Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The New (Old) Morality

A couple of years ago my wife introduced a new Christmas tradition to the family courtesy of Wal-Mart.  Because that's how it goes now.  Traditions and customs are not passed on from generation to generation.  They are bought at your local retail store.  But I like it this way.  This is a new time and we are a new generation and we need new traditions more in line with our modern ethos.  We are consumers.  We buy everything else at giant retail stores--clothes, music, food, medication, ribbed condoms (for her pleasure) (extra large, of course, bitches!)--so why not our culture as well.  I'm not being sarcastic or ironic.  I am a consumer whore and there is little in life that gives me as much pleasure as buying something I really want.  And while I know there is a (presumably) growing movement of friends out there who "Don't let Their Friends Shop at Wal-Mart," these people are stupid, anti-progressive, and almost 100% of them are dumbfoundingly hypocritical to the point where I feel embarrassed for (technically) being the same species as them.  But that's for another time and place.  This article was about Christmas traditions.

So a couple of years ago my wife comes over to me all smiles and giggles, so of course my first assumption is that she's drunk at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.  Then she proceeds to tell me about this great new idea for a new family Christmas tradition that one of her friends told her about.  This was my introduction to the Elf on the Shelf.  Basically, the product is a little toy Elf dressed in a bright red suit with this creepy crackhead smile plastered on his face and wide open demon eyes that seem to follow you across the room and a book explaining how he works.  The book--written in shoddy, contracted-to-the-lowest-bidder verse--explains how the Elf basically spies on the family and reports back to Santa Claus on a daily basis as to the behaviour (good, bad, or ugly) of the family members so this fat, arrogant fuck can decide whether or not to give them presents.  The real "fun," we're told, comes from searching for the Elf every morning.  For the kids he moves presumably on his own accord and presumably by some magical means.  For the parents the subtext is that we are supposed to hide this motherfucker in a different spot every night, which means one more thing that isn't porn, video games, or SIMPSONS quotes that I have to remember.  For 24 days (the 24 days of December preceding Christmas--Duh!).  Once she explained it to me, I  knew my wife wasn't drunk--it was definitely hallucinogens of some kind that she had ingested.

But far be it for me to argue, mostly because when push came to shove it didn't really matter one way or the other to me.  I will admit, though, that it has brought a bafflingly immense amount of pleasure to my daughter this year who loved that fucking Elf to death.  I initially wanted to rail against this Elf, but I really couldn't think of any valid reason except that I didn't want to hide it.  And that's not even a valid reason.  It only takes like five seconds to hide the bastard.  I still can't explain my initial dislike of the idea and my subsequent apathy.  But that's kind of my personality.  I will complain about something simply for the sake of complaining about it.  I remember my diatribes against Guitar Hero back in the day.  I told people it was a stupid idea and that kids could better spend their time learning to play "real" instruments and that I couldn't see myself playing it.  Then I tried it and totally got addicted to rhythm gaming, an entire genre of video games that shouldn't even exist and yet has become one of the most enjoyable activities on the planet, a cultural phenomenon, and the most socially relevant running commentary on both music and games in a few short years.  But in that way I'm like a lot of people: I will argue until I am blue in the face against a product or experience I have yet to even try with absolutely no empirical or qualitative evidence simply for the sake of arguing.  Most people are assholes and I am (usually) no exception.

So like most things in life, I half-assedly embraced the Elf on the Shelf tradition.  My contribution was the name.  When you bust open the poorly written book that comes with the Elf, it tells you that part of the fun is naming your Elf, which I suppose implies some kind of emotional bond and limited ownership like when you name a dog or a child: you don' really want to (it cuts into INCEPTION-watching time), but you need to brand it as your own.  My daughter was too young at the time we got it to participate in any sort of logical verbal exchange, so my wife asked me what to name it and I jokingly said "Narc, 'cause, you know, he narcs on you to Santa Claus," and then went back to playing God of War.  I was trying to be a dick, but surprisingly my wife loved it and a legend was born.  Now good old Narc comes out for a little less than a month every year hiding in crafty places like on top of the microwave...

...perched on a picture frame in the dining room...

... swinging from the lights...

... and... enjoying a beer?

And what the fuck is this?

I still have to sit on that couch, dude!  Doggy-style, nice...

