Sunday, December 25, 2005

Aaron vs. Celebrity
I saw an advertisement for FOX's upcoming "Skating with Celebrities" and no, it's not a spoof of "Dancing with Celebrities" (which in turn, is not a parody of anything, not intentionally, at least). And as the episode ended, I realized that I really didn't know any of the celebrities. Which begs the question: What constitutes a celebrity? Are you a star simply because you were once on Full House? It seems to me that there has to be more to it than that, otherwise there's probably just as many celebrities as there are ordinary people.

According to the dictionary (that little read source), you need to be a widely known person. Being a former anything disqualifies you, as you are currently nothing. That is, off the radar. Negligible. Absent. In fact, if we're tuning in to watch just out of disbelief that you are actually still alive, you are anti-celebrity. Next time, hire yourself some paparazzi (an ugly necessity to maintain that image), and stay in that artificially created spotlight. I mean, I was a child model (that is, I was in a single print advertisement); should I qualify? (The answer is: Yes. But that's another story.)

No, a celebrity is maintained by making the personal image synonymous with their work. That's why high-profile musicians have such high-profile stories. All the rappers have their feuds, all the teeny-boppers have their... well... their "teeny-boppers," and all the rock bands wear their hearts on their sleeves, chests, ass-checks... wherever the ink fits, really. Unless an actor throws a phone at someone every now and then, we tend to forget the films they've been it: the principle is, we have to be interested equally in the person and their work for them to become celebrity.

Now, I admire that one of the contestants is a rehabilitated drug-addict (that is, literally, a former child-actor). But his sad story is no different from that of Alonzo Bodden, who won (on an untelevised episode) the final Last Comic Standing. Nor that of some of the contestants on other reality TV shows. But are any of these people necessarily celebrities? I could pull some other names out of hat, friends of mine, and you'll either know them or not. What makes them a celebrity, rather than an actor, or a comic, &c, is whether you know them before I mention them. There's just too many people out there who have all performed at one point or another for them all to be celebrities. FOX needs to be honest about their schadenfraude-ing duties and just label this "Cheap Laughs."

Honestly though, we should just know people for their accomplishments, not for their status. Elvis is an iconic name, just like Jesus, but I really don't know the work of either. Should I call these people celebrities? And if I respect them just for the bankability of their name, isn't that far worse than honoring their legacies and messages? I know at least with the latter of those two icons, many people have forgotten the point because they've gotten wrapped up in the mythos, the "celebrity." Let's also think about these celebrities: they're all actors, media whores already. What about some Nobel laureates performing? What about John Ashbery?

We're lost in the pop-pop flash of the glitzy media. We want to quantify fame so that we can strive to achieve and own it, as if there were some logarithm we could perform to achieve it. And failing that, we want to laugh at those who had an opportunity for stardom, but lost it. In doing so, we inadvertently fall prey to the biggest paradox of them all: we can't see what happens to someone after their fifteen minutes are up without extending their fame. So we'll never get to see what happens when the fame falls away. And we'll go on chasing those celebrity ghosts, those people that never were or never deserved to be, from channel to channel, always indulging the hope that one day, that will be me (I mean . . . us).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Aaron vs. Legislative Wordplay

You Republican raconteurs, you. Your conservative chicanery of inelegant (yet elegant) nonsense phrasings is no surprise after Bush first elucidated "fuzzy math" (and fuzzier English). Now that I've managed to get that out of my system (at least for one sentence), here's an idea I came up with. The current political engine works is quite adept at calling a spade anything but a spade (how about "rathbon"?), so let's not be left behind in the lurch (ditch, gulf, &c). In the spirit of Paul Auster, who once let a madman propose a world in which each object had a one-to-one relationship with its name ("City of Glass"), let's come up with some new names, and skirt all the bull-ocracy.

The example I'd like to choose is "abortion." Both sides of the issue have taken positive-sounding names ("The Right to Choose" versus "The Right to Life") and put their own unique on what is essentially the same issue (though the way they talk, it's hard to see, let alone hear). It's a heavy-handed subject, but what I find most astonishing are the ways in which each party chooses to describe the act itself. I've never seen such graphic descriptions of violence (we allow this on TV) as some of what I've heard. Babies vacuumed out of their mothers, still wailing with the sound of silence from unformed trachea, non-existent vocal cords, absent lungs. The malicious cutting up and disposal of embryos and the black marketeering for the stem cell market, as if people enjoy handling so much meat (and yes, some people do). They've (the anti-abortioneers) really vilified the subject. The other side, not surprisingly, talks of painless procedures and acts of mercy. They find ways to make a teenager's sluttishness look like victimization and come up with the most ridiculous of excuses. Yes, accidents happen, and I accept that. However, I don't believe that people's privates have a magnetic attraction that somehow causes the one to fall atop the other purely through the miracle of science. There's got to be a little willpower, or barring that, some blood vessel expansion. That comes first ("then," as the nursery rhyme for the modern age goes, "comes marriage, then more sex, then comes ____ with the baby carriage," and if you're really lucky, love, eventually*).

