Sunday, December 29, 2013

An Unnecessarily Detailed Takedown of a Really Stupid Meme

So, I keep seeing this condescending bullshit shared almost exclusively by Republicans, and it pisses me off more every time I see it, because it's utter nonsense on every level, and kindof sums up everything I hate about this collection of self-congratulatory cultural myths that make stupid people feel better about themselves for being uneducated and managing to not die (so far).  I'm going to go ahead and indulge myself, and explain why everything is wrong, because I'm feeling bored and cranky.  I've copied and pasted from one of the longer variations I've seen, from the Facebook page of a radio station that was reposted by several people from my friends-list.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL BORN IN 1930's, 1940's, 50's, 60's, 70's and Early 80's !!! 
Because these are all totally the same fucking thing.  I've noticed this kind of time-creep effect over the last few years.  When I first saw this meme, it was just the 50s and 60s, and I passed it by as typical self-fellating Boomer Shit.  Lately, however, I've noticed that Generation X has begun to also notice that there are Damn Kids on Their Lawns, and so the early 80s have now magically become the same thing as the 1930s, at least where idiots with lots of nostalgia but no corresponding memory of actual events are concerned.

First, you survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a tin, and didn't get tested for diabetes. 
Yeah!  Who cares about maternal care!  It's not like there are any legitimate medical concerns with women who do these things while pregnant, or anything.  You'd almost think the infant mortality rate had been dropping steadily for years as neonatal care has improved the health and well-being of mothers and infants alike...

Oh, right.  That's from this article summarizing infant mortality in the 20th century for a 2001 symposium, "Accomplishments in Child Nutrition during the 20th Century."  The gist is that babies aren't dying so much as we improve what we know about how to take care of our unborn children and take better care of expectant mothers, especially in "industrialized" nations.
Then after that trauma, your baby cots were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.  You had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets ...
First off, if you're under 43, you can just shut up right now, because the Poison Prevention Packaging Act was passed by the US Congress in December, 1970, which is a perfect example of why our meme's time-line is a giant pile of horse manure.  If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you had child-safe medicine bottles, and you should probably be grateful considering the effect the PPPA had on child safety.  To whit:
After the PPPA and the implementation of standards to prevent poisonings, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that child-resistant packaging reduced the oral prescription medicine-related death rate by up to 1.4 deaths per million children under age 5 years. This represented a reduction in the rate of fatalities of up to 45% from levels that would have been projected in the absence of child-resistant packaging requirements, and equated to about 24 fewer child deaths annually.
Confirmation bias means never having to say you're sorry - certainly not to the kids who actually did die or suffer from the physical effects of living in an industrial wonderland - and clearly no one ever suffered from eating a little lead paint now and then, right?  As the article points out, "childhood lead exposure is estimated to contribute to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year," and who am I to judge one of those 600,000 cases if they want to glorify their halcyon days of happily ingesting poison because their parents didn't know any better?

But I digress... we were talking about safety equipment as well, right?

... and when you rode your bikes, you had no helmets, not to mention, the risks you took hitchhiking As children, you would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a van - loose - was always great fun. 
Yes, I rode in a van when I was a kid and it was like CAMPING ALL THE TIME.  I also loved the way your voice would shake and sound like Darth Vader when you sat in the front seat because the entire vehicle was constantly vibrating like it was about to literally fall apart at all times.  That said, if my father had ever crashed Old Betsy when I was in that vehicle with him, I would have had a 78-54% lower chance of dying if I was wearing a seatbelt.  I'm not even touching the hitchhiking thing.  I mean, seriously, just what crack is the author of this meme smoking?  OH RIGHT, LEAD PAINT.
You drank water from the garden hosepipe and NOT from a bottle. You shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.
The "drinking from the garden hose" thing.  Yeah, I used to love doing that, in between spraying the water into the air in a fine mist to make rainbows appear in the air like magic.  I don't have any kind of a problem with drinking from the water hose.  Of course, I might think differently now than I did in the 80s, as pharmaceuticals are increasingly making their way into public water supplies as people flush them away (not just from pouring them down the drain, but also simply from residual traces of these drugs found in human waste).  After all, most of the water treatment facilities in the US are not equipped to remove these substances, nor are they yet required to in most districts.

