Tag Archives: culture

Who’s Counting? Four

Four Cardinal directions. Four gospels. Four horsemen. Four Beatles. Four Monkees. Four seasons. Four beats in a bar of 4/4. Four more days in the school year. Three days with students and a single work day for teachers, culminating awkwardly on a Tuesday. Four days until I count myself officially a “retiree.”

First up on the turntable: Telekinesis, Effluxion. A solid and sweet dose of power pop to begin the day, every song of which in strict 4/4, the people’s time signature, the official signature of 90.8769% of all rock and roll and pop music. I just made that up. The actual percentage might be a smidge lower than that. Maybe tomorrow we can talk about famous or not so famous rock tunes in 3.

And, after my 5th period final, in which Friar Laurence and Paris both shared their Instagram accounts, a comic version of R&J was set in the wild west, a student’s cat wrote a poem, a collage featured a rat from the Capulet tomb and a sunflower (the anti-suicide plant), Jarmer shared another heartfelt appreciation of his last group of students followed by nearly complete and awkward silence, and after the first and so far only selfie taken with a couple of students, here’s what remains on the to-do list:

Now this list, as always, will require amending. It appears that I have achieved completion of all the “late stuff.” Undoubtedly, there will be other “late stuff” to attend to. It also appears that the only other thing left to do is to grade four periods worth of final exams–but only two groups of these have been turned in. So that item will linger until Friday. The hope is to get all finals graded in the next three days and submit final grades. What’s on the to-do list, then, for Tuesday? OMG. The suspense is killing me. I’m sure you’re asking, but Michael, however will you fill the time?

Ready Steve? Andy? Mick? All right fellas, let’s go. The turntable is spinning Strung Up, a strange kind of compilation of the best of (what I knew incorrectly a long time ago to be) the first three albums by British glam rockers The Sweet, or simply Sweet in America. I am 12 years old again. “Ballroom Blitz” is playing as I type this sentence. I feel sad for the people in the world who heard this song for the first time in the soundtrack to the Wayne’s World film. As a middle school kid, I bought this 45 and left the record support thingy of the automatic turntable in the hifi console all the way to the right so that the needle would return to replay the song over and over again. I’d never heard anything like it in my life.

First period reflections, done. First period Romeo and Juliet projects, done.

From 1975 to 2021: Snail Mail, Valentine. Another one of my favorite contemporary things in rock. And then the super chill, “how-can-I-sing-like-a-girl” champion, Home by Rhye.

Fifth period reflections, done. Fifth period Romeo and Juliet projects, done. I’m tired now.

At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the music selection turns a bit to the dark as I approach the letter N and pull out the most recent studio album from the 80’s new wave genius that was and still is Gary Numan. The album is Intruder. It’s heavy, dark, moody, and pressed on blood red vinyl–but I find, unlike Numan’s early output circa 1979, that it rocks super hard. It’s as if in the 90’s he got a Trent Reznor infusion and it stuck for the next 30 years.

I stumbled across a news article today, an op-ed about the biggest mistake people make after retirement. I’ll save you the trouble: this writer interviewed a bizillion retired people and came to the conclusion that the people who were most unhappy in retirement were people who felt like they had no purpose. As grumpy and sad as Numan makes me in between the absolute grungy rock-out moments, it appears to me that Gary Numan has held onto a purpose. I plan to follow in his footsteps.

So, it comes nearly time to call it a day–almost. I should probably get home a little early, see if I can snag a couple of z’s, try to recharge myself for this evening: the last ever graduation of my own students. In two years, I’ll attend my son’s graduation ceremony, and maybe four years after that, another one. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Suffice it to say that today’s entry in the countdown toward retirement is, as they say in the music and film studios, “in the can.” Not the garbage can or the toilet–but the can in which analog tape or film is stored. I probably didn’t have to explain that. I am tired. Cheers!

Everybody wants a piece of the action.

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Of Childhood Rock and Roll Fantasy

It was 1977.

I was 12.