Fucking Elf is getting more action than I am.  I just hope he didn't get his candy cane jizz all over my ass groove in the couch.  That's where I sit to play video games or watch movies or rub one out or write blog posts that nobody will ever read about deranged alcoholic sex-crazed winter sprites.

But I guess he's earned all that drunken debauchery because the more I thought about that little Elf on the Innocent Skater Chick's Asshole Shelf the more I realized that he taught me the true meaning of Christmas.  Or one of them anyway.  This Elf is the embodiment of our modern sense of morality.  It teaches kids--and indeed all of us--that the only reason not to do something bad is because you might get caught.  I suppose this is in contrast to a more idealistic ethos of 30, 40, 50 or maybe even 100 years ago which espoused doing "Right" simply for the sake of doing "Right."  You don't steal because it's the "Wrong" thing to do.  You don't punch some elderly lady in the face for cutting in line because it's "Wrong".  You don't cut your uppity neighbor's brake lines on his car simply because he looked at you the wrong way and his haircut is slightly better than yours because it would be inherently "Wrong."  But that's all bullshit.  Nobody actually believes that any more.  There are some people who want to believe it, but deep down they know it's not true.  The new morality is a lot simpler: It's only wrong if you get caught.  I mean, that's really all morality is: the fear of being punished for certain actions that when we're absolutely sure nobody is watching we would do in a heart beat. 

The more I thought about the more I realized that this sexoholic Elf was just the latest, most tangible extension of that morality.  It's been circling around our consciousness for years through lyrics like "He sees you when you're sleeping / He knows when you're awake."  Santa Claus was always just this omnipresent force like god, or the CIA, or the Matrix.  But that's not enough any more.  It's not enough just to sing annoying, archaic holiday songs anymore: now children are becoming more and more cognizant at an earlier and earlier age and realize that the laws of physics overpower their parents' off-key Christmas carol.  If I can't see Santa, then he can't see me.  No, now Santa needs an ever-present spy to ensure compliance with the laws of the land.  So in one sense, this is not the New Morality, it is the Old Morality because there is obvious historical evidence that the Western world was at least vaguely aware of the fact that constant surveillance was a key part of keeping people in line.  In another sense, this is the New Morality because we are now becoming fully cognizant of the fact that the only thing keeping us in line is the threat of some negative consequence from an authority figure and that in the absence of that figure we will do whatever we damn well please.  And rightfully so.

We live in an age now when this New Morality is not only welcome, it is necessary.  In order to succeed in a capitalist/consumerist society you need to fuck over the guy next to you, his mother, all his friends, and their first born children.  And you can't do that if you're shackled by archaic ideals of ethics.  Just like in a game of Monopoly or in HIGHLANDER, there can be only one.  Every success you've had in your life by necessity means that at least a hundred other people have failed.  We are constantly being fucked by large, faceless corporations and large, faceless governments who understand the New Morality implicitly.  Embezzle the money.  Get kids in third world countries to make your clothes.  Get blow jobs from your secretary.  Sell weapons to terrorists.  And if you do get caught then you lie, lie, lie.  Dishonesty is the new honesty.

Imagine this scenario if you will: You find a wallet on the street with three hundred dollars in it.  It has the person's ID so you can either A) Bring it to this person's house, B) Bring it to the cop shop and let them sort it out, C) Keep the money, or D) Any combination of A and B with C.  In this scenario, what is the motivation for returning the money?  Is there really any?  I think personally I'd drop off the wallet at the police station because I know it's a pain in the ass to replace your ID and whatnot, and I would keep the money as a finder's fee.  And why not?  You can never possibly be caught so why not keep the cash and go and buy a Wii and a case of Alexander Keith's?  I don't think there's a single self-actualized person today who wouldn't keep the money.

Now imagine this scenario:  You buy a shitload of hardwood flooring for a home renovation project from your local Generic Home Building Outlet and when you go to pick up your order the dude loading it onto your truck fucks up and gives you an extra $1000 worth of said product by mistake.  Do you A) Tell the dude as he's loading it that he made a mistake, B) Say nothing then return the extra flooring thereby cheating the company out of $1000 or C) Sell the extra flooring to an idiot friend at twice the price?  If you said B or C you are an honest person with a strong grasp of the New Morality.  My personal pick is B because it is just so satisfying to stick it to some big, faceless corporation and because it's a lot less of a hassle than C.  It just makes sense.  If you're given a way to get ahead and you're stopped by what some religious text written over two thousand years ago says (you know the one...) then you are just plain naive and you deserve all the bad things that happen to you.  We all know that the right thing to do is to fuck over the big company.  The old axiom is true:  It's only illegal if you get caught.  It's the same reason you drive thirty kilometers over the speed limit and download pirated music.  You can't fathom any possible legal, financial, or social repercussions.  You don't think you're going to get caught.

