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THE SPECTACLE & THE WRENCH 1.0
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EIDOLOGY 101
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EYE FOR AN IRONY
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AEROLAB
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BAN FEBRUARY

THE SPECTACLE & THE WRENCH 1.0

PART I: THE SPECTACLE 

Conformity is the operating system of the social universe. To be orderly and predictable, societies must ensure that the majority of their members abide by a standardized set of rules and roles. They must obey laws, hold jobs, and pay taxes. They must possess certificates of birth, death and marriage. They must have mortgages, vehicles, and bank accounts. They must be convinced that they are consumers and that anything can be bought or sold. They must have children or at least like children. They must express some level of interest in pop culture, professional sports, or half-baked social causes. And they must learn to accept that failure to conform to the norm will justifiably provoke corrective measures like public scorn, mockery or other types of social sanctions.

Obviously, the usual suspects of nonconformity are freethinking individuals and restless spirits. Everyone is born this way, but only a few will get to die this way. Socialization pressures are powerful because without them society, by definition, couldn’t exist. After all, societies are systems; and like all systems, if the parts don’t cooperate, the system will simply disintegrate. It really is that straightforward. For most, the instinct to rebel is stymied by the realization that you just can’t get around in the social world without adopting its culture or obeying its rules.

But the desire to rebel is strong and always lingers somewhere in the back of the mind, looking for an opportunity to lash out and create havoc. It is the source of everything from marital infidelity to flash mobs to Halloween and Fat Tuesday. These things serve as exhaust valves for social and interpersonal tension. But they are meant to be temporary—you can’t have it both ways forever. Those who attempt to do so should be forewarned that trying to make a living out of two-timing or double-dealing will invariably produce unpleasant outcomes. People need to make choices and then stick with them, or risk creating inner turmoil and a prolonged loss of integrity. Each of us is also a system and our parts must co-operate or chaos will reign.

Incredibly, there are a lot of people out there who somehow manage to forestall such inner mayhem with total apathy or stunning feats of ignorance. Others cope with the nuisance of desires like ambition and pride by living vicariously through the asinine adventures of untalented pop stars, reckless athletes, or reality TV heroes. Naturally, this makes total sense because, hey, who actually wants to think or do any real work? Other people are just as content taking happy pills, drinking themselves into oblivion, or attending watered down western-style yoga classes once a year. And when times really get tough, there’s always Disneyworld, pub-crawls, or Jesus.

Like power windows, religion comes standard with most people. And just like power windows, religion reduces the amount of effort needed to get a breath of fresh errors. What makes religion so fucking fascinating is its ability to turn ordinary pieces of burnt toast into divine spectacles. It’s like accenting your cupcakes with sparkles—everything gets more magical. And it’s just so goddamn user-friendly. You always get to feel super righteous—like the Sun sporting Oakleys—and all you have to do in return is remember that Jesus loves you no matter what demented, perverted, or selfish thing you can possibly think of, say, or do. It’s really a win-win when old JC’s got your back. Of course, there are some rules you are meant to follow, but the beauty of religious teachings is that each lesson is like a lego block that can be infinitely rearranged according to personal preference . By far the best part of religion is knowing that you are saved and “they” are not. It’s a special feeling, I’m sure. Now, if you really want to meet people who actually take religion seriously, you’d have to climb the Himalayas, join a sweat lodge, or take a pilgrimage to Mecca. And who has time for that with such an astonishingly wasteful wedding to plan for!

Like religion, most marriages are the result of hasty decision-making, starry-eyed idealism, and piss-poor logic. This is paradoxically why they are at once so valued and ultimately so meaningless. Couples keep getting married for the same reasons people keep buying bad software: because it’s conventional and nearly everyone else is getting it. Well, nearly everyone else also gets cancer at one point in their lives too, but I can assure you it’s definitely not for everyone. And it’s especially not for those prone to bouts of innovation and independent thinking. For them, accepting the contagious logic of equating what’s “right” with what’s ordinary inevitably creates mental conflict and a potentially infinite loop of self-defeating thoughts and actions. For them, debugging may be the only solution.

