MODERN WISDOM: AMERICA’S ONLY HUMOR MAGAZINE
1. ATTENTION: PEOPLE I DO NOT KNOW.
PLEASE TAKE A MINUTE TO COPY THE PRAYER POSTED BELOW AND EMAIL IT TO FIFTY PEOPLE. THE LAST PERSON WHO FAILED TO DO SO WAS REINCARNATED AS A FIELD MOUSE AND EATEN IN A LIGHT BATTER BY FRANCIS TREVELYAN BUCKLAND.
Dear God, I pray my worries will be small
I pray for parking when I go to the mall.
I pray for Dick Clark as he lowers the ball.
I pray that this year the Cubs will take it all.
I pray for the baby in her little crib.
I hope that I’m never caught out in a fib.
I hope that I’m given a clean lobster bib.
I hope that Bosso likes the cut of my jib.
For all this I pray. In every way.
God, please send positive energies today.
This methodone clinic-distributed comic was yanked after only a few months. We public health librarians now know, from our superior perch of 50 years
in the future, that you aren’t supposed to MODEL the bad behavior; you’re supposed to model the GOOD behavior. Monkey see, monkey do, and
Tell me, didn’t that comic make you long to ride the white horse? Just a little? I especially like the implicit message: Girls, if you wannahang on to your junkie boyfriend, you gots to get on that horse and
ride it with him–bareback!
The same message was promulgated in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES and in countless ofther cautionary-tales-with-just-a-fillup-of-sleazy-allure-thrown-in.
Including the collected works of James Frey.
Burroughs and Bukowski get a pass. As does good old DeQuincey.
Because that there’s art.
You can tell it’s art, because it’s confusing, ambiguous, and contradictory, mostly.
But that kind of shit won’t wash no more. Americans are not readers. They don’t go for the fancy stuff. You got to get in, speak your piece, and get out, or else they’ll just drop your post-post-modernist
masterpiece from their weary fingertips onto the shiny coffee table and turn on the TV and watch makeshift narratives until they fallasleep from the hypnotic allure of sheer redundancy.
3. POPULAR CULTURE IS SPORTS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE TOO FAT TOO RUN
Given the fact that we wound up winning the WWII in 1945 on a pair of wildcard planet-busters in the post-season, why are we soconcerned about Iran and North Korea? I mean, Team Israel and the China Boys can take care of those mooks chop-chop. They’re not even in the final four, nuke-wise!
And tell me that the following is not true:
http://kidshow.dcmemories.com/DDC20-3g_620.jpgBut the Disney characters are the worst.
Donald Duck–went from sniffing morphine to mainlining Dilaudid.
Scrooge McDuck would go on ether binges and then wallow in his filthy hidden lucre stored in giant bins.
MICKEY MOUSE is a new world order code word for “Military Industrial Complex Keynesian Economic Yoke More of United States Engulfment.”In his earlier career, he was suicidal. And homophobic.
He later played a secret role as Hitler’s henchman.
But the most telling evidence of the utter depravity of the Disney gang is found here:
In fact, all comic strip characters are polymorphously perverse. The proof:
The best way to get ahead?
Some would say that you must hide your bloody hands under snow-white gloves, then throw them a white hat and call it ‘The American Dream’.
In any event, there’s no denying that the human race seems to have afiendish propensity for devising new means of killing itself off.
There are all sorts of horrific things going on with biowarfare.
Russia has exploded a fuel air bomb.
40% of deaths worldwide are caused by pollution.
Putin uses strategic bombers for long-range patrols.
And my understanding regarding conspiracies is that there are already enough Byzantine complications regarding the ways in which the American political system works, orfails to. Getting lost in the conspiracy literature is counter-productive.
So I ration myself.
The 9/11 Truthers are a case-in-point of a conspiracy theory I find difficult to place credence in.
Conspiracy theorists insist that Bush is evil and stupid. And yet he was smart enough to somehow pull off a series of enormous deceptions?