From the perspective of my suburban cultural landscape, I was not yet aware of Talking Heads or Blondie.  I hadn’t heard The Sex Pistols, The Boomtown Rats, XTC or Japan.  I had not yet discovered the punk rock and the new wave or the truly experimental prog.  I had not yet heard King Crimson or Frank Zappa.  My favorite artists were Rush, Kiss, The Sweet, and Elton John. I got my first kit and I played the drums, poorly.  I had not yet formed my first band with real musicians, but I had heard older kids play, loved music more than anything else, and I could not wait for the skill or the people and finally the music that would turn my world upside down again–so I made it all up.  I formed a band in my mind and the musicians in the band were my best friends from the 5th and 6th grade and none of them were musicians.  We called ourselves (or should I say, I called ourselves) FLARE.  We played, when we actually played, with tennis rackets. No matter how loud we turned them up, our rackets made little sound–so we lip synced to our favorite records while striking ridiculous poses.

I made pretend record albums and 45 RPM singles using construction paper, terrible photos of my friends, usually shirtless (because we all knew the girls loved musicians and musicians didn’t wear shirts), or I drew terrible and primitive pictures of them, and I made for these “recordings” song titles and actual lyrics of hundreds of songs that didn’t exist and never would.  Oh, it was glorious.  We (I) made so many records–eventually there had to be live albums and greatest hits collections.  We rivaled The Beatles from a decade earlier in productivity.  We must have made 15 albums in a year! I was so obsessed with my imaginary rock band that in the 6th grade, during class for Christ’s sake, I wrote a novel about these characters, assigned them instruments to play, invented particular stage personas for them, and then, icing on the cake, gave them all super-human powers.  And of course there were evil villains who, for some reason which I’m sure seemed reasonable enough to a 6th grader, were always after the rock stars.  It was all about rock and roll, girls, evil villains, and danger in every town and in every concert hall.  This went on and on–until sometime in the 7th or 8th grade when I realized I could actually play the drums–and then in high school where, almost immediately, I would align myself and begin practicing with people who could also play actual instruments, I put my tennis racket down (except for lip-sync competitions) and retired FLARE for good.

What’s interesting to me about this little memoir sketch is the fact that as a 12 year old pre-pube my identity as both a musician and a writer was already firmly established, forged, wrapped up, determined.  How well and how early do children understand what drives them, what ultimately will make them happy human beings?  Long before Flare, I was acting the rock star and performing for relatives who would allow it, singing Steppenwolf’s “god damn the pusher man” to adults who were so overwhelmed perhaps by the cuteness factor that scolding me for profanity and drug references I could not begin to understand was the last thing on their mind.  My parents neither encouraged or discouraged.  They let me find my way–and their insouciance was perhaps the best thing for me.  So, maybe I take their lead on this.  I hesitate to “make” my son take music lessons of any kind.  I do my best, much more overtly than my own parents did, or could (because neither of them were musical or literary), to make opportunities available for him to find what rocks his world.  Let’s listen to this record.  Let’s play around on the drums a bit.  Let’s make a father/son composition on the iPad with Garageband.  Here’s a notebook to scribble in.  Look at Daddy’s book.  Here’s some art supplies.  And, yes, here’s a video game.  Go to town, son.  See what floats your boat.

Thanks to Cary Kiest for the prompt. Happy birthday.

Thanks to Michelle Williams for insouciance.

Here are some pictures of some slightly embarrassing early work.  The band made all of its fake recordings on Scotch brand audio tape, which, for some reason, I had difficulty spelling.

Flare's funky era.

Flare’s funky era.

Sun's In My Eyes Again, indeed.
Sun’s In My Eyes Again, indeed.

The debut album
The debut album

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Filed under Music, Parenting, Writing and Reading

Of Smoking Jackets and Product Endorsement


Okay, so, here I am wearing what they call a smoking jacket, and I don’t smoke. Maybe it’s a drinking jacket.  I do drink, but that’s not a real drink.  Actually, it is a real drink, I’m just not drinking it, because, first, it was a family photo shoot before the noon hour, and second, there were dead bugs in the glass, fruit flies that had somehow found themselves drinking too much and drowning too much in a bottle of Jameson months or even years before.  I know, it’s terrible, a terrible loss of Jameson.  Let me give you a second to collect yourself.  I appear to be modeling either for the drink or for the jacket, and since there are dead bugs in the drink, it must be about the coat.  And that’s true.  If I upload this photo to the website that belongs to the company that makes this jacket, they’ll give me a discount on my next purchase.  I’m a total whore.