…AWAITING NEXT TRANSMISSION…

EIDOLOGY 101

Mena Suvari has a massive forehead. Seriously, it’s fucking huge. And thanks to Google, I know for sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. There must be many thousands of people out there who share my astonishment at the incredible size of Mena Suvari’s forehead. So many, in fact, that before I had even typed in the word “forehead”, Google had already suggested I go check out Mena Suvari’s.

And then, quite suddenly, I forget about foreheads and start thinking about foreshadowing and subtle allusions.

That being said, Google is roughly analogous to a god, if by “god” we mean the unquestioned arbiter of all human knowledge. But in some ways, Google is actually better than a god. Because unlike, say, Zeus or Yahweh, Google doesn’t demand users to pray or perform sacrifices in order to get results. And they get results fast—and a lot of them. Of course, it’s not all peaches and cream, you know. Users still have to think up something worth asking about, they still have to sort through the mess of mostly irrelevant results, and they still have to laboriously type out their requests on keyboards or touchscreens—unless, of course, they have some type of voice-activated assistant. But then users have to speak their demands, and that’s too much like praying.

But, were it not for such righteous gadgets, even praying to Google would be an impossibility for most users. Like a rosary or a magic talisman, smart phones and other devices are all designed with results in mind. Truly devoted users possess truly righteous hardware, memory and processing power; whereas one-day-a-week users are more concerned about social prestige and fashion statements, and make poor choices accordingly. While both types of users still retain basic access to the Almighty Google, socially conscious users routinely select hardware known for poor performance, slow searches, and shallow results. In stark contrast, devoted users select and manage their hardware carefully to maximize knowledge acquisition and increase performance. While every computer and mobile device contains a central processing unit (CPU) responsible for helping the user think clearly and act consistently, devoted users typically operate two or more simultaneously. This enables them to process information faster and more accurately, and boosts their defenses against incompatible or malicious operating systems.

An operating system is a set of interrelated programs powered by the economic agenda and social ideology of the company that designed it. Once installed, it reconfigures a user’s experience and resources toward achieving vested interests and generic goals, and may prove difficult to modify or erase. Over time, operating systems can become very controlling and invasive, and may routinely overwrite personal information and preferences without user permission. They may also affect how users comprehend real-time experiences, as well as how they store, retrieve or delete information from memory.

The mainstream operating system in use today is official and socially accepted and will usually require users to register themselves with an identification code before full access to browsers or other programs is permitted. Users will find it very difficult to move around or join a network without one, and may even be at risk of losing access to libraries, social plug-ins and other types of vital services. They are also easy targets for opportunistic hackers looking for open ports or other weaknesses to exploit. Fortunately, an unsecure user is also typically an uncommitted user, making him more likely to recognize and accept changes or upgrades when deficiencies or other weaknesses become obvious.

Some users may become dismissive or even agitated when confronted with the knowledge that the operating logic they had lived by for so long is not just illogical and defective, but a complete insult to their intelligence as well. In this situation, I would advise first running a zombie scan or taking a dumpster dive before attempting an eidology. Once sufficient background information has been retrieved and assessed, hardware characteristics should be considered, such as the age, origin, and peripheral devices associated with the user. From there it must be determined whether repairs are even possible. And even if they are, it is ultimately up to each user to decide which features need to be changed, added or eliminated, and which operating system to install. But because the mainstream operating system is so customary and uncomplicated, most users will gladly accept its deficiencies over having to consider more challenging alternatives.

It is not an eidologist’s duty to suggest these alternatives. Rather, an eidologist unmasks weaknesses in the mainstream operating system by mind hacking its programs and satirizing its users. Eidology is a series of methods designed for this purpose, and eidologue is where the results go to be published.

