Friday, December 21, 2012

The Record Binge, Favorites 2012

The world is supposed to end in like ten minutes or something. But I ain't even sweatin' it, B. I mean why bother? It's going to happen at some point regardless, right? And whether that be on 12/21 or something like five billion years from now, there's not much you can do to stave off extinction (and even if there were, it does posit the logical follow-up as to whether life on a post-apocolyptic planet would really be worth it, anyway). Anyhow, I'd probably be busting loose with my all-time/history-of-the-earth favorites list if the Mayan calendar's end or Obama's reelection kept me up at night. Wanna know why I'm not? Because NASA, that's why. And as much as I accept that the ancient Mayans were in many facets a culture ahead of its time, they'd still collectively shit themselves at the sight of a satellite.

Thus, I present my favorite releases in music, vol. 2012. You will do well to note the use of "favorite" instead of "best" and abstain from bemoaning the absence of Beach House on these lists.



Highlight: "My Eating Disorder"
Titus Andronicus are punk as fuck. I get that traditionalists object to this classification on account of the fact that their records do contain some very unpunk elements - 14 minute songs, extended metaphor, piano and sax solos, Springsteen nods (plural), fucking patriotism - and also because people like me (who could in enumerable ways rightly be called a pussy) idolize them. But I don't really give a shit. For me, nowhere else are uptempo, messy, drunk, smoke-filled barroom shout-alongs and working-class power guitar better amalgamated. Everyone mistakenly dings this effort for being "not The Monitor" as if an effort to replicate the scale and scope of 2010's best album would have been an even remotely wise venture to begin with. We probably weren't ready, and we certainly weren't worthy. Regardless, the first half of Local Business is a suite of songs as strong as anything else the band have ever done, capped off by album climax and highlight "My Eating Disorder" (watch it here with companion piece "Food Fight"). TITUS ANDRONICUS FOREVER!

Attack on Memory / Cloud Nothings -

Highlight: "Wasted Days"
Cleveland's Cloud Nothings got dark. And they ain't even trying to hide it, neither. If the blurry, desolate landscape in greyscale wasn't an adequate indication of what was contained within (for reference, this is the cover of their last album, a spry collection of pop-punk jubilee), then the opening dirge "No Future / No Past" makes as much abundantly clear. When the rhythm section kicks in at 0:10 and frontman Dylan Baldi repeats some shit like "Give up / Come to / No hope / We're through" toward infinity in the saddest of sad bastard voices, you're inclined to believe him re: the whole hope is lost thing. But at three-and-three-quarters minutes, the elegy breaks up into some genuinely howled blood-letting. It's catharsis if ever it existed and was put to tape. Over the next half hour (beginning with the 8-minute killer "Wasted Days"), Cloud Nothings take the listener on a hard-hitting tour of Midwestern defeatism. Even lead-single "Stay Useless", which is about as close as the band get to approaching anything remotely pop-oriented, eludes despair only so long as to make apathy home. It's emotionally wearing, for sure, but Cleveland is a real shit hole. This is probably the most realistic music to emerge from the region in a long time (possible exception). Anyway, this album is awesome and authentic. Pick it up.

Highlights: "Serpents", "All I Can"
It really doesn't take long to figure out what makes this album special. Sharon Van Etten's voice is mesmerizing in the best possible way. At times whimsical, at times bare and incredibly vulnerable, at times times abrasive - it's the centerpiece of every song. It's wavering and sustained on what feels like every note. The most essential instrument on Tramp is, without question, the simplest. That's not the say the musicianship is at all lacking - members of Beirut, The National and The Walkmen assisted Van Etten on fleshing out her songs in the studio. The National's Aaron Dressner manned the boards, even. The instrumentation is good, but without Van Etten you've got little more than nice-sounding, ornate, spacey chamber-rock that would be at home on any of the aforementioned bands' records. Her vocals, and especially her melodies, take the incredibly honest and personal songs of her sophomore release to stratospheric heights. By the time the rest of the guys jump in halfway through "All I Can", you've forgotten they were absent to begin with.

Highlights: "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe", "Money Trees"
It took me a little while to really appreciate this one. The hypesters were all up on them m.a.a.d city nuts from the jump, no doubt. It was the alleged savior of west coast hip-hop. It was the purported masterstroke of Dre's latest protege. With the propaganda train rolling into station like that, I was fully prepared to be overwhelmed by product and underwhelmed by the results. I figured this young blud Kendrick Lamar would be discontent with excess and get caught teetering too far toward excessive. On first listen, though, it felt.. I don't know.. tame, or something. I didn't get the draw. In retrospect I realized it was because I'd been conditioned by highly-promoted major label releases to fiend for the boast, the brag and the swag. "Legit hip-hop" has been reduced to a punch line battle between those attempting the most unique or clever way to claim the superiority of their whips, their crib or their stick. Instead, Lamar offers a ripped-from-real-life narrative style, the most realistic depiction of the South Central menace since Dre, et al. brought it to the national fore two decades ago. That, as well as with the positively laid back G-funk-drunk production, is where the comparisons originate. There's still some of that bravado (ie. the whole dick as Eiffel Tower simile on "Backseat Freestyle"), but mostly you get as complete a look at the struggles of an urban upbringing (and the emotional, familial and moral strain placed upon it) as can be rendered on an album. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is worth it if only for that funky ass "Money Trees" (complete with a Beach House sample, haters!) and the fact that "Compton" contains the only legit verse the Doctor has dropped since 2001 (even if he still keeps name dropping his goddamn overrated headphones whenever he's behind the mic). Peep it. Best believe you gon' be waitin on Kenrick like the first and the fifteenth. 

Highlight: "Bad Thing"
What rules about garage noise punk shit is that it always maintains that one-take, plug-and-play feeling. Nothing feels overwrought or overthought. Put in too much production or too many overdubs and you begin to generate that feeling like it was put together piecemeal in a studio over the course of a month or two, and then it just feels kind of fake. That's not to say the songs aren't by-design, but it is to say the feeling is that planning is of secondary or tertiary concern. The problem is that this spontaneous feel often comes at the expense of melody and accessibility. Even Ty Segall's self-described "pop album" Goodbye Bread had about one song that could be, you know, tolerated by crossover fans. King Tuff's self-titled debut is the rare window into a world where legitimate garage acts don't shy away from writing big time hooks that demand repeat listens. (Alright, fuck it. I've postponed long enough. LOOK AT THAT COVER ART! A devil horned bat-bodied human skull thing clutching an SG in one arm/leg and a wizard wand in the other. Holy/what the fuck, that's rad.) There's mad riffage on opener "Anthem". If the ensuing "Alone & Stoned" and "Keep on Movin'" don't generate the head-bob and foot-tap, you're a rhythmless ass. As far as absolute fucking JAMS go, though, there's no steppin' to that barn-burner "Bad Thing". Garage rock's lightning-in-a-bottle is never more enjoyably released than when King Tuff mastermind Kyle Thomas slips the reigns and shouts "I'm a BAAAAaaaAAAaaaAAAD THIIiiiIIINNNGG!" 

Highlight: "Every Man Needs A Companion"
This was so goddamn close to being my favorite thing of the year. Father John Misty used to be J. Tillman. Though he used to release is own solo material under said moniker, J(osh). Tillman was more recognizably referenced as the drummer for Pitchfork bottom-bitches Fleet Foxes. After Helplessness Blues conquered all that is indie, Tillman bounced and reemerged as the newly ordained Father Misty. In tow was a collection of songs both more assorted in style and more deserving of interest and acclaim than any released under his abbreviated birth name. One thing that's clearly evident on Fear Fun is that Tillman is having a hell of a good time as his new persona. Songs like "I'm Writing a Novel"- wherein he admits ventures like his own are hardly, ahem, novel - are brimming with humor while still adhering to and reinforcing his moniker's origin tale. What's also clear (though it's been known) is that dude has a  killer voice. Some pretty remarkable vocal acrobatics merely enhance the superb songwriting on cuts like "Only Son Of A Ladiesman" and "Every Man Needs A Companion" (an obviously essential inclusion on any mixtape ever made for a woman from here on out). As a whole it's not the most focused outing, though it is quite possibly the most self-indulgent (Christ Jesus, look at the cover). You're going to sing along to all of this at some point. There's a pretty obvious cult-like undercurrent beneath anything involving this project, though, so I'm sure the Father would approve if you'd join his choir.

