Grinched

I’m going to say this loud enough so everyone can hear it. I’m not a Christmas person.

Let me say it again to make things clear: I AM NOT A CHRISTMAS PERSON.

I don’t recall ever believing in Santa Claus.

I’m the one who, when someone wishes me a  “Merry Christmas!” or even Merry Christmas’ secularized bastard cousin  “Season’s Greetings!” just shrugs and doesn’t say anything back.

The only Christmas movies I watch have either serial killer Santas or monsters in them.

 

POSTER-CHRISTMAS-EVIL

Christmas is not complete without a little Christmas Evil

 

I stop listening the radio at exactly 12:01 AM, November 1st.

You know why.

 

 

sobchek hates christmas

 

I’m the person who can walk past a Salvation Army bell ringer and not put any money in the bucket without a single shread of guilt.

Bah humbug.

 

I don’t hang Christmas lights. I’ve never owned an ugly Christmas sweater.

 

bad christmas sweater

Definitely not this guy.

 

I don’t sing Christmas carols. I would never do this outside Keira Knightly’s doorway:

 

love actually

God, Rick Grimes was so lame in this movie.

 

 

I only put up a Christmas tree because I live with other people. They’re the kind of people who like Christmas. I’m not. I’m not consumed with the Christmas spirit.

My heart is still three sizes too small.

 

 

the grinch's heart

 

I know the Whos were supposed to be the good guys, but I think the Grinch got a raw deal.

 

It’s not against the law to hate Christmas, you know.

 

 

grumpy cat hates xmas

 

 

Ok. I know. I know. My abnormal hatred/cynicism (I’m willing to admit it’s abnormal) of towards all things holly jolly yuletide and festive is rare. Not everyone holds with my beliefs. I suppose in the long run that’s a good thing. I guess the world would really suck if everyone was a Scrooge. It’s just that in this season of good will towards man, I’m wondering how much good will I actually have. Or need.

 

keep-calm-and-hate-christmas-15

 

 

You see, my problem isn’t just with Christmas. I’m in a bit of a moral pickle. I haven’t really figured out what my ethical point of view is. I’m an adult. I should have figured this out by now. I studied philosophy. I managed to convince those people to give me a degree. I write a philosophy blog and I more than occasionally write about ethics. And as a philosopher, I should really have my ethical poo together. But I don’t. I have no idea which or whose school of ethics I do or should follow.

 

 

philosophical now

 

 

This is important. Not just because the moral in every Christmas story is that nothing matters in the world more than living in the spirit of brotherhood not just on Christmas, but one every day of the year. But because when I’m out on the rare occasion that I shop for Christmas presents, my ethical point of view has more to do with my shopping than I think it does.

 

I WISH I COULD BE AS HAPPY AS THESE PEOPLE AT THE MALL

I WISH I COULD BE AS HAPPY AS THESE PEOPLE ARE WHILE I’M SPENDING MONEY ON STUFF … FOR OTHER PEOPLE.

 

 

I mean, should I buy a gift for a relative I despise out of a sense of deontological duty? Should I buy a gift that make everyone happy like a utilitarian would?

 

 

A big screen TV set should bring the greatest happiness for the most people, right?

A big screen TV set should bring the greatest happiness for the most people, right?

 

 

Or should I go Galt, declare my love for Ayn Rand and say screw everyone’s Merry Christmas and buy a shitload of presents for myself?

 

ayn rand's christmas

 

 

Because that’s what I really want to do. But I know I shouldn’t. It wouldn’t be the morally correct thing to spend all of my money on myself, even if I hate Christmas.

At least I don’t think it would be. Morally. Correct.

 

OH  SNAP!

 

See what I mean? How can I tell if it is or isn’t the right thing if I have no moral theory of my own? I really need help, here. Those gift cards gotta go to somebody.

 

 

gift-cards

 

 

Now I really do feel like a Scrooge. If only one of the three Ghosts of Christmas would show me the way…

 

 

NOT THAT ONE.

NOT THAT ONE.

 

 

I suppose, then, this is what Christmas is all about.

Christmas is about thinking about the things that should matter to us most, like our family and friends.

 

Even John Galt would agree that friends and family matter to some degree.

 

…. as long as they’re not moochers.

 

Christmas is about a group of kids discovering the meaning of Christmas while decorating a jacked-up Christmas tree. It’s about realizing that a single, wonderful life does makes a difference.  Or realizing we don’t need a Red Ryder carbine action 200 shot model air rifle to have the ultimate Christmas.

 

It’s about Billy finding out what happens if you feed Gizmo after midnight.

 

 

gizmo

 

 

And why climbing down your own chimney dressed as Santa Claus is always a bad idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you think about it (thankfully not for too long), Christmas is about assessing who we are and what we believe in. It’s about caring for our fellow man whether they deserve it or not.

 

And occasionally, just occasionally, Christmas is about this guy:

 

 

black jesus

 

 

 

 

Schmuck Dynasty

If you want people to think you’re a smart guy, it’s probably best that you steer clear of pop culture. Especially television.

You know, that place that made these people famous:

 

RealityShow1

 

 

They don’t call it the boob tube for no good reason.

And it’s no coincidence that, as the number of television channels expanded, so did American waistlines. Television, America’s greatest purveyor of pop culture, is a kind of sugary, addictive brain candy that also makes your body fat.

 

 

fat guy watching TV

 

You won’t have to conduct some scientific study at a major university to figure out that the less TV a person watches the better off that person is. Not just physically better off, but emotionally and intellectually better, too.

 

OBVIOUSLY NOT INTO WATCHING A LOT OF TV

OBVIOUSLY NOT INTO WATCHING A LOT OF TV

 

And there’s nothing on TV that will in any way make us think about things philosophically.

 

reality TV channel

 

 

I think it goes without saying that the less TV we watch the better people we are, but there’s one thing that those who don’t spend their days in front of a glowing monitor (be it a computer or a television set) miss out on: pop culture.

Pop culture is:

 

…the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are preferred by an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture… this culture permeates the everyday lives of the society.

 

 

As much as we may hate to admit it, there’s a reason why many of us will “get” this image:

 
snow white and the seven memes

 

Or will find this meme funny:

 

manos jokes

 

Or immediately know this line and the name of the movie it comes from:

 

case of the mondays

 

 

 

It is because by being tuned in to pop culture, we are plugged in to a culturally-based collective consciousness that allows us to communicate ideas, thoughts, theories, even jokes.

 

a streetwalker, carl

 
Try talking to someone who doesn’t pay attention to pop culture. You’ll find you won’t have much to talk about at all.

 

disinterested-woman

 

And one of those things you probably won’t talk about is the recent controversy over remarks made by Phil Robertson, star and patriarch of the basic cable reality television show, Duck Dynasty. The plot of the show centers around the day-to-day misadventures and family mayhem of Robertson and his family, who became extremely rich off of the duck call business.

