ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Category Archives: Entertainment

Being & Parenting

On being a father and a philosopher at Aeon.  Personally, I subscribe to the Calvin and Hobbes school of thought. — CDL

Advertisements

Dickens, Thought Leader

Habits of Highly Successful Sociopaths

Charles Dickens, Thought Leader for Our Times

From Syria to to Russia to the U.K. and good ol’ U.S., it seems ’tis the season this year for giving free reign worldwide to human socio-pathology. Scrooge might feel right at home today in his unreformed state. Dickens himself had his shadow side1, one that exists in all of us. Perhaps we should view A Christmas Carol less as propaganda illustrating a heartwarming epiphany and inviting smarmy, unrealistic expectations of human behavior, than perhaps a guide to contemporary life. We Americans love self-help books, DVDs and advice web sites. Herewith are suggested affirmations staying with the spirit of the times and finding your inner sociopath. Use them for making your own list and checking it twice, if you are so inclined. N.B.:  This is a parody. If you don’t get the joke, ask for a sense of humor for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Saturnalia. If you celebrate Festivus, you presumably already have one. – DA

  • Start the day with a plan
    • Practice Vulcan mind control
    • Make faces in a mirror like your favorite business executive or recently-elected political figure of your choice
    • When tempted to give money or sympathize with the poor and homeless, hit your head with a hammer. Better yet, hit the poor and homeless with a hammer. It’s their fault for making you feel that way.
    • If you must give, give worthless items to charity that can be written off for exorbitant amounts (e.g. – dysfunctional computer systems (e.g., ‘the cloud’), worthless real estate, obsolete airplanes, ). Do this in an ostentatious  manner while humblebragging
  • Never doubt yourself.
  • Be the best you can be
    • Update your Facebook page. Lie. Take every comment personally.
    • Update your Ok (Stupid) Cupid profile. Lie.
    • Stay up till four in the morning monitoring social media feeds and responding in an obsessively petty manner – despite the fact that you will soon be responsible for the safety of the free world and need your rest.
    • Add or subtract four inches to or from a part of your anatomy of your choice. For women, this could be the bust size. For guys — you get the idea.
  • Friendship is for losers, but it’s helpful to fake it. A few tips:
    • People will put up with a lot to be able to say they have friends
    • Everyone is lonely. It’s a fact of life
    • Saying you have friends at work is pathetic and delusional or a lie
  • Remember the sky’s the limit on what you can get away with.
    • People’s capacity for wishful thinking and self-delusion is unlimited.
    • Recent studies say there’s no free will. Everything we do is determined by genes and neurochemistry. Therefore —
    • It only counts if you’re caught — and then you couldn’t help it
    • If you insist on believing in God or some other Higher Power, you might check out predestination. Start with Martin Luther, world’s worst Catholic.

1Also see Carl Jung on what the shadow knows.

Winners

 

If you are dismayed and wringing your hands over the recent demonstration of democracy in America on November 8th, it might be good to keep in mind a quote by Benjamin Franklin. When Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, a lady in a group of citizens asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied.

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy , which BBC Radio broadcast in the late 1970s/80s, provides this additional helpful insight:

From Fit the Seventh

Narrator: There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory mentioned, which states that this has already happened.

Adams’ advice in HGG is something that DeTocqueville and Franklin, themselves fellow travelers in this existential universe, might subscribe to:  Don’t panic, and carry a towel.

— DA

Tendency of the Times

From THE INTERNATIONAL RAILWAY JOURNAL
(A MAGAZINE DEVOTED TO THE INTERESTS OF RAILROADS, STEAMSHIP LINES AND THE TRAVELING PUBLIC)

May, 1903

‘What is the tendency of the times? It is to cease less effort. It is to over-work, over-application, under-enjoyment, under-thinking. The tendency is to make ourselves the machines of business and trade, to always, subordinate our higher capacities and talents to the main purpose of living.

‘A great deal could be said along this line of thought. Every man knows he is a slave — a slave of circumstances, a slave of environments, a slave to ambition, and a slave to the highest inspiration within him. Everywhere is effort unremitting, ceaseless, unsatisfactory. We work every day in the year in a sense, we work while we rest, we work at rest.  Our rest is a mere form of work; it is a delusion; we imagine we are resting when we are simply deceiving ourselves; we make a toil of rest. Our whole civilization is built on one strain to accomplish, to do, to progress, to make the most.

