Misinterpretation Station

I’LL BE THE FIRST to admit that I rarely ever read comments.

It’s not because I don’t want to read comments. I do. I would never discourage anyone from writing them, even on my blog where I almost certainly will never read them. I just never get around to reading them. My mind is always occupied by other things.

Like composing the perfectly philosophically adroit tweet inside my head and then never actually tweeting it.

I’m kidding I never think about that. Never.

When I do get around to reading comments — and I do appreciate anyone who takes the time to write one — there’s a particular kind of comment that I never fail to enjoy:

It’s the comment that starts off like, I think you misunderstand what so-and-so said…

it’s the not-negatively phrased negative comment that philosophers love to make.

Listen: I kinda know that.

It’s kinda the point.

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Sometimes I’m wrong. But sometimes… I’m wrong on purpose. 

The key to being wrong on purpose is that you actually gotta know what you’re talking about.

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It’s kind of like how people say that Marilyn Monroe made a career playing the dumb blonde, but was in on the joke the whole time. She was smart enough to know there was money to be had in playing dumb.

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OK. MAYBE NOT THE BEST EXAMPLE. I SHOULD HAVE SAID JAYNE MANSFIELD. YOU KNOW… BECAUSE SHE HAD A HIGH I.Q.

Although you’d be hard pressed to find even one professional philosopher who would admit that they were ever wrong (aka, dumb), even if they’re in on the joke.

…unlike Marilyn Monroe.

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THIS WOULDN’T BE A MUG IF PHILOSOPHERS EVER THOUGHT THEY WERE EVER WRONG

When I was a kid, I used to go to Bible study.

I know, we all do strange things in our childhood.

Anyway, while I was supposed to be reading the Bible to learn the correct way to interpret the infallible word of God, I was more interested in learning all the ways people get Bible verses wrong.

There are a lot of bad ideas about what the Bible says out there, and by golly, I was going to figure it all out.

I was ten years old.

You see… the way I see it, the one thing that makes the examined life worth living is grabbing a philosophical idea or two and then pushing and pulling the (ever-loving) shit out of it, just to see where it goes.

even if, in the end, all our pushing and pulling goes nowhere.

even if, in the end, we got it all wrong.

We all know that philosophers have a thing for an exact fit. That is to say, we (assuming I can call myself a philosopher) like the theories that not only look good on paper, but also  explain the how and why of everything and defeat all counterarguments in any and every philosophical situation — real or thought experiment.

But if you’ve lived for more than two minutes outside of a philosophy class, you’d know that the real world doesn’t work that way. There is no exact fit. Contrary to whatever Immanuel Kant may have thought about his transcendental idealism, there is no theory that does — or can — explain everything.

or in that case of Kant, explain anything.

…and that’s where all that pop culture stuff comes in.

You see folks, we can use movies, books, notable people and events, and tv shows (collectively known as “pop culture”) to push and pull on philosophical ideas. We can use pop culture as ready-made thought experiment templates, filled with characters and situations we can use to expand, clarify or even disregard philosophical ideas (in the real world) when we apply, and at times, misapply philosophy.

Is the movie Groundhog Day and exact fit of Nietzsche’s eternal return? No. It isn’t.

Is The Matrix the most philosophically correct depiction of whatever it was that Descartes said about not knowing if the world is real and all that evil demon stuff?

Nope.

Is Ferris Bueller an true Randian objectivist? Probably not.

He’s actually more of a utilitarian.

Would Descartes say that cinematic zombies don’t think, so therefore they aren’t am, so therefore they aren’t rational beings, so therefore we can regard them in the same way that we would regard a clock….or a cat?

…wait a minute, he probably would say that.

The point is, is that when you apply philosophical ideas (or theories) to something pop culture-ish, like a movie or a fictional character, there will always be multiple ways to interpret how a character is and what that character does.

…unless your name is Ingmar Bergman and you totally made your movie philosophical intentionally.

Multiple ways to interpret things correctly also means there are multiple ways to misinterpret things.  Misinterpreting (even the intentional misinterpretation) a philosophical idea or how the idea can be applied in the real world does some good, too. How else would you know if it works?

And really, not getting it right doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

Especially if you’re having fun.

And anyway, who cares? It’s not like you’re up for tenure.

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ALTHOUGH I’M NOT HAVING MUCH FUN WITH THE WALKING DEAD ANYMORE (sucks what they did to Carl)

So… pack a bag and come with me down to misinterpretation station!

You might just enjoy yourself doing some philosophical pushin’ and pullin’.

 

KIERKEGAARDING WITH THE KARDASHIANS

IF THERE’S ONE THING that most people can agree upon, its that we live in a culture of celebrity worship. Its not just that there’s a few tabloid rags at the check-out counter; there are entire networks devoted to exploring the lives and goings-on of the famous and almost famous.

Entire networks.

We weren’t always like this, they say…

And with a marketplace oversaturated with a celebrity idolatry, its easy to pick out, or rather, pick on, the famous folks that we choose to blame for our culture’s obsession with celebritydom.

Now, there’s plenty of famous folks to blame

We can blame Oprah. Or Snooki and reality TV. Or even blame TMZ.

