Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Now that we've got smoking out of our restaurants and bars — not that I'm complaining — and out of our office buildings — which is awesome, especially in wintertime, when I get to pass all these shivering office workers smoking outside their building lobbies — it looks like the next step is taking smoking out of the movies. I don't mean out of movie theaters, which I'm pretty sure we've accomplished, and now parents can bring their toddlers' fragile lungs to see Norbit without any risk of getting cancer, but off the celluloid itself. Which I was kind of aware of, since we all know there are those anti-art types who won't be satisfied until we're all forced to entertain ourselves by starting at a blank screen in total silence, and even then, they'll find some sort of subliminal message on the screen, corrupting our children, but I didn't realize that our society's tobacco warriors, protecting our freedom to harm ourselves after fifty or sixty years, were organized enough to purchase ad space on top of a NYC taxi cab.

It's the Smoke Free Movies campaign, spearheaded at UC San Fransisco, that's convinced that the reason why kids die from smoking isn't because they're nihilistic burnouts in a world that condescends to them, but because they saw someone cool, like Humphrey Bogart or James Dean, lighting a cigarette in the movies as a shorthand artistic device. Professor Stanton A. Glantz, who was clearly never cool, argues that if the Motion Picture Association of America, the industry watchdog group that arbitrarily hands out movie ratings, arbitrarily gave every movie to feature smoking an R rating, think of all the lives we'd save! Because teenagers don't see R-rated movies, and they don't think that the extra violence and sex in R-rated movies makes them cooler than their PG-13 brethren! If Glantz really wanted to demean smoking in teenage eyes, then smoking should earn a movie an automatic G rating, just like those sickeningly moralistic VeggieTales movies or something.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

You Are Getting Sleepy... Very Sleepy...

My mom, for the longest time, has been disappointed with the speed and direction my psychotherapy has been going in. I've been in therapy for social anxiety disorder, on and off but mostly on, since tenth grade — since this experience, actually — so she sort of has a point about this snail's pace progress I've been supposedly making. You might think that, since it is my life that's often socially deficient, I should also be disappointed with my therapy, but the lack of progress in itself never really bothered me until I got a letter from my insurance company saying they were tired of paying for my therapy and why the hell am I not cured yet? The last thing I need is some bureaucrat at Blue Cross Blue Shield judging me, so I succumbed to my mom's incessant nagging and decided to try a different tactic. Mom suggests (i.e., wouldn't shut up about) hypnosis.

I went in for hypnotherapy yesterday afternoon and I kept reminding myself to keep an open mind, which of course meant that I wasn't keeping an open mind. Not that hypnosis isn't a documented phenomenon or that my hypnotherapist was pulling past lives or repressed memories out of my mind. There was really little to no "self-discovery," but I'm getting ahead of myself. The hypnotherapist is apparently a real doctor, a med school professor, and a small, quiet woman who speaks in a steady, low monotone. I found it really easy to get hopelessly adrift in her voice. Her office is decorated in Rorschach art, and I feel like I'm being tested.

I opened the forum explaining why I'm there and distilling seven years of talk therapy into a couple of index cards. I tried not to read straight off my notes: "I have an ingrained belief that I'll go into social situations and appear ingenuous or callow, and that belief creates a lot of anxiety and often inhibits me from doing things. When I find myself in social situations, I perform poorly, and I'm analytical and self-criticizing, which only makes me more anxious. I want to ameliorate my anxiety prior to finding myself in social situations, and I want to quiet the self-critical voices that bridle me during social situations." Now that I type that out, I can't believe I've spent seven freaking years of my life on that.

For the first half of hypnotherapy, she's profiling me, which is where I start becoming skeptical. It had this kind of Myers-Briggs feel to it, with the overly general questions leading to false dichotomies and the questionable correlation between my answers and her interpretation of them. The old standby: "When you are in a group, would you rather be in charge of the group or let other people make the decisions?" Here I point out how complicated that question really is and that its underlying assumptions may be faulty, and I'm told to just go with what comes off the top of my head. Um, "When you're learning something new, do you prefer to learn by looking at it or by touching it?" (Turns out that "both" is also a valid answer.) "Would you describe yourself as an organizer, director, balancer, [I forget what this one was], or complier?"

