Monday, September 13, 2010

Notes on When I Feel Blue

I’ve always been an observer. I don’t hesitate to participate when I feel comfortable, but even when actively engaged in something: I take careful mental notes of everything.

One thing any observer knows is that the more you talk, the less you can listen.

I should have lots of pent up thoughts to blog about. Apparently tons of religious stuff happened last week. But I observed something far more interesting: when I’m not in a good mood, I have no interest in religion, politics, or most of the pseudo-important things humans have dreamed up.

This was a bit of a surprise to me. I always thought of religion and politics as hobbies. When I’m not in a good mood, I retreat to my hobbies. I play video games, surf the internet for funny pictures and strange facts [some of which actually turn out to be true], play with my pets, watch movies… I pretty much give in to my most basic desires, which for me are luckily mundane.

I feel bad for people who drink, though not as bad as the people who need others to cheer them up. Streisand was dead wrong: people who need people are the most unlucky people in the world. Scratch that, second most unlucky people, behind the people needed. There’s nothing worse than someone else’s happiness riding on your shoulders.

About the worst thing I do differently when I’m not my usual jolly self is I get very egotistical. I rarely, if ever, write about myself being in a good mood, or about the fun things I do. I know bloggers who do that, and that’s fine, but… I just know vanity is not an attractive coat on me.

Oh, but it looks good on you…

I’d much rather open up when I am in an unenviable position. Vulnerability not only sounds more sincere, it’s more compelling. It’s why drama outperforms comedy, a fact that perplexes me to this day.

Why do people like a window into suffering?

My wife will kill me for saying this, but I’ll say it anyway: she likes too much drama. Not real life drama: TV drama, fake emotional roller-coasters playing out in a predictable story arch over the course of an hour. Though at least she doesn’t like reality TV drama.

The worst thing about any drama is that it’s usually an hour. It’s excruciating how long dramas are. The only comedy shows on TV that run longer than 30 minutes are sketch or variety shows. They say it’s because people can’t laugh for a whole hour, or because people can’t write a solid hour of comedy. Even comedic motion pictures run shorter than most dramatic pieces. Still, I prefer comedy to drama, and I am statistically unusual in this respect.

What is the appeal of drama? When I’m in a good mood, I don’t want to watch a bunch of people fighting over contrived nuances, nor do I want to see such nonsense when I’m in a bad mood. Aristotle claimed that drama provides “catharsis,” but I think it just gives people bullshit ideas on how the world works and how they should act, with an emphasis on making the lives of others more difficult and stressful by arguing about everything.

I give my wife shit for liking TV drama all the time, more than she deserves, but I would argue I got the idea from drama. In comedies, people make snide remarks and everyone goes on being the same person they were at the beginning of the episode. In dramas, the protagonist takes active steps to alter the world to meet his needs, and resistance is seen as compelling.

Both my pointed complaints and her desperate pleas are reinforced by drama on TV.

Yet, I don’t know if I like the idea of everyone going around messing with how stuff works. The idea that “one person can change the world” upsets and disturbs me, because it never seems to be the light-hearted jokers who take the bull by the horns. It’s usually some jackass who’s determined to tell other people what to do. Why should I assert myself when it comes to what is on TV? Who am I to say what others do?

Maybe that’s the problem with people: those of us who are inclined to change the world are inherently doing it for the wrong reasons, while those who would change the world for the better would also never try to mess with it.

To make matters worse, we live in a culture that thinks motivation is a virtue, which I think only encourages this careless tinkering behavior. You show me a lazy bum on a couch laughing at fart jokes and I’ll show you someone who isn’t bothering anyone. The people in our society who seem to be the most motivated are serial killers and politicians. I don’t even know which is worse (hint: serial killers only kill a few dozen people per year).

However, consider this: the media you expose yourself to will end up defining you. If you watch a bunch of depressing shit on TV, you will tend to see things in that perspective. You will be a depressing person to talk to, because the conversations we hear (whether in person or on TV/radio) provide us the social scripts we use in day-to-day life.

You know how they say in a courtroom, “Please describe for us, in your own words…” Well, you don’t have any of your own words. You’re just borrowing them (I think technically they belong to the Queen of England).

Not only that, the way you construct your sentences, the phrases you use, the expressions you repeat… these are all borrowed, and not from thin air or directly from a dictionary. We get them from that to which we are exposed.

[For example, that last sentence seems awkward, but is grammatically correct because I didn’t end it with a preposition. I know because I tutored grammar… and it would piss off the Queen if I misuse her language.]

Sociologists call this phenomenon “social scripts,” and they are arguably one of the primary defining characteristics of a person. Often a person’s social scripts are mistaken for their “personality.” I don’t even know if such a thing as personality really exists… it’s more of a composite of what messages a person sends off and how they are interpreted by the observer. A person’s personality is every bit as dependent upon how others react to them as what that person is actually saying, and I’m not sure you can attribute qualities of the observer to that which is observed.

Maybe this is why the term “charismatic” has meant so little to me. From my perspective, no one seems to have charisma because I see everyone as being a joke, and I consider it my duty, nay, my pleasure to search for the punchline. It is hard to see charisma in others if you take no one seriously.

I like my life as a comedy. I like that my wife comes home from work and unwinds by watching mindless dramas with brain-dead writing which I can use as fodder for jokes. [It’s also nice to know that if I ever suffer a serious head injury, I could still pursue a writing career in dramatic television: blah blah blah, “it’s my choice,” blah blah blah, “making choices is hard” blah blah blah, “I always loved you,” blah blah blah, someone dies.]

I like that when I go to bed and wake up tomorrow, my life will be pretty much the same, another episode where nothing has changed from the one before. I can’t tell my past from my future from the present, and that will make it easier to enjoy when I’m syndicated in reruns.

Remember, we call today “the present” because it’s a gift: it rarely turns out to be what you wanted, and you usually enjoyed it more before you opened it and found out it’s socks, again.

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