Lies and Lists II

When I first saw this ad on television I thought it was just manipulative and stupid, kind of like the state government offering a “protection racket”: if the citizens play the game correctly (“Nice windows, old man, be a shame if anything happened to them”–that kind of thing) then good firefighters won’t lose their jobs and old ladies and kids won’t die.    Terrible.  I was even going to write about it to let the four people who read the blog get all up-in-arms and shit.  Get the pitchforks and torches, etc.

Now it turns out that they (and they are the STATE OF OHIO!  The people we voted into office!  Whom we trust with our well-being!) ripped the whole deal out of its original context.  The citizen in the ad actually was talking about what would happen if the issue passed!  She was telling everyone to vote no, like I and every teacher/firefighter/nurse/police officer/government-employee-besides-legislators is telling everyone.  And they just took her words and lied about the rest.  Holy crap!

Bastards.

As if it isn’t bad enough that the supporters of teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other government employees are underfunded and outgunned, now the powers-that-be have stooped to outright lies (they’ve been lying the whole time, of course, but not in such an in-your-face, the-public-is-not-a bunch-of-reasonably-intelligent-citizens-but-actually-one-ginormous-fuckbucket-who-can’t-find-his/her-asshole-with-a-flashlight-and-map way).

If they are willing to lie like this, how can we afford to put the future of the middle class in their hands without an organized, collective response?

Also, here’s part II of “Lists.”  Enjoy!

“Lists” (part 2)

When I moved out of the apartment I lived in through my sophomore year of college, I flipped up the mattress and found over a hundred magazine inserts scribbled with everything from names of bands, movies, and books to grocery lists to financial information I needed to give the bursar to chores as complicated as lighting the pilot light on the water heater and as simple as taking out the garbage.  When I finally went to sleep, I’d look at what I’d done that day and then slip the insert behind me, into the crack between the wall and the mattress.  I see now that it was a kind of ritual, as clear in its implications as crossing an item off the list is, though I suspect that laziness had something to do with it as well.

Everybody makes lists, of course; it’s entirely possible that you’ve made a list today, even probable.  Judging from the local Super Wal-Mart, people are, for the most part, as obsessed with list making as I am.  The stationery section is awash with all sorts of memo books, scratch pads, and Post-it notes, baring the visages of popular television or cartoon characters[1], motivational quotes from everyone from the Dalai Lama to Homer Simpson, or the standard, generic pictures of flowers or groceries, accentuated by idiomatic and typographical variations on the words “To Do”.

In addition, almost every popular magazine, at this point, is list-based or contains a list somewhere in its pages.  Whether it’s the “Most Fascinating People” or the yearly, monthly, weekly, or daily top ten of whatever the hell is important that year, month, week, or day, it’s obvious that we, as humans, love to itemize and fetishize everything we can.  Lists provoke conversation and argument, and introduce us to new things, seemingly without patronizing us.  The thing is, they totally DO patronize, but by consigning each new thing a value in terms of their position on an arbitrary list, it gives us, the patronized, a chance to argue back and therefore feel as if we are contributing to the conversation.  Critical works and journalism, stuff that actually investigate an event or piece of social/political/intellectual/cultural significance do much the same thing, but the depth they provide are, in many ways, anathema to our sensibilities.  If one movie critic ranks The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, and Precious one, two and three on a list, we as a reader can fill in the blanks with our own prejudices[2]; however, if that same critic writes a well-considered essay about how the strengths of The Hurt Locker—its tension, repetitive style, controlled but distinctively handheld camera work—mirror but do not transcend the dialectic treatment of inner-city life versus phantasmagorical (albeit naïve) of Precious’s fantasies, and how both are indicative of our current social and cultural epoch[3], we are forced to consider perspective and not just a point of view, which is harder, if only marginally.

Long story short: lists prey on our prejudices but provide pathways to new experiences; commentary provides perspective but narrow one’s focus.  Both, it can be argued, simultaneously broaden our worldview but condense our experience.

Consider the box score for a baseball game.  I would contend that this is the most elegant and concise summary of an event ever conceived, and like all lists it provides a curt, digested summary of life lived, without all of the contradictions, emotions, and bits-n’-bobs of humanity that make life worth living.  Like all lists, it is the peruser that gives power to the information and brings to bare all they know.  Lists don’t tell us how to think, they tell us what to think, which is a big difference, and therefore give us as many questions as they do answers—not necessarily a bad thing.

Of course, we probably just like lists because they’re shorter and faster to get through.

I enjoy reading lists every bit as much as I am compelled to make them, for and despite all of the reasons listed above.  I was especially taken, as a child (and like most children it seems) with The Guinness Book of World Records, though I was less concerned with the grotesque, which is why I think many of my friends enjoyed looking at it, than with the chance to try and stump the book.  I would imagine the most unreasonable record one could conceive of, then see if Guinness mentioned it.  More often than not, they did not (who would admit that they masturbated more in one month or week or day or hour than anyone who ever lived?  Who would be the poor schmo Guinness sent to confirm the report?).  I see now that I was just trying to come up with a competing list.  I was, in a very real way, attempting to define what the word “normal” meant in relation to my own proclivities[4].

Another book I went back to, a lot, was The Book of Lists[5], which I found on my mother’s bookshelf (how’s that for the power of genetics?).  It was basically fetish porn, and perfect for the bathroom.  My favorite lists included, but were not limited to: “Famous World Figures Who Reportedly Died During Sex”, “Most Popular Sexual Positions”, and “Most Desirable Women, by Decade.”[6]  I think I still have that book, actually, and could probably hold it by the covers, pages down, and see that those three particular lists are clearly delineated by a more discernible gap between the pages they appear on.  They’re the same spine-stressed apertures that exist between pages twenty-six and twenty-seven of every copy of The Godfather ever published, and for the same reasons.


[1] For some reason, it seems that list making Ohioans are particularly taken with The Office and Winnie the Pooh, which seems both disturbing and entirely expected at the same time.

[2] Very often, that prejudice is “Fuck you, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is better than all three!”  I teach high school.

[3] Admission: I don’t know what any of that means; I just threw a lot of critical buzzwords at both movies.  I haven’t even seen Precious and I was drunk when I saw The Hurt LockerTransformers was really fucking cool, though.

[4] Not a whole hell of a lot, it seems.

[5] Big fucking surprise.

[6] I imagine you’ve sensed a theme.  I was twelve.

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Filed under Essays, Issue 2, Politics

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