Death and the Meme

In order to understand why the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is in fact, not “rapey”, we must go all the way back to the myth of Hades and Persephone, sometimes nicknamed “Death and the Maiden.” A fantastic play and Roman Polanski film (IRONY) also use this title as a reference to the myth but features an inversion of the genders, text, and subtext to craft a story of revenge both sensual and political. Rape is definitely a theme in that story, and there is certainly reason enough to reference this myth when dealing with such themes. It’s clear from the films he chose that Polanski saw women as powerful creatures brought low by cruel men, and how that pity may lead someone to destruction and resentment of the female is another discussion altogether. We’re here to talk about a Christmas song.

The original “Death and the Maiden” myth tells how Hades, lord of the dead, kidnapped his bride, Persephone, and brought her into the Underworld. Her enraged mother, Demeter, blights the earth with cold and famine on condition of seeing her daughter returned. This continues despite the pleas of other gods until Zeus tells Hades to return Persephone. He does so, but secretly sends her with seeds of the pomegranate. The pomegranate, carnal and chambered like a bloodied heart, is the original Fruit of Knowledge, as there were no apples in the lands where these myths were written. Tasting of food binds Persephone to Hades so that she must spend a third of the year with her husband. When she is away from her possessive mother, we are punished. This is why in winter, it is cold outside, if you will.

“Death and the Maiden” is where the tradition of carrying one’s bride over the threshold, symbolizing the death of the bride’s previous life with her parents through a ritualistic “kidnapping,” originates. It can be seen as a repeating motif throughout art history in countless paintings and repeated whenever a monster picks up a woman draped in white: think Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, all the way to The Force Awakens. If it doesn’t happen in one way or another, possibly even reversed, in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, I’ll be surprised. And it is echoed, in a lighter form, in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Is it a coincidence that this is a winter song? Probably. But in a Jungian way, it may be the subconscious repeating an archetype it doesn’t know it possesses.

The key to understanding, contextually, what is going on, is to understand the place of such stories in history, in ancient gender roles, in politics, and in honor-based cultures, which most conservative wartime cultures like that of Ancient Athens or WW2 America (1944 to be exact) are, almost without deviation.

Persephone ate the seeds willingly. Demeter was no fun to be around. Gods of death, for obvious reason, are often portrayed as possessive and jealous–people’s experience of death and the impossibility of bringing back the dead inform this. But there is a recurring arc of the possessive parent throughout archetypal stories, as well, and it is a right of passage to be “taken” or “freed,” as the case may be. Like Rapunzel, Persephone is her mother’s captive. Hades, “kidnapping” her, frees her from innocence, chastity, childhood, and the shackles of parental overprotection while saving Persephone face with Demeter because it was all “against her will.”

Throughout honor-based cultures run by patriarchal ideals, the Maiden is forced into the role of eternal virgin followed asexually by Motherhood, and then thanklessly, to Cronehood. A father, in this case, the entire Patriarchy, does not want to know how he gets his grandchildren — but make no mistake, a mother character can also be a patriarch.

In the Forties, to have a woman struggle against an implied sexual interlude, but only to struggle lightly, was for her to consent. There is a game being played — sex is never mentioned, and she feigns innocence because to be forward would be to imply a further depth. When culturally a woman hides 90% of her experience, to be forward is to say one is essentially a prostitute, because you’ve implied there’s 90% more beneath that layer. So everyone knows the song is about a seduction, and about the fact that she must let him seduce her, or else everyone, not just the man in the song, would be put off. When she asks what’s in the drink, it isn’t a roofie. She’s implying it’s spiked with alcohol, or stiffer stuff than her usual — because otherwise, she wouldn’t be in the process of consenting. “What’s in this drink?”, the very line many have latched onto as the “rapey” section, is the moment of consent on her part. By establishing an audible excuse for her future behavior, she’s sent the signal that she’s willing while simultaneously saying that this isn’t something she makes a habit of doing.

Persephone ate the seed willingly. Eve ate of her pomegranate first. A woman’s role in the Forties was to put on a shadowplay that the man was in control, sexually, to save face with her parents and the outside world. But we all know a threshold doesn’t hold thresh, that the monster is more alluring than the suitor waiting at home, and that the woman is who spiked her drink in the first place.

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Facebook Withdrawals, Pt. 4(?)

Day Something Or Other

When there’s something cool I find on the internet, something really cool that I’d never seen before and think other people haven’t seen before, something like this:

Something I know a particular subset of people would think is cool, I want to share it with them, I want to feel cool doing it, and I want them to like it. I want it instantly, I want it NOW and I can’t because I’m not on Facebook. There are people I don’t actually hang out with but am maybe better friends with in an online capacity. Does that mean we actually like each other, though? Or do our left-brains connect? Do we connect on the basis of keeping our right-brains slightly active while others’ atrophy in a world of words and typing? Why do I need other people to think I’m cool? Why do I need other people in order to think I’m cool?

