Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Now back to Dancing with the Stars

I know that I have a tendency to discuss political subjects with a straight-up liberal bias.  Sorry.  It has taken me some time to decide that, yes, liberals are as cranky, stupid, and often wrong as conservatives, but you know what: liberalism is still a preferable ideology to American conservatism. 

If the above equivocation about liberals being as flawed as conservatives at all leads you to conclude that both sides suck, a pox on both houses, I’ll have nothing to do with either, well... you miss a larger point: both sides are populated with human beings and human beings are fallible, often stupid, frequently rude, and, therefore, given to saying and doing dumb things.  And in the age of the Internet and immediate connectivity, dumb things can ruin a career.  Oh, if Washington and Jefferson were alive in the age of Twitter.  What malaprops they might be haunted by!

That stated, I have to admit that my bias against the (rarely) right in this country stems from my inability to hear the intelligent conservatives over the screamers.  I have often let my inability mask what I know to be true deep in the recesses of my thick head: there are smart, articulate, learned, conservatives who are separate from the noisy jerks and (sadly) too quiet to hear.  Not all of them are dogs responding to tone and ignoring actual words.  My inability to hear them speaks to my own laziness (this is the age of the Internet, after all) as much as their (perceived) silence. But for fuck's sake, speak up, people.  You do your side no service by letting Michele Bachmann have so much airtime. 

To be sure, I am not a fan of MSNBC.  Save for the wonderful Rachel Maddow, I don’t care for the screaming left any more than the screaming right (okay, a little more).  And though I see the insidiousness of Fox News and the effect of infotainment on the populace, I can only recall Robinson Jeffers’ great poem “Be Angry at the Sun” and cool my own ire lest I join the duped. 

Lately I've tried to do as others have been opting to do: keep things light, not start debates, cool the angry rhetoric of social media, keep calm and carry on posting pictures of food.  This is, perhaps, a good course of action. But I can’t do it today.  While fond of sharing gags, puns, and what I perceive as witty little observations about life and the odd encounters that come with living in Chicago, I see how futile my actions are.  No less futile than my previous method of bickering with relatives and strangers over Facebook to achieve what I thought might be some form of common understanding.  But nothing changes, especially people.  I might as well be angry at the sun for fucking setting. 

So I opted not to add my own angry, ill-informed opinions to these angry, ill-informed discussions.  That was a nice two weeks.  But after last night, I’m afraid I cannot slide so easily back to laughing at adorable kitties.  You’ve seen the news, I take it?  The grand jury made its decision, people protested, peacefully in some places, violently in other places.  I knew what would happen if I went onto Facebook this morning.  I’d see any number of blissed-out citizens asking, “Why do they burn their own businesses?” as if the Civil Rights era and the Rodney King riots never happened.  How soon we forget conversations we’ve had for decades.  How little we learn from them. 

So I was willing to stay off Facebook, but, of course, I succumbed.  I thought maybe a quick viewing of some footage might be warranted—I should know what’s going on, after all.  But there’s a perfect hilarity that comes while watching a clip from some tragic local news outfit from Bumfuck, Iowa reporting on the grand jury’s decision not to indict that cop who shot Michael Brown.  They relate this news, which most of America has been anxiously waiting to hear, with what may be seen as trepidation—no one could have expected the reaction to be different than it was—followed by the assurance that they are returning to their scheduled program, Dancing with the Stars. 

That was it.  I lost my shit.  I started laughing like a rabid hyena. 

Upon reflection, I see that newscaster’s statement about returning to Dancing with the Stars as pretty beautiful.  Yes, there is strife, anger, inequality, violence, injustice, poverty, materialism, stupidity, and confusion to consider, but ignore all that; we’ve got Lea Thompson and Tommy Chong dancing before a panel of self-important assholes!  Doesn’t that sound infinitely more interesting?  It certainly requires zero critical thinking and social analysis. 

