I Keeps It REAL

Ever met a straight shooter?

Someone who calls it like they see it? Believes honesty is the best policy? Insists that what you see is what you get? Claims they’re the real deal? The real McCoy?

That say they am what they am no matter what anyone has to say about it?

You know, the kind of folks who like to keep it REAL.

In case you hadn’t noticed, all of these claims have one thing in common: they are all claims of authenticity.

When we deal with a keeps it real type of person, we’re assured that we’re dealing with someone who won’t manipulate, dupe, swindle, con, lie to or bamboozle us.

They am what they am, and that’s all that they am.

 

There's a reason why Olive Oyl liked Popeye -- and it wasn't because of his massive forceps.

There’s a reason why Olive Oyl liked Popeye — and it wasn’t because of his massive forceps.

 

 

We want to surround ourselves with people who are authentic. No one really wants to deal with con men, bullshitters, and liars. We don’t like being deceived or having our trust in others tested. When we put our trust in people who are not real with us, at best we end up looking like fools.

At worst, someone can get hurt.

And we tell others that we’re the real deal to distinguish ourselves from those who are disingenuous and not to be trusted.

 

This is Bill O'Reilly. He's totally a straight shooter. His TV show is called a "No Spin Show".

This is Bill O’Reilly. He’s totally a straight shooter. His TV show is called a “No Spin Show”.

 

Even in our most tangential relationships, the genuine is preferred. We believe that we cannot develop full relationships with others who are not authentic with us.

And if we cannot develop full relationships, we cannot become fully developed people ourselves.

If we are not fully developed, we cannot lead a full life.

At least that’s what a philosopher will tell you.
Authenticity, philosophically speaking, is a pretty big deal. Not just being authentic with others, but especially when we deal with ourselves. The most important kind of authenticity is authenticity of the self.

So, if it’s so important for us to be authentic, what does it mean to be authentic?

What does it mean to be as Polonius said in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true”?

 

To live authentically one must live life on his own terms, refusing to accept the expectations of others. We are not (and should not) be subject to the dictated ideas of what others want us to be or become. Who we are is not predetermined by God or biology. Neither is who we are the product of our family or society. We choose to “accept or revise the paths that have been laid down for us by others.”

To be authentic means that we are the sole origin of who we are and what we become. The Existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80), wrote:

Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself… I am creating a certain image of man of my own choosing.

 

This means that when it comes to who we are and how we live our lives that it is up to us to give our lives meaning; we are responsible for ourselves and what we do with our lives.

So if you’re a complete douche bag, don’t blame your parents. It’s all you.

 

sartre quote
There’s something kind of funny about authenticity, though. I think we’ve all noticed it.

Have you noticed that so many people’s authentic self-expression looks just like everyone else’s authentic self-expression?

This is especially true in certain subculture/counterculture movements. Especially when the idea of authenticity is tied to a particular ethnic, racial or political ideology. Or even a particular genre of music.

It’s kind of difficult to argue that you’re being true to yourself and you’re resisting the mainstream when you and everyone else you hang out with looks like this:
goths in a parking lot

 

Or this:

 

metal heads

 

 

Or this:

 

hipsters

 

 

I mean, come on. How many guys have you seen dressed like this?

 

tupac

 

 

Here’s at least one:

 

justin bieber sexy photo shoot

 

 

Ever notice how much hippies all looked alike?

 

hippies

 

 

There are many ways of self-expression. And we want to express ourselves authentically. But how can we express our authentic self to other unless we can identify what our authentic self looks like? Obviously, there is a clash between individual self expression (or our want to live according to our own rules) and the set of characteristics that we use to identify with a particular identity or culture. You may feel that you are genuinely all about living the hip hop lifestyle, but to identify yourself as a true baller, you may have to affect a look that screams “conformist” rather than “authentic individual”.

You might have to look like this:

 

fool in hip hop clothing

 

Because no one will take you seriously if you’re dressed like this:

 

white guy in a suit

 

 

Vernon Reid, former guitarist of the early ‘90s alternative rock band, Living Colour, says of hip hop, “ …no other music is as peer pressure intensive as hip hop.”

Reid’s statement isn’t just true to hip hop culture.

The pressure to conform is a society-wide problem.

Of course that’s a problem for straight shooters who want to keep it real.

In our pursuit to live a truly authentic existence, we are caught between our personal want to express our authentic self and the countervailing (societal) pressure to conform to a preordained image of what the real deal is (and is supposed to look and act like). We are often skeptical of someone who claims that they’re “keeping it real” if they don’t look like the real deal.

