Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait is the tenth studio album of Bob Dylan’s catalog, and in my opinion, his most personal. Some say Blood on the Tracks. I say Blood on the Tracks captured a brief time in Bob Dylan’s life, but Self-Portrait appears to tell the musical tale of the influences and history of Bob Dylan to that point in his career, dating back to his early days in Minnesota and his early years spent in New York. I believe the album showcases the artistic heritage, through original pieces and cover songs, that led to Bob Dylan wanting to be an artist in the first place. I believe this album was such a personal note to Dylan that when the criticism hit the fan, it cut deep into a man that didn’t know negative reviews at that point in his career, and this led him to try and create some distance between himself and what I believe to be his most vulnerable album.

This is a subjective review of one album in Bob Dylan’s catalog that accounts for the top-of-the-line brilliance of what some critics simply call “the fifty-six songs” from the five albums that preceded Self-Portrait. This reviewer was intimately familiar with those albums prior to listening to Self-Portrait, but Self-Portrait was so maligned that I didn’t even bother investigating it. This review is also based on the advantage of coupling Self-Portrait with the Another Self-Portrait album from the Bootleg Series, an advantage some critics may say is unfair since the latter provided clarity on the former. This review is also made from the vantage point of viewing this album as nothing more than another album. The critics, of this era, were used to nothing but top-of-the-line brilliance from Bob Dylan, and in that light they viewed Self-Portrait as a legendary failure, when compared to the first nine albums.

Self-PortraitSelf-Portrait, as I see it, is a collection of songs that didn’t fit into Dylan’s prior albums. It is a pastiche album in the manner The Beatles’ The White Album, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, and Pavement’s Wowee Zowee albums were pastiche albums. There is no over-arching theme to such albums, no cohesion between songs, and the entire effort appears –to the naked eye– to be a throw off, at least in comparison to the artists’ other, more structured albums. The danger of pastiche albums, for their artists, is that their appeal will often be exclusive to other artists. Devout fans may even be disappointed by a pastiche album, for a devout fan is devoted to the artist for reasons that a pastiche album may not satisfy. Even in the selections of which songs to cover, and how to translate them, the artist reveals themselves on a level they may not have on prior albums.

When a musician lands a record deal, their first album is often an assemblage of songs that could be called a greatest hits collection of everything they’ve developed to that point. It’s the best of the best material they’ve written in an effort to land a record deal, and the reason they were signed in the first place. This is often followed by the demand for a second album, an album that tends to be a rushed effort that seeks to cash in on the success of the first record. Somewhere along the line, and this point in an artist’s career varies with the artist, as it did with Bob Dylan, they move past the more top-of-the-line, flowery brilliance of their work to their roots. If the artist is a true artist, as opposed to being little more than a rock and roll star, and they’ve been writing material at the pace a true artist will, they will accumulate a wealth of material that carries special meaning to them, and as we’ve seen with the Bootleg Series, Dylan was more prolific than most gave him credit for. For reasons specific to the project, the recording chieftains, the producer of the record, etc., these vagabond songs never made it on the prior albums, but they continued to have a special place in the artist’s heart.

It’s vital, at this point in an artist’s career, that they achieve something in their industry with their top-of-the-line, creative brilliant creations that allows them to be immune to studio chieftains’ and rock critics’ complaints of such an album. It is a bold move to release such an album, and the artist will need this immunity, and a level of confidence in their ability that leads them to be less vulnerable to outside opinion.

Bob Dylan was at a point in his career where he could release whatever he produced, but he was not immune to the criticism from the critics. Bob Dylan chose to portray Self-Portrait as a statement of rebellion against the ‘voice of a generation’ moniker he had received, and he made various other statements to distance himself from the album, but I believe that these statements were defensive statements made to avoid revealing how much pain he felt as a result of the album’s reception. After reading through a number of Bob Dylan’s explanations for creating this album, or putting it together, I find myself empathizing with Bob Dylan. Who wouldn’t attempt to gain some distance from an artistic creation that was pummeled by “those in the know”?

I believe it was a mechanism he used to inform the world that their attempts to pour salt in the wound did not affect him, and that Self-Portrait was nothing more than a pre-emptive attack against those that would attack him for revealing his more vulnerable side. One could also theorize that the criticism hurt his ego in a way that caused him to rethink the project. To this point, Dylan had been told he was a genius, a ‘voice of a generation’, and as much as Dylan stated that he loathed that title, saying he was “just a guy that wrote songs”, it had to hurt a little to have those titles stripped from him, as opposed to him disavowing them. Therefore, he basically tried to give the project a deeper meaning that would redefine it, so he wouldn’t have to deal with the pain the criticism caused. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s my interpretation.

As opposed to the other three pastiche albums listed above, Self-Portrait was met with scathing, critical reviews. This may have been based on the fact that the critics didn’t think it was a very good album, and it may have based on the fact that the previous nine studio albums were labeled masterpieces by those same critics, and Self-Portrait was viewed as a fall from that lofty plateau. It also may be a result, and this is pure opinion, of the fact that most critics have never attempted to write a song, a novel, or do anything artistic. Their job is exclusive to criticizing those that do. Having said that, some critics have suggested that the rushed follow up of the album New Morning, four months later, was Bob Dylan’s attempt to get the world to forget that Self-Portrait ever happened.

Most apply the term ‘artist’ as a compliment to define the creator of artistic brilliance, but the term can be loosely applied to almost anyone that attempts to create art. There are poor artists and brilliant artists, in other words, but there is an almost universal mindset that those that attempt to create art share. When I write that I am an artist, therefore, no one should confuse the term artist with an egotistical leap.

As an artist that attempts to create art, and spends a great deal of time contemplating the art of creation, I may have a different interpretation of art than those that experience it from a critical perspective, or those for whom art is little more than background noise that requires top-of-the-line, creative brilliance to wake them from their hypnagogic slumber. An artist strives to understand another artist’s attempt at the point of inception, and they look beyond another artist’s top-of-the-line, creative brilliance to find it.

In an appearance on The Charlie Rose Show, Robbie Robertson of The Band, said: “Something happened to (Bob Dylan) in his youth where he just decided to write off all the rules.”

This quote gets to the core of this fascination for some of us. What happens in the life of a person that leads them to seek artistic nuance? We’ve all had bad things happen to us that form a foundation we spend the rest of our lives trying to recover from, or rebel against. We’ve all had great people in our lives that have encourage us to be even better, and those people help motivate us to do something on our own that defies the conventions and rules of our craft to do something different, but there is something different that happens in the formulation of an artist that goes onto create Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. What happened that set him apart? Was it a degree of pain that most don’t experience? Was he inordinately encouraged by those around him when he grew up, and what combination of events led to Bob Dylan developing such a unique perspective on music.

Those of us that have grown up in a world where Bob Dylan was always there, don’t understand how much he did in his time to shake everything up. The idea that Dylan changed the way music was written is almost a universally accepted fact. Did he change things more than Brian Wilson, The Beatles, or later Led Zeppelin? It would be an interesting argument, but in his own ways Dylan did change the landscape. What happened to these transformative artists that led them to not only believe that they had what it took to be transformative but to act it out in a bold and transformative manner, and can the answer to this question be found in their art?