 

 

Robertson was accused of making homophobic remarks in an interview with GQ Magazine.

Now for those of you who neither follow popular culture nor watch reality TV (because no one does, right?) this is what Phil Robertson said:

It seems like to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me.

 

And Robertson said:

 

There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on dudes! But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man.

 

 

Robertson stated that homosexual behavior is connected with “Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman,” and that gays “ won’t inherit the kingdom of God. It’s not right.”

 

Naturally, many people were angered by Robertson’s sentiments.

 

phil bin laden

 

In response to the public outcry, A&E, the network that airs Duck Dynasty, suspended Robertson from the show.

 

spidey on duck dynasty

 

That prompted Robertson’s supporters, like former Alaska governor and 2012 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, to tweet this:

 

sarah palin on DD

 

Of course, pop culture being what it is, Phil Robertson not only dominated the broadcast airwaves, he became a meme as well.

 

keep calm and stand with phil

You ain’t anything until you’re a meme.

 

Now, some people say all of this arguing over the opinion of a reality TV star is nothing more than a waste of time. A distraction. We should be focused on other, more important matters.

 

while your rights went away

 

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion and beliefs, even if their opinions and beliefs offend other people.

 

willy wonka on duck dynasty

 

I guess it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that everybody’s got their own way of seeing things, but listen: the fact that a particular point of view came from the mouth of a reality TV star or they say it while there are other, important things going on, doesn’t mean that what the person said isn’t important.

And it doesn’t mean that the situation can’t get us thinking philosophically.

 

don't care about duck dynasty

 

There’s a reason why people were offended by what Phil Robertson said.

 

And no, it’s not because some people are easily butthurt.

 

Emperor Butthurt

 

 

People were offended by what Phil Robertson said because they felt that what he said is wrong. They feel that certain beliefs are wrong – no matter what justification we have for holding those beliefs.  Conversely, those who support Phil Robertson argue that his beliefs not only reflect his religious point of view, but that he is entitled to hold any belief he (or anyone else) wants, regardless of who he offends.

I don’t know how other people see things, but whenever I hear anyone say words like “wrong”, “justified belief”, “religion” or “God”, or when you debate whether it is right or wrong to remove a man from his job on a TV show, I start to think about morality. And when you’re  using morality words, you’re thinking – and talking philosophically.

 

lightbulb moment

 

 

Yeah, we should be discussing the ethics of unmanned drones, war in the Middle East, international economic relations or our panopticonic reality, courtesy of the NSA – and sure, those are very important things to think about. But there is much to be discussed with the drama over Duck Dynasty or any other time a pop cultural icon or reality TV star grabs unwarranted media attention  by saying or doing  the wrong thing.

Or by saying the right thing, if you see things that way.

At best we can use the opportunity to strike up a moral debate (or two. or with everyone you know) over the ethics of personal opinions.

 

… and don’t forget,  any scandal is perfect for memes.

 

because you know they’re not done yet.

 

 

one does not simply make a duck dynasty meme

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_culture

http://www.tmz.com/2013/12/18/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson-vagina-better-than-man-anus-gq-homophobia/#ixzz2oB4h4RbF

A View From Monster Island (Is That an Unmanned Drone????????!)

Some people are into certain seasons.

Some people are Spring people. Some people like Summer. Or Winter.

I’m definitely an Autumn kind of gal.

I’m super into Halloween.

 

Yes, I refer to Halloween as a holiday.

It’s like my Christmas.

I dress up, bake holiday-themed goodies, and play holiday-appropriate music.

 

No. I don’t worship the Devil.

 

I’ve been asked that before.

 

For me, Halloween is the time to dwell upon all things spooky and scary.

I like to think of myself as spooky and a little bit scary. Wednesday Addams is my totem animal.

 

it's wednesday again

 
I’ve found the quickest way to get into the spooky and scary mood is through the cinema.

Actually, the quickest way might be through a Ouija board. But then, who wants to risk conjuring up Captain Howdy while trying to communicate with the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe?

 

THINGS WOULD HAVE GONE SO MUCH BETTER IF SHE HAD WATCHED A CREATURE FREATURE INSTEAD

THINGS WOULD HAVE GONE SO MUCH BETTER IF SHE HAD WATCHED A CREATURE FEATURE INSTEAD

 

I must say that it’s not very often that watching a creature feature gets one thinking about U.S. foreign policy. After all, the point of a creature feature is to spook you out or even scare you a little bit. It’s even less likely that a 1950s B-grade, sci-fi flick would get one thinking about foreign policy and philosophy.

It would be fair to say that it doesn’t really happen at all.

 

It’s not that fifties cinema wasn’t political or philosophical. Fifties films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Day of the Triffids, and The Day the Earth Stood Still (not to mention Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone) not only are classic sci-fi films, but are also plenty political and philosophical.

Spend an afternoon watching movies on Syfy. You’ll see.

 

The reason, I think, so few sci-fi flicks get me (us?) thinking about politics and philosophy really has more to do with the fact that Hollywood so rarely makes old-fashioned monster movies these days. Modern cinema is all special effects or all slice and dice.

Paranormal Activity-whatever numbered sequel they’re up to by now.

We don’t think because movies no longer encourage us to think… about anything.

Oh wait, Cloverfield came out a few years ago.

That movie got me thinking. Not sure if all my thoughts about it were political or philosophical, though.*

To be honest, that movie kind of messed me up, man.

I used to think that only vampire and zombie bites were dangerous.

Eeech.

 

 

THIS MOVIE QUITE POSSIBLY RUINED MY LIFE

THIS MOVIE QUITE POSSIBLY RUINED MY LIFE

 

Unfortunately for monster flick lovers like me, we have to look to the past to enjoy a good “What the F@#K is THAT???!” flick.

Giant lizard films from the sixties are always a good place to start.

A remake of Godzilla was released a few years ago. I’m not going to beat a dead horse but if there was anything worth watching in that barely watchable movie (admit it, it was barely watchable), it was Jean Reno – who is by definition required viewing no matter what movie he is in.

 

JEAN RENO. BADASS LEVEL: EXPERT

JEAN RENO. BADASS LEVEL: EXPERT

 

Actually, the problem isn’t the Godzilla remake. To be honest, there is a problem with Godzilla movies in general. Watch more than two Godzilla movies and you’ll soon discover that if you can get past the comically bad dubbing, the weird made-for-American-audiences re-editing, strangely choreographed monster fight sequences, and chuckle-inducing monster suits, your intestinal constitution is stronger than any champion competitive food eater.

