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Posts Tagged ‘entitlement’

The new TV season is one of the least inspired in recent memory.  While I’m always glad to see Tom Selleck and I adore watching the new hot boy haole Five-0’s bicker like a married couple in their Hawaiian honeymoon paradise, I can honestly say the new shows could all disappear and I wouldn’t miss them.

One recent offering that I’m still hoping will turn around is about a family who suddenly discovers they have super powers.  I know, judge me if you want, but I’m a fiction guy.  That means I believe in the power of fantasy to reveal truth through heightened reality.

But none of that is my point.

I think the idea of suddenly discovering you can fly or read minds or whatever is the sort of conceit that is so well realized on the small screen.  But not for the people on this show.  For these folks having super powers is a problem.  That’s right, once again we’re asked to believe people don’t want to be special.  American’s who are so desperate for attention and to set ourselves apart from the pack we post humiliating videos of ourselves on YouTube so millions of strangers will make fun of us.  But time and again, we are told we really only want to be “normal” and “fit in.”

Dear TV People: We do not want that.  We don’t even think that’s a good idea.  And it doesn’t have to be super powers.  People watch American Idol by the zillion and buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of lottery tickets for the same reason.  Both promise that we might be lifted out of our “normal” lives and transported into the realms of our fantasy.   Just the fact that other people win gives us hope that it could happen.

We all want to be special.

There was a show on a couple of years back called Heroes.  In it, ordinary people suddenly discovered that they have special powers.  The characters, we were told at excruciating length, all just wanted things to go back to way they were before even though they didn’t really like their lives before.  The show was not about them being special, it was about how being special was a problem.  The show is no longer on the air.  And it didn’t go out in a blaze of glory.

We not only want to be special, we believe we already are.

The reality shows seem to me to be about confirming that the audience is as special as we believe we are.  When we tune in to the manufactured reality of these dubious and fictionalized dramas we are told that because we are overweight or pregnant or broke or housewives or just jerks that live at the Jersey shore, we are special.  Or, better still; we in the audience get to feel superior to the tubby shore dwelling housewives of someplace not as nice as where we live.

If we really feel bad about ourselves, there is even a show about people who live in their own filth.  That’ll up your special quotient on the worst day.

Love stories tell us that we will find someone who thinks we and we alone are so special that we can’t be lived without.  Horror movies tell us that there is something special in us that will allow us to overcome and defeat evil itself even though the high school cheerleader and that hot quarterback guy that everyone thought was so special got eaten.  Harry Potter and the whole fantasy genre tell us that when the prophecy is revealed, we will be the chosen one.  And the coarse comedies from Laurel and Hardy to Judd Apatow to Jack Ass all give us the opportunity to feel superior and, by extension, special.

The truth is, we are all special.  We’re right.  There are something approaching 8 billion people on our little blue bubble and each one of us is having a unique experience.  Twins who live their entire lives from birth to death in each other’s company doing exactly the same things at the same time will have two different experiences.

That is divine, as are we all.

We long to celebrate our specialness, our unique, individual, peerlessness.

So, if you’re looking to make a movie or a TV show that tanks, make one that tells us that we’re not special and we don’t want to be.  Oh wait, you already have.  I guess my question is, why make another one?

 

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We’re in a national crisis, and I think I know why.
When I was on tour promoting my novel Say Uncle a funny thing happened. Many people who came to get me to sign their book also came to ask me child rearing questions. To be fair, the book is about a single gay man raising a child. It’s my meditation on what it might have been like for me to raise a child at that point in my life. But it’s fiction. That means I made the whole thing up. Apparently though, readers with young children tried some of the solutions that I made up and they actually worked. They wanted more.
I’m no child expert, but I am an expert on Say Uncle. So, I told them what I thought the character in the book would do – literary child rearing advice, perhaps?
In preparing to write the book I did ask parents I knew about their experience. I got a lot of answers. Very few were the same, save one. Whatever you react to, you reinforce. If your baby cries when you put him to bed and you go pick him up, he won’t sleep through the night. Not because he can’t but because you taught him if he cried you’d come pick him up. If you react to the bad behavior you’ll get more. The trick, and it’s a hard one, is to react to the good behavior and ignore the bad.
From what I’ve observed, this applies long after childhood is over. We are in a period of bad parenting on an epic scale. Through TV, the news, the internet and in a thousand ways we pay attention almost exclusively to the bad behavior. Good behavior? Well, no one pays much attention and there seems to be less and less of it.
We ignore the good and affirm the bad by focusing on it.
The most famous person in Hollywood is not Meryl Streep, though she’s arguably the best we’ve got, it’s Lindsay Lohan. I guess Mean Girls was pretty good, but really, what else is there? Yet, she is receiving a lethal amount of airtime and press attention. If we want to help Lindsay, we should ignore her – we should probably ignore her anyway, but I’m just saying. There is no incentive for Lindsay to get better. It did kill Anna Nicole. I was afraid we were going to lose Robert Downey, jr. the same way. He kept crashing and burning and he kept getting another chance, thanks to the headlines for the bad behavior that kept him famous. Any idea what he’s up to lately? Sandra Bullock, the Oscar winning best actress and currently the most bankable star in Hollywood only got coverage when her husband’s tattooed, pole dancing girlfriend went public with their affair. The Divorce is final and she’s slipping into obscurity.
This doesn’t just apply in the frivolous world of entertainment. Our whole country is currently being run by the bad kids.
That woman who used be governor in Alaska for instance. Her career has been built, not by the people who like her, but by those who think she’s terrible. They just can’t stop reporting on how terrible she is. And now she’s so terrible that she’s rich, famous, powerful and a political force to be reckoned.
The crazy people yelling at town hall meetings, the 100 member church and their book burning, that crackpot Iranian President Almondine, the two remaining black panthers and the Birthers are getting more coverage than economic policy and legislation despite double digit unemployment.
Recently, a woman the republicans apparently aren’t particularly fond of got nominated to be their senate candidate in Delaware. I don’t care, I don’t support her, she is opposed almost everything I’m in favor of. No surprise. That’s kinda of how it goes in politics. Yet, I would not recognize the man she will run against if he knocked on my door. He has received NO coverage by his opponents or his SUPPORTERS! Meanwhile, the bigoted, part time Wiccan, assault-Christian, anti-nature, embezzler he’s running against is being made into a viable national candidate by her OPPONENTS.
For all the good people in politics – as in most every other field — doing a good job, working hard, helping the people they were elected to support, it’s the one’s with anti-masturbation platforms who get all the coverage. The good guys languish for lack of attention while the bad apples flourish in the warm nurturing glare of our obsession.
The good guys are still out there. I personally think they’re still the majority. Let’s encourage them and stop paying attention to the lunatics and the assholes. I don’t know that they’ll go away, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stop hearing about them?

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I mourn the passage of manners.

This age of selfishness has precluded the necessity.  We are diminished by the loss.  I’m hardly the most formal of people.  My vocabulary would offend a sailor.  (Is that really true I wonder? Are sailors really that foul mouthed?)

But I miss the simple niceties of making the effort, however sincerely felt.  I miss the act.

I have a friend who has cancelled on me three time in the last few months each time because “He has a friend he needs to catch up with.” I assume that he is unaware that he is in essence telling me that I’m not a very important friend, but still.  Why not actually honor the invitations you accept?

Another friend, on cancelling an invitation he had previously accepted said “I never said I would come.” He had, in writing.  It was a minor social event and only an irritation that he’d cancelled.  Why call me a liar? Needless to say, further invitations have been curtailed.

California, my wonderful home that I love, is a bit challenging in this area.  No invitation or acceptance of same here are deemed final until one actually arrives at the event.  It is the land of the better offer.  That is, all invitations are accepted conditionally and honored only if there is not something better on offer.  Not my style.  But it is the unwritten rule here.

It was hard to take at first.  I actually changed my outgoing voicemail message to “At the tone, please leave the time and date of the engagement you’ve called to cancel.”  I’ve gotten used to it, not okay with it.  I’ve simply stopped making plans with people who can’t show up.  Instead, I enjoy spending time with the flakier members of my set when chance dictates.

But my social life is only a speck in the eye of dignity.

We are drowning in bad manners.  At a movie the other night the ushers had to announce more than once to get people to stop texting and blinding others, and then there was an attitude.  Traffic has become a competitive arena where people cut each other off and generally behave as if there is no one behind them or anyone else on the road.  This of course leads to gratuitous horn honking, bird flipping and obscenity shouting (I’m doing better, okay.)

“You lie.” An elected member of the US Congress shouted that at the President of the United States, while he was speaking to a joint session.  Even if he had been lying, which in fact he was not, how have we arrived at a place where that is okay?

I’m not even okay with referring to the President of the United States by his last name.  I think it is derisive.  It is President Bush or President Obama, not Bush this or Obama that.  Whether I agree with their politics or not, they are President, and for as long as they live.  We would hardly refer to the Queen as Windsor or worse, her original last name, Saxe-Coburg-Gothe.  There is reverence for the office that has nothing to do with the man or the woman.

Vulgarians, liars and brutes have taken over the airwaves.  Leaders in the field of crudity like Howard Stern have made it okay to simply say anything you want true or not, rude or not, to or about whoever you feel like saying it.  His popularity has directly given rise and permission to Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Reverend Fred Phelps and Timothy McVeigh.

The price paid is not that my delicate sensibilities are offended.  I have come to wonder what someone would actually have to do to shock me.  I am not devalued by your crude remarks and boorish behavior.  You are.

The Presidency is a the perfect example.  We all choose the President, even the ones who vote against him or her.  Even those who don’t vote, vote by their abstention.  So the Presidency is us.  If we have or show no respect for the President or at least the office, then we have no respect for ourselves.

I am but one driver on the road I share with others.  If I don’t respect the other drivers, then I don’t respect myself.  Or the other movie patrons.  Or my fellow gym members.  Or the shoppers at my local grocery, my neighbors or simply the friends I stand up.

Manners are how we show respect for others, but mostly they’re how we show respect for ourselves.  If I treat you as though you are worthless, then what value, as your equal, do I have?

If I have no manners, I have no self-respect.

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