Posts Tagged Marshall McLuhan

2013: Year of The Hideous Baby Name

Baby Mitchum

One of the hideous, terrible truths about parenting is that with one stroke of the pen you are capable of sentencing a child to a lifetime of cringing every time attendance gets read aloud in a classroom and cowering sheepishly while handing in job applications.  Marshall McLuhan once said “a name is a numbing blow from which a man never recovers.”  In the case of many of the names dropped on poor, unsuspecting infants this year, one would expect them barely able to walk by the time they are 35.  2013 was a year that famous parents sentenced their children to name based humiliation at a near record pace.

In any society that valued justice or decency, parents who name their kids things like Type Two Diabetes or Pusillanimous would be rounded up and caned in the public square. Do celebrities really need more attention than they already get? By giving their babies ridiculous names, not only are they garnering more attention in the media for themselves, they are also dooming their child to a lifetime of recognition as a psuedo-celebrity that will never be taken seriously.

Honestly, would you go see a gynecologist named Respektdakrew Smith, OBGyN? Or a lawyer named Heavenly Flowing Lava Monster Bison-Lipton, Attorney at Law? Probably not. These unfortunate kids will have to live off of reality TV and royalties from tell all novels about their parents eating the flesh of homeless people at Hollywood parties.

The other problem with celebrity baby names is that they create a culture in which lesser celebrities copy their unfathomable taste, thereby creating, if you can believe it, even worse names. In any given year you will see themed clusters of baby names around, say, like automobiles, or intestinal parts. The following is a brief year-in-review of the worst names of 2013.

First there was Everest Hobson, (girl), born to George & Mellody Lucas. While the original name was not so bad, the names that followed in the theme of mountains seemed to lose their charm with each new birth. This May, Charlie Day and Elizabeth Ellis named their newborn daughter Matterhorn Lucas. Not to be outdone, Mark Duplas and Katie Aselton names their son baby Titicaca.  Finally the anchor from Channel 2 News in Chicago upped the ante on mountain baby names and ended the trend when he dealt the punishing blow by bestowing the name K2 on his baby girl.

Bear Winslet, Kate Winslet & Ned Rocknroll’s son, popped out of the womb with a machete and a flint, ready to spend the night inside a dead camel for survival. This name was silly enough, but this sparked Lauren Parsekian to name her daughter Pink Fairy (a type of armadillo). The animal names continued with Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde calling their son Parastratiosphecomyiastratiosphecomyioides. But the worst animal name goes to Sacha Baren Cohen and Isla Fisher who named their twin daughters Embarrassment and Panda. An embarrassment is the technical term for a group of pandas, and is also what these parents should be feeling about their naming abilities.

More embarrassment arrived with the naming of Emile Hirsch’s son, Valor, who was obviously showing noble characteristics when he escaped the womb while screaming bloody murder with tears rolling down his cheeks. Other notable but flawed character trait baby names this past year include Joanna Newsom’s daughter Fanatical and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s son, Vacuous.

Even heavy metal, whose artists once went out of their way to avoid mainstream trends, have gotten into the fray.  Dave and Madolyn Mustaine named their newest daughter Psychotron.  Venom frontman Cronos and his wife, television star Fran Drescher, brought young Ayatollah Khomeini Lant into being last month.  Slayer axe man Kerry King and his bride of 10 years, former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, decided to cash in on an offer from a major corporation and name their child Smoothie King (Burger King made a slightly lower bid).

Shall I continue with the list of offenses? Kim Kardashian & Kanye West named their daughter North, prompting a rare copycat move by Bradgelina (who could have easily started their own trend) who named their adopted daughter, In That General Direction.

Of course, every year the nature loving hippies have to sacrifice their child’s named identities to prove their love for the great mother, the wolf teat, or whatever it is they are worshipping these days. Holly Madison named her daughter Aurora Rainbow, Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan-Tatum named their son Mitochondria Cell-Division, and Kaitlin Olsen named her baby girl Chlamydia Luekorrhea. It kind of makes you miss the good old days of Moonunit and Dweezil.

As much as we can hope and pray that this celebrity baby naming madness will come to an end, we know from scientific graphs drawn by lemurs paid in cicada that it will only get worse. Luckily, the heat death of the universe is just around the corner and all of these really clever ideas and fascinating people will one day be sucked into a vast nothingness in which their existences will no longer matter to anyone or anything.

