Throw It Out Thursday #6: Hyperbole

You may have noticed that there was no Throw It Out Thursday post last week. This is because, well, I threw it out. I had a few sketches, but nothing resembling a decent blog post, and rather than publish something I felt was substandard, I took the week off.

In this week’s Good Reads post, I shared a review of the new season (the first four episodes, at least) of Netflix’s House of Cards. If you didn’t happen to read it, the writer makes the rather salient point that the show is akin to Doritos – addictive and easy to consume en masse, but totally insubstantial. It’s junk food, basically. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I may not have watched the new episodes if Dana hadn’t been so excited to see them  – we’ve long since established that she’s much less critical of media than I am, though she usually doesn’t disagree with my assessments – but I binged on them all the same. Not only was it me having to twist her arm a little to knock out a couple of episodes the other night, I ended up watching the last episode without her. So clearly I derive some pleasure from the experience, despite the numerous faults I find with it.

Like this character.

Like this character.

Still, I can’t help but roll my eyes when people gush about how “amazing” the show is when it’s anything but. A show with this many issues in terms of pacing, plot, and writing that by turns is trite, lazy, or overwrought doesn’t really seem worthy of that kind of superlative. I enjoy hearing other peoples’ thoughts on film, TV, and music, so I gravitate toward reading reviews of shows that I watch regularly. It exposes me to other interpretations; even if those reactions don’t change my opinion or jibe with how I viewed the episode, they tend to make me think a little more about why I had the reactions I did.

Specifically, I read a few recaps of the opening episode, which featured a scene that the people writing those recaps considered “shocking” and an “incredible twist”. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that the scene is question was so predictable and obviously telegraphed that I A) called out what was going to happen before it happened and B) laughed when it finally did. Now, I can’t predict the future – I think my track record in decision making of the course of my life has made that abundantly clear – but this “twist” should have been obvious to anyone who’s ever seen a movie or TV show from the musical and visual cues. Not to mention it followed logically from the narrative and stylistic choices that the show made in its first season – namely, going for big, loud moments of showmanship at the expense of a cogent plot. It’s not usually a good sign if, when I’m guessing what will come next, my default assumption is “Whatever would be the most ridiculous,” and then you do that exact thing.

I’ve heard some suggest that the breathless reactions many have had to House of Cards are due to the fact that it so clearly wants to be a so-called “prestige drama” and is exceedingly well-marketed. But if you treat it as such, though, you’re either willfully ignoring its numerous shortcomings or setting yourself up for disappointment.

I liked the new season more than the first, and I think that’s partly due to tempered expectations. I was hoping for a great show at the outset, so it was tough to overlook the areas in which I found it to be lacking. Once I accepted that House of Cards was content to be eminently watchable, melodramatic fluff, it was a lot easier to appreciate.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

And make no mistake, for all its flaws, House of Cards is quite entertaining. The performances are mostly strong, the cinematography is often impressive, and every once in a while, when the writers swing for the fences, they actually do connect.

The reviewer who made the Doritos analogy didn’t mean it as an insult, and neither do I. While I rarely eat them these days, I can remember more than a few times when I sat down and ate an entire fucking bag. And you know what? I enjoyed every second, as unsatisfying as the result invariably was.

You don’t need to use hyperbole to justify liking something, especially if it’s not art with a capital A. Not everything can be, or even should be, some sort of grand artistic achievement. Sometimes you just want to go the movies to sit in air conditioning, eat overpriced popcorn, and watch a 90-minute shootout/car chase with an occasional scene of exposition on a 3,500 square-foot screen. But that’s not the greatest thing you’ve ever seen. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Advertisements

Throw It Out Thursday #5: Unnecessary Burdens

“My daddy always told me to just do the best you knew how and tell the truth. He said there was nothin to set a man’s mind at ease like wakin up in the morning and not havin to decide who you were. And if you done somethin wrong just stand up and say you done it and say you’re sorry and get on with it. Don’t haul stuff around with you.” – Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Tonight, I finished paying off one of my student loans. I’m happy about it.

I have 10 more still to repay, totaling about $70,000. The only way I could pay all of that off within this decade would be if I were to put every dime of my current take-home toward payments starting now – and even that would take close to five years. Of course, I’ll hopefully enjoy a salary increase or two in that timespan, but I also like to eat, sleep in a warm bed, and shit in a toilet, and these are things for which I typically need to use a good portion of money.

My response to this used to be one of disappointment, disillusionment, despair. I’d think about the thousands of dollars I’ve paid, only to keep my balance somewhere just ahead of the amount I actually borrowed. Invariably, I’d start kicking myself over the bad decisions I made as an undergrad – to major in English; to not work a part-time job during semesters, save for a couple of one day a week gigs that were essentially beer money; to not even attempt to pursue an internship; to coast through my last couple of years doing the bare minimum to get a B+ (Not exaggerating on that last one: my final GPA was one-hundredth of a point above a B+, which happened to be the cutoff for graduating with honors). Even knowing that I’ve made significant progress in the last two years just got me all pissed off again about how much of a hole I’d dug for myself. I rarely drink these days, but this thought process tended to bring out a nostalgia for alcohol.