As an artist that has spent a great deal of time discovering the top-of-the-line, creative genius of the fifty-six songs on Bringing it All Back HomeHighway 61 RevisitedBlonde on BlondeJohn Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline, I didn’t bother investigating Self-Portrait. It was considered a two-star album, and a generally accepted failure. As an artist that has had his more vulnerable pieces slammed by his critics (friends of mine), I understand Dylan’s attempt to make everyone forget his self-portrait. I equate this album to Dylan getting naked for us, on record, and revealing himself in a manner that when people basically pointed and giggled at his vulnerabilities for the effort, it hurt. At the time of its release, some have said that Dylan was one of the most powerful artists in the world, and when he displayed the courage to get vulnerable for us, we ridiculed him for it.

As many have said, Self-Portrait is not a starting point, and its appeal may be limited to those that have already thoroughly digested the top-of-the-line, creative genius of the fifty-six songs on the prior five albums, but to my mind Bob Dylan didn’t separate himself from those in that top-of-the-line, creative geniuses argument, until I heard Self-Portrait. My definitions are not your definitions, of course, but those five prior albums didn’t speak to me on another, artistic level in the manner Self-Portrait did. I had reached a point, in my listening enjoyment, to recognize that Dylan had to be in the argument, in other words, but I never knew him as an artist until I heard Self-Portrait, and the Another Self Portrait edition of the bootleg series.

Top Ten Songs from both albums, for those looking to sample the best singles from this album (in no particular order).

  • Living the Blues.
  • Take Me as I Am (Or Let me go)
  • Gotta Travel On
  • (Quinn The Eskimo) The Mighty Quinn
  • Alberta #1
  • Working on a Guru
  • In Search of Little Sadie
  • Time Passes Slowly #1
  • This Evening So Soon
  • Pretty Saro

Is Theodore Roosevelt the Batman?

“It takes more than that to kill the Batman!” is not an exact quote from Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt’s campaign speech in an auditorium, soon after being shot by a would be assassin, outside a Milwaukee hotel, but it is close. Many of the details of the Batman story are, in fact, so close to the details of the former president’s story that many claim it is the inspiration for the creation of the fictional character we now call The Dark Knight.

The most impressive of the correlations involves the death of a parent, and the post-traumatic growth that followed:

Bruce Wayne lost both of his parents before he was a teenager, and Teddy Roosevelt lost his father when he was nineteen. In H.W. Brands T.R.: The Last Romantic, Brands alludes to the fact that most young men, on the precipice of becoming adults, deify their father. If a father dies premature, as in the case of Theodore Roosevelt Sr., this deification can become locked in stone for some young men. The contrast being that no matter how great a father is, if he lives throughout their son’s maturation, that son is prone to find some weaknesses in his father’s lessons, advice, and in the man’s general arguments. This progression doesn’t necessarily say anything about either party, but it’s a natural evolution based on the experiences the young man has and some elements of rebellion. Roosevelt was not afforded such natural, mature comparisons, and that coupled with his grieving and sorrow, may have resulted in the deification of his father without objectivity.

Courtesy of Enhanced Buzz

Courtesy of Enhanced Buzz

As a result, both Teddy Roosevelt and Bruce Wayne, would spend much of their trying to live up to the deified images they had of their fathers. Yet, if one were to compare the bios of these men, and their fathers, it could be said that they more than surpassed the actual accomplishments of their fathers.

The point is not the line-by-line comparisons, of course, but the post-traumatic mindsets that resulted from them, and it could be said that the fictional Wayne character might never have become Batman were it not for the death of a father, and Roosevelt might never have become the president were it not for the idealized images he had of a man he spent his entire life pursuing, and never catching … in his mind of course.

This post-traumatic angle of the Teddy Roosevelt story, going so far beyond surviving a tragedy, to thrive as a result of it, was so engaging to one writer, a Paul Levitz (who spent forty-two years writing for DC Comics), that he believed he could use it as a fundamental, driving force for his characters in a manner that would connect to his readers.

The following was said by Theodore Roosevelt Jr., but all fans of The Dark Knight Trilogy, and Batman fans in general, could imagine Bruce Wayne saying it to his butler, Arthur, in the many shared chunks of dialogue devoted to discussions of Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father.

“My father, Theodore Roosevelt, was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness.”

Theodore Roosevelt Sr. also taught Teddy that the best way to overcome the debilitating childhood illnesses that kept the young man indoors most of the time, and the best way to overcome bullies, was to strengthen his way through it.

“You have the mind but you have not the body,” Theodore Roosevelt Sr. to Theodore Jr.  “You must make your body.” 

Theodore Roosevelt Sr., purchased a home gym for his son, and hired a boxing coach to teach the son how to fight, and Teddy Roosevelt would later use all of that to achieve a runner-up spot in a Harvard boxing tournament.

Fans of The Dark Knight Trilogy could say that stark similarities exist between that father-to-son advice, and the resultant training scenes, in the first installment of the trilogy Batman Begins. The difference being that similar dialogue was said by the Ras al Guhl character, played by actor Liam Neeson, as opposed to Bruce Wayne’s father. *Side note: Jonathon Nolan, brother of The Dark Knight creator Christopher Nolan, and co-writer of the other two installments of The Dark Knight movies, states that the Ras al Guhl character, in the Batman Begins installment, was based on Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and the bin Laden crusade to “heal the world” through terror.

It has been noted in many places that Christopher Nolan, in particular, based his The Dark Knight version of the Batman, in part, on Teddy Roosevelt. Also, as noted below, he thought that the entire Batman story was derived from Roosevelt’s biography. It was also noted, in this article, that both Nolan brothers suggested that the best way for actor Christian Bale to learn more about the Dark Knight character they drew up, was to read Edmund Morris’ biography of Theodore Roosevelt The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt before they began shooting the first installment of The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Christopher Nolan Noted:

“Batman’s not as unique as people think. (Co-creator of Batman) Bob Kane’s Gotham is New York and Batman has a direct historical precedent in Theodore Roosevelt. His father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., had been one of the city’s preeminent philanthropists — having found and funded the New York City Children’s Aid Society, the Met, and the American Museum of Natural History, to name a few of his charitable works — and died in a way (Author Edmund) Morris contends traumatized his son: sudden, in nature, from a cancer whose existence he’d hidden, and mere hours before Theodore returned from Harvard. In 1884, his beloved mother and wife died in the same house, on the same day. A bereft Roosevelt set out for the Dakota Territory soon thereafter. He spent his time in the hinterlands learning how to be a proper police, then applied those lessons when he became president of the New York City Police Commissioners in 1895. Like Batman, Roosevelt employed bleeding-edge technology into his crime-fighting: under his watch, telephones were installed in precincts, bicycles were deployed on beats, and various criminal identification systems, like Bertillonage, were monkeyed about with.”

Those who are familiar with the general story of the Batman will also note the importance the role of police commissioner played in the stories of the two. Teddy Roosevelt was a police commissioner that didn’t just vow to clean up the city, he went undercover, as a policeman, to see to it that his officers were doing their job in a thorough and honest manner. Bruce Wayne went more literal in his undercover status to work hand in hand with Commissioner James Gordon to clean up the city.

Both men also considered it vital to their existence to have a self-appointed successor to carry on the legacy, and both were let down by that successor. Bruce Wayne was let down by Harvey Dent, and Roosevelt felt he was let down by his chosen successor, President William Howard Taft.

Soon after volunteering to not seek reelection for president that would have led to him being in office for eleven years, as a result of the assassination of his predecessor, Roosevelt would learn that his chosen successor, Taft, did more than break a number of promises that he made to Roosevelt. Taft, according to Roosevelt, broke a number of campaign pledges he made to the American people, pledges that were in line with many of Roosevelt’s progressive policies. Taft replaced much of Roosevelt’s cabinet, after promising that he would not do so. Taft replaced key ambassadors with people that Roosevelt informed Taft he hated, and Taft ended up crediting his electoral victory for president to his brother, not Roosevelt, the man who had mentored him for the position.