 

WATCHING THIS MOVIE WILL NOT SO MUCH AS PHILOSOPHICALLY ENLIGHTEN YOU AS IT MAY REVEAL YOU HAVE UNRESOLVED ANGER MANAGEMENT ISSUES

WATCHING THIS MOVIE WILL NOT SO MUCH AS PHILOSOPHICALLY ENLIGHTEN YOU AS IT MAY REVEAL YOU HAVE UNRESOLVED ANGER MANAGEMENT ISSUES

 

 

Oh God, I hear they’re making another one. Another remake.

Why must they punish my eyes so?

 

The funny thing is, is that even though Godzilla flicks are, qualitatively speaking, pretty awful movies, once you see past all that‘s not worth watching, there’s actually something really smart going on. Godzilla movies are not only some of the finest examples of unintentional madcap comedy, they’re some of the best teaching tools around.

Especially if one is inclined to think about philosophy or foreign policy.

 

WARNING: FLASHBACK AHEAD

WARNING: FLASHBACK AHEAD

 

When I was a kid, weekends meant only one thing: spending my Saturday afternoons watching bad movies. In the days before basic cable and the endless stream of made-for-Syfy and the Lifetime Network’s obscure 80’s actors cinematic crapfests, one only had local television affiliates and a bunny-eared antenna to view the best of the worst cinema ever made. I remember the local Los Angeles affiliate, KHJ (now KCAL) aired Movie Macabre, hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

 

elvira's movie macabre

 

I spent many Saturday afternoons watching craptacular gems like The Werewolf of Washington, The Monster Club, The Devil’s Rain, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, and The Incredible Melting Man.

 

WITH SPECIAL EFFECTS LIKE THIS, IT HAS TO BE CRAP. I KNOW, I KNOW. RICK BAKER.

WITH SPECIAL EFFECTS LIKE THIS, IT HAS TO BE CRAP. I KNOW, I KNOW. RICK BAKER.

 

 

I may be wrong but I think John Saxon hosted a show called Kung-Fu Theatre.

Those movies were pretty bad, too.

Still, more than any other memory of those Saturdays spent boob-tubing away my early childhood, I remember watching Godzilla movies.

Enough Godzilla flicks to last a Japanese school boy in too-tight-shorts a life time.

 

Admittedly, by the time Godzilla was pitted against the giant, flying, pollution-dispensing, melted shuttlecock-looking, Smog Monster, the intelligence quotient of the film series had reached an all-time low.

 

AL GORE SHOULD HAVE USED THIS MOVIE TO ARGUE FOR PROOF OF GLOBAL WARMING.

AL GORE SHOULD HAVE USED THIS MOVIE TO ARGUE FOR PROOF OF GLOBAL WARMING.

 

By the mid-1960s, Godzilla flicks had started the slippery slide down the crap scale from slightly stupid movies to full-blown, “you’ve got to be kidding me”-inducing plotlines involving the son of Godzilla (never once addressing where Mrs. Godzilla, was) and pitting the King of Monsters against America’s own racially-metaphored monster, King Kong.

 

STILL A BETTER LOVE STORY THAN TWILIGHT

STILL A BETTER LOVE STORY THAN TWILIGHT

 

 

The sad thing is Godzilla started out as kind of a smart film.

An invention of the Toho Picture Company, Godzilla made his film debut in Gojira released in 1954. Originally an anti-nuke, anti-war allegory, Gojira was re-cut for U.S. audiences with footage of American actor Raymond Burr (best known as TV’s Perry Mason) and re-titled Godzilla, King of Monsters.

 

raymond burr in godzilla

 

Gojira was intended to be a cautionary tale; a warning against man’s arrogance and want to harness the power of the gods creating real-life monsters (nuclear weapons) that can destroy man and the planet. Gojira producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, said:

 

The theme of the film from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind.

 

GODZILLA’S REVENGE LOOKED LIKE THIS.

GODZILLA’S REVENGE LOOKED LIKE THIS.

 

 

However, in the Americanized Godzilla, King of Monsters, any references to the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, and U.S. hydrogen bomb tests (in the original Gojira we’re told the hydrogen bomb is what created Godzilla) were also removed from the film.

 

ACCORDING TO THE AMERICAN VERSION THIS HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH GODZILLA.

ACCORDING TO THE AMERICAN VERSION THIS HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH GODZILLA.

 

 

By the way, Raymond Burr plays a reporter named “Steve Martin”. His character’s name still makes me laugh.

 

 

 DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE IS A WILD AND CRAZY GUY, HE’S HARDLY THE TYPE TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM A HYDROGEN BOMB-CREATED SAURIAN BEAST.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE IS A WILD AND CRAZY GUY, HE’S HARDLY THE TYPE TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM A HYDROGEN BOMB-CREATED SAURIAN BEAST.

 

It’s not unreasonable that a Japanese film company would make an anti-nuke movie.

Japan is the only country to have been bombed twice with nuclear weapons.

 

Watching the original Gojira and its anti-nuke message got me thinking: Of course, being anti-nuke is a political position, but if being anti anything means you’ve taken a stand against something because you think it’s wrong, you’re taking a moral position as well.

 

If you’re talking morals, you’re talking philosophy.

 

And if you’re talking about the ethics of atomic warfare, you’re talking foreign policy.

 

We’ve all heard the explanation before: The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to save lives that would have been lost in U.S. invasion of Japan. The explanation is utilitarian. The bombs were dropped to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) explains:

 

… actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

 

The utilitarian position is this: if dropping atomic bombs on Japan would save lives and end the war, ending thousands of Japanese lives was a small price to pay for saving millions of American and Allied lives. U.S. government argued Hiroshima and Nagasaki were military targets; which made destroying the cities all the more necessary. Therefore, the total destruction of two Japanese cities was a necessary and morally justified act.

 

It was the only solution.

 

after the atomic bomb

THIS LOOKS LIKE A PRETTY GOOD SOLUTION ALRIGHT.

 

Utilitarian justifications for military action are not uncommon. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the Bush Doctrine, military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Libya, Grenada, the Balkans, and American support of coups in Iran and Chile, were all based on utilitarian arguments. In arguing for military action in Iraq, President George W. Bush stated:

 

By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it… We have a great opportunity to extend a just peace, by replacing poverty, repression, and resentment around the world with the hope of a better day.

 

That, my friends, is a utilitarian argument.

 

But wait, you say, the Vietnam War ended badly for the United States. As did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you think about it, more than a few “interventions” have gone very badly. If this is so, how can you justify military aggression if the result is worse than the initial problem?

If you just said that, congratulations. You figured out the problem with utilitarianism.

 

You see, the utilitarian (moral) position tells us that if we possess the means to end or prevent the suffering of others, we are obligated to act. We would be neglecting our moral duty if we do not. Taking lives is not necessarily wrong if our ultimate goal is to increase the overall good (or happiness) of the whole.

So, if dropping bombs from unmanned drones will decrease violent acts of Islamic extremism, then blowing up weddings, unarmed journalists or people eating lunch is morally justified.

