Saturday, March 12, 2011

Music and Film "Expertise"

I feel like my generation is plagued with an overabundance of “artists” or “critics” that unjustly hold their own opinion in the highest regard. This isn’t to say that their opinions don’t matter—on the contrary, art is subjective, and your own personal reactions to it are more important than anything else anyone could ever think or say. What I’m talking about are the people that try to assert that their analysis of a particular song or movie is correct, and no other interpretation could be worthwhile. What’s worse is these people usually try to flaunt their alleged expertise to make them seem more intelligent.

Perhaps I should refer to my post on Hispters, as this is a common Hipster trend. These people often believe that their experience and their tastes are more developed and therefore more worthy than yours—but regardless of whether they sincerely believe this or not, they feel it is their duty to make sure you know exactly how much expertise they claim to have. They’ll often intentionally make references to obscure bands or unpopular movies in an effort to establish their credibility, and try to hold it against you if you haven’t experienced them. They may also try to bring in some arbitrary means of qualification—for instance, one of these types may take a single music-related academic course and gain the confidence of a postgraduate Music Major. Or they may have dabbled in cinematography and now fancy themselves a directorial superstar.

Odds are they don’t really know any more than you do. Even if they read up on complicated terminology on Wikipedia or try to mimic what they read in a professional review, they still won’t be able to implement them properly. Don’t let these people be arrogant; their pretentious opinions and insubstantially complex language doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. Their opinions are just that, opinions, and they’re every bit as entitled to them as you are to yours. Don’t forget that.

This is another sign of our cultural, and perhaps generational, adherence to blind arrogance. These people often select what songs and films they like artificially, choosing whichever array will make them seem the most knowledgeable or the most distinguished. But don’t be fooled, most of this is a ruse. Even if someone does appear to be developed, odds are high that they’ve worked hard to establish that image for the image’s sake alone. You, the natural listener/viewer, have a less polluted and stronger sense for art the way it was meant to be seen—unfettered by outside bullshit.

Oh and just for the record, I am aware I generally fit into this category.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Optical Illusions

Optical illusions are the shit. I wish I knew more about the cognitive mechanics behind their perceptions. They’re almost drug-like in their ability to entrance and perplex.

When I was a kid I had this gigantic book of optical illusions. There were paradoxical drawings of impossible structures, strange patterns that seemed to pop out or resonate or spin if you stared at them long enough, and quiz-like ones that tried to make two distinct colors or lines seem different when in fact they were the same. It wouldn’t matter how logically I thought about them, or how long I tried to stare at them and use my eyes to ‘force’ them into a strict visual logic, they would still always captivate me. I think I still have that book, though the vast number of optical illusions on the internet has made it somewhat obsolete.

Today I still find myself fascinated by them, in one way or another. I’ve long since discovered artistic works, like those of MC Escher, which capitalize on paradoxical designs but also imbue their work with an aesthetic and artistic integrity that only enhances their awe. Mathematicians and computer experts have developed some sort of algorithm that can generate those spacey eye-fucking patterns and colors. And movies and models try to capitalize now more than ever on angles and lights to trick our minds into seeing things differently than they actually are.

It gets me thinking how many perception-warping tricks pass us by without our notice. How many ideas we have or images we see that are simply untrue… optical illusions are fun when you’re aware of them, and entertaining yourself by consciously acknowledging their characteristics. But they can be developed and harnessed to warp our cognition and help lean our minds in whatever direction their creators intend.

Still awesome.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Little Lazinesses

It’s amazing how many little things are affected by my laziness. Sure, there are neglected professional and academic responsibilities from time to time, but these are extremely rare. I am able to motivate myself to get necessary things done, so my laziness manifests itself in smaller, arbitrary tasks.

If something’s on television that I don’t like and the remote control is too far away, I leave it. It would be too much effort to get up and fetch the remote or, God forbid, change the channel or adjust the volume on the actual set.
There are video games I absolutely love that are merely collecting dust because I don’t have the gumption to hook up the old system—yep, too lazy for video games.
If I’m in the mood for cereal, but there are only unopened boxes, I go without. Tearing open those bags are brutal.
If my laptop battery’s dying but the cord’s too far away, I simply cut short whatever task I’m doing and move to something else.
If I’m hungry and I start cooking something, I find a snack to satisfy me while I wait—even if it’s only for a few minutes in the microwave.
I refuse to buy a new tube of toothpaste until every last observable particle has been extracted.
Fucking forget about replacing the toilet paper.

There are hundreds more I can’t come up with right now. So there may end up being a sequel post. I’d be willing to bet a majority of you are able to relate.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Literal Day

At my place of work, we are going to declare a “literal day,” in which all words, phrases, and expressions are to be taken literally. Within reason, of course—if somebody uses the phrase “I’ll kill you!” as a colloquialism, we certainly wouldn’t want them to make it literal in adherence with the policies of the day. So, everything is to be taken literally except that which would break any law or cause any unjust harm.