The people I would share this with will never see it because there isn’t going to be a “next time I see them.” This upsets me. I’m not sad; I’m not angry. I’m frustrated to a level that felt like this belonged in the withdrawals category.

I rejoined The Old Reader, because something about Feedly bothers me and I don’t use it. It’s the way the feed works. It’s difficult and clumsy when it comes to getting rid of what I’ve already read or had no interest in. The Old Reader is closer to original Google Reader in that it makes it rather simple and fast to comb through the sites I want to be in touch with that day, skip from article to article, and hide those I’ve read already. Also, it still had all my Google Reader sites in it from when I first tried it back when GR went away.

Something I noticed: 98% of the blogs I’d been following all stop around 2011-2013. Using this infographic, I’m going to say this is after the much-ballyhooed alterations to our Newsfeed in 2009. You know, the “Popular Posts” change, cascading to several other timeline algorithm changes over the next two years. It’s the one where you have to consciously change it back to chronological (a much less addictive, less reductive, less manipulated way to experience the site) every day, or few hours, or few days seemingly at random, or it would silently revert to Most Popular setting. I have a sneaking suspicion there’s a connection to the drop-off of blogs and the Most Popular setting and the increase in Facebook addiction and, you guessed it, the 2016 electoral cycle. Maybe 2012 was the end of the world, after all.

Without any real scientific research to back this up, I have a sneaking suspicion there’s a connection between: the drop-off of blogs, the Most Popular setting, an increase in Facebook addiction and, you guessed it, the 2016 electoral cycle and its surrounding chaos and general inability of the Western populace to tell reality from their own information bubbles.

Maybe 2012 was the end of the world, after all.

Facebook Withdrawals, pt. 3

Day 5

No signs of physical withdrawals. Just the mental — reach for something that isn’t there (a phone, a tab); a longing to share things with only antiquated outlets like email or Google Plus to reach out with.

As I misspelled something today it occurred to me that the displacement of the letters might be related to brain hemisphere activity. I’d typed “Westwordl” instead of “Westworld.” The displacement of the D and the L could imply that my left hand was moving faster than my right (the D is on the left side of the QWERTY keyboard). It would be interesting to have a keystroke study done to see if consistent kinds of misspellings and so-called internet slang all sprang forth from Right- or Left-brain dominance being exacerbated by internet usage.

Facebook Withdrawals, Day Two

Day Two

Mental acuity clearly has taken a hit. Without social media, every few minutes I feel stranded without any idea what to do with myself, even as I do other things. Very similar to nicotine mental addiction. Every few minutes, I would forget what to do with my hands. In this case, I forget what to do with my mind. It’s going to take some time to rewire. Without real physical withdrawals, though, it’s not so bad. Well, no physical withdrawals apart from a tiny attention span that is growing but still not very useful for anything except facebook.

I don’t know whether to consider that withdrawal, though. It’s clearly the effect of using the tech, as opposed to the effect of not using the tech. It’s just become apparent without it. The advantageous part of quitting now is that the symptoms of withdrawal had already become an everyday thing for me. Every second between facebook had become a slog of scatterbrained difficulties, perhaps exacerbated by working a register at a restaurant where all of my meatspace interplays had reduced to forty-five-second bursts with people I’d never see again. My temper was short, my ability to calm down lessened — all symptoms I’d noticed from nicotine withdrawal. So if I’m going to be in constant withdrawal unless literally using it, and using it 100% of my day is not a possibility, quitting is quantitatively the same.

(In case you haven’t noticed, when I’m stressed and my mind is taxed, my vocabulary goes up ironically. I have trouble thinking of simple ways to convey ideas, and start spouting a lot of fifty cent words and using textbook syntax.)

It occurred to me that many of my more nonsensically vile interactions over the past year or two were very similar to when I’d quit smoking at the same time as a friend. We’d get into an altercation instead of conversations because both of our brains were taxed, leading to: 1) incapable of communicating properly (both telling and listening accurately), 2) going straight from misunderstanding to unbridled rage, and 3) not being able to expel said rage once begun. We’re all on a drug, and going through the phases together. There are very few sober people to help us rehab from social media and with so many addicts both enabling one another and discouraging quitting, we may be in for more striking breakdowns of the social order because of our loss of grip on reality and our own temperaments.