 

IT’S CLEAR THIS GUY COULDN'T POSSIBLY BE A CANNIBAL CORPSE FAN. HE DOESN'T LOOK LIKE A FAN. IF HE SAYS HE IS HE’S BULLSHITTING YOU

IT’S CLEAR THIS GUY COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE A CANNIBAL CORPSE FAN. HE DOESN’T LOOK LIKE A FAN. IF HE SAYS HE IS HE’S BULLSHITTING YOU

 

 

If we don’t conform to the image how can anyone know we’re the real deal?

That’s the problem with authenticity. People won’t perceive our authenticity if we don’t look authentic. A part of how we view ourselves is inexorably tied to how other people perceive us. Sartre writes:

 

By the mere appearance of the Other, I am put into the position of passing judgment on myself as an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the Other… I recognize that I am as the Other sees me.

 

A part of our perception of ourselves, our sense of who we are, is formed by our interactions with others. The philosopher, Paul C. Taylor, writes there is a:

 

“tension between individual identity and the… scripts of social identity.”*

 

The tension between individual and social identity rises to more than a minor inconvenience when, in an effort to prove how authentic we are, the need to keep it real leads us to act in a way that may be detrimental to ourselves or our non-incarcerated status.

 

stereotypical black guy meme

 

Most of the time, we can maintain our (authentic) identity against the societal pressure to conform to predetermined expectations. As long as we know who we are and for what reason we act, even if no one else sees or knows it, we can be assured that we are living according to our own script. The key is to being authentic is to know when to ignore what others may want us to be, and when to adopt those cultural scripts that enable us to function in society.

Only you know if you are living a truly authentic life.

 

cartman

 

 

If you aren’t, realize you may be the biggest douche bag in the room.

 

Just sayin’

 

‘Cause I’m a straight shooter.

 

I keeps it real.

 

 

 

 

* Taylor is specifically referring to racial identity in this instance, but Taylor’s statement can be equally applied to any cultural/personal identity conflict.

 

 

 

Sources:
Jean-Paul Sartre. “Hell Is Other People”. 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. 620

Jean-Paul Sartre. “Existentialism”. The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Expository Prose. 5th Edition (shorter). Eds. Arthur M. Eastman, Caesar R. Blake, Hubert M. English, Jr., Joan E. Hartman, Alan B. Howes, Robert T. Lenaghan, Leo F. McNamara, James Rossier. NY: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 659.

Paul C. Taylor. Race: A Philosophical Introduction. 2004. Malden, MA: Polity Press. p. 130.

“Steely Dan: Understood As the Redemption of the White Negro: A Conversation Between Greg Tate and Vernon Reid”. Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture. 2003. Ed. Greg Tate. NY: Broadway Books. p. 113.

Gods, Grandmas, The Present King of France & Other Imaginary Beings

I regularly listen to NPR.

Say what you want about that. I ain’t gonna stop.

A few Saturdays ago, I was listening to a show called Radiolab.

It’s a pretty good show.

The topic that week was language.

They talked about Shakespeare, and how children and hearing-impaired people learn to speak. They even talked about rats and their inability to tie together concepts like “blue” and “to the left”.  Nowhere in the entire hour-long show did I hear the words “philosophy of language”. No Frege. No Russell. No Saul Kripke. No Hillary Putnam. No Ludwig Wittgenstein. Not a peep about the Vienna Circle.

Yes. There is such a thing as philosophy of language.

Philosophers have opinions about everything.

 

I CAN’T IMAGINE WHY ANYONE WOULD NEGLECT TO MENTION SUCH A GREAT LOOKING GUY LIKE THIS

I CAN’T IMAGINE WHY ANYONE WOULD NEGLECT TO MENTION SUCH A GREAT LOOKING GUY LIKE THIS

I was a little disappointed. And for some strange reason, I kind of felt left out. After all, what’s the point of taking a philosophy of language class if NPR won’t even discuss the topic?

I guess I should have figured that no one would mention philosophy of language on the show. When most people think of language (if anyone ever thinks of language at all) I thinking that very few people ever think about the fact that philosophers have anything to say about it. And really, I can’t fault the folks at Radiolab for omitting philosophy of language. They want people to listen to the show.

Other disciplines offer us explanations for the way the world works, but sometimes, even in the most disciplined of disciplines, we get confused about what we really mean when we say something or even about what we are thinking about. Philosophers of language aim to clear up our confusion over language and make clear the things we are thinking about.