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Dissecting Carcass’ “Heartwork”: Sixth Incision…This Mortal Coil

This is the sixth in a series of articles analyzing the lyrics from the 1993 Carcass album “Heartwork”.

This Mortal Coil

Tearing down the walls

Breaching frontiers, unlocking the gates

To a new world disorder

A fresh balance of terror, the equilibrium of hate/

All flesh entwined, in the equality of pain

Archaic nescience unleashed

Entrenched, a bitter legacy

Tempered in mental scars

All flesh entwined in mortal equality

Tangled mortal coil

Twisted and warped

 Tangled mortal coil

“After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western World is imploding.  During the mechanical ages, we extended our bodies in space.  Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace….Any extension, whether of skin, hand or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex.”

-Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media 1964

If we are not here in the traditional sense, then where are we? If our world has transformed from one of fragmented nations to a global village, what does that mean for us, the humans that inhabit such a world?  Today’s human is locked into a nearly constant struggle for identity, attempting to at once be an individualized autonomous self and an interconnected part of an ever-shrinking world.  We are engaged in a process of knocking down many of the walls that for generations have kept us separate.  In this moment of great potential, one is left to wonder whether we will seize the opportunity for global embrace or build a new set of seemingly insurmountable walls.  This question is the echo of our footstep as we wander headlong into the new frontier.

If the self is no longer locked in its corporeal shell and has, indeed, reached through the boundaries of the body and into the never-ending stratosphere, what does that really mean for us?  After all, I look at myself in the mirror and am still contained in a structure remarkably similar to that once inhabited by my ancestors.  Yet, my mind and spirit reach out beyond the fleshy walls of the Self and live an all-at-once, timeless existence in the technological superstructure that is fast becoming our world.  Or, more precisely, what does it mean that these ideas are flowing out of my mind, through, my fingers, through the ethers, into your brain almost simultaneously and yet I’ve barely moved?  It is not as simple as thinking things have changed from one form to another.  Rather, it is significant to understand that we are both individualized fragmented bodies and the all of the universe.  We are currently living in an age where we are consistently faced with being two things that seemingly cannot inhabit the same space.  How can a thing be finite and infinite at the same time?  More importantly for our purposes, how does a being reconcile the contradictions and stresses that arise from living in multiple realities in the same moment?

There is no easy answer for this.  The lyrics to this song are a reflection of the pain one might believe itself to feel when coming to terms with a question of this size and scope.  The quest for identity under such bizarre conditions could well lead someone to a feeling of being enraged and overwhelmed.  It’s not hard to imagine the “archaic nescience unleashed” to be the hand of the Self reaching back through time clutching at any answer that spares us the uncertainty of not being able to fully comprehend the world.  The coil on which Shakespeare so eloquently described us as living upon does not, upon first glance, seem built for multi-dimensional travel.  The connection of seven billion spines seems to be an inexplicable tangle from which we can never escape, but is it?

Maybe trying to find an answer is the larger problem we face.  If we believe in the need for a solution, we must also believe in the existence of the problem.  Maybe all there is to do is to call the thing what it is.  The world offers us an impossible contradiction.  Even in the confusion created by this idea, we are still given the power to say, “Yes, both are true in this moment.”  Is it impossible?  Yes.  But so too are the bizarre terms of our existence.  There is no rational context under which we can properly understand what it means to be alive.  In stopping the search and accepting an answer that defies all we think we know, we might well be able to begin understanding a question whose vastness reaches beyond eternity and whose minuteness is less than the size of one atom of our physical body.

Globalization, on some level, is a metaphorical magnification of the quest for spiritual identity faced by all humans.  It is the human condition writ large in a way that can be directly observed by anyone willing to ponder the meaning of the Self.  It broadcasts the eloquence of our contradiction in a way that is both tangible and boundless.  While our immediate reaction to the question may be fear, it also offers a sublime opportunity for self-awareness.  This form of awareness may feel like a curse at times, but it is a gift of the highest order.  It is nothing less than a window into the deepest recesses of our communal soul.