Highlights: "Fire's Highway", the rest
Eight tracks. They're basically all the same length. They're basically all equally amazing and cohesive. Celebration Rock is basically the perfect title for the sentiment stirred up here by two dudes that were prepped to throw in the towel before their last record took off. I'm unsure if it's because I'm just at that age, but this album perfectly mirrors those summers misspent practicing playing beer pong with the bros in an abhorrently filthy garage, two or three box fans trying and failing to generate some sort of cross-current. The damn thing even starts with the crackle of fireworks. From "The Nights of Wine and Roses" onward, it's basically balls out at 160 bpm. There's no variation in tempo or auditory aesthetic. Guitars distorted. Vocals distorted. No singing. Mostly shouting. There is celebration, yes. But there's also a lot of palpable rebellion. It's the kind of thing that could easily soundtrack a party, but it'd be the kind of party full of people that are to some extent conscious that their partying days are numbered or are (at the very least) going to start conflicting with the grown-up jobs they've spent their young adulthood trying to secure. It's a transitional term, an intimidating age. Not everyone copes well with its end. Celebration Rock does so by immortalizing and praising its impermanence, which is ultimately what makes it perfect.

Highlights: "Tan Leather", "Hookers At The Point"
End of last year, I was reserving the nod for my future favorite rap shit for The Bawse, Rick Ross. But goddamn if God Forgives, I Don't didn't land flat as Pac Man in the sixth. Action Bronson, though? Action Bronson came out ferocious as fuck in 2012. Dude put out not one but two top shelf mixtapes this year: Blue Chips with the (slightly) better rhymes+beats+etc, Rare Chandeliers with the best artwork (of all time). If you're as new to Action as I was, lemme lay it down: Queens' finest is a big, barrel-bodied bald dude, spittin' like Ghostface, grillin' like Batali, red beard and all. More apt and autobiographical: facially, he's like a young John Kennedy, but with more obscenity, EBT and Genovese. Bronseliño brings that gritty shit every track. Statistically speaking, his most memorable lines come in one of two flavors: rhymes about raunchy sex or rhymes about food. In fact, so often throughout the Party Supplies-produced Blue Chips, the two are presented side-by-side in the most glorious I-might-have-washed-my-hands-before-I-prepared-for-you-this-five-star-cuisine kind of way, as happens somewhere on "Tan Leather" ("Dope body but a pussy like an old fish / The antipasti, that's a cold dish."). The hook on the same track is basically a recipe for bone marrow. And there's so much more where that came from.. Actually, now that I think about it, these jams are all grub and grime. I ain't even trying to fault the the guy, though. Dude just likes his rhymes as blue as his yellowfin. It's so seriously refreshing to watch someone without a filter or a catch net. If the occasional cringe is the price of admission, then so be it.

Highlights: "Dance For You", "Unto Caesar" 
"Straightforward" is the most commonly crossed word in the critiquing of this album, and in just about every instance it's connotative suggestion is that this is a bad thing. I can only suppose this stems from the proven fact that being roundabout and intricate is kind of the Dave Longstreth's thing and, perhaps, a fear that some break from that is indicative of Dirty Projectors running out of ideas. I don't know.. that sounds like bullshit to me, mostly. Before Swing Lo Magellan, 2009's Bitte Orca was branded their most accessible effort, and it was pretty universally heralded as amazing. Few bands have, throughout their discography, made listeners put forth as much effort or invest as much patience for melodic payoff as have Dirty Projectors. Not that the rewards don't so often feel magnified as a result of wading through the twists and turns and tempo changes (sometimes over multiple tracks), but you always get that faint feeling that you're the rat running Longstreth's maze. There is still so much nuance and beauty contained in this album, and the fact that it's more readily available doesn't diminish that fact. The acoustic numbers are so damn genuine (and a rare insight into the Projectors often mysterious songwriting). The guitar playing is still impossibly unique (the brief guitar solo on "Dance For You" is probably my favorite thing on the album). Maintaining all the qualities that make Dirty Projectors truly original, interesting and great while simultaneously remaining more appropriate for repeated listens, Swing Lo Magellan is the best thing to come out this year.


"Broken Arrows" / Francisco the Man -

I almost didn't include this song on this list, since I feel like it's been out for forever. It was released independently last year as an online A-side and has been a staple of their live set for at least as long. This year it was remixed and made the B-side to the 7" they put out via New York's Small Plates label. Anyway, this thing mostly speaks for itself. "Broken Arrows" kicks up the best kind of nostalgia, that which threads the needle between sun drenched and sunburnt so impossibly, effortlessly and enjoyably. These dudes get a lot of credit for their ultra-tuneful guitar melodies à la Keep It Like A Secret-era Built to Spill (in full effect here during the extended second-half jam), but I've long maintained that what elevates them from a great band to an amazing band is their highly underrated rhythm section. It's truly a beast to be reckoned with, and it's always responsible for whatever equally compelling musicianship is going on behind the delay-heavy squall wall laid forth up front. That strength stands clearly evident here, as well (see: everything from the second verse onward). This song is good enough to be on this list for this year, last year, or any year.

Go see Francisco the Man live and buy everything they've ever put out.

"Never Ever" / The Orwells -

Shazam is easily my favorite and most used Android app of significance. It was the first thing I downloaded when I upgraded from my old, busted-ass phone this past summer. That being said, I'm terrible at it. I never remember to check the tracks I tag and pick them up later on. In six months time, I've tagged this song on three separate occasions at three separate locations. I'm pretty sure they were all bars and I was pretty drunk each time. I don't mean it's the kind of song I wouldn't be into when I'm sober. I'm not saying the booze brought me to tag it and the hangover had me wondering how I'd lowered my standards so.. It's just that simple kind of song that, you know, makes more sense when you're not thinking about it too much: a slow-burning build behind some basic truths sung by someone that sounds just as hammered as you are. It's the kind of song you might sing to the piss stall after several rounds of dueling double IPAs. While it is a bit disgusting once you learn that these are 17-year-olds singing about their "fear of aging", damn it if they don't sound convinced. Conviction is key.

"True Thrush" / Dan Deacon -

Dan Deacon has a mild-to-concerningly-mild obsession with this distorted vocal effect that makes him sound either like a cat in heat or The Chipmunks on acid, depending on who you ask. It's not a particularly pleasing sound, but it's sort of developed into the dude's calling card after "The Crystal Cat" came out ages ago, and it's largely forgiven because everything else about the dude is so awesome. "True Thrush" is pretty easily the most universally enjoyable song Deacon has ever put out. It's a body mover through and through, but with a touch of restraint and an ever mindful eye for melody. As it is wont to do, the cat-noise-thing does make a cameo (first at 1:30 and again later on), but it's marginal and relegated to the background. This is about as pastoral and accommodating as gets the Deacon with one of the more immediately indelible grooves I've heard in quite some time. It's only augmented by the year's best music video on a recession budget.

"We Can't Be Beat" / The Walkmen -

Years ago, The Walkmen wrote "The Rat". It was and is an amazing song. It brims and boils over with that blustering swagger of bands from the Big Apple, and it perfectly captured the sentiment of the early adulthood "fuck you" statement song. It almost dared you not to connect with it, and whether you were the scuzzy dude in the front row at their shows or that dude's dad, you did. They've slowed down since, bent to the will of that unavoidable middle arch of marriage and fatherhood, etc. Hell, Heaven's liner notes are loaded with family pictures from the respected band members, even. That's not to say the music's gotten worse, though. The first thing I heard from Heaven was the title track, and it was rad, Real Estate-inspired guitar line and all. "Heartbreaker" is also pretty awesome. They just didn't pack that punch, you know? But, once I had the thing in my hands and on the ol' record player, however, opener "We Can't Be Beat" made all else obsolete.

"The Rat" and "We Can't Be Beat" are, coincidentally enough, adjacent to one another on my iTunes playlist when sorted Album by Artist. It's fitting. The latter plays like the wiser, experienced counterpart to the green-behind-the-ears energy of the former. "We Can't Be Beat" begins contemplative and ruminative, bringing forth the prestige of old that was storied, but temporary. At the halfway point, though, it takes a pretty stark turn as it transitions from subdued reverence to revitalized celebration set to a steady beat/stomp. Indeed, those golden dreams will run you through, but you'll be all the better for it. I can only hope I'm lucky enough to last this long and learn this much.

"Plumage" / Menomena -

If you're any good at reading comprehension, you've no doubt figured out that I go hard for just about anything pertaining to biology. You'll understand, then, is right up my alley. A mating metaphor that kind of starts to fall apart after the first chorus, it's quick to assert that humans really aren't that much more than glorified animals, technically capable of cognitive thought but anchored like all species to hardwired cues from the opposite sex. Dude's "nothing more than an animal in search of another animal to tame and claim as [his] own." Sounds like a spot-on study of the single life to me. The chorus is the money-maker though, driving home an idea so incredibly simple and deeply ingrained in the (especially male) psyche that it's difficult to level it with our greatest aspirations toward an equal society: "I don't want to be just anybody to you. I want to be your one and only mate for life." It's subtle, but it's never promised that this arrangement goes both ways. Call it sexist. Call it unfair. But blame evolution and the probable nonexistence of a supernatural creator. (Also, enjoy the weird-as-hell video and the rad-as-hell baritone sax break at 2:07!!)

"Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" / Tame Impala -

All of Lonerism is solid. I could have very easily included it amongst my aforementioned favorite albums of the year, because it is. It's status as such, though, is most largely attributed to this song. "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" is an absolutely monster of an earworm. This thing was originally stuck somewhere in my auditory cortex for well over a month. The hook is insanely infectious and soars far above just about anything else I heard this year. It's entirely possible that the verses to this song exist only to offer a smidgen of variety, though it's entirely unnecessary. If this track were ten minutes of looped chorus, I'd still fuck with it no question. Additional props are due to the bass line, which ambles about and provides additional buoyancy, just in case the melody decides to come back down from the clouds. (PS: It doesn't).

Oh wait... we survived!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Hunger Daze

Too easy.

I've little doubt that all ya'll got tryptophaned the fuck out Thursday night. Your bellies are probably still full, your bodies are probably still stretched out somethin' unseemly across your mother's couch, and your sweatpants' stretchbands have no doubt done seriously tested their load capacity. To top it off, USA Network was forward-thinking enough to schedule a Law & Order: Criminal Intent marathon so Vincent D'Onofrio's creepy ass could infiltrate all your drunken dreams of sales black and cyber. Yeah, Thanksgiving did you right. If you're being honest with yourself, you know it always does.

Thanksgiving is the undisputed world heavyweight champion of Western white heavyweights' holidays. It is, without question, my favorite holiday of the year. It's the only one I even anticipate during the months preceding its arrival. Were it not for Thanksgiving, there quite frankly is at least a 40% chance I'd forget Christmas was on-deck (a figure that would be much, much higher were it not for the complete cultural saturation of Christmas shit ushered forth by corporate America come mid-summer). Hell, I like Thanksgiving more than I like my own birthday (which, coincidentally and revealingly enough, is on the most-forgotten, other holiday in November). So every year I am dismayed when people I might otherwise respect get all self-indignant about their aversion to this most mildly cherished of days. I've never been able to make a whole lot of sense of it.

I like Thanksgiving because I'm an adult, and it is a holiday that caters pretty unabashedly to adults.  That is to say that the features I find most enjoyable - cooking, driving a good distance to shoot the shit with people I see sporadically at best - are things I viewed in my youth with the same rueful displeasure I resented all chores. However, just as I eventually exchanged OJ for black coffee and soda pop for beer, at some point receiving presents became much less important than passing around the bottle of CC with the elders on the back porch. Until this point, though, until you are recognized as capable-enough and are welcomed at the adults' table, Thanksgiving just doesn't offer you a whole lot outside of stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Absent are the frilly, superfluous features of the ensuing season that I can (and prefer to) do without, though it's certainly not for a lack of trying by the Walmarts and Best Buys of the world. Christmas' leftward march through the calendar has been noticed and lamented as far back as the original airing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Yet, in spite of every attempt to reduce it to a corporate cash cow, Thanksgiving remains stubbornly low maintenance and boring. It continues as the only tradition with enough historical bona fides to mandate unaltered observance and preclude Black Friday sales from starting the day after Halloween or Labor Day.

Thanksgiving also rules because it's so thoroughly American. As far as holidays worth their hype are concerned, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that more prominently extols values universal across all the assimilated ingredients of our melting-pot society. At the very least, it is more inclusive if based on nothing more than the fact that it is not called Christgiving. Seriously though, name another holiday where you can start drinking at like 10:30 ante meridiem, and the only wary glances received are from people wondering what the fuck took you so long. Name another where you can eat a weeks worth of food in one sitting and then watch the New England Patriots and the New York Jets reenact the untold story of Thanksgiving (you know, the one where ghostfaced pretty boys basically slaughtered all the brown people and sold the survivors into slavery). I mean, there's a reason football and overeating are not included in the Summer Olympic Games. That's our shit. There's no competition. America, fuck yeah forever.

So next year, fret not the colonialist origins. Fret not the forced encounters with your tax-assessing second cousin or your inability to properly cook a turkey with strength. Especially spare me your despair or disparaging remarks, your indifference or irreverence for a holiday that's actually worth the time and energy put into it. Celebrate the life lethargic, instead. Bask in the glory of impending postprandial somnolence. And for God(?)'s sake be thankful, because December is still a week away, and you're about to get really fucking tired of Christmas music.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chicken: The Other Red Meat

You made a mistake if didn't catch HBO's The Newsroom, because it's solid. That's not to say it is, by any stretch, the best show on television right now. It's not. It's not on par with Aaron Sorkin's best, even, though it does possess many of the guy's defining touchstones that by now are all but familiar. The characters, while flawed, are substantive and developed. The dialogue is relentlessly fast-paced and quick-witted. The world conjured is center-left liberal bent. Hipsters go hard for that kind of thing. And while The Newsroom is certainly a soft-toss for anyone that liked The Social Network, I grant it a pass on that front considering that Sorkin's C-stuff is still better than the barrage of brainwaste that traverses the major network waterway every season (Whitney got renewed, for Christ's sake!). More importantly, Will McAvoy and Co. deserve accolades because they have accomplished what many of my friends have long thought impossible: they have successfully cut me from the clutches of cable news.

Gasp at the thought, strangers of the void! But it's true! No more Chris Matthews or Dylan Rattigan. No more pimp ass Eliot Spitzer (I think he still has a show?). No more Bill O!! Since you know I like my ladies cerebral (and also since I've steadfastly refused to acknowledge the fact that she's not into dudes), I still occasionally check in on my girl Rachel Maddow (whose show most closely resembles News Night, anyway). Lone exception aside, though, I've otherwise managed to separate myself entirely from the imagined worry, manufactured outrage and hyperbolic-response-as-pseudo-intellectualism that pass as journalism for America's "politically in-tune." In return I've been given an extra 2-3 hours per evening wherein I can focus on things that really matter, like trolling the message boards of the High Desert's only legitimate newspaper favorite haven for racist idiots and collecting the scalps of Tea Partiers young, old and (especially) ancient.

The effects this vacuum have had on my life are palpable (though not disagreeable), especially considering my state of being ca. this-time-of-year 2008. Two months before the McCain v. Obama (Battle for the Soul of the Republic!), I was the go-to source amongst friends, family and colleagues regarding anything in the blathersphere, remaining perfectly well versed in any/all political miscues and misstatements on any given day. I carried about, all-knowing but unbeknown to the fact that I was probably annoying the piss out of everyone. Now, though? Now I get my news the old-fashioned way, two or three links down the commentariat chain via one of my (typically) under-informed and reactionary Facebook friends. It's beautiful, and it's allowed me to develop a very simple system for determining the degree to which any controversy is blown out of proportion based upon the number of said friends who've offered to the public their proud opinion. That's how I knew this Chick-fil-A nonsense from a few months back was going to be good.

The one unique aspect about getting your news from social media first is that it's initially difficult to parse through the layers of analysis rich and poor to find the actual story. All I really knew at the time was that I kept reading about a restaurant and, more sporadically, homosexuals. Connecting the dots didn't really require a Ph.D. in Deductive Reasoning, but I have one so it didn't take too terribly long to correctly surmise that some upper-rung on the Chick-fil-A ladder (in this case, devoutly Christian President/COO Dan Cathy) popped off on some Phelpsian-lite condemnation of gay culture and societal tolerance of it. But that's it? That's what was setting my news feed ablaze with the writings of newly self-anointed constitutional scholars and igniting my hungerlust for my beloved #4 with pepper jack?? Yawn. How boring. Seriously, I was and still am let down. I continue to find it difficult to understate the apathy I immediately assigned to the whole debacle. And that's because, thanks to months of separating myself from the partisan quarrel-of-the-week, I was able to recognize it for what it was. It was never a debate about whose freedoms were being trampled underfoot, but rather the latest chapter in our semi-annual reaffirmation of our respective stances on the issue of gay marriage. For whatever reason, every six months we feel obligated to make public a progress report on our personal evolutions (wink, wink / nudge, nudge) toward equal rights advocacy. I don't know why we do it, but I do know it's contrived when we do.

In regards to this incarnation, no one group has failed to draw my ire, and so I shall address each of them.

Christians (Catholics, too):

I'm going to start with you, since you started it. And I'm going to try and be gentle, since you've already been lambasted by pretty much every opinion outlet not owned by Rupert Murdoch. But I'ma also keep it real wit'chu, since it's obvious that's what you really need right now. So here it is: you need to shut the fuck up.