‘But, after all, are we not losing sight of any chance? Our railroad trains run every day in the year, our ticket offices are open from morning to night, our mills, shops and factories run from early Monday morning until Saturday, and merely rest long enough to permit the heat of friction to evaporate. Our stores are crowded, our business offices are open early and late, telephonic and telegraphic wires are kept hot with the babel and gabble of trade, our streets are crowded with rushing pedestrians, our street cars are crowded to suffocation with anxious travelers, our theatres are jammed and packed with excited spectators, who imagine they are enjoying a relaxation. Excursion trains are flying, Sundays and Satur days, to afford people an opportunity to take their eyes away from desks, counters, kitchens, ceilings and floors and from trade and commerce, and from all the pesky and demoralizing influences that go to fill lip our lives.

‘Everything is strenuous. We are tearing our lives to pieces, straining our bodies, thinking of nothing but what pertains to the immediate present, grasping and struggling like idiots, and complimenting ourselves that we live in the greatest country in the world and in the greatest age. We imagine we are scientific, progressive, enlightened, and are doing everything just right. We are tearing through life as though death was something to be reached as soon as possible. Fortunately, however, religion and custom and necessity have made it necessary to slow down once in seven days. But that slowing down is hypocriti cal. We slow down in order that we may start up again with renewed energy, and we tear through each successive week as though life was made up of struggle, and as if there was no room for anything else. We work and we worry and we strain and stretch and imagine that by taking one day of rest we are doing our whole duty to ourselves.

‘Perhaps we are right, but it does seem to the quiet observer that a great deal of this strenuous life is strenuous nonsense. We are forgetting humanity and the purpose of living; we are putting too much ammunition in our gun. In some respects the tramp has more sense. While this example cannot be com mended, yet we might learn a valuable lesson from him. From his standpoint, he gets more out of life than a good many of the rest of us. Where is it to end? For what purpose all this rush ? Why this ceaseless struggle ? These are hard questions to answer.

‘We are told that machinery is increasing the production of things in general; but the more machinery, mills and factories that we build the harder we seem to have to work to get our pound of butter, our loaf of bread, our coat and hat and our street-car fare. When the register of wills makes note of our purse, the amount he finds does not seem to warrant the 30, 40 or 50 years’ struggle to leave it. What we need to learn is to learn how to live, without sacrificing all that is noble and great within us. It is a truth that we subordinate our higher selves to our lower selves. We subordinate the end to the means. We think more of the going than the getting there. We forget that the real purpose of life is development and not dollars.’ — DA (Courtesy of Google Books)

 

Tech Voodoo Redux

 

I’m struck lately by the contradiction between the technological profusion of our society and our preoccupation with magic, paranormal, fantasy and the occult. As we rely on fruits of the scientific method such as self-driving cars and genetic engineering to solve our problems (of not knowing how to drive and not knowing how to stay healthy), we seem equally obsessed with an opposite mode of thinking and behaving.

The disconnect is especially evident in television, movies and the web. For every example like Apollo 13 and The Martian that celebrates the virtues of empirical thinking and technological ingenuity, five or six seem to promote a view of the world decidedly inconsistent with the scientific method and standard (that is, arguably Western) logic. A partial list includes:

Books:

  • The Da Vinci Code
  • Harry Potter
  • The Secret

Films and Television:

See above, and –

  • Lucifer
  • The Magicians
  • Underworld
  • The Vampire Diaries
  • The Walking Dead

Gaming

  • Dungeons & Dragons (which originated as a board game in the 1970s and has since gone online)
  • Final Fantasy
  • Magic, the Gathering
  • Myst

Examples like The Secret and (to some extent The Da Vinci Code ) cross the line into magical thinking ‘belief systems’ which I have touched on  here and here.

There’s more than one way to skin Schrödinger’s cat:  A linear, empirical mode of thinking and understanding of the world does not necessarily give us a monopoly on reality.1  And books inspired by the occult (see H.P. Lovecraft) and shows such as theTwilight Zone have been around for a long time. But the more mainstream ambivalence about technology and the scientific method may be due to our disappointment and frustration with the world these have given us (or more accurately that we have created with them). It seems suspiciously coincidental that all the commercial hype over vampires and zombies seems to date from the information technology revolution of the 1980s and 1990s and the growth of the Internet hydra.2

The line between the scientific method and magic in this world has not always been so clear. Isaac Newton dabbled in alchemy in between creating calculus and classic physics. Joseph Priestly, clergyman and discoverer of oxygen, pursued his Millennialist religious studies after absconding to Northumberland Pennsylvania3 at the forks of the Susquehanna, near where I grew up.

Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings exhibit a consistent internal logic and and science (or techne4 ) all their own — sort of literary alternate universes. Tolkien wrote of creating secondary worlds that adhere to their own laws.5

I just recently uncovered the following essay I published in 1985 titled The New Magic.

At the time I wrote it the IBM PC had debuted (followed by Apple’s IIc and Macintosh computers). Cell phones did not exist. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was a toddler. Online services that preceded the World Wide Web were dominated by Compuserve, followed by Prodigy and something called the Well.6

There’s a lot we didn’t know then (including, in my case judging from the photo, how to grow a proper beard). But it goes to show that the conflation of technology and magic have a long history, something useful to keep in mind. — CDL

1 Associated with literacy and a text-based culture.

2Popularized in books like Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and John Naisbitt’s Megatrends.

3Where he was encouraged to flee from England in 1794 due to his religious dissent and support for the French Revolution

4Related to craft or art.

5See On Fairy Stories

6Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, which still exists, bless its anachronistic heart

Alternate Career Paths from Chaucer’s Era

The New Year wouldn’t be complete without advice on furthering our career prospects and getting ahead professionally. 

You’ve heard people say their job stinks. The Discovery Channel has a series titled Dirty JobsOur friends at Atlas Obscura highlight a novel way to win friends and influence people, ca. 1100 AD. Apparently the pay and benefits were good. (It would be one way to clear a room and end a meeting on time.) Imagine going to parties or showing up at career day and being asked, ‘Did you go to school for that?’  –DA

New Feature: Blog Audio Excerpts & Podcasts

I once attended a business meeting in which we were invited for our opinions on email. You know the type:  the ones in which everyone looks down at the table and waits for someone else to talk. I spoke up  to say there were too many of them and I thought they usually didn’t communicate anything much new. Afterward someone who heard me commented that I liked to hear myself talk. My manager at the time promptly passed the comment on to me. (Thanks, Buddy.)

The feedback got under my skin. Did I talk too much (that is, obliviously)? We’d been asked for our opinions. Years later, guess what? We still send and receive too many e-mails, and most of them are redundant. We send e-mails, tweets and texts when we should be talking. As far as hearing myself talk:  I embrace it. I’m an advocate of sharing what we have to say through stories and live conversation. Studs Terkel did it for forty-five years starting in the 1930s. This year’s Nobel prize for literature just went to Svetlana Alexievich for her work recording everyday stories of the Soviet and post-Soviet peoples. I added a link to my Linkedin profile update to an article in the Financial Times. Very cool stuff.

Advanced Labor and Cultural Studies will offer selected blog entries as audio recordings and podcasts. If you or anyone you know is blind or vision-impaired, or just wants to listen to what’s posted here, please point ’em this way. Here’s the first one from December 24th on Doctor Who. Let me know how it works for you — CDL

The Gospel According to Doctor Who

I’ve spent the days leading up to Christmas this year watching the The Doctor Who Takeover on BBC America. The Whos down in Whoville may like Christmas a lot, but when it comes to saving people in a world filled with merriment and mayhem, the Doctor they are not. The most recent incarnation features the grizzled Peter Capaldi (I’m Scottish! That means I get to complain!) saving people from themselves in between doing some serious ass-kicking involving villains and monsters.

The Doctor arrives as an alien in a strange land, into a world broken and under assault. Our rational, comfortable truths and assumptions no longer hold in a world mystifying sometimes even to those of us who live there. In the Whoniverse humans’ attempts to prevail are revealed as at the same time comically insufficient and profoundly heroic. Into this world, among all other worlds (which he visits occasionally), the Doctor emerges. He steps out of the Tardis after each regeneration born anew, marveling at his own existence.1

Legs! I’ve still got legs! Good. Arms. Hands. Oo! Fingers. Lots of fingers. Ears. Yes. Eyes two. Nose. I’ve had worse. Chin. Blimey. Hair. I’m a girl. No no. I’m not a girl. And still not ginger.