I have never been very much into clothes.  When I was young, I suppose I cared about fashion a little bit.  As a musician it was prerequisite to put some thought into what you wore, even if it looked terrible or you’d never wear it anywhere else but on a stage.  And that was my modus operandi.  I wore bow ties and yellow jackets, yellow pants, Converse high tops, and in the late 80’s even a little bit of eye make-up.  This seems so stupid to me now, but I thought it was pretty great in my 20s.  As I matured, I started to care less and less about clothes, even for performing.  Any new clothes that came into my wardrobe got there by mysterious means.  I think there may have been someone else in the household making all of my clothing purchases.

And then I discovered the smoking jacket. Well, first I discovered pants.  I was simply being practical, hoping to find a pair of pants I could bicycle in and also teach in–no more changing of clothes once I got to work–a painful process that added a whole 5 minutes to the time I spent at work not working.  I must have googled something–yes, that’s it, I googled “bike to work pants” and immediately I discovered this company in San Francisco making a line of pants called, you guessed it, “bike-to-work pants.” I’m wearing them right now.  I’m always wearing my bike-to-work pants because they’re very nice pants.  And when I’m biking I can roll up my pant leg a few inches and suddenly I’ve got reflective bands around my legs, and, if I want to be a little bit more visible, I can turn my back pockets inside out and display reflective flags from my backside.

The bike-to-work pants people also make smoking jackets, and while I fell immediately in love, it took me a year and a half to save the money  and then build up the courage to buy one.  It’s a very strange thing, suitable for very few occasions–but it’s reversible!  On the other side from the side you see in this picture it’s very formal, snazzy, corduroy gray, and, well, normal.  So it’s kind of like a Jekyll and Hyde jacket. When I’m feeling crazy or mad, like I was for this photo shoot, or when it’s New Year’s Eve, I’ll turn this baby around and grab a glass.  This company also makes hoodies that look like pinstripe suits or cardigan sweaters, disco ball pants and hats and jackets, voodoo dolls, horizontal corduroy, their website features the funniest, wackiest ad copy I’ve ever seen, and, if you buy their stuff, upload a picture of yourself wearing their stuff, they’ll give you a discount.  I’m a sucker, and I’m a fan, and they should be paying me a handsome fee for this blog entry, but they’re not.  Bastards.


photo by Erin Fitzpatrick-Bjorn at Kidding Around Photography


Filed under Culture, Fashion

Well, That Was Mostly fun., Wasn’t It?

First of all, what a strange name for a band. Dorky, really; nevertheless, these fun. kids have become my favorite contemporary pop thing of the last couple of years. And I’ve been sort of astounded, surprised, and heartened by their recent and rip-roaringly fast rise to megastardom. So, I got my tickets months ago and my wife and I went to the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall last night to see the fun. boys play. And it was mostly fun. It was also kind of enlightening–in some good ways, but not always; in fact, it was also enlightening in some really heinous ways.

Let me get the negative stuff out of the way first.  Opening band.  I’m not much for slagging musicians, even famous or relatively famous ones, so, for now, this opening band will go nameless.  Any resourceful person could identify them in pretty short order, or, if you were there, you know who I’m talking about.  Two rappers (well, one rapper and another guy who grunted) and a drummer.  That’s it.  The drummer was clearly accomplished–I could tell by watching him flail around–but could I hear him? No.  He was slamming his drums behind prerecorded drum loops or triggers that were a thousand times louder than his acoustic drums, and nowhere near as interesting.  First strike.  Everything else in the way of “music” was prerecorded, canned.  Second strike.  Canned music is for dummies.  You’d think, with such a straight-forward mix, that at least the sound would be good.  Wrong again.  Messy, garbled, impossible to discern most of the harmonic information.  Third strike.

This is my bias, and I’m totally up front about it.  Hip-hop, rap, has never been my cup of mud.  I have never learned to appreciate 97.8 percent of it.  And this rapper guy seemed to personify all the elements about this particular genre that bug me.  I don’t like being yelled at.  He yelled at me.  Non-stop.  I couldn’t understand what he was yelling about.  And he kept calling me a motherfucker. Why does he need to do that?  And he kept ordering the audience around.  And this is most disturbing:  the only way he was able to get people in the audience to do a particular thing was by yelling at them to do that thing.  “Stand up, motherfuckers.”  “Portland, make some noise, motherfuckers.”  “Put your hands together, motherfuckers.”  And what I find most disturbing about this is that the audience, for the most part, would follow his instructions.  They’d stand up.  They’d make a noise.  They’d put their hands together.  They acted, too, as if they were enjoying themselves.  Go figure.  This band fun., they play sophisticated, melodic, hook-laden, original pop music.  During the whole opening set I was sulking in my seat.  I was angry, yeah, angry to be subjected to this terrible thing, angry at fun. or their production company or the promoter for hiring these yahoos, and angry at the audience for enjoying themselves.  People, don’t you distinguish?  Do you have no skills of discernment?  And then I was angry at myself for being so angry, and uptight, and hifalutin, and old.

