Monday, October 21, 1996

AUC: Don’t take my word for it…

[Originally published in the Long Beach Union (student paper at Long Beach State), in my bi-weekly column called...]
Another Useless Column

Why does so much depend on a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens? For the non-lit majors, that is an allusion to a poem by William Carlos Williams (actually, that is the poem, turned from statement to question) published in 1923.

Why does this poem continue to be anthologized year after year? Yes, it’s a good poem. And it’s short. And there are no capital letters in it. But is it the be-all, end-all of poetry? Apparently, it is. And who am I to disagree?

Still, I wonder if it might be what I call inherited exaltation. That is, are the works that comprise the canon of literature, in part, considered so because at some point someone convinced a bunch of people that these works were great? From then on, all the scholars in the field have been trained, from grade school through college, to accept that Corpus of Works Believed by Scholars To Be Great, and thus they pass this, well, propaganda along to their students.

I could argue that the respected works of literature are merely those that have captured the attention of someone in an influential position, not necessarily those that are “the best,” whatever that means. But this ain’t no term paper, so I won’t.

To quote Paul Williams’ “Rainbow Connection”: “Somebody thought of it/And someone believed it/Look what it’s done so far.”

This applies to virtually every field out there: art, film, science, music, etc. Particularly music. One person’s Milli Vanilli is another’s Mozart. No, really. Who’s to say that Rob and Fab won’t be revered a century from now? It’s no crazier than thinking the sun orbits the earth. (Come to think of it, I have always just taken Copernicus’ word for it about heliocentricity. Hmm…)

Oscar Wilde stated, “All art is quite useless,” and by that definition, there’s a lot out there that must be art. Wilde’s argument was that the only reason to create something that serves no function (art) is to admire it intensely. And one must surely admire a poem, to discuss it at length. Granted, far more people are admiring Madonna having a baby.

So will it ever be a matter of life and death as to why so much depends on a red wheelbarrow? In a world of oppression and inequality, rampant with war and famine, should anybody care?

Perhaps the only way to be happy is to take a completely insignificant thing and turn it into something very important in your life. Distract yourself from realizing what an utter quagmire of hopelessness your life really is, whether through admiring poetry or “Entertainment Tonight.”

My opinion about the wheelbarrow? Heck, I don’t know. Sure, I could write a lengthy essay about it; I can’t let a lack of knowledge stop me. Of course, knowing is not actually relevant to poetry: it’s a matter of having a supportable interpretation. Or even an insupportable one. Or wearing support hose while interpreting poetry.

But I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, so what does it matter?

Doug admires this column intensely.

[* or at least I did admire it in 1996 when I wrote it, pretty much on spot to make a deadline]

Monday, October 14, 1996

AUC: Number of the beast

[Originally published in the Long Beach Union (student paper at Long Beach State), in my bi-weekly column called...]
Another Useless Column

My girlfriend is in Scotland until December, which means my long distance phone bill has skyrocketed.

That’s not the problem.

Until I got the hang of dialing overseas, I was reaching some form of “operator assistance.” And doing so, I got on a list. Then one evening, someone called me on behalf of my long distance company.

She was quick to point out that she wasn’t trying to sell me anything; she merely wanted to ask me a few questions. Checking my English-to-phone solicitor/surveyor-translator, I realized I’d be occupied a while.

Usually, I don’t have time for these people, say no thanks, and hang up. But she sounded like a nice enough person, so I figured “What the heck?”

She proceeded to have me rate my satisfaction with various aspects of the call I’d made (on a 10-point scale) and I started making up numbers. I even threw in an occasional “not applicable” to keep things interesting. Toward the end of the call, I had an opportunity to comment on how AT&T could improve my service. “Well,” I replied, “they could stop having people like you call me.”

There’s just something about someone calling me at home—whether to try to get me to buy something, tell me about a candidate or ask me questions—that irks me. Telemarketing, in its various forms, is pure evil, plain and simple. Therefore, the individuals making these calls are minions of the beast master, at least while they’re at work.

That’s not to say they’re bad people otherwise. I realize what great money is to be made in such a field. Of course, the child pornography market is rather lucrative, I understand. But you don’t see as many ads for those openings, more of a word-of-mouth kind of thing.

I expect that telemarketers get a fair amount of hang-ups, rude comments, and general unpleasantness directed toward them while going about their unholy duties. But here’s the thing: I’m sure they develop a tolerance for it. Perhaps they enjoy it, as some enjoy various other twisted forms of masochism.

So if you really want to fight the forces of darkness, don’t merely tell these souls to perform anatomically-challenging acts upon themselves, keep them on the line. Lull them into a false sense of security. Don’t buy anything, of course. Just waste their time. The longer they talk to you, the fewer others they’ll bother. It’s a small but important step toward ridding the world of this plague, a modest gesture in consideration of your fellow humans.

Right now, of course, a lot of energy is directed toward hounding us in our homes about the upcoming election. Now, is how we’re going to vote any of their damn business? Of course not.

So here’s the key to the success of this plan: lie. If you’re voting “yes,” say “no.” If you’re a Republican, say you’re voting Peace and Freedom. Be as inconsistent as possible in your answers. Once we can corrupt the information collected by these demons, it will be of no use to their masters. And what then?

Life will be… perfect. Well, once December rolls around.