Who Wants A Pizza Roll?

Last night, I spent several hours of my like (that I most assuredly will not get back) watching My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic on YouTube. I wouldn’t bring this up but for the fact that I spent hours watching re-dubbed clips from a cartoon that I didn’t even watch when I was a kid. HOURS….

Like many of my fellow internet (is that supposed to be spelled with a capital “i”?) junkies, I’ve fallen victim to the internet meme. I’ve seen The Bed Intruder, David After Dentist, Shit People Say (white girls, black girls, fat girls, gay guys, straight guys, broke black guys, you name it, I’ve seen every bit of shit they say), “Chocolate Rain”, Nyan Cat, Keyboard Cat, “Friday”, Double Rainbow, the cinnamon challenge, Bert is evil, and the Star Wars kid. I’ve seen Tebowing, planking, epic fails, Charlie the Unicorn, The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger,  and “Leave Britney Alone!” I’ve been one cupped, Rickrolled, and I’ve taken an arrow to the knee. I can’t say that watching any of these things has enhanced my life in any discernable way – but I can say that taking the time to think about why I’ve watched – and continue to watch these internet memes means philosophically.

For those of you who have ever wondered, the word “meme” (short for the Greek word “mimeme” meaning “something borrowed”) was coined by the famous (or infamous) atheist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, described a meme as an idea, style,  behavior, or other piece of culture that is transmitted from and/or imitated by a person or group to (or from) another person or group. Internet memes are usually (with a few exceptions) meant to convey humor or to exploit play upon the public’s familiarity with a pop culture reference.

Although most of us know our memes through social media (notably social networking sites such as Facebook,  YouTube, and websites such as “Know Your Meme”), the public’s knowledge of memes has expanded beyond cyberspace to include people who are admittedly unfamiliar with or do not use social media — you know, those people that claim that they have a “life”. Everyone and their grandmother knows who the “ridiculously photogenic guy” is, and there’s not a person on Earth who hasn’t either heard of or seen Kony 2012. But that’s, as they say, where the problem lies.

The thing about memes, in particular, internet memes, is that they are purely there to grab our attention for a brief amount of time before we move on to the next thing we’ll pay attention to for the next fifteen minutes. Internet memes embody the worst of our culture and our tendency to focus too often on the trivial and  simplistic, dumbed-down soundbites that cater to the powers of anti-intellectualism (thus failing to comprehend deeper meanings). When people focus too much on the trivial, philosophers warn, we fail to fully understand the complexity of ideas such as reality and Truth; we cannot operate in a world that we do not fully understand.

The late Canadian literary critic, philosopher, and communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) said, “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”  This is why in the Republic, Plato says that we must be mindful of what kind of entertainment that we show to our children. As a child’s mind is impressionable, the wrong kind of entertainment can corrupt a child’s mind. Mind you, Plato isn’t making a moral argument – he’s not saying that watching internet porn makes people behave badly (although that may or may not be so). What Plato is saying is something much worse than moral corruption – that watching trivial things makes people stupid. What we see, particularly on television and (increasingly so) on the internet influences our thinking. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, “The aim of philosophy is to think for oneself.” When we spend our time watching Miss Teen South Carolina flubbing her Q&A or the Tron Guy instead of studying (preferably philosophy) or spending time in contemplation, we lose the ability to function as fully autonomous rational beings.

And really, would the world be a better place if everyone watched LOL cats?



Who Else Would Be Following You On Twitter?