The stories of Roosevelt’s unhappiness with Taft would culminate in Roosevelt breaking his pledge not to run for president again, running against his Taft in Taft’s attempt to be re-elected, in the Republican primary, and then in a third-party of progressives, that called themselves the Bull Moose Party, in the general election.

On that election trail, Roosevelt would declare that Taft was “disloyal” and a “Great pink porpoise of a man”. The latter may have been an insult directed at the much talked about weight of the man, but the former, “disloyal” part of the characterization, could be interpreted as Roosevelt saying that Taft, his successor, was two-faced. Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne’s chosen successor became the arch-villain Two-Face.

Roosevelt may never have donned the tights, simple cloth, polyester, sculpted latex, rubber, neoprene skin, fiberglass, nylon, and metallic mesh built into it, that the various men that would play the role of Batman would wear, but in a Milwaukee speech that he would deliver, with a would be assassin’s bullet still lodged fresh in his fourth right rib, on an upward path to his heart, Teddy Roosevelt included the line:

“It takes more than that to kill a bull moose.”

Bull Moose, Batman, the phonetics are close, but how close are they? Is it possible that co-creator Bob Kane considered making the bat man, a bull moose, to inexorably link the two and leave no mistake to the origin of Batman, or were the logistics of having a man become a bull moose too untenable even for a comic strip? Or, is this an informal fallacy, equivalent to the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, in which a shooter fires a number of shots into a barn and circles a target around the largest cluster of shots after the fact? Are there perceived patterns, in other words, that focus on the similarities and ignore the differences? Was the model for the creation of the Batman more personal to Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and we’ve determined those similarities mirror Roosevelt’s in so many ways that we’ve determined that he was the model?

Some of the links made here, and elsewhere, are somewhat specious, but the quotes from those germane in the various versions of the story, and the coincidences are so great that one has to think that if The Joker had performed enough research on Theodore Roosevelt Jr., he may have found the answer to the question that plagued him: “Who is the real bat man?”

Camille Paglia: The Radical Libertarian

Reading through Camille Paglia’s criticisms of the culture, one cannot help but think that most other social critics of our generation either feed a confirmation bias or speak about things for which most of us have no interest. As evidence of their lack of confidence, they scratch and claw their way through the competition to achieve an unprecedented depth in the sewer. On those occasions when Ms. Paglia does use overly provocative words, she backs it up with objectivity and a display of knowledge that is so vast that the adjective “informed” seems incomplete.

Camille Paglia is not a conservative, or liberal, and her politics have been described as “radical libertarian”, but she is a life-long Democrat. The “difficult to define” nature of her politics is something that most partisans pine for, but few of these “all over the map” thinkers could finish one paragraph of Camille Paglia’s thoughts without acknowledging that there is a comparative consistency to the overview of their thinking that could only be called limited to a certain ideology. Most diverse thinkers would also shrink at the evidence of inconsistencies in their beliefs system that suggests that they’ve either never been challenged, or that they’ve never truly given opposing views any consideration. From what I’ve read of Ms. Paglia’s work, when she is confronted by inconsistencies she confronts them head-on, and in a manner that contains no obfuscation or spin.

She is in favor of pornography, abortion, prostitution, drug-use, and assisted suicide. She is a proud lesbian, an atheist that respects religion, and a self-described dissident feminist, or as some feminist critics have called her an “anti-feminist feminist”.

1412025458115_Image_galleryImage_Mandatory_Credit_Photo_byIf you have strong views on a specific topic, she’ll probably offend you in some manner, but her methodology does not consist of the quick to the throat one-liners that one has come expect from a provocateur. Those that worship at the altar of provocateurs may not even recognize what Camille’s methodology for what it is, as her criticisms dig deep and leave a lasting wound.

The average and ubiquitous provocateur will say something along the line of: “I don’t want some guy (Ted Cruz) that purportedly memorized the constitution at twelve years-old to be my president. If I would’ve been in his grade, at twelve years old, I would’ve put my knee into his throat until he changed … I want the guy I vote for to smoke pot, have premarital and post-marital affairs … and yes … I’m talking about in the White House, and I want my guy to snort coke off their partner’s backside. I want my politician to be a real man or woman that has lived a real life.”

Those of us that worship at the altar of provocateurs are temporarily put in a jam by such comments, because they’re directed at “our guys”, but it’s not that, and we find ourselves in a sand hole trying to defend our disinterest. It’s that that type of ridicule is lacking in ingenuity and depth, and originality. It’s something George Carlin was saying forty years ago, it’s Lenny Bruce, it’s retread. Those of us that pine for something different want that cutting-the-edge-of-the-throat type of originality from our social critics that is informed and appears to have no influence, and we also want the kind of critiques that have staying power in the manner Camille Paglia’s criticism does:

“(Ted) Cruz gives me the willies. The guy is a fanatic! He’s very smart, clever and strategic, and he has a fine education from Princeton, so people have to watch out for him. But I think he is self-absorbed and narcissistic to a maniacal degree. I will never forgive him for his insulting arrogance to Dianne Feinstein when the Judiciary Committee was debating gun control two years ago. There’s a two-minute clip on YouTube which I urge people to look at it. Cruz is smirkily condescending and ultimately juvenile. He peppers Feinstein with a long list of rat-a-tat questions, as if he’s playing Perry Mason grilling a witness on the stand. He was trying to embarrass her but only embarrassed himself. A president must be a statesman, not a smart-alecky horse’s ass.”

There is no substance to the insight of most provocateurs. Listen to the most caustic crowd long enough, usually found on satellite radio, or on podcasts, and you’ll hear that their analysis of even the most important subjects devolve to 5th grade potty humor and fart jokes. Provocative jokes like those have their place, but they don’t have the kind of staying power that a Camille Paglia statement does, as her most recent interview with, part II, and part III proves.

On Bill Clinton:

“Bill Clinton was a serial abuser of working-class women –he had exploited that power differential even in Arkansas. And then in the case of Monica Lewinsky– I mean, the failure on the part of (iconic feminist leader) Gloria Steinem and company to protect her was an absolute disgrace in feminist history! What bigger power differential could there be than between the president of the United States and this poor innocent girl? Not only an intern but clearly a girl who had a kind of pleading, open look to her–somebody who was looking for a father figure.

“I was enraged! My publicly stated opinion at the time was that I don’t care what public figures do in their private life. It’s a very sophisticated style among the French, and generally in Europe, where the heads of state tend to have mistresses on the side. So what? That doesn’t bother me at all! But the point is, they are sophisticated affairs that the European politicians have, while the Clinton episode was a disgrace.”

Camille preceded this observation with a slight correlation between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton:

“Right from the start, when the Bill Cosby scandal surfaced, I knew it was not going to bode well for Hillary’s campaign, because young women today have a much lower threshold for tolerance of these matters. The horrible truth is that the feminist establishment in the U.S., led by Gloria Steinem, did in fact apply a double standard to Bill Clinton’s behavior because he was a Democrat. The Democrat president and administration supported abortion rights, and therefore it didn’t matter what his personal behavior was.

“But we’re living in a different time right now, and young women have absolutely no memory of Bill Clinton. It’s like ancient history for them; there’s no reservoir of accumulated good will.” Interviewer David Daley: “A cigar and the intern is certainly the opposite of sophisticated.”

