Thursday Three #43

  1. My thought on the Kavanaugh affair (well, on sexual assault in general): I honestly feel like some women are crying wolf for various reasons. It seems like something accidental or even looking at a woman the wrong way is now considered sexual assault if it is a painted a certain way. If that is really the case, then high school was one long, drawn-out assault, and practically every high school boy is an assailant. True, drawing the line is difficult, especially when it’s one person’s word against another’s, but the definition of “sexual assault” unfortunately tends to be flexible.
  2. Parenting books. Usually, if I tell someone I’m reading a parenting book, they start laughing because there is apparently nothing about parenting that can be learned from a book. But I find them useful because they seem to give at least an idea of what to expect, even though all the ones I’ve flipped through come with the caveat that “every child is unique. Don’t freak out if he or she doesn’t meet each milestone exactly on time.” OK. Easier said than done, I guess.
  3. Everybody needs to read We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. I’ve read a lot of “realistic fiction,” but this book is by far the most realistic of all the realistic fiction I’ve ever read and one of the better books I have read so far this year. Yes, it is incredibly sad, but it’s sad because everything in it is true. Nothing is sugar coated. The book is pretty long, but it is actually a fairly quick read.

Vines, Twitter, and Over-the-Top Amusement

I finally got to read Amusing Ourselves to Death (Neil Postman), which I have heard a lot about. The book was published in 1985 but still astonishingly relevant. Since then, society has only continued to go down the track that Postman warned us about. He begins by discussing the various kinds of discourse in American history. Apparently, when Charles Dickens came to America, people gave him the same adulation that in 1985 they would have given to Michael Jackson or in 2018 they would give to someone like Beyoncé.

People also used to listen to famous historical figures speak for five hours or more at a time without losing interest. A debate between two learned people was as entertaining to them as watching the latest Star Wars movie is to us. And listening to those two people wasn’t like a presidential debate of today—instead, they spoke in long, rhetorically beautiful sentences that the average American today couldn’t follow with his tiny attention span.

Much has changed, and with every new medium of communication, it has continued to change. In 1985, television was the biggest threat to America’s intelligence and attention span.

Now it’s even smaller, more bite-sized methods of communication, like Twitter, YouTube, and Vines. Remember Vines, those 6-second clips that make no sense and have no context? Even though Vine shut down a while back, you can still find compilations of the most popular Vines on YouTube, like this:

There is literally no purpose to Vines except amusement, but most of the Vines leave me unsatisfied. I’m always wondering what the backstory was behind each seemingly random incident—what gave the creator the idea for that particular piece of idiocy? Are they really that much of a buffoon away from the camera? Some of the Vines are actually sad when they’re supposed to be funny, like the one where an old woman playing ping-pong falls into a china cabinet, knocking it over.

Vines aren’t effective methods of communication because they’re meant mainly for entertainment, but they are the video equivalent of Twitter, where many people get their news. Even though the character count on Twitter has increased, it is still obviously much more brief than a news program or even a longer online news article. Our president uses Twitter, and the way he uses it is completely typical of what Postman talks about in his book: the president came from a culture of showmanship, and he is less intelligent than he is entertaining.

The author also mentioned that the news has become less a serious discussion of current events and more a frenetic flash of constant warnings and Breaking News That You Must Listen To. Most of the breaking news has little to do with us directly, and we can’t do anything about it. Yes, it was good to be informed about Hurricane Florence, but it was almost counterintuitive to keep flashing “Breaking News” across the screen at every tiny occurrence related to the storm. The 24/7 news leads to a cycle of paranoia, and people don’t get smarter, just more paranoid, hence the running to the store for bread and milk, the actual fights breaking out over bottled water, and the looting of stores. Seeing that red “Breaking News” banner flash across the screen is like constantly being thrust into a state of alarm, whether it’s warranted or not.

Postman touches on religion, too, mostly referring to the televangelists who were a big deal in 1985 and who offered little in the way of genuine learning about religion. Now, the closest thing to televangelists would be those big mega-churches that come equipped with giant television screens, flashing lights, modern music, coffeehouses, and little gift shops. I read somewhere that the Millennial generation is getting fed up with this method of luring people into churches. Instead, they are yearning for the more traditional services of the past, where a pastor spoke the truth using just words, unadorned by anything else. Maybe it’s not too late to hope for a comeback of tradition.

Cult of Celebrity

SPOILER ALERT!

I’m not entirely sure why I picked up Caroline Zancan’s Local Girls from the library, but something written on the book jacket told me that it might be an interesting coming-of-age tale. The book took place over a single night, with its three main characters, 19-year-old Florida girls, sitting in a bar with drinks (why they are allowed to drink when they’re not of age is not explained very well) when a very well-known (fictional) celebrity, Sam Decker, randomly comes in and starts talking to them. For some reason (again, not fully explained), this triggers a series of flashbacks that make up the majority of the book and explain why a fourth girl is no longer the main characters’ friend anymore. Sam Decker ends up dying at the end of the night, so the fact that he spent his last night with ordinary girls was supposedly enormously significant, but I didn’t understand why.

Admittedly, the author is talented. I liked some of her insights about life and friendship, but I felt as though it was wasted when she was speaking in the voice of a character who supposedly graduated high school with “low B’s and high C’s, and even the stray D’s” and didn’t seem all that interested in college or ambitions beyond drinking with her friends and hanging out with a boyfriend who seemed far too good for her. I don’t think it would be realistic for such a character to have insights like that.

The other girls were portrayed similarly. They seemed to live for the celebrities they idolized from magazines and movies, which is why they were so enraptured when Sam Decker entered the bar. I’ve personally never understood the point of celebrity worship, so I couldn’t sympathize with these characters. I mean, if I saw Susan Lucci or some other famous person I like walking around in my town or at Walmart, I’d stare for a little bit, try not to stare, then go about my merry way. I’m not the type to run squealing up to a celebrity and beg for an autograph.

I am (I think) one of the few people who actually enjoys flashbacks in books, and the flashbacks were what made the book bearable to read. They brought the characters more to life and distinguished the girls from one another, but they didn’t make me feel sorry for the characters or put myself in their shoes. The flashbacks reminded me of hearing someone talk about drama that happened to someone else—there was too much distance, a “you had to be there” kind of feeling.

Overall, I felt like the book would have been better off as a short story or even a novella. If the author had written in a shorter form, she might have been forced to make the book less meandering and more punchy. She has a lot of talent, but it was wasted here. I wouldn’t recommend this book at all, and I don’t like saying that, but there are much better choices out there.