The second test is even hairier in my opinion. She tells me to roll my eyes towards the ceiling, then to close my eyes and answer more non-descript questions. Now I can open my eyes again, and I'm supposed to clasp my hands together. Good. Finally, she comes over really close to me. I'm sitting in this big leather armchair, kind of on the edge with my knees bent, in flight-or-fight position. She puts my left arm on the armrest and her hand on my hand. There's this big red herring spiel, the gist of which is, "When I count to three, you will lift your arm up." It's not really a stage command; she sounds more like she's making a hypothesis, like when I tap your knee with this rubber hammer, you'll reflexively jump. More talking about breathing and relaxing and energy fields flowing through me. It's very new age. (I'll buy the breathing and relaxing stuff, but "absorbing luminous energy" and crap like that totally sticks out to the physicist in me.)

Here's the interesting thing. She finally counts to three, and I'm like, "What do I do?" This might be exactly what she's looking for, it occurs to me later. I don't want to choose to raise my arm because I'd only be doing so to validate her earlier prediction and not because she hypnotized me. And I don't want to not raise my arm, because I'd just be doing that to be contrary. My dumbass solution is to raise my arm, slow and shaky, like I'm being hypnotized, which is exactly what she was looking for in the first place. Interesting experience in suggestibility.

We arrive at my star chart profile thing, which my hypnotherapist says is "very unusual." I'm shocked. eHarmony.com said the same thing, so now it's got to be true. My eye-rolling is consistent with that of a complier (?), but my hand-clapsing indicates logical, left-brain tendencies(?) and most of my answers to the personality test questions highlight my "Apollonian" psyche (???). Whatever. Here's what I believe about how personality analysis works. I see two forces at work — the first is the actual set of experiences one has and the second is selective memory applied to those experiences, creating a narrative explaining one's role in the world. The former is what makes you miserable, and the latter is what you walk into therapy complaining about. The goal is to see how your experiences outward affect your experiences of yourself, and maybe change the filter you use to interpret the two... but again, I've been in therapy for seven years without tons of progress here.

In the second half of psychotherapy, the doctor recorded a personalized hypnotic cassette tape full of weird mixed metaphors just for me. I'm going to stop short of mocking it here because I really do want to approach this without preconceptions or bias, as much as possible anyway. I'm supposed to get comfortable and listen to it at least once a day, presumably without falling asleep mid-mantra.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pictures of Animals Doing It

I went to the Bronx Zoo yesterday because Wednesday's pay-what-you-want day and I'm cheap. I went two years ago on a cold, snowy weekday and had an awesome time, and yesterday wasn't bad either. In the wintertime, a lot of the animals are down in their Bahama summer home, which is okay with me cause the zoo is really huge and hard on your feet and you never get to see everything anyway. The real problem was the most dangerous prey and their obnoxious little offspring and strollers and crap; I was kind of hoping the weather would be lousy and they'd all stay inside their dens, but it turned out to be a warm, sunny day. Plus the zoo is a lot prettier in the fresh snow than it is deluged in muddy slush.

Here's the highlights:
Baby giraffe, and damn these animals are awkward. Every step he took on those thin, thin legs I was sure something was going to shatter.

Some sort of monkey. You can't really see it in this picture, but she (I assume) is leaping around her cage with a baby guenon clinging to her belly. It would've been really cute if she weren't surrounded by a million toddlers and their moms all saying, "Awww, look at the little baby monkey! How cute!"
Adorable mice.
As an antidote to the mice, I present lizards putting on a show. It's too bad they mate very slowly, or there might have been more parents answering their kids' awkward questions.

I actually took this picture the last time I was at the zoo, but these white-naped cranes are the real reason I came. They're lanky but majestic birds and I could watch them dance around all day. Now through the magic of digital photography, you too can feel like you've watched the cranes all day. You're so lucky....