I mean come on, you guys. You're really being ridiculous in every possible way. I'll start you off with what's most basic: on the issue of gay marriage, you are so woefully in the wrong. Now I know a lot of the factors at play here are regional, cultural and generational, so I'll assign that much of your intolerance is due to the lack of exposure to a heterogeneous populace during pre-pubescent and adolescent development. Yet, to a fair extent, internet access has softened the effectiveness of the awareness argument. Your Google will dispel a lot of what you were taught, and your fears might be tempered so long as "all fags go to hell" isn't included within your search criteria.

Ultimately, though, I believe there are two main points of confusion that that lend themselves to the Christian community's repeated anti-gay flare-ups. The first is our failure as a country to reconcile the messy relationship between marriage as dually defined by the church and state. Sure, they're called the same thing, but the rights afforded by each have little overlap. The former is a union blessed by the Big Guy and his Church, a commitment into which adoring parties enter by pledging to adhere to all the Bible's moralistic impositions. Thanks to Hollywood and the 1950s, it's what most people consider a traditional marriage. Big Brother, though? Big Brother only cares 'bout dat paypuh. That deed. Them documents. The official ball-and-chain. All the pomp and circumstance is great, but regardless of how much chicken parm or 1 Corinthians 13 you force-feed your family and friends, if you don't make a pit stop at the recorder's office and file that marriage license, you ain't really married. I mean, Jesus will let you fuck, but Uncle Sam won't let you file jointly. One of these is actually important.

Christians conflate these classes of marriage and then get worked up something strong over the idea of government-enforced gay weddings at their place of worship. Yet, no one (or at least no one I know) is mandating the inclusion of Pride Saturdays in the liturgical calendar. And not that wouldn't be, like, totally fabulous and all that, but if it were the case it would stand as one of the markedly few instances where I'd be found in agreement with my religulous brothers and sisters. (Before you wage your counteroffensive against Bearnedict Arnold, reflect and remember that the church/state separation works both ways. The Wall giveth and taketh away.) Truth is when it comes to getting the knot nod from God, the church (and not the Notorious G.O.V.) has the final say. And unless the times change drastically or you find a denomination run by homosexuals (I can see how this becomes confusing), it's just one club you won't be getting into, wristband or not.

I'm less conciliatory toward the second point of confusion, and that's because it's not so much confusion as it is ignorance. The arguments put forth by the religious right, whether explicitly stated or not, are founded on the notion that being gay is a choice, that homosexual men and women could capably carry on with their biblically defined counterparts, but they opt not to out of deference for America's demise. On this item, Christians (yeah, I'm back to speaking to you and not about you), you need to understand there is an astonishing lack of evidence supporting your supposition. (I know you have a.. ahem.. less than sterling history of accepting scientific doctrine, from this to that, but stick with me.) Sigmund said way back that sexuality was deterministic, that everyone was born bisexual and that eventual orientation was set via environment and experience. Regardless of the degree to which you get down with that, the Godfather, himself, postulated that sexual preference is determined, not chosen. (I realize this is Freud's second cameo on TSR. Realize it's only because I'm the laziest brain.) Over the last decade, researchers have further concluded that in uterine hormonal development has a significant effect on brain organization and eventual sexuality. Right handed with a gang of older bros? Good chance you're gay. Seriously, though, you don't have to be a real scientist (Freud being the most immediate example, again) to see the flaws in the sexual-attraction-by-choice mantra. You only have to be unemployed and fairly familiar with the back pages of daytime talk television to know true love (and straight love, at that) is often not confined to societal orthodoxy. Below, I've provided to you a triptych (shout out to all my History of Western Art & Music hoodrats!) featuring my favorite Maury moments involving "opposite couples" (including what looks like Povich's long-lost, BBW-pimping brother on the far right). You might not understand it. It might even make you uncomfortable to some degree. But that's real love, Christian babies. And there is no difference between what forces attraction among these willing/able partners and what causes the same amongst the gays. You're into who you're into, and that's that. To deny legitimate rights to a group of people based upon biologically decided differences is unjust. To grant said rights under the civil-union subclass is akin to the whole separate-but-equal doctrine we supposedly decided was unconstitutional.

Bastardization of this style dedicated to my main man, Stan Smith, Serrano High School faculty legend. Holler!

Christians, I get that you're an easy target. Please believe that I really want to be fair to you.. It's just.. I mean... damn it if you're not such an easy target. Really, you guys bring most of this vitriol upon yourselves by being so thoroughly annoying.

Let's get it straight. Your religious freedoms are not under attack or in danger of being rescinded. Last time I checked, you weren't the ones being told where you could or could not practice your faith. I've heard all kinds of clamor concerning the curtailing of First Amendment rights to free speech and religious affiliation. Those are the reddest of herrings, though. The backlash against Mr. Cathy and his company spawned not because he believes social tolerance will bring about the wrath of God or because he stated so from the public pulpit. No, it arose because he chose to voice an opinion many found objectionable, and while the Constitution guarantees you the right to speak freely, it stops well short of forcing anyone to agree with you. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, however wrong. Everyone else is entitled to tell you when your opinion makes you look like an asshole (see: above) or tasteless ass (see: this blog, and my personal preference for Under Siege 2: Dark Territory to the original Under Siege). Speech and opinion are consequential, and if you fail to preemptively consider the consequences of your statements, you fail to generate my sympathy.

Christians crying wolf only compound their public image problem when they do as they've done, organizing show-of-strength gatherings like the one below. First of all, scan the crowd. Look at all these vanilla ass motherfuckers! There is nothing easier on this earth than hating on a group of white people that large. This is a prime example of why so many people are adverse to Christianity. It so often has nothing to do with the teachings of Christ (many of which are noble and universal across many faiths). People don't like Christianity because Christians suck and mostly ruin everything. Here, the veil is so thin it's hard to figure out why it even exists. This whole damn thing was orchestrated by Mike Huckabee, so why even pretend the mob is here to oppose "intolerance and bigotry toward Christians" (Huck's words) and not to oppose gay rights? This is but a rally to remind the world of three things: there are a lot of white Christian people, all of their panties get equally twisted over gay marriage, and their lives are so free of legitimate worry that this is reason enough to stand out in the August death heat for hours on a Wednesday in protest over something that doesn't really affect them.

What in the Holy Fuck is wrong with you?

And that's the biggest thing. I'm sorry, Bible thumpers, but you really don't have a place in this argument. Affording homosexuals the ability to marry their significant other in no way compromises or diminishes the privileges you've been given. It doesn't debase your faith or make your already dysfunctional marriage any more so. You might argue that it degrades the very definition of the word "marriage", but that's like, your opinion, man. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Bible says homosexuality is amoral. It also says divorce is amoral and that hasn't stopped the divorce rate among Christians to rise asymptotically alongside that of the general public. As has been pointed out before, it also says all kinds of crazy shit in Leviticus. Point is it's not your place to be judge, jury and Jesus in regards to who's in or out of heaven. In this respect you are responsible only unto  your own relationship with your God. That was like 1/95 of my boy Martin Luther's argument. No one is asking you to advocate for gay marriage. Most everyone is asking that you keep your own head up your own ass.

Gay Folks:

You know I've got love for you guys. I hated real hard on Prop 8. I karaoke'd at the Menagerie. I did so while rocking a Freddie Mercury tribute-stache that I kept for over a year at least partially because I enjoyed the attention it garnered. My credentials are pretty solid. When it comes time to choose between Team Edward or Team Jacob, I go Team NPH all day. So I mean it less as a criticism and more as a humble suggestion toward furtherance of the cause when I say you, too, need to shut the fuck up.

Ay yo, I'ma stop you mid- Z-snap, because you've gone ign'ant if you think the Christians are the only ones acting fools here. There's a wealth of blame, and I'ma go Obamanomics 101 and spread that wealth around.

