Beware of The Ministries

It’s a common theme in dystopian fiction, from Orwell’s 1984 (and probably before that) to the present day (for example, the Half-Life series): in a terrible future (or present), society is controlled by an interlocking network of “Ministries,” and in some instances, a single omniscient Ministry. This Ministry (or Ministries) are responsible for the provision of all food, entertainment, news, et cetera. The citizens are so utterly dependent on these Ministries, and so blindly trusting of them, that they are completely and utterly unable to operate without them, which is why it inevitably requires a grizzled action hero to rouse them from their mental slumber.

By this point, readers are probably wondering what the point of all this is. Well, here it is. You think all these Ministry-based plots are fiction? Think again.

You see, we’re currently facing a dreadful trifecta of Ministries that is soon to fulfill all of our basic needs, leaving us so brain-dead and utterly dependent that we’re incapable of independent action or thought. They are:

  • The Ministry of Truth (yes, I’m quoting Orwell again. Deal with it): Google and Wikipedia seem to have pretty much cornered the market on knowledge, as far as your average Internet consumer is concerned. My Science and Society professor just yesterday referenced Wikipedia (a notoriously un-neutral and inaccurate source for something calling itself an “encyclopedia”) in a lecture about the mind-body problem. The mind-body problem! A spiritual topic that is just about as hotly- and angrily-debated as whether evolution should be taught in public schools. And he trusted Wikipedia, of all sources, to be his unbiased provider of information. The encyclopedia that anyone, including (especially) angry zealots (on both sides of the issue) can edit! Now, I must admit that I myself am not innocent in this regard: Google is essentially a sort of personal Deity. I’m not even certain that I know how to find information any other way any more, and when Google the Omniscient fails to provide the answers I’m looking for, I’m about as helpless as an overturned tortoise with Krazy Glue on its back.
  • The Ministry of Plenty: When was the last time you were in a grocery store that didn’t sell every product imaginable? Last week, I went to Target to buy a sweater, and later complained to someone that I’d forgotten to buy some vital food item or other at the grocer’s. This person then gleefully informed me that they do in fact carry that item at Target. I went back later, and, sure enough, Target has a grocery section! Okay. So, in addition to not knowing how to find reasonably unbiased information any more, now I have no idea where to get food, clothing, and novelty erotic items if they’re not all housed in the same store. Terrific.
  • The Ministry of Love: I struggled to find an Orwellian correlate to the ministry in 1984 responsible for torture, but I’m such a committed 1984 freak that I actually found a way. Now, I was going to lump the rapidly-condensing news media into the aforementioned Ministry of Truth, but given the fact that I’ve actually seen contemporary television, I’m convinced that it’s no longer intended for entertainment, but for the torture of people who enjoy independent films and occasional treks off the couch. After all, how many reality shows have cropped up (or spawned like the deformed, demonic, parasitic insects that they are) in the last year or so? I can’t count them, mainly because that would require keeping up with them, which would almost certainly sap my rapidly-waning will to live. And network news? Well, actually, its proper title is “network news crappy hackneyed sob-stories pregnant with thinly-disguised political agendas.” And when I say pregnant, I mean pregnant. Okay, well, maybe services like the BBC, CNN, and NPR are only “a little bit pregnant,” but an outlet like, say, Fox news, is about as pregnant as that enormous and disgusting insect queen, distended with writhing larvae, that the sci-fi hero has to defeat with a grenade, producing suitably disgusting splattery results. I know that’s a long simile, but I take every opportunity to make peculiar and often repulsive cultural references. Anyway, Fox is pregnant with agendas. It’s annoying. Annoying rapidly becomes torture when the reporters actually pretend to be sincere about what they’re saying. I mean, come on! I’m not that bright — the Internet and television have seen to that — but I’m not that stupid (at least not yet; not until I start watching American Idol).

So, we basically have all the non-life-affirming Ministries of 1984, and there is no doubt a Big Brother figure soon to emerge as the “beneficient”, omniscient ruler of them all. But that remains to be seen. In the meantime, we are rapidly becoming (if we’re not already) the dependent Ministry-junkies that are featured in every aforementioned dystopian tale. And I know that I brought quite a lot of sardonic humor to the above descriptions, but I stand by them as serious warnings, too. Think about it. Don’t get dependent. The only thing that will save you is independent thought. Use a real (paper) encyclopedia occasionally (if you can find one). Search with another search engine. And for Google’s sake, don’t find that other search engine by Googling “search engine”!!! Or, even worse, go to a library. You remember libraries, right? Well, you will if you were born before 1988.

More food for thought, as always.

Ranting & Raving: Episode 1

In view of my tendency to spend most of my blog posts ranting about different things, I’ve decided to collect and condense all of my rants, that’s right, all into a single series of posts. From now on, readers will be able to tell right away when a major whine is about to begin, and get out before it’s too late.