One of the ways in which I feel a little wiser after my recent depressive episode is that I dwell a lot less on past mistakes than I used to. I’ve been saying “life is looking back every couple of years and realizing just how dumb you really were” since I was a shithead teenager (Am I old enough now to point out that “shithead teenager” is redundant? Serious question.), but until recently, I hadn’t really grasped the corollary to that faux-profound truism: That means you’re improving.

It’s a long time coming, but I feel like I understand better how to just get the hell out of my own way now. Life is hard enough without sabotaging yourself, y’know?

So tonight, I paid off one of my student loans. And I looked at my balance, and started doing the familiar math in my head. I went to the kitchen and got myself a beer. Only this time, it was to celebrate. Because the road ahead is long and hard, and there’s no way for me to know when I’ll reach the end. But I’ve reached the first checkpoint, and that fucking rules.

What’s done is done. You can either let mistakes dog you through your life and weigh you down, cause you pain, make you fearful and angry and more likely to screw up again. Or you can realize that they’re sunk cost, move on, and learn from the experience. I’m closing in on the five-year anniversary of completing college, and this June it’ll be 10 years since I finished high school. And I’ve finally gotten tired of carrying around the burden of feeling like shit for things that are long since fait accompli.

Take it away, Warren Haynes.

Throw It Out Thursday #4: Hair

I’ve been meaning to get my hair cut for weeks, but with things being so busy lately, plus my natural tendency toward inertia, I didn’t get around to it until tonight. Because I hate paying 20 bucks just to get my head shaved, I asked my buddy Rob to do it. I figured hey, it’s his birthday tomorrow, and what better gift to give than the privilege of doing me a service?

CINNAMON

CINNAMON!!!!!!

While it would have been kind of fun to leave it like this, something told me my employer would frown upon it. So, after a trip to Target to show off the new ‘do in public, Rob finished things off.

20140130_233019

20140130_233006

Dramatization.

Throw it out.

Throw It Out Thursday #3: Now is the Winter of Our FUCK YOU WHY IS IT SO COLD

I’m a summer person who lives in Pennsylvania, so I spend a good portion of the year in a climate that I generally find pretty disagreeable. After over a quarter-century, I’ve more or less made my peace with this. And when it became apparent that Dana and I were hitching our wagon to Pittsburgh for at least the next few years, rather than moving somewhere warm like we would prefer (stupid careers), I thought I had resigned myself to a few more cold winters.

This bullshit, though? This is beyond the pale.

My buddy Zach lives in Williston, North Dakota, a frozen wasteland only slightly warmer than the vacuum of space. When he visited here in late October, we were experiencing lower than average temperatures for the early part of fall. He seemed rather amused by our complaints about the chill, repeatedly insisting that it was not cold. And relatively speaking, of course, he was right. But not all of us live on the ice planet Hoth like he does.

Image

If not for the AT-ATs, I’d have a hard time distinguishing between this and my yard.

Well, we didn’t used to, at least.

In the last nine days, the high temperature here in Pittsburgh has been lower than Williston’s every day but one. That doesn’t include the cold snap we had a couple of weeks back, during which we enjoyed a day with 60 degree spread between the high and low. If tomorrow’s forecasts prove accurate, the high here will be 25 motherfucking degrees lower than in America’s answer to Siberia – and it won’t even be the first time it’s happened this month. And yes, weather forecasts beyond the next day or two are notoriously unreliable (TL;DR chaos theory and math is hard), but if there’s truth to be found in what meteorologists are predicting for the next week, by the end of January we’ll have suffered through 13 days that featured a low temp of 10 degrees or lower.

All of which is to say: This winter has sucked some serious ball sack.

I can barely handle a normal winter here, and I’m supposed to deal with Pittsburgh turning into Greenland?

When I’m living on a tropical island someday, I’ll look back at this time in my life and laugh. But until then…

Dear Winter,

Okay. You are cold. We fucking get it.

Not love,

Me

Throw it out.

Throw It Out Thursday #2: Fear and Doubt

“I have spent my whole life scared. Frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen. Fifty years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at three in the morning. But you know what? I came to realize that fear – that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So get up. Get out in the real world. And you kick that bastard as hard as you can, right in the teeth.” – Walter White

2013 was an extremely difficult year for me. I spent much of it mired in varying states of existential despair, even as virtually everything in my life improved. Naturally, this created a feedback loop wherein I would think about how much better my life had gotten and grow even more upset that I wasn’t able to appreciate it. I found myself often unable to enjoy life, unable to express myself, and eventually unable to feel much of anything, apart from apathy and anger. As a result, I began to resent all the things I should have been feeling good about: my new job, my new house, my new dog. Instead of taking pride in how far I’ve come over the last few years, I focused entirely on what I lacked, and what I felt was missing in my life and those around me. I became withdrawn and emotionally unavailable to everyone, particularly Dana.