I will agree that plastic water bottles are a bad idea on many, many levels, but I suspect my reasons and those of the NIMBY clones who share this kind of tripe are very, very different.

 You ate cakes, white bread and real butter and drank pop with sugar in it, but you weren't overweight because...... YOU WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!! You would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
Here, of course, we come to the "lies and damn lies" segment of the meme.  This is the part where people like my parents forget that when I was a kid they bitched endlessly about the chemical crap they put in food "nowadays."  When I was a kid, cake was a rare treat, and you weren't supposed to eat a lot of it, which is pretty much the same approach nutritionists take today.  No one is trying to ban all cake, you fucking morons. ... Sorry, I was trying to be less directly angry, but dear God does this drive me up a wall.

White bread, by the way, is not necessarily "bad" for you, but in terms of flavor and nutrition it's basically soft cardboard.  Butter isn't really all that bad for you, but lots of butter is bad for you.  If you eat like Paula Deen, it doesn't matter how many hours you spend running around, jumping and climbing trees, you're still going to have health problems.  Just like Paula Deen.

But coming back to the "YOU WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!!" fallacy.  You were not always outside playing, certainly not when you were a kid in the 1980s.  TV Dinners were introduced in 1953 by Swanson, which did not stop calling them that until 1962.  Have you seen Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?  Remember this little moment?

This was in 1971, and Mike Teavee had never been to the kitchen table.  He looks, what, ten years old here?  Of course, this passage was meant to mock the parents of this child, who never went outside like his predecessors and was terribly privileged.  This kid was the same age (or older) than half of our memetic demographic, and he was everything these people think that only modern kids are.
No one was able to reach you all day. And you were OK.
Bullshit.  We were kept under close watch, you see, because of things like the Satanic Panic, a kind of Blood Libel for the latter half of the 20th century in middle class America, in which it was assumed that if you wandered out of visual range of your parents, Satanists were going to nab you from the shadows and torture you.  Hilariously enough, the same kind of person who thinks their childhood was so open and free is also the kind of person who, in my own anecdotal experience, still thinks the world is full of rapists and pedophiles just waiting for little Timmy to turn the corner before you get there.
You would spend hours building your go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out you forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, you learned to solve the problem .
Because the only way to learn things is to injure yourself.  Thinking ahead, or (Heaven forfend!) reading something before you start a project is something only weird people do.  Also, building go-carts is a great idea, but it was never universal and if you think it was, you spent too much of your life watching television.
You did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no mobile phones, no text messaging, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms..........YOU HAD FRIENDS and you went outside and found them!
1972 - Magnavox Odyssey
1975 - Betamax
1976 - VHS
1977 - Atari
1982 - Commodore 64
1983 (the year I was born) - Nintendo

Pinball machines have existed since the 1930s.  Video arcades have been around since the 1970s.  Again, I mention this primarily to point out that anyone even ten years older than me who believes that we lived in some kind of pre-technological utopia is full of shit.

Also, I just want to take a moment with this fallacy that people who use the internet, who text, who use the phone often, don't have friends.  That's some luddite idiocy right there.  I have many, many friends, many of whom I would never be able to speak to if not for the internet.  My quality of life has been vastly improved by the internet and easy access to phones, and if you think that the only people who really matter are the ones you can physically interact with on a regular basis, then I'm convinced you are suffering from some kind of intellectual disability.  Perhaps it was all that lead paint.

You fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents you played with worms(well most boys did) and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
If you were a complete idiot, you did all of these things.  If you had some kind of survival sense, you were smart enough to avoid the hospital as much as possible.  If you think that it's un-masculine to avoid unnecessary bodily harm, then you are the kind of person we have warning labels for in the first place.  Some of us don't need to feel the lion's teeth to know they're sharp.

Also, seriously, worms are just gross.  Whatever.
You made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although you were told it would happen, you did not poke out any eyes. You rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!
If you think kids don't do that now, you're either blind and deaf, or you don't actually go outside very often.  You're probably pretty fat.  Maybe you should lay off the cakes.  Your mother may be responsible for all of this, of course, what with drinking when she was pregnant with you.  She wasn't to know the effect it would have on your mental development.
Local teams had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! The idea of a parent bailing you out if you broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!
 Spoken with all the social Darwinism of the privileged middle class.  Of course, these same people fetishize the pain of others (remember the thing with the trees?), so it's not surprising that this meme was also brought to you by someone who thinks that failure to "make the team" somehow makes you a stronger person.  Life is full of disappointments.  Most of those disappointments post memes about how awesome discouragement is.
This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever!
Just like every other generation that preceded it.  Just like every generation thereafter.

