Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Ugly American

As I reflect on the death of Osama Bin Laden, I'm reminded of what this nation has gone through collectively over the past decade to get to this point. Countless lives have been lost, families destroyed on both sides, and a veritable myriad of constitutional rights thrown by the wayside. Obviously, these are all casualties of war, from minor inconveniences in our daily lives all the way up to those who have lost their loved ones. No victory, no matter what magnitude, has the power to reverse what's been lost.

I'm aware that this is, fundamentally speaking, a victory for our country for a number of reasons. On the most basic of levels, it accomplishes a goal that was set out in the beginning of this conflict. It provides at least a small amount of closure for families who have lost so much to this war. It is mainly a symbolic victory, as Bin Laden has controlled very little of Al Qaeda since 9/11, acting as more of a spiritual head of the organization, a collective face of evil in American eyes, if you will. The strategic situation in this war will be no different than it was last week, and in fact may prove worse and more dangerous for our soldiers now that he has become a martyr for his cause.

This is also a victory for our president, who's approval ratings will no doubt soar at a crucial time for him. This victory, however, seems bittersweet. The fact that, despite his vast accomplishments since taking office, this will likely be the defining moment of his presidency is a sad fact. Although I would love to think undecided voters would choose him based on the broad scope of impressive changes he's made in our country, this is not the country we live in. While I'm elated that he now has a very good chance at winning a second term, I wish this were not the event that made it possible. I truly hope that he is remembered for the political innovator that he is and continues to be, and not for the murder of one enemy.

Mainly, when I began to learn more about the circumstances of his death, I began to think about what an amazing opportunity our government and military had show our growth and maturity at the highest level. I couldn't be more proud of our soldiers that, despite how much blood was on his hands, treated Bin Laden's body with respect and took the time to give him a proper Islamic burial. Not only was this smart, as the last thing this country needs is to further ideals of Islamaphobia, but it was a beautiful display of humanity as a whole. My largest wish on that night was that this profound display would have a trickle-down effect on all American citizens. An opportunity to show growth as a nation is something we rarely get, and these opportunities should be take advantage of whenever possible. Unfortunately, this has largely not been the case.

The reaction of some members of the the general public thus far has been reprehensible and downright appalling in some cases. The celebration of the murder of one man is not only un-American, it is barbaric. The sheer amount of blood lust displayed even by my own acquaintances has been almost too much for me to bear, and make me feel ashamed of my own country. Some of the reactions I have seen in the last 36 hours exemplify why countless nations hate us. It is, by and large, due to the disgusting hypocrisy shown in our celebration of Bin Laden's death. We look at news organizations showing footage of burning American flags and crowds cheering the death of American soldiers and say to ourselves "this is the enemy, we're better than these people", but the reaction to his death has proven that we have it in ourselves to be no more than a variation of the people we see as our enemies. If we want to show the rest of the world that we're above that kind of behavior, it's time to lead by example. We can not improve the rest of the world's view of us if this is horrendous display we're going to put forth.

Furthermore, this is not a time for celebration. If anything, it is a time for silent reflection of what has brought us to this point, what we have accomplished and what we still need to accomplish. We have lost countless lives to get to this goal, and the death of an enemy does not bring back the loss of a son, father, brother, mother, daughter or sister. This is a somber moment of closure for those who have lost everything, not an excuse to drink to someone's death.

‎"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Texas, 'Merica and Football

Once again, the Super Bowl has come and gone in it's usual fashion. There was a winner, but as it wasn't the one NFL team I remotely care about, the outcome was relatively anti climactic, at least for me. I was rooting for the Packers merely based on the fact that I loathe Eagles fans. Being that the Packers knocked out the Eagles in the playoffs, rooting for them seemed to be the only way for me to at least somewhat attach to the outcome enough to make the game entertaining. Although I could write about what a good game it was (and it really was a halfway decent game to watch), I'd much rather bitch about everything I hated, as it's much more entertaining for me to write about, and I'm sure it is more entertaining to read about.