In summation: symptoms of algorithm addiction (it’s not the social media, it’s the underlying algorithm that has mutated into a habitual form [the end goal of all products in a capitalist system is to create addiction]) I’ve so far diagnosed:

1) shortened attention span
2) inhibited thinking
3) detachment from 3-dimensional space
4) inhibited person-to-person empathy
5) increased label/stereotype identification, ie tribalism correlated with source of dopamine hits as opposed to actual physical identity (Rachel Dolezal, as a for instance, might be the end result of having more black friends on facebook than white)
6) shortened temper / burnt out dopamine receptors no longer capable of compensating irritation chemicals

Synthesize this information with the symptoms you’ve seen around you, especially in Western culture broadly, but also in personal interactions both on- and offline. I think you’ll find you have experiences that have almost no other explanation.

Facebook Withdrawals

Quitting Facebook for Lent

Day One

I find my phone in my hand randomly without reason. I stare at it for at least three seconds before I realize there’s nothing I could want to do with it. Where before I used to take it out to do something else and then realize I was on Facebook instead and had forgotten the original intent, now I realize some of those times might have not been “other reasons I’d forgotten,” and that my hand and eyes and subconscious had taken out my phone and checked Facebook all on their own. Feeling even better about doing this.

In the moments where I take out my phone and stare at it, there is a strangely existential panic eerily similar to cigarette withdrawals in physical sensation yet emotionally more like not answering the phone when a lover who is bad for you calls. I’m also reminded of my adolescent freakouts when the internet stopped working and I couldn’t get on any of my chatrooms, which reminds me that I’ve been using some version of social media as long as I’ve been smoking. This has the potential to get very intense before it’s over.

Philosophical: the rise of identity politics entered my mind as I contemplated a near-violent real-space incident from Monday, the 27th. The fact that facebook, whose hold is certainly greatest in the West, hits the dopamine centers associated with human connection but provides no long-term connections with other individuals can be directly linked to the loss of individual empathy and the rise of empathy with labels. When one is connecting in short bursts all day with fifty to a hundred people, the brain must rewire to associate that connection with broader categories. One doesn’t connect with black friends; he or she connects to blackness. One doesn’t connect to Republican friends, one connects to Republican-ness. People who read Salon. People who comment on certain YouTube channels, etc. When someone criticizes the label or the umbrella through which the label connects — a facebook group or a webpage or a blog — the entire group jumps to defend themselves, or at least those who identify with the label the most. If men are criticized, anyone who thinks of himself as a man feels the need to chime in and say “Not all men…”

Symbols vs. Meaning (of Kaepernick and Copernicus)

We really shouldn’t be surprised football fans can’t handle a player defying a symbol. Football is where the country is trained to worship symbols at the expense of the concepts and ideas they represent.

Owners, players, strategies, rules, and ideals all change year after year, after year. The goal posts are literally moved. Even the territories the symbols represent move back and forth, with no reason or rhyme, leaving nothing but the flag (name, symbol, colors) to hold onto.

Once a group of people is sufficiently attached to a symbol–be it a nation’s flag, a holy book, skin color, or a racist team name–one can alter, inch-by-inch, everything that symbol stands for, and they will follow the symbol rather than the ideals that got them to associate with the symbol in the first place. Why? Because they relinquished their will to that symbol long ago. People cannot possibly make the entire amount of decisions presented to them on a daily basis. Our brain has learned shortcuts, and when these are exploited we barely notice until one day we wake up in some moment of clarity after crossing the point of no return.

Cognitive dissonance is bred into the fan from the ground up. The game is called football, despite the predominant mode being to carry the ball with one’s hands. Cheerleaders, present but ignored, subconsciously associate sexual arousal with mentalities of warmongering, escalation, and binary thinking. Us vs. Them. Our newscasting in the nation now reflects our sportscasting, and political enthusiasm has been replaced with high-stakes fandom of one team or another, with no comprehension or attachment to underpinning ideologies.

At least with World Cup and Olympics, there are real nationalities in play. The “teams” in major Western sports are absolutely meaningless. Faceless corporations playing wargames for the amusement and training of the masses. The game is played all for an ultimately fruitless but symbolic victory. It is the ultimate defeat of the symbol over meaning. I guess what I’m saying is, I prefer baseball.

3 Factors Contributing to Backlash Culture

Another article addressing fandom vs. art. Here I’d argue there’s more nuance to the anti-Ghostbusters fervor. It’s certainly part sexism–geekdom, up until the mid-90’s, had been a boys club. JK Rowling is due no small amount of credit for evening out the geeky playing field over the past 20 years. A new influx of females into a once not only all male arena but an arena of males who also infamously do not interact with the female gender is bound to create friction. Note this fear is actually of “mainstream” females, who have increasingly embraced genre entertainment. There were always girls, to some degree, in geek culture. But now there are ones who wear makeup, are thin as rails, cosplay the way cheerleaders dress at Halloween, and have the full range of social skills. There’s an inherent distrust on the part of the male geek of these kinds of people. The jocks are Captain America fans, too, now, but no geek boy is going to pull the muscular guy in the Superman costume’s card. They’re inherently afraid of overtly masculine men.

