, Walter Kronkite would be the most noble of voices, but alas, he is not able. Dan Rather has done such a great job in communicating the truly important news, even if he faltered with CBS's liberal agenda. Where is CNN's Cooper Anderson, or NBC's Costas? Where are the voices that we hear on those times when we remember where we were when? Those are voices we need.

Instead of listening to talk shows with paternal tests of 8 men, or the self-pandering of Senators as the accept Supreme Court Justices, or the latest in the Michael Jackson family circus, shouldn't we hear about the greatness of mankind??? Shouldn't we wonder where the people are that could achieve such marvelous feats, when today's children cannot recall even the most basic science facts? The CRCT results are not promising. It is true that competition with the Russians (Sputnik) fueled the education in science and math that created much of today's technological advances. Without those men, the Internet would have been a dream, and the Space Shuttle that is currently orbiting the Earth toward our Space Station would not even have been thought of. But today, children are much more interested in consuming than creating. More interested in entertainment than advancing the human race toward the farthest frontiers. The science fiction of my father's time has been replaced with the fantasy of today. The wonder of computers and of man's ability to soar to the heavens is now replaced by vampires and wizards, by miracles of magic that allow achievements without effort. Wonders without work. Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke would be very disappointed, I believe.

We have the ability to reach the heights of our solar system, to stand atop Olympus Mons and laugh at the universe. We can explore the depths of the oceans and the wonders of the microscopic world, where Quarks and strings of vibrating energy sing the choruses of the Universe. Let's do it. Let's meet God in the heavens and say, "Look at the wonders we have done. Look at the creations You have made, and we rejoice in all that we have done, and in You for making us. We should not cower to His throne and show him the polluted, lazy world that we have created now. He would forgive us, but let's show God what a wonderful creature He made. The Guardians of our world, the keepers of Earth until He returns. And let's do it for ourselves. Because that is the destiny of our race, to live and soar and look over the mountaintops (see the Freidrich painting at right), and not to cower in the corner, blaming everyone for our failures but ourselves.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Looking with your hands...

I had a customer with a couple of kids who, like most children that come to Borders, must touch and examine every piece of merchandise, especially ones that bounce, or light up, or wind up, or are sugary sweet. And then they ask their parent (usually a mother), if they can buy it, only to put it down as soon as they get home and lose it in the pile of bought trinkets meant only to be bought love (materialism, as in one of my first blogs some years back). But this customer told her kids to "stop looking with your hands." The phrase struck me as odd, because I had never thought of it in that way. It is normal for children to have kinetic learning styles, to experience with every sense, every touch of an object, to learn about it. That's why there's so many burns resulting from a child touching a stove top, or an iron, etc... They want to see what it feels like. But when it comes to shopping, it seems that every book, every toy, needs to be picked up and looked at, and played with, as if it is temporarily owned by whoever picked it up.

This makes sense. Lynn Truss, in Talk to the Hand described a bubble of personal space that people nowadays are very intent on establishing. In that space, people can do whatever they want, from talking on their cell phones, to cursing, to opening the latest toy on the shelves to play with. The cell phone conversations are the worst, being often about relationships gone bad and roller coaster events that really have no place being talked about in public. Truss said that she heard someone talking about the counterfeit money they had just made and their plans for it...while on the subway in London.

For children, the idea is that anything that they pick up, is automatically theirs. Whatever is sucked into that private space, they own. Bill Cosby described this in Bill Cosby Himself, with one of his daughter's that always screamed, "MINE!!!" after picking up something that didn't belong to her. And of course Cosby's point is that, in that circumstance, the parent let's the girl have it because, as he said, he was not interested in justice, he wanted quiet.

Perhaps this is the way that people raise their children, because there have been on numerous occasions I have seen parents try to take a Webkin or a book away from a child, only to have them yell, "MINE!" and then scream and cry when the item is taken away. The child thinks it is his or hers. They've touched it, they've played with it.... it must be theirs.

Where I want to go with this..... the answer is clearly to tell the child no, and, from a very early age, to make the child understand that no means exactly that. No amount of crying or fussing will help. Also, that materialism is akin to love must not be allowed to form in the child's mind. (This I have also talked about in an earlier post).

But unfortunately, the idea of "looking with your hands," has been solved in quite another way.

I was walking into the mall to see Transformers 2 (see below), when out of Borders I noticed a family, a mother and two children, both of whom were going into the parking lot behind their mother, not looking at all whether or not a car was coming. The reason was that they both had Nintendo DS's with them, and one was playing it, one not, but was running blindly ahead anyway. The land of Pikachu and Naruto has become just as addicting to the children as playing with everything inside the store. And while the DS may be keeping the children's section a little neater, it keeps children from looking at the products, which means less money for us, and on a higher educational level, keeps them from seeing books that might open up whole new worlds of escapism and literary wonder.

Now mind, I'm just as guilty as the next person when it comes to playing computer games, but I refuse to play a portable system out in public and zap out the rest of the world. The Nintendo DS is much like a pacifier for toddlers, keeping them quiet and occupied while the mothers shop and ignore their children. It also keeps them doing something with their hands and eyes (which are the same thing) so that they don't incessantly ask their parents for this or that. And while it has its advantages, I disagree with the idea.


There was a time, long ago, when the neighborhood kids would come to our house, or we would go to theirs, and spend hours upon hours playing the latest Nintendo game. It was fun, and I have fond memories of doing this. But there's no communication, no interaction, between people. The interaction is between the person and the television, not between friends, and that always bothered me. That's why I enjoyed playing Magic: The Gathering or doing other activities, even Basketball (even though I was no good) outside, because it allowed me to interact with the people, not just the A and B buttons.

The same thing goes with the kids playing their DS's in the mall. They aren't interacting with their parents, or their siblings, they just wander around half lost in the world of Pokemon or whatever. Or the kids who walk behind their parents with earphone plugs connected to an IPod. There's no social interaction between anyone, and that is inexcusable behavior. It is crucial that people learn, in these technology-filled days, to learn to interact with people on a more intimate level. Just talking via text or through Facebook won't do. Nor will ignoring everyone through portable electronic machines.

But I got off track a little. The people at Nintendo realized that the screaming and crying children in malls and in cars needed something to do with their hands and eyes. So they invented the Game Boy. I have an old black and white one that only plays Tetris. But now the DS's are as powerful as most console systems and are impossible to put down. And this is exactly what the companies want. The kids should be immersed in their games, letting the adults shop and talk and ignore their children. In return, the parents buy them DS's and games to lengthen the time that they don't have to hear the whining and the crying. It makes sense. I would, too. But it's not the right way to do it. You can't exchange good behavior for just keeping quiet and out of the way. The children should be able to look and shop without needing to cry and scream and without having their heads buried in some technological pacifier. But alas, those days are far gone, I fear, and so bring on the brainwashing electronics... for at least there is quiet, for a few moments of the day.