Look, the dude Dan Cathy went way out of his way to stir the pot, so I ain't even stressin' that it bubbled up and burned that ass. That's cause and effect. That's instant karma. I love it. What I'm irked by is the gay community's relentlessness in attempting to convince me it was shocking in any way, shape or form. You mean to tell me that a 60 year old, Georgia-born Baptist said some semi-inflammatory shit about gay people?! I'm astonished... PSYCH motherfuckers I am not astonished! It just takes more than that to generate genuine surprise from me. It could be because I know old people have a propensity for acting asinine. It could be because I've been to Georgia and know that in the South, Cathy's comments are both conventional wisdom and comparatively tame. In reality, though, it's because this company doesn't much disguise their ideology. You ever tried to put their patented white meat to maw on a Sunday, for instance? I did. And guess what? Ya boy KJ had to settle for a McChicken one fa(s)t-food franchise over. Closing up shop on the Lord's day is some sacrilegious noise if your seconds, minutes, hours go to that Almighty Dollar. It's true conviction, no doubt, and it's to say nothing of the full-frontal assault your average atheist is faced with upon pervasion of the premises. The soothing, save-your-soul Jesus freak folk over the in-house stereo. The ten to fifteen red-headed very-obviously-virgins robotically responding with "my pleasure" any and every time the words "thank" and "you" audaciously cross your lips in succession. The children eating chicken nuggets. It's all so antagonistically and subtly Christian at the same time; yet, as much as I'd love to pillory their piety or place it on par with their civil rights shortcomings, I'm equally as annoyed by the gall of the gays in pretending Chick-fil-A corporate culture is so Revelatory. I don't need to be pried or manipulated into jumping headlong into an argument that has very little effect on my life, but in this case I just don't buy it. Nevertheless, it's not the most pertinent reason you should allow these situations to blow over without blowing up.

Gay folks, you guys are without question your own worst enemy. I'm perplexed as to how you can simultaneously be such mean paraders and such terrible protestors. I mean, here's the deal: you and I both know gay marriage will be a non-issue within the decade (perhaps a little longer near the buckle of the Bible Belt). Much or most of the resistance is attributable to occupants of Dan Cathy's age bracket. Society calls them "seniors." Your science textbooks calls them "mature." I call them "old fucks." People within this age group are less tolerant, to be sure. They also vote more and hold more positions of power within local, state and federal government apparatuses. If you're angling to knock down their half-century of established belief in one fell swoop, you're going to have to do much more than protest a restaurant. Really, though, all that's required is that you do nothing, because an integral part of human biology is on your side: people die! (Let me assure your little liberal hearts that the ACA will not change this.) As one generation takes a collective dirt nap, those younger will rise to inherit the earth and legalize gay marriage. And this is my point, homosexuals everywhere. This is why your silence speaks volumes more than your bluster. Because though the course is essentially set, it can still be reversed. You can ride that riptide right back out into the era of the Musgrave Amendment.

And it's by doing shit like this:

What in the Holy Fuck is wrong with you?

I get that it's tough to be patient and to wait for "all men are created equal" to actually include all men. To paraphrase the other Martin Luther, a right delayed is most certainly a right denied. But when you pull some nonsense like this, you done took your eyes off the prize, my man. Provided patience ain't your thing and you opt instead to forge the unbeaten path towards equality, it makes sense to me that the goal is to build consensus and bring converts aboard your big, gay boat. This is the worst way to go about that. This indicates to the straight guy passerby something not paralleling seriousness in the slightest. Take the dude in the van, for example. Let's pretend he just wanted a chicken sandwich sans ethical sermon. He shows up on a bad day. He sees the vanilla motherfuckers out front but is not deterred. He waits in the drive-thru for ages, gets his sandwich and Coke Zero, pulls around the corner and OH WHAT THE FUCK? He sees homeboy right here. How eager do you think Average White Chicken Sandwich Connoisseur is to join in the struggle? (TSR full disclosure: I know the dude in the black. He's visited the legendary Spruce House. He's attended The Festival. He's a pretty normal dude. That being said, he rolled up on this day intending to look like a murdered-out Lady Liberty. Instead, he succeeded in looking like an asshole.)

What I'm saying is that if you're going to shoot, you shouldn't shoot and miss. There's nothing wrong with protesting, but doing so shouldn't reinforce every caricatured stereotype that homophobes already accept as gospel truth. Successful protest instills seriousness and, much more importantly, prompts sympathy. That is how minds are changed. A refresher course for those who cannot recall a time not so long ago people used to pull it off:

This is the realness. These are some of the most powerful images ever produced. They don't need color. They don't need captions or commentary. They speak for themselves and illicit a feeling you probably couldn't properly pin down if you spent an entire essay trying.That's not to suggest that self-immolation is the best possible route to effect immediate change. I use these merely to highlight the gross contrast in sincerity. Come on, look left. And now look up.
The difference is that segregationists and willfully blind, pro-war Americans could look at the port-side photographs and be genuinely affected by them. Regardless of prior belief, there is no mistaking that the people captured here are in earnest and are willing to suffer for something that is of dire consequence to them. And while I sincerely doubt that the debate over gay marriage will ever foster this brand of brutality, this is the mindset with which all marriage rights rallies should be staged. If no one can take you seriously, no one will take you seriously.

Barring this level of commitment, I really believe it serves the gay community (and their cause) best that they stfu during brushfires like these. Public opinion is changing, public awareness of public opinion is growing, and the occasional outcry from the regressive camp is almost immediately derided as an inability to cope with a brave new world. It makes no sense to willingly impede socially-propelled forward progress.

General Public:

'Tis with you I've long held true gripe. For I so often stand resentful in reverence. O, esteemed fellows of Facebook! O, boldest of blog starters! Righteous crusaders of the echo chamber! Thou art never hesitant, but always virulent and prepared to enter the fray, your thin skin your only armor. For your opinions must be lifted on-high and affirmed by the like-minded. Thine must stand resolute and unchanged in the face of concrete evidence to the contrary! Obviously, you are the group into which I most squarely fall (or, at the least, the group whose transgressions mine most closely mirror). However, in spite of my best efforts, you've without question made me worse and less willing to accept or consider opposing points-of-view. And I've certainly made you no better at the same. Selective exposure and false-consensus on this issue and all others still reign supreme! They do so, though, at the expense of progress, sanity and the common good. So, I'm sure you already know what's coming. That's right: you, of all groups, need to shut the fuck up.

The general public has always been comprised largely of morons, and these morons have always held and disseminated opinions unbecoming. Unhindered by the inconveniences of fact-checking or journalistic integrity, the backwoodsists and beachfronters have been free to fan the flames of fallacy at home, in the office, or while ogling the pubescent breasts of the cashier clerk at the grocery store checkout. That's just the thing, though. Back in the good ol' days, the spread of unfiltered falsities was mostly confined to word-of-mouth. The sphere of ignoramus influence was comparatively small and non-encompassing, and the end result was the occasional pocket of populace that really believed Barack Obama was a Kenyan nationalist or that George Bush hated black people. It was infrequent and always good for a laugh. But that world is no more. The final frontier, the final fail-safe preventing these disparate sects from finding each other and banding together has been breached.

The idiots have discovered the internet.

And, really, it's worse than that. Even the cell phones they sell old people come equipped with browser icons prominently displayed front-page, so it was unrealistic to expect that the worst and most computer- or traditionally-illiterate among us wouldn't at some point get tangled up in the WWWeb. Yet, at the same time, it wasn't nearly as naive to assume that while these people inevitably made the small step into the information age, they would mostly remain on the sidelines, jaws ajar in awe, and refrain from taking that last, giant leap into actual participation. But alas, t'was not so. They slowly settled in. They discovered Facebook, and they tracked down acquaintances past and present. Most troublingly, they grew tired of being informed and began to inform, opting to opine to anyone out there in 140 characters or (too often) more. The Confederacy went live, and the world would never be the same.

The internet has transformed, and it's remade much of internet-age society in its image. Shockingly enough, the greatest and most damaging shift hasn't come in collectively accepting a new criteria for celebrity. Instead, it's come in flattening the hierarchal order of information and analysis, in skewing the perception of what actually constitutes news to begin with. The most established and esteemed outlets of yore have been largely delegitimized due to both the demise of print media and the calculated effort of the fair & balanced crowd's tenacious coup d'etat to portray them as pocket dwellers of the progressive agenda. The relegation of the media mammoths to respective right and left spin cyclists, their inability to circumvent this development by dropping the ideological- and profit-driven bias, and the ill-conceived push from both sides for more perspective from Main Street, USA has forged a new niche in news. That this niche was filled or that it was filled by non-professional non-intellectuals should not be surprising. What's alarming and particularly destructive is that the voice of/by/for the people has become equally authoritative and influential among so many drive-by denizens of this Great Nation.

What it boils down to is the simple fact that while almost anyone can use the internet, not everyone understands it or utilizes it in a way that doesn't ruin most of what makes it awesome. Gen pop has largely proven unable to cope and coexist with the unbridled freedom afforded to them online. They've proven too irresponsible and immature for a forum where there are no rules (or at least nothing of the sort pertaining to quality of content produced). Yet, that they've set the netscape awash in a flood of dead-brained detritus is not what irks me. I mean believe me, sweeties, in this regard I prefer my internet a bed of tastelessness and classless abandon. When it comes to the information superhighway, I like mine to traverse as many artistic and academic wastelands as possible. I want it rife with cultural trash caught in clumps along stretches of senseless chain-link lining either side. I want more cat videos and cat daddies, more salacious Craigslist personals, more girls and more cups. That's not the issue. The issue occurs as an obliviousness or disregard for digital world decorum, of which there are, as I see it, really only two essential tenets: don't believe everything you read on the internet (because it's the fucking internet!) and, for the love of any/all things holy, do not use the internet as a vehicle for being annoying.