“Absolutely! It was frat house stuff! And Monica got nothing out of it. Bill Clinton used her. Hillary was away or inattentive, and he used Monica in the White House–and in the suite of the Oval Office, of all places. He couldn’t have taken her on some fancy trip? She never got the perks of being a mistress; she was there solely to service him. And her life was completely destroyed by the publicity that followed. The Clinton’s are responsible for the destruction of Monica Lewinsky! They probably hoped that she would just go on and have a job, get married, have children, and disappear, but instead she’s like this walking ghoul.” Interviewer David Daley: “Fifteen years later, that’s still the sad role left for her to play.”

“Yes, it’s like something out of “Wuthering Heights” or “Great Expectations”–some Victorian novel, where a woman turns into this mourning widow who mopes on and on over a man who abused or abandoned her. Hillary has a lot to answer for, because she took an antagonistic and demeaning position toward her husband’s accusers. So it’s hard for me to understand how the generation of Lena Dunham would or could tolerate the actual facts of Hillary’s history.” Interviewer David Daley: “So have the times and standards changed enough that Clinton would be seen as Cosby, if he was president today.”

“Oh, yes! There’s absolutely no doubt, especially in this age of instant social media. In most of these cases, like the Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby stories, there’s been a complete neglect of psychology. We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology.  No one has any feeling for human motivation. No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized–“Don’t ask any questions!” “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written–in fiction or plays or movies.Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.

“So I say there is a big parallel between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton–aside from their initials! Young feminists need to understand that this abusive behavior by powerful men signifies their sense that female power is much bigger than they are! These two people, Clinton and Cosby, are emotionally infantile–they’re engaged in a war with female power. It has something to do with their early sense of being smothered by female power–and this pathetic, abusive and criminal behavior is the result of their sense of inadequacy.

“Now, in order to understand that, people would have to read my first book, “Sexual Personae”–which of course is far too complex for the ordinary feminist or academic mind! It’s too complex because it requires a sense of the ambivalence of human life. Everything is not black and white, for heaven’s sake! We are formed by all kinds of strange or vague memories from childhood. That kind of understanding is needed to see that Cosby was involved in a symbiotic, push-pull thing with his wife, where he went out and did these awful things to assert his own independence. But for that, he required the women to be inert. He needed them to be dead! Cosby is actually a necrophiliac–a style that was popular in the late Victorian period in the nineteenth-century.

“It’s hard to believe now, but you had men digging up corpses from graveyards, stealing the bodies, hiding them under their beds, and then having sex with them. So that’s exactly what’s happening here: to give a woman a drug, to make her inert, to make her dead is the man saying that I need her to be dead for me to function. She’s too powerful for me as a living woman. And this is what is also going on in those barbaric fraternity orgies, where women are sexually assaulted while lying unconscious. And women don’t understand this! They have no idea why any men would find it arousing to have sex with a young woman who’s passed out at a fraternity house. But it’s necrophilia–this fear and envy of a woman’s power.

“And it’s the same thing with Bill Clinton: to find the answer, you have to look at his relationship to his flamboyant mother. He felt smothered by her in some way. But let’s be clear–I’m not trying to blame the mother!  What I’m saying is that male sexuality is extremely complicated, and the formation of male identity is very tentative and sensitive–but feminist rhetoric doesn’t allow for it. This is why women are having so much trouble dealing with men in the feminist era.  They don’t understand men, and they demonize men. They accord to men far more power than men actually have in sex. Women control the sexual world in ways that most feminists simply don’t understand.

“My explanation is that second-wave feminism dispensed with motherhood. The ideal woman was the career woman–and I do support that. To me, the mission of feminism is to remove all barriers to women’s advancement in the social and political realm–to give women equal opportunities with men. However, what I kept saying in “Sexual Personae” is that equality in the workplace is not going to solve the problems between men and women which are occurring in the private, emotional realm, where every man is subordinate to women, because he emerged as a tiny helpless thing from a woman’s body. Professional women today don’t want to think about this or deal with it.

“The erasure of motherhood from feminist rhetoric has led us to this current politicization of sex talk, which doesn’t allow women to recognize their immense power vis-à-vis men. When motherhood was more at the center of culture, you had mothers who understood the fragility of boys and the boy’s need for nurturance and for confidence to overcome his weaknesses. The old-style country women–the Italian matriarchs and Jewish mothers–they all understood the fragility of men. The mothers ruled their own world and didn’t take men that seriously. They understood how to nurture men and encourage them to be strong–whereas current feminism simply doesn’t perceive the power of women vis-a-vis men.  But when you talk like this with most men, it really resonates with them, and they say “Yes, yes! That’s it!”

“Currently, feminists lack sympathy and compassion for men and for the difficulties that men face in the formation of their identities. I’m not talking in terms of the men’s rights movement, which got infected by p.c.  The heterosexual professional woman, emerging with her shiny Ivy League degree, wants to communicate with her husband exactly the way she communicates with her friends–as in “Sex and the City.” That show really caught the animated way that women actually talk with each other.  But that’s not a style that straight men can do!  Gay men can do it, sure–but not straight men!  Guess what–women are different than men! When will feminism wake up to this basic reality? Women relate differently to each other than they do to men. And straight men do not have the same communication skills or values as women–their brains are different!”

On Atheists that sneer at Religion:

“I regard (those that sneer at religion) as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.”  It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way.  Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before. But the point is that I felt it was perfectly legitimate for me to do that because of my great respect for religion in general–from the iconography to the sacred architecture and so forth. I was arguing that religion should be put at the center of any kind of multicultural curriculum.

“I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.

“The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.

“But yes, the sneering is ridiculous!  Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art–and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness.  It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction–you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared!  The Asian religions vanished–and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage.

“There are no truly major stars left, and I don’t think there’s much profound work being done in pop culture right now.  Young people have nothing to enlighten them, which is why they’re clinging so much to politicized concepts, which give them a sense of meaning and direction.

“But this sneering thing!  I despise snark.  Snark is a disease that started with David Letterman and jumped to Jon Stewart and has proliferated since. I think it’s horrible for young people!   And this kind of snark atheism–let’s just invent that term right now–is stupid, and people who act like that are stupid. Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” was a travesty. He sold that book on the basis of the brilliant chapter titles. If he had actually done the research and the work, where each chapter had the substance of those wonderful chapter titles, then that would have been a permanent book. Instead, he sold the book and then didn’t write one–he talked it. It was an appalling performance, demonstrating that that man was an absolute fraud to be talking about religion.  He appears to have done very little scholarly study.  Hitchens didn’t even know Judeo-Christianity well, much less the other world religions.  He had that glib Oxbridge debater style in person, but you’re remembered by your written work, and Hitchens’ written work was weak and won’t last.

“Dawkins also seems to be an obsessive on some sort of personal vendetta, and again, he’s someone who has never taken the time to do the necessary research into religion. Now my entire career has been based on the pre-Christian religions.  My first book, “Sexual Personae,” was about the pagan cults that still influence us, and it began with the earliest religious artifacts, like the Venus of Willendorf in 35,000 B.C. In the last few years, I’ve been studying Native American culture, in particular the Paleo-Indian period at the close of the Ice Age.  In the early 1990s, when I first arrived on the scene, I got several letters from Native Americans saying my view of religion, women, and sexuality resembled the traditional Native American view. I’m not surprised, because my orientation is so fixed in the pre-Christian era.”

