Some media is better than other media

This article is excellent. I don’t agree with everything in it, but I think it has two very good and important points:
 
1. If you give up on things like value judgements and expertise, you lose almost all ground you have to say much with oomph. Some things are better than some other things. Aesthetically as well as politically. Media created with nuance and skill is better than kitsch and propaganda. People who spend a lot of time studying a thing do tend to know better than most about that thing. “Elitism” has become such a bad word that we’ve forgotten that it is better to be better.
 
2. Texts (and other works, but usually texts) that are difficult and slow, but rewarding, to work through have benefits over fast and easy media. Simple messages are easy to use as rallying cries. For good or bad causes. If something takes no thought to consume, then it usually won’t get much thought in its consumption. This isn’t to say that writing in such a way that is needlessly difficult to understand is a good thing, but works that reward reading slowly and rereading and analysizing are better.
 
 
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Today’s a Christian holiday; time for social media to smugly reveal that there’s some connection between Easter and Ishtar

There’s plenty of images to this effect, so I’ll just put one here for reference:

Image may contain: text

A fun fact. Well, it would be a fun fact if it were true. But it’s not. “Ishtar” sounds like it looks like it would sound like. Those aren’t her symbols, either, nor is she the goddess of fertility. The name “Easter” more likely comes from “Eostre” which is Germanic. I mention this because it’s relevant to the next point. Regardless of the inaccuracies here, the point does remain that the holiday celebration has some connection with another holiday celebration that isn’t Christian.

Even if we fix the factual matters, the smugness just reveals a lack of awareness. When Christianity was spreading, the Church was pretty upfront about this. The Bible doesn’t really specify holidays. Jesus explicitly says you can have some holidays or no holidays or all holidays or whatever. Just make sure you direct the focus of the celebration in God’s direction.

So in order to ease people’s transition into Christianity, the Church took the liberty of keeping the existing celebrations, while just changing the intended purpose. It’s a pretty good strategy, I think. Most people are just happy to have the celebration. If they have to switch from celebrating the rebirth of the plants (springtime) to the rebirth of the Christ, so be it. They get some wine, either way.

This gets to the last line, which often is posted as, “Gotcha, Christians! You thought you were celebrating your god, but actually you were celebrating sex!” I’m not clear how at all this is supposed to work. Because the celebratory activities were/are used by some people for one thing, that thing is the only possible purpose? If that’s the case, I want to know what having a big meal celebrates. It’s used for a bunch of holidays, so seeing the one true thing that is celebrated by large meals would be interesting. Perhaps that’s not it, since it appears to be crazy.

Maybe the date is the thing. Easter borrows activities from the celebrations of the vernal equinox, which is celebrated for the bringing of fertility, sex, etc. But, if we’re going by dates, Easter is directly connected to Passover. Which makes a lot more sense since Jesus’s death was timed as to be parallel with the celebration of Passover. So if you want to say what Easter is really about on the basis of date, then Easter is really about God sparing the Jewish nation from the final plague in Egypt. But that would mean that something is fixing dates to aboutnesses of celebrations. And once all 366 days are taken (or can we also do n-th weekday of the month? You could come up with a few more, but we’re still pretty limited) then we cannot have any new reasons to celebrate. If a country is founded on December 25th, anything it does to celebrate on that day will be about Saturnalia.

So activities and dates are individually out, but perhaps a more holistic picture can save the smug social media user. If we take all of the things mentioned into consideration, Easter is really about both Ostara and Passover. In some creative sense, this isn’t far off. It’s about rebirth and God sparing his people. But that creative sense only works if we allow for creativity (i.e. creating, not just imaginativeness). A far more plausible explanation of holidays than there being something that fixes their meaning is that there are people, people do things, sometimes people pick specific things for specific days, and any meaning to that is made by the people. If I want to celebrate a close friendship by video chatting and each of us chugging a soda on the 15th of April every year, so be it. If I want to celebrate my love of absurdity by throwing a dart at a calendar and then on that day throwing a calendar off a highway overpass, I might run into legal trouble, but if the celebration is about anything, it’s about what I decided it’s about. The meaning comes from the people celebrating.

If celebrations are about whatever the people celebrating decide to celebrate, then for most Christians, Easter is in fact really about the resurrection of Christ. Sure, the use of eggs and bunnies has historical roots in some other traditions, but when we’re looking for what a celebration is about, the roots we seek are found in the intentions of the people celebrating.

