Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas with mayhem

Just prior to Christmas i was shown an e-card. It was on someone's computer at work. It was completely scary. Let me tell you why.

It started with a snowy forest scene. Two cute mice came into view, pushing a snowball. A cute cat and a cute dog came into view, also pushing snowballs with their noses. A banner came down asking us to help our little friends. With enormous trepidation, we clicked to put the three snowballs one on top of the other. We then clicked on the little friends to help them make the features of a snowman. They helped each other up to get to the high-up bits. Then a banner came down saying Happy Christmas. Bells jingled. The snowman waved an arm and magic light was sprinkled all over the forest. It ended.

As we watched, the first thing i expected was the carnivores to eat the mice in some gory manner. The Disneyesque cuteness continued. As we stacked the snowballs, i expected the snowman to come to life and slaughter everbody with a bazooka or perhaps a flame thrower at the very least. It was hard to be told to stack the snowballs when we feared we were endangering the lives of cute forest animals. But we did it because that's what the Christmas e-card banner told us to do. i just hope you understand me here, right?

By the time we got to the jingling and the fairy goddam lights nothing would satisfy the expectations of the narrative except total muthaf%&*ng mayhem. At this point the sheer adorable tweeness of the scene required mass destruction, and it had to be gory, and it had to be loud, and it had to make teenage boys punch the air and shout 'Yes!'.

i sent the e-card to others and got the same reaction, especially among the young adults in my life. They waited for the explosions. They 'kept expecting something really bad to happen'. They were inexplicably disappointed when 'nothing happened'.

i suppose if nothing bad happens, then nothing happens. What is with our aesthetic sensibilites here? Too much Call of Duty Black Ops? Are we just cynical bastards who are tired of Christmas and who are all brought up on a media diet rich in irony?

Or is it something older? There is a view that there are only seven plots in the world, and that e-card had no plot. We know how this is supposed to work. A joke has a punch line. A story has a plot. The ending has to satisfy the demands of a recognizable plot. When we are confronted with a thing that looks like a story but isn't, we try to insert a story to make sense of it. We use what we have to hand - popular images from the mass media.

An e-card with no plot is like an unfinished

Cruel, eh? See what i mean!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

in praise of 'like'

i am a fan of the ways young people communicate. Unlike my daughter, who texts in full, grammatically correct sentences with semi-colons, i lyk 2 txt free from the contraints of grammar and spelling and even common sense. i was born with a red pen in my mouth, and with parents who would correct my grammar even when i was in tears.

i am a fan of some of the vogue words. i enjoyed 'random'. i am amused by 'shit for Africa' and use it myself. 'Epic' is also fun. But my favourite is 'like' which seems to have stayed the distance of years. You know, it was like, cold, so he was like wearing his hoodie and like the police thought he was like some gangsta so they like ...

'Like' is great because it introduces fundamantal ontological uncertainty. There was like a hundred people at the party. That's a delightfully open statement. How many people were there? Did you, like count? No, but it felt like a hundred. Or it may have been about a hundred. Reality is subjective. Perception is malleable. Everything is context. We are aware of the observer's paradox, aren't we? Even if it is only that we forget to count ourselves in the crowd.

'Like' is also usefully sociologically fuzzy. He was like a gangsta. He may have been one. But he was like one. There were definite similarities. But for now we will reserve our judgment. Until i see the colours, he was like a gangsta. In the mean time, we will be humble and observe restraint. 'Like' calls us to reflection. Who had the knife? The black man? The white man?

Of course, there is nothing like otiose pseudo-academic speculation to put a young person off their stride. Perhaps if we point out the splendid intellectual underpinning of their communication habits, they will be resentful of us and thus go forth and strive for precise and measured speech in order to piss us off. i suspect not. i suspect language will continue to change and evolve and in a year or two we will be saying something equally charming, and ephemeral, and unconsciously wise.