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Pure Unadulterated Filth

“A newspaper is the lowest thing that there is”  -Richard J Daley

I’ve read a good number of articles over the past few years decrying the end of the newspaper.  For all intents and purposes, the medium is a dying breed.  People are getting their news from the Internet, television and other sources much more frequently. The importance of the medium has been unquestionable.  Some of the most significant writers of the last hundred years owe their livelihoods to it.  However, the day the last copy of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal (or whatever behemoth newspaper outlet manages to be the last one standing) disappear into the gutter of history I will dance a jig in the streets. The fact of the matter is that newspaper is the single most disgusting thing that has ever been created.

Forget the content for a minute.  This is a case where McLuhan’s “Medium is the Message” idea really makes sense.  In this case, the medium is enough to turn one’s stomach.  The most vile odor ever created is the smell of newspaper.  When I am in a restaurant and the person at the table next to me is reading a newspaper, I try to move to another seat.  I’d rather the person sit there with a cup of coffee while vivisecting the stomach of a moose.  The worst are the cheap local papers or supermarket tabloids.  They stink like The Boston Harbor on the Fourth of July.  The odor is simply unbearable.

If it just smelled badly it might well be tolerable, but the texture of it is enough to send me into sepsis.  Accidently brushing into one or, worse, touching it with my hands is unquestionably the worst sensation possible.   If I were ever captured and interrogated by the police all they would need to do is threaten to place a copy of the Op-Ed Page of the Washington Post over my face for 10 minutes and I’d cop to anything from the assassination of William McKinley to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby.

I live in constant, unending terror over the thought of wet newspaper.  Oh dear God!  Even writing about it makes me want to vomit.  The way it wilts and bleeds into the other pages.  The horror!  I am filled with anger anytime I see someone lick his or her fingers and turn the page.  What type of disgusting animal would do such a thing?  Of all the loathsome, repugnant habits!  I could sit for hours in a smoke filled room with people eating raw steak and washing it down with phlegm flavored soda and not beat an eyelash, but if one of those folks licked their fingers and touched a newspaper I’d tear my eyes out faster than old King Oedipus.

My working definition of hell is a place where I am covered in a giant pile of wet newspaper for all of eternity.  If there were actually a passage in the Bible that referred to this, I’d sit front row for every Billy Graham sermon from now until my dying day wearing sackcloth and screaming “AMEN!” even when he didn’t ask me to.

The ultimate obscenity is food on newspaper.  To me, there is no greater assault on dignity and virtue then a newspaper stained with the residue of a pork chop.  Ever since the day I first heard that the British will occasionally eat fish and chips off of newspaper, I have refused to see them as a civilized people.   They could come up with fifty Magna Cartas and it would not overcome the sheer tastelessness of one guy at a Yorkshire tavern going ham on a pile of fried cod over a week old copy of The London Times.  Disgusting!  What goes through their minds?  And the idea of wrapping fish in newspaper?!?!?  What sort of sadist would think of such a thing?  Take the most awful scent known to mankind and rap the corpse of a rotting animal in it.  Really?  Think of the aroma!  What is wrong with people?

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with this awful gagging sensation caused by a recurring nightmare where I have to clean up a tipped over garbage can with the remains of expired potato salad meshed with newspaper.  I prefer the dreams where I am attacked by hordes of raging vampires.  Sure I die violently, but by comparison it’s a walk in the park.

I’m not the type of fellow with a horribly weak stomach.  I’ve had to man up and change a lot of terrible, noxious diapers over the past four years.  I handle it like a pro.  However, there is a limit for how much wretchedness a person can take.   At least I live in Atlanta, a city that is not newspaper crazy.  I just spent two months in Minnesota and those people love it.  They would take off their clothes and roll around in copy of the Pioneer Press if they could.  All anyone ever talks about is what is in the paper.  They have no idea how nauseating their habit is.

The newspaper is an affront to hygiene and good taste.  The thing is a pure abomination.  I don’t ask much of the future, just a world where my children and my children’s children don’t have to live with the constant fear of this putrid entity.  That is all I ask.

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We Don’t Need Another Hero

The LeBron Hate Machine has officially been cranked up to 10.  Welcome to The Narrative, sir!  Here’s how the next five years of your life are probably going to go.  Most of the mob will hate you today, that is for certain.  They’ll say you’re no Kobe, they’ll say you don’t have Nowitzki’s heart, they invoke the ever looming specter of MJ.  They tell you you’ll never be as great as the ones that they remember.  You’re not old school.  You’re not committed enough.  You’re arrogant.  You called your own press conference.  You left the folks in Cleveland high and dry.  You think you are bigger than the game.  You need to be taught a lesson.

