Saturday, August 19, 2006

In the Penny Press!

This month's GQ has an amusing ANTIDOTE to all those '50/100/1001 Things to do before you Die'-type books that have proliferated as boomers reach the age where they start to realize they've never done much of anything.

The GQ piece is called "50 Things a Man Does Not Have to do Before He Dies," and since I'm a sucker for lists (though yes, I know, you couldn't tell that from this blog as yet ... I have heard your list-hungry complaints and am brewing up several as we speak), I naturally started keeping a tally. Or two tallies, actually:

Things I haven't done:

1. Tamed a wild horse
2. Gone to Graceland
3. Joined a food co-op
4. Come to terms with my anger (I rather like my anger - it and the moon are my two oldest friends)
5. Got a mohawk
6. Attended Burning Man (although I have friends who have! Stand up and take a bow, Locke!)
7. Delivered a baby while trapped on an elevator
8. Been a drug mule (although I have friends who have! Stand up and take a bow, Beepy!)
9. Changed my own oil
10. Been big-wave surfing.
11. Ceramics! (whatever THAT means)
12. Dropped acid (although I know people who have! Stand up and take a bow, Sebastian and every single person Sebastian knows!)
13. Grown a mustache
14. Videotaped myself having sex (in case any of you are wondering, yes, this idea even grosses ME out)
15. Managed a hedge fund
16. Run a marathon
17. Banged a Hilton sister
18. Ridden a motorcycle across a current or former Communist country (although I have tramped around extensively in such places on foot)
19. Learned how to drive stick shift
20. Bombed the Hahnenkamm
21. Stopped working for the man (on the contrary, I've been working for the man since he was a boy; it just doesn't bother me much)
22. Renovated my house
23. Flown an airplane
24. Taken that Italian-cooking class in Tuscany
25. Caught and released a marlin (those of you who know me well enough can insert my standard rant about this catching and releasing - in other words, the POINT is the grievous injuring - business being considered a sport)
26. Run with the bulls
27. Been Lady Godiva (i.e. ridden a horse nekkid)
28. Swum the English Channel
29. Stopped lying (Andy Ward in this entry makes a very good case for the little everyday lying without which, he says, "we'd never leave the house." He writes: "If I give someone a birthday present, for example, and that person doesn't like it, I'd much prefer that he'd smile and keep that shit to himself." And even better: "Taking the white lie off the table doesn't always make you more noble or pure; sometimes it makes you the biggest asshole at the party")
30. Followed a list in a magazine.

So that's 30 out of 50 that I haven't done, which I guess in the context of this anti-list is a good score, right? If it's a list of 50 things a guy doesn't have to do before he dies and I'd done them all, that would argue for a great deal of either showing off or wasting time, wouldn't it?

Ah, but I hear you all bleating in unison: What are the 20 things I HAVE done? OK, OK - but keep in mind, I'd like to hear that same answer from all of you too.

1. Had sex on a plane (no mean feat, considering that my ears geiser blood above 15,000 feet, but what can I say? I was - and still am - young and randy)
2. Understood the theory of relativity (don't know what this is doing here - like all great theories, special relativity isn't all that tough to understand)
3. Remembered which one is Montana (an opportune time for a shout-out to the gun-toting Warwood clan!)
4. Memorized the U.S. presidents in order

6. Swum with sharks (never willingly, but nevertheless)
7. Sailed around Cape Horn (four times!)
8. Road-tripped the Pacific Coast Highway or other similarly iconic routes
9. Eaten a blowfish (an entirely taste-free dish, so I urge all of you out there who AREN'T immune to cyto-toxins to give it a wide berth)
10. Eaten sheep's testicles, or any other testicles (don't know what this is doing here either - testicles are dee-licious when properly prepared)
11. Joined a revolutionary party (against King George III, dummy)
12. BLOGGED!!!(hee)
13. Found the village in Ireland where your great-grandfather was born (although in my case it was grandfather)
14. Mardi Gras - (dragged kicking and screaming against my will, after which I prayed the entire city would be struck by the wrath of God)
15. Spelunked
16. Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (four times!)
17. Taken a year off
18. Gazed upon the ruins of Pompeii
19. Seen Michelangelo's David
20. Read 'Ulysses'

This week's New Yorker has an interesting article by Justin Davidson on the art of symphony conducting. Reading it was a whole lot less frustrating than it would have been just a couple of years ago, when my very own Boston Symphony Orchestra was being conducted every week by Seiji Ozawa, whose 'style,' if you want to call it that, resembled nothing so much as the spasmodic gestures of a man who realizes there's a bee in his shirt.

The latest Harper's has an article on video games in which four 'experts' - two video game enthusiasts who are obviously children of Satan and two teachers who should instantly have their credentials revoked - are asked to assess how video game use among young people will 'impact' future generations of students and teachers alike.

The persistent note of ENTHUSIASM in this article is enough to make a grown man weep.