Remember: we think of our world in terms of language. If we’re confused about concepts (we think about) or meaning (of the words that we speak), our beliefs about the world (aka reality) won’t do us much good.

Because those beliefs might be wrong.

Despite what NPR might have us believe, language isn’t just about acquisition or how many words William Shakespeare invented.

By the way, Shakespeare invented a lot of words.

If you’ve ever used the words uncomfortable, unreal, or lonely, you can thank Bill Shakespeare.

Language isn’t merely the proper usage of syntax and grammar. Language is also about meaning. It’s about what we are talking about. It’s about having the proper the correct thoughts about what we are thinking about.

There’s more to a simple phrase like “Clark Kent is Superman” than you might know.

Ok, let’s take the statement “The present king of France is bald”. First, we can see that we’ve made a claim about the king of France. Ok, now what do we mean when we say that the present king of France is bald? Well, we might ask if what we’ve said is true or false.

That’s because everything we say is either true or false*.

So, for the statement “The present king of France is bald” to be true, there must be a king of France, he must be bald, and he must be sitting on the throne right now. If we wanted to say this philosopher-like, we’d say something like this:

There is a X such that: X is the king of France and X is bald. And, for all Y, if Y is the king of France, then Y is identical to X.

The folks at NPR may have neglected to mention it, but language is about definite descriptions, propositions, sense, reference, sense-data, rigid designators, language games, signifieds and signifiers.

Oh man, wait a minute, why am I explaining any of this?

It won’t do you any good when you’re listening to NPR, anyway.

Ash Williams and the Meaning of Life

“life is a tale, told by an idiot,  full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
— William Shakespeare

IT SEEMS STRANGE to say that I like my horror movies with a coherent plot. I seems even stranger to say that I appreciate a horror movie that has philosophical significance. And now, I intend to write about not one, but three films that possess both plot and philosophy: Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.

SAM RAIMI'S "THE EVIL DEAD" TRILOGY: MORE PHILOSOPHICAL THAN KIERKEGAARD.

SAM RAIMI’S “THE EVIL DEAD” TRILOGY: MORE PHILOSOPHICAL THAN KIERKEGAARD.

The Evil Dead, subtitled “the ultimate experience in grueling horror”, released in 1982, and it’s sequel (?) Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992), follows the adventures in terror of Ash Williams, who, along with an assortment of companions, unknowingly (through the recitation of passages from the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead), conjure up evil spirits that, over the course of the film, knock off each of the unfortunate unintentional conjurers “one by one”.

The first film of the trilogy The Evil Dead, starts off with nothing spectacular: five college kids (including Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, his buddy Scott, and his girlfriend Shelly) head up to an isolated cabin in the woods (not The Cabin in the Woods — That’s a different movie. And an entirely different moral situation) where they drink moonshine, smoke weed, and generally do what young folks in a typical horror flick set in an isolated cabin in the woods do.

A GROUP OF COLLEGE KIDS GO OFF TO AN ISOLATED CABIN IN THE WOODS AND WHAT HAPPENS?  YEP. THEY HAVE DINNER.

A GROUP OF COLLEGE KIDS GO OFF TO AN ISOLATED CABIN IN THE WOODS AND WHAT HAPPENS?
YEP. THEY HAVE DINNER.

While snooping around the cabin, Ash and his male companion, Scotty, stumble upon an ancient reel to reel, which just so happens to be the property of an archaeologist who just so happened to be translating passages from an ancient Sumerian text containing incantations and rituals for demonic resurrection.

Playing a mysterious reel-to-reel tape containing ancient Sumerian demonic incantations….what could possibly go wrong?

ASK CHERYL WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PLAY INCANTATIONS FROM THE NECRONOMICON AND THEN GO WALKING IN THE WOODS

ASK CHERYL WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PLAY INCANTATIONS FROM THE NECRONOMICON AND THEN GO WALKING IN THE WOODS

Well, as expected, reawakened evil immediately sets to systematically possessing and killing (most horrifically) each of the young, nubile campers.

As dawn breaks, Ash, the lone survivor, emerges covered in blood from the cabin. But as Ash breathes a sigh of relief, having survived an encounter with the evil dead, we follow a remaining evil spirit through the woods, through the cabin, eventually running headlong into Ash himself as the camera fades to black.

We assume that Ash has not escaped the evil dead, but is the last of its victims. That is, until 1987, when Evil Dead 2:Dead By Dawn was released.

It’s been rumored that Sam Raimi, having taken so much heat for the excessive violence of the first Evil Dead film, wanted to make a movie that was more appeasing to the censors.

video-nasty-newspaper1

This may explain why Evil Dead 2 is less of a sequel than it is a remake of the original film.

