Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels…

Our culture has a fascination with heroes and heroines, rebels, and misfits. We glorify them in pretty much every movie. They are the ones who save the day, who shake things up, who complicate the story and make it interesting.

Over the course of history, our society has begun allowing and making it possible for more and more individuals to make a lasting difference in this world. Any individual in the US can now start business with the possibility that the business that will become famous at the scale of millions of knowing people. Celebrity has become a kind of shared economy and meritocracy in itself, with the widespread use of social media and Youtube. Anyone can post a video to Youtube, and if they are interesting, have value to add to the community, and are unrelenting in their efforts, they can quickly become rich and famous.

The age of entrepreneurship is booming, and the many pioneering it can be described as daring, determined, and creative individuals, the successful of which are also adding value–copious amounts of it. The competition for value itself is unprecedented. Let me give an example. There is a market teeming with competition for websites that claim to teach you how to become successful at hosting on Airbnb. Success itself is exponentially growing, with many piggybacking on the success of others to the extent that demand will allow.

There is something fascinating happening in our world today, and that is the turbulent balance between creation and consumption. Each of us has one foot in each, but some are determined to capture success, to live deeply and meaningfully, or to rebel from everything everyone tells them they should do to live deeply and meaningfully. The less you consume and the more you create (either for others or yourself), the more of an individual you necessarily become.

Beyond this growing relationship, there is something else interesting happening here. Many pursuing fame are doing so in shallow, easy ways: perfecting their comedic vines, getting 20k followers on Instagram, and selling out by writing how-to ebooks on how-to-be-successful.

These people I believe are not unapologetic “individuals” in the sense I previously described. Their fame is like delicious, gooey, triple chocolate cake everyone jumps for in their moments of weakness only to completely forget about the experience a week later. They won their game, but their game exists within the confines of a very limited amount of time.

What I want to focus on here is the heroes and heroines, rebels, and misfits. We all seem to take a stance towards them: we either want to be them or decidedly do no want to be them. Conformity is oh, so sweet. The feeling that you truly belong is a christmas by the fire, opening presents with your dear family kind of feeling. There is a price to pay for everything, however, but for many that price isn’t a loss that really pains them.

Those that want to or can’t help but be them, however, have a more difficult road ahead of them. The thing is, no one can escape their instinct to desire the sense belonging. The heroes and heroines, rebels, and misfits must know themselves very, very well. Because since they can’t find their places in the world, they must make their own places. They have to create their own world and build their own bridges. All of us have at least a little of this spirit in us. The sooner you realize that life is generally what you make it, the better.

Once again, the world is creating more and more individuals and people desperately trying to forge individuality. Two things are in opposition to this: the comfort and pressure to conform and consume and the overwhelming competition amongst the creatives.

I believe the greatest thing anyone can do for both themselves and the world is to rebel without disengaging. Even the protagonist in Mr. Robot, an anti-social, anxiety-consumed addict and skilled hacker decides he wants to do what he can to change people’s lives for the better. This makes him more interesting, it makes his life more interesting, and he gets to actually interact with other human beings. Regardless if your endeavors are geared toward fame and fortune or if you’re a misfit tucked away in your mother’s basement, life gets a lot more interesting for the former if they rebel and a lot more interesting for the latter if they engage. As long as you welcome the price you pay, the world we are living in today welcomes you.

 

 

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When refined judgment becomes pretentious

 

 

If you haven’t watched the film Sideways yet, go watch it! My favorite scene is this one, where Miles, who embodies everything that is wine snobbery, does his hilarious tasting of this wine:

Miles: “Let me show you how this is done. First thing, hold the glass up and examine the wine against the light. You’re looking for color and clarity. Just, get a sense of it. OK? Uhh, thick? Thin? Watery? Syrupy? OK? Alright. Now, tip it. What you’re doing here is checking for color density as it thins out towards the rim. Uhh, that’s gonna tell you how old it is, among other things. It’s usually more important with reds. OK? Now, stick your nose in it. Don’t be shy, really get your nose in there. Mmm . . . a little citrus . . . maybe some strawberry . . . passion fruit . . . and, oh, there’s just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese . . .”
Jack: “Wow. Strawberries, yeah! Strawberries. Not the cheese . . .”