It seemed to me, looking around, that the majority of my fellow audience members were young enough to be the fruit of my loins. They were high schoolers and middle schoolers.  Every once in a while I spotted a twenty-something and now and then I’d spy a person of my age group who was probably chaperoning for his or her kids, or, like me, just slightly out of place, there for strictly aesthetic reasons. Nevertheless, the audience was very young, the youngest audience I’ve seen a concert with in a long, long time. So the cynical part of me explained that, no, this audience was too young, they cannot distinguish or discern;  they don’t know the difference between greatness and mediocrity and would lap up ANYTHING that was put in front of them and labeled COOL by some marketing force about which they are oblivious and don’t understand a thing.  They are happy as clams to put up with and to even believe they were enjoying this opening act. I was so happy it was over.  The gin and tonic helped me get through the last two numbers.

Let’s get to the fun part about the fun. show.  Doesn’t that period bug you?  Aren’t you always kind of fooled into thinking that the sentence is over when it’s really not?  I apologize.  I’m trying to be true to the music, hence, the period and the lower case f.

fun. provided about the most extreme contrast imaginable to the preceding.  The three core members of the band, the guitarist, the singer, the keyboardist, as young (I think) as they are, are consummate players and performers.  The sound was full and the mix was comfortable–the only time I felt a desire for earplugs was during the teenage screaming in between tunes and before the encore. Okay, here are some items I found enlightening about the fun. part of the mostly fun show.

Item one:  I was surprised and filled with a kind of unaccountable joy to hear an entire audience singing along with each tune, word for word, every single line.  I found myself leaving the cynical me behind and just being impressed at the level at which young fans of this band are really attending to the music–which, as I’ve said before, I find rather sophisticated, lyrically, melodically, rhythmically.  There is, however, in most of their tunes an anthemic quality–the choruses especially beg to be chanted by throngs of enthusiastic humans.  But the verses?  And the bridges? And all of that syllabic information in the words?  Those tempo changes? Those quiet vocal breakdowns?  Yeah, they knew every nuance.

Item two: Again, in stark contrast to entertainers who call their audience members motherfuckers, the fun. guys were kind, sincerely appreciative, funny, relaxed, like normal guys who were genuinely thankful for the warmth and the generosity of their audience. They were, excuse me, having fun.  They were not posing or posturing.  And this also gave me hope for the future of pop music.

One last item:  Related to the last thing, I think, having to do with the kind of human being that makes the art (I don’t really know ANYTHING about what kind of people these guys are, really, so I’m making a huge leap here), the music that fun. makes is infectiously, overwhelmingly, undeniably positive.  Even though, lyrically, the songs often deal with characters in some kind of pain or confusion, there rings through most of them an incredible optimism.  I think this is good for the world and for music and for young people and for me.

So after the pain and misery of that opening act, the evening was redeemed by and through fun.


Filed under Culture, Music

No, I Don’t Want Any Music With My Coffee

I recently posted on my facelift page about the weirdness of walking into a Starbucks for an iced latte on an early summer morning and finding at the counter next to the register the new album by Fiona Apple. I’ve grown pretty accustomed to seeing music for sale there; they’ve been doing it for years. But there’s something uncomfortable for me about seeing music that I want in my collection at my elbow while I make my coffee order.  The post I made on faceplant was simply the question: why am I weirded out by this?  Why should I be?  And since the new Fiona Apple album is one for which I feel not just a little bit of excitement, why didn’t I plunk down another 14 dollars right there on the spot so I could enjoy my latte and my Fiona at the very same time as I drove away in my car?  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.