 

utilitarian cartoon

 
On its face, that all sounds fine and dandy. But, if you haven’t already realized it, not every bomb falls on its intended target. And sometimes our best utilitarian intentions fall victim to the law of unintended consequences.

Utilitarian ethics tells us that if we ought to act if we have the means to increase the happiness of the whole, but the sometimes inaccurate calculation of (best) consequences leads to bad things happening rather than the outcomes we expected. Sometimes, despite our best intentions and expectations, the situation ends up much worse than before we did anything.

 

WORSE LIKE THIS:

 

 

godzilla 1956

 

 

If you’re a utilitarian, this is unacceptable.

 

Because the moral rightness or wrongness depends on the consequences of our actions, not our intentions. We can have all the best intentions in the world, but if we act and the consequences are bad, then our actions are morally wrong.

 

hiroshima after bomb

WAS THIS REALLY THE BEST THING TO DO?

 

Because in the real world when we act, we risk more than creating an irradiated, 150 foot, “big-gutted, big-butted” prehistoric beast hell-bent on destroying Tokyo.

In the real world, we must weigh our actions against the possibility that we’ll kill real people and cause real damage to others.

Even if our intentions tell us unmanned drones will get the job done.

 

 

 

 

* Actually Cloverfield is a political movie. One need not look too deeply into the plot to see the parallels between the events in the film and the terrorist attack on New York on September 11th, 2001.

 

 

 

 

Sources:
1) John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 571

2) Sam Stall, Lou Harry, and Julia Spaulding. The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures: 1001 Things You Hate to Love. 2004. Philadelphia: Quirk Books. p.108.

3) Steve Ryfle. “Godzilla’s Footprint”. Gojira DVD insert.

4) The Evolving Presidency: Addresses, Cases, Essays, Letters, Reports, Resolutions, Transcripts, and Other Landmark Documents, 1787-2004. 2004. 2nd Edition. Ed. Michael Nelson. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. pp. 288.

That Muppet Is Giving Me The Creeps

You know the saying “you learn something new every day”?

It’s true.

I learned something new. I learned that just because something is labeled “kid friendly” that that doesn’t necessarily make it so.

I’ve seen at least ten “kid friendly” movies that I would never show to children.

Well, I wouldn’t. Unless I really hated that kid.

 

HATED.

 

Because I like overthinking about things and I have nothing better to do,  I decided to made up a little list of family-friendly movies (that aren’t):

 

The Secret Of NIMH

The Dark Crystal

Labyrinth

The Neverending Story

Legend

Return To OZ

The Adventures of Mark Twain

Willow

Clash of the Titans (original)

The Wiz

All of these movies are more than a little disturbing.

Most I still won’t watch alone in the dark.

These movies were so traumatizing to me that I remember exactly when and where I first watched each movie. The first of these cinematic horrors I saw was The Dark Crystal.

I saw it when I was 8 years old.

I was at school.

The movie terrified me.

There was no way I could leave the classroom.

I would have been a total wuss if I’d closed or covered my eyes.

 

kid covering eyes

 

 

The funny thing about The Dark Crystal is that it was made by the same people who made the Muppets. The Muppets were all about being cute and cuddly and making people happy.

They kind of scared me, too.

 

beaker

Who wouldn’t be terrified of something that looked like this???

 

I thought back then at eight years old as I do now The Dark Crystal is like an episode of Sesame Street plunged down to the ninth rung of Hell. I’ve often suspected that, if you looked deep down inside of Bert’s mind, it looks a little like The Dark Crystal. That might explain why that “Bert is evil” meme was popular a few years ago.

 

bert is evil

 

The Dark Crystal came out a long time ago, so some of you might not remember what the movie is about (I can’t forget as it is seared upon my memory). In a nutshell, the movie’s plot kind of goes like this:

A creepy puppet dude named Jen (he’s actually the last of an extinct race of creatures called Gelflings) is bequeathed the task of finding a shard from an ancient and magical crystal.

 

jen

This is Jen. creeeeeepy!

 

Jen must place the shard back into place so as to reunite the creepier-looking Mystics and even creepier-looking Skeksis into one race (species?). Wait, I’m missing something…. Ok let me backtrack a bit. You see, before the crystal broke the Mystics and the Skeksis were one race and when the crystal split, they split into the peaceful (but nevertheless creepy-looking) Mystics, and evil and truly too-frightening-for-any-child-to- watch Skeksis. The Mystics and the Skeksis have to be reunited to bring peace back to the land…. Or something like that.
Oh yeah, Jen finds out that he’s not the only remaining Gelfling. He finds another one, a nice (but no less creepy) female Gelfling named Kira. You know she’s a girl because she has wings. She also has a dog-like thing called “Fizzgig”.

 

fizzgig

 

That thing has piranha teeth.

In a kid’s movie.

 

THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS BUT THEY’RE SCARY AS CRAP.

THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS BUT THEY’RE SCARY AS CRAP.

 

 

Anyway, for reasons that I can’t quite remember (and I’m not going to watch to see why) the evil Skeksis wiped out the small and harmless Gelflings. Once the Skeksis get wind of Jen’s mission, they attempt to kill Jen as well.

 

Oh wait! Now I remember! The Skeksis want Jen dead because according to a prophesy, a Gelfling will mend the crystal and bring together the Mystics and the Skeksis. And the Skeksis don’t want to reunite with the Mystics.

DUH.

Did I fail to mention something that looks like this is in this movie?

 

ogra 2 better pic

 

 

If you’re not already convinced this is the scariest movie ever made, there may be something wrong with you.

 

As much as The Dark Crystal is a relentlessly disturbing movie it’s also kind of a downer. Sure, Jen accomplishes his task; he shoves the shard back into the crystal and the Mystics and Skeksis are reunited.

Hooray!

 

The Crystal is fixed. All is well!

The Crystal is fixed. All is well!

 

But none of that happens before a bunch of terrible s#!t happens.

 

Mostly at the hands of the Skeksis.

 

 

This is what a Skeksis looks like.

This is what a Skeksis looks like.

 

 

 

Here’s a short list of all the bad s#!t that happens in the movie:

 

  • Dozens of innocent creatures are ruthlessly slaughtered at a party.
  • Jen and Kira’s long-legged, transport-thingies are killed.

 

IF ANYONE KNOWS WHAT THESE THINGS ARE CALLED LET ME KNOW

IF ANYONE KNOWS WHAT THESE THINGS ARE CALLED LET ME KNOW

 

  • Adorable little creatures called Podlings (who look like a muppet Bob the Builder) are rounded up and drained of their “essence” they literally have their life sucked out of them.
  • Mystics die.
  • Skeksis die (including the Emperor of the Skeksis, who literally disintegrates in front of his subjects).
  • Augra is imprisoned and threatened with torture.
  • The Gelflings are genocided until only two remain.
  • Kira is stabbed in the back (by a Skeksis) and dies.