So, I bring you: Ranting & Raving!

Read the rest of this entry »

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AT&T: The Evil Empire

Since earlier this year, the telecommunications company AT&T has been expanding at an alarming rate. First, they absorbed Bell South. Next, they assimilated Cingular. Now, they hold the exclusive rights to the iPhone’s network. And yet, even though I listen to enough liberal radio to kill a horse, I haven’t heard a single outcry about this. Somebody has to say something. I guess that’s me, now.

Now, I don’t know just how far AT&T is planning to take this, and perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but it certainly seems that “The Evil Empire” — as I call it — is heading very quickly for monopoly territory. This makes me quite nervous.

First of all, in a monopoly, there is no competition, so there is no reason to set prices at a competitive rate. After all. in a monopoly situation, there is no competition. And since the only viable telecom network is the one that covers a majority of the service area, even if AT&T doesn’t take over every other provider, they’ll still have an effective monopoly, being the only ones that can provide broad-ranging coverage.

Secondly, if AT&T goes monopolistic, then there will be no reason for them to maintain any standard of quality. After all, with no real competition, they have no reason to spare the expense. Who else could their customers go to?

But perhaps the most frightening — and admittedly most paranoid — of the possibilities, should AT&T consume the whole market, is the potential for the abuse of democracy. The Internet is one of the most democratic media of exchange on Earth, and has been since its inception. However, who’s to say how this might change if one company has control over all the Internet access routes? I myself access the Web through a DSL modem now run by AT&T (it wasn’t my idea; when I signed up it was still Bell South). Suppose they didn’t like what I was writing about them. “Oops, Mr. Asymptote, it looks like your phone line has suffered some sort of inexplicable catastrophic failure.”

Think about it.

Products I Won’t Buy/Shows and Movies I Won’t Watch/Miscellaneous things I Won’t Be Associated With Because of the Odiousness of their Advertising

Long title, I know. Sorry. That was, believe it or not, the most concise way I could think of putting it.

This list has been festering in the back of my mind for a while. I thought it’d be a good time to air it out; it was starting to stink up up my hindbrain. So, here it is:

  • Dr. Scholl’s: An irritating series of forced rhymes does not an amusing advert make.
  • Zwinky: I don’t know what it is, but I’ve seen enough banner ads for it to hate it with all my heart.
  • Jack in the Box food: Just because you say every other fast food chain sucks does not make it true. Also, that angus-anus thing was kind of transparent. Better luck next time.
  • The Transformers Movie: Flooding all channels with hyped-up ads only annoys me, it has never gotten me to see a movie.
  • Chevrolet automobiles: Their poor fuel-efficiency notwithstanding, the fact that they’ve formed an evil union with the above movie has made me hate them. Also, when you go Toyota, you don’t go back. (I know, that doesn’t rhyme…I’m not very good at such witticisms.)
  • Skechers shoes: Sure, life is easier when you ignore the world’s problems and concentrate on shoes, but that doesn’t make for a very satisfying life.
  • Old Navy: First came the irritating ads, then the nonsensical ads, and now it seems the age of the irritating ads has returned.
  • Suzuki automobiles/motorcycles: A woman in a leather jacket only entices the more simple-minded members of my gender (which happen to be the majority, but still).
  • That patty melt sandwich: I didn’t even want to risk seeing it again, so I didn’t bother finding out who made it. Sexist advertising is not the wave of the future, but apparently they still think it works.
  • Diet Pepsi: Fifty-six percent is not that much greater than fifty percent. This is not an election. Get a sharp pin and deflate your ego.
  • VisionWorks eyeglasses: I don’t know what you think you’re accomplishing with twitchy, strangely composed animations.
  • The iPhone: I must admit, general hype made me jaded, but the ads, with their plinky, pretty music, did not help.
  • AT&T: Okay, since they seem to be moving to take over the entire world, I may have trouble avoiding them, but the fact that they seemed to have formed an evil conglomerate, then advertised it widely, kind of turned me off. Try a striptease next time. (Only kidding. All the members of the Evil Conglomerate are fifty-year-old, fat, rich, white men who don’t get enough sun).
  • Reality Television: Okay, you know what, I’m gonna need an entire separate post for this one. More on this later.
  • That free-text-messaging phone: Whichever advertiser created that irritating “IDK my BFF Jill” commercial should be beaten into a coma, allowed to recover, and beaten into a coma again. I repeat, and for the last time: media saturation does not a successful/good product make!
  • Welch’s Grape Juice: Getting creepy, annoying, Dakota-fanning-esque little girls to say canned lines without a hint of real sincerity is just creepy. It’s like that scene in the horror movie where you see the former sidekick standing up and waving, but you know it’s just the alien tentacles shoved up his rectum and into his brain making him do it. (Hmm…my similes seem to be rather peculiar today).
  • Glomobi: Who the hell wants a crying baby ringtone for a cell phone? Odds are, in the same restaurant as the twerp with the loud phone will be a real crying baby. And get an announcer with a less annoying voice while you’re at it.
  • Subway sandwiches: Okay, I still eat there, but only because the sandwiches are good. Next time, though, take a hint: nobody wants to see a grossly overweight man or the pale, skinny corporate sock puppet he evolved into. And why must you always follow up “Subway” with “Restaurants”? Everybody knows it’s a restaurant! Subway might be one of the most easily-recognizable restaurant names on the planet!
  • McDonalds: Not only does their food have a tendency to make me ill, and not only does it tend to contain more than the FDA’s legal maximum concentration of livestock excrement, but trying to make a really shitty chain of restaurants sound glamorous while continuing to serve up low-quality, high-fat, dangerous food is not a good idea. Also, everybody can tell that you have produced one set of adverts to attract white people, and a totally separate set for black people. Neither group is so stupid as not to notice that.