Okay, substitute “Bush’s most vehement critics” (The Nation, et al.) and scratch “conspiracy theorists,” because their world-view makes an intellectually incurious and shallow Bush inconsistent with their loony conclusions. Therefore, Bush must be a puppet controlled by theBilderbergers, Skull & Bones,33 Degree Masons, CIA, Illuminati, orwhatever the conspiracy du jour happens to be. Maybe the Old Gods–space aliens from beyond time–put him up to it.
Or maybe the way things panned out have a factual basis. Maybe–and I’m just guessing here–Bush was simply looking for a pretext tomeddle with those turbulent middle eastern countries, and the terrorist attacks that took place on 9/11 fit his schema like a glove. Big Oil and the Military-Industrial complex would benefit; pesky public health and environmental initiatives would be strangled intheir cradle, and big business–including Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol, The Prison-Industrial Complex, Big Media, and all the rest–would receive a guaranteed windfall. Is that so hard to believe? Didn’t the previous attack on the towers and the attack on the U.S.S.Cole signify the Bin Laden was up to no good? Is it really that great a leap of faith to assume he was going to strike again?
An elementary course in logic would convince many in the conspiracy theory of the truth of Occam’s razor: “One should not increase, beyondwhat is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.”
But, like fundamentalists who seek to put stupid microbiologists in
their place, belief trumps science in every instance.
Fact: There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all explanation.
Legalizing hemp isn’t going to solve the world’s problems. Proving
that 9-11 was caused by a snickering cartoon President and his evil
henchmen isn’t likely to change a damn thing. Mr. Christ is not likely to come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
But during this century, one billion people will die from
tobacco-related illnesses. You want a conspiracy? There’s your
conspiracy. It’s real and it’s statistically proven and something
needs to be done about it.
To those of you who feel overwhelmed at the mess the world is in and who are spinning your wheels:
Look, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the ruling class
has always been obsessed with money, power, drugs, and whores.
To keep their place on top, they have also grown skillful at stifling dissent.
But just because they do these things, it does not follow that they
are responsible for every bad thing that happens.
By buying into all this conspiracy nonsense, aren’t you simply falling into their trap? Adopting a mindset that is guaranteed to marginalizeyou?
Conspiranoia is a lot like black magic and hallucinogenic drugs.
Unstable people are driven to dabble in it, and, tragically, a lot of
them get so deep into it that they never come back.
Conspiranoia is good for a laugh, But when it is treated as a form of
historical belief, and proselytized as a type of alternative
religion, it is a tragic waste of our time and your intellect.
Look into Black Muslim theology.
Could anyone with any sense possibly believe it? Yet thousands do. Still.
Choose your battles. You can go through life chasing a 9-11 chimera or you could, say, boycott Altria/Philip Morris/Kraft and actuallyaccomplish something.
Let us not speak of the Fonz.
The Fonz was a mass-media-generated simulacrum of a greaser, just like Maynard G. Krebs was some Hollywood mogul’s idea of a beatnik.
By Greasers, I’m basically talking about people whose heyday was roughly 1946-62, give or take.
Though in some communities they persisted well into the seventies and beyond.
They wore leather jackets, used Brylcreem, drove souped-up dragsters or murdercycles, and always had a deck of Luckies rolled up in their t-shirts.
And the men were very similar.
Most of them are retirement age. Some of them are pushing 80.
They are considered an anachronism.
But when we are that old, snotnose punks will have the same opinion of us.
Anyway, greasers are kind of dumb, but you have to remember that they came up in the days before people were so damn self-conscious and
reflectively apologetic about every little thing.
And I can’t think of one of them who say one thing and believe another.
Nor did they pretend to be tough guys.
They were Greasers!
The name alone was enough.
Why was this joke ever popular?
I suspect it’s part of of the grand tradition of rural humor in America.
Back when this was still an agrarian country–even as late as the end of the 19th century and right up to about 1920, farm folk, small-townfolk, and newly-migrated city folk fresh off the farm all got a big
kick out of ethnic humor, dialect humor, and barnyard conundrums.