I was on my way out when I ran into this peacock. Being birds and all, they don't really stay inside their pens, although they know that home is where they get fed. This guy was nice enough to walk right up to us, and I got some nice photos. Too bad I didn't get a picture of him flying back into his pen, cause when he opens his wings, he's freaking huge.
Black leopard.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Speed friending tonight, and it wasn't too, too bad. I credit my newly-discovered Love Tactics, which I've decided is too depressing to read but sort of amusing when you just skim it. It's really sleazier than I thought — the first half of the book is this collection of self-esteem boosting platitudes ("It's okay to be nervous!" "When given choices, be decisive!") and the second half of the book is basically an instruction guide for being a manipulative jackass. There's a chapter called "Cultivating Their Emotional Dependency" followed immediately by "Shaking Their Confidence," because nothing signals a happy relationship like emotional dependency.

I actually did some thinking... well, some therapy, since my last speed friending, in which I could've probably been replaced by a pre-recorded message for all the lack of emotion and personality I was showing. To be fair, my goal for the evening was to get in the habit of shaking people's hands while repeating their name back to them, and I succeeded! But it turns out that was a rather lame goal; I remembered everyone's name, and they remembered me as that banal guy sitting in between two much more worthwhile people. This is why I have a therapist; it took him like five minutes to tell me that I'm bullshitting my way through speed friending because my mother (who, by the way, hates my therapist) and the Love Tacticians of the world keep telling me that I'm not good enough and no one wants to hear about my dull, dull life. And it took fifteen years but it was such a relief to hear someone finally tell me, "What's wrong with saying you're a web designer but it's not what you want to do, and you want to be a playwright? There are probably plenty of Young Professionals who are in some kind of intermediary job that's not exactly what they want to be doing, and they'll relate to you."

Which I did, came up with a whole new, and surprisingly honest, line for that question: "I'm a web designer, but my life's goal is to be a writer." I also dumbed down my "Where do you live?/Where are you from?" answer to something I could remember under pressure. (It used to be, "I'm from Fanwood. It's about ten/twelve/fifteen miles south/west/southwest of Newark," depending on which words came out of my mouth.) And I reworked my "What do you do for fun?" answer, and I can't believe I went to two speed friending events stumbling for what I do for fun, because it's not like I haven't answered that question about a million times in the virtual networking world.

Now here's the thing: I keep making three-minute friends with dudes, maybe because I'm not following Love Tactic #7, "Be The First to Show Interest in The Other." This is in the non-disturbing part of the book.... No, sorry, I re-read the section, and there's nothing useful in it. On the other hand, at least I wasn't exercising Love Tactic #33: Use Silence.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Art Makes Me Cranky!

We did a Chelsea gallery tour yesterday; it's one of those few weekend things you can do in New York that's both snooty and free, plus Anne had to see certain artists' shows for her discussion forum in class. With Anne there, the whole experience of looking at art was new for me, since she's in a graduate level art criticism class and can come up with a sophisticated critique of what's on the wall, and I'm capable of relating everything to my insecurities and jealousy issues. I sort of observe Anne's thought process — and we ran into a bunch of her classmates during the gallery tour, and I got to watch their thought process too — and I really have to empathize with their innocuous art ideals: Let's try to figure out what this piece means, notwithstanding the fact that much modern art is pure gibberish to begin with. Maybe today's art students are tomorrow's asshole artists and art critics, but I'm actually pretty impressed with their ability to extract something, anything, from the pieces they're studying. I usually go with my gut instinct, which is, someone's playing you.

The first show we saw, The Shape of Time by Qiu Zhijie, was actually quite beautiful and emotionally resonant, and that was enough for me. Twenty-four photographs representing the twenty-four seasons of the Chinese calendar, each one taken with with a very long shutter speed, long enough that the artist could use a flashlight to "write" the name of each season on the photograph. My personal favorite is "Start of Autumn," a playground at night bathed in a weird, artificial green light, and the effect is hypnotizing. The Shape of Time is at Chambers Fine Art, 210 Eleventh Avenue, through the 24th, and even though getting over to that corner of Manhattan takes more time than you'll actually spend in the gallery, I recommend it.