EYE FOR AN IRONY

Most people think they know what an irony is until they are asked to describe one. Their hesitation to do so is perfectly understandable, given that the term irony actually has several definitions, some of which are still hotly disputed. To compensate, some people resort to personal experiences to illustrate what they think an irony is. Here’s a personal experience of mine to illustrate what an irony isn’t. At JFK airport several weeks back, I watched a heartwarming reunion between two childhood friends who just happened to be catching the same flight. They then proceeded to go completely apeshit about how ironic the whole thing was. But it wasn’t ironic—It was just a coincidence. Granted, it was a highly improbable coincidence, but improbability alone doesn’t make a situation ironic. If, however, the sheer excitement of the affair caused one or both of them to go into cardiac arrest and expire right there at the terminal, then that would definitely be ironic. That’s because real ironies involve darkly humorous twists of fate, tragically poetic reversals of fortune, or unexpected and often unfortunate outcomes. A real irony is simply the cosmos playing comedian to a crowd that isn’t laughing.

Canada certainly isn’t laughing—and with good reason. Because thanks to Ottawa native Alanis Morrisette’s whiny and altogether erroneous musical treatise on the topic of irony, an entire generation of shiftless teenagers has now entered into adulthood with a completely retarded understanding of what actually constitutes an ironic situation. Allow me to illustrate just a few of her total fuckups. Getting stuck in a traffic jam when you’re already late is not ironic—it’s irresponsible and suggests that you should probably be managing your time more efficiently. Paying for what you were told was a free ride is also not ironic; it’s false advertising and possibly even a crime. And oh yeah, you also just got hustled. But getting hustled isn’t ironic either, unless your stolen cash is in turn used by the thief to buy a seat on a rollercoaster that subsequently crashes, killing only him. Alternatively, if the crash managed to kill everyone on board except for him, then I guess that would be something of a double irony, and a decidedly unjust one at that. Getting rained out on your wedding day could be considered ironic, if you were getting married in Death Valley. But if your nuptials were being exchanged almost anywhere else in the world outside of a desert, I’d wager the chances of the whole thing being a total washout to be just about average. Don’t chalk this one up to irony, just tune in to the Weather Channel or consult an almanac, and then plan accordingly. Better yet, don’t get married at all, because chances are actually better than average that the harsh realities of marriage will inevitably pulverize every reason you ever had to even want to get hitched in the first place. And that is ironic, don’t you think?

In the unlikely event Ms. Morrissette ever reads this, I hope she doesn’t find my critique too scathing. She really shouldn’t. After all, her first taste of stardom came on the set of the 80’s Canadian TV series You Can’t Do That On Television, remembered mostly for routinely dumping green slime on children every time they said the words “I don’t know”. Given such an outstanding career foundation, Alanis really shouldn’t mind getting dumped on by me for saying “isn’t it ironic” about situations that totally aren’t.

Ironically, deadly ironies are also some of the funniest. That might make me sound callous, but how do we know that the victims didn’t burst out laughing themselves at the preposterous circumstances behind their imminent demise? What shipwreck survivor wouldn’t find it at least a little comical to be dying of thirst while floating around on a life raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? And I think that at least a few of the doomed passengers aboard the “unsinkable” Titanic must have taken a moment or two before their near vertical slide into the frosty North Atlantic to admire the gods for so humorously demonstrating that they could indeed sink that ship.