It seems odd to us because we’re all so clever and classless and free, but back in those dark days, in spite of all the democracy-driven rhetoric, there was something of a class structure based in part
around a rural-urban divide.
Still is, to a certain degree.
Admittedly, it’s not unusual for children’s chants and the like to betray deeper significances buried in history.
On the other hand, we over-explain such phenomena at our own peril.
WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD?
He was compelled to do so by those who determine production, commerce, distribution, thought, social policy, foreign policy, everything–highly concentrated private power acting as part of a system of tyranny unaccountable to the public.–Noam Chomsky [In other words, the chicken represents the infinitely disposable worker toiling ceaselessly under the putatively irrefragable constraints of the Capitalist system, as represented by “The Road”.]
The circularity of the sitcom plot, in which nothing ever changes, is both one of its timeless strengths, yet, ultimately, also the fatalflaw which dooms the form to an artistic ghetto.
The same circularity was evident in radio sitcoms as well.
In fact, many of the present-day sitcom conventions come from radio, and, prior to that, the stage and even serialized novels.
The applause when a “guest star” enters the room. The entrance-exit lines. The tradition of changing the subject with “never mind that”(which actually dates from the 1820s or earlier).
The prevalent art form of a given era says a great deal about the temperament of the people for whom it was devised to entertain. We wax nostalgic about the grand old movies of the 30s and 40s, though only
the good ones have risen to the top. A good 90% of those movies were b-flicks or worse, and devised only to fill the bottom half of adouble feature.
Thus, with television. There is so much time to fill that it is nearly impossible to devise enough original programming to fill it all. So ifTV is our thing, we are forced to entertain ourselves with the output
of overworked insiders who hand us machine-written plots and clichedsituations.
O.E. brand, brond “firebrand, piece of burning wood, torch,” and (poetic) “sword,” from P.Gmc. *brandaz, from base *bran-/*bren- (seeburn). Meaning of “identifying mark made by a hot iron” (1552)
broadened 1827 to “a particular make of goods.” Brand-new is c.1570 and must have meant “fresh from the fire” (Shakespeare has fire-new).
America may be the only country on earth where an expressed distate for advertisements of any kind gets you labelled as an elitist.
As though you were saying, “Whatever the mob adores I deplore.”
People don’t want to admit that a lot of what we choose to buy is based in whether it’s appropriately “classy”.
And that advertising does work.
And the only way you can avoid being influenced by them is by not watching television.
Though magazine ads also work; in some ways not as well; in others, perhaps even better, especially if you are the type of person whoscrutinizes them.
We all have our tribal, clan, and personal preferences, and they areshaped by forces we don’t often bother thinking about. Pointing this out does not make me Marshall McLuhan (though I would strongly suggest
you hunt down a copy of his frequently hilarious book THE MECHANICAL BRIDE. And, while you’re at it, pick up and read Stewart Ewen’sCAPTAINS OF CONCIOUSNESS. To quote the British philosopher Michael Jagger, “THAT’S what I’m talking about!”)
I read Ewen when I was 23. Back then, I thought he had very interesting things to say about the intersection of advertising, p.r.,and social engineering that took place in the 1920s. I’ve been meaning
to take another look at him, though I have yet to do so.
I’ve just finished reading Ayres’ SUPER CRUNCHERS, which is about how econometrics are superseding ‘experts’ and their frequently inaccurate
intuitions in nearly all walks of life. Fascinating stuff, if you are willing to be schooled in how statistics actually operate.
Of course, statistics and market research go hand in hand.
Market research asks you how much you’d be willing to spend.
Statistics determine at which point you would refuse to spend any more.
Millions of dollars are spent every year advertising toilet paper. But it’s all the same asswipe. That’s my point.
OK–I admit it–I really have no idea what I’m talking about. Mankind is more akin to angel than ape, and humans are not merely a bunch ofpurblind DNA modules wrapped in a meatsicles which ceaselessly
perpetuating themselves in a monotonous clockwork masquerade of self-designated “free will.”