Never mind  that Kira is brought back to life. She was stabbed in the back and died!

 

Throughout the movie, the Skeksis are nothing short of the embodiment of evil. Their only purpose (would you call that their telos?) is to destroy as much good in the world as possible. But at the end of the movie, when the crystal is repaired by Jen, the Skeksis aren’t punished. They’re rewarded.

The Skeksis are reunited with the Mystics and are returned to their original celestial forms. Everything ends happily ever after.

 

STILL NO LESS FRIGHTENING THEN THEY WERE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MOVIE

STILL NO LESS FRIGHTENING THEN THEY WERE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MOVIE

 

That got me thinking.

You see, when I first saw The Dark Crystal, I was too busy trying not to poop my pants to pay attention to what was going on. But as I got older, I realized that  something was terribly amiss with the end of the movie. I thought the Skeksis got off way too easy.

There’s no arguing that the Skeksis weren’t evil. They were evil creatures that committed evil deeds. If our religious and legal systems are any indication of how we feel about evil and those who do evil, punishments for evil doing is well-deserved. The Bible says:

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)

 

god from the family guy

Although I may have wanted to see the Skeksis burn in eternal fire for their evil deeds,  luckily for the Skeksis they live in a world that operates under a different system of ethics. I didn’t notice it back then (probably ‘cause I was too busy being scared s#!tless) but The Dark Crystal has a bit of an Eastern philosophy vibe. The Dark Crystal has more to do with the philosophy of this guy:

 

buddha

 

 

Or this guy:

 

shiva

 

 

Than this guy:

 

buddy christ

 

 

 

Or this guy:

bertrand russell

 

The skeksis and the Mystic’s need to be reunited; to throw off their worldly bodies, rejoin their fragmented souls and move on, as perfected souls, to the spirit realm, reflects the Eastern philosophical position that there is no eternal punishment after death, but that our lives are part of an eternal cycle of death and rebirth.

If you’re a practitioner of Hinduism you’re well aware of Samsara, the belief that humans can achieve higher consciousness, so long as we improve ourselves (that is accomplished by using lessons learned from one life to the next). Samsara is precisely what the Mystics’ their ultimate goal is to regain their state of higher consciousness.

Of course, the Mystics’ goal is complicated by the fact that humans (and presumably Mystics and Skeksis as well) have free will. The Skeksis knowingly (and maliciously) chose a path of evil, and for that, the Skeksis were kept from moving on to a higher existence.

 

And because the souls of the Mystics were inextricably tied to the Skeksis, they were unable to move on as well.

 

In the film, we can see because the Mystics and Skeksis live apart (when they should be joined as one) that they are suffering.

 

YOU WOULD PROBABLY SUFFER IF YOU LOOKED LIKE THIS, TOO

YOU WOULD PROBABLY SUFFER IF YOU LOOKED LIKE THIS, TOO

 

By uniting the crystal, Jen finally releases the Mystics and Skeksis from their earth-bound suffering (Moska) and the united races are able to reach Nirvana, which is the state of liberation from earthly suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth. Buddha describes Nirvana as:

 

Where it is recognized that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself; where, recognizing the nature of the self-mind, no one longer cherishes the dualism of discrimination; where there is no more attachment to the external things.

 

The Buddha says when we abandon our desires and want of worldly goods; when we realize that we are not separate from others and see ourselves as one with all things, we can attain Nirvana.

 

dave grohl don't know nirvana

 

Ok. So by the end of the movie everything is okay-dokey. The Mystics and the Skeksis are returned to their perfected state, the Podlings are released from captivity (with a minimal amount of essences drained), Kira is revived from the dead, peace is restored, and everybody lives happily ever after, right?

IF THESE ARE THE ONLY GELFLINGS LEFT, THERE IS SOME SERIOUS INBREEDING IN THEIR FUTURE.

IF THESE ARE THE ONLY GELFLINGS LEFT, THERE IS SOME SERIOUS INBREEDING IN THEIR FUTURE.

 

 

Well, no. Not for me, anyway.

 

There’s still the one thing that’s nagging me. I can’t stop thinking that the Skeksis got off easy. I may be totally Western moral systems about this, but I wanted to se the Skeksis suffer a little more than they did.

I mean, they stayed evil right up ‘til the end.

It doesn’t seem fair that the Skeksis could be so evil yet be allowed to reach Nirvana like the gentle, peaceful Mystics. It doesn’t matter if you follow the Ten Commandments or Buddha’s Eightfold Path, we’re expected to be good to others and to do the right thing. It seems karmically wrong that the Skeksis are not condemned to eternal torment or at least have to come back and live life over again.

When you get down to it, the Skeksis have no reason to do anything good.

 

So they don’t.

And at the end of the movie, they get to go to whatever paradise Skeksis and Mystics go to when their reunited.

 

That’s not only unnerving in the fictional world, it’s downright terrifying in the real world. The prospect that truly malevolent beings like Caligula, Pol Pot, Jack the Ripper, and Countess Elizabeth Bathory can go to the same Nirvana that awaits Dorothy Day, Caesar Chavez, and Miep Gies not only seems unfair, it seems wrong.

 

Imagine spending an eternity in Nirvana with the same S.O.B. Skeksis who just stabbed you in the back and killed you.

Assuming Kira was headed for Nirvana.

If Jim Henson was at all concerned about fairness, the Skeksis would be meeting this guy at the end of the movie.

If Jim Henson was at all concerned about fairness, the Skeksis would be meeting this guy at the end of the movie.

 

 

I suppose I’ve been a bit unfair to the Sksksis. Maybe they weren’t as much to blame for what they did as I think. Perhaps there’s another way of looking at the whole situation.

It’s entirely possible that the Skeksis, despite their unrepentant evil, were suffering. The separation of the Mystics and Skeksis may have been a source of great torment. The Skeksis were only half of what they were meant to be. That’s probably why the Skeksis were so cruel. The Skeksis were kind of like bullies. And like bullies, the Skeksis needed to hurt others to fill the void of their incomplete souls.

(We can also assume that the Mystics were suffering as well. This may be why, despite their peaceful and contemplative life, they sent Jen to repair the crystal).

In the end, the pain the Skeksis inflicted on others only amplified their own pain.

 

That’s why when Kira cuts the (Skeksis) Chamberlain’s hand, a Mystic’s hand also bleeds.

And also when one of the Mystics dies, a Skeksis also dies.

 

You know something, Western philosophy isn’t completely devoid of  Eastern philosophical beliefs. The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), also subscribed to Eastern philosophical beliefs.

Schopenhauer believed that suffering is an essential part of life (like Buddhists) but we can find relief from our suffering through contemplation, music, art, and philosophy. He also said we can find relief from suffering through the study of Eastern philosophy.