The teachers and the gaming enthusiasts, responding to the latest polls indicating that a quarter of all teenagers who play video games play them for six hours a day, bat around all kinds of great-sounding ideas about how the technology can be adapted to teaching. The kids'll see zombies, see, and they'll have to zap the ones that have misspelled names! Grammatical errors will slither across the screen like giant pythons, and the kids'll have to ZAP them! They'll be learning AND having fun! At the same time!

I'm weeping now, just recounting this crap.

Among today's teenagers in America, CONTEMPTIBLE DABBLERS go for six hours a day. And THAT number is the quarter of those surveyed. The rest, in the time-honored tradition of people polled about how much time they waste, LIED THEIR ASSES OFF.

Six hours a day is the rank-amateur minimum. The actual reality for male Americans between the ages of 15 and 25 is this: whenever they're not physically forced to be somewhere they CAN'T play video games (sleep, work, but there's an item in the news virtually every day about gamers who've felt compelled to do without either of those), they're playing video games. That works out much closer to ten or twelve hours a day, not six.

And there's no learning going on. None whatsoever. No matter how sprawling or complex or interactive video games are or ever become, they'll never educate anybody. They do the opposite of education. They lull their addicts into stultified passivity.

This isn't simple fuddy-duddyism talking. I've seen it. At first it was only by inference: I'd encounter a young person in the morning and inquire as to how they spent their evening - and I'd be met with a WALL of vague evasiveness. And the reason for it turned out to be the exact same in all cases: they didn't have anything to recount about their last fifteen hours because they played video games until their bodies forced them to sleep, fully clothed, by the light of the computer.

If these young people were LEARNING during all those hours, I'd be surrounded by super-geniuses. If these young people were experiencing anything even remotely similar to READING during all of those endless hours, they'd all be as articulate as Disraeli and as productive as Gibbon.

They have no idea at all who Disraeli or Gibbon are, and they couldn't care less. Literally, they couldn't care less. A poor 7th grader in the most dilapidated Brooklyn public school - a student without access to the Internet - might be made to have a germ of curiosity about Disraeli or Gibbon, but not these kids. They very aggressively DON'T CARE.

So we can TRICK them into caring, these four experts say - Sims will teach them about civic responsibility, and grammatical errors will look like zombies!

I have many friends who bemoan the fact that they don't have enough time to do all the reading they'd like to, or to finally get around to writing that novel they've always wanted to start .. and listening to them, you'd never know they were tacitly lying unless you asked.

In reality - a realm these four experts must only seldom visit - these friends of mine have plenty of time ... if they stopped playing video games. If they reclaimed their thought processes and creativity for themselves.

I can already hear some of you objecting, telling me that reading itself is inherently passive, far moreso than video games - and you're wrong, but my refutation ain't a part of In the Penny Press, so you're going to have to wait a bit for your smackdown.


BramHenry said...

Steve - you're somehow attributing potential genius to the general public if only they gave up video games and let me be the first to tell you - if you've been living in some dream society - that it just isn't there! Being lulled into a zombie like state by video games is the BEST thing that can happen to them. There's lots of other things they could be doing with there time and it's not going to be reading Erasmus and Tolstoy.

BramHenry said...

As for the list - there is only one thing which I have successfully done and that is to grow a moustache.

steve said...

Yes, the general public will always need opiates (although considering how mind-staggeringly violent and misogynistic most video games are, I'm not sure this is the "best" thing that can happen to them), but I wasn't mainly talking about the general public. I was talking about all the smart people out there who COULD be making things of interest and even beauty, if they weren't droolingly wasting all their waking hours being rats in somebody else's maze.

I have dozens of friends who bemoan that they don't have enough time for all the reading they'd like to do - but they've got all the time on the clock for Sims and whatnot. I know one young guy whose imagination comes up with about one fantastic idea (for a novel, for a screenplay, etc) a month - and who's never given ANY of them physical form, because he spends all his free time killing Nazis and trolls online. There's no other word for that but WASTE - especially since all that playing of video games has NO UPSIDE. It doesn't increase creativity, obviously, since creativity is the very thing it's stifling. It doesn't increase inventiveness - in even the most complex video games, there's only about two dozen things any character can do, tops, and all of those things have been programmed into the system ahead of time - in other words, chosen by somebody else.

It sure as Hell doesn't increase the social graces. The non-gaming world views beady-eyed room-skulking compulsive gamers as extremely antisocial (and consequently extremely lame), and SO DO THE GAMERS THEMSELVES! Just watch the next time you see, for instance, two Sims players sharing their passion in conversation - their tones are hushed and shameful, like two priests encountering each other in a porn shop. They KNOW they're in the grip of a time-wasting addiction, and they're ashamed of it, and my only confusion is this: why don't they STOP? Why doesn't this particular creative subset of gamers I'm describing turn away from their computers and actually MAKE the things in their minds? They MUST know that the sensation of creating something is infinitely more of a rush than pale responding ever could be ...

Or maybe they don't. Maybe they haven't done enough making to ever feel it. Gawd, that would be sad.

Anyway, congrats on the moustache, Bram! Someday, you will be a man ...