And then I got two responses to my query which served as the inspiration for this blog entry.  One friend’s response echoed the question in the preceding paragraph and went sort of like this:  “What’s wrong with buying music at Starbucks?  I do it from time to time and feel absolutely no weirdness.” And the other friend’s response was a link to an article that essentially answered all of the questions above.  Sort of.  Here’s the title of said article: “The Starbuck Brandscape and Consumers’ (Anticorporate) Experiences of Glocalization.” It was co-written by Craig J. Thompson and Zeynep Arsel, the piece was published in 2004 by the Journal of Consumer Research, and the bald-faced truth is that I understood very little of it. But I understood enough of it, as they say, to make me dangerous, enough of it, I’d like to think, to help me explain to myself and anybody else who might be interested WHY I got the heebie jeebies seeing Fiona Apple for sale at Starbucks.

To begin with, I’ve got milling around in my head what the authors of this article call “The Anti-Starbucks Discourse,” meaning that I share with a lot of folks certain criticisms of the Starbucks corporate enterprise. Whether because of infamous business practices, the exorbitant prices, the quality of the product, or the sense of the manufactured, 100% calculated experience of the environment,  there’s to begin with a certain amount of self-doubt and guilt when I buy coffee there as opposed to frequenting the independent or the local–which I used to ALWAYS do when I lived closer to the independent and the local.  Convenience has brought me back into the Starbucks fold against my better judgements. And then, feeling a bit sheepish to begin with about just being there, I see Fiona Apple’s new cd staring out at me from the counter.  Fiona seems to be saying, “It’s all right.  It’s all good.  Look, I’m here.  And you like me.  Why can’t you like the rest of it?”  It’s pure genius on the part of the PR people at the helm of this monolithic corporate enterprise, this strategy of fooling me into believing that, within this massive business structure, the local, no, the individual cultural interests are maintained and honored here.  Hence: “Glocalization.” For me, in Milwaukie, Oregon, there’s nothing “local” about Fiona Apple.  But there is something fiercely independent, individualistic about her, weird, eclectic, anti-establishment, personal, all things I value–for sale in a place that epitomizes what I don’t value: homogeneity, sterility, conformity, consistency–in the Emersonian sense:  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. . .”

And this, I guess, is what weirds me out: the dichotomous feeling of patronizing an establishment at once sell-out and full of hipster credibility, at once representative of predatory corporate greed and independent spirit and experimentation, an establishment homogenous and conformist staffed by young, tattooed, pierced, multi-color hair-doed baristas.

I can’t buy Fiona Apple’s new album there.  It would seem, somehow, sacrilegious, wrong, and forced–yes, forced, because I bet that music sales at Starbucks are almost entirely 100% compulsive purchases.  No one says or thinks, “Fiona Apple’s new record was released today; let me go down to Starbucks and pick that baby up.”  No one says or thinks that.  Instead, they say, “I want coffee.  Oh my god, look, there’s Fiona’s new record.  I want that, too.  Let me buy it now along with my coffee.”  And that, for some whacky reason according to Michael Jarmer, is no good.  Let us buy coffee when we are thirsty for coffee.  And let us buy music when we are thirsty for that–and let us be okay with transporting ourselves in whatever way we can to a place that specializes in the medium.  Let’s go to the local coffee shop for coffee, and the local record store for records.  Then all is right in the world.



Filed under Culture, Music

The Technology Is Killing Me

I’ll begin by patting myself on the back, railing against the machine–and I’ll conclude with a number of confessions and some serious hand-wringing.  I might even gnash my teeth together regarding the various ways in which technology is killing me.

I congratulate myself for abstaining from cell phone use for a very long time.  I purchased my first cell phone ever in the summer of 2011–and I bought a shitty 3G iPhone for fifty bucks.  Most of the calls I get I miss because the phone is rarely on my person.  It’s no big deal.  People leave messages, just like they used to do on those crazy answering machines with the little micro cassettes, and when I get their messages, I call them back.  Because it’s a shitty 3G, it does only what I really need it to do: it functions as a telephone and as a message sending device.  There are no games or fancy apps.  Every once in a while I’ll check the weather or use the calculator, but rarely.  I feel pretty good, smug actually, about my propensity for resisting the smart phone siren call–and the siren call of half a dozen other technological advances that tend to use humans more than they are used by them.