Everything else was crap, but at least it was different styles and smells of crap. Our next stop was some dickweed gallery that exemplifies every single thing that's wrong with modern art, starting with their whore's exhibition, and I don't mean that in some metaphorical sense. Back in 2003, Andrea Fraser prostituted herself for "Untitled," an hour-long video of her boinking a collector for the bargain price of $20,000. I haven't seen the piece, but I'm totally fit to judge it. (Not sarcastic there: Look, if it turns out the piece is more than just the concept of "attractive so-called artist sleeps with rich collector for a chunk of his money: is it art?" then I'll be wrong, but my guess is that the idea just makes it a glorified porn video.) "Untitled" lives at the crossroads of our celebutard culture and the self-enclosed, self-gratifying art world, a combination of the post-modern delusion that meta questions about what qualifies as art make up art, Fraser's belief that her status in the art community automatically grants a greater meaning to anything she'll do — like we seriously believe that she'd be fucking someone poor or a rival's patron, and the idea that her piece stands on its own. Maybe she's too exhausted after that hour of sex to come up with a title? God, what a bitch. I hope she at least got chlamydia from her art.

Fraser's current show is in two parts: nude photographs of her apparently grafted atop classical paintings of nudes, which took me like half an hour to interpret and by then, I just didn't give a damn. And the video. Let me say, right now, that I am totally against mixed media artists or performance artists or whatever making movies, and I don't just say that because I sat through Miranda July's painfully pretentious Me and You and Everyone We Know. Not that artists can't make films for the sake of filmmaking, but you have to realize that since films, unlike the thing hanging on the wall, occupy a period of time, you need to keep your audience engaged. Frasier's ten-minute film shows her walking through the Vatican Museums, listening to the audioguide and pretending like she's not being filmed, and it's just ridiculous.

I know what she was thinking, too. She wanted to comment on how we (note the art critic's best friend: the vague, all-encompassing pronoun) experience art: The throngs of tourists crowding the Vatican aren't seeing the religious art with the awe and reverence the Renaissance masters intended and, worse yet, they listen to the audioguides to enhance the appreciation of the art that they don't have in the first place. Which is all well and good: it's just that the video doesn't say that. The press release Fraser sent out to Abstruse Intellectual Art Monthly says that — hell, my blog says that — but my blog isn't on display in a gallery, and rich women aren't offering me $20,000 to fuck them and then write about it.

Third stop was Ian Davis's uninteresting show, which apparently "incorporates the systems and geometry of minimalism within a descriptive style of painting that is timeless in its simplicity." That's the first sentence of the press release. You'll note that "descriptive style of painting" doesn't mean anything, and you can't really call something "timeless in its simplicity" unless it's been around for a long, long time. But anyway....

"Favoring the depiction of entropic situations over specific narrations, in Davis's universe systems crash and things fall apart. Whether populated or not (very often by groups of identically dressed men), all of his works retain a strong masculine presence, tinged by sardonic humor."
The best I can say is that his work is, in fact, very often populated by groups of identically dressed men. I often wonder which comes first: the painting or the press release, because this is pretty much the same A-minus nonsense I wrote in my Art Humanity papers, and my essays just parodied these press releases. Like, I totally missed the masculine presence (maybe Davis sprayed his musk on the paintings?), the entropic situations, crashing systems, and sardonic humor.

So by now, I'm kind of hungry and kind of grumpy (well, grumpier), but we had to move on and we say Doug Aitken's show 99¢ Dreams at 303 Gallery. I looked pretty kindly on the show, at first. The highlights, in my mind, were "Wilderness", a panel of hexagonal mirrors turning slowly at different angles; and "disappear", a panoramic photograph of a plane graveyard, cropped into the shape of the word DISAPPEAR and then put in relief from the wall, so it looked like it was protruding either into or out of the wall, depending on how you looked at it. There was also a funky-shaped marimba with nine notes that the public was invited to play, but I casually disregarded that as insipid. The trouble started when Anne and I decided to play "Figure Out The Theme of the Show, And Don't Refer to the Press Release for Help." I guessed that Aitken was trying to express the idea that what we see is a function of our physical relation to the object we're looking at, and then I realized that's a totally vapid statement, and then I realized that didn't necessarily mean I was wrong.