TV Update 2018-02-19

Since last time I posted this (which was on FB), I’ve watched a few more shows. I’m surprised at how much TV I’m watching, but I guess sometimes it’s good to do something besides read, write, and exercise. And I’m pretty quick to turn something off if I’m getting nothing out of it. Also several of my closest friends watch a fair bit of TV and since I have them to discuss the shows with, they’re more worthwhile than otherwise.

A.P. Bio and The Good Place have been rather notorious in philosophy circles since they each feature a philosopher as a main character. Some have been concerned about the philosopher in A.P. Bio being a jackass, but, well, the show is funny nonetheless. And anyone who takes a sitcom as serious representation is probably anti-intellectual to begin with. The Good Place has made moral philosophy more prominent in popular culture, which is nice. I’ve been thinking about how a similar move might work for metaphysics, but metaphysics admittedly seems less immediately applicable. But hey, at least it’s moral philosophers nobody likes. (–a repeated line in the show. I don’t have any problems with moral philosophers. I’m finding myself drawn in that direction anyway.)

Though I was made aware of both by philosophy blogs, friends who have at most a passing interest in philosophy suggesting them was what got me to watch. A.P. Bio is hilarious in a similar way to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Californication. The main character is awful. He crosses several moral lines. The show is only a few episodes in, so perhaps it can move to cross every moral line. The Good Place is funny, but the plot really keeps it going. The characters draw you in, and they constantly get into situations that make you watch the next episode. The first few episodes rely more on humor, but by the end of the second season it may be into more dramatic territory.

I’ve been keeping up with Lucifer since this past summer and it is my favorite show on TV right now. I might have an unfair judgment since I have a huge soft spot for stories that play on the supernatural elements of Christianity. So the Devil in L.A. took me no time at all to take to. This season has had a ton of aggravating breaks between episode releases, but more often than not the episodes are very hard-hitting. The thrill level you’d expect only in season finales is hit in several episodes of the third season.

I just started watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The characters are all awful, but watching them make their choices leads to a lot of laughing. I’m only in the second season, so I can’t say much yet. I clearly have a soft spot for moral nihilism in stories, and this show has a lot of it.

Rick and Morty ended a while ago. The season was pretty good. I hate the ending myself, but it started with an alright scene. Maybe there will be a new season some day.

I started  watching Californication when I was stuck in bed from not really being able to do things like breathe this past December. The show is in ways similar to House (possibly my favorite show), but with a writer instead of a doctor. And the writer is actually interested in love, but he writes fiction, so that difference might be included for free in the first difference. I started watching because I saw Marilyn Manson was in it at some point late in the series. I was a bit disappointed to see he, unlike several other celebrities that make an appearance for a season or so as such, only stuck around for an episode. I’ve also recently been compared to Hank Moody, and I’m not sure how to react to that. I went with excitement because I like the show.

*TV shows I currently watch*

A.P. Bio
Lucifer
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Rick and Morty
The Good Place

*TV shows I really like*

Arrested Development
House
Lucifer
Rick and Morty
The Good Place
Yu-Gi-Oh!

*TV shows I like*

A.P. Bio
Archer
Avatar the Last Airbender
Better Call Saul
Bob’s Burgers
Breaking Bad
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Californication
Daria
Elementary
Freaks and Geeks
Futurama
How I Met Your Mother
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
King of the Hill
Madame Secretary
Malcolm in the Middle
Oz
Parks and Rec
Party Down
Roseanne
Rugrats
Seinfeld
The Amanda Show
The Bernie Mac Show
The Big Bang Theory
The Bold Type
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Office (US)
The Simpsons
The War at Home
Trailer Park Boys
X-Play
Xiaolin Showdown

*TV shows I intend to watch*

30 Rock
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Black Mirror
Buried
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Deadwood
ER
Fawlty Towers
Inferno
Key and Peele
Louie
Mad Men
M*A*S*H
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
My So-Called Life
Orange is the New Black
Orphan Black
Roots
Shameless
Siskonpeti
Stalker (subs)
Star Trek
Steven Universe
The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo
The Newsroom
The Office (UK)
The Sopranos
The State
The Twilight Zone
The Voices
The Wire
The X Files
Transparent
Twin Peaks
Type-A
Veep

The pirates are ready for more Netflix removals

Well, another batch of popular shows are being removed from Netflix. And quite a few people are ready to just pirate the shows. I’m not quite sure whether the network execs aren’t thinking this sorta thing through or just assume everyone forgot how to acquire things for free. Piracy rates plummeted when Netflix, Spotify, etc. got big because, sure, you could download things one by one for free, but then you have to remember to do it and manage a library and have storage space and all those annoyances. It’s easier to drop $7 a month to just have everything you want or might want in one place, ready to go whenever, and already managed in the cloud.