This will go on for a little while.   Then, you will win.  The Narrative will shift.  You’ve learned your lesson.  You’ve been humbled.  You went back to basics.  You did things the right way.  You overcame the odds.  You have been redeemed.  You are a champion.

Once you’ve seen the puppet show once or twice, the strings become remarkably annoying.  We’ve done this dance so many times before.  Remember when Kobe was an obnoxious, spoiled kid who didn’t know his place?  Remember when Dirk was a soft-boiled choke artist? Heck, do you remember when Muhammad Ali was a dangerous, radical anti-American draft dodger?  What did they do to rehabilitate their image?  They won.

Redemption awaits anyone who can help his or her team score more points then the other team when the big spotlight is blaring.   Redemption is a pretty easy formula.  Time plus rings.  Not exactly calculus.  If you doubt the truth of what I’m saying, just watch the lovefest that is waiting just down the road if Tiger or Michael Vick get to the Promised Land.   It makes you wonder what OJ could have done if he still had a good 40 time.

Maybe this time it will be different.  LeBron has an opportunity to do something that has never been done.  There is one trick left that they haven’t seen.  They need to be introduced to the true Man in Flight.  The Running Man.  The person who finally takes the Narrative by the throat and squeezes. LeBron James can become the first Post-Rational Superstar.

At first, LeBron would have to follow some very well-travelled ground.  He could start on the path that trailblazers like Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley journeyed before him.  He could become the zany, outspoken Bad Guy.  The Heel.  The difference between these guys and a Post-Rational Superstar is that they stopped there.  They found their niche and they road it to the bank.  What I am suggesting would be far more radical.

Next season LeBron starts the show by cursing at a few fans, hanging with some edgy celebs, coloring his hair blue, punching a reporter, whatever.  Once the mob gets used to that, he flips the script.  He becomes a highly pious, deeply caring man.  Donates a year’s salary to charity. Gets photographed helping an old lady across the street.  Donates a kidney.  Whatever gets them to start loving him again.  Then, when everyone is comfortable, he slams on the brakes!  LeBron joins the Communist Party, starts quoting radical Islamic clerics,  gets a backwards cross tattooed into his forehead, and becomes every red-blooded American sports fan’s worst nightmare.

Once there have been enough Bill O’Reilly interviews calling him a monster, he flips it again.  Begs the forgiveness of the mob.  Saves a child from a burning building.  Donates the other kidney.  Starts a mission in Peru that saves victims of toxic megacolon.  Gets himself photographed with the Pope.  Figures out a way to cut unemployment below 5 percent.  Captures and kills an Al-Queda leader.  Once they get comfortable with the New LeBron…..BAM!   He joins the Church of Satan, projectile vomits on a referee and pour yaks blood over his head after each win. He keeps flipping and flipping and flipping until people want to get off the ride.

And here’s the best part, LeBron….No matter what you do, if you win, they will find it in their hearts to rationalize your actions.  They don’t see you for your game or your stunning personality or your greed or your kind heart or your selfishness.  They aren’t watching you at all; they are watching what you represent.  Your biggest fans just love you because they want to be associated with your victories and your worst enemies just want to take some measure of credit for your defeat.

Turn the mirror on the mob.  Let them see them see the carnival in all of its venal absurdity.  Don’t let them rationalize you.  Run The Narrative off of a cliff.  When they say they’ve had enough, give them more.  Make every icon equally worthless.  Destroy any logical assumption that can be made about you or anyone who comes after you.  Give them everything and nothing all at once.  Confuse them to death.  Leave nothing standing.  The one thing a superstar can still provide the sports world with is an understanding of how insane its basic cultural assumptions and beliefs are.  And the best part is, if you win, they’ll still love you.