I fear that all of this banter may have distracted from my actual stance on abortion. --Good. What I actually think about it is irrelevant; we're only judging words today, and how they're used to make a point. So my solution to the whole abortion problem is to call it something else (much like the GLBT community is currently dealing with "union" instead of "marriage"). What I mean is, let them ban abortions. You'll just go in for some perfectly legal cosmetic liposuction. If that's a little too edgy a concept (think Nip/Tuck**), just call it something else. Some word that they haven't banned yet. Because once they have to start defining exactly what it is that you're not allowed to do, a battle will be able to be fought on clear grounds, without all this ginger-stepping that allows one term to mean so many varying things. Our government can't agree on what "torture" means, nor "warfare" or "terrorism" for that matter. And as long as we allow them to use such generic and non-descriptive terms, they can continue to avoid the issue.

So let's forgo the wordplay, let's stop playing Scrabble. We can still agree to disagree, but let's at least agree on what we're disagreeing about. Otherwise, we'll never really solve anything. We'll just be generating a lot of hot air.*** And really, you don't want to be a rathbon, do you?

*It occurs to me that "Love Eventually" might make a far better movie than "Love Actually." If you'd like to purchase a treatment or script, my contact information is on the link to the right.
Let's just come up with another name for abortion, okay?
**And please, Ryan Murphy, don't ever let the advertisers dictate to you on how to sell your product. This season may be notoriously awful, but you shouldn't have to censor yourself because the hot-dog vendors hawking products on the sidelines of your episodic drama are pulling out.
***And the last thing a country with Global Warming (or, more specifically, the fact that our own environmental actions are destroying Nature itself, and I'd be more specific if I knew the actual science behind it--again, the avoidance of strict terminology allows this country to avoid taking responsibility for what they call "cutesy science") needs is more hot air.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Aaron vs. Private Schools

First off, if it is possible to be without bias on a subject . . . I don't have that restraint. I hate the concept of a private school. And second, so far as research or experience goes to back that statement up: I have none. I went to a public elementary school, a public middle school, a public high school, and a public college. Never mind that the middle school was M.S. 54, a specialized program (Delta) for the more scholastically apt (N.B. and ignore that I was not initially accepted), and forget that my high school was the academically elite and studiously sterilized Stuyvesant (N.B. and again, excuse that I passed the entrance exam by only three points). The fact of the matter is; I never paid for a higher (or even lower) education, and I know nothing about private schools, let alone Catholic schools (save the stories our parents tell us to help them sleep better at night). I know of people who have attended these once-removed-from-reality edifices (facades, really) of education. That’s about the extent of my knowledge.

Of course, having a basis for an argument is irrelevant (or so many Catholic schools, not to mention our Ultimate Administration of governance), so let loose the gripes of wrath. A friend of mine (Sharon) recently informed me that her hometown (Sparta) had gained a moment of infamous popularity thanks to an MTV headline. Well, let me be the first to congratulate her and then to tell her that there is such a thing as bad press. So far as I know, Sparta was a country in ancient Greece (a place far removed in time and place), and the current one, located somewhere in the ambiguous smog of New Jersey, should be the next Afghanistan on our list. I just don’t see the point in having a second Sparta, especially one that’s going to have such inept policies.

As for the policy itself: Pope John XXIII Regional High School’s principal, the Reverend Kieran McHugh has mandated that students can no longer have websites (including web-logs or Facebook-type pages) . . . for their own protection. “If this protects one child from being near-abducted or harassed or preyed upon,” says McHugh, “I make no apologies for this stance.” However, should a child be far-abducted or wholly snatched, that’s apparently not only their own problem, but part of the “unspoken” policy. The real reason, obvious to the rest of the world (a group whose brains are not stifled by the unbearable rigidity of mitres), is that students were bashing their terrible school (well, d’uh), over the Internet. That, in itself, is against school policy: now students will face expulsion for simply posting mundane chatter on the Web. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for clearing up the worthless chat and chattel, but this is a First Amendment violation.