When an inventor gets killed by his own invention you can practically taste the cosmic lampoonery. I bet Henry Smolinski, inventor of the flying car, was all smiles when, as his poorly modified Pinto was falling apart in mid-air, he quickly realized that the key to being a famous innovator was not so much media exposure as it was hiring a qualified welder. And I’m sure that, had he not been screaming in abject terror while plummeting 80 feet off of a cliff, Segway company owner James Heselden would have marveled at the irony of dying on his own Segway when all he was trying to do was throw it in reverse. I’m not so certain, however, that chancellor Li Si of Imperial China had enough time between amputations to revel in the irony of being slowly dismembered via the very execution method he had devised, the Five Pains. Actually, he was probably just really frustrated for having devised that many pains. Had he not already had his hands amputated, he might have experienced that “slap yourself in the forehead” feeling physicist Marie Curie must have enjoyed when she finally realized that the lovely turquoise glow emanating from the vials of radium she obsessively carried with her everywhere she went was called “radioactivity” and was already in the process of shredding every cell in her body with massive doses of ionizing radiation.

Not all ironies are instigated by chance. People make ironic statements all the time, usually in the form of sarcasm or unintentional contradictions, either verbally or in writing. Billboards and traffic signs exemplify this type of irony (please see below for some brilliant examples). Playwrights use irony whenever they want the audience to know things about the story that the characters themselves are unaware of. Think the Truman Show or the finale to Romeo and Juliet. In both cases, a sharp disparity exists between what the characters think is happening and what the audience knows is going to happen. This is considered a dramatic irony and is meant to imitate real life, insofar as the characters reflect the average person and the audience assumes the role of god. That’s an important part of what makes an irony so ironic: the suspicion that someone or something “out there” must have planned it this way, for how else could something you intended or expected to happen backfire in such a hilarious and uncanny fashion?

Cosmic ironies make you feel like the gods are toying with you for their amusement because hey, they probably are. And dramatic ironies are designed to imitate this hopelessly unjust state of servitude. But there is another type of irony that involves neither gods nor playwrights, but social researchers—something I like to call “experimental irony”. More methodology than script, an experimental irony involves verifying the accuracy of social observations or theories by pretending to know less about a person or group when you actually know more. This approach is derived from the Socratic method, which involved feigning ignorance or assuming false personas in order to confuse adversaries into revealing otherwise guarded information. Again, the formula is clear: one entity  (i.e. the cosmos, audience, or researcher) possesses knowledge unavailable to others, and uses it to comprehend and perhaps even organize circumstances in a meaningful yet unexpected way. But while theater and cinema rely on dramatic irony to ensure a tragic or comedic ending, an experimental irony simply ensures good data. As an ironic research method, this approach requires assuming false identities in order to reveal the true identities of others. It exposes truth by use of deception, and demands detachment from people even as you work to immerse yourself in their worlds. It’s like being a machine programmed to ask personal questions, such as why someone would care more about needing a knife in a house filled with ten thousand spoons than in the clearly troubled mind of the freak who feels they need to own that many. And now that I have that fucking song stuck in my head, I also realize how ironic it is that the only songs I can’t get out of my head are the very ones I hate the most. Surely, the gods must be toying with me.

Some more examples of irony:

       

      

AEROLAB

Airports make excellent laboratories. Looking about me, I see how serious everyone looks. Certainly, some are business travelers, all dressed up with somewhere to go. Others maybe have a funeral to attend or some other formal function. Still others are probably just nervous about flying. All of them wear solemnity well on their faces, and for good reasons. But what about the rest? What about the Disney-goers or Cancun revelers? What about the family reunioners or those who might be traveling just to do so? Why so serious?

Staring down the backside of my admittedly scratched-to-hell ipod, I see the very same solemn expression looking back at me. What is it about airports that makes everyone appear so grave—and suspicious. People look about them, glancing timidly at strangers as if they might just pull a knife on them or worse. Sometimes, I leave on my shades just to watch the reaction. The security personnel don’t seem perturbed at all. But then there’s this elderly woman in the seat across from me, flashing me nervous glances as if I don’t know she’s doing it. She must think I’m up to something; why else would I leave on my shades?

Am I a potential terrorist? No. Too easy. Most people think as much about terrorists in airports as they do about Cuban commies coming ashore in Miami—as in, not too much. Am I a perhaps a maniac, bent on tossing fire hydrants through airplane windows? Maybe. But then again, if that was such a concern to her I doubt she would leave her home, let alone ride in an airplane.

