Sunday, September 11, 2005
It's Not TV
While it is generally considered bad form to laugh at people because they are suffering due to circumstances beyond their control, it is only human nature to laugh at people because they are stupid. Sure, stupidity is as beyond a person's control as much as a giant hurricane wiping out an American city right after you convince an old pal of yours to appoint you Director of FEMA, but somehow basic non-lethal stupidity is still funny to see in action. It's like the handicap that's not really a handicap.

I think the main reason commonplace stupidity isn't viewed with the same empathy as actual mental retardation or blindness or the inability to walk is because it is a relative state of being. A deaf person is deaf whether they are compared to a hearing person or another deaf person. Make all the comparisons you want, they still can't hear anything. Or OK, maybe they can and you're just boring, but I'm talking about people who are medically deaf, not social-selectively.

Stupidity on the other hand, while generally diagnose-able, depends upon whom you're standing next to. I'm not going to use myself as an example because obviously the stunning level of my immense intellect defies all conceived-of methods of measure or report. If my intellect were represented by physical size, it would have to likened to... uh... something real real big. I can't really think of a good example off the top of my head. Ooh! A hippopotamus! Those are big. Heavy too and with that horn thing in the front, charging around the savannah all day jabbing other animals in the ass. That would be rad. Until the hunters came and found me so they could cut my horn off and grind it into powder to sell as an aphrodisiac. That part would suck. But as far as I know, there's nothing bigger than a hippopotamus. So that's me and my smartness.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that "stupid" is relative. Just as an example, among all the braindead mouth-breathing devil-horn waving self-whiplashing morons at a Motley Crue concert (sorry, but I refuse to purposefully abuse the diaeresis in their horrible, horrible name), one of them has to be the "smartest". Hell, some of them might even have jobs and girlfriends and cars they don't need to have back by morning so their moms can go to work. But they get off listening to thought-free subtlety-proof songs named "Dr. Feelgood" and "Girls Girls Girls", so by definition they are all of them profoundly stupid.

And then there are people like me, the graduate school types, who forego a broad-range of knowledge to become hopelessly specialized in one particular area of expertise so that when we are finished with our studies we can test other people--those who wasted their early adulthoods developing non-professional skills like social interaction, human speech and basic hygiene--knowing that they will fail, thus proving that we are smart and they are stupid, a conclusion that proves the last 2-10 years of our life in academia weren't at all wasted.

I mean, we could talk about the differences between the 1536 and 1543 Acts of "Union" annexing Wales formally to England, but I don't want to embarrass anyone with my awesome depth of narrow and functionally useless* knowledge.

If you ever had the misfortune of finding yourself in the company of several history professionals, you would understand that anyone who in any way ever mentioned history without the benefit of proper history-thought training--the dreaded "History Buff"--is by comparison the stupidest person ever created in the history of created people. History Buffs talk about shit like people and events and artifacts, a childish misunderstanding of history that completely leaves out systems and code-words and jargon all based on in-depth readings of books by history professionals for history professionals. There's also a secret handshake. And a branding on the inner thigh you have to subject yourself to. It's not just self-perpetuating job security; it's necessary lest history fall into the vulgar hands of people who like it.

The History Buff is likely to say something stupid about how they would love to live in the time they are so grossly obsessed with, like for instance the Civil War. Actual historians are able to apply their training to recognize the fact that this is a stupid idea. Gosh, wouldn't it be great not to know every day whether or not a rampaging army was going to ransack and burn down your house, murder your family, walk their muddy boots all over your heirloom rug, to live subject to an uncertain economy left up to the whims and ravages of war, get tuberculosis, dysentery, polio and scurvy all at the same time and then pray for death before it finally comes, five years after all of your children have predeceased you. Gosh, wouldn't that be just the same thing as your re-enactment weekends on your days off from your job as a systems analyst.

No, in case you were wondering, no it wouldn't. It can't be real history if you don't mention Karl Marx or hegemonic discourse or points of resistance or a bunch of other things with more syllables than sense. People who like history can't actually know about history because they like it too damned much. They are blinded by their own personal agenda of "doing stuff that interests them" and therefore have barred themselves from attaining any kind of objective knowledge. Therefore they are stupid.

So wishing you could live in some other time is stupid.

That is absolutely what I used to think until I started watching HBO's new show, Rome. I could be down with living wherever and whenever that takes place.

Yes, there's still the disease and the uncertainty and the paganism and the substandard plumbing, but is that so different from now? If New Orleans showed us anything, it's how thin the line is between shiny modernity and the sort of savagery and suffering that the lack of technology immediately exposes. Human helplessness in the face of the elements has never been made so starkly clear.

But that's not the real reason that show makes it seem OK to live in ancient Rome. Apparently back then, everyone was gettin' it on and gettin' it on a lot. As I type this, I'm recording the episode that first airs on September 11th, so I've only seen the first two episodes, but my God. That's got to be the most doin'-it-est culture in the history of the world. In the second episode alone there had to be 6 or 7 impeccably choreographed, expertly-lit, exquisitely filmed acts of totally spontaneous human carnal intimacy. I found it puerile, unnecessary, dirty, crass, base, prurient and totally totally awesome. And most of the chicks are hot too.

I figure with as much ass-lending as seems to be going on, even a non-Latin speaker like myself would have a half-way decent shot.

Of course you'd have to do it on a pre-Tempur-Pedic mattress in an un-air-conditioned room with a person born into a bathing-optional culture and subject your delicate bits to the threat of scorching in a fire-based lighting system of the day, but it doesn't seem to bother anyone in the show. None of them seem to know how to keep their body parts off of other people's body parts.

I'm ashamed that it appeals to me so. But on the up side, I think I'm starting to understand fraternity life a little better.

This post on the Narcissus Scale: 7.6

*= not to mention horribly atrophied. I had to look up the dates. My thesis writing days are well behind me.


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