The general public has been found guilty of noncompliance on both counts in the court of my public opinion. Source consideration is paramount whilst braving the overwhelming number of returns on even basic searches. However, it remains an incredibly underrated and underutilized tool amongst tools. Fact is most people have an inability to distinguish legitimate news from the thoughtful opinion pieces of renowned writers from the maniacal rants of dyed-in-the-wool dumbasses. Because the internet is a truly magical place understood only by geniuses, all thoughts are perceived as equal in HTML. The ascendence of personal blogging, thusly, has muddied the waters dividing news, fact, opinion and slander. In turn, a collective palate too unrefined to detect when it's being fed bullshit has caused a change in even the way we search for information, eschewing unbiased accounts of events from which we may derive thought-out positions for those that merely reaffirm truths we already hold to be self-evident. The end result is that we've ultimately allowed the masses to write and consume their own news exhaustively within a closed loop, impervious to outside influence. It's an arena where the only suitable response to the white noise nonsense is to grab the nearest bullhorn and shout back into the static.

What we've ultimately learned from this is that the general public as a whole is really, really stupid. We've learned that they're largely uninterested in actual news, or politics, or policy. We've learned they do, however, have an endless hunger for drama, gossip and reel housewivez fm Joisey. Spare them the convoluted real world relevancy of events pertaining to their lives. They want that dirty laundry, the fuckin' whites! Bring them the latest on Casey Anthony or Anthony Wiener's wiener cock shots. Get someone on the ground at the White House, Barack Obama's March Madness bracket's been busted! Put Honey Boo Boo in the A-block, and if you must speak of the election, let it not be of Romney/Ryan's plan to eliminate the American Middle Class(?). I mean, isn't that guy Mormon? I read online that he was staring in the new season of Sister Wives!? Now that's newsworthy! ... Everything must be fractured down to the elemental and anatomized for whatever unsavory scandal surely lies somewhere beneath. The beast must be fed and be made happy for a news cycle or three until its appetite is whetted once again. We the General Public limp along at this measure, complaining that self-inflicted controversies like the Chick-fil-A saga are distracting us from debates "that really matter" when evidence of past interest suggests the converse is true.

At the crux is the fact that caring about important issues in depth is often difficult and time-consuming. Accumulating an encyclopedic knowledge of debutantes who've done webcam porn is comparatively easy. Researching and writing with critical insight? Difficult. Getting drunk and talking shit online? Easy. Extrapolating outward, the general public has created a parallel means of harnessing technology to most simply solve the taxing problems of our times, selflessly sacrificing precious status-update space to PSA the shit out of the latest intolerable truth. What's that? Joseph Kony is running around Uganda perpetrating some heinous crimes with a militia of kidnapped child-soldiers? Nothing a new, gullible-ass profile pic can't fix! Oh dang, October is breast cancer awareness month? Well, click "like" if you support a cure! Or how about the timeless favorite: let's make next Wednesday National Boycott Gas Today and Maintain the Futures Market Tomorrow Day! Vacuous movements like these are certainly not new, but they seem all the more hollow when promulgated in this fashion. One mustn't even take the time to detail the assorted atrocities one or two friends at a time as gatherings allow. Internet activism is as quick and thoughtless as ctrl+a, ctrl+c, ctrl+v.  Everyone knows in an instant, and we can instantly feel better about ourselves for effecting change so immediately and sweepingly.

This is our greatest crime, our greatest disservice to a country that, at least in theory, affords us the opportunity to change the parts of it we find disagreeable. We've received this privilege and surrendered it in a manner that's undeniably cheap and throwaway. It requires nothing, and so it means nothing. Facebook fan pages are not tools for spawning large-scale social change (rich people agree). Nonetheless, we act as though the internet has rendered obsolete the brands of genuine sacrifice - whether it be of basic convenience, physical well-being or financial solvency - that, historically, have been instrumental and essential to forging progress. And as much as I love hating on the Baby Boomers for being especially unacquainted with this concept (and, trust, I fucking love that shit),  Gen XYZ2K,etc certainly hasn't done much to make my arguments cogent. They've We've gotten strung out on the cheap high of internet activism just the same. We've decried the perils and inequalities of unregulated high finance, and we've ridiculed the vapid anti-intellectualism flaunted by the Tea Party. But as our rebuttal we online-organized and offered forth a nebulous amalgamation of homeless, jobless and mostly un(der?)educated malcontents to dawdle about various public squares day-after-day, leaderless and adroit in conveying unitary values (1, 2, 3). For a couple months we shouted "fuck the man!" and "death to corporate greed!", but only when in possession of the People's Mic. That was the best we could do. For an issue that should have The 99.5% shitting bricks and/or pissing vinegar, it all just felt so... lazy. It felt half-hearted. And just when it looked like the cruel Atlantic Northeast winter was going to give our misspent youth an opportunity run with the go-hards and demonstrate true commitment by turning Woodstock 2012 into Valley Forge redux, Mikey Bloomberg booted them out for ceaselessly shitting in the park.

It's entirely possible that the well has already been poisoned to too great a degree. This could well be the new normal in issue advocacy. I should probably expect to more frequently face the likes of which I faced in the run-up to last August 1st, when various coalitions of my 400-and-something internet "friends" bombarded me with solicitations for support (by "liking" or actually attending, I'm still unsure) of either Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day or some competing event called "Love Isn't Chicken" at one of the twenty Starbucks locations within arms-reach of my apartment. How convenient that I had been wishing all the while for a way to demonstrate my opposition to this entire ordeal while at the same time remaining as divorced from the issue as possible! Buy a chicken sandwich to show your love for Jesus burns eternal! No, buy a sugary coffee-thing to show you love all the Lord's children equally! No, how about you do both, confuse your moral compass and maximize your contributions to corporate monoliths!! (Kudos, though, to said monoliths for duping morons into boycotting one product by buying another. Brilliant.) The misunderstanding of economic protest lifts all yachts!

But somewhere, deep down in my heart, the problem solver in me can't help but see a way in which all things could be reconciled and captured in a way that's easily digestible assimilable:

Truth is true love is neither chicken nor chicken sandwich. Nay, true love is a Double Down.

Consider Pavlov's bell rung.

Behold!! Cafeteria Christians, worshipers of false idols! No longer must we suffer the choice between our principles and our poultry. For your Lord has spoken and, through his chosen one, the prophet Colonel Sanders, has bestowed upon thee an earthly icon worthy of your adoration and consumption! No longer shall we declare our moral righteousness at the feet of an in inferior chicken sandwich! No longer must we sacrifice a long-standing staple of our personal food pyramids to prove a point! Nor must we stray far to find an acceptable fast food conglomerate capable of fulfilling our craving for corporate brand worship. Most importantly, no longer must our protests be in the abstract and extend only so far as our fingertips on home row. Nay, now they may be wholly realized. Two thick, succulent white meat filets. Two pieces of crisp, mapley bacon. A couple slices of Monterey and pepper jack cheeses, melted 'til melded. The Colonel's Sauce. A rapture of the taste buds all wedded together in the holiest of matrimony. Yes, true love is a Double Down in your diet.

The beads of grease rolling ever so slowly from fingers to forearm. The cholesterol clinging so inflexibly to the inner walls of your arteries. Savor it! Praise its point of origin in all its glory! For this is the messianic vessel of peace, 610 calories (debatable) of quarrels quashed. A day's worth of sodium so that our crass consumerism may carry on! Enough fat content to corral my disdain for self-serving pseudo-sacrifice. Dissociation from the struggle is simply no longer an option. The taunts from the Jareds will be heard upon every trip to the drive-thru. The truncation of our life expectancy will be felt with every bite. The extent to which we feel better about ourselves will be properly offset by the extent to which our selves feel closer to death. For once, though, there'll be no doubt about our devotion to the causes we claim. And at the very least, for a few minutes a day our mouths will be too full to talk and our fingers too caked with grease to type.

I, for one, will proudly mark that up as social progress.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Debates in Vain

I was 'bout to go LIVE on a related topic, but I quickly realized there was another matter that first needed to be addressed. 