The sheer scale of this year's pre-game 'Go America' fuckaround was so staggering that halfway through, I nearly forgot what I was waiting to watch. Not even baseball, our actual national pastime, has put forth this much effort to ram red white and blue down my throat with such ferocity. Something about sporting events held in Texas conjures up the need to remind us that we are, in fact, in the United States.

As I began to stir from the righteous nap I was partaking in before the game, I heard the unmistakeable passages of what could only be the Declaration of Independence being read by different groups of people across the country who I can only assume had something to do with football. Being that I participated in my elementary school's production of 'Schoolhouse Rock' when I was a young lad, I was able to recognize these segments with some immediacy despite post sleep discombobulation and my eyes being crusted shut. I sure am glad we read it through and through, though, because in my near dream-like stupor I had begun to think that we had decided to repatriate to the UK. Also, I'm sure it was a welcome wake-up call to the millions of Texans who consistently lobby to secede from the union. I'd be completely for this idea, except for the fact that all my dirt cheap, multi-connecting flights to California inevitably have a layover in Dallas, and I just don't feel like carrying my passport with me every time I board a plane.

After re-visiting the tree of liberty for seemingly no reason aside from the gratingly sarcastic ones noted above, one would think the next logical progression would be to move on to the national anthem. As we've just been reminded that we are still an independent country, it seems prudent to also remind us that we have our own theme song. Unfortunately, the national anthem has no lyrics that specifically mention the beauty of our country, we had to jump right to 'America the Beautiful', as sung by an actress who's name does not matter (I will refer to her as 'Cletus' for the rest of this snippet), save for that it was mentioned that she stars in 'Glee'.

Despite having only seen Glee once, the powerful suckitude of said episode has forced me to hold back powerful nausea when presented with anything reminding me of it. Because of this, I had to pop a tummy and sip on Seltzer water for the entirety of Cletus' performance. Despite 'America the Beautiful' being quite a pleasant song on its own, Cletus' repetitive, relatively tone-deaf rendition of it may have actually re-animated Jefferson's corpse, which I'm quite certain has since armed itself with a pitchfork and slowly meandered to Cletus' current whereabouts to dispose of her in a most violent and distinctively American manner. The constant on-camera appearances of George and Laura Bush only served to further my violent indigestion. As I'm sure Obama couldn't make the game due to being occupied with attempting to bring the country back from the brink of economic disaster, Fox decided that showing the man who almost singlehandedly created said economic disaster was the next best thing.

Although I was very proud of myself that I managed to get to this point in the programming without vomiting on my own shoes, there was no time to give myself a pat on the back, as the National Anthem was about to be sung by none other than Christina Aguilera, and I knew many annoying and completely unnecessary octave shifts were in my very near future. As the last time Christina Aguilera was relevant was at my 8th grade christmas dance in 1998, and her songs only served for me to awkwardly gyrate my hips in front of a girl I was too terrified to talk to, I couldn't imagine why she would be chosen to represent the country in such an important manner. I was initially angered by the fact that she managed to mess up the lyrics to quite possibly one of the first five songs you learn as a child, but as our popular media is filled with uneducated, whorish blondes already, I decided she represented a fairly good cross section of the country and let it slide.

Normally, after having my brain invaded by such a high volume of mind-numbing slop, I usually have to take a nap. Similar to falling asleep in a rocking chair on thanksgiving after consuming 7 pounds of food, the body simply cannot cope with simultaneous digestion and continued consciousness, and needs to shut down and regroup for a few hours in order to resume normal function. Not on this day, as the overly filling meal was to be followed by a football game which I had almost forgotten was the purpose of all the previous mindless crap. The game itself was legitimately entertaining to watch, despite my previous mentioned lack of caring about which team won the game. The commercials, although nothing spectacular, had their moments as they usually do. The only complaint I had was the eye-gougingly long Chrysler commercial featuring Eminem. On any normal day, Chrysler tooting their own horn after taxpayers collectively emptied their pockets to save the company from certain death is enough to make me groan. Doing so while choosing a psychologically unstable jackass with violent tendencies to represent the city of Detroit is like choosing Jeffrey Dahmer to represent Wisconsin in a cheese commercial.