The Doctor’s persona has evolved along with the show’s original black and white production from the original somewhat bewildered William Hartnell of the antediluvian 1960s through the googly-eyed Tom Baker, who played the character from 1974 – 1981. Before cable, before the dish, before the DVD, local advertisers sponsored a variety of regionally-produced television. The period witnessed a lot of idiosyncratic and just plain weird shows. I made the Doctor’s acquaintance around 1970 when the British-produced episodes aired on our local educational television station. The production values were low, the sets cardboard, the action stagey and stories elementary2. A doddering, white-haired, sharp-eyed and -tongued figure (and later a dark-haired curly-haired smiling figure with a scarf) encountered a variety of robots, time-space vortexes and alien beings, including Daleks and Cybermen.

Since 2005 and the reboot, the series featured younger charismatic versions of the Doctor, including ones played by former soccer star Matt Smith and David Tenant, along with a shadowy version played by thespian John Hurt (of The Elephant Man and V for Vendetta).3

The Doctor comes bearing a sword along with a fez, bow tie, sonic screwdriver and, most recently, an electric guitar, like a Gallifreyan member of the Rolling Stones. The clever bon mots, idiosyncratic fashion, antic disposition and timey-wimey whimsy belie the harsh world he and the characters inhabit. Friendships are betrayed. Lovers are separated. People die. The show depicts the Doctor as an advocate for threatened or downtrodden species throughout the universe. But humankind holds a special place in his two hearts.

The Doctor’s ambivalent nature underlies many episodes. ‘Am I a good man or a bad man?’ Capaldi’s Doctor asks in his debut with his companion Clara. Can good alone prevail over weeping angels, Davros and the Daleks and Cybermen – not to mention the Doctor’s nemesis The Master, and more recent incarnation The Mistress? The companions and other people around the doctor, like Christ’s Disciples, are usually ordinary people, unaware of their own power and significance. With the Doctor they achieve ordinary greatness4. .

The Doctor, like the Dude, abides5. Recent writing for the show has mainly been in the incomparable hands of Steven Moffat, OBE along with stints by others such as Neil Gaiman (author of American Gods and the Sandman graphic novel series). The characters and plots have evolved far beyond the black and white original. Millions of fans worldwide frequent Doctor Who web sites and visit The Doctor Who ExperienceTM. . in Cardiff, Wales, where the show is filmed. Something must be working. That something, I think, is the ability of producer Russel T. Davies, along with Moffat and the whole ensemble to mine the myths that still underlie human experience and our search for meaning in the 21st Century. The Doctor is a trickster, a warrior and a sinner – and apparently a coy lover who snogged the Reverend Mother at the Church of the Papal Mainframe and got hitched to Marilyn Monroe – while chasing his paramour River Song through time and space in a cosmic version of An Affair to Remember.

‘I’m the Doctor, and I save people’ he declares, recalling his own purpose at crucial moments. He holds human beings accountable, but also cares about us deeply as individuals and as a species. This year, of all years, the winter darkness gathers, growing stronger each passing day, threatening hope. We wait for reassurance. Will the light prove stronger? As Doctor Who himself asks, ‘Who are you going to call?’6 It’s a story that has all the elements of birth, death and resurrection – and a savior who seems more human, more flawed and more accessible than we are used to. And that is one that we all need.– CDL

1As with Merlin in the Crystal Cave and Gandalf the Gray’s transformation into Gandalf the White in The Lord of the Rings.

2Compared to the glories of American color with laugh tracks and slick commercials.

3Who started off the franchise by slaughtering the members of his home planet Gallifrey to save the universe.

4The latter in the Cohen brother’s The Big Lebowski

5Donna and Wilfred, for example.

6Referring to Santa Claus, actually.  But you get the idea.

It’s a Wonderful Lonely Life

The search for community and love with our fellow human beings (at least the ones who are not trying to kill us) is a hallmark1 of the season. This accounts for the popularity of films such as It’s A Wonderful Life. Nevertheless, the effort to pathologize normal human emotion and behavior marches on. On December 1st the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported a 3-million dollar CMU study funded by the NIH on ways to help older adults feel less lonely. In the same issue it reported a federal suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for improper incarceration of mentally-ill prisoners; including the use of solitary confinement. There is some connection here — or perhaps disconnection.