By way of going back to my first thoughts about why I’m re-upping with the liberal camp, let me state that while liberals are perhaps too quick to lionize Michael Brown, and that, yes, he was not a perfect human being, the reactions of most conservatives seem to be considerably worse.  If you are convinced that the community of Ferguson is taking advantage of the decision or if you are confused about the angry reaction to the story, then let me politely ask you to stop looking at trees and see the  forest.  And while there are surely some liberals fixating on the wrong questions and hammering away at the old talking points, they at least have an admirable, albeit unrealistic, goal in mind: progression away from obvious social injustice.  This is, again, not to say that conservatives are not interested in such things, but more an observation that I can’t help but make: the fringe has hijacked that party.  Objective analysis and common ground are elements of the discussion that are sorely missing in the popular sphere.  So be it.  This is perhaps nothing new: there’s been a long history of sensationalism in news and public discourse.  Cooler heads have likely always resided left of the dial, but there was always a sort of understanding that the smaller venue was where you, the individual had to search to find a more reasoned, civil form of debate.  The problem is that now we see the popular talk shows, always happy to court the lowest common denominator, as being the bastions of wisdom and the lone voices of the voiceless, the watchdogs of the government, the truth seekers.  I’d say we’ve lost perspective if I thought we ever really had any. 

So I’m not going to throw my lot in with the liberals to the extent that I will see the conservatives as enemies.  I will try to remain a bit more open-minded than that.  But damnit, people—you’re not making it easy. 

To summarize: liberals are as full of shit as conservatives, but I prefer the smell of their shit.  If you’re curious about why people are furious about last night’s grand jury decsion, examine your questions and look outside your own experience.  Realize that it is a false equivalency to expect that people will be as rational in their response as you were when you heard the news.  Stop listening to the loudest voices.  Children scream.  Adults think, reflect, and compose themselves.  And then they scream. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Best of Chicago

Recently, New City put out their annual Best of Chicago issue, a fine read from start to finish.  Nevertheless, it being only as perfect as any such publication, it contained omissions that I felt needed addressing.  In short: I was inspired to fill in some of the gaps and write my own Best of Chicago post.  So here goes.

(Side note: I’m sure I’ve done this before, but rather than comb through past blog posts I figured I’d just write a new version because, you know, no one’s reading or remembers anyway.  If for some reason you do remember and wish to accuse me of redundancy, well it’s my blog and I can do as I please.  So there.)

Best place for Vince to confront how much he and the city have changed:  Red Lion Pub.

When the Red Lion closed up six years ago, many of us were adrift.  We knew that the remodeling would not be quick, despite assurances to the contrary.  And many were upset that our favorite watering hole was getting a makeover, but I understood.  The barkeep and co-owner, Colin, said it best: charm is great but not when you have to live in it.  And while I was (sorta) okay with the charm of the semi-dilapidated faux British pub being scrubbed away, I accepted that it was a necessary scrubbing and that what emerged would be a bar where I could piss without fear of falling through the floorboards. So when the place finally reopened earlier this year, I was, as the kids used to say, stoked. 

But, sorry to report, this new polished incarnation just isn’t for me.  A fine place to get a pint (if you have the money—drinks were never cheap at the Lion but now the prices now suggest some staggering remodeling debts), but where there was once charm there is now gloss.  And books (most behind the bar or placed high above reach or locked behind glass) that work as decorations but are inaccessible to the average customer/reader.  But people seem to like it.  Me?  Eh, it just makes me long for long gone days. 

But not really.  You see, I hung out at the Lion in my late 20s and off and on through my 30s.  Now that I am in my 40s—happily married and in a very different place with my life—I shall step aside and let others enjoy this new fangled Lion while I opt for an alternative (see below).  The Lion has changed, but so has the city.  I barely recognize this town, save for the shitty weather.  Why hang on to relics of the past?  I’m not the same.  Why should my city stay frozen forever in 1994? 

Best place to spend six hours of your birthday drinking with friends and occasionally reading Ulysses: Red Lion Lincoln Square. 

To ease my sadness over the loss of the Red Lion, I’ve been going to the Red Lion.  The Red Lion Lincoln Square, to be specific.  This location is associated with the other by history only, which is a long story, but I like that this location retains most of the old look and fee of the old Lincoln Avenue location, not to mention the superior fish and chips.  And the pints are closer to what I’m comfortable paying, cheapskate that I am (see below).  This year, I decided to celebrate turning 43 by sitting on my ass for several hours drinking Guinness at the Lion.  Somewhere in there ate some scrod, chatted with friends who came and went, and read a few pages of the James Joyce novel that dominated my summer.  It seemed a fine way to usher in another year of living.  Some people climb mountains.  Some go on vacation.  Some eat cake.  But for Christ’s sake, 43 is an important year and should not be spent in so trivial a fashion as any of that.

Best place to get a drink: my apartment. 

Even though the last two entries on this list have been about bars, I really prefer drinking at home.  The booze is cheaper, there’s never a mistake with my order, the pours are heavy, and the company is lovely, even when I’m alone with the dog. 