Strange thing about technology. Before you know it, everyone is doing it and you’re woefully behind the ball. A few years ago, it might have even been last year — I can’t remember a damn thing — the supposed burning question that I was sopposed to be asking myself when I woke up every morning was for what good reason I was not on YouTube? Now, I’m, if what everybody else is telling me is correct, supposed to be asking myself why don’t I tweet? That is, why am I not on Twitter? I could have sworn that as late as three weeks ago, neither I or anyone else that I knew knew what a “Twitter” was. But now it’s like Twitter is everywhere. I had, until I got technologically caught up, operated under the impression that one twittered when one giggled and trembled uncontrollably. But, my life it seems is incomplete if I am not giving the world updates about myself and exactly what I am doing and thinking in 140 characters of less. Well, I don’t … tweet. For awhile, or at least that’s what they will let you believe, I thought that I was the only person who doesn’t… tweet. Stephen King doesn’t tweet. Neither does Kid Rock. Trent Reznor did but quit. By the way, Kid Rock said this about tweeting, ” I don’t have anything to say, and what I have to say isn’t relevant”. I thought that was pretty thoughtful. But then, he backed up his comment with “Twitter this dick, motherfucker”. You decide. Like with YouTube, Facebook, and that internet dark alley, MySpace, there are stories aplenty about people ruining or semi-screwing up their lives with things that they posted online. It seems like these social gathering places have become modern-day slambooks (if that reference doesn’t date me, I don’t know what will). It seems like every one of these ‘I got fired because my boss saw my Cancun pictures on my MySpace’ became instantly overnight like Harriet in Harriet the Spy, when she lost her book of trash talk and everyone she knew got to see what and how she really thought about them. But it isn’t just the people that you know who get to see you slutting it up in Mexico — the whole world gets to see you. Twitter, launched in 2006 (why am I only hearing about this now?) co-created by Evan Williams, who is responsible for blogger.com, according to Nielsen, has 13 million users (well, I guess minus one). That’s a number that’s somewhere between alot and not alot. If you look at the fact that there are roughly 6 billion people on this island earth, 13 million is barely the number of people who simultaneously farted just now. But, if you think about things from the point of view of trends, 13 million is a pretty sizable number. You only have to sell a million records to go platnium. It’s not that I’m down on the social networks. I slum the internet from time to time and I blog. But I’m not on Facebook, nor do I have a MySpace account. At my age, having either seems a little … odd. Although I am well aware that the fastest growing segment of new Facebook users are women over 50. When I tell people that I don’t do Facebook or MySpace, they find this fact rather incredulous. I am told that there is a world of friends and followers that I am not updating or communicating with, and that this fact is supposed to make me feel bad. It doesn’t. Strange, with all the hubub about Ashton Kutcher, who, according to Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris, is “someone who is, if nothing else, expert at staying famous” making it his life’s mission to get more Twitter followers than CNN, it seems that the ordeal about Twitter is only about how popular you are or can become. And for folks like me, who won’t even use their real name on their blogs, that strikes us as a little arrogant and a tad creepy. There’s something more than unimpressive about Ashton Kutcher accumulating a million “followers”. What we should be asking it how many people have to participate in something so incredibly inane before we can call it a bonafide mental illness? The bonus, they say, about Twitter is that my “tweets”, unlike other forms of communication, like actually talking to people, takes place right now. Like the bank employee who tweeted when the bank where she worked was robbed, or when that plane crashed into the Hudson, they say that the news hit Twitter before it made the TV news. Plus, they say, on Twitter you get what really matters: sage advice from Dr. Drew, music listening tips from John Mayer, health tips from Ellen DeGeneres, celebrities musing about… whatever, or declaring that they’re ditching Twitter because there are too many crappy-looking, fat chicks (who fantasize about banging rock stars) following them. We know tweets are full of self-importance (see previous comment), but the bigger question we naturally are inclined to ask is is there really important being said on Twitter? Afterall, how much can a person say in 140 characters (assuming, of course, that the point is to say anything important at all)? Maybe Kid Rock’s observation about himself isn’t limited to