The film opens as Ash and his girlfriend Linda are heading up to the totally deserted, so far away from civilization that, if you were attacked by an onslaught of demonic forces, no one would hear you screaming cabin in the woods.

Once again, Ash, while rifling through someone else’s stuff, stumbles upon an old reel to reel containing a recordings read from the Necronomicon.

THIS IS THE NECRONOMICON. DO NOT READ FROM THIS BOOK

THIS IS THE NECRONOMICON. DO NOT READ FROM THIS BOOK

And, as expected, Ash and his girlfriend are besieged by the spirits of the evil undead. After beheading and dismembering his girlfriend, Ash is (eventually) joined by a different group of Red Shirts, including the archaeologist’s daughter, Annie, her assistant Ed, a hillbilly with a serious case of hyperhidrosis named Jake, and his too cute for this guy in real life girlfriend named Bobby Joe.

evil dead 2

NO, YOU ARE NOT WATCHING “THE EVIL DEAD” ALL OVER AGAIN. THIS IS A TOTALLY DIFFERENT MOVIE.

As this film ends, Ash and Annie must read from the Necronomicon to send the evil back to its own time. During the film’s climax, Annie is killed (she’s stabbed in the back with the Kandarian dagger), but the beleaguered Ash is sent back in time with the demon.

Luckily for Ash, this time he is not unarmed, and he slays the evil creature with a blast from his shotgun (his “boomstick”).  Evil Dead 2:Dead By Dawn ends as Ash is being hailed as a hero.

The last of the trilogy, Army of Darkness, opens where Evil Dead 2 leaves off. Ash finds himself held captive by a medieval army, being led off to his death. During Ash’s trip, he guides us, by way of voice-over, through a flashback. We once again see Ash and his girlfriend Linda (this time played by Bridget Fonda) heading up to that God-forsaken cabin in the woods.

most interesting cabin in the woods

We’ve seen it all before: Ash and Linda head up to the cabin, Ash finds reel to reel, Ash plays reel to reel, Linda is caried off by demonic forces, Ash battles the evil dead, Ash goes back in time, Ash ends up a slave on his way to death. However, the adventure (this time) does not take place in the cabin. Ash must retrieve the Necronomicon and banish the evil dead by reciting the words: klaatu barada nikto.

Of course, Ash fails to say the words correctly.

And this, my friends, is where the philosophy begins.

The original The Evil Dead seems simple enough — it follows the formulaic plot employed by dozens of genre films: stick a group of twenty-somethings in a remote place and kill them off one by one. Throw in a few obligatory boob shots and some pot smoking before someone gets sliced in half or shot through the head with an arrow.

The plot of The Evil Dead (and similar films) is pretty repetitive, except I do believe that The Evil Dead is the only horror film that I know of that contains a scene where a character is violated by a tree. Not with a tree, by a tree.

FOR REASONS CONCERNING THE LETTERS NSFW, I WILL NOT INCLUDE A GIF OR FILM CLIP OF THIS SCENE

FOR REASONS CONCERNING THE LETTERS NSFW, I WILL NOT INCLUDE A GIF OR FILM CLIP OF THIS SCENE

But there is something else at work here.

It is the character Ash himself.

As The Evil Dead closes, we are left to assume that Ash has suffered the fate of his companions. Yet, Ash returns in Evil Dead 2. Not only does Ash come back, he comes back with his girlfriend Linda , and we know that Linda died in the previous film.

NOT THE SAME LINDA

NOT THE SAME LINDA

Ash, however, seems completely unaware that any event that is happening in this film already happened in the first film. Now, we could take the films at face value assuming that Sam Raimi liked the plot of the original film so much, and enjoyed torturing star Bruce Campbell so thoroughly, that he felt the need to remake his first film.

That might very well be true.

However, we are given a clue that there is something else going on on a deeper level.

While searching through the Necronomicon for the incantation that will send back the evil spirit to its own time, Annie and Ash happen upon a page bearing a picture of a man standing, arm raised up holding a chainsaw.

THESE AREN'T THE PAGES WITH ASH ON THEM BUT HE WAS TOTALLY IN THE NECRONOMICON

THESE AREN’T THE PAGES WITH ASH ON THEM BUT HE WAS TOTALLY IN THE NECRONOMICON

When Annie flips to the page, Ash gasps. He tells Annie that he feels as if someone has just walked over his grave. The picture in the Necronomicon looks, with an exception of the image wearing a pair of white pants, like Ash. Annie tells Ash that the traveler was predicted to come to vanquish the evil. Ash remarks that the traveler “didn’t do a very good job”.