I guess Schopenhauer learned something new.

 

keep calm and reach nirvana

 

It’s plainly evident that the Skeksis were not satisfied as they were that no amount of power, Podlings’ essences, genociding other creatures to extinction, or lavish robes and banquets could quell the deep pain the Skeksis felt. That’s why, at the end, the Skeksis needed to move on and let go of their belief that they were separate from the Mystics.

The Skeksis knew that the prophesy wait, did I mention that there was a prophesy? that the Skeksis and the Mystics would be rejoined as one race, had to happen.

They wouldn’t want to suffer forever, right?

 

So… if the Skeksis were indeed suffering, from an Eastern philosophical point of view the punishment-less ending of The Dark Crystal kind of makes sense.

Still… I think if Kira had got in a good roundhouse or drop-kick on one or two of those Skeksis before they merged with the Mystics, they could have called that whole decimating an entire race and stabbing-her-in-the-back-thing even.

 

THE DARK CRYSTAL WOULD HAVE BEEN A LITTLE LESS SCARY IF KIRA HAD GONE WALKER TEXAS RANGER ON A SKEKSIS.

THE DARK CRYSTAL WOULD HAVE BEEN A LITTLE LESS SCARY IF KIRA HAD GONE WALKER TEXAS RANGER ON A SKEKSIS.

NOTE:  just in case you didn’t know, the Eight-fold Path is:

1. Right Understanding

2. Right Thought

3. Right Speech

4. Right Action

5. Right Livelihood

6. Right Effort

7. Right Mindfulness

8. Right Concentration

For more on the Eight-fold Path, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path

 

This Post Does Not Have A Name

I watch a lot of movies.

Maybe too many movies.

I must say, however,  I’ve never seen any of The Fast and the Furious franchise.

I’m more of a horror/sci-fi person. Not much of an action fan.

On November 30, 2013, one of the stars of The Fast and the Furious franchise, Paul Walker, died in a car crash.

He was only 40 years old.

 

paul walker

 

There’s something funny about movie stars. You never really think of them as having an actual age. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have spent one second thinking about his age. But now that I’m older, the first thought on my mind when I heard the news was the fact that Paul walker was only a few years older than me.

And even if he wasn’t so close to me in age, his death would still be tragic. He was a person. He has family and friends. And many fans who are now mourning his sudden and violent death.

I don’t know how many R.I.P. pages popped up on Facebook.

And, of course, his death made for plenty of programming on TMZ.

TMZ posted video of the car Paul Walker  in in flames.

 

paul walker accident scene

 

A few days after the crash, TMZ aired their  “last known video footage” of Paul Walker.

 

tmz last shot of paul walker

 

You know, when a famous person dies, there’s no shortage of sensational coverage of a person’s life. Death, whether a person is famous or not, is often treated like an entertainment event. I guess if you’re famous or  unfortunate enough to die in a spectacular fashion, the news and entertainment show vans and their cameras aren’t too far behind.

Unfortunately for Paul Walker, he was both.

But sometimes, it gets us thinking about those things that we otherwise often put off – like the inevitability of death. That death, no matter whether a person is 9 months or 99 years old, is an unpleasant and often unwelcome reality we all must face. But as tragic and uncomfortable as the subject of death (even the death of a famous person) is, it’s also an opportunity to ask philosophical questions.

Naturally, when someone dies,  our minds often drift to questions about our own lives – what our lives mean. We ask if our lives have meaning. Have we accomplished all with our lives that we wanted to do? What will our lives mean to others after we’re gone? Have we made a difference?

When a celebrity dies, especially if there were others killed along with the famous person, we ask what is the true value of a life. Paul Walker was a famous person but he was not the only person killed in the accident. Walker’s friend, race car driver Roger Rodas, also perished.

I’m certain that many people were shocked and saddened by the death of Rodas, but if you spent any time watching the Hollywood-centered media, it’s likely that you may have had the idea that Paul Walker was the only occupant in the car.

 

roger rodas

 

 

That’s because in our media-driven culture, the lives of the rich and famous are often more valued than the lives of average people. We want to believe that our lives, that any life, is important and if tragedy befalls anyone, what happens to us will be treated as important as if it had happened to a famous person.

Look, I’m not downplaying the situation. Lives, whether the lives are famous or not, are equally valuable.  That’s why it is so upsetting when any life is treated like it is less valuable. It’s why the fact that Roger Rodas’ death was virtually ignored by the entertainment media affects our moral sense on the value of life.

 

 

Chick Writin’

It’s generally thought that philosophy is a man’s game.

Without even really thinking about it, I can name at least a couple dozen male philosophers. At least a couple dozen.

Every philosophy student learns the names by heart: Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Locke, Mill, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Russell, Wittgenstein …

 

They’re the pillars of philosophy.

 

I can name more. I bet you can, too.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the ladies.

I mean, I know there are women philosophers. I’ve read a few. Simone de Beauvoir. Judith Butler. Ayn Rand. Hannah Arendt. Helene Cixous. Christine Korsgaard. Susan Wolf.

My list pretty much dries up there.

I’ll be damned if I can name a dozen let alone a couple dozen professional lady philosophers.

 

 

Who is this lady????

Who is this lady????

 

 

And I don’t think I’ve ever identified one by just her last name.

Everybody says they’ve read Nietzsche. When was the last time you heard anyone say they just finished reading Butler?

 

If you don’t know which Butler to whom I refer, I mean this Butler: Judith Butler. She’s a philosopher.

If you don’t know which Butler to whom I refer, I mean this Butler: Judith Butler. She’s a philosopher.

 

 

The general assumption was (and still is) that men are better at thinking than women.

You know, thinking stuff like math, logic map reading, AND philosophy.

I write about philosophy.

I guess in the broadest sense of the word that makes me a philosopher.

However, I am of the female persuasion and I write about philosophy.

 

Uh-oh. Problem.

 

The thing is, is that I don’t really think of myself as a female philosopher. When I engage in a philosophical discussion, if the opportunity conceal my gender arises, I’ll do it. Even my Facebook profile pic is a picture of a man.

This is my current Facebook profile pic.

 
don draper for profile pic

 

 

It’s not only a picture of a man, Don Draper; it’s a picture of a man from a decade when women were definitely treated like second class citizens.

 

Now, I suppose I can say my reluctance to reveal my gender has to has to do with some sort of socially-conditioned, unconscious desire to abide by the white, heterosexual, Christian male patriarchy. But to say that would be a little too obvious.

And really, I don’t think it’s that at all.

The reason why, I think, has something to do with not wanting to be just a female philosopher – that being a female philosopher means that the only philosophical writing I do is chick writing.

 

herstory

 

 

You see, when you tell everyone that you’re a woman and you like to write, it’s almost inevitable that someone will assume that all you write about is your kids, fashion, the men you’re dating, and your period.