Well, it certainly feels good to get all that off my chest! More ranting later!

Posted in Rants. 4 Comments »

The Generation Incapable of Seriuosness

For years, there have been warning signs that the younger generations are slowly losing their capacity for taking the world seriously. As time marches on, the media decays, and social discourse degenerates into a discussion of which cell phone is the best, which pop star is the most attractive, and which television show is more entertaining, the young are losing their ability to connect with or take seriously anything in their world.

I began to notice this a few years back, when I was in high school. As I rose through the ranks, from freshman, to sophomore, to junior, to senior, I gained the ability to “look back” as it were, at the younger students, to see just what the new generation of freshmen were like. I was appalled.

Something went wrong somewhere between my generation and the one three or four years younger. While I don’t claim that my generation had many noble qualities, it certainly seems that, on average, the younger one is much worse. For one thing, they all think so highly of themselves. Their egos are more inflated even than some of the athletes and pop artists that they idolize. They stride around in faddish, popular, and ludicrously expensive clothes, as if somehow their participation in mainstream consumer culture has given them the right to whatever they ask for.

The second thing I noticed about these young whippersnappers was the increasing proportion of “class clown” types among them. These are young people who not only can take a joke, but can take it so well that they don’t seem to be capable of anything else. Nothing they say can be taken seriously, and they walk around talking jokingly about everything, in their annoyingly sarcastic and matter-of-fact tones of voice.

Now, normally, I’d welcome such levity; I think that my generation and the older ones are, on the whole, in serious need of such levity. I’d welcome the refreshing lack of gravity in everything they talk about, if it did not betray such a rapidly degrading society. These youngsters don’t take anything seriously because everything is a fantasy to them. They’ve bought into, in a big way, the delusion that if they fix their hair properly, buy the perfect clothes, drive the best car, and date the most popular person, that their life will gain meaning and purpose immediately, and that everything will work out. While many in my generation have been permeated for much of their lives by the lies and false promises of the media, these younger folks have been basted in it for their entire lives. Not one waking moment has been spent without a talking box in the room challenging independent thought. Not one waking moment has been spent asking the question “Does the media really portray the world as it is?” Not one moment. This is not innocent capitalism. This is indoctrination.

Take a look at your average television commercial. Look at its gauzy, glossy, rococco illusions. Watch unrealistically proportioned, silicone-fortified, cosmetically-enhanced, over-dressed, superficial drones milling around, promoting low-quality, overpriced garbage that nobody would buy if the artificial need were not created. Look at how many of them are trying to create a need for products that nobody wants, nobody needs, and that are actually often dangerous. With all this in mind, consider this horrifying idea: the young people just a generation behind me see these commercials, and believe in them. They believe that the world should actually be like this: superficial and meaningless, based on transient consumer commodities with no real value. It’s no wonder they don’t take anything seriously.