I get why they’re doing this: They all want their own streaming services now. Except that kills the benefits. Now it’s $7 or whatever per service, which would quickly let prices approach the old cable range, not in one place, requiring switching services depending on what you want, and managed with irrelevant borders. (Music has the added drawback of not being able to shuffle everything. Just whatever is on what you’re using at the moment.)

At that point, well, piracy is looking a lot nicer. (I’ve seen quite a few people at least see themselves as justified enough if they buy one service and then steal the rest. “I’m already paying for Netflix. I’ll just steal whatever HBO refuses to put on.”) Maybe some estimates have the gain from the people jumping on board the new services outweighing whatever loss there is from not collecting from existing services. Regardless, theft technology has gotten a lot better over the past several years, so perhaps this time we won’t see legal trolls trying to ruin people’s lives as much this time around.

The poetry aisle at Wal-Mart is awful

I read this article to make sure I wasn’t missing something. But, no, it’s indeed the case that finding anyone who seriously cares about poetry or creative writing generally has anything good to say about Kaur’s work. It’s pretty transparently vapid.

What’s left me at a loss is why I actively dislike it. Sure, it’s a bunch of platitudes published by a major publisher and getting a lot of attention. But most popular films are the same. Most popular music is, too. Which is fine. I’ll gladly say I enjoy stupid stuff sometimes. Not everything needs to be Infinite Jest or Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. I liked the new Spiderman movie.

My best guess is that it’s actively interfering with the activities of people who might read or write better, worthwhile things. Someone picking up poetry or postmodern poetry picks this up and thinks it’s the deep stuff. Nobody watches Transformers and thinks it’s thoughtful cinema. It’s one-liners and explosions. Milk and Honey is one-liners (with a bunch of pointless line breaks) mixed in with stories with hard-hitting subject matters.

I’m not just assuming this is what happens, either. Look at people defending it and you’ll quickly find people saying things similar to “Look, if you don’t like the style [of having no regard for form or the use of language] then you just don’t like [post-]modern poetry.” Because they think that’s the extent of it. And then the door is open to anyone to criticize the good stuff on the basis of the bad stuff.

It hardly is limited to poetry, but this particular work got put it in my mind. You definitely see it elsewhere. “It’s just my style” is not an excuse for terrible artwork, either. Style is not a replacement for skill. Hitting random notes on a guitar or piano doesn’t constitute avant-garde; it constitutes being too lazy or disinterested in the actual skill or art to bother learning. Saying bogus unsupported nonsense with some idiosyncratic word usage doesn’t constitute philosophy. There’s a reason people who innovate in the newer, less (apparently) structured styles of anything first go through the process of how to do things the old way.

My hands are hardly clean, either. I’ve written tons of awful stuff that had no chance of ever being worthwhile. I thought “Oh, if I write free verse, I can disregard rhythm, rhyme, and word choice! Great!” (Yes, back to poetry.) Which was stupid. I still can’t write free verse (that isn’t complete trash). The rest of my work isn’t great by any means (at least I don’t think so), but maybe some of it has hope. And if I get the hang of playing in traditional forms to get them to do what I want, and then breaking the rules in small ways to get them to do neat things, then I’d love to move on to breaking all of the rules purposefully. But I’m not about to skip the parts where I bother learning the craft.