Free will, of course, is a philosophic conundrum that frustrated old men like Freud, St. Augustine, and Plato have been batting around fora little while. As of late, molecular biologists and other scientific types have picked up the ball, and they seem to be of the opinion that individual consciousness itself is illusory.
And no individual consciousness = no free will.
The fact that I invariably feel impelled to cite primate behavior when referencing human foibles convinces me that I may be, at heart, acrypto-determinist.
If so, it’s a good man’s fault.
News flash: ENVIRONMENT IS HEREDITY!
They are inextricable because we are all related.
To pursue the animal theme a bit further:
Since we are all one species, perhaps we use social class and the consumption of commodities as our “markers”.
Lower class: Generic.
Middle class: Mass-produced.
Upper middle-class: Hand crafted.
My larger point?
That ultimately, human insight into our own condition is limited.
The eye cannot see its own blind spot.
A parrot cannot persuade a God.
I don’t believe (though I haven’t really thought it through) that one is “reduced” to anything in questioning the role of free will. There
is no shame in admitting that one is merely attempting to look at human events from a newly available window of scientific insight.
Ultimately, free will depends upon the capability of people to transcend their humanness.
That day has not arrived.
And I would not care to speculate here whether it ever will. That’s for the science fiction crowd, and the double-noughtphilosopher-spies.
I am by no means as rigid and dogmatic as I appear. I do not eke out a bare existence as though I were a mere will o’ the wisp out of some existential inanition born of my deepest fears.
Or do I?
That’s like saying the world has too many marathon runners.
If people want to stretch their horizons, then why the hell not encourage them?
Some people might suggest I browse the over-stuffed genre fiction sections of Barnes and Nobel to witness the profusion of awfulness.
Believe me, I have.
Hey, in any genre, the good stuff rises to the top. It’s like natural selection.
Don’t have much use for sci fi myself, though I recognize comic book superheroes are largely some combination of crime and sci fi, and were
heavily influenced by their pulp antecedents.
One of the best novelists today is a crime writer.
I don’t mean the legion of fictioneers who write those odious series books. You know the ones I mean. Detective with a Gimmick. Plucky Female Bail Bondsman. These are admittedly are shrewdly conceived from a marketing standpoint but usually garish and trivial from any strictly literary point of view.
I’m talking James Ellroy.
And any writer can learn a lot from true crime books such as the ones produced in profusion by writers such as Ann Rule. In fact, I’mploughing my way through a series of anthologies in Penzler & Cook’s
2002-2006 series The Best Crime Writing (in 2007 they changed the title to The Best Crime Reporting).
Not many guys will cop to reading romance.
I’ve read a few of them.
Back in the late 90s I stumbled across a cache of library discard books-on-tape in every conceivable genre, including Romance. I had a boring technical services library job, and I ended up reading every
I’ve also read some women’s fiction–admittedly, as part of a Reader’s Advisory module for professional librarians.
It’s OK–like romance with an unhappy ending. Like espionage novels with romantic intrigue instead of assassination.
As part of my thesis research I read a book by Thomas J. Roberts called An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction, (Athens, Georgia: University of
Georgia Press, 1990). In it, Roberts notes that “the saturation of the culture with books” of any kind “began to appear only within the last
two hundred years,” for “it was not until then that cheap fiction in the form of the dime novel and the penny dreadful, the direct ancestors of contemporary pulp fiction, began pouring off the presses
and into the lives of our ancestors,” when “people had the time, the conditions, the equipment, and the skills that made reading in bulk possible.”
He also notes:
What is especially to be remarked about the people who are doing this reading and who…form virtual fellowships is that they are not ruled from above. That is, the primary readers of pulp fiction are usually
characterized as the victims of the manipulative editors and writers who pretend to be their servants, and those editors and writers do give themselves credit when a genre, a writer, or a book is
successful. They are wrong, however. It is the readers, after all, who invent genres–by becoming so enthusiastic about an odd new book that
publishers and writers make other books resembling it; it is the readers who change the genres–by passing over stories that are too much like those that have already appeared; and it is the readers who
kill genres–by leaving the genres’ stories unbought on the bookstore shelves.The notion that publishers, editors and writers are manipulating the tastes of a vast, unthinking mob is one more echofrom the literary bookscape…an echo of the notion of arbiters of taste.