Also, a quick reminder "this generation" consists of people from the the 1930s to the 1980s, a span of fifty years.  Assuming that someone born in 1930 waited until they were 25 to have children, and their own children also waited until they were 25, this meme insists that you in the same generation as your own grandparents, and that any cultural differences between 1930 and 1980 are insignificant when compared to anyone born after 1980.  To put that in a different context, assuming that the "next" generation starts in 1983 (and I refuse to be part of this bullshit, so I'll consider myself one of the "new" people for social conventions sake), I would be in the same generation as someone born in 2030 - another 18 years from now.

I suppose, yes, if you think that a generation lasts fifty years, you will get a good "haul" of inventors "ever" - of course, if we're going that broadly, "this generation" doesn't hold a candle to the one I'm arbitrarily going to say lasted from 1590 to 1642.  Hell, even the immediate predecessors to our Super Special Baby Boomer Crew were more hardcore and inventive.  All you Boomers are lazy, soft-bodied pansies, with you child labor laws, your vaccines and your penicillin.   How could you ever learn to solve problems if you've never been exposed to black lung or made to work in a steaming cloud of industrial pollutants?
The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. You had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and you learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!
Of course, many of those innovations and new ideas are the exact thing that our memespawner is bitching about in the first place.  
And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS! You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. And while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.
You are not braver, smarter, or in any way more happy or productive than your offspring.  You are just sad, pathetic and desperate to remain relevant, and if you're under 40 and posting this, then you are also straight-up delusional.  None of the things you remember about our lives as kids is real.  Nothing you think about the children of the current decade is true.  You dismiss real problems (prenatal smoking and drinking, falling out of trees, and riding in vehicles without a seatbelt) and dread imagined ones (THESE KIDS NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE!), and live in a cloud of fantasy and confirmation bias.  After all, if you're still alive and healthy, then nobody else could have died or got sick.  The only real things are things that have happened to you, and everyone else is just weak and pathetic.  You are, in short, an absolute solipsist, or, in other words, a social conservative.

So, was it necessary to spend this kind of time researching my rebuttal to a stupid meme posted by a radio station that plays songs from the 70s and 80s?  Well, as of my writing this, the photo in question was "liked" by 213,240 people, and shared by 243,834, with just over 23,000 comments.  I've seen it, and variations of it, at least a few dozen times over the last decade, and it has clearly become much more complex as people have added their own lists of nonsensical grievances.  Facebook memes matter, not because they are true, but because they reveal the kinds of untruths that people find comforting, which might be fine if that didn't also consistently seem to translate into political ideologies that have a real-world impact on people's lives.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Some thoughts on the Fourth of July

I recently discovered this passage from Mark Twain's posthumously published Letters from the Earth.  This book is work picking up and reading in its entirety; I have rarely been so moved by such heartfelt and beautiful cynicism and sarcasm.  It is called "Two Fragments from a Suppressed Book Called "Glances at History" or "Outlines of History".  The fragments are included with the "Papers of the Adam Family".  One segment in particular caught my attention: 
For in a republic, who is “the Country”? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle?  Why, the Government is merely a servant—merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.  Its function is to obey order, not originate them.  Who, then, is “the Country”? Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit?  Is it the school superintendent?  Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command.  They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.
Who are the thousand—that is to say, who are “the Country”? In a monarchy, the kind and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people.  Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak.  And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians.  Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t.  You cannot shirk this and be a man.  To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to you country, let men label you as they may.  If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country—hold up your head!  You have nothing to be ashamed of. 
I find myself thinking, this 4th of July, about patriotism.  On occasion, I have found myself at the wrong end of popular opinion about what the word means, and whether it applies to me, and whether I would ever want to be thought of as a "patriot".  I don't get along with the flag-pin crowd.  To the extent that I experience patriotism, it's an adversarial kind, the "kicking the tires" version whereby I don't automatically trust the people around me or agree with people because it's the "patriotic" thing to think or do.  
With that in mind, on my own Facebook yesterday, I posted the following: 
I'm not proud to be an American, but I am proud to be in a country where I am not legally required to be proud to be an American. I am proud to live in a place in which I am far less likely to be killed for who I am and what I think than I would be in a fair (albeit admittedly shrinking) percentage of the world. I am proud to live in a country where only slightly more or less half of the population on any given day doesn't think I have the right to exist, and I am proud that I live in a country where I can tell those people to fuck off and eat a bowl of dicks while dying in a fire. That is what is best about living in America. It's what makes us (almost) great and mostly tolerable.