This is what I’ve seen.  People walking together in public places, each with a phone in use, carrying on conversations with people who are not the people they are walking with in public places.  I have seen students in my classroom who cannot, literally, be without their phones in their hands, in their faces, in their ears, or on the desk in front of them.   They are attached to these devices as if they were appendages to their actual bodies.  If you removed the phone from the possession of many of these children you might expect to see them break out in cold sweats, convulse, maybe even vomit or bleed, or at least get out-of-control angry.  One student told a colleague of mine that if he took her phone her mother would kill him.  I’ve seen couples in clubs or in restaurants who sit together snuggly while they each surf the web on their phones.  I’ve seen students of mine on the road, driving and texting. Did you hear the story of the young couple in a fatal  auto accident who turned out to be texting each other in the car?  Moving from phones for a minute, I’ve seen kid after kid at my high school at the boy’s restroom urinals with their iPods blasting dub-step, metal, hip-hop, power pop, yes, blasting.  These kids can’t even take a piss without the stimulus of technology.  I hope to some day see a kid who’s pissing accidentally drop his phone or his pod into the toilet.  This would bring joy to my heart. I have countless times seen groups of kids in a standing huddle all simultaneously wearing ear-buds and trying to talk to each other over the noise drowning out the noise in their heads.

I worry that smart phones are making us dumb. We can’t find a place on a  map.  We can’t look up words in dictionaries.  We can’t wait.  We must have instant gratification.  We are constantly distracted.  We can’t be in a room by ourselves.  We can’t do ANYTHING without telling someone about it in a text or a post, and yet, we can’t look each other in the eye.  We can’t listen. We cannot endure silence.  We can’t do simple arithmetic. We don’t need to remember anything. Wikipedia will immediately answer all of our questions and we will immediately forget those answers. Twitter has reduced social discourse to a sound that birds make.  Henry David Thoreau was suspicious of the post office and the railroad.  Henry David Thoreau would hate us.

Okay, all you smart-phone-Mp3-player-kindle-reader-game-player-you-tube-facebook addicts: don’t you feel terrible?  Well, I have some issues of my own.  To wit:

Confession #1:  I got the dumb phone, but I bought my lovely wife a smart one.  She can’t stop playing with it.  I wish sometimes that her phone was as dumb as mine.

Confession #2:  I joined Facebook.

Confession #3: I bought an iPad.

Confession #4:  I got a Wii for the boy.

Confession #5: I fantasize about getting a new computer so I don’t have to carry the laptop up and down the stairs from the studio to the study.

So while I criticize from my lofty blog all these problems I see in our culture with the abuse of technology, I can’t leave Facebook alone for a day.  I go to the Huffington post several times in an hour.  It’s difficult to get my lovely wife and my sweet boy to stop playing with their devices.  Most of the daily cravings I have for new ways to improve my life come from images or toys or trinkets I’ve seen advertised in some way on the internet.  The web is an ever-present almost omniscient beast of distraction:  It keeps me from reading books, it keeps me from writing more often, it keeps me in a state of anxiety about what I must be missing–and while I could brag a blue streak about how great I am for not watching ANY commercial television for nearly a decade now, I know it’s true: the computer has replaced the television.  It’s no different.  It’s influences are deeper and more pernicious.  I would love to be able to unplug, but I can’t unplug.  I’ve got to see if I have new friends, find out what stupid things Republicans are doing, check out the bicycle I’ve been drooling over, look at tiny houses, see if anyone new has read or commented on my blog, stream some late-night TV, or, yes, I still do this, check to see if I have any email.  So old school.  The technology is killing me.

I’m not so far gone as some people I know or some people I see every day.  After all, my phone is dumb and I’d like to keep it that way.  But I worry  about my son.  I fret on a daily basis whether or not the iPad or the Wii were not the worst purchasing decisions I’ve ever made in terms of the health of my family.  But then I say to myself, dude, the technology will not go away.  The best you can do, perhaps, is not to abstain, but to learn and teach how best to live along side of it.  The greatest victory is perhaps that you’re still reading and writing, you’re still engaged in other endeavors, and when the weather is good, you’re still outside playing badminton or having light saber duels with your six year old.


Filed under Culture

The Case Against The Super Bowl

I know, another provocative title. I thought it was funny, and that was my first impulse, to see if I might get a snicker out of some of my football fanatic friends and die-hard Super Bowl watcher acquaintances. But I realize now it’s more than just a gag. I really do have a case to make against The Super Bowl. But here are some confessions, to start with:

I don’t know who’s competing this Sunday.