Just occasionally pausing to write about the oppressive capitalist white male patriarchy or how lesbians are still under represented and maligned in society, political institutions, and in the media.

Well for starters, I don’t have kids. I haven’t bought a new article of clothing in over two years, and my current dating situation could be best described as Tatooine-esque.

 

The fact that I just used a Star Wars reference might be a reason why it’s so.

 

Or worse yet, being a chick writer or writing about chick issues immediately associates one with militant man-hating.

Philosophy professor Michael Levin wrote in his book, Feminism and Freedom, that feminism is an “antidemocratic, if not totalitarian ideology.”

 

feminist with scissors

 

 

Just for the record I don’t hate men.

But for the ones I do hate, my hatred is well deserved.

 

 

mink

 

Wait. I got off track.

 

I suppose Aristotle was right.

He said that women are more quarrelsome than men.

Aristotle wrote that women favor emotion over intellect. This is the reason why, Aristotle says, women are irrational. Irrationality has no place in philosophy.

 

 

feminist hammer

 

 

Still, feminist philosophy, or philosophy by or about women in general, bears the stigma of being not-quite-legitimate philosophy.
Feminist philosophy tends to focus on the interpersonal – how the individual, in particular, how women (as women) relate to and in society. Whereas male philosophers tend to emphasize the pursuit of knowledge and absolute, objective truth, female philosophers tend to examine the role of women and aspects of femininity in societal institutions (politics, economics, religion), and the relationships between cultural concepts such as womanhood, class, sexuality, sexual preference and identity, and race.
And then there’s this:

 
this is what femimism looks like

 

 

When you’re a feminist, people make cruel memes about you.

 

Unfortunately the view isn’t  that much different in philosophy.

 

That can make a lady philosopher steer clear of writing about any issue that stinks of feminism. Even if what you’re writing is philosophical.

And it really doesn’t help much when a few of those great male minds of philosophy rattle off statements like:

 

It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards or [lead unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation’. This downward progress may construe through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfillment. The best a woman can hope for is to become a man.

 

Encouraging, right?

 

If Plato thinks I’m a soulless idiot why would I ever imagine that I could possibly have a career in philosophy?

And besides, as we all know all the important philosophers are men.

 

 

on feminism

 

 

The thing is, is that I really don’t have any problem with feminists, feminism, or female philosophers. Goodness knows that there’s more to philosophy than Socrates and Kierkegaard. I think what I’m trying to avoid writing not-really-philosophy philosophy. Even though women have contributed many brilliant ideas, theories, and schools of thought to philosophy, there’s still this thing I can’t get over – the thought that my gender necessarily obligates me to write about – my gender.

Even serious women philosophers, like Ayn Rand, are depicted like this:

 

 

sexy ayn!

 

 

Or worse yet, what they write is dismissed as just chick stuff.

Man-hating chick stuff.

 

 

i need feminism

 

 

Listen, I know I’m being a little short-sighted on the prevalence and influence of women philosophers. I well aware of the fact that women philosophers write about more than sexuality and gender issues and that women have contributed more than their feminine charm and good looks to the body philosophic. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about the Nazis. And Ayn Rand’s ethical philosophy, like it or not, is still influential.

Rand’s followers have ranged from CEOs of major corporations to former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, to the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.

By the way, are you aware that Ryan now says that his rumored fondness for Rand’s philosophy is an urban myth?

 

 

paul ryan

 

Still, I went through the whole earning a philosophy degree process, and during the entire time I read only one female philosopher who didn’t write about lady stuff. AND during the entire time I was a philosophy student, there was only one class offered on feminist philosophy.

 

keep patriarchy

 

 

Perhaps that’s the problem, eh?

Betty Friedan wrote that she wanted women to “master the secrets of the atoms, or the stars”, and wanted women to pioneer “a new concept in government or society”.

I’m pretty sure what she wanted applies to philosophy, too.

Philosophy will continue be a man’s game so long as folks like me keep referring to themselves (myself) as “folks like me”.

I shouldn’t be so worried about being a chick writer or writing about chick stuff. Certainly philosophy has plenty to do with rational arguments and logic, but it also has to do with things like reality. And my reality is seen through my lady eyes.

 

 

 

ryan gosling hey girl meme

 

 

Whether I like it or even want to admit it, everything I write is chick writin’.
Now I don’t feel so bad writing about my period.

 

 

You can expect that post in exactly 28 days.

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

Plato. Timaeus. (90e). Available at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1572

Susan Faludi. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Selfie!

“I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that one should become a person like other people”  – Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver (1976)

 

 

I’m on the internet.

I mean I have access to the internet.

Duh. How else would I be writing?

What I mean is that besides being on the internet writing right now, I use social media.

Am I supposed to put social media in quotes or capitalize it or something?

I wouldn’t say that I have an internet “presence” (I am putting quotes around that word) or something.

I’m no Jenna Marbles.

But I’m sure I’ve been on the World Wide Web long enough to suspect that the government might have looked at what I’ve posted online at least once.

At least that’s what I assume from everything that Edward Snowden says.

 

 

I suppose Rockwell was right. Someone is watching me.

I suppose Rockwell was right. Someone is watching me.

 
If you’re on the internet. Someone has watched or is watching you.

Internet “presence” not required.

This seems a little weird to me.

 

I don’t have the investigatory curiosity of the NSA, but I know for most people peeping into the average person’s email box wouldn’t seem worthwhile. After all, who wants to spend all day sifting through unintentionally forwarded messages (usually off-color, potentially job-losing jokes), a marginal friend’s political rants, inappropriate vacation pics, video of someone’s cousin’s niece’s goddaughter’s 2nd birthday party, or Grandma Jean’s old borscht recipe?

Wouldn’t watching someone who actually has a “presence” on the internet be much more useful?

At least it would be more entertaining.

Right, NSA?

My philosophical inclinations tells me that ultimately I know nothing, but I know even if my online activity isn’t being monitored by the NSA, that whatever I post is likely to be seen by someone, somewhere.

 

At least that’s what I assume.

 

But is a 43 year-old single man in Toledo, Ohio who posts pictures of his cats dressed as characters from popular TV shows on Facebook really more likely to be an Al Qaeda operative?
Now, I know be truly watch-worthy on the internet (to have a “presence”), the first indicator that someone is worth watching is that one has posted pictures of one’s self.

Lots of pictures.

Too many pictures.

Preferably taken in a bathroom.
Those who are familiar with the internet identify this type of self-portraiture as is commonly called: the selfie.

Whether you’re Justin Bieber or a 15 year-old Justin Bieber fan, the internet is an infinite digital reservoir for one’s self portraits.

 

bieber selfie

 

 

Who knew there could be something worse than glam shots?

Who knew there could be something worse than glam shots?