But alas I was wrong. Not even close. It turns out that the pieces are an expansion of "[Aitken's] fractured merger of mediums and information systems," which actually seems parseable, so I tried to parse it. "Information systems" are, I assume, systems containing information and "mediums" are the manner in which that information is transmitted to the receiver (that would be you, the person looking at the art). Aitken has merged the information with the transmission method, and then broken his (info + transmission) thing — although what I suspect he means to say is that the content of the information you receive can't be completely separate from the manner in which you receive the information and thus you can never receive the information the way it was intended. When I translate it into Comprehensible for you, he's really not saying anything that you didn't pick up playing that telephone game in kindergarten.

Okay, continuing with the second sentence of the press release: "These works combine light, sculpture, moving images and sound." That is true. I probably could've figured that out without Aitken explaining it, since I have eyes and ears and a sense of perspective in three-dimensions, but whatever. I'll pretend like you didn't just condescend to me, Doug. "For example, 'don't think twice ii', [random comma, sic] is made up of two over lapping [sic] concentric circles that proceed through an animated sequence..." I'll give you this one, too, Doug. God, you're embarrassing me! 'don't think twice ii' is made up of two overlapping concentric circles that proceed through an animated sequence. And here I thought you were full of shit! "By stripping away traditional representational imagery, these works get to the essence of a moment."

I'm so relieved! What the hell does that mean, "essence of a moment"? And how does one "get to the essence of a moment"? And how does "stripping away traditional representation imagery" get one to the essence of a moment? And finally, what does this have to do with the fractured merger of mediums and information, or did Doug forget all about that by the time he pulled the fourth sentence of his press release out of his ass?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day News: New Study Says Kissing Your Sister is Bad

To be perfectly honest — and apparently, gross — I never really knew what the big deal is. Besides homozygosity. I'm an only child, plus I've had relatives try to set me up with my cousins, so I just always fantasized that if I had a generic hot sister who was into that sort of thing, what the hell, right? What's a little universal cultural taboo between siblings engaged in self-exploration?

But researchers at UC Santa Barbara just had to go around ruining my fantasy, and also about three-hundred Veronica Mars fanfics. I love it when science gets its rational self applied to what we take for granted, and this story fascinates me. Evolutionary biology predicts that we humans ought to have some mechanism for guessing who shares our DNA: we ought to be quicker to help our kin because their reproductive success improves our standing in the gene pool, unless their reproductive success is with family, which weakens the gene pool. What the researchers found is that you can blame your whole incest squeamishness on, of course, Mom.

The good news is that, contrary to what Freud claimed, you don't have an ingrained crush on your mother, precariously tipping between your subconscious desire to return to the womb and social custom and pressure getting you to marry outside of your kin group. You form this notion of a kin group early in your life, watching your mother take care of your siblings, or, in terms of modern non-nuclear American families, your "siblings:" the people you grew up with, and the thought of doing it with someone your mom cared for gives you the willies.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Anna Nicole Dead: A Tearful Nation Mourns

Anna Nicole Smith, voice of a generation of fat retarded hicks, died the other day. I was absolutely shocked when I heard about this tragedy — not so much because Anna Nicole is dead but because I heard about it on CNN instead of The Insider or Access Hollywood one of those other coked-up tabloid gossipmonger panels obsessed with B-list celebrity news. Even worse, CNN's once-respectable anchors Wolf Blitzer, Paula Zahn, and Anderson Cooper (who really didn't have much more credibility to lose after hosting The Mole) aren't treating Smith's death with the requisite respect; that is to say, none. At least the duly sane among us have Jack Cafferty, who combines the sarcasm of Jon Stewart with the sex appeal of Larry King, putting Blitzer and The Situation Room in its place. If there were any justice in the world, Cafferty would've long ago been promoted from the guy who reads viewer e-mails to at least the guy who kicks Glenn Beck's ass.