On Jon Stewart, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the liberal media:

“I think Stewart’s show demonstrated the decline and vacuity of contemporary comedy. I cannot stand that smug, snarky, superior tone. I hated the fact that young people were getting their news through that filter of sophomoric snark.  Comedy, to me, is one of the major modern genres, and the big influences on my generation were Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. Then Joan Rivers had an enormous impact on me–she’s one of my major role models.  It’s the old caustic, confrontational style of Jewish comedy. It was Jewish comedians who turned stand-up from the old gag-meister shtick of vaudeville into a biting analysis of current social issues, and they really pushed the envelope. Lenny Bruce used stand-up to produce gasps and silence from the audience. And that’s my standard–a comedy of personal risk.  And by that standard, I’m sorry, but Jon Stewart is not a major figure. He’s certainly a highly successful T.V. personality, but I think he has debased political discourse. I find nothing incisive in his work. As for his influence, if he helped produce the hackneyed polarization of moral liberals versus evil conservatives, then he’s partly at fault for the political stalemate in the United States.

“I don’t demonize Fox News. At what point will liberals wake up to realize the stranglehold that they had on the media for so long? They controlled the major newspapers and weekly newsmagazines and T.V. networks. It’s no coincidence that all of the great liberal forums have been slowly fading. They once had such incredible power. Since the rise of the Web, the nightly network newscasts have become peripheral, and the New York Times and the Washington Post have been slowly fading and are struggling to survive.

“Historically, talk radio arose via Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s precisely because of this stranglehold by liberal discourse. For heaven’s sake, I was a Democrat who had just voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1988 primary, but I had to fight like mad in the early 1990s to get my views heard. The resistance of liberals in the media to new ideas was enormous. Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers.  It’s so simplistic!

“Now let me give you a recent example of the persisting insularity of liberal thought in the media. When the first secret Planned Parenthood video was released in mid-July, anyone who looks only at liberal media was kept totally in the dark about it, even after the second video was released.  But the videos were being run nonstop all over conservative talk shows on radio and television.  It was a huge and disturbing story, but there was total silence in the liberal media.  That kind of censorship was shockingly unprofessional.  The liberal major media were trying to bury the story by ignoring it.  Now I am a former member of Planned Parenthood and a strong supporter of unconstrained reproductive rights.  But I was horrified and disgusted by those videos and immediately felt there were serious breaches of medical ethics in the conduct of Planned Parenthood officials.  But here’s my point:  it is everyone’s obligation, whatever your political views, to look at both liberal and conservative news sources every single day.  You need a full range of viewpoints to understand what is going on in the world.”

The Future of Sci-Fi Tropes and Dystopic Hopes

Roads will still exist in the future, but if the “figurative schemes of thought” of the architectural images of futuristic sci-fi movies are to be believed, they will be miles above the ground. These future sci-fi roads will sprout from an enormous, corporate monolith in the manner of an octopus. The import of this sci-fi trope is that we will no longer have cars in the incarnation we now know. These cars do not even require a runway, they lift off the ground, which begs the question why will we need roads? The unspoken answer is that while roads may no longer be constructed for human travel, they are necessary to provide a foundation of stability for the evil, corporate structure.

The corporation, in question, is often an intangible, ominous main character in the story, with an ominous name. This begs the question why would the founder choose a name for his creation that potential clients might associate with evil? Answer: It is implied that the corporation did not originate from human idea. This corporation, is, was, and always will be, springing to life from some sort of primordial, evil ooze. If the corporation did originate from a they –those humans who sat on its corporate boards, and worked in its departments, and divisions– it evolved into a self-serving “It” that no longer has a need for employees, much less customers, or any actual goods and services.

TMLandThe few humans still involved in the corporation are made all the more faceless by the fact that the corporation requires them to be in full battle gear even while tasked with the most mundane chores, such as inputting data into a computer, and their prime directive (much like the drone bee) is to chase and/or kill anyone that dares to question It. And the It (as forecast by those that know) will find a way to progress into our neighborhoods, put us in pods –as opposed to suburban housing– take away our need for Puggles, and parakeets, and drain us of every vestige of humanity, until It can achieve an end game.

This end game often gets muddled in a loose group of references, but most sci-fi fans don’t require a great deal of detail regarding It’s evil plan. (This viewer also thinks the specifics of the corporation’s evil plan end up on the cutting room floor with a “too preachy” note on it from the monolithic, evil production, Hollywood chieftains.) The average sci-fi fan cares more about chase scenes anyway, the battle scenes, the CGI, and how the movies’ gorgeous heroes will overcome the final obstacle, the manifestation of It (often a monster that drools). The details of this plan would be redundant anyway, for as all sci-fi fans know the sole purpose of all corporations is to end humanity as we know it, so the corporation can franchise out to a chain that will exist for the sole purpose of being evil and ending humanity as we know it, unless our unassuming, swashbuckling, and gorgeous heroes can put a stop It.

The website The Millions states that the word trope has taken on a different incarnation through the years:

“‘Various scholars throughout history … have argued that a great deal of our conceptual experience, even the foundation of human consciousness, is based on figurative schemes of thought.’ The writer also notes that Tropes (in the sense of figures of speech) do not just provide a way for us to talk about how we think, reason, and imagine, they are also constitutive of our experience.’” Modern language has it that the word trope has come to mean: “a common or overused theme or device: cliché.”

The origin of the trope for the octopus road coming out of the monolith, corporate structure may have occurred long before The Jetsons, but most of us (of a certain age) saw it displayed there first. To our minds, therefore, when sci-fi movie makers feel compelled to add the octopus road, they are either paying some sort of tangential homage to The Jetsons, or they are attempting to appeal to our “figurative schemes of thought that are constitutive of our experience” of what the future will look like by way of The Jetsons, or the sci-fi novels and comic books that preceded it.

The unspoken reason behind these miles high roads, is based on the idea that we’ll run out of the space necessary for more traditional, ground bound roads. For some reason, however, pedestrians keep falling off these roads that are created miles above the terrestrial plain. We have roads and walkways that were constructed high off the ground, in the present, but they’re often enclosed, or they have substantial guardrails to prevent people from falling. There is no apparent need for guardrails in our shared “figurative schemes of thought” of the future.

If guardrails become passé in the future, one has to wonder how the original architect of the evil monolith (often composed of shiny crystal) will manage to avoid federal and state zoning codes that governments throw at every project prior to construction. If this architect is crafty enough to evade government intervention, or he has enough money to bribe government officials, one has to imagine that he will see financial ruin by way of personal injury lawyers looking to cash in on the mental duress their clients experience when thinking of falling from these roads, and from those families of the victims who do fall.

If this architect manages to develop some patented safety measures that thwart most of the personal injury lawsuits that hit him, and he manages to avoid getting bogged down in all of the bureaucratic red tape from government officials –expressing alarm for public safety with one hand pointing at the inherent danger and taking payoffs for their silence with the other– this architect will probably go broke as a result of litigation brought by patent lawyers scouring the finer details of the architect’s patent to help the lawyer’s clients siphon as much cash off the original architect as possible, until no future architects, seeking to create evil, corporate monoliths will follow the original architect into this minefield.

The future, as cynical, non-sci-fi fans see it, is not one of crystal cities, miles high roads, and constant innovation, but of government-mandated open spaces and wide open plains as far as the eye can see. One has to guess with the current path we’re on –of government officials and lawyers destroying creators’ plans and finances– that our current course dictates that the future will not be one of architectural brilliance and innovation, unless an ingenious mind comes along and discovers a way to bubble wrap the world and have gelatinous bubble guns at every portal to protect anyone from ever being harmed again.