THE NECRONOMICON PREDICTED THAT THE TRAVELER WILL SENT THROUGH THIS VORTEX

THE NECRONOMICON PREDICTED THAT THE TRAVELER WILL SENT THROUGH THIS VORTEX

Finally, in Army of Darkness, Ash is thrust back in time where, with chainsaw on hand, he leads Richard and his army in a battle against the deadites. The priests tell Ash that he is the traveler that was predicted to save the people from the forces of evil. And, as Ash observed in Evil Dead 2 , the traveler didn’t do a very good job.

Ready for the philosophy?

When I first noticed that there was something odd about the continuity of the Evil Dead films, I had assumed that the underlying plot was time travel. It was easy enough to assume this because in Evil Dead 2 destroying the evil required opening up a portal in time.

IF IT WORKS FOR STAR TREK, WHY NOT FOR AN EVIL DEAD FLICK?

IF IT WORKS FOR STAR TREK, WHY NOT FOR AN EVIL DEAD FLICK?

That was before I had heard of Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. Nietzsche posited that we can judge the overall value (or meaningfulness) of our live by asking ourselves this basic question: would you want to live your life over again? Nietzsche, being the excellent humorist that he was, added one small catch — the life that we live eternally would be the exact same life that we had already lived. We cannot change a thing about our lives, we must live each day, month, hour, and second as we had lived the first time around — for an eternity.

eternal

Ash, at first glance, seems to be stuck in some sort of loop. He seems to be repeating his life over and over (at least three times). However, not only does Ash seem unaware that he is repeating his life, each Evil Dead film is slightly different from the one the preceded it.

NOT THE SAME LINDA

NOT THE SAME LINDA

In each film, the group at the cabin is different. In each movie, the actress playing Ash’s girlfriend Linda is different. And each ends differently. So, in a strictly Nietzschean sense, Ash’s life is not the same. Also, Nietzsche’s question is one about life’s meaning. There seems to be no such meaningful scheme for Ash. Ash just goes through the motions and learns absolutely nothing in the process. The fact that Ash seems unaware of the fact that he repeats the same routine suggests that Ash could not make the decision to live the same life repeatedly as Nietzsche requires for eternal return. So, by my estimate, Ash’s cabin in the woods-based adventure, is not Nietzschean.

So what is it then?

As I was eliminating Nietzsche, I started to think of another doomed to repeat himself kind of guy: Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, having been condemned by the gods, is doomed to push a large rock uphill, only to have the rock slide back down the mountain when he reaches the top. For Sisyphus, he is condemned to repeat the same futile act for an eternity. No matter what Sisyphus does, the rock will roll back down the hill.

Sisyphus’ punishment sounds more like Ash’s predicament than Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence.

The first clue to this interpretation of the Evil Dead trilogy came in Evil Dead 2, where Annie and Ash are looking through the Book of the Dead. To the viewer, the picture of the traveler clearly is Ash, and Ash’s reaction suggests that the man depicted in the book is him. Annie tells Ash that a prophesy tells us the the traveler was sent to the past to destroy the evil, which suggests that there are higher forces at work in the scheme of things.

Prophesy tends to deal with matters that are assigned by the gods (or God) that humans must abide by or fulfill. So, we can (somewhat safely) assume that Ash’s predicament may have been arranged by the gods, like Sisyphus.

So, like Sisyphus, perhaps Ash has been condemned to repeat the same futile act — namely having a succession of girlfriends named Linda killed by evil demons, being sent back in time to rid civilization of evil demons, and ultimately screwing up, which will require him to repeat the task all over again.

But, unlike Camus’ Sisyphus, who ultimately finds happiness in his condemnation (he comes to gain happiness through the attempt to roll the rock uphill. The rock staying there is no longer a goal that Sisyphus seeks), Ash remains unaware that he is condemned to repeat his life over and over again.

On the DVD commentaries for the Evil Dead films, both star Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi express a disdain for the character Ash. It seems that, from their point of view, Ash may be too stupid to figure out that he has been to that cabin before. For example, Sam Raimi calls Ash an “idiot, coward and a braggart”.

In the end, Sisyphus is able to derive some meaning out of his futile existence. However, Ash Williams, it seems, is condemned to live a life best expressed by Shakespeare.

Ash Williams’ life is full of sound and fury, but ultimately it signifies nothing.