Best library: the Francone Library, my apartment.

Sure, I don’t have the archives of the Newberry or the volume of the Harold Washington Library, but I’ll wager my collection bests most in town, not to mention there’s always something I want to read in these stacks.  And the chairs are comfy.  Plus: no Nicholas Sparks.

Best place to see a movie: my apartment.

The abovementioned comfy chairs make film watching a pleasure, and while the screen may not be as big as what one will find at the stadium style theaters, one will not find any crying babies, chattering dolts, or incessant texting in my apartment.  And there’s cheap snacks and booze.  This makes for relaxed viewing, so much so that I often fall asleep before the end of a movie.  Thankfully, there are no ushers at my place to kick me out.  

Best place to practice playing guitar where no one will hear how much you suck: my apartment. 

Never a virtuoso, I did achieve a certain level of skill, though years of neglect have left my chops rusty (mixed metaphor?).  So it’s nice to run through some scales without the judgmental ears of anyone but my dog who never complains about missed notes or fumbled chords.  Of course, the lovely Casandra is supportive and likes when I play, but it took me longer than it should have to learn “Behind Blue Eyes” and even after I had the changes down the guitar was out of tune.  No problem: like Eddie Van Halen, I tune the guitar to itself.  Unlike EVH, I… well, everything. 

Best place to write grumpy blog posts: my apartment.

Surrounded by the familiar, the outside world seems loud and cruel.  And scary. Better to stay inside.  I don’t like the looks of those teenagers. 


This morning, on Facebook (what a terrible way to start a blog post),I shared an article from Esquire that, in that snarky way quite common to internet articles and Esquire, a takedown of some cherished movies the editors decided to films stupid people think are clever.  While the article is pure click bait, there’s something to these choices of so-called stupid films—many of them I like.  They don’t stand up to real scrutiny and, at best, can be called pure entertainment with a dash of intellect and some genuine cinematic artistry ( especially Inception, which is a good looking film that feels quite empty).  Only one friend has commented on this.  That’s fine—I’m past the point of begging for likes—but I am sort of surprised.  Most of my friends are film buffs or film watchers or have some sort of opinion about film.  I suppose I expected a few to balk at the list and argue in favor of some of the entries.  Really, Fight Club is the one that I assumed would generate some discussion. 

Watching Fight Club today is like skimming through a journal written in high school.  You cringe at the angst, the stretches toward profundity, the shallowness masquerading as depth, the pedestrian sense of entitlement.  Yeah, the movie has some interesting things to say about monoculture and corporate life, not to mention Ikea and Starbucks (easy targets, really), but beyond some half-baked philosophy (and that’s being generous) about finding truth by letting go of that which truly does not matter, the movie is pretty goddamn silly.    

Of course, I loved the movie when I saw it.  It was (and is) exciting, visually accomplished, even funny.  Brad Pitt is perfect casting.  And indeed—David Fincher can direct the shit out of a movie.  But I am almost always saddened by lists that rank Fight Club highest among Fincher’s films.  The Game is no one’s favorite (I think it's Fincher's best movie), and I don’t expect it to beat out Zodiac or even Seven, but for fuck’s sake it’s a lot better than Fight Club.  As much as I love the absurd, and Fight Club gets pretty fucking absurd, I never believe a second of it.  I don’t know that I am supposed to, but the intentionally ridiculous story strikes me as alienating.  As goofy as the logic of The Game can be, I buy it all.  Maybe this speaks to my tastes: I prefer dark and menacing to gross and macho.  

I can forgive Fight Club, even look at it fondly, whereas Inception has always been a pretty hard to swallow pill.  I don’t know that I’d call it a film stupid people think is clever, but more of a convoluted movie that sacrifices its emotional core—which it seems intent on developing—to layers of what-the-fuck? plot and some nice CGI.  The movie looks pretty but is so cold that a pair of gloves should come with the DVD.  I admit that it does ask the viewer to engage with it, making it more of an active experience than the average Hollywood thriller, but frankly I prefer the average Hollywood thriller that seeks no claim to complexity or depth. 

To say that these are films stupid people think are clever is a tough (and stupid) claim to make, but I do wonder if the point J. R. Jones made about the movie Up in the Air is not one that can work in this conversation: it's a mediocre movie that seems great only because we're used to shitty film after shitty film.  When you've lived on peanut butter and jelly for months on end, a boloney sandwich is pretty tasty.  But it's still just fucking baloney.