While I am a wine lover and I appreciate a good wine tasting, this hilariously satirical scene illustrates that there is a line that you can cross, when judgment becomes less rooted in reality and more exaggerated to show off one’s heightened ability to detect subtlety, i.e. pretension.

Judgment in general is always subjective. Art is a good example. Apart from the artist’s intentionality, there is no objective truth in art to assess. People experience art, and they do so differently because people are different.

“We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” -Anaïs Nin

Art, wine, music, and even people often leave similar impressions on people when their personalities are bold. In Sideways, though Jack is the pathetically inexperienced, gum-chewing wingman, he recognizes the taste of strawberries. Risking a hasty generalization from such a small sample size of two people, one could say that the taste of strawberries is a little more objective, in the sense that it more directly and clearly describes the wine.

Crossing the line and entering the realm of pretension means that the object of judgment is doing less of the work. The pretentious individual is compensating for what they feel is something that is empty and needs filling–perhaps it’s their ego.

The question is where exactly is that line?

I think there’s an easy answer. If it’s possible to show another person what is causing you to perceive such things in the object, then narcissism takes a rest for the day. In other words, you have to ask if the description is illuminating or additive.

Case in point: the genius of van Gogh.

Take a look at this exquisite masterpiece. This is probably my favorite self-portait of his. Van Gogh was the father of expressionism. He didn’t attempt to capture the world as it was, but as he experienced it. I am not an art historian; I am still in the process of discovering art. But what I can say is how I experience his art. The amount of emotion that comes out of his work is like nothing I have otherwise seen. Look at the expression on his face… the weariness, as if he just came out of a disturbed mania. The lighting is perfect too. When I look at this I don’t just look at a 2d image. It has a way of popping out of the page and coming alive, through the emotions and its conceptualization. This description I am making (I hope) is not pretentious sounding. The difference is sincerity and my ability to expose the object of my judgment as the acting agent.

The very spirit of van Gogh’s work–expressionism–is tantamount to this idea that art and wine and whatever else should be the things doing the work. That, in short, is how you avoid crossing that perilous line of pretentious narcissism.

Entrepreneurship: fueled by privilege?

Entrepreneurs all believe one thing in common: there is a solution to any given problem. Risk for them is perceived as much less of a threat, because they know they could handle unforeseen problems by solving that problem when it arises.

In short, problems are things not to be feared but to be handled or avoided if possible.

Is entrepreneurship an endeavor reserved for the privileged? To an extent, yes. Generally, people with more padding will take more risks. Although, there are plenty of examples of underprivileged people who stubbornly pursued an original, risky idea, including one of the most successful tech tycoons who ever lived: Steve Jobs.

https://www.fastupfront.com/blog/entrepreneurs/9-american-entrepreneurs-who-went-from-dirt-poor-to-stinking-rich/

I think privilege contributes to the rising number of entrepreneurs, but most universally attributable as a cause for such risk-taking ambition is probably the entrepreneur’s belief in him or herself. It’s modern confidence, and it’s been in part instilled by the internet and new technologies, which are major enablers to this boom, as they have given the capacity of expression and contribution to anyone with access to the internet. They have also made it much easier to pitch ideas to a large pool of potential investors.

Those that criticize the start-up era as being mostly made up of privileged millennials are not seeing the bigger picture. You have to understand that it’s happening on this scale not entirely because of privilege, but because it’s possible. And possibility will always attract the most stubborn, ambitious, and optimistic among us; although, these things I suppose constitute the most effective privilege there is.

