Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grindstone: Don't Turn the World into Yours

Everyone has an ax to grind. The reason I bring this up is a friend of my re-introduced me to this "critique" of Joss Whedon's "Firefly." Once again (as I did so around the time I first watch "Firefly" and Serenity") I ventured down the rabbit hole into this deluded writer's fantasy world. In it, "Firefly," and all of Whedon's work, is sick and oppressive, as it reinforces the hegemony of the white male wherein other races and women are only seen as caricatures and sex is always conceptualized as rape. I can't even begin to understand her rants (self chosen word on her part). Even writing the sentence describing her characterization of "Firefly," I felt like I just just stringing together words nonsensically...and in this next one. Of course, maybe I'm simply too stuck in a foundational mindset and thus unable to see past the dominate white male paradigm I've grown up in, which is no fault of my own, simply an example of the deterministic nature of our existence.

Buried deep within the comments section of her posts, the author reveals that she has been abused by several men and raped at one point in her life. These actions taken against her are truly wrong and immoral and should never be spoken of lightly. I mention so because I do not want to make it seem as if I am attacking her for those events which are clearly not her fault. However, I do think she relies on them as an excuse to hold irrational and debilitating ideas and premises. In her post where she discusses the definition of sex and rape (in a very obtuse manner because she can't seemingly just say "rape is [definition]" and "sex is [definition]") she indirectly asserts her lesbianism. Additionally, her (likely) British heritage is apparent from her use of such words as "wanker" and spelling of others such as "colour." (Yes, I recognize there are many countries she could be from, but, it's like House says, if the Queen's on your money, you're British.)

I point these things out not to drag this women over the coals (although she certainly deserves to be, simply for the irony that me even writing that she deserves to would send her into a fit of rage in which she would denounce my misogyny and ignorance...sometimes I have a really sick sense of humo[u]r). Rather, the problem is that she uses her life experiences as an excuse to say whatever-the-fuck-she-wants free of accountability. Everything about her life, tragic and otherwise, has pointed her down an extremist anti-human corridor and she accepted it. The heinous acts of violence she suffered gave her the journalistic evidence to incorrectly assert that all men are evil. Her lesbianism further cemented her outside the dominant paradigm (though she is cautious to avoid this critique by saying lesbian relationships can be focused on violence as well) so she could have the proper perspective to critique "everyone else." Finally, her British heritage biases her towards extreme left wing views due to the effects of the history of that (fallen) empire on its culture. I've gone too deep into my analysis of this one example, however. Just read my post and you'll get my point, which is: everyone has an ax to grind.

To me, growing up is not passing through a bunch of prescribed events and rituals that "prove" you are capable of "independent" existence. Growing up is gaining the ability to look back upon your past and put things in proper perspective and then live each day in a manner you are satisfied with so that you aren't continually parsing your past to be "ok" with it. When you are truly "grown up," then you can begin to live a healthy life. I recognize that many of the words I used (psyche, proper, satisfied, parse, healthy) can be given their own lengthy treatments. All I want to say now is I hope you understand them enough so we're on the same page, so I can move on to some thoughts on age.

In the manner in which the human mind develops, we each have about a decade's worth of experiences stored in our psyche's before we begin to be come truly self aware. Due to the way our culture is (I'm speaking in my "limited American experience" here), we have about two decade's worth of experiences stored in our psyche's before we begin to truly take control of that self awareness. Often times, it can be much more. The difficulty this truth of the human condition creates is the dual (and sometimes competing) tasks of untangling the mess of your mind and exploring/learning about the world. These tasks often, and should, overlap, but in the process muddle each other. This muddling is what I mean when I say "everyone has an ax to grind." These decades of unexamined experiences can be, especially if combined with the events of now (especially if the newer events are, God forbid, tragic and/or disgusting), turned into that ax.

I take the saying a bit further than "everyone has things that upset them so they see life as being all about those things." We all have values and preferences so we are going to try to select them in any situation. That's part of being a unique person. How I take the saying is by considering why you would grind an ax. The only purpose in doing so is to attack, and the only purpose in attacking (in this example of it) is to destroy. Yes, sometimes it is possible to attack in order to protect, but ultimately in such cases, destruction is being used as a method of that protection. In the case of ax grinding, no such protection exists, even though the people doing the grinding will yell to the contrary.