Now, one might make the case that, sure, people browse the poetry (or fiction, or philosophy, or religion, or art, or whatever) section, find this sort of thing, and then move on to better things. But, I turn to Harold Bloom:

“What’s happening is part of a phenomenon I wrote about a couple of years ago when I was asked to comment on Rowling. I went to the Yale University bookstore and bought and read a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I suffered a great deal in the process. The writing was dreadful; the book was terrible. As I read, I noticed that every time a character went for a walk, the author wrote instead that the character “stretched his legs.” I began marking on the back of an envelope every time that phrase was repeated. I stopped only after I had marked the envelope several dozen times. I was incredulous. Rowling’s mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.
But when I wrote that in a newspaper, I was denounced. I was told that children would now read only J.K. Rowling, and I was asked whether that wasn’t, after all, better than reading nothing at all? If Rowling was what it took to make them pick up a book, wasn’t that a good thing?
It is not. “Harry Potter” will not lead our children on to Kipling’s “Just So Stories” or his “Jungle Book.” It will not lead them to Thurber’s “Thirteen Clocks” or Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows” or Lewis Carroll’s “Alice.”
Later I read a lavish, loving review of Harry Potter by the same Stephen King. He wrote something to the effect of, “If these kids are reading Harry Potter at 11 or 12, then when they get older they will go on to read Stephen King.” And he was quite right. He was not being ironic. When you read “Harry Potter” you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.
Our society and our literature and our culture are being dumbed down, and the causes are very complex. I’m 73 years old. In a lifetime of teaching English, I’ve seen the study of literature debased. There’s very little authentic study of the humanities remaining. My research assistant came to me two years ago saying she’d been in a seminar in which the teacher spent two hours saying that Walt Whitman was a racist. This isn’t even good nonsense. It’s insufferable.”

Should you start somewhere? Sure. Maybe don’t open with really complex stuff. Starting with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is probably silly. There’s easier or simpler, but still good works. But also, starting with Dawkins’s The God Delusion is probably even worse. It doesn’t tend to lead anywhere worthwhile, but it makes you think you ended up somewhere worthwhile. (Of course, reading something and acknowledging it’s silly fun when it’s silly fun is harmless, but that’s rarely the case in these examples. I’ve noticed a few movies and TV shows get a bit of a sub-audience who thinks there’s something deeply intellectual about them when, in fact, and most people recognize the fact, it’s almost entirely silly fun.)

Bring on disambiguated terminology (CSSism vs Communism)

I say with some regularity a lot of words need to be abandoned because they’re always contorted and the discussion goes off the rails pursuing the One True Definition of a word. But perhaps more imagination needs to be developed before the lexical space can be sorted out.

Take “communism” and “leftism” for example. The former many people associate with the stuff Stalin did rather than, say, classless-stateless-society-ism. And then just focus all arguments on Stalinism without any regard for what the CSSist is actually advocating. And the latter people will say “But in *America* “left” means Clintonian center-rightism.” And then refuse to pay any attention to what the leftist is advocating.

But in discussions on either, a large part of the problem seems to just be CSSism/leftism being beyond the scope of imagination. Immediately when the abolition of private property is endorsed, the assumption is the endorser is in favor of the state owning everything. The only conceivable alternative to private entities owning things is the state owning things. Getting rid of the abstract notion of ownership altogether just doesn’t even register as an option. So of course “Communism” isn’t taken to mean what pretty much every Communist endorses because that isn’t even imagined as an option in the first place.

(My initial attempt at a solution is making the terms even clunkier but imagination-provoking. “Classless-stateless-nobody-owns-anything-besides-in-the-sense-of-use-society-ism” barely fits in a tweet. (But then I suppose compressing everything into meaningless soundbites is part of the problem in the first place. So bring on the excruciatingly long names that are thoroughly disambiguated!))

Pervasive technological problems don’t get solved by just opting out

Interesting article, if you ignore the stupid headline. The mentioned studies connecting screen-based activities and unhappiness is of note. (Though I wonder how ebooks compare to books.)

“As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves.”

Is, well. Something. (Reminds me of the meme showing 80s/90s rock screaming “I kill motherfuckers” and 00s rock saying “I wanna kill myself, motherfuckers”.)

“Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet.”

Well someone born in 1995 having an Instagram account (possible only in 2010 and after) before high school would be mildly impressive. Considering the Internet started somewhen in the 60s, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first generation to not remember a pre-Internet world.

(Ofc this is just me poking fun at boundaries at fundamentally spectral things.)

And the best thing about this article is, as long as I’m on the generational boundary, I get to feel smugly justified in refusing to appear in pictures on social media (in general — I still do photos that would have justified a Polaroid).

The article suggests getting away from phones as a solution, but I really question how much good any individual can do for themselves.If the population is full of isolated people, cutting yourself off from the one means of communication with them doesn’t magically bring back the old methods. It just leaves you alone.