Until that day arrives, a more realistic dystopian, sci-fi movie would depict our future being one of wide open plains and prairies that mirror Kansas and Nebraska where a screaming fall of a couple miles before one makes contact with terra firma –from an octopus roads that sprouts from a monolithic corporation– becomes nothing more than a trip over a piece of loose soil. This movie would not provide us the stunning visuals our “figurative schemes of thought” have come to expect from big budget sci-fi movies that project our future, of course, but with the course we’re now on it would be a lot more realistic.

It’s the Garry Shandling Blog

“90% of success is showing up.” –Woody Allen.

“Every great thing you do in life will result from failures, both large and small.” Garry Shandling might have never used those exact words to sum up his unusual, successful career, but those of us on the outside looking in, believe his career may be one of the best examples of that idea. The idea may be an exaggeration of a truth, but in the case of Garry Shandling it suggests that regardless how often a person fails, if they show up to do it all over again, a sweet spot may open up that no one, least of all the person in question, would’ve imagined possible.

No one would look at the physical stature or appearance of Garry Shandling and think, leading man. If central casting were to draw up a stereotypical leading man for roles in TV and the movies, they might use Garry Shandling as a model … to contrast the characteristics they seek. No one, it appears, that listened to Garry Shandling’s early standup routines thought, “This man needs to have his own sitcom.” If one were to compose a list of 100 comedians most likely to succeed beyond the stage, the young Shandling may not have made many lists, unless he decided to pursue his career as a sitcom writer. The difference between Shandling and those “more talented” comedians he succeeded beyond, according to Shandling, was that he continued to show up.

He began his career in comedy, as a writer on the sitcoms Sanford and SonWelcome Back Kotter, and The Harvey Corman Show. He left that world of consistent paychecks behind, to enter into the far less stable world of standup comedy. The problem with that decision, according to those that have documented Shandling’s career, is that he wasn’t a good standup comedian. The owner of The Comedy Store, Mitzy Shore, went so far as to refuse to put Shandling on, because she didn’t think he was funny. One of the funniest comedic actors of his generation wasn’t even able to make it on stage, because of his relative lack of talent. The lucky break, if one wants to call it that, occurred for Shandling when the other “talented” comedians on The Comedy Store’s roster, decided to strike. That strike occurred as a result of Ms. Shore’s decision not to pay her comedians. Shandling made the very unpopular decision to cross that union line, and in total desperation for a body to put on the stage, Shore decided to put him on.

Gary Shandling might even admit that the difference between Garry Shandling and the other comedians that didn’t succeed in that space was that he was willing to continue to get on the stage night after night, regardless the circumstances, the pay, or lack thereof. He was willing to face the abuse and hectoring of an audience that must have reached a point where they agreed with everything, those in the know said about him.

We can only guess that while those that cared about him admired his courage and perseverance, they probably sat him down, at one point, and told him to go back to doing what he did best, writing for sitcoms.

No one gave Garry Shandling any reason to believe in his abilities as a performer, in other words, but he continued to show up and hone his act, until a talent scout from The Tonight Show watched him for a number of nights and decided that he had the chops to make an appearance on a show that was then considered the Holy Grail for all comedians. After a number of these spots, Shandling began guest hosting for Johnny Carson for years, and they began to consider him a suitable successor for Johnny’s seat, should Johnny ever decide to retire.

Was Shandling ever as funny as Jay Leno or Jerry Seinfeld, or the many other “more talented” comedians of his era that didn’t succeed? It appears that his material was top shelf, but those same people considered his presentation so poor that they didn’t foresee him developing a career in the field.

He kept showing up. He kept enduring the years of bad nights, presumed harassment and humiliation, and the feelings of failure that had to have resulted from bombing so often that he achieved levels of success in TV and the movies that were unprecedented among most of his peers.

The first step, Shandling instructs, is to show up so often that you get over your stage fright. The import of this advice is that tips and advice may ease the psychological trauma a little, but nothing compares to just doing it so often that the fear becomes more manageable. Writing quality material before you take to the stage helps, of course, but nothing helps more than just doing it … often.

The next step is to work your material before an audience and tweak it based on their reactions. Some have said that this part of the job is never ending, but at some point a routine does develop. It’s implied throughout this part of the process that a comedian has to have thick skin for those in the audience that help you shape material.

Thick skin, to my mind, is an understatement. How about a person has to have rhinoceros skin, or the type of skin necessary to evolve from a sane, somewhat humorous individual to someone that is asking around 450 paying customers a night (the seating capacity of The Comedy Store) three-to-four times a week what they think. The first question that comes to mind is how many paying customers in an audience are in such situations? How many people would pay to see someone perform raw, untested material, and how many people will let a comedian know that they’re no better than them, and that the comedian should be sitting next to them in the audience? Unless it’s some sort of amateur night, most people will sit with folded arms, wondering why the owner decided to put some newbie on stage on their night out. These people enjoy the schadenfreude of watching another person squirm. This thick skin requires that the aspiring comedian move past such people, and the consistent feelings of failure, the heckling, and the excruciating nights where you’re left alone to adjust your material for the next night of more of the same.

The night after a person bombs, the natural inclination of most sane individuals might be to adjust the material in such a way that it sounds like the exact opposite of the night before. The inclination may be to list those jokes under the “rejected” heading. The inclination may be to consider a scorched earth policy on that material. It’s often somewhere in between, say successful comedians. The successful comedian has to believe in the material, they say, and it may require nothing more than some tweaking of the language. They might want to consider adding something here, deleting something there, changing the point of emphasis, or the point of perspective. Then, just when a comedian reaches a point where they’re comfortable with their material, they’ll want to do a complete overhaul that puts them in an uncomfortable place where they’re nervous and agitated and learning from the audience, because once a comedian becomes comfortable they reach a point that no comedian wants to reach.

A comedian is no longer striving when they’re comfortable, and they’re no longer developing fresh, new material that makes the audience so uncomfortable that they’re laughing with you, as opposed to at you. The space all comedians search for exists somewhere between artistic purity and honesty, a sweet spot that can some over a decade to find.

This struggle, according to Garry Shandling, didn’t involve the material. He may have needed years to shape the material, but the basic task of writing jokes always came easy to him. The presentation, on the other hand, had always been lacking to some degree, and the fact that he kept showing up to put himself in the uncomfortable position of exposing this weakness before others bore fruit in the form of an insecure, neurotic character that was insecure about his presentation skills.

What Shandling did, in short, was combine his greatest strength, and his greatest weakness to form a pure, honest character that he would go onto hone over the course of a decade in the form of two television shows: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show. These shows featured a character that knew how to write material but were forever worried about his presentationThese shows resulted in nineteen Emmy nominations, numerous American Comedy Awards, and a spot in the hearts of many standups that regard him as one of the most influential comedic actors of all time.

Garry Shandling’s story is, in essence, the exact opposite of all those sad, depressing “could’ve been, should’ve” stories of individuals that were on the cusp of stardom but didn’t make it … for a variety of reasons. His is the tale of a “couldn’t have been, shouldn’t have been” character that showed up so often, and worked so hard that he was … for a variety of reasons. His unlikely story should remain an inspiration for those marginal talents, that are informed that they are marginal talents, that there may be a sweet spot for you too, if you are willing to work your tail off and show up so often to succeed. It’s your job to find it and hone it.

The one cliché in the Garry Shandling bio is the “no one believed in my talent as much as I did” angle that has been put forth by so many, but in Garry Shandling’s case, it appears to be the unvarnished truth. The non-believers may have been witness to some killer material, but they may have believed that a more skilled, more charismatic presenter would better serve that material. His is the story of an individual of marginal talents that believed in himself beyond reason.