 

Modern morality and community

I can only speak for the churches I was involved in as a kid, but churches—they generally attract good people. They encourage goodness in people. Often times they take it to the extreme and that gives them a bad name. But mostly, the goodness is well-intended and simple. Modern society seems less concerned with what is ‘good’. Atheists mostly believe that goodness equates to common sense, they believe that people who need external guidance are the broken ones, because to know what is right or wrong requires nothing more than to be a good and reasonable person. This isn’t a criticism; it’s an observation.

Although, a big driver of progress in a society is the ability of its people to listen to ideas that contradict their own. Liberals, progressives, and atheists all seem to have one thing in common: many of them believe that their perspective is inherently more advanced and necessary for progress, and ironically so, because their perceived moral and intellectual superiority bars them from supporting open, constructive dialogue with more traditional view points–the thing that actually sustains progress. Let me get more specific. Church not only encourages strong moral principles, but it provides people with the support and inclusion of a tight-knit local community, something that is horribly lacking in modern society. People feel more alienated than ever. Anti-depressants are becoming nearly as common as multivitamins. The internet, however much it brings us together, equally seems to further distance us from one another.

People are quick to form opinions in order to protect their beliefs and preconceived notions. That’s natural. But it’s healthy on both the individual and societal level to remember that there is always more for everyone to learn. Before you chose to throw away a tradition, ask yourself why it was there. What benefits did it afford? What is it that we propose to replace them?

Obviously replacing the community religion creates in society is not a task equipped for any individual, but at least perhaps we can become more aware of our own individual need to feel a sense of belonging.

 

The shallowness of pop culture

A lot of people who write and do art never end up sharing their work because they feel it’s deeply personal and wouldn’t be able to stand criticism and judgment.

Maybe that’s part of why art/media/general pop culture has become so shallow and superficial. It’s become widely public to an extent never before seen. Feedback is instant and seemingly universal. Any judgment is sung as if in a choir by millions of people at once, and what’s more, the internet acts as a kind of veil, allowing people to say things pseudo-anonymously.

The human mind is not equipped for this. If the artist does feel their work is still personal and their image genuine, perhaps those are the ones who lose their sense of control.

But, perhaps famous artists and public figures express themselves simply and shallowly in order to protect themselves. No one would try to make their heartfelt poem or secretively written short story go viral. No, 7-second comedic vines are a safe product of expression to present to large crowds. So are auto-tuned pop songs, professionally written by people who devote their careers to catching and replicating the most widely appealing melody such that the record label and artist can thrive, a kind of entertainment economist/magician.

The topic of the song is usually the simplest that can possibly be made any modicum of meaningful—love, party, sex, looking good, heartbreak, and did I say love? Yes, these things are the most universal and therefore the most economical–allowing for greater fame and wealth generation, but they are also safer. They are safer because they are universal, which creates a distance from the individual and his or her work.

The extent to which being consumed by such work actually makes the artists personally shallow is an open question and can be no more than speculation from someone who does not know the artist in question personally. Perhaps such a genuine expression is the ultimate protection–having nothing to hide.

Excellent New TV Series

I’ve just about finished the first (and only so far) season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which still has a few more episodes rolling out. It is by far the most intelligent series I have ever watched. I have watched a lot of the more intelligent ones, including dramas such as The Wire, Orange is the New Black, and True Detective, and comedy critiquing and exposing absurdities in popular culture and current events such as South Park or general smart ones such as Modern Family. I am enthralled by the explosion of creativity and innovation in television and Netflix series, which comprise the new, major artistic outlet of our time. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is like nothing I have ever seen before. It breaks all the rules so that it may rise to levels I didn’t know were possible to reach in film. The jokes are made so quickly it’s impossible to catch them all. It hits every part of the spectrum in human emotion and it actually says things that are deep about the human condition. It isn’t afraid to be deep. Thank god, in a world that sensationalizes the superficial, simple, and mundane, we have something like this television series.