I don’t know which roman numeral identifies this year’s big game.

I haven’t watched a Super Bowl since 1993, and on that day, some friends of mine were helping me move into my first home, had unpacked the little 13” Sony, plugged it in, and wired up an antennae for reception. A couple of my friends watched the game in the basement while I only glanced at the proceedings on a few occasions as I walked by the television with a box of stuff that needed unpacking.

Before 1993, I think I can honestly say that I don’t remember the last time I watched a Super Bowl competition. It has been since junior high, perhaps, when I still had some inkling of an interest toward competitive athletics. It was before I discovered playing rock and roll and theatre and reading, before those three endeavors would pretty much take me away from organized sports, in the same way they took me away from organized religion, forever.

Listen, because some of my friends, people for whom I have the utmost love and respect, are football fans, and because I understand that it does in fact take some skill, not to mention brute strength and force, to play the game of football well, I can’t say anything really terrible about the sport itself or the people who enjoy it. All I can do is make the case against this particular event from my own perspective. This is why I don’t watch the Super Bowl.

The money disgusts me. These guys are making tens of thousands or millions of dollars to move a ball from one end of the field to the other while the guys on the other team are making tens of thousands or millions of dollars by trying to prevent that ball from moving from one end of the field to the other. The guys on the other team do this by “tackling” whichever opponent has the damn ball. They, in turn, try to take possession of said ball so that they can attempt to do the same thing, to move a ball from one end of the field to the other. And while the money these guys make for moving a ball around a field is obscene, this incredibly insensitive reduction of the game into an apparently meaningless objective, nevertheless represents the way I feel about the game itself, about it’s potential interest or value as spectacle or entertainment.

So it bores me. I know, I know, occasionally, perhaps once or twice in a game, there might be a play of breathtaking beauty, skill, exceptional luck, or devastation. But what about the rest of the game? And what do people do during the wait? What do they talk about? Can they have serious talk or any conversation at all about other things while they’re watching? If they get distracted they might miss something, right? So I have this idea that people sit together in groups, sometimes in large groups, or as families, glued to the tube in silence for the potential of some high drama. I know I’m wrong about this—but it’s what I imagine and partly why I don’t watch.

Let’s go back to the money. The money advertisers spend disgusts me. It’s close to three million dollars, I understand, for a 30 second spot. These advertisers, I assume, believe that it must be worth it, so I shudder to think about the millions of people watching who might be doing something better with their time, being subjected to, and looking forward to being subjected to, this massive shock and awe style of commercialism. And I shudder again to think about the amount of money people spend as a result of the effectiveness of these 30-second entertainments inside the entertainment.

I find it sadly ironic. While part of what people do in watching football, or any televised sporting event, is to hold a kind of celebration of athleticism, most people celebrate this kind of activity by being totally inactive. Often, they do this while consuming mass quantities of chips and beer. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against chips and beer—if it weren’t for the football. And chips and beer, I suppose, are the proverbial tip of the iceberg in terms of calorie consumption on Super Bowl Sunday. People get fat watching other people exercise. Even though it’s kind of funny, it makes me sad.

And I think the big business of competitive athletics represents a microcosm of what is essentially wrong with our culture—we worship at the altar of competition. If we spent more time and money thinking about how to collaborate and help each other rather than beating down the other guy and winning, winning, winning, we might get somewhere; we might survive as a species. Our obsession with organized sports, our team loyalty, our hero worship, our hopes and prayers for the demise of the other guy—this kind of practice is worrisome to me and it pervades our society at every level. I know you’re calling me a dummy. Let’s have a football game where collaboration and cooperation between the competitors is the operative goal. That’s just stupid, Michael Jarmer.

You’re right. I don’t understand the game very well or at all. I’m not appreciative of the nuances of the sport. I’m overlooking the communal aspect, the social aspect, the aesthetics of the biggest football game of the year, the very real nostalgic buzz of watching the game you can no longer play because you’re too old or nowhere near skilled or lucky enough. That’s okay. I’m football illiterate and proud. Instead, I’ll read a book, watch season one of The Muppet Show with my son, or play in the yard if it’s sunny, or take a long drive along empty highways with the family. Something like that. Happy Super Bowl Sunday, anyway.


Filed under Culture, Writing and Reading