In an effort not to dwell on the negatives of the commercials, I'd like to go ahead and dwell on the negatives of the halftime show (hopefully by now you've noticed a subtle theme forming). I've never enjoyed the halftime show. I make my best effort to go do something else while the halftime show is on. It may be due to the fact that it usually either features artists who I abhor, or it employs classic rock acts who I enjoy, but have become decrepit and arthritic to the point where they disappoint my expectations of them. Most of us can remember last year's performance by The Who, which left most of us wondering why they weren't out buying new golf clubs, spending time with their great great great grandchildren and researching anti-incontinence products. Both types of acts are difficult to watch, but it's much easier to stomach when the group is someone I already couldn't stand in the first place. Enter the Black Eyed Peas. Never mind that most everyone I know has been trying to force-feed them to me for the past 5 years, but for the most part, I strongly dislike rap and R&B, much less a combination of the two. Add that to the fact that live rap is probably the most horrid ear rape I could think of outside of a car alarm under your window at 3 am, and you've got a surefire recipe for something I have absolutely zero interest in seeing.

In light of these facts, my father (who shares my opinions of the halftime show) and I decided that at the end of the first half we would leave our hotel room (we were in vermont at the time) and leave for a pub in which we could watch the second half accompanied by beer and the appropriate artery clogging meat and fried potato medley. In doing so, we were hoping the transit time would allow us to completely miss the halftime show and get to the bar just in time to see nothing but the rest of the game. Unfortunately, we had vastly underestimated the amount of filler that Fox could insert before the halftime show even happened at all, and we arrived just in time to only miss about 30 seconds of the halftime show.

The Black Eyed Peas, who's live performance had about as much sound fidelity as steel wool being rubbed on the side of a trash can, were dressed like some combination of a character from Tron, Devo, and Gary Oldman's character from the 5th Element. Their heavy use of auto tune only served to make them sound like robots who can't sing instead of people who can't sing. When Usher, who's presence in anything usually makes me want to dive on an upright railroad spike, was a breath of fresh air during the show, it should serve as an indication of how crappy the experience really was for everyone involved. They were, are, and probably always will be a crappy version of the Fugees with one more dude, a hotter girl and half the talent.

After performing the requisite medley of back-to-back 30 second segments of 15 songs, I began to wonder what super bowl performers have against playing an entire song. Watching one of these performances is like being stuck in the car with someone on a road trip who won't let a single song play through until the end. Even The Who, who would have done just fine playing Teenage Wasteland all the way through and calling it a day, couldn't resist the urge to run through an ill-tasting smorgasbord of all of their radio hits. If I were a Black Eyed Peas fan, I would much rather hear one of my favorite songs in its entirety instead of a shitstorm mashup of 15 songs in 5 minutes. It's almost like having your radio set on scan.

Obviously, as it has become a staple, abolishing the halftime show altogether is not an option for the future, however it may be time for a change of pace. Who says it has to be a musical act? In fact, musical acts are always going to be dicey because there's always going to be someone who doesn't like them. Why not do a Cirque Du Soleil halftime show? It eliminates the musical like/dislike factor, and everyone can appreciate a 4'11 Bosnian girl with the ability to put the bottom of her foot on the back of her neck. If we're dead set on music, why not try a classic act who we know for sure can perform well without a cortisone shot in their spine? Hell, I saw Tom Petty this year and he can still do everything he ever could, and he's about as American as it gets.

In retrospect, watching the Super Bowl may have been a classic reaffirmation of everything I dislike about mass media and popular culture. Even as someone who rarely watches sports anymore, I thoroughly enjoyed the game itself. It was exciting, fun to watch, and suspenseful despite neither team being my favorite. However, the excessive amount of fluff left a bad taste in my mouth. Until now, I was unable to see a logical argument for DV recorders, but knowing that I could record the game and skip through everything I think is asinine provides the best case I've ever heard for owning one. However, with the last few paragraphs in mind, there's significant risk I could wear out the fast forward button in the first week of ownership ••