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Buggin’ Out: The Paranoid Style in American Motel Rooms

Few films capture the spirit of modern American paranoia better than William Friedkin‘s 2006 film “Bug“.  It is a bleak, disturbing picture of two people consumed by sadness and connected through a shared feeling of conspiratorial persecution. Peter Evans (Michael Shannon) is a drifter who wanders into the life of Agnes White (Ashley Judd).  They quickly find themselves embroiled in one of the more unhealthy relationships in recent film history.  Agnes has barely survived a horrifically abusive marriage and the kidnapping of her young son.  Peter has just finished a stretch some sort of shadowy psychiatric hospital where, depending on who you believe, he was either a severely disturbed escaped patient or a survivor of a series of Operation MK-Ultra meets The Manchurian Candidate type experiments.  Together, they become the proverbial Bogey and Bacall of the Black Helicopter set.  It would be easy to dismiss their ideas as the demented imaginings of two troubled people, but the narrative they construct about the meaning of lives and their relationship to the world is a powerful statement about modern mass hysteria.

Peter gets the paranoia party started by insisting that a mysterious THEY have put bugs in his blood.  He is deeply committed to this idea, to the point of yanking some of his own teeth out in order to remove the egg sacs that are in his mouth.  Quickly, things spiral out of control.  They cover the walls of the room in tin foil, buy up half the bug zappers in Oklahoma and embark on a wild spree of shared psychosis and Dionysian self destruction that eventually annihilates them.  The logic that gets them to this point is nothing short of amazing.  They come to believe that everything that is happening to them is somehow connected to a greater plan.  Peter connects his own experience to sixty years of back room schemes created by a mysterious unnamed cabal bent on completely enslaving the entire human race.  In an amazing monologue, Peter manages to link the bugs he believes to be carrying to The People’s Temple in Jonestown, the Bilderberg Group and their secret meetings from 1954 until the present and even Timothy McVeigh (who was apparently the other lab rat who was given these bugs).  Agnes soon links her own experiences to his and comes to realize that her abusive ex-husband and missing child are also products of the exact same treachery.  It is the “everything happens for a reason” philosophy writ larger than life.  All of these random, non-intersecting parts mean something.  Each person’s life is a giant puzzle where all the pieces fit.  It’s just a matter of collecting them all together and putting them in the correct places and then it will all make sense.  This is the sort of thinking that Kurt Vonnegut lays bare in his book “The Sirens of Titan“.  In that book, the entire arc of human history has been measured and calibrated in order create a replacement part for an alien space ship which will one day have the important task of placing a “greeting” message on a far away planet.  We all have a purpose and that purpose happens to be completely absurd.

“Bug” takes this theme and runs wild with it.  The characters have created meaning for their lives out of a mess of half-baked theories. Peter and Agnes really believe that this crazy composite of events was created for them.  They see themselves as the protagonists of human history.  They don’t simply pick one story as their narrative; they pick every single one that they have ever heard.  The world really does revolve around them.

As I was watching this film I began to wonder if this was an accurate portrayal of the condition of the paranoia that exists in the minds of most Americans?  Since I have never been in the minds of most Americans, I am not really able to say for sure. However, things are getting pretty weird out here in the real world and I have to wonder whether some of this isn’t the product of the same ideas that drove Peter and Agnes into mental oblivion.  After all, there are a good number of people who will tell you that our President was born in Kenya, the National Security Council masterminded the 9/11 attacks, or the Federal Reserve killed John F. Kennedy.  I’m not really interested in debating the validity of the ideas, I personally don’t believe them, but if you do that is really fine with me.   I have a few pretty bizarre ideas about human history myself.  What I find interesting about these theories is that how they illustrate the Woodward and Bernstein fantasy that some people are living.  We are the investigators of some great cosmic puzzle whose pieces are scattered willy-nilly through a series of cultural and political markers.  We are Sherlock Holmes turning our collective magnifying glass on everything.  Media events are not things unto themselves; they are clues that connect us all to a larger picture.

Marshall McLuhan argued in his book “Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man” that modern technology had “extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace”.  In “Bug”, Peter and Agnes disappear as individuals and instead try to take on the narrative of the human race as their new identity.  McLuhan saw this loss of identity as a dangerous thing.  He ominously noted that “the loss of individual and personal meaning via the electronic media ensures a corresponding and reciprocal violence from those so deprived of their identities; for violence, whether spiritual or physical, is a quest for identity and the meaningful”  (Canadian Forum, 1976)  This quote is “Bug” in a nutshell.  Two beings entirely destroyed (first as individuals, next as physical beings) by the electric connection to the rest of the world.  If violence is a necessary and eventual component of this search for identity then maybe we do have a great deal to be paranoid of.

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