Royalty


When we were Kings and Queens
and backyards and forests were our kingdoms,
action figures were our soldiers
and stuffed animals our loyal subjects.
We were tyrants, one and all –
benevolent or cruel –
deposed by Time.

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The Same Lame Blame Game


Here’s a fun little experiment you can do at home. Pick up a video game. It can be any kind of video game, all the way back to an Atari 2600 cartridge to a PlayStation 4 disc. Now, use it in the way it was intended by the manufacturer.

How many people did you manage to hurt? How many people did you kill?

Okay, now try using it in any way you can conceivably think of, even in ways never intended by the manufacturer. How many people can you manage to injure or kill before you get taken down by the police or your fellow citizens?

According to President Trump, the greatest threat to our country, and particularly our young people, comes from video games “shaping young people’s thoughts”, according to a report from the Washington Post. The report added that “[h]e also proposed that ‘we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it.’”

Well, yeah. Because goodness knows that we’ve established time and again that playing violent video games leads directly to an increase in violent behavior. Oh wait, no we haven’t. But just in case, we should violate the First Amendment rights of video game makers to be on the safe side, because that’s the best and most direct way to resolve the problem.

Apparently Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Council, suggested that violent video games “needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.” Of course, because video games have been known to cause cancer and drunk driving. That’s some quality thinking there, Brent.

And that’s not the worst of the kind of conclusion-first, evidence-not-at-all thinking on display at this particular meeting. Rep. Vicki Hartzler was quoted as saying “[e]ven though I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link, as a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of violent nature would desensitize a young person.” I’m just curious, exactly what did you teach? Because I can’t imagine any teacher I ever had literally stating “I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link” and then trumping those factual studies with their own “intuition”. Then again, they never had the benefit of being legislators, which apparently gives you… supernatural powers?

Speaking of legislators, Sen. Marco Rubio felt the need to chime in with his usual wisdom, “acknowledg[ing] there is no evidence linking violent video games to the tragedy in Parkland. But he said he wanted to ensure ‘parents are aware of the resources available to them to monitor and control the entertainment their children are exposed to.’” Wow, that’s a brave stance. I wasn’t aware that the ESRB rating system for video games and the MPAA rating system for motion pictures were state secrets. Thanks for getting those declassified and making them available to parents everywhere, Sen. Rubio. With leadership like that you should consider running for President.

If these politicians and other “crisis actors” (yeah, I said it) really believe there’s a causal link between video games and real world violence, they need to step up and put their money where their mouth is. Start funding some quality, rigorous studies into the phenomenon, or better yet lift the ban on the CDC investigating the potential link. Address the very real concerns raised with the studies they continuously lean on (you know, the ones that don’t show a causal link?) and find something more than a spurious correlation.

The hysteria over video games recalls the hysteria over Dungeons & Dragons from the early 1980s, the outrage over explicit music that managed to stretch all the way from the mid-80s to the late 90s, banned books that seem to be a perennial controversy, or any time bad or undesirable behavior is blamed on media or culture rather than placed squarely where it belongs: on the people who perpetrate it. That’s not to say that the media doesn’t influence behavior to some extent, but to ban media in an attempt to control a handful of bad actors is very much akin to cutting off the noses of an entire community to spite one face.


Music Hath Charms…


In the great American tradition of putting career advancement above personal integrity, I’d like to take this opportunity to submit myself for Roy Moore’s Campaign Manager. By way of proving my value, I suggest the following campaign theme songs that I feel capture the spirit of both the man and his message.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC

Don’t Stand So Close to Me – The Police

Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter – Herman’s Hermits

(She’s) Sexy & 17 – Stray Cats

Young Girl – Gary Puckett & The Union Gap

Rebel Yell – Billy Idol

Walk This Way – Run-D.M.C. ft. Aerosmith

Father Figure – George Michael

Seventeen – Winger

My Sharona – The Knack

Into the Night – Benny Mardones

I’m On Fire – Bruce Springsteen

Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon – Neil Diamond

Christine Sixteen – KISS

I Saw Her Standing There – The Beatles

Little Girls – Oingo Boingo


The Latest Revelations of Sexual Harassment


With new shocking revelations coming out every day, I expect it won’t be too long before we see the following stories dominating the news cycle.

Little People Accuse Santa Claus of Workplace Harassment
“He loved it when we called him ‘Big Poppa’.”

Easter Bunny under Investigation for Inappropriate Contact with Minors
Those weren’t eggs he was hiding.

Tooth Fairy Admits to Sneaking into Sleeping Children’s Bedrooms
Left hush money under their pillows.

Elmer Fudd Arrested for Stalking Transgender Coworker
“Hunter” caught on tape referring to coworker as “wasckally”, making dire predictions of “wabbit season.”

Thomas Jefferson Accused of Sexual Assault in Workplace
Alabama Republicans encourage him to continue to run for office.


Please Stop, You’re Making Me Look Bad


Okay, normally I’m vehemently opposed to identity politics on so many levels. I mean, yes, I’m still (sort of) a libertarian, so that right there is strike one. And I truly believe they are more trouble than value, being used divisively by both sides rather than in any meaningful and constructive way, so that’s strike two. And let’s be honest here, I’m a straight white cis-gender male, so there’s really no universe in which identity politics are going to paint me as the good guy.

But it’s that last point I really want to visit, because of late there’s been a reactionary force on the rise in American politics, a sort of “counter” identity politics that I feel a responsibility to speak out against. As someone told me recently, things have gotten to the point that if you don’t specifically stand against them, you are passively with them. And there are some groups out there who are trying to claim me on the basis of my ethnicity, my gender, or my sexual orientation that I have to say the following to:

PLEASE STOP, YOU’RE MAKING ME LOOK BAD.

Seriously, this shit is getting out of hand. I’ll take just a few of them to the carpet individually, but if you see yourself even remotely empathizing, supporting, or even thinking “yeah, but they kind of have a point” then you need to rethink your priorities.

Neo-Nazis: I’m going to tackle these fuck-knuckles first, mostly because it shames me that I even need to. What fucking century is this? What world do we live in that I even need to explicitly say “Nazis bad”? I would try to say something like “look, I get it, you’re angry, you’re lost, you’re hurting, you just want to belong”, but fuck that. You signed up with the Nazis. Lonely? Get a dog. Angry? Get a therapist. Lost? Get a counselor. Hurting? So are a lot of people. Just want to belong? May I suggest joining a club. Know what I don’t suggest? Joining the fucking Nazis. Here’s a hint: when you’re on the opposite side of FDR, Churchill, and Indiana Jones, you’re on the wrong side.

White Supremacists: All the hate, twice the crazy. (Here’s a pro-tip for you, President Trump: if you want to engage in some moral equivalency, this would be the way to do it.) While the Nazis have a twisted and warped ideology, they at least aren’t completely ignorant of modern history. I mean, I have yet to hear a Nazi say “Germany was just trying to fight off France’s War of Aggression.” There’s no point in trying to convince white supremacists of this, but again, we seem to live in a day and age where this needs to be explicitly said (especially since I was raised in Virginia, where apparently this is not taken as a given): The American Civil War was about slavery. Full stop. “No, wait, it was about states’ rights!” Yeah, the rights of some states to declare certain people the property of other people. And in case I wasn’t clear enough, let me go even further and say slavery is wrong. I don’t care what color your skin is, what your racial or ethnic background, who you worship, who you love… you know what guys, just read the fucking Constitution. I mean seriously, read the god damn thing. And not just the part that starts “A well regulated militia”.

InCels: This is one I just found out about, and while I thought the Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) made my skin crawl, these guys manage to take it to a whole new low. For those of you like myself who have never heard of this particular group of self-aggrandizing asshats, the term is short for “Involuntarily Celibate”. Apparently the conceit they have is that the fact they can’t get laid is because women are evil and have failed them, because they are men and… okay, this is the part that gets fuzzy, but it basically involves some mental gymnastics and a lot of hand waving… and therefore they deserve sex. The disturbing levels of entitlement, anger and bitterness, not to mention outright misogyny and rage prevalent among this group is frightening.

These guys probably bother me more than the others because they strike a little too close to home. I can actually remember a time in my own life when I could honestly say if all cops were women I couldn’t get arrested, and yeah, it made me a little bitter and occasionally angry. But my anger was channeled toward “what am I doing wrong?” not “why are women not giving me what I so clearly deserve?” (The fact that I was saying this while unemployed, living with my parents, and apparently incapable of dragging my ass to a gym is an irony not completely lost on me.) I would try offering some advice to these guys, but having been all too close to that abyss myself I already know it won’t help. I can only hope that one day they will realize that the path they are walking at best ends in further isolation, and at worst ends in misery and madness. If there was any chance they would listen to my advice, it would be this: stop worrying about sex. Wake up, smell your own bullshit, and do something to make your own life less pathetic. It really doesn’t matter if that makes you more appealing to someone else; you still gotta live with you.