This leads to the second factor: the gentrification of nerd culture. The “mainstreaming” of nerd culture can be paralleled pretty readily with the patterns of gentrification. The influx of neurotypicals into what was once a safe haven for the atypical can be likened to middle-class kids touring impoverished areas as their own private rumspringa. Gentrification often leads to the ironic situation where the minority being pushed out, whatever that may be, attacks another, newer minority as opposed to focusing their anger on the actual invading force. See the attacks on gays in New Orleans’s Marigny/Bywater neighborhoods instead of attacks on Yuppies, and the anger at immigrants when poor whites are displaced from their jobs by corporations they allowed to buy whole towns.

Finally, the last factor is the manufactured backlash as part of reverse marketing psychology. This isn’t being talked about widely, but then current marketing strategies that are obvious once you notice them are effective because no one’s mentioning them. Working up an internet backlash is the best marketing tool on social media. There are several ways to do it. You can just hone in on one racist or sexist tweet against your product and pretend it’s a movement. Boom! Instant backlash-backlash that far outweighs the initial controversy and your film/toy/whatever is trending for the next six months. If there isn’t a tweet, a fake account can be made in seconds. If you want it to happen more organically, one can simply edit the US trailers poorly so as to make your film look less funny than it is. Either way, complaints are lumped into an -ist category, and anyone against that will fight them, all of this regardless of the film’s quality. Spite is a strong impulse. Also, one could, say, continuously chop up their films into hot messes and release better cuts on video, ensuring sales on the backend. If I know this, the marketing firms know this.

The internet, its economic ramifications on the entertainment industries, and the conversion of news media into an entertainment industry in the post-9/11 world has elevated opinion to the level of fact, fan fiction to the level of the licensed remake, and otherwise faded the divide between us and authority. This is good in a way. Like punk rock, indie rock, alternative rock, the blues, hip-hop, etc in music, the independent film movements over the years, and the initial, pre-Disney explosion of Marvel Studios, it takes art back to its roots and out of the exclusive hands of elite corporate shills. At the same time, it has its drawbacks. When it comes to art, the audience doesn’t know what it wants until it gets it. If it starts to dictate content, the pool becomes just as stagnant as when a corporate entity is in charge. All food becomes junk food when customer satisfaction is all that matters. Art for art’s sake is masturbation. There must be a balance between audience, artist, experimentation, and to a certain extent, business. Audiences like to be challenged, they just don’t know they do, just as children run from what they fear and simultaneously love to be scared.

But… If you aren’t doing something original anyway, what’s the difference? If all you have to offer is a product, the audience will rightfully take ownership. The lack of involvement from the original artists in the Ghostbusters film is the most important aspect. Announcing their cameos and tacit approval helped a little, but they weren’t creating it. A sequel is to continue the work. A remake, reboot, prequel, etc. is a bit more of an erasure of the original work and carries an implicit “we are improving on the original” in its DNA, even if unintended. Without the original artists’ involvement, it instantly changes states in the consumer’s mind. Now, it is a product, and products, like shampoo or a Burger King meal or a Toyota Camry, are custom-order. In a capitalist society, we collect products and display them around ourselves to represent our individual identities–increasingly nebulous things in the Internet Age. I want my car red, my burger with no lettuce, my shampoo moisturizing, and my Superman films happier than my Batman films.

TV is currently where video art is being made. Stranger Things can be criticized as a one giant homage, but so can the films its homaging–all slices of life that called back to the B-horror, science fiction, and 50’s childhoods of their creators, now in turn being called back to by a show set in their heyday–but is still its own intellectual property. Other Netflix and cable programs can be said to be roughly the same percentage of adaptations to new material and so-called “adult” drama or video literature as film was 20 years ago. Visual art has moved from the short story phase into the novel phase, and it’s not going back.

As far as restoring balance to the film as an artistic, if still predominantly commercial medium, there’s only one way out I can see. If you produce consistently satisfying art and stay true to the source in spirit if not in letter, then the audience eventually surrenders. Notice no one bitch about James Gunn’s changes to Guardians of the Galaxy, or the Russo Brothers’ alterations to Winter Soldier and Civil War storylines. Sure, there are some sticklers as there always will be, but for the most part, they’ve gone over like the original Lord of the Rings films. Faithful where appropriate, altered to make better films and to make real artistic statements as films. Warner Brothers, meanwhile, gets eviscerated for making admittedly horribly edited films, but I’d argue mostly for not respecting the spirit of the source materials while simultaneously having nothing to say. That makes you a product, and we are far less forgiving of those mistakes.