I just read an op-ed on The Guardian scolding a british celebrity. (I know nothing about them, to be honest. Plus, I’ve gotta say, I never thought I’d be writing about something to do with a former Spice Girl. Even at the third remove…) Now, this by itself is not noteworthy. Anyone who has ever flicked an errant glance at their op-ed section knows this is frequently par for the course. It’s a way of pretending to be above the vapidness and indignity of celebrity-worshipping, whilst really just putting on a different mask and serving up yet another form of obsessing over celebrities. (‘No-one Cares What Rich-White-Man George Clooney Thinks About Child Poverty!‘ blares the typical headline. And with a ‘witty’, equally dismissive subtitle for good measure. But what is it then followed by? Four thousand words meticulously dissecting what George Clooney thinks about child poverty. This is an age-old sleight of hand. Just a shameless workaround for having it both ways. Keep an eye out for it and you’ll start seeing it everywhere.)
However, in this particular case, there was an added peculiarity which caught my attention. This article is upbraiding the performer in question for discussing her past experiences having sex with another woman. Because she said it on television. The implication is that she’s therefore doing “lesbianism” – a term it’s refreshing to hear someone besides your out-of-date conservative grandparents using – very wrong. Yeah. I’m not fucking with you, I promise. That link above is real. I haven’t somehow spoofed the website and forged a phony article. This was on The Guardian. (And, as it turns out, it’s not the only one on there with this exact take either.) Damn, isn’t it funny how the world turns?
No, wait, you don’t understand! It’s, like, done in a vaguely semi-jokey way or whatever! Well… despite the ultra-petty, caustic jabs about this performer’s supposed lack of cultural relevance. And despite the earnest attempts to shame someone for discussing their sexuality in a supposedly-distasteful context. And despite the exhortations for this performer to keep their mouth shut about such things in future, lest they incur the, uh, high-minded ire of ‘cultural critics’ in the commentariat.
I mean, hey, tell me if this sounds crazy… but I think that if you’re essentially saying ‘no, no, no, STOP THAT! you’re doing xyz sexuality WRONG!’ you should step back and re-evaluate your own attitude. Because you sound bigoted. In the most literal definition of the word. And in this case the writer also kinda seems high on some childish power-trip. One which has made them erroneously believe that they can ridicule (and silence) other people’s choices about discussing their sexuality, because they’re commenting as an LGBTQ+ person. Well, I’m an LGBTQ+ person too – though one certainly needn’t be to validly make this point – and I can tell you that that’s rank stupidity whoever it comes from.
A little while back I watched two documentaries (released by Netflix and Hulu) about the Fyre festival bait-and-switch debacle. And just a few days ago I watched a documentary (released by HBO) about the implosion of Theranos. It was very glaring that they all share the same central flaw.
First, a word on quality. (Because, funnily enough, this has been much discussed online.) I’d say the Netflix-released Fyre documentary is clearly superior to the Hulu one. Not that the former is spectacular or anything. It’s just a decent, watchable documentary. Whereas the latter is frankly not even worth your time.
It commits one of the cardinal sins, which is an overreliance on pointless stock footage and flashy motion graphics. Best I can tell, this is done in pursuit of three aims. 1) To have filler content during narrator-heavy sections. 2) To pad out the runtime. 3) To lend the film some semblance of being ultra-modern and visually interesting. This trend in documentary filmmaking is fast becoming a pet peeve of mine. It really is just a lazy way of trying to artificially keep the viewer’s attention. And, in that sense, there’s an aspect of condescension in it. “The facts surely won’t be enough to keep you ADD-era simpletons engaged for ninety minutes, so here’s some eye-candy footage of… uhh, I don’t know… the skyline of some metropolis to keep you entertained while we dole them out.” Even under normal circumstances this is irritating. But when your documentary is about an event attended by vloggers obsessed with filming themselves – who would no doubt love to let you use their videos and display their Youtube name – you really don’t have any excuse for not showing us the thing itself as much as possible. Viewers want to glimpse the chaos as it unfolds. Not hear you describe how paying to go viral on Instagram works.