But even Cafferty is kind of a pussy when it comes to morally evaluating Anna Nicole's death and the media response — I guess being televised live in front of a national audience of housewives who think they're too sophisticated for Oprah sort of neuters even the bravest of us. I want to go a step farther than just, "Who cares?!" Dead Anna Nicole = GOOD! Yes, I'm being flippant, and I don't want to hear shit from anyone who's less indifferent to Smith's death than to the any of the other approximately 6,500 deaths that occur in America every day. Every life is a sacred child of God — unless that life is being lived in Iraq, obviously — but the world is overpopulated and natural selection isn't working the way it once was and if we're going to get rid of someone, we might as well terminate a socially useless, narcissistic, drug-addled, semi-coherent, gold digging drunkard and stripper-turned-diet-pill spokeswhore. I mean, just think of how much Trimspa's now gonna be left over for the rest of us! Anna Nicole's death might have just solved America's obesity epidemic!

Friday, February 9, 2007

If Al-Qaeda is serious about killing as many Americans as possible, I'll tell you what Osama could do. He could send me and every other American a free iPod, Palm Treo, and GameBoy DS because there is an epidemic in this country, and that is pedestrians too occupied by their blinking electronic gizmos too look both ways when crossing the street and subsequently getting their oblivious asses clobbered by a sedan speeding through the intersection. Some dumbass in Brooklyn was hit by a bus while listening to his iPod so apparently now we all need to be saved from our portable electronic devices. Thank God for New York State Senator and self-appointed urban nanny Carl Kruger, who introduced a bill to fine pedestrians $100 for using their iPods and other electronic distractions while crossing the street. One supposes that the fine is waived if the street-crossing criminal is actually hit by a car and killed.

I am proud of Carl Kruger. It takes a lot of guts for an American politician to risk his career and alienate millions of iPod users just to stick to his principles, especially when one of those principles is "people shouldn't have to look both ways before crossing a busy eight-lane street."

On the other hand, I spend enough time sitting in city gridlock to be vehemently pro-running over pedestrians who dawdle in the middle of the crosswalk, pedestrians who obliviously step into a busy street (I've done this a couple of times), and the absolute worst: pedestrians who see the red DON'T WALK hand, then look both ways and see there's a car barrelling towards them, and still charge into the intersection! And no, I'm not just jealous of their faith in cabbies and their brakes. If this is what it takes to get these idiots out of the gene pool before they breed into dipwads who kill themselves by sticking those iPod earbuds up their noses and into their brain cavities and then we have to ban the earbuds too, I'm all for it.

I could make the rational arguments as well: Millions of people are able to cross the street safely while talking on their cell phones or fiddling with their iPods. It's also possible to be distracted without being tethered to a gizmo; Kruger should expand his bill to include crossing the street while sick, or right after a break-up, or if you've got a big job interview or presentation to make or... how about we just simplify things and ban crossing the street completely? This way, we'll only have to worry about sidewalk-related deaths.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Veritas Forum is, let's be honest, a mildly-successful Christian proselytization tactic. They organize lectures on college campuses, ostensibly around secular topics but with a hint of that haughty know-it-all-ism that characterizes both the devout and liberal arts students. Veritas' mission is to "inspire the shapers of tomorrow’s culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ," which is a sneaky way to undermine the whole concept of a "forum": individuals arrive with their own experience and ideas, but the forum itself grows organically out of the diversity. If you already know the answers, then you should really just get a soapbox.

Harrigan's been going to all the lectures this week, and she invited me to come along to one called "Minds, Machines, And Metaphysics: What Makes Us Human?" If you guessed Jesus, then you're right. But the talk was by a professor from MIT who worked in an artificial intelligence lab, developing "emotionally aware" software (not as creepy as it sounds), and as a scientist, she'd only make vague allusions to our divine developer, programmer, and debugger. If humans were able to build robots with consciousness, she would say, it would logically follow that those robots could deny their Creator. So, atheists, deal with that logic while you're burning in hell!

I don't see a ton of ways into or out of the whole mind-body dualism conundrum, so I sort of avoid the whole topic, and turn grumpy when I watch something like Ghost in the Shell, wondering, "Now what does that robot have to gain by falling in love?" The whole idea of automaton wants and desires — we can have a facile debate forever about how deterministic human minds are, but we're talking about glorified toasters here and desires that stand outside of whatever mathematical function the programmer uses to represent them.