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I FOUND THIS MEME. I DID NOT MAKE IT. A LOT OF PEOPLE HATE TMZ….. APPARENTLY.

But most say the blame for the decline of American civilization truly lies here, with this family

THE KARDASHIANS.

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They are undeniably the first family of reality television. And they’ve built a brand so popular and successful that those who are merely Kardashian-adjacent manage to snag more than their fair share of 15 minutes of fame.

A brand so popular and successful that their activities and scandals are even covered on the “legit” news.

I think we can all agree that it’s a fairly “in” thing to talk shit about the Kardashians. It’s easy to dismiss or to talk disparagingly about the family, either as individuals or collectively. And I’m not going to deny that I’ve participated in more than my fair share of Kardashian-bashing. To say that you not only do not watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians but also despise them is seen as a badge of honor and integrity.

Despising the Kardashians and all that they symbolize means that one is enlightened.

I no longer believe that this is the case.

I’ve discovered, while talking shit about people that you’ll never meet and can’t possibly hear you (at least I don’t think any of them can hear me), that doing so isn’t helpful.
At least not helpful if you want to do something more than talk shit.

Doing more is exactly what I intend to do.

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I’m not going to say that my opinion on celebrity culture has completely changed (for the record, I still think that TMZ is one of the worst things out there. And yes, I watch it regularly), but I’ve come to a new conclusion, at least so far as my feelings towards the Kardashians.

Listen:

It would be easy to say that nothing of value has come from this family. They’re celebrities, and celebrity matters only to those people who have nothing of value to say, anyway.

“Small minds discuss people” they say.

But, offhandedly dismissing the Kardashians would be rude and unphilosophical.

I hold to the idea that anything – everything is philosophical.

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Anything or any one has lessons to teach, and yes, even the Kardashians.

And you don’t even have to watch the show to learn a lesson, either.*
I’ve drawn up a list of the philosophical things I thought about while watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians:

  • The nature of fame and its effects on the individual and the society. What kind of people become famous. Are they the kind of people that we should look up to? Are famous people inherently better than others? Are they the kind of people that philosophers like Plato had in mind when he wrote of those who should be leaders of the polis?
  • Caitlyn Jenner and gender: What is gender and gender identity/gender expression? What makes us masculine a/or feminine? How do we navigate the intersection between biological gender, gender identity, and sexuality? We do feminist philosophers such as Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvoir, bell hooks, and Helen Longino have to say about the subject?
  • Kanye West and what makes a philosopher? Some (often derisively) name Kanye West as a modern philosopher. Is he a philosopher? What makes a philosopher? Is philosophy strictly limited to academia or can anyone become a “philosopher”?
  • The Kardashian/Jenner sisters are not only known for their celebrity but are also well-known for their looks and their association with beauty products. We can discuss the philosophical definition of beauty, and how the philosophical definition conforms (or does not conform) to our conversations about beauty and aesthetics.
  • Reality and reality TV. Is reality television reality or the appearance of the real? How does reality TV present the real world to the audience and are reality television producers morally obligated to inform the audience that reality TV isn‘t “real”? There’s plenty of material to cover here, including commentaries (from postmodernist philosophers such as) Jean Baudrillard, to the ontology of Platonic forms, Kant’s transcendental idealism, and Descartes’ evil demon.
  • Questions of value: What is valuable? How do we measure value – is it merely a matter of taste or can we quantify value philosophically? Is what is valuable good? What is the Good? Are some reality TV shows Good – better for us philosophically than others?
  • There’s always some sort of moral dilemma going on: So long as people act, there will be motivations and consequences of their actions, and those actions can be evaluated ethically.
  • Personal identity: Who we are. Who do we present ourselves and is that presentation authentic?

We can drift into some pretty heavy existential conversations, right there.

Everyone knows you cant discuss anything pop culture without somehow drawing in Nietzsche. Someone is bound to quote (or misquote) an aphorism or two.

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And lastly, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, or any other television program, can aid in the philosophical study/analysis of pop culture in general.

Those are just a few thoughts I had while watching the show.

I’m not saying that watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a replacement for reading Kierkegaard or that you should quote Kim Kardashian in your next term paper.

… unless she says something really brilliant.

Then by all means, do.

Just as philosophers defend philosophy against those who decree philosophy dead and useless

Stephen Hawking I’m looking at you…

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Philosophers shouldn’t get into the habit of offhandedly dismissing something that we may think is useless – it just might be very useful.

So at least give the show a peek before you completely write it off.

And even if you hate it, you can probably find a philosophical explanation for why you hate it, too.

It’s one of E! Network’s most popular shows, which means it’s on a lot.

It’s probably on right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* ALTHOUGH WATCHING KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS ISN’T NECESSARY TO DISCUSS THEM, IT’S STRONGLY SUGGESTED THAT YOU CHECK OUT AT LEAST A COUPLE OF EPISODES. IF ANYONE SEES YOU AND DEMANDS TO KNOW WHY YOU’RE WATCHING THE SHOW, JUST TELL THEM YOU’RE WATCHING IT FOR “RESEARCH PURPOSES”.