I been prime beefin' on that lamestream sports media (read: Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) for a good while now. Don't get it twisted, though. I ain't even pretendin' like I ain't on myriad occasions lingered about on my couch, mucho crudo, and watched the same episode of SportsCenter repeat every hour for an entire day. Truth be told, that's kinda my thing. Nevertheless, there remains one bone left unpicked, and it is in regards to a very specific exercise the network conducts annually in early fall to ignite a week or two of vigorous debate among sports enthusiasts and tolerants alike. 

Let's flash forward: It's mid-October. Chlorophyll is ceding way to carotenoids (learn something), TBS is fucking up their coverage of playoff baseball, and Brett Favre is getting all ya'll balls blue with the mere mention of another potential post-training camp comeback. It's around this time that ESPN gathers their veritable pantheon of distinguished analysts around a common table to weigh in on the weightiest of burgeoning cultural issues: Has, in fact, baseball finally been displaced from its cherished role as our "national pastime." All branches of popular sport are represented here: Ron Jaworski or Merrill Hoge for the NFL, Buster Olney or Tim Kurkjian for Major League Baseball. For reasons that have always been unclear to me (perhaps because they pertain to political correctness), Stephen A. Smith and Barry Melrose are invited to participate as well. But make no mistake, the question posed is whether a sport as bygone as baseball has finally been eclipsed in popularity and relevancy by American football. Also understand that ESPN doesn't foster this notion because they actually believe the times they might be a-changin'. Very simply, they do it to remind you that, come the postseason, they are done broadcasting baseball for the remainder of the calendar year. Coincidentally, they also start airing Monday Night Football and 20 or 30 other programs dedicated solely to daily analysis of a sport that plays 95% of its games on other channels.

It's not, nor has it ever been, about the actual debate. The actual debate is stupid, though for whatever reason it strikes anyone with an opinion square on whatever nerve it's attached to. It's not as though there can ever be a resolution or a consensus reached. The entrenched biases of the participants in this argument ensure that the conversation always devolves into a shouting match between those who've already decided long ago which side they're on.  For me, it always hearkens back to the My-dad-is-better-than-your-dad-! arguments I used to get into on the daily back on the Hollyvale Elementary blacktop. Or, for all the regulars linking to this site looking for Adam Sandler dick pics, it might be more appropriately equated to the ever-enduring battle between Gatorade and H2O.

Real talk, though. The reason the debate is truly stupid is its preposterous premise, because if we're talkin' in terms of actual cultural worth, I'm tellin' you that American football will never supersede baseball. Ever. If you're a futurist jockin' hard for Team NFL, you are, in the words of the inimitable B. Boucher, drinking the wrong water.

I have on repeated occasion made the fateful and ill-advised decision to state this candidly within earshot of a baseball hater (or, God(?) forbid, a pace of them). It has in each instance caused histrionics and their reflexive recitation of a shopping-list of soft facts, rattling off Nielsen television ratings and ticket sales statistics for American football matches in chapter-verse format (though, had they first conferred with the Lutheran Church, they would know this has never been an effective strategy for convincing me or anything). Over time I've been exposed to a wide and diverse assortment of adversarial arguments. The pseudo-academic has enlightened me, for instance, that football caters to Americans' inherited interest in war and militaristic strategy. In contrast, the jock-bro has taken a path of persuasion more rooted in common sense, insisting that it's called the Super Bowl for a reason, bro! The fútbol moms have me assured that real men perform whether or not weather permits, and all have excoriated me for championing a sport that is so horridly boring.

While I would formerly go to great pains to rebut the rationalizations of these benighted souls tit-for-tat, as the sample size grew one basic trend emerged to render this practice pointless. It eventually became apparent that the suckas steppin' strongest with these misconceptions (and especially that last one) had never actually played baseball, organized or otherwise. And while I'm not normally an advocate for the idea that one must be able to do something to be able to critique it, personal experience in this instance so often stands as the definitive divide on the issue. For anyone who's spent even a half-season of Little League scratching their balls in left field knows empirically that much of what makes the game great, what elevates it above mere sport, lies in intangibles not immediately evident on television. Consequently, they're not the ones sermonizing on the mount from the teachings of 1 Lombardi or doltishly soapboxing to the laypeople about all the ways that baseball is boring. And that's because it's anything but.

There is plenty of action and about a metric shit-ton of strategy in baseball, to be sure. The difference that draws the blind ire of your prototypical football acolyte is that much of said action is subtle, and there is just as much (if not more) happening between pitches as there is when the ball is actually in play. I mean, come on. The sac bunt, the defensive shift, the goddamn double switch(!).. it's all right there. Hell, the preparative thought that goes into pitch sequencing alone is astounding. Try to explain the significance of any of it to a hater, though, and you'll watch their pupils dilate to a field of focus decidedly crimson as they lurch into a lecture on "General Patton and the Origins of the I-formation." All the impulsive repulsion to anything but established dogma has, over time, forced me to conclude that the baseball haters' real gripe is not the game's supposed disconnect with modern society, but is rather that to properly enjoy, understand and appreciate it, one must actually exert some basal level brainpower and pay. fucking. attention.

(It's worth noting that, for these people, there is no element of baseball more exasperating than the pick-off attempt. It encapsulates their entire argument in about 10 seconds: it's boring, it's pointless, it's a waste of time. Throw over twice in a row and watch the fuck out because an aneurysm is likely imminent...

Just watch this mess, though. This is not a waste of time. There's just so much more to this than that. This is, to be short, a storied but curse-stricken franchise picking up a mediocre, one-tool player at the trade deadline to sit the bench but for some hypothetical late-game situation wherein said tool becomes the only one that matters. It's cat-and-mouse at its finest and most potent, a smaller game within a larger and vastly more important one. The action is subtle, but not the strategy and certainly not the feeling. Everyone in Fenway, Boston and America knew dude was going to steal. And he still did it. And he was safe! Remove the geographic, historical and rivalrous context and it is still remains the most riveting moment in all of sports for at least the last decade. It's especially true given that it became the singular turning point in what would become the biggest comeback in playoff sports history.)

Liking American football is easy. Telecasts have been fine-tuned by the suits to ensure the biggest bang per neuron fired. The game is in your face, the excitement conspicuous and ubiquitous.Whatever nuance once existed has long since been culled so as not to detract from the overt and overly accessible. And what's left certainly ain't subtle: dudes do capital-W Work in the weightroom through the workweek and make love war on the weekend for the riled, indelicate hoards.While it's not a terrible leap from its source material, I suppose the NFL does a decent job of recreating the blood-laden battlefield of Colosseum lore (except that no one really plays defense, but whatever). The game, and especially the spectacle that is broadcasted, hone in on a few primordial vestiges of our time spent as quadrupeds that lay tucked away in the recesses of our double helices, indifferent to the best efforts of evolution or our continued, delusional assertions that we've since civilized. I wouldn't dare suggest that I don't see the draw or am any more immune to it than your average dude. Lord knows I get hard for some Kimbo tackle, and should a millionaire be on the receiving end of one, I usually take the initiative and schedule a visit with my physician 36 hours in advance.

There's just something about watching some poor fuck getting splayed out center-pitch that has universal appeal to everyone, not just the zealots. It's why everyone watches the Super Bowl. Yet, despite the ratings, I still contest that football isn't any more popular than baseball. That American football games are more widely watched might have something to do with the fact that baseball teams play 100 times the number of games that football teams play per season, a numerical inconvenience that more or less skews the absolute hell out of that stat. (I generally let it slide, though, given that most American football fans do not site math as a personal strength.) All that being said, last year was the first in our half-century love affair with the boob-tube wherein a sports program was the highest-rated show on television. That program was NBC Sunday Night Football. For the haters, that's not just a slam dunk. That's Jordan, tongue out, jumpman pose from the free-throw line (though let's be honest, Vince was better). However, I have to submit that the last entry on that list speaks volumes less than do the twenty that precede it. Case-in-point: from 1991 until 1994 the highest-rated program in the United States was 60 Minutes (presumably named after the maximum allowable weekly exposure to the television before the onset of rapid brain cell depletion). That a decades-old, content-and-character-driven news enterprise could generate any viewers, let alone continually maintain the most is virtually unfathomable today. It stands in starkest contrast to, say, each of the six years before American football rose to the ratings throne, a stretch dominated by American Idol and what I'm forced to pretend, in their conditioning viewers to reflexively dial toll-free twenty-five times post-production to vote for their favorite karaoke cover of a classic, is their intentional approximation of Pavlovian dinner-bell psychology. It's a definite devolution of quality and, certainly, of intellectual engagement.

