An 11-Letter Word for Unnecessary Outrage: “Nontroversy”

Check out this Jezebel piece and tell me what comes to mind. Is a fair conclusion from this really that the New York Times Crossword is an organization run by old, white men who want to put feminists in their place, or might this all just be a misunderstanding, a click-bait article written by an outsider to the community who hasn’t done their research?

First off, there’s the tone of Jezebel’s piece, which not only exaggerates and takes what I believe is undue offense to a potentially tone-deaf clue, but insults the entire cruciverbalist community in the process:

“The New York Times crossword puzzle is a hallowed institution of yesteryear, one that is useful in distinguishing normal people from people good at one very specific, generally useless skill.”

It then makes quite a few assumptions about the community being mostly white and male, based almost entirely on a single crossword blog that, I guess for Jezebel, counts as research and a valid assertion of the “crossword community” that is supposedly in an “outrage tornado.” (Check out the Wordplay blog or Diary of a Crossword Fiend. We’re not all that upset, and we’re able to civilly discuss the usage in question.)

And then finally, there’s the world-ending clue itself: “Exasperated comment from a feminist” [3], which clues MEN. Continue reading

Megan Garber, “When Empathy Becomes a Meme”

Read Megan Garber’s piece here:

I dunno, Ms. Garber. Once you commercialize empathy, especially if it replaces the actual good that people could be doing, is it even really still empathy? And if you are going to cash in on a trend, as Facebook is doing, even if you’re not aware of it, why not at least tie this filter feature to a relief-fund donation window, in which the filter *could* be applied for free, or require a $1 minimum donation, but at the very least get people thinking about having to put a little bit of money where their French-flag-colored mouth is?

I hate to be a cynic. I hate to see the world through Rurik Bradbury’s eyes, without being able to consider that this is actually an act of “mass compassion.” I’d like to think that for Millenials, a hashtag and meme might actually have a lasting impact in their nascent political thoughts. Instead, I worry that it’s a fad, a way to react without thinking, whereas, after 9/11, most of us did not think about how to react, or how to express that. ‪#‎NeverForget‬ came later, from the marketers. In all of this noise, in all of this chatter, it’s as if we forgot to be stunned, or as if we appropriated someone else’s feelings for our own and called that “empathy.”

Go Trigger Yourself: A Few Brief Thoughts on “The Coddling of the American Mind”

Trigger warning: I’m going to discuss the September 2015 The Atlantic article on “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. If you’re narcissistic and self-righteous, this may wound you.

To begin with, the article asserts that political correctness in the ’80s and ’90s was rooted in a demand for diversity; today’s is more about coddling and protecting people from harsh truths. It’s also borne out of technology and unsafe groupthink, and Lukianoff and Haidt waste no time pointing out the way in which Facebook and other always-connected apps have damaged our personal growth. Gone is the sort of introspection that we used to find in meditation or therapy: “Therapy often involves talking yourself down from the idea that each of your emotional responses represents something true or important.”

Instead, we use the ease of online devices to talk ourselves up; we associate only with those who agree with us, and treat feeble thumbs-up icons as if they’re meaningful, instead of just another form of weighted bias. If anecdotal support led to idea superiority, then a Republican Facebook feed would long ago have disproved climate change. As the article points out, it’s also absurd to use your own sense of outrage or offense as a trump card in silencing others; after all, you can *both* be offended, and if you truly both believe that matters, then this should create a never-ending spiral of apologies. (That this doesn’t occur signifies that what we actually believe is that our own sense of offense takes precedent over everybody else’s.) Continue reading

“Casual” Entertainment

Out of all the forms of criticism I’ve done, I enjoy recapping the most. The deadlines, not so much, but all that reading into a show’s mythology and stylistic choices? Unpacking Easter eggs with other fans? Getting to the heart of a conspiracy? I love that. It turns a lonely, lazy, and independent activity into a communal sport of sorts: within the Water Cooler Olympics we now have Binge Watching and Deep Diving. On the one level, you can dismiss True Detective as derivative of a thousand other films before it, or even the previous season, or you can decide to take it at face-value, assume that there’s a measure of worth, and then analyze every inch of frame to pull out the best and to decide why the rest doesn’t work for you. Obviously, the more a show gives you to work with, the better: that’s why a recap of CSI: Cyber can only be ascribed to the recent trend of hate-watching, whereas the recently cancelled Hannibal is filled with succulent and digestible sequences. Comedy and cartoon recaps once consisted of merely pointing out gags–it’s a sign of our television renaissance that we have shows like Rick and Morty to pull apart.

Passive entertainment is nothing more than killing time, emphasis on killing: it’s a negative, murderous action, one that leaves you with no room for personal improvement or growth. If we’ve “watched” and “read” entire series but can’t remember a single thing about them, then we might as well have spent our time locked in a dark closet. On the other hand, if we’ve discussed and shared our thoughts on these topics, as I did a few summers ago when talking about Infinite Jest, then even if you forget something, the idea itself may continue to live and gestate in someone else. Even thought it’s for something as theoretically frivolous as entertainment, isn’t generating anything better than simply tuning in to tune out, giving your brain cells even more space to continue their constant suicide?

Even the word entertainment is active–it’s not exittainment, after all. It implies a participation from the viewer, a contract entered into. (A world, really.) And look, if you’re watching television idly while doing something else actively (whilst cooking, exercising, etc.), then I can’t really fault you–you’re at least using the distraction in a positive way. But for the rest of us who watch reruns of Family Guy midway through and can’t describe anything about the episode mere seconds after it ends, I’d suggest that we need to reassess our motivations. Casual shouldn’t become usual, and entertainment is best when it’s meant for something better than stimulation alone. (Telebation as opposed to videocourse.)

TL;DR: My thoughts on “casual” entertainment can be summarized by this old cut-for-time SNL skit: (Hint: Now that I’m repurposing it to make a point, it’s no longer casual.)

Some Things Are Better Left Unwritten: “The Buried Giant”

Despite the appearance of an actual buried giant, the title refers to the forced metaphor hanging over the entire book, which is that of the anger and resentment between Saxons and Britons, a blood feud that only Merlin’s magic was able to erase, and only then by enchanting a dragon’s breath so as to sap the England citizenry of their memories. In the words of Peggy Lee, then, I’m left wondering “Is that all there is?” after plodding through Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Ishiguro’s language is (intentionally) dull, reflecting the miasmatic mist, and the few action scenes between knights and ogres or demons are recounted secondhand or as blink-and-you’ll-miss it samurai-like exchanges. What’s left, then, is a series of repetitious conversations between an elderly couple and a warrior and his young, dragon-bitten ward. (There are also two “reveries” given over to a knight, Gawain.) It’s not much fun to read, and there’s not much reason for it–as a novella or, better yet, as a short story, the mystery might have justified the cadence: instead, the book makes its point in the first few pages, and spends the next several hundred wearing its audience down.  Continue reading

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