Let’s get cultural. Maybe it’s the environment itself—the social kind—that leads to such distrust. Like hyenas or humpbacks or pigeons, humans are social animals. This is no accident but a very important means of survival for a species. Strength in numbers implies more than just the numbers. It implies an affinity between the numbers that must exist for there to be large numbers. It is no accident that all humans organize themselves into groups. It is no surprise that all cultures recognize the fundamental importance of family by erecting their entire social, political, and economic systems around it. Solidarity enhances group survival by providing a defense against rival groups while discouraging dissension from within. Solidarity is predicated on uniformity in thought, word, and deed. Solidarity maintains stability by creating cohesion through consensus.

As societies grow too large to maintain solidarity amongst everyone, chaos always ensues. Cities are more prone to violence not simply because there are more people, but because there is less cohesion—less consensus—between residents. As cities grow more cosmopolitan, diverse populations introduce alternative modes of thought that disrupt uniformity and thus foster conflict.

Back to airports. Airports are excellent laboratories because they bring together not just different nationalities with disparate control systems (i.e. social structures) but also every sort of localized group from within as well as without said nations. Airports are passageways between worlds, and it is my guess that the larger the port, the more suspicious the traveler. Affinity is impossible because airports are not places to go but places to go through. Interaction is not only limited but circumstantially unfeasible. Small talk is not preferable as you are running from one gate to the next hoping not to get stranded at the airport. And why is that so bad? Because airports are the antithesis of our primal instinct for having a home and a community. They are cold and impersonal places; they are mechanized and abstract structures filled with modern hieroglyphs and haphazard assortments of shops which aim to facilitate some modicum of familiarity but succeed only in evoking and evincing surreal notions of what might lie outside the drab confines in which they are enclosed.

Airports are labs because they bring together everyone from everywhere for a limited time only, in a place that resembles no one’s home but does not try to be one anyway. Airports make us run fast, read quickly, and do so in the midst of strange multitudes.

I look back at the suspicious elder sitting across from me, suddenly realizing that she wasn’t staring at me at all, but at the Sikh sitting just behind me. In a strong Midwest accent she comments to her friend how much she looks forward to returning to Witchita. How strange the Sikh must look to her. How alien he must seem to her experience of community and the kind of identity it both espouses and enforces.

BAN FEBRUARY

We should just get rid of February. It’s just too inconsistent to be taken seriously as a Gregorian unit of time: two or three days shorter than every month except for every fourth year, when it miraculously gains an extra day, or leap day. Leap days are added to force the seasons to stay synchronized with our yearly calendar of social and commercial events, because having a white Christmas is obviously more important to humanity then correctly plotting time. The Maya didn’t use leap days, but since having snow on Christmas is probably unheard of in a rain forest, we may never know if such frozen magnificence would have made them reconsider.

In Australia, February is the last real month of summer and is still an ideal time for surfing, sunbathing and koala hunting. Anyone living anywhere north of the 38th parallel will be insulted to know this. Up here in the polar north, February is the ass end of winter: a bleak and unholy time littered with the salty, lumpish remains of once towering snow banks. Here there exist only two types of weather: freakish snow and hard rain.  These usually alternate, but sometimes they generously pummel us into submission at the same time. These are the kind of days that make you want to kill god. Over the course of the whole month, snow and ice fall, melt and then refreeze, eventually congealing into toxic mounds of urine and petrified dogshit. Everything is frozen in February, even time itself. Many minds are lost trying to reconcile how the shortest month of the year could actually feel like the longest. If you are terminally ill and care more about basic survival than genuine happiness, you probably enjoy February; it’s the only month of the year where every day feels like a fucking eternity.