To those that have never heard of Garry Shandling, or believe that I am overselling the insecure, neurotic characteristics of a man that has succeeded in life to the degree he has, I challenge you to watch the interview Ricky Gervais did with him in 2010. The purpose of this interview, for Ricky Gervais, was to deify Shandling as a comedic luminary, and to pay homage to Shandling as a personal influence. Shandling, however, appears as insecure and unsure of himself in this interview as he may have been as an upstart comedian in 1978. It’s uncomfortable to watch in parts, and in other parts, it appears almost confrontational. Even the most informed viewer –that knows the Shandling schtick, and knows that some of it is schtick– can’t help but think that at least some of what they’re watching is an exposé of a man that is uncomfortable in his own skin.

The idea that Shandling has lost whatever it was he once had crosses the viewer’s mind, as does the idea that he might be too old, or that he’s been out of the game so long that he can’t handle this type of interview anymore. There are parts of the interview when the viewer begins to feel so sorry for Shandling, and we want someone to step in and put an end to Shandling’s pain. Those informed viewers that know the Shandling story know that he never had it, in the manner, some define the elusory “it”, but that doesn’t stop the intrigued from watching something that is almost unwatchable. A description that Garry Shandling, himself, might admit is a beautiful encapsulation of just about everything he did throughout his unusual career.


The Silly and the Sad

 The Sad!

On a scale of one to ten, how bad do you think your situation was?

“A fifteen!” will likely be the answer.  If that’s not the exact number they choose, we can be sure that whatever number they choose will be outside the ‘one to ten’ parameters we set up in our question.

IndianJDentRes_2012_23_5_686_107411_u1We understand the overwhelming need some have to stray from the parameters, to help us understand that the situation they just experienced was of such an unprecedented magnitude that placing it in normal human parameters will not do it justice.  By doing it so often, however, we not only render the parameters meaningless but the unnecessarily extreme answers as well.  We’ve arrived at a point where if someone does remain within the parameters and answers with a ten, we may walk away with the “nothing to see here” mindset that occurs when witnesses of a tragedy realize that the last bloody body was just removed.

Further details may eventually reveal the person’s tragedy to be of an unprecedented magnitude, but a parameter abiding answer just feels so anticlimactic in lieu of the advancements we’ve made in this assessment conversation that we can’t help but think that it does a disservice to their tragedy to remain within parameters.  If these tragedy survivors stubbornly insist on remaining within the parameters, after repeated warnings, we may begin to wonder if they are of foreign descent, and thus unfamiliar with the advancements we’ve made, or if their unusual desire to stay within the parameters suggests that they might on the spectrum.

For those that can’t pound a point home, without straying from the parameters, an acceptable alternative can be found in an excessive use of syllables.  The rules of syllabication are often used to punctuate comedic points, but they can also be used to pound ultra-serious points home in a manner few other answers can.  How bad do you think that situation was?  “A seven-point-seven!”  What?  “I’m telling you, ‘My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.’”

One reason those that stray from parameters do so, may have something to do with a subconscious realization that single syllable numbers like eight, nine, and ten don’t have the emotional impact that a multi-syllabic numbers will.  This coupled with the fact that a multi-syllabic seven is less than those numbers, prompts some people to go outside the parameter of the question searching for their illustrative needs.  Yet, most of us have reached a point where these answers have become so common that their intended syllabic resonance has faded.  It’s become a cliché at this point, and if you’re looking for sympathetic impact clichés are to be avoided at all cost.

The decimal point not only allows its user to almost triple their syllabic output, but it may also provide your assessment an illusion of expert exactitude.  Your audience will surely be confused by this answer initially, but that confusion could progress to awe, and it may eventuate into the holy grail of all sympathy seekers: A desire to have you repeat the details of your tragedy.

“Holy Criminy!  What happened again?!”

Those of us that have heard the parameter stretching answers used so often that they’re meaningless now, are sure that their pervasive use is based on the fact we haven’t provided them a suitable alternative.  And while we make no claim to this being the answer to all of your illustrative needs, it might be one to consider the next time you feel the need to extract an exaggerated amount of sympathy from your peers.

The Silly!

PX1Leo-scan_3106899b“I only wish more people could see the side of him that I do,” a friend of a famous person, stereotyped for being ultra-serious, says.  “He’s actually, really very funny.”  This friend will then go on to provide general information that characterizes a playful side of this famous person that most people don’t know.  They may say something like, “Behind closed doors, he just has us in stitches.  He loves children, and there’s nothing he loves more than watching a little kitten play with a ball of yarn.”  This friend usually lays out the evidence of their friend’s silly side at a time when it is most beneficial for that politician, star, and/or actor to have a softer, more playful side added to their profile.  The best case scenario for all involved is to simply float this trial balloon, and allow it to continue to float in the imaginations of the public.  The alternative, of course, is to send that client out to provide the world some evidence, but this is usually fraught with danger, as what is considered funny by the loyalists and acolytes, that form the famous person’s entourage, may not play as well with those that don’t stand to benefit from believing that the person is funny.

We can probably guess that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong had a softer, more playful side that left their entourage in stitches on occasion, and this may have led them to believe they had killer material that they couldn’t wait to display on the worldwide stage, until some bold adviser stepped forth to caution them against using such material on the worldwide stage.  “I just have this feeling that most people will not find it acceptable to joke about the manner in which millions are slaughtered.”  And we can be quite sure that the dictator disagreed with that adviser so vehemently that that adviser lost his life.  The dictator eventually saw the light, however, and discovered the universal truth: Everyone has limitations.  Some are accepted on the worldwide stage for their abilities to make people laugh, some gain fame and riches for their seriousness, and others have a gift for making people cry.  The lesson that those of us that try to be all things to all people can take from murderous dictators is be who you are, learn your limitations, and try to succeed within that bubble.

Octopus Nuggets

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote about his relationship with his dog. At one point in their relationship, the famous author grew concerned that his dog thought it was human. He considered that his fault. He thought he subjected his dog to too many humans. To rectify this, Vonnegut decided to take his dog to a dog park to introduce him to the wonderful world of canines. The problem Vonnegut encountered in the early moments, and throughout their stay in the dog park, was that his dog’s fascination remained stubbornly exclusive to humans. His dog only wanted to meet, communicate and play with the humans in the park. Vonnegut was a little frustrated. He tried to get his dog to play with other dogs, but his dog only wanted to play with their owners. “I understood,” he wrote, “for I, too, spent a lifetime trying to understand these curious creatures.”

Adelphi Nehri

Adelphi Nehri

The moral of this story, for young, aspiring writers, is that in many ways writing is one of the freest art forms ever developed. A talented writer can create a brand new world in a couple of paragraphs, but every writer is bound by one constraint: No matter what the subject matter is, a writer better find a way to involve humans, if their target audience is humans. Even if it’s not, as Kurt Vonnegut found out that day in the dog park, the writer may not want to chance it for most animals are as fascinated with humans as humans are.

If the writer’s subject is going to be something relatively obscure, like the octopus, they better find some way to tie a story of the octopus into the human experience, if they hope to capture the human demographic. The writer may want to find a way to compliment their fellow humans for the various ways in which they co-exist with this cephalopod mollusk. The writer may want to find a zoo that declares the octopus to be their most popular attraction. They may even want to find a way to compliment their fellow humans for the ingenious ways in which they serve the subject of their piece to their fellow humans for consumption, or use them in various drug store products if there are any.