And you know, I guess maybe in that sense football is more relevant to the life of the common man and woman in an age where we've largely eschewed interpersonal interaction and become increasingly content with our little box on the hillside, the requisite white picket fence and 2.5 60" LED flatscreens. We've been holing up, tuning in and tuning out for a minute now, stockpiling Facebook friends and substituting the time and energy necessary to cultivate healthy relationships with an hour's worth of ultra-intensive timeline and photo album stalking. In our seclusion we've gravitated toward interests, hobbies and programming that stipulate the minimum amount of emotional and cognitive investment required to make us appear fluent in normalcy during the regrettable moments around the workplace coffee pot when we are begrudgingly forced to mingle and exchange pleasantries with living, breathing people. I don't really follow football. I watch like six games every year entirely out of context. But you best believe I know on Monday how the '9ers did on Sunday, just so I'm not caught with my dick in my hand in the off chance that I actually have to talk to the hot girl in the office.

To return to my pre-tangential point, though, that American football is wildly popular or incredibly lucrative isn't at all apropos, anyway. We're debating something deeper and too difficult to quantify with a couple of superficial variables. Our self-professed national pastime should be a sport (or anything, I guess) through which we can rightly identify ourselves and others might try to identify us, in turn. None fit the bill more fully than baseball. The game predates the Civil War and has, over the last 150 years or so, sewn itself into the very fabric of our country. When baseball desegregated in 1947, the United States at least began to follow suit. As was the case throughout World War II, baseball carried on amidst the post-9/11 disorientation and was instrumental in blunting the stressors of war, standing as perhaps the only societal pillar intact in the wake of tragedy. The extent to which the game has melded into our language is unmatched, even, having spawned countless idioms pertaining to  success ("batting a thousand", "hitting it out of the park") failure ("striking out") and junior high era carnal awakening (the gradualist, base-by-base sexual progression analogy).

What ultimately makes baseball worthy of its heralded stature, though, are the quintessentially American values it exemplifies. I not typin' 'bout the cheap flag-waving, American Empire snare-beating brand of bravado you've come to misinterpret as patriotism. There's no chance you'll ever see Bud Selig sitting third base side at the All-Star Game jackin' that Don Cherry swag, for instance. What I mean is that there exists no better vehicle for instilling the coarse truisms of the American middle-class(?) and preparing an individual for what my father would nimbly call "the fucking Real World." Some of the most formative lessons I've ever learned have either been taught or reinforced through baseball, and I can be entirely candid when I say that I'd be nowhere near as successful or otherwise awesome as I am without having acquired them. So, in conclusion, I'll leave you with the two I've long found most important:

1. Fuck the Yankees.

Seriously. Fuck 'em. Yankee fans, too. Yankee fans from California the most.

(Insert a lesson about the perils of being a bandwagoner and an obnoxious ass.)

2. Life is not fair.

I have no idea how many times I was told this as an insolent youth, though if I ventured to guess I'd have to speculate that it's somewhere on the order of ten thousand. These four words were the instantaneous, de facto response shot back to me anytime I dared to decry something as unfair between the ages of four and nine (at which point I finally accepted the futility of pursuing that line of reasoning). It makes sense, though. It's essentially an alternative take on the timeless "shit happens" refrain for parents who want to remain G-rated in front of their children but still assure them that said shit will happen rather regularly for the 75-80 years (on average) immediately preceding death.

It wasn't until I moved out and was a couple years into college that I came to the abrupt realization that this is not a concept universally grasped. Specifically, it came whilst enduring the one-sided emotional catharsis of my first legitimate break up with a long-term girlfriend, during which I was told among other things that I wasn't being fair. My comeback came half-shrugged and looking away as I dropped the "life's not fair" line like it was an appropriate or wise response in such a situation. The ensuing disgust wrenched into her face was rivaled only by the bewilderment on mine  (bewilderment that was quickly supplanted when I caught a closed-fisted fade to the eardrum). Partially due to the two decades of indoctrination, but mostly due to the two weeks I spent with unilateral hearing, I still wince involuntarily every time someone bemoans the injustice of whatever unremarkable circumstances they're mired in. Of course life is unfair! You're going to get dumped. You're going to be passed up on promotions. You're going to spend a month cramming for your O-Chem final and end up on the fat portion of the bell curve while some jackass like me fucks around and gets the high score. It just happens, and while I think most people intrinsically know this is a part of life in a capitalist dystopia, many continue going about with expectations to the contrary.

Baseball cares not about fairness or providing illusions thereof. If anything, the game is decidedly and unapologetically unfair (look no further than the usurpation of its most prized record by arguably its most detested villain). Three things are guaranteed in baseball: the law of averages will ultimately prevail; adequate training, preparation and reverence for the law of averages will increase your likelihood of success; none of this will prevent baseball from absolutely fucking you if given the slightest opportunity. Regardless of how great a ball player you may be, you will at some point lose a pop-up in the sun or catch a bad-hop on the chin. You'll look like an ass. You'll feel like an ass. But God help you if you sulk about it for longer than five seconds and incur the back-of-the-dugout bark of J.A. Delaney. You'll move on and keep working hard, or your ass will ride the pine.

Even at its most basic level, at its very foundation, the game is centered around teaching people to cope with failure. The one concession the haters always make is that there is nothing in all of sports more difficult than hitting a baseball. And it's true! The 236 players in the Hall of Fame rock a collective batting average just over .300. If you are an American football fan or a recent graduate with an MFA in Screenwriting and dilapidated arithmetic skills that need to be brushed up with the help of your gifted, brilliant roommate so you can pass your CBEST, I'll make it easy for you: that means even the greats - the Musials, the Yastrzemskis, the Mantles - reached base safely on a hit only 3 out of every 10 at bats. More pertinently, they failed to do so 7 times in the same span. I suppose the argument could be made that no one really succeeds in baseball, but some men persevere. Those are the guys with their statues outside the stadium. Theirs are the careers we celebrate and immortalize in legend. In no other sport is this the case.

For example, here's Arizona Cardinal wide-receiver, 6-time Pro Bowler and all-around beast, Larry Fitzgerald, taking some batting practice with the cross-town Diamondbacks. Dude is very definitely one of the preeminent professional athletes of now, so you might notice something very peculiar about this video. It could be the dozen dropped-shoulder whiffs he takes before finally ripping one past the L-screen at the 1:17 mark. Or perhaps it's because you very faintly remember Prince Fielder's portly ass partaking in a similar exercise about a month ago when he launched 28 baseballs into Low Earth orbit at the Home Run Derby.  Either way, you probably caught yourself rooting alongside Kurt Gibson (confirmed traitor) when Larry starts to rally around 2:30 before realizing he was turning 60 MPH fast straightballs into tailor-made double-play balls (seriously, the guy's a machine).It's pretty tough to watch someone who has likely never been bad at anything in the athletic realm for longer than 60 seconds do so poorly at this. To his credit, he's a good sport about it; but you can tell dude thought he was gonna stroll in and be on that '97 Griffey Jr. grind. And that just does not happen.

So, the next time you start in on the inordinate extent to which you were wronged by getting cut during freshman baseball tryouts, take a step back and realize you're probably about to sound like a pantywaist  in front of whomever you're speaking to. Because it could be so much worse. You could have actually been talented, and you could have made that team. You could have been a stud and been inducted into the CIF Hall of Fame. And you could have been drafted by the Dodgers in the second round. After tearing it up in the minor leagues for a season or two, you could have been called up to The Show as a twenty-year-old. And then for the next twenty years, you could have had a remarkably solid, if not Hall of Fame worthy, career wherein you batted a respectable .289, amassed over 2,700 hits and even snagged a batting title, to say nothing of your .991 career fielding percentage.

... And you could be remembered for none of it. Because of one botched play, because of one soft hop, you could have negated it all and subsequently had your name reduced to a common noun synonymous with notoriously failing in the clutch. You could then spend the rest of your life being remembered (or in New England, hated) for that and that only.

You could be bill (fucking) buckner.

Know that Bill Buckner is the man. For 26 years he has been the only person to look at that play for what it ultimately was: an error. There was a lot behind it, sure. It was the World Series. They were one out away from winning their first since before your grandparents were a twinkle in your great-grandparents' eyes. The guy never deserved to be the scapegoat, though: he didn't blow the lead in Game 6, he didn't lose them the ensuing Game 7 (he went 2-4 with a run scored), and he damn sure didn't sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Buckner put forth a gritty and gutsy career, and he's internalized the mindset consistent with someone who has viewed most of their life through the prism of our national pastime. It's one that knows to err is unavoidable, but that how or how-often you do is less relevant than whether your missteps are rectified in due time through dogged effort and good deeds. For a quarter-century, Buckner's bore that undue burden and all-the-while been pretty unabashed about telling tight-assed, silver spoon crybaby BoSox fans to search their souls, find their inner bowls-of-dick and gobble up. 

And that's about as American as apple pie.