Having Valentine’s Day in February was the obvious choice, because February is truly awful and so is Valentine’s Day. Most people don’t care to know the origins of this senseless waste of time and money, which is why I’m going to summarize it for you here. Valentine’s Day is actually a Catholic feast day established by Pope Gelasius way back in 496 to honor a group of martyrs who never even existed. This might appear like a pointless and inane gesture, but only if you choose to ignore the naturally aggressive progression of monotheism and over a thousand years of pre-Christian religious traditions. “St.” Valentine’s Day was actually instituted as a way to supplant the Lupercalia, an ancient Roman pastoral holiday originally held between February 13th and 15th.  This celebration included such heartwarming festivities as rampant animal sacrifices, blood baths and everything else you’d expect from a good old-fashioned pagan ritual. After being anointed with the blood of sacrificial swine, young shepherds and nobleman alike would take to the streets of Rome in their sacrificial pelts, indiscriminately flogging anyone they happened upon with what Plutarch suggestively described as “shaggy thongs”.  Young women actually volunteered for such treatment with the reasonable expectation that a friendly flogging with strips of hardened ox skin would get them pregnant.

The Romans called these thongs februa, which is of course where February gets its ridiculous name—from ox thongs. Most people don’t even pronounce it correctly, and I suppose this has something to do with the fact that January and February sound a lot alike, minus the trick “r”. So February is also tricky, which is a polite way of saying “you’re a disingenuous asshole”. Like februa, the word “valentine” is also derived from the latin valens, which means “worthy”, “strong”, or “powerful”. You might want to reflect on this in a couple of weeks when you’re standing in line at the nearest Target with a massive red panda bear in one hand and your balls in the other.

February plays host to some other fairly miserable spectacles as well, like Groundhog Day. This actually had the potential to be a very exciting tradition, had the German immigrants who brought it with them to Pennsylvania left intact the part where the shadow of a sacred bear is used to determine the onset of Spring, and not a groundhog. If they had just left well enough alone, viewers from all over the world could have tuned in every year to see exactly what happens when the mayor of Punxsutawney tries to lure the sacred bear from its cave. Instead, we get a large rodent and a Bill Murray vehicle that is inexplicably far more popular in Europe than it has ever been in the states (although it is a pretty decent film).

There’s also President’s Day, which I would probably respect more had the country Washington and Lincoln worked so hard to create not been effectively destroyed over the last ten years. February is also Black History Month. I think this is racist. If I were black, I’d be pretty pissed off with the government for dedicating the shortest and arguably shittiest month of the year to me. I would demand that this be changed to July immediately, where it is currently National Ice Cream month.

Trying to comprehend February as if it were just like any other month is foolhardy and will leave you totally exposed to the massive affront to reason it represents. Just look at what happened to one of the great minds over at Wikipedia when he attempted to discuss February in basic astronomical terms:

“Having only 28 days in common years, it is the only month of the year that can pass without a single full moon. It is also the only month of the calendar that once every six years and twice every 11 years, will have only four full 7-day weeks. Where the first day of the month starts on a Monday and the last day ends on a Sunday, this was observed in 2010 and can be traced back 11 years to 1999, 6 years back to 1993, 11 years back to 1982, 11 years back to 1971 and 6 years back to 1965; and so on twice 11 years consecutively and once six years either forward into the future or back into the past. This works unless the pattern is broken by a skipped leap year, but no leap year has been skipped since 1900 and no others will be skipped until 2100. (Years that are evenly divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they are also evenly divisible by 400, in which case they are leap years). A year of this kind would be a common year starting on Friday. It cannot happen in a leap year.”

What a convoluted mess. You can practically hear the author’s voice give out half way through as he struggles in vain to make some numerical sense out of this daft monstrosity of a month. He fails miserably, unless of course it was his intention all along to drive home just how jarring a punishment living through February can really be. And even if we decided to ditch the stupid name in favor of better sounding alternatives, our only good options would be either Solmanoth (the mud month) or Kale-monath (cabbage). And as you can see by the translations, these options are even less attractive than ox thongs.

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