It is part of life to lose friends and loved ones through death, time and alienation. But apparently the way to address the problem in this age of connected isolation2 is no longer to have people who know and accept us to talk to us, pat us on the back, share a cup of coffee, kiss us on the cheek, or more (if we are romantically inclined). It’s to learn to meditate the loneliness away. Quoting David Creswell, the expert overseeing the CMU study, the Post Gazette states:

… the number of lonely older adults may be increasing, putting their overall health at greater risk, but the way to help them isn’t necessarily to connect them to more people.

The Carnegie Mellon University associate professor of psychology, funded with a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health announced Monday, hopes that training people in better relaxation and coping techniques will reduce their perception of being lonely.

Each of us is wired with a different need and capacity for being alone. The solitude of Thoreau and Muir and eastern religious mystics is not for everyone. Indeed, in this hyperconnected age of crowdsourcing, solitude itself has become suspect. Therefore, it’s enlightening to know that a problem that philosophers like Buddha and artists from Nietzsche and Kafka to Van Gogh have struggled with for thousands of years is simply one of perception. 

You’d think the widespread adoption of social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter over the Internet would help. But, as Olivia Laing writes in The Future of Loneliness in the Guardian:

 … the contact this produces is not the same thing as intimacy. Curating a perfected self might win followers or Facebook friends, but it will not necessarily cure loneliness, since the cure for loneliness is not being looked at, but being seen and accepted as a whole person – ugly, unhappy and awkward, as well as radiant and selfie-ready

It can be difficult enough to endure or learn to accept loneliness if we are mentally whole and emotionally intact (a relative proposition). How much worse if we are imprisoned and isolated with schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder. Yet in the absence of community resources and adequate policy, the mentally ill are generally shunned by society3. Mentally prisoners who have completed their sentence in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania often remain in jail. Some have been placed in solitary confinement.  

The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania announced the suit Monday on behalf of Stephen Kline, 25, a onetime Allegheny County resident who now is an inmate at Mifflin County Jail; Gabriel Gamble, 30, a patient at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County; and Matthew Christy, 26, a patient at Warren State Hospital in Warren County… 

The suit claims the state does not have enough beds in community-care programs for all of those needing autism and mental health services — more than 1,000 are waiting — and that people in jails and state hospitals face special obstacles to community care.

In 2013, the Disability Rights Network sued the Department of Corrections, alleging that the state misused solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners. The state took corrective action..

Literature and popular culture abound with references to the plight of loneliness: 

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Alan Sillitoe
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Alone Again, Naturally, Gilbert o’ Sullivan
Only the Lonely, Roy Orbison

Have we forgotten Robin Williams and his death only last year? As his character The World’s Greatest Dad states:

“I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”

We conveniently overlook the fact that gathering to celebrate the season of light and fellowship around the winter solstice originated in the need to to prepare for the long dark night together. Our hopes and fears is not just a phrase from a Christmas song. Can you identify the following excerpt from another holiday favorite?

When you’re alone, alone in the world…when you’re alone in the world.
Blown away leaves get blown in the world…swirled away leaves get swirled.
Listening to your heels as you walk, making a lonely clack.
You don’t know how it feels when you talk and nobody’s voice talks back
.4

I challenge you to read or listen to this without feeling a tear coming on.

All Is Forgiven

In It’s A Wonderful Life George Bailey’s penury, loneliness and imminent arrest bring him to the brink of suicide. At the end of the film when hope is restored (along with the missing eight thousand dollars), George’s brother, Harry, toasts him as ‘the richest man in town’. Harry does not toast George’s mastery of meditation and relaxation techniques to cope with loneliness. He toasts the fact that George’s friends and neighbors gathered around him in his time of need. They didn’t update their Facebook page, send tweets and begin Kickstarter campaigns. They showed up. — DA

1With a small h.

3Often due to policies designed to protect their rights. Listen to the enlightening WESA 12/10 interview with PA Congressman Tim Murphy , himself trained as a mental health professional.

4Click the link to read and hear this song with lyrics by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill (who went on to write music for Funny Girl).

Woody & Marjorie 9-5 and 9-6 Show Dates Canceled

We have canceled the Woody & Marjorie:  Hard Traveling show dates scheduled September 5th and 6th at the Omni William Penn in Pittsburgh.

%d bloggers like this: