Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Media Blame Game, or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Pray for the Bomb

Remember when kids in their late teens and early-to-mid twenties had real problems? They had to be careful who they slept with and always had to use contraception. Waiting for someone you loved for your first time was actually encouraged. They had to figure out how to get decent jobs and afford to survive. The reason they avoided doing really stupid and embarrassing things was because they'd be ridiculed and ostracized for it, possibly screwing up their lives forever.

Man, those times sucked.

I'm so glad that we live in a brave new world where it's ok to sleep with anyone you want after a few drinks! In fact, you'll be cooler than ever! You don't need to work hard and get a real job nowadays; all you need is a total void where your dignity should be and a predisposition for acting like a drunk/slut/bigot/toddler/abuser to become famous and make money! People will recognize you from your reprehensible acts and, to add even more joy to your life, companies will pay you to endorse their products simply because other people know you from the time you beat your girlfriend and admitted it on the show! What a wonderful age this is!


I hate putting the blame on the media for the ills of society. I thought it was sickening how Marilyn Manson and gory movies were singled out as the "causes" of Columbine as opposed to the severe emotional disturbances of two lunatics who stockpiled weapons and systematically and methodically killed their classmates. But as long as Walmart agrees to stop selling "Mechanical Animals" and A Clockwork Orange then we should all agree to ignore the fact that these kids got illegal access to guns from scumbags and that their parents were too oblivious to see that those kids were obviously damaged, right?

Parents are supposed to be the barrier of logic against all of the bullshit choices in society. Kids aren't supposed to want to become sluts, child molesters, gangsters, or racists; it's up to parents to be an example for their children and show them that those kind of people end up on the losing end of life. I know most parents work hard to fulfill that duty. I also know that most parents are failing. I'm here to tell you that, against all of the preconceived notions out there, I don't believe parents are entirely at fault. I think there's more blame to put on the media today than there has ever been before.

Think about what life must be like for a parent in this technology-immersed, fame-obsessed, trend whore society. They try to raise their kids right. They try to lead by example. But their kids are being bombarded on all sides by stories about glamorous celebs and their sex lives. They see people who get picked by MTV to live rent-free, rule-free, and consequence-free in some palatial bachelor(ette) pad in a downtown "hot spot" simply because they're ok with sleeping around, drinking, and getting into fistfights on national television. The words of encouragement coming from parents and loved ones stressing hard work and diligent focus in order to make their kids' lives better are falling on deaf ears because the world teens see around them today doesn't run on the same principles it did ten years ago. We live in a Youtube world where the highest honor that one can be bestowed is a mention on Perez Hilton's blog.

Let's face facts: when someone is asked who their heroes are, the second most popular answer (besides the obligatory answer of "my parents") is going to be someone famous. Whether or not celebrities want to admit to themselves or others that they are influential, they are just that. We as a society look to the highly-visible among us for guidance and to lead by example; it's only natural that we learn the most from what we see the most in our lives. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. Sometimes the greatest source of inspiration is a Martin Luther King, Jr.; a Gandhi; a Sally Ride; a single Chinese man willing to step in front of a tank and risk death in the hope of non-violent, peaceful resolution. These are people and images that are delivered to the masses via the media and make lasting impressions on us all; good, solid, decent impressions that show us that the world can be an inspirational place and a place worth working hard to keep alive and robust.

Who fits that mold in today's "media-savvy" age? When someone is in the news these days, is it usually because of something good they've done or is it because they've done something worth ridiculing? The only celebs you ever see in the news anymore are there because they've either been arrested, embarrassed by stupid behavior, or knocked up. Instead of drawing purpose from sources of inspiration we're subjected to sixteen year-old Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy, Naomi Campbell's one millionth meltdown, Hulk Hogan's family in general, Charlie Sheen's divorce snafu's, and yet another Amy Winehouse overdose.

(As an aside, I can't figure out for the life of me why anyone on Earth would give a flying fuck about Amy Winehouse. Sure, the one album she has out isn't bad, but do people really feel the need to keep up on the whereabouts and actions of a crack addict flash-in-the-pan who obviously doesn't want help? Who gives a fuck? Fuck her and Pete Doherty; just die already so we don't have to keep putting up with watching you on our news broadcasts.)


So whose fault is it that the only famous people that teens and twenty-somethings have to look up to these days are troublemakers and people of ill repute? Do you think it could be related to the fact that this fame-whore loving lifestyle has brainwashed us into needing to care about the lives of D-List celebrities, and shockingly we've learned that they're just like you and me only less aware of real-world consequences? And what does that say about us, society itself, that the news can focus on the exploits of narcissistic assholes and keep a captive, ample audience clamoring for more?

A perfect example of a situation where the media is largely at fault is the recent piece by Time magazine detailing a "pact" between seventeen Gloucester teens, all under the age of sixteen, to become pregnant at the same time and raise their children together. At least one of the girls went so far as to allegedly have sex with a twenty-four year old homeless man in order to get pregnant. These girls believed that if they became pregnant and had children that their lives would be better and everything would "work itself out".

Where do these girls get such a stupid idea, you may ask yourself. The answer is easier to find than you think. Go buy a paper or a magazine and read the first few pages and all will be revealed. I couldn't walk up to a newspaper stand and start spinning in a circle with my arms out without knocking over ten magazines with either pregnant celebs or "new mommy" celebs on the covers boasting about how they lost all their baby weight in four weeks. We live in an age where Angelina Jolie is either preggers or adopting a third-world baby at all times. Famous teens are having babies and making it look easy because they can afford top-notch prenatal care, nannies, and personal trainers. The two breakout movies of last year were about: a witty teen who gets knocked up and spews pithy one-liners while making pregnant life look easy; and a movie literally named "Knocked Up", about a well-to-do woman with an ideal support system who has a one night stand with a loser who then wins her over while dealing with the impending birth of their baby. This is what teens are seeing these days and this is what they want to emulate.

Do the parents have a responsibility to teach their children the skills necessary to differentiate the real world from "The Real World"? Absolutely; anyone who tells you different is a moron. But there is simply too much outside input and too many outside distractions these days to have a dominant voice in the societal conversation of responsible living. Parents can't be there all the time monitoring their kids anymore, especially in this age of two-income households and shitty economic times.

How do we fix it? I wish I knew the answer. I'm not even sure there is one; it seems that the people stupid enough to look to today's celeb-retards for guidance are the ones breeding the fastest, which begets more people watching the fake news, which begets more stupid people breeding, and so on and so forth. The only thing I can hope for it that someday society's bullshit meter maxes out and people simply stop caring about the personal lives of the rich and famously stupid, though between you and me I see the world reaching critical mass and imploding before people stop needing their fix of Anna Nicole Smith's baby.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I just want to preface this by saying that if you're not a fan of lengthy stories then this isn't the one for you. This is a long one (that's what she said).

My mind was wandering tonight (as it is prone to do) and I started thinking back to my college days. I thought back to those carefree times when all I had to worry about was finishing a paper before the deadline, picking a bar to drink at for the night, and choosing which cool post-ironic tee I was going to wear to class that day.

But you know what? I don't miss it.

A lot of people wish they were back in college. They talk about the past as if it is some mystical treasure that they had in their hands but let slip out of their grasp. Perhaps it's a desire to go back to a time when they could shirk real responsibility and the real world in general. Actually, strike that; there's no "perhaps" about it; when your only true goal for 4 years is to get laid as often as possible, life is admittedly pretty sweet.

I'm wondering what makes some people turn the corner and be ok with their post-college lives while others can't let go. Or better yet, even if a person's post-college life sucks, at what point did they simply outgrow that part of their life? Is it a gradual fading for some people or does it hit everyone all at once? Personally, I can actually pinpoint the exact night I graduated from missing college.

It was a couple of years after I graduated from UMass. I'd been living with Kristen in Salem and that clearly wasn't going well, so I moved back home in October of 2005. A couple of weeks after that I was invited out by a couple of college friends who were still living in Amherst. I made plans to stay with a friend for the evening as she had an extra futon.

Anyway, so I go out there for the evening and meet up with these people at a downtown bar. We have a great time, we're drinking and laughing, and as the night goes on I start to feel really old. I was only 24 at the time but there was something about seeing freshmen and sophomores with fake IDs drinking at the stools next to us that really unnerved me. It was as if I was some creepy old man who'd wandered into Super Happy Fun Toddler Story Land and all that was missing was some terrifying representation of the sun with a baby's face protruding out of it.

Eventually my friends and I wandered Main Street, sampling the many different bars that Amherst has to offer. The group of us got split up and went separate ways. Once we'd had our fill of booze I called my friend with the futon to make sure she was back at her place. No answer on her cell.

I called her apartment. Still nothing. I called the cell of a mutual guy friend who had also been out with us and was with her group at the time. Nothing.

Ok then, I thought to myself, I guess I'll just drive over to her place and wait for her there. So I drove.

I reached her place at around 2:30 in the morning. I knocked on her door, but got nothing. The lights were out and it didn't look like anyone was home.

Fair enough, I thought; she might be dropping people off and then coming home. I walked back to my car since it was a bit chilly outside. And I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

(Sorry for the shitty, predictable, Plaschke-like narrative; it'll be over soon, I promise.)

I fell asleep in my cold car waiting for her to get back to her apartment. At 4am I was awaken by the sound of a door slamming. I looked out my window to see her kitchen light go on. I made a break for her place and knocked frantically. After some hushed whispers and about 30 seconds of waiting, the door opened.

She looked surprised to see me. So did my mutual guy friend, who at this point had removed his shirt and was sitting on the futon. The same futon I was supposed to have been uncomfortably lying on hours before while I'd be trying in vain to sleep.