himself, but also spot-on about every other Tweeter out there. All of this, of course, begs for someone to examine it with the philosophic eye. (even if it doesn’t, philosophers are in the business of relating anything, whether it is “philosophic” or not, to some philosophic theory). It doesn’t take too much deep thinking to come up with a few philosophy-like questions. Since Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc, are collectively known as “social networks” our philosophic sense leads us to ask about the “social” gathering places that these sites claim that they are. We all know, whether we like it or not, that humans are social animals. We want to find and look for people who are like ourselves. This is how these networks are marketed — you may not know anyone who is like you where you live, but rest assured that there is some dude in Sweden who likes fresh blueberry pancakes, hard-core Japanese Animation porn, Chuck Norris flicks and Grizzlybear just like you do. Anyone can find their brethren in cyberspace. No longer are we the lonely beegirls looking for our hive like that adorable bee kid in that Blind Melon video. All I have to do is post a profile, and people will want to be my friend. That sounds good. But is it? Is it really better for us? There’s a saying that you can spend so much time looking elsewhere for what you want that you miss it right where you are. There’s a fear that we might be sacrificing potential local relationships with people relatively near to us for “relationships” with people who aren’t anywhere near us (or who might never be — and that’s not always a bad thing). We might be giving up actual connectivity for what seems like real relationships, which in turn, leaves us actually disconnected from other people (it seems that plenty of people have experienced this one: you’re having an actual physical conversation with someone. they tell you to send them an email. but, you’re right in front of them! it’s not that they’re pressed for time, it’s just that they’re so used to not speaking to people face to face that they can’t actually speak to people when they’re in the same room with them). The question is, who are we connecting to? The idea of the internet and sites like Twitter is that there we are free to be who we really are. The lure, for some, is authenticity. We’re not bound by social conventions or even by distance — I can discuss how cool Forced Vengeance is with a pal in Sweden as readily as he can discuss the merits of the new S&M comics stuff put out by the dude that co-created Superman with his buddy in Clairmont. We may never admit to our predilections among our philosopher friends, but on the internet, we are free to discuss whatever we choose — to be who we are. But are we? Of course, this issue relates back to the question “who am I?” And, asking “who am I?” relates to our own questions about the meaning of life and existence. There is a tremendous amout of pressure to be online. Local news stations tell us to follow up their news broadcasts by looking up the stories online. We are told that we can get the best deals on restaurants, cars, stereos, plane tickets or whatever we might want by looking up bargains on the internet. We’re told that the printed book is dead and that what we need is kindle. It goes on and on. For those who aren’t hooked up to the world wide web, we might begin to think that we’re being left behind. By not joining the bandwagon, we become relics, as useless and outdated as a dog-eared copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (do you know how many people haven’t read this book?!? It’s amazing!). It’s almost like, if I’m not online somehow, I don’t count. I might find myself thinking that I’m like a tree in the forest. If I’m not on MySpace, do I exist? If I’m not telling the world exactly how I feel at every minute of the day, what other purpose is there to serve? I might think that being online — Tweeting, being on MySpace or Facebook, somehow varifies who I am, not just that I “exist”. But the problem is, is that I may be so caught up in the zeitgeist that I forget that posting my whatnot online isn’t just a matter of what I reveal online but about what I reveal online reveals about me. I think this is why people often post things that they shouldn’t. They gey so swept up in the idea that they lose who they are. We become profiles. We become 140 characters. That enevitably leads to a kind of detachment and (to use a term) alienation from others and I think also from ourselves. I heard somewhere that 60% of Twitter’s users drop out after a month. Maybe they find that relating to people who aren’t really there isn’t really relating to people. The problem isn’t so much a matter of corpulent followers, as it is a matter that the experience isn’t very satisfying for alot of people. It doesn’t replace actual human to human interaction. It leaves us wanting. Maybe Kid Rock had it right. He said that Twitter is gay. His words, not mine, folks.