Maybe I’m just a pedantic stickler – hey now, you don’t all have to pipe up in a heartfelt chorus of ‘fuck yes you are’ – but when people try to redefine a word or phrase to let themselves off the hook for something, it bugs me. It really does. Maybe it’s because I have a degree in ‘English Literature and Creative Writing’. (For the low, low price of fifty thousand pounds in student loans, you could have this lucrative-opportunity-flypaper too! *jazz hands* Be careful you don’t trip over sprinting to your local university’s enrollment office! Please! Form an orderly line!) Now, I know most people wouldn’t trot out an undergraduate degree, let alone in the dreaded… humanities, as a justification for anything at all. I must admit, I see the self-aware wisdom in that reluctance. But bear with me for a second here. Because I want to tell you that getting that diploma was kinda like going to a seminary for three years. Where instead of worshipping some absentee-dad in the sky, you learn to worship meaning-laden squiggles on a page or screen. And one of the tenets of that reverence concerns the permissible and impermissible ways in which one may abuse the words themselves. Maybe you previously looked at that line in the sand askance. Well, no longer. You’ll gain a quaint sort of squeamishness when it comes to any flagrant disregard for it.
With all this in mind, let me start by saying that a ‘guilty pleasure’ ought to be essentially innocuous. Here are some examples which fit the bill:
- Waking up in the middle of the night and blearily traipsing over to the kitchen to snarf down chocolate whilst half-naked, half-asleep and bathed in that harsh refrigerator light. (I can cop to this one. Hard.)
- Rewatching Friends on Netflix for the 78th time. You now not only know it word-for-word – such that you could nearly stage a one-man table reading of any given episode’s script from memory – but you also know the notable mannerisms each actor performs in each scene. (My girlfriend has to raise her hand for this one.)
- Begrudgingly listening to pop songs you don’t even like, because they’re so precisely and expertly engineered to be earworms that you just can’t help but give into the craving to hear them again. (Unless a species-wide firmware patch is someday applied, fixing this exploitable bug in human psychology, I think everyone is unfortunately stuck with this one…)
You’ll notice that in these cases, and all other applicable ones, ‘guilty pleasure’ is really somewhat of an exaggeration. You don’t really need to feel bad about doing these things. They’re not ideal, perhaps. And you may wish that you made smarter or healthier or more productive choices in their place. But they’re still not anything which reflects poorly on you as a person.
So… Alex Jones was on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ podcast again several days ago, for an almost five hour long episode. (Which is, by the by, easily the longest podcast episode I’ve ever come across in my life.) I must admit, when I saw this pop up in my new-podcasts feed, I was very intrigued to hear it. For reasons I’ll expound upon in just a moment. I hope you won’t mind being a little patient here. Besides, isn’t that one of the components of enlightenment which the Headspace™ meditation app has granted you? (Of course, I was taught how to meditate during an ultra exclusive nine-year silent retreat hosted by transhumanist half-cyborg monks on the dark side of the moon. But, hey, I’m sure that learning from an… app… is just as good. ˢᶜʳᵉʷ ʸᵒᵘ ᵖᵒˢᵉʳ)
First off, let me say that I have somewhat mixed feelings about Joe Rogan. I’ve been listening to his podcast, albeit very much on and off, since close to when it first started. And obviously its place, in the public consciousness, on the Mount Rushmore of long-running quality podcasts is well-deserved. There have been some truly excellent episodes, featuring really in-depth conversations with fascinating thinkers and personalities. I feel I’ve learned quite a lot from it. And I’ve always liked his unapologetically long-form, one-on-one conversational podcast format (though he’s also branched out into other setups). It has been widely influential in the podcast space and with good reason. I’d even say it was one of the inspirations for the form my own podcast takes.
The evolution of Rogan as a person and of his opinions over the years has been both stark and fairly admirable. Not to mention, very interesting to watch. In his current form, I have heard him say many astute or thoughtful or compassionate things. Many things I have agreed with and respected that he said. But I have also heard him say (flippantly or otherwise) some very stupid and even repugnant things. Listing them all would perhaps be gratuitous. In recent memory though, I’ve heard him make comments about fat people which clearly betray a deep-seated form of disdain or disgust for them and their fatness. And some of the ridiculing, dismissive things he has said about being transgender do not exactly redound to his credit either. Far from it. Likewise, his knee-jerk tendency to, when the subject enters a discussion, bring up things like the outlier cases of unethical doctors carelessly prescribing very young children hormone replacement drugs is revealing and unsettling. And it summons something else to mind. This is in no way a direct analogy, but it is somewhat reminiscent of how a few decades ago anti-gay campaigners would make the bad faith misdirect of bringing up the tiny percentage of homosexual predators or pedophiles in response to the question of whether homosexuality should be normalized in society.