Awareness of the situation eventually dawned on her when I asked where she'd been. Of course I didn't need to ask that question; my intuition told me there was a back seat involved at some point. She took me out into the hall and explained to me that I wouldn't be able to stay at her place that night because she had "company". I lost my shit at that point and not-so-calmly explained to her that I was supposed to be her company this evening. (Although not in the same sense, of course - I just wanted to lay on that filthy futon for a while.)

She shrugged, apologized, and let me in to get my stuff from the living room. On the way out, I stared daggers at our "mutual friend" who had dicked me over in order to dick her over. I walked out into the nippy air, put my stuff in my car, and thought things through.

It was 4:30 am at this point; what were my options? I could call someone else who most likely wouldn't be awake and might be pissed I called them at such a late hour. I could try sleeping in my car for a couple of hours and then head home. I could kill my friend and her fuck-buddy and make it look like a lovers' quarrel followed by a murder-suicide.

None of those really appealed to me. Well, one of them did but I dislike the idea of 40 years of forced buttsex behind bars. So I started my car and headed back east. I spent the next 2 hours on the road trying to stay awake. I cranked Pantera's Far Beyond Driven followed by System of a Down's Toxicity. I rolled the windows down and sang along to every song, straining to keep my eyes open.

I made it home at about 6:30am. I pulled into the driveway, stumbled out of my car, and willed my body inside. My dad was about to leave for work as I was walking in the door.

"Rough night?"
"Don't want to talk about it. Going to bed. Hold my calls. Good night."

Except it came out as "Donwannatalkboutitgoinbedholdcallnight".

I woke up that afternoon with the realization that I'd simply outgrown college. It was a sad feeling, but in a way it was completely liberating. I didn't have to worry anymore that I'd let something good slip away. I'd lived that life and now I was ready to live the next part of it. Out of despair, hope.

The great memories of college will always be in my heart and mind. Those were some of the happiest days of my life. I refuse to live the rest of my days with the mindset that it's all downhill after graduation day. There are always new milestones and new memories and new people. There is always an adventure to take part in, one whose lasting impression will not rub out the experiences I had at UMass but will enhance and expand upon them.

Growing up doesn't kill the old you; it just makes the old you better.

So, that's it. Just had to get that written down somewhere.

Now comes the question and answer portion: when did you outgrow college? Have you outgrown college? If so, was it a slow fade or an epiphany? If not, why not? I'm interested to know, I really am.

Good night, everyone.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Our issues this sad Sunday morning...

I am a man who loves to think, to read, to understand the minds of people.

I love politics and literature.

I value common sense, integrity, logic, and compassion above all else.

On Friday, one of my heroes passed away.

For me, Tim Russert was a god. He was smart, informative, and he just looked like he was having fun every Sunday at that table. He would ask all these brilliant questions, every one of them fair yet exact. Each week he led the interviewee through a straight path to the heart of each matter. If you didn't bring it, you'd end up crawling out the door. The man thrived on the logic and common sense behind the decisions and words of others. He held people accountable while at the same time managing to keep his child-like sense of awe and wonder about the whole process.

You've probably already read or seen (or will read or see at some point) statements from the people who knew him best: politicians, political strategists, journalists, authors, etc. You'll get the sense that the man was and continues to be bigger than life.

It's easy enough to hear that from people who knew him personally and think to yourself, "I assume that the people who know me would say the same things about me when I die". It strikes home when the passing of a man I'd never met can hit me like it does right now.

Tim Russert is the kind of man I want to be. He's a family man, a brilliant man, a no-nonsense man. He was guided by his mind and his heart; it was as plain as day just watching him once a week on television. There's almost a sense that something is amiss with the world; we need more people like Tim Russert and instead he was taken away from us.

In a small way, I almost feel as if politics will never be accountable in the same way it's been for the 17 years Tim sat in that chair. Who else uses common sense so brilliantly in his or her queries to keep politicians honest? In a world where political journalism and discourse have become shouting and pissing matches between the loudest and most extreme political parrots among us, who will take the torch and ask the questions that the average American needs to have answered but doesn't have the means to do so? Who will take these people to task and force them to answer the tough questions with straightforward, thoughtful, and character-defining answers that shape the weekly news cycle and the political landscape as a whole?

It's painful to think about it now. I'm not sure I'll be able to fill the little piece of me that Tim Russert and Meet the Press occupied. It feels like the fire that had always been fueled by my intellectual curiosity and for the world of politics has been dimmed just a little by his passing.

Tim Russert was a giant among men. I will miss him very much.

"To whom much is given, much is expected." - Luke 12:48

RIP Mr. Russert

Monday, June 2, 2008


Sometimes I think about what kind of father I'll be.

What kind of family man I'll be.

I want my kids to look up to me.

I want my kids to know that they can come to me with anything.

I want my kids to want to come to me with everything.

I want my kids to know that life is a beautiful thing.

I want my wife and children to know I love them more than anything.

I want to be able to grow old, surrounded by the people I love. In a big old house in a quiet town. We'll raise them to be good and honest people, and we'll share cherished memories when they're older.

Thoughts like these put my mind at ease and my heart at peace.

Sweet dreams.