Of course some of you might be saying "Well then, you're saying it's alright to kill someone as long as you don't get caught.  You're advocating murder."  To which I'd answer: It depends who you're killing.  But the New Morality isn't concerned about the intrinsic "right" or "wrong" of a particular action, merely about our motivations for completing or not completing said action.  There are some people who would argue that most of us don't steal or kill or rape because people are inherently good and we are progressing as a species.  But that's simply not the case.  The reason that many potential thieves don't steal and potential murderers don't murder and potential rapists don't rape is not because that deep down we all believe that these things are wrong.  It's simply fear of retribution that stops them.  Morality is relative.  I would personally have no problem stealing a couple thousand dollars worth of product from a faceless multi-billion dollar corporation given the opportunity, however I personally draw the line at rape and murder.  But that's just my worldview.

But ultimately the New Morality is about getting ahead.  It's financial.  It's consumerist.  It's materialistic.  That's the important thing.  That's the true meaning of Christmas: pretend to be someone you're not in order to be rewarded while trying to get away with as much as possible without getting caught.  God bless us, everyone.


Friday, December 17, 2010

The Last Laugh

On November 28, 2010 hollywood lost a legend.  Leslie Neilson, star of iconic comedies AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN series past away as a result of complications from pneumonia.  He was originally a serious character actor and has apparently appeared in hundreds of movies and television shows he didn't get his start in comedy until 1980 when he was well into his fifties.  I did a quick IMDB search and quickly discovered that I had never heard of virtually (and by virtually I mean any) of his movie roles previous to AIRPLANE and honestly I really don't plan on watching any of them any time soon.  I'm sure that he did a fine job, but really his great contribution to society came with AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN. 

I remember going over to my grandparents' house for special occaisions: birthdays, Christmases, interventions, Thanksgivings, disownings, lawsuits, Bar Mitzfahs, exorcisms, ritual executions, Easters, or just to watch grandma get plastered and stumble around the room shouting profanities and knocking over priceless heirlooms.  Segregation would typically occur along chronological lines: the adults would stay upstairs talking about out of court settlements or playing Trivial Pursuit or some bullshit while the kids would go down to the basement to scavenge for grandpa's WWII era porn (go Rita Hayworth!), any spare change we could find and watch movies.  We spent countless hours watching the greats like STAR WARS, ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, various Looney Tunes cartoons, and THE NAKED GUN.  OK, mostly it was my brothers and little cousin who watched ACE VENTURA which may explain why they now have trouble forming meaningful relationships and an irrational fear of the Miami Dolphins.  The point is that from an early age Neilson had already begun to influence my subconscious and the man that I would become.  Looking back at AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN it is now becoming more and more obvious how those movies influenced my sense own of humour: in turns sarcastic, farcical and just plain corny.

What Neilson in particular contributed to the comedy world was first his superb deadpan delivery of some of the most ridiculously funny lines in movie history (  "It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.") but also popularizing the archetype of the oblivious hero.  Now I suppose that the obivious hero archetype has existed for a while perhaps best characterized by the (for some reason) beloved Mr.Magoo which is why it was somewhat appropriate for Neilson to eventually portray Magoo in the 1997 live action incarnation aptly titled MR. MAGOO.  Other actors have also contributed to the archetype, like Bill Murray in THE MAN WO KEW TOO LITTLE, and I am a huge Murray fan (great fucking cameo in ZOMBIELAND) but for my money Leslie Neilson just personified it better.  Nobody could deliver a line like  "Oh, and one more thing... I faked every orgasm!" or  "I am serious... and don't call me Shirley" with the severity and gravitas of Leslie Neilson.  In his comedy prime he didn't just deliver lines: he preached comedic gospel.

And so the only thing left to say is farwell Leslie, and thank you... and for the love of god don't call me Shirley.  Let er' RIP, big guy.