Return to our example of the anti-Whedon ranting. Though the author claims she is defending women, really all she is attempting to do is destroy the show (on one level) and men (on another level). Notice how she does not say a single positive thing about the show. Notice how she does not say a single positive thing about men (only what they could be in her hypothetical, and probably what she would say is realistically impossible, vision). To her credit, she does apparently not date men. However, she did take her time to watch all 13 episodes of the series. I don't often like this argument, but in cases such as this one, I have to ask: If you don't like it, why watch it?

The reason someone with an ax to grind willingly subjects themselves to things they don't enjoy is because it allows them to further grind their ax, to chop away at what they see as harming them...and I can honestly say I've fallen prey to this way of thinking, especially when I was younger. However, now-a-days, if there is something I know I won't like, I (generally) avoid it. I will admit to watching things that I don't believe I'll enjoy due to their popularity, things such as "Avatar," "Transformers 2," and "Jersey Shore." However, when I do watch these things, I go into them hoping they'll teach me something new or present some level of quality or I can understand the positive appeal. In the rare case of "Avatar," I am so sorely disappointed that I have pull it apart (because almost everything in it is awful). Most things have some redeeming quality though.

While I won't often praise Michael Bay, the guy does know how to make a big explosion and it's because he knows how to transition small stories into big stories. He can take a regular kid and turn him into an action star in one movie. Unfortunately, along the way he is so focused on the big, he loses track of the little and everything becomes exaggerated (but smile worthy) nonsense. I don't think anyone left "Transformers 2," who didn't have an ax to grind, with a negative feeling. Likewise, though I find most of the behavior in "Jersey Shore" to be immature and self destructive, I don't see it as intentionally so. The worst characters, such as Pauly D and J-Wow, are apathetic towards their promiscuous (Pauly D) or violent (J-Wow) behavior. The best characters, such as the Situation, Snooki, Sammi, and Ron, are trying to be good, they just have no real definition of it. All of them face the same problem though. They've never considered their experiences prior to their self awareness in order to place them in the proper context. To their credit, however, I don't think any of them have an ax to grind (except for maybe, maybe, J-Wow, who I fear is the most dangerous member of the cast).

That I've just written positive words about "Jersey Shore" speaks to my point. Don't grind your ax. What I mean by that statement is, don't live your life with your eyes turned to what is wrong with the world, live your life to enjoy the good. If you are constantly seeking out the bad, you will define yourself by it. If you want to constantly destroy, you will miss what is being created. Take the article I linked to at the beginning of this post. While buried deep within that ax grinding she may have some points about Whedon's work, she missed the charm, wit, and shine of "Firefly," as well as the overall point. I also question why anyone would want to talk to her except if they wanted to destroy the same things.

Let's all sit around and talk about how awful "Avatar" was. No thank you. I'd rather talk about how awesome "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" was. The problem is, "Avatar" has made nearly $3 billion worldwide while Scott Pilgrim has made only $13 million. Which do movie you think people are more likely to praise? Which movie do you think people are more likely to talk poorly about? That difference can make it very easy for me to boot up my grindstone and push my ax towards it...and that is something I see far too often.

In our era of "political correctness," we've been taught to vilify the other in order to explain away our own negative feelings. Whatever bad that has happened to you, I am sorry, but you can't spend your life wishing it had never happened. You can't even spend your life trying to stop it from happening again. You can only spend your life trying to experience the good, because the selection of good will necessarily defeat the bad. The problem is, by trying to destroy bad, you are only perpetuating it by trying to use its method against it (destruction). That's like trying to stop the New York Yankees by buying as many players as they do to beat them. If you truly don't like their roster building techniques, you need to use other ones to build a team to beat them. (Yes, a Red Sox fan just wrote those last two sentences.)

In other words, if you turn the world into your grindstone, all you're doing is arming evil with an ax.

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