If the writer’s politics are such that they seek to condemn their fellow man for all the ways in which they harm, or destroy, the cephalopod mollusk, and its environment, on the other hand, they may want to find creative ways of telling the human race how evil other humans are. Humans love that too. It makes them feel guilty and powerful at the same time.

If the writer’s research does not support such material, the writer may want to write about their experiences with the subject. Humans, for whatever reason, enjoy the talk of another human’s process. They enjoy anecdotes about how the writer grew up with an octopus wall tumbler toy, and how the writer’s obsession with the octopus grew by leaps and bounds after those formative days. Humans may want to read about some interactions the writer has had with the species they plan to cover, and how the being displayed cute, almost-human characteristics. The human interest angle is what they call it in the biz, and if a writer is not willing, or able, to add some element of humanity in their documentary, book, or essay, they may want to find another way to make a living.

  • octopusesThe perfect plural tense of the word octopus is octopuses. The word Octopi, reports the Grammarist, “was created by English speakers out of a mistaken belief that the word octopus was of Latin origin and hence pluralized with an -i. But the word octopus comes from ancient Greeks, where its plural is octopodes, and though it came to English via scientific Latin, it was never a native Latin word and didn’t exist in that language until scientists borrowed it from the Greeks in the 18th century (and if it were a Latin word, it would take a different form and would not be pluralized with the -i ending).” So, while the word octopi “can’t be justified on an etymological basis, it is not wrong. It is old enough and common enough to be an accepted variant.” Those of us who loath the idea of accepting a variant, because it’s common, might prefer to use the plural form octopuses based on its Greek origins, or octopodes if we’re trying to sound professorial, but we should not correct our peers when they say octopi. It’s not incorrect, but it’s not as correct as the other two, and its asterisk is arrived at by common usage. The only definitive point I arrive at is that I agree with those attempting to learn the English language when they suggest that it is one of the most confusing languages to speak for all of its various rules and acceptable variants.
  • Octopuses have no bones. This makes them a very tasty morsel for the many predators in the ocean. Their survival, therefore, depends on a number of ingenious tactics. The most fascinating of which is the pseudomorph. Most people who watch documentaries on the octopus have witnessed the “inking” defense in which an octopus leaves a cloud of ink in its trail, then switches directions after that ink cloud has been left to confuse a pursuing predator. The pseudomorph is similar, but more complex, in that it contains mucus. The mucus gives the excreted defense substance a little more staying power than the typical ink cloud, and it gives the octopus enough substance to create an image that mirrors its own. The pseudomorph, also called the “blanch-ink-jet maneuver” is what many researchers believe is a self-portrait the octopus leaves behind to further confuse the predator. It may not be a self-portrait as detailed as those Van Gogh left behind, but it’s similar enough to confuse predators. Predators have been so confused by this image that not only does it alter their attack, but some have attempted to bite it with the mistaken belief that it is the octopus.
  • Octopus’ ink can also cause physical harm to enemies. The ink, reports the Smithsonian, “contains a compound called tyrosinase, which, in humans, helps to control the production of the natural pigment melanin. When the ink is sprayed in a predator’s eyes, however, tyrosinase can cause a blinding irritation. It also garbles the predator’s sense of smell and taste.” The defensive concoction is so potent, in fact, that if the octopus doesn’t escape the cloud that they create, they could die.
  • commentator states that the octopus has separate and distinct brains in each of its arms, as “two-thirds of an octopus’ neurons reside in its arms, as opposed to its brain. As a result, one arm can be sent out on a task of opening a shell fish, while the octopus, and the other seven arms, are busy doing something else. The arms even react to stimuli after they’ve been completely severed. In one experiment, severed arms jerked away in pain when researchers pinched them.”
  • gastropod_radula_(2)1322614038542When an octopus comes upon a clam shell, it immediately attempts to rip it open with its many incredibly strong arms acting in unison. If the octopus is not strong enough to rip it open, it drills a hole in the top of the clam with its tongue and injects a neurotoxin to stun the clam into opening up. The word tongue, is used here for the purpose of greater understanding, however, as the radula (the octopus’ tongue) is inaccurately compared to the tongue that we know in most other animals, based solely on its place in the octopus’ mouth. The radula has numerous, minute, horny teeth (pictured here) that the octopus grinds on food for the purpose of breaking it up.
  • The octopus has three hearts. Two of the hearts work exclusively to move blood beyond the animal’s gills, while the third keeps circulation flowing for the organs. The organ heart actually stops beating when the octopus swims, explaining the species’ penchant for crawling rather than swimming, which exhausts them. It also has excellent vision in that it can see long distances, but it is basically deaf.
  • Jacque Cousteau has an interesting story involving a friend named Gilpatric. Gilpatric decided that he wanted to keep an octopus as a pet. Knowing the intelligence and strength of the octopus, Gilpatric presumably decided that it didn’t matter how smart the mollusk was if he put a heavy enough lid on top. A short time later, he discovered the aquarium was empty. After searching through his house, he finally found the octopus going through his library book by book, turning the pages with its arms.
  • Male octopuses have a sex organ at the end of one arm, the hectocoytlus arm (the sex arm). This gives octopuses a number of options when it comes to the act of reproduction. They can do it in the traditional manner, but due to the fact that the male’s hectocoytlus arm has a funnel–mantle locking apparatus that keeps it lodged in the pallial cavity of the female, the male octopus will most likely lose that arm in the process. As a result of this eventuality, some male octopuses decide to forego what they must sense is going to be a painful, and humiliating, process by simply detaching the sex arm and giving it to the female to do with what she pleases. (If this option were available to humans, some might wonder if it might solve the conflicts that arise between the genders, or if it would only make matters worse. Others claim to know human males that already engage in this process to avoid the pain and humiliation involved in the process.) Another option that octopuses have at their disposal is to build homes so close to one another that all the male has to do is stretch his hectocoytlus arm into the female’s home and hand her the spermatophores necessary for reproduction.{1} The female then accepts the spermatophores with her right arm. (Researchers do not know why it is exclusively the right arm, but they do not connect it with the reasons that most cultures will only shake with their right hand.)  
  • There is something of a contradiction concerning the male’s life after reproduction. Some sites state that the male octopus wanders off to die after reproduction, and others claim that the male will have many mates before dying. Does the male octopus engage in a flurry of reproduction, with various females, in the space in time in which it senses their fertility, or does the male’s death fluctuate within the species? If anyone knows the answer to these questions, feel free to reply to this post with that information.
  • The females can lay up to 400,000 eggs, which they have been known to hang from the ceiling of their homes in a manner that resembles translucent, beaded curtains. The mother then obsessively guards her eggs to a point that she actually stops eating. This does not lead to a death by starvation, however, as it has been determined that her body begins to undertake a cellular suicide that begins in its optic glands and ripples throughout her tissues and organs until she is dead. One could guess that this might be the direct result of not eating, but researchers insist that this is not the case.
  • Regardless when an octopus succumbs to death, or how, it appears that even if an octopus manages to avoid reproducing throughout the course of their lives, the maximum life expectancy of a wild octopus is around five years.

To the untrained eye, this invertebrate appears to be little more than a large lump of flesh, but further inspection reveals that they are an incredibly complex species that survives and thrives with a utility belt of tools at its disposal to defend and attack. And fossil records indicate that this complex mollusk may date back to the Carboniferous period, some 296 million years ago, and that these findings indicate that the being hasn’t changed much at all during this time period.


Further Reading on this subject: Octopus Nuggets II

{1} Horowitz, Kate.10 Hidden Talents of the Octopus. Mental Floss. May 2015.Pgs., 36-37.Print.