There is a body of literature that the academic critic and scholar of popular literature Thomas J. Roberts has called “junk fiction.” Not only their plot lines but “what the plots are carrying,” Roberts has labeled as “nets that have been used over the centuries…[which] in each period caught pieces of the life of a dying generation.” However, far from existing solely to entertain on the basest level, this type of “junk fiction” can be said to have its own logic and rationale, not so different from what we call serious fiction, in which the readers’ interests lie, not in the works of individual authors, but in the “dynamic tradition” of the genre, in which they are engaged in
“listening to the stories talk to one another.” Characters are created from role identities, relationships and responsibilities, which are
“fundamental social realities for urban humanity.” One must not assume that one can assess such fiction with no experience of it, since “every vernacular genre does produce stories that are slightly or
deeply unintelligible to the newcomer…just as there is a skill and lore required to read literature, there is for each genre a genre competency…[for] every story in every popular genre is referring deliberately or unconsciously to every other story in that genre…the
reader is not reading the text but the genre by means of the text.”
Critic Matthew Surridge claimed, “Genre codes are not necessarily impositions placed on a writer. They’re an aspect of fiction that can be manipulated.”So yeah, we can tear out our hair one patch at a time over the fact that the field is glutted with carelessly written books intended for careless readers. But even a bad book may teach you something you didn’t know.
And nobody’s making us read that trivial outpouring of wretchedness that comprises so much of mass-market fiction. And literary fiction
can be just as meretricious, albeit in its own very special way.
Furthermore, one million bad books will not prevent that one gem from rising to the top. It may take decades, but rise it will.
I think that even writing genre fiction beats any number of other time-wasting diversions, and gives the putative writer an enhanced appreciation of the vast amount of work that goes into constructing
even a thoroughly wretched novel.
Now, encouraging people to write poetry, on the other hand, is something I definitely do not approve of.
I suspect that just about anybody who is literate could write a paragraph or two of fairly decent prose if they set their minds to it.
But, since it’s much easier to write horrendously bad poetry, they do that instead.
And then they expect a fucking medal.
Even though in far too many cases these poetasters don’t read poetry, know nothing about poetic form or history, have no poetry in their souls, and nothing on their minds that cries out for poetic
I once pissed off a published and rather respectable poet by quoting H.L. Mencken’s rather scathing remark that no man with any sense persists in writing poetry much after the age of forty.
Back when Louise Solano was running the Grolier, I overheard her saying that just about everybody who reads poetry also writes it.
All those writers, and nobody to read what they write!
I am convinced that most people who profess not to understand poetry simply profess this so they can avoid having to pass judgment on the effusions of their relatives.
You now who really likes poetry?
One of the finest poems ever written was written by a man condemned to die named Chidiock Tichborne:
Chidiock Tichborne’s Elegy written with his own hand in the Tower before his execution
My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain.
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen and yet my leaves are green;
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen.
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade;
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made.
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
No, it’s much better to let them try their hand at fiction.
If they really get into it, they might learn something.
Mencken once described a historian as a “failed novelist”.
HLM can usually be counted on to have a quote guaranteed to piss off anyone who takes themselves too seriously.
Vice versa, not a few novelists have turned to history. Offhand? Dickens. H.G. Wells. (Allegedly, he plagiarized another man’sresearch). Even good ole James Michener wrote a fairly respectable
(though ponderous) account of the Kent State shootings that one of my profs assigned us to read.
Some of my favorite history reads like good fiction. Notably, biography. Taylor Branch on MLK. Caro on Johnson. The now-forgotten reporter Gene Fowler on folks like Jimmy Durante and Mayor Jimmy
I am also very fond of the labyrinthine books of Matthew Josephson and the somewhat less lumbering tomes of Bernard DeVoto. The latter’s