That’s not all the groups out there who are co-opting my identity for their own ends, but that’s all I have the energy to throw the bullshit flag on right now. If there’s anyone I missed, please feel free to mention them and I’ll be sure to give them a tip of the hat in my next installment, “No Seriously, Just Shut The Fuck Up Already.”


Heartbreak Symphony Songlist


Side A

Song

 

Artist

Happy Ending Mika
Time Pink Floyd
When You Were Young The Killers
She Talks to Angels Black Crowes
Raining in Baltimore Counting Crows
In Our Bedroom After the War Stars
Pompeii Bastille
Glycerine Bush
Jumper Third Eye Blind
 

Side B

Song

Grey Cell Green

 

 

Artist

Ned’s Atomic Dust Bin

Closer Ne-Yo
Bizarre Love Triangle New Order
Another Rainy Night (Without You) Queensryche
Little Lion Man Mumford and Sons
Rock On David Essex
Demons Imagine Dragons
I Miss You Blink-182
Panic Switch Silversun Pickups
Sex On Fire Kings of Leon
First Cold War Kids

The Making of “Heartbreak Symphony”


This project started out as what I thought would be a simple idea. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, a lot of us who were teenagers at the time would try to impress the people we had crushes on by making them mix tapes. For those of you who are too young to know what those are, they’re kind of like playlists that you had to make with cassettes (no I am not going to explain what those are, just Google it), and they had a limited run time.  You had to find just the right blend of songs to express what you wanted to say in the time you had to work with, and there was definitely an art to it.

I got to thinking about that old art form, and about how sometimes you would pick a song because of a certain line or phrase, and how in many ways you were crafting a poem with someone else’s words. That inspired me to do just that – to write a poem completely out of other people’s words, taken completely out of context but arranged in the order that made sense for my needs, to express my feelings. I also wanted to do it in such a way that it would make a good mix tape, because that was an essential element of the original art form as well – it couldn’t just be a random jumble of songs. Well, I suppose it could, but a poem can also just be a random jumble of words. That doesn’t make it good. The artistry is in the flow, putting them in a certain order so that they sound good and take you on an emotional journey. I felt that if I could manage to do both, to create a poem that worked while at the same time creating a mix tape that worked, I would have achieved a multimedia art form unlike anything I had done (or seen) before.

The first step was the same as any mix tape: picking the songs. I went through and gathered up a list of over 60 songs by artists ranging from the Eagles to Limp Bizkit, paying particular attention to songs that had lyrics that grabbed me. They didn’t have to be anything in particular so long as it was something unique. From there I compiled all the lyrics of the songs with only two rules in mind: first, I had to use a given line complete as written in the song, and second I couldn’t use any line that contained the actual title of the song (I felt that would be cheating). At this point I started narrowing down my list fairly quickly, as I found many of the songs on my list either weren’t as compelling as I originally thought, or else they didn’t have lines I could use. I also found the general outline of the poem already beginning to form, which may have been due to the songs I selected. Whether it is due to my own particular taste in music or perhaps just the nature of pop music itself, I found that most of the songs I was finding quality lyrics in tended toward the melancholier end of the spectrum. (Personally, I think it’s more the latter – the first person who can find any poetic value in “Call Me Maybe” wins a gold star.)

Crafting the poem itself was a bit more of a challenge. It was easy to pick out individual lines I found compelling – too easy, in fact. As the goal was to make a mix tape, I couldn’t use any given song and (preferably) any given artist more than once, and I had a time limit as well. I had to consider the run time of each song I used as part of the poem, and although I have always been fond of the 90 minute cassettes, apparently I am also fond of songs with long run times. Sometimes I wish more artists heeded the mocking advice of Billy Joel from “The Entertainer” and “cut it down to 3:05”.  But I digress. As I went through and wrote the poem, I quickly realized I was piling up a large number of songs and likely would run out of time, so I went back and started adding in the length of each track next to its complementary line in the poem. As I did I saw that I would run out of space before the end of the second stanza, so I made the decision to cut that stanza entirely, which to be honest was not particularly strong anyway.

In this way, the constraint of the time limit turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It forced me to keep the poem tighter than it otherwise would have been and cut weaker material that I might have left in. It also provided me with the artistic guidance to break the poem into two stanzas which equate to the two sides of the cassette. While I believe both the poem and the playlist work very well as a comprehensive whole (and both are meant to be enjoyed that way), there is also a certain completeness to each component part, whether it be the individual stanzas or Side A/Side B of the mix tape.

I hope you enjoy it. Come back tomorrow for a complete playlist so you can enjoy the mix tape for yourself, and feel free to leave any guesses in the comments below.