And besides, couldn't you just unplug them?

The lecturer was emphatic about the point that these artificial intelligences certainly don't feel emotions yet. They built a robot with a mechanical face, for example, that smiles when you're nice to it and looks ashamed when you scold it, but obviously it's not experiencing shame in the way that we do. (Or some of us do, anyway.) It's analyzing the pitch and timbre of its operator's voice, comparing them to "pleased," "sad," "frustrated" templates and then moving its little countenance pieces. The fear that these things will someday supplant us as the dominant minds on the planet is laughable — although maybe a little less so if you believe God graced you with a soul and granted you dominion over all creatures, and along comes these godless liberal ivory tower scientists emulating that. The religious types tend to not like being humbled; I guess that's an advantage to believing that emotions are nothing more than physical brain states and free will is an illusion cloaked behind the laws of nature. We're already humbled. It won't be such a dramatic transition when we're enslaved by our future robot overlords.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

No Touching!

There's this dude at work who, uh, touches you. Like, you're sitting at your desk, minding your own business, and he comes by and gives you a shoulder rub, Bush-style. It's weird. Funny when it's the German prime minister, a bit more confusing when it's you.

Maybe it's a cultural thing. I had this suitemate back in college who had the same sort of shoulder massage greeting; he was from Madison, Wisconsin, so ever since freshman year, I'd been imagining that they have a different concept of personal space out in the heartland. What the hell do I know? Where I come from, there's a tacit "keep your hands to yourself" rule: two people hugging meant they were either romantically involved or just won a football game, shaking hands was some sort of profound alien mind-meld act, and kissing on both cheeks meant you were snotty wannabe Eurotrash. I know a handshake is a massive collection of social cues, but I still feel weird. I don't want to be the guy who spearheads a campaign against shaking hands — although if I were that guy, I might combine it with a charity drive to stop the spread of the bird flu.

Every other touching gesture I can think of actually communicates something, like a hug ("It's nice to see you.") or a pat on the back ("Well done," or alternately, "I empathize with you.") or smacking someone's head ("There's a fly on your head.") Hell, that European kissy greeting actually makes it seem like you're excited and happy to see the other person, which really annoyed me while I was in Italy. I guess that's one good thing you can say about shaking hands: it's not phony. "We are in each other's presence." True enough.

But back to my own experiences with feely people, as rare as they are. I don't know how to interpret them. Are you just lonely? Do I look tense? Are you coming onto me? That would be flattering, which is why I'm skeptical. How about we all just say hi, that way it's easier on everybody.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

"Quiet, Err. I'm transmitting rage."

I wasn't planning on seeing the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, but then came the guerrilla marketing campaign that shut down Boston and I want to be a part of the alarmist chaos! I guess the marketers didn't do such a good job lightboarding New York, cause I didn't find see Mooninites anywhere. I would've so taken one of those boards for myself, stuck it on my refrigerator or car or something, because this is the first time I can think of when I was in on the joke. Usually there's a billboard that says March 16: it arrives!!! or Are You Next?, and my thinking is, "Goddamn it, advertisement! I sleep poorly enough without your vague apocalyptic pronouncements." Then it turns out that they're selling Nikes or something and... well, I've usually forgotten about them coming on the 16th anyway.

The view from the inside, though, is hilarious, like when you hear Orson Welles' broadcast of The War of the Worlds and wonder how something so cheesy could spark that mass crazy. I'm sure I'd be infuriated if I lived in Boston, but not at the culture geeks who stuck the ads on random stuff. The media and the information presented to us is so thoroughly focus-grouped and sanitized that I'd just die if we didn't have the occasional indie sticker-sticker covering up stop signs or traffic lights.

I wonder to what extent the citywide freakout was a product of the Aqua Teens counterculture, and if they were blinking ads for mainstream sitcommery rather than Williams Street's typical dark absurdism, maybe they'd just go unnoticed. Like, would the same people be calling the cops if they were lit-up ads for How I Met Your Mother?