I Used To Think I Should Put On A Laser Light Show

Sometimes, one can benefit from looking around at the people around you. I started this whole blog thing with the intention that this thing would help me to focus my thoughts enough to write a book. I would, I thought, write the book that I wanted to read when I was trudging through my philosophy classes — you know, that book written by some smartass who would say all sorts of stuff like “It’s not that important that you learn what Kant has to say about anything”, or “Philosophy is in the mind of the beholder”… Yeah. I stroked the ‘I’m going to write a book’ fantasy for quite a while. So far, no book. I haven’t even started. This would not be a problem, if not for the fact that I started to feel like I was doing something wrong. I have this blog, and I write about what I wanted to write about — the intersection between popular culture and philosophy — but I felt like I wasn’t doing things right. Like I wasn’t saying something important. Maybe it’s has to do with President Obama and the fact that we’re all supposed to be changing things. I wasn’t feeling like what I was doing was contributing to the change that we’re all supposed to be believing in. Who cares about how we can learn Kant’s metaphysics from an episode of The Brady Bunch? Will that create green jobs? Will knowing Popperian analysis of scientific theory create peace between the Palestinians and Israel? will it fix California’s budget problems? No, it won’t. But, then, I did something. I started to look around at what other people are blogging about. There’s the serious, ‘we’re telling you what’s the news’ folks at The Huffington Post, but mostly, there’s people who ar just like me, who just can’t keep their ideas to themselves. And that gave me comfort… for awhile. I wasn’t so bothered about having my blog anymore so much as I was troubled by the fact that my blog is just so boring! I mean, I think that I can write entertainingly. And occasionally, i can rip of a funny line or two. But the cold, harsh reality is that I write like a person who does philosophy. I mean, yeah, that’s what I’m writing about, but it’s what I sound like that really makes me want to stick my head out of the window while speeding past the mailbox, you know. I’m thinking now that I should have pictures pasted all over my blog. I should have pics of Kant and Hume, and a little area devoted to Wittgenstein, or links to Monty Python sketches. But, there’s something that tells me that it should the content that I should focus on — the flashing lights and go-go dancers are just too postmodernist. Maybe. Then again, would putting pictures of Kant up really make things more exciting?

A Word

Before I lay into my topic, I want to say that I’ve been cruising the blogisphere lately, and I’ve seen something that others possess that my blog severely lacks, namely pictures. As I have chosen to write about the influence that popular culture has on philosophy, and by extension, on our collective psyches, I realize that a tremendously important element of our popular culture is the visual image — the photograph, the motion picture, the television, YouTube, etc. I realize that my omission is well… disabling in that a blog about pop culture should reflect just that — popular culture. I should have pictures of Gerard Butler or Megan Fox plastered all over my blog. But I do not. It’s the philosopher in me that insists that I need not display flashing lights nor need I show big boobs to garner an audience. Which just serves to prove why Katy Perry is more popular than Alvin Plantinga.

I Promised Someone That I’d Write A Chapter of My Book About How Much I Hate Him, but for Reasons Better Left Unsaid, I’ll Merely Suggest It Here