Not so, apparently. You see, this is Private School. Normal laws don’t apply there. It’s all bendy. Because students sign a charter for the right to pay money to attend such a luxuriant home of learning, they constrict themselves to special rules. To rules which could eventually (and legally) include other restrictions or requirements, such as an inability to question religious faith and the necessity of theological workshops (brainwashing). Fantastic, no? That we can send our students to places that could make it a requirement for their pupils to learn fanaticism, the MacGyver way to make bombs from anything, and the strict training of suicide bombing. Yes, I’m taking the extreme here, but aren’t we just sanctioning the right of religious (or even just private/exclusive) schools to mandate their own policies, ones that they see fit to preserve a better tomorrow? We cannot let such one-dimensional stupidity exist. Where would the Intelligent Design be in that?

Meanwhile, Pope John H.S. insists that their policies are not only just, but for the safety of the students. If you’re going to ban the Internet because of the potential for stalkers, why not ban the Street? Or those suspicious black SUVs? Or how about just banning crime? I mean, what’s one blanket statement compared to another? In any case, the whole problem with private school is that each is essentially a country onto itself, one that is adjunct but separate to our government. One that creates a specialized kind of thinking, a disjoined type of student: one separate and possibly more than equal. Private schools, to put it bluntly, scare me.

I’d like to imagine that parents would be wise enough not to send their students to a school that teaches farther and farther from the norm. But parents are easily frightened, and would rather authoritatively clamp down than risk their fragile students in a “danger” school. And I understand that there are some very real problems with safety in certain public schools. But the more we restrict our young, the more resentful we make them, and the more likely they are to be incapable of tolerance or understanding of other social situations, even. Schools are a paradigm of the world’s social makeup: if a student makes it through school only because they’ve avoided danger, or because they’ve been surrounded by the comfortable ideology of the like-minded, how will they ever deal with the angry voices of the rest of the country? The answer: they won’t. They’ll continue to clamp down, and the whole cycle will continue.

Private schools enable the minority to pretend they’re the majority; they allow the suppression of normal student development; they bleed parents as a preface to the gouging of college; and they don’t really—in my opinion­—make the least bit of difference on how smart your child will be. After all, I’m a public school baby, and look how I turned out. Bitter, resentful and full of trenchant barbs: a model citizen. So get behind me, the poster child for public schools, and run from all that is wholly unholy: private (especially religiously private) schools.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Aaron vs. Gift Cards

Ho, ho, ho . . . 'tis the season for giving, or so they say. I certainly wouldn't know, what with being the broke critic that I am (and a soullessly bankrupt person besides). Plus, I'm quite embittered, or so they say; so don't bring any of those prostitutional chants of goodwill around my block, I don't want them.

But if you would like to give me a gift this year, please send cash. Why go through all that hard work picking out something you think I'll like only to have me then go through all that hard work returning it? Unless it's something you made yourself (where the thought really does count), I'm perfectly fine using holiday donations to go shopping for myself. I'm a big boy now, all growed up.

Let's get something clear though. If you can't think of something non-commercial to get me, but you don't want to be so thoughtless as to give me cash, don't get me anything. A gift card is pure evil, distributed in various plastic denominations.

First off, you can't return it. Second, it's impossible to spend EXACTLY the total value of the card, so at some point, I'll have to waste my hard-earned money. Third, why should my choices be limited to the confines of one store? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of Democracy? Where's my personal freedom of choice? Let's be honest: these gift cards don't accrue interest and I'm not likely to need $100 worth of books at Barnes & Noble at any given time. (Not that I won't spend it; I'm a bibliophile.) Chances are, when I see an item I really want, I probably won't even have the gift card with me. Cash is a bit more liquid, you'll have to agree.

Now, Sharon, a friend of mine, pointed out a new form of gift currency going around on courtesy of American Express. It's basically a pre-paid debit card, insured and all. But then you're spending extra cash on a middle-man instead of just paying me off for your happy holiday. Plus, then all my transactions are visible to the public, and last time I checked, drug dealers didn't accept plastic. Not really a problem for me; I'm just saying. . . . Anyway, I suppose you could always take that debit card to the bank and make a full withdrawal, but then again, I suppose you could've just given me cash to begin with. I can imagine the awkward conversations already: "So, son, what did you spend your credit on?" "Well, Dad, I bought some cash." "Cash?" "Cash. Merry Christmas."

What, are you worried that I'm going to take your cash and use it to buy other people belated presents? Relax, I could just as easily do that with your gift cards, let alone your actual crummy presents. Look, you can trust me: and if you can't, I'm not quite sure why you're giving me a gift at all. (Unless it's a payoff, some sort of money-laundering thing. Again, I'm not really a product of the underworld, so I don't know anything about that.)

So this holiday season, don't get cutesy, don't try to be sweet. Nothing warms the soul like some cold, hard cash. Or a hot cocoa. With marshmallows. But hey, don't go getting any funny ideas. Give me the money, I'd rather buy my own!