This means phrases like “Just a second” would frailly collapse. People would have to think very carefully about everything they utter. Yes, it’s incredibly pretentious and quite possibly biased against the inarticulate, but it will force people to use the linguistic portion of their brains much more than they usually do. And it’s only for a day, too. I would certainly be against a perpetuation of this kind of thing.

I’m actually very fond of figurative language. But too much of it has evolved to become commonplace and immediately accepted by default in our everyday language. Hopefully people will learn about their language and themselves during Literal Day, and quite possibly mention the idea to those around them. If Literal Day spreads, it could become a national celebration like April Fool’s Day. But while the fun and mocking nature of April Fool’s Day would be transferred, Literal Day would actually carry a larger function. It might get people to more accurately and more thoughtfully address the words in their heads before they come out of their mouths.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Depending on how you define them, I don’t think miracles exist. Most people would agree that a miracle is something that occurs against extraordinary odds, and in most cases they’d agree that some divine or otherwise supernatural force was responsible for its occurrence.

I have two problems with this. One; if you define a miracle as something that happens despite unlikelihood, then why is it only positive occurrences that receive credit as miracles? If your son has a 99% chance of dying during an operation and he lives, then you might consider it a miracle. But if he has a 99% chance of living, but dies, then nobody would consider that a miracle (unless your son is some crazy dictator or something). So is chance not enough to qualify something great as a miracle? Or do unlikely bad things that happen just not receive as much miraculous attention as they, by definition, deserve?

Let’s ignore that statistical aspect of the argument for a moment. People define miracles often—especially in the case of illness recovery. Growing up in a popular church, I’ve heard far too many people attributing the recovery of their loved ones to “miraculous intervention.” They honestly believe that God overcame the overwhelming odds specifically to save their loved one. Maybe that is true; who am I to say it isn’t? But I can’t help but wonder why God would choose to save the life of a single, 90-year-old arthritic woman over any one of the thousands of children in the world that starve to death every day or the innocent women that are habitually raped and abused in tumultuous countries.

Either we need to redefine what constitutes a miracle, or God has some fucked-up priorities.

Monday, March 7, 2011


A significantly less serious post for me, but I’m really grateful for treadmills.

I’m an avid runner, and really love to run outside, but living in the northeastern US, sometimes it’s virtually impossible to get outside. After an unfortunate frostbitten incident about a year ago, I lost my will to brave the cold, even with multiple layers. And during ice storms, the moisture damage to my shoes and the risk of slipping are far too much for me to comfortably handle. Fortunately, the treadmill offers me a consistent way for me to avoid the bitter ferocity of the outdoors but still keep my legs from atrophying.

It’s boring, yes. Very, very boring. But it’s better than nothing. I can still listen to the rhythm of my feet, and the fact that there aren’t any cars or other people around makes it easier for me to completely lose myself in wandering thought. I can almost seamlessly leave my body and forget about my unchanging surroundings. And of course there’s the occasional luxury of earphones, too…

I find it easier to push myself on a treadmill. If I have a specific goal, it’s harder to pace myself outside (especially since I rarely carry a timepiece with me). But on the treadmill, I can simply set the speed to exactly the level of performance I want to accomplish, and see if I can last.

Now, I know the treadmill isn’t ideal. It’s flat, so it doesn’t offer the natural challenge of hills and valleys of the outdoors, and since it’s a running feed, you’re technically not propelling yourself forward (only getting yourself pushed back). But it’s still challenging if you compensate for it, and it’s amazing as a last resort.

That’s it. Nothing deep or opinionated or maybe even insightful, but I had a good run today and I wanted to pay thanks.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Drop-Down Menus

Drop-down menus are terrible. You understand what I’m referring to—the arrow-initiated list of options that appears when you’re filling information in online, on anything from goofy personality quizzes to serious job applications. They’re abysmal, and this is why.

Life isn’t multiple choice. Okay, yes, technically I suppose you could qualify it that way; but what I’m getting at is there isn’t a finite range of options available to you in describing yourself either concretely or abstractly. I thought it was bad enough when the license bureau forced you to select a single color for your hair or your eyes. Now every characteristic you could possibly have is rapidly being only definable through drop-down menus. Sure, a few of them may be accurate. But no amount of pre-determined options could possibly be enough to cover the spread of uniqueness in the world.

People need to be able to define themselves abstractly and specifically. Instead of just putting “brown” for hair color, wouldn’t it be more accurate for me to say “a transitional light brown, with fleeting shades of blond.” Or instead of saying “no degree,” saying “in the final two weeks of my four-year college education.” Everything is becoming oversimplified and overcompartmentalized—it’s a way of both limiting the way you can describe yourself and segregating people into classes. It’s as if more and more, the common belief is that people can be arithmetically sorted into groups.

While there are advantages to this kind of sorting, and accuracy within drop-down menus as a whole, I think it’s a dangerous direction for us to head in as a society. It’s probably a little fatalistic to think that this could lead to further rigid classifications in real life, but we have to imagine it as a possibility. The day may come when we all have numbers instead of names.