I think that, in all of this writing, I’ve forgotten to ask myself one very important question — why am I doing this at all? I was talking with my sister some time ago, and during our conversation, she said that anyone over any age ending with “teen” is too old to spend time tweeting, myspacing, or blogging. Since I am way over any age ending with teen, I naturally took offense to her comment. And, true to form, I kept my mouth shut. But that got me thinking… There has to be some reason why I’m doing this. And what my sister said is true — there are people that are way too old to be spending otherwise productive time telling the world what they’re doing right at this moment — which is usually something not worth writing about, let alone even telling someone in an actual conversation. I mean, there is really no need that anyone know what Dave Matthews thinks about snail farts (he did this in a tweet). So I’m back to the question, why? Am I that much of an egotist that I feel that anyone else needs to know what I think about anything? Or, do I really have something valuable to say? I’d like to feel that my postion here, is that latter. I do feel that there is something that I might be able to do that might — well, help. I know how incredibly egotistical that statement was. It is, and I wholheartedly cop to the fact that I am fairly egotistical. And like so may of my egotistical brethern, I’ve decided that what I need to do is write a book. I realize that there are a fair number of people my age who believe that there is some great American novel crammed up inside their head somewhere. Most of us get by entertaining the idea that we’re frustrated writers without ever committing ink to page. And I admit, entertaining the idea that I have something to say that is also worth reading is a little more than arrogant. But that’s me — the frustrated would-be writer who thinks that there’s some great thing in my head that only needs to come out. And it will be brilliant. Which leads me to this — this blog. And of course, it leads to my subject of choice — philosophy. We’ve all seen that this is a real winner of a subject. Of all the subjects in the world, my “calling” is to write about something that few people know and even fewer people care about. I know that the general attitude towards philosophy is negative. To a great degree, that attitude is well-deserved. Those who practice the philosophic arts are seen as arrogant overthinkers who prattle on about stuff that means nothing to no one, or they’re the masters of overanalyzing the obvious. To that charge, I don’t disagree. I’ve often struggled with the feeling that what I was studying was unproductive and useless ( I’ve, from time to time, used the phrase “intellectual masturbation” to describe what a great deal of philosophers do). Philosophy was spending too much time thinking about things that people, real people, don’t care about. Even if people do care — does it matter? Does any of it matter beyond that halls of academia? That was the thought that I held and shared with my fellow students in my most cynical moments, when I felt that what I was doing — something that I considered to be a part of who I am — was meaningless, useless, and unrewarding. I had to figure out why I and the entire world felt the way that we do about looking at the world philosophically. For me, it was something of an application problem. That is, I couldn’t make the connection between what I was studying and what I saw when I stepped out of class. I couldn’t see philosophy at work on the street level. The stuff that I was reading in class was clean and elegant, and most of all consistent — it didn’t reflect anything that I experienced in the world — where things are messy and muddled and life forces you to not do or think the same way all of the time. In the classroom, there’s no real welcome for the dreadfully messy and inconsistent people that I lived with, chatted up in line at Walmart, and talked to at bus stops who hadn’t heard of Descartes or Frege and were in no way interested in learning how to construct a logically valid derivation. They didn’t care, so I stopped caring. And because of that, I became increasingly frustrated with what I was studying. I was fed up with arguments and well-formed theories, and fed up with my fellow students and professors who seemed to not share my point of view. I kept coming back to that question: what use is all of this? I thought that I got some bad advice from a professor who suggested that I take a break from philosophy (since I had grown to hate it so thoroughly). I thought that there would be some sort of higher brained solution to solving my problem. That he would say to meditate or channel the spirit of Hume or something along those lines. No, it was just take a break. Well, being someone who just can’t let anything go (like what they say about Jennifer Aniston), I didn’t take a break completely, but I did long enough to get a grip on what I wanted to see — I wanted to see what I was learning on the street. I wanted to see it where I lived. Eventually, I realized that I was seeing it all along. I had blinded myself by thinking (or rather believing) that there was no connection between what was in the book and what is in the world. This isn’t uncommon. I had fallen victim to a bad case of academiaitis. I thought that philosophy was for academics, so guess where I saw it? Right. But it’s everywhere. It’s in the music we listen to, on the TV we watch, in movies (and not just Woody Allen ones), in our attitudes and outlooks on life, sex, religion, mortality and morality. It’s in our favourite movie quotes, song lyrics, and everyday phrases. That’s why I have this blog. That is why I like (not love) studying philosophy. I had heard somewhere that some physicist said that if you can’t explain a scientific theory to an eight year old, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Well, it’s not quantum physics, but the same holds true for philosophy. We’ve, meaning the academics, have held all this learning too close to our own breasts. We’ve forgotten who all of this is for — to make the world a little more easy to figure out for everyone else, not just for ourselves. And if we can’t explain it to others who aren’t “like us”, then we don’t know what we’re talking about. Instead of poo-pooing the notion that this stuff can and should be made easy (so easy in fact that you can learn it from watching an episode of Magnum P.I.), I feel that this is what my calling truly is. I know that, by doing this, I may be taking on more than I can do. I still say that I’m no philosopher ( not just because of a lack of qualifications, but also to call myself one seems a little more than slightly pretentious). My goal here is to create something at the very least “philosophic” — something that those people who, like me, couldn’t see it, will — if not learn from, atl least get a slight kick from reading what I have to say. it may noy bear the official seal Philosophy, but I think that my will is good. And for that, Kant would be pleased. If I succeed, I’ll convince some that it isn’t all so useless. If I fail, well, as Nietzsche said, “what does not kill me makes me stronger”.