America is not actually all that great, but saying that is kindof my litmus test: as long as I am able to criticize this country and participate in it and engage in public dialogue and challenge the government and the citizenry, then America is at least still moving more or less forward, and that's something to be proud of. I am proud that I don't have to like you people, and my patriotism is rooted in the fact that I *don't* have to wave a flag around and declare that I have no problem with my government or my neighbors. Freedom means I can tell you where to stick your fake patriotic lapel pins and you can't have me put to death outright for it, and *that* is something to be proud of.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review of YellowBrickRoad

My partner and I just watched YellowBrickRoad.  I loved some things about it, and hated other things.  Here's my take.  The direction was beautiful, and I was grateful to some extent that it wasn't found-footage for a change (this story easily could have been; all the elements are there).  The acting was really great, and I found this to be all the more well-done when I realized that I actually cared what happened, and was truly upset at some of the more sinister moments in the movie.

[There Be (mild) Spoilers Ahead]

Monday, December 10, 2012

Steam Vent Release - Here There Be Blitherings

(An unedited stream-of-consciousness rant that I had to get out of the way to finish reading Bruno Latour's Science in Action.  It isn't his fault; this is just the sort of thing these readings tend to do to my head.)

What is like to be able to think that there is one and only one objective (and knowable) Truth?  To think that perception, even sensory perception, is uniform and explicable, and exists independent of the way we are socialized to experience it?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Searle and Poststructuralist Theory: I'm Really Tired Edition

Last night in class I bitchily compared poststructural historical writing to John Searle's chinese room, then had to explain to the professor what I meant by that.  It was intended as a jab at the incomprehensibility of Dipesh Chakrabarty and Ann Stoler (among others), though I'm pretty sure I managed to imply that I just didn't understand any of the readings and that I was embarrassingly okay with this fact.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  I am not a stupid person, nor do I have trouble understanding theoretical frameworks, but these authors have confused me greatly, and I'm as willing to blame them as myself.

Friday, October 12, 2012


I didn't hate the pilot of the new Green Arrow show, despite all the many reasons why I should have.

The narration was the first problem.  Stephen Amell is a beautiful pile of abs topped with an anonymously handsome face.  There is beefcake to be had.  The problem is, his voice is silky, baby-soft, and a touch... well... he has a lisp.  A really pronounced one that makes his hard-edged pronouncements about the rough years on his magical parkour island difficult to take seriously.

The writing is cheesy.  Like, Velveeta cheesy, not the good stuff.   It's needlessly melodramatic, with characters regularly possessed by the exposition fairy in a really ham-handed way.  The dialogue is just not that great, though they clearly tried to spruce it up with cultural references (for the kids).

The plot I will mostly forgive for now.  It's Batman meets Beatrix Kiddo, all the more so because they seem to have removed everything that made Oliver Queen *not* Batman so far.  However, Green Arrow was never not derivative, and clearly there's some ground that they could break if they can stop writing for the bottom half of their intended demographic's IQ pool.

I don't hold out hope, but I will give it at least another episode before I call it a wash.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Life With Irma Levinson

My great grandmother is dying.  She's in the hospital again, and as I understand things, from this point it's a matter of how quickly or slowly it happens, but it's a near-certainty.  I think about it and my heart starts to jump around in my chest like a terrified bird in a heavy cage.  My whole body feels like molten lead.  My vision tunnels out and I feel like I can almost hear her in my head.

I haven't had the chance yet to cry about it.  Well, now I am, as I type this.  I thought I was prepared; we had such a scare a few years ago, when she had a heart attack, but it still hurts as if it wasn't something expected.  It's hard to explain how much I love her, and how much she has always meant to me and always will mean.  Damned if I'm not going to try.