I didn’t know at the time if what I was experiencing was true blue, according to Hoyle depression, though I’m now pretty certain that it was. What I did know was that these mental and emotional difficulties were orders of magnitude beyond any I’d ever encountered before. Everything was out of whack. Nothing made sense. I would often find myself staring into the mirror, unable to identify with the person looking back. Horrible thoughts – things I can’t even bring myself to repeat – came into my head and asserted themselves as truth. It was terrifying. I couldn’t explain to anyone what was happening to me because I didn’t understand it myself. I couldn’t trust my own brain anymore. How could I trust anyone else?

That’s how depression isolates you. It tells you that you’re alone, that nobody cares, that you aren’t strong enough. That you aren’t good enough. And you believe it. You believe it, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. Even a healthy brain is exceptional at lying to itself, and depression just amplifies that, until you’re left wondering whether you can ever really trust yourself again.

But you can.

It isn’t easy. Even with the love and support of my friends and family, as well as professional help, there were times when I didn’t think I would make it. I could not have done it alone. And make no mistake, it’s very much a work in progress. I’ve had to make some changes – in my behavior, in my outlook, in my general living process – that I’m still figuring out, and there are definitely more on the horizon. More adversity, too. That’s life. But I’m more sure of myself, and where I’m headed, than I have been in a long time. I’m not drowning in doubt anymore.

Self-doubt is poisonous, and it will destroy you if you let it. I can’t tell you how to fight that nagging voice in your head, and I won’t patronize you with some hokey “believe in yourself and anything is possible!” after-school special bullshit. You can’t just believe and wish and hope your way out of depression (or be magically cured by not taking your medication), despite what Hollywood may tell you. But I can say that if you don’t believe in yourself, then everything is impossible.

The truth is that you won’t always succeed. You probably won’t even succeed most of the time. And it took me almost three decades to really understand this, but that’s okay. There’s no point being afraid of failure, because without failure, you can’t have success. Being afraid of failure only stops you from trying.

So the next time you find yourself reluctant to try something because you don’t think you can do it, just do it anyway. And if you fail, try again. Or try something else. Who cares? Just don’t stop trying. Because no matter how results-driven our culture might be, what really matters is effort – the feeling of working toward something, even if you may never reach it.

Fuck fear. Fuck doubt. Throw ‘em out.

Throw It Out Thursday #1: Stagnation

The phrase “throw it out” has become something of a catchphrase within our group of friends. Most often, it basically means that we’re expressing distaste for whatever we’re referring to. In that spirit, I present Throw It Out Thursday, a weekly feature where I toss out a few hundred words about something that I think needs to be kicked to the curb. – Kyle

Last night, I happened upon this interview with Matt Thompson, executive producer of Archer, the excellent animated spy comedy that more people (cough, Dana) should watch. Thompson explains that this season, the show’s fifth, will be a radical departure from what came before. The big bombshell: They’re dropping the “spy” bit. Why? “[F]rankly because Adam [Reed, creator and writer] got bored. He is the sole writer of the show and he felt like he was spinning his wheels at some point…And when we presented FX with this idea we were like, ‘I hope you don’t hate us but we want to change everything.’ And they were coolly like, ‘OK great. Sounds awesome.’ Which kind of weirded us out because you know, you don’t just, like, change a show in the middle of it.”

archer-season-5-poster-lana-pregnant

Fucks given: 0.

Is this change, or some of the others discussed in the interview, insignificant? No. But they’re almost entirely to do with plot, which has never been something Archer seems to concern itself with much. That’s not a knock on the show; rather, it’s a testament to strong writing, particularly the characterization. That the characters will be changing professions really doesn’t matter much. They’re still going to be the same hilariously awful, awfully hilarious people. The spy conceit really only functioned to put the characters in wacky situations – in the course of its four seasons, Archer has set episodes everywhere from Turkmenistan to outer space – and let their personalities bounce off of one another.

Anyway, the point is that the people who make a great TV show, rather than just keep going back to the same wells they’ve been tapping, made the conscious decision to pick a new direction. Everyone involved seems pretty excited about it, and given that Archer has been consistently great since its inception, I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially since I was legitimately intrigued by the ideas Thompson revealed. Based on what I’ve seen, however, this appears to be a minority viewpoint.

I wasn’t surprised by the backlash. I mean, I know I’m the first person ever to point this out, but some people don’t really handle change all that well. And Thompson said it himself above – you don’t see this kind of thing happen too often. But that’s basically all the prevailing arguments seemed to boil down to: We like this thing the way it is, and changing it is guaranteed to make us hate it.

 

 

I think that’s bullshit, personally. I’d rather see someone whose work I admire try something new than rest on their laurels, because for a variety of reasons, the latter approach almost always seems to be a detriment to the end product. Why should I want Reed to keep writing the same way if it bores him? If the guy writing something doesn’t give a shit about it, why should I? Why should anyone? Stagnation is the enemy of creativity, and Reed has yet to make anything I haven’t enjoyed immensely. He’s earned my trust.

It’s entirely possible that the doubters will be vindicated by history, and that the show will suffer a drop in quality due to the changes being made. But it’s by no means a certainty, and I’m excited as hell to see what Archer can do with them. Like Neil Young said, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.