 

 

 

Duckface not optional

Duckface not optional

 

 
This is me doing a selfie:

 

 

This is as close as I get to a selfie, folks.

This is as close as I get to a selfie, folks.

 

 

If you think about it, the selfie isn’t such a new thing.

All the great artists painted self portraits.

Those are selfies, right?

 

 

rembrant selfie

 

 

 

van gogh selfie

 

 

 

Cindy Sherman does nothing but self portraits.

 

This is Cindy Sherman. This is also the most expensive photograph ever sold. And it's a selfie!

This is Cindy Sherman. This is also the most expensive photograph ever sold. And it’s a selfie!

 
If you really think about it, is there really a difference between a van Gogh and a selfie?
That’s not a rhetorical question.

 

You see, there’s a real philosophical conundrum here.

Sure, posting pics of ourselves online is a fun way to catfish meet other people or to stay in touch with friends. Or even as an art or means of self-expression.

But what does the selfie say about us philosophically?
Certainly devoting one’s online presence (oops, “presence”) exclusively to self portraiture may be viewed (and perhaps rightly so) as narcissistic. And it may be difficult to argue that you’re not inordinately self-centered when most of your photographs look like this:

 

“I DEFINITELY HAVE A PENCHANT FOR DOUCHEBAGGERY”

“I DEFINITELY HAVE A PENCHANT FOR DOUCHEBAGGERY”

 

 

Ok you say. We need to get a philosophical grip of ourselves. Selfies are innocuous. They’re nothing more than young folks with their smart phones posting harmless pictures online. But here’s the thing: have you noticed that there is an immoderate amount of self portraits online? That people seem to be overcome with the urge to snap photos of themselves everywhere, in any situation – no matter how inappropriate photo-snapping may have been?

 

We all know you want a presence on the internet, but do we all have to see this?

We all know you want a presence on the internet, but do we all have to see this?

 
Given the volume of online self portraits, one could argue that our cultural fixation on posting images of ourselves is exactly the kind of vain self indulgence that gets in the way of thinking and acting in ways that benefits more than us. Bertrand Russell says:

 

One of the troubles about vanity is that it grows with what it feeds on. The more you are talked about, the more you wish to be talked about.

 

We post pictures of ourselves to show others our massive hotness. We post selfies to show off our new tattoos. Or our ability to pose for pictures cleverly. Our selfies show others how hip we are. That we have a presence on the internet.

 

That we’re relevant.

That we matter.

That we are important.

That we exist.

All eyes on me.

 

Go ahead and post it. Nobody's going to see it, anyway.

Go ahead and post it. Nobody’s going to see it, anyway.

 

 

When you get down to it, the philosophical problem with the selfie is that when we spend too much time thinking of ourselves, who we are, or how we are perceived by others – if we reduce ourselves to nothing more than mere images, we get caught in the trivial; as mere visual beings we lack substance. We become a society that values style over substance.

In particular, our own style.

Only our own style.

We fall in love with our own reflection.

 

narcissus

 

 

Think of it this way: can a narcissist truly do any good for others? Of course, the answer is no. A narcissist lacks the ability to identify or sympathize with others. A narcissist lacks empathy. A narcissist, by definition, cannot fix his attention to anyone or anything beyond himself.

 

Now imagine an entire culture of people where a fixation on the self is encouraged.

A culture of psychologically solipsistic people, encouraged to think (and sometimes act) as if we are the only people who exist can never be a good thing. A successful, if not philosophically adept, society requires that people pay attention to other people at least some of the time.

Ok, you say. Sure, someone who is overly fascinated with their own image may have some narcissistic issues. And the internet is undoubtedly saturated with amateur self portraiture. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that an internet full of selfies is indicative of a culture that is self absorbed and lacks philosophical depth or awareness. Blogs, pod- casts, personal YouTube channels, and DIY porn sites are better examples of online self-indulgence. Even if we never personally post pictures of ourselves, there’s plenty of us out there in cyberspace.

Have you ever been horrified to see yourself tagged in a photo you didn’t know someone took?
For some, the selfie isn’t all about the image. It represents the philosophical act of self expression.

 

Don’t scoff. I’m being serious here.

When we post pictures of ourselves online, we are in control if the image that we display to the world. We can use visual images as a means of communication when we are unable to express ourselves in words. A person may be forced to hide particular aspects of their identity or preferences in the real world, but on the internet, a person can freely communicate exactly what they think, feel, or how they want to express themselves.

But if we control the image others see, we are free to post whatever image of who we want to be. Perhaps more importantly, we are free to post images of who we truly are.

Selfies are acts of existentialist expression.

Yes they are.

I use this image as my Facebook profile pic:

 

cat as heisenberg

 

 

It’s obviously not a selfie (although I will insist that it is).

But what does this image say about me?

The image might say that I am a fan of the TV show Breaking Bad. And that I like cats. And perhaps it shows that I have a sense of humor. The fact that it’s not a picture of me says a great deal about me as well. It may say that I’m intentionally and/or maliciously hiding something like my age, race or gender.
It may say that I’m shy and am afraid of being judged before someone gets to know me.

It could also say that I’m a cat person who identifies with the methamphetamine-dealing, anti-hero, Walter White and am looking for others who share my proclivities and point of view.

What does a selfie say about any of us?

If I was Cindy Sherman, my selfies would critique and deconstruct media images of femininity.

 

obnoxious selfie

 

 

You might think this picture is nothing more than an expression of obnoxious vanity, but someone else may see a kindred spirit or philosophically like-minded individual.

If we think of selfies as a personality compatibility gauge, we can quickly determine who we may or may not be attracted to or want to associate with or friend on the internet.

A person who posts a selfie like this:

 

 

creepy_gun_dude

 

Sends us a message: The message tells us this is a man who likes his guns and likes his Guitar Hero guitars.

His message will either appeal to or repel us.

If you think about it, selfies are kind of like those old notes we used to pass around in elementary school.

 

do you like me note

 

The thing about selfies is that it’s not just solipsists and Randian objectivists who think that they’re the center of the universe. People are not only fascinated with images of other people, we’re fascinated with images of ourselves. We think in images. It would be quite un-human if the internet did not reflect our innate fascination with images.

And even if the selfie is nothing more than an exercise in narcissism, it doesn’t mean that selfies can’t be philosophically useful. Here are a few philosophically worthy things we can learn from selfies:
A fan of Kant’s ethics would not post naked pics (there’s no way you‘d want to universalize that).

A Cartesian dualist knows not to post pictures taken in a bathroom.

It’s highly unlikely that an Aristotelian-type magnanimous man would post pictures of himself smoking weed.

A nihilist would never do duckface.

A Marxist is not inclined to show off his bling.

 

 

50 cent and his money

 

 

Philosophers have a intrinsic ability to read a deeper meaning into anything.

 

Remember: There’s a meaning to everything… unless you’re a postmodernist.