More Movie Land

In Movie Land…

  • … somehow, somewhere, the tables will turn, no matter how implausible this is.
  • … the hero will either be: a cold and distant “damaged” sort, an introvert with a heart of gold, or an extremely “cool cat.”
  • … the heroine will either be: cold and distant, continually mourning her dead husband, or a sex object.
  • … somebody will own a motorcycle.
  • … everybody is a grade-A marksman.
  • … even the most clich├ęd one-liners are treated as profound statements.
  • … if there is glass, somebody will be thrown through it, fall through it, shoot through it, or explode it. No exceptions.
  • … a long series of pans across a lovely, bustling city guarantees its destruction.
  • … a happy exterior masks a dark secret.
  • … in a war, one side’s soldiers are human, and the other side’s soldiers are disposable, inhuman drones commanded by someone who doesn’t care about them.
  • … fire leads to explosion. No exceptions.
  • … even supposed “human-level” robots are nowhere near human level, and despite recent advances in artificial intelligence, we’re apparently still supposed to believe that they are totally logical and emotionless.
  • … someone with brain damage is never cognitively impaired. In fact, they often gain a special talent.
  • … despite the laws of physics, you can hear everything in space.
  • … stars and planets are much larger and closer together than they should be.
  • … all stars are roiling balls of activity. Solar flares are constant. This is especially true of stars around which orbit “habitable” planets.
  • … some saccharine life-saving gesture will be repaid heartwarmingly later. No exceptions.
  • … nine times out of ten, somebody, usually female, will say “Do you think you can handle it?”
  • … people have no convictions about having a conversation whilst shooting high-powered weapons. Actually, the danger lurking all around them seems to make them even witter than usual.
  • … vampires are young, attractive, and overwhelmingly female. No exceptions.
  • … wizards are old men. No exceptions.
  • … if a large structure is depicted from the ground, at some point in the movie, that same structure will probably be seen collapsing in slow motion.
  • … when the above structure collapses, no matter what had been stored there, it will all explode or go up in flames.
  • … the climax of the movie is always an explosion. Even if the movie is underwater, in space, or in another such environment not conducive to explosions.
  • … the pyrotechnics guy is a pyromaniac. Thus, fire will be used wherever possible, especially if explosives are not available.
  • … if there is a puddle of gasoline, it will be ignited somehow.
  • … a small town is dangerous in some way.
  • … an abandoned small town is a deathtrap.
  • … a young, happy couple shown early in the movie and who never undergo any character development are about to meet a very grisly demise. You can usually bet that they will be eaten by something.
  • … an asteroid will be stopped at the last minute, no matter how unlikely.
  • … no matter how bad the apocalypse, a post-apocalyptic movie will always feature at least one really well-organized faction.
  • … no matter the circumstances, if a female character demonstrates a proficiency with any sort of weapon, the hero will be amazed.
  • … most heroes are sexist misogynistic “love ’em and leave ’em” types.
  • … as the heroes are leaving after the loving, they will either look mournfully to the right side of the screen or deliver a witty one-liner.
  • … the villain always, through sheer stupidity, or out of a desire to taunt the hero, leaves a trail of clues that can be followed using sufficient logic. No information is ever missing or misleading. Ever.
  • … one plot twist is the legal maximum. Offenders are labeled “indie” films and shelved at the back of the store.
  • … either everybody is who they seem to be, or nobody is.
  • … if you are persistent enough, you can defeat any number of enemies, as long as you are rugged, good-looking, and the enemies have a tendency to stand near explosive barrels, or under flimsy catwalks.
  • … if a character is above a vat of some lethal chemical, he or she will fall in somehow, unless he or she is the hero, in which case he or she will toss a lot of other people in.
  • … truckers tend to fall asleep just as a protagonist’s car is coming around the corner in the opposite lane. They also tend to swerve the moment they nod off.
  • … if a tractor-trailer crashes, it will fall off a cliff. Even if there are no cliffs nearby.
  • … if you can only see the “dead” villain’s hand, it will twitch, signifying that he or she is alive.
  • … the battle between hero and villain goes like this: hero fights villain. They’re equal for a while. Villain deploys clever trick. Hero is nearly defeated but fights back. Villain downs hero. Hero appears dead. Hero gets up triumphantly, calls on the power of The Force (or some other such generic “inner strength”), and defeats the villain in a single blow. Optional: the villain’s hand twitches and he or she stands, possibly killing someone the hero loves. The anger give the hero the strength to kill the villain.
  • … a woman with a British accent is always tall, blonde, and attractive. A man with a British accent is either a “cool cat,” or a grizzled, sarcastic, sardonic supporting character.
  • … the protagonist never has an accent, unless that accent is British.
  • … all the scientists are late-middle-aged white males, unless they are suspiciously young, blonde supermodel types.
  • … the Doomsday Machine is always powerful and impressive, never subtle and hard-to-find.
  • … you can get very close to a nuclear reactor with no ill effects.
  • … if a building collapses on the hero, he or she will emerge just after everybody writes them off. They will be dusty, but otherwise unhurt. They usually emerge from a fortuitously-placed piece of debris.
  • … hiding in a closet only guarantees that the Evil Henchman will have to circle the room a few times before dramatically plunging his or her fists through the wall. It doesn’t provide any actual shelter.
  • … all closets are equipped with slat doors to look through. No exceptions.
  • … the crack under any normal door is always big enough for dramatic shadows to flit across it. The illumination is, of course, always suitable to allow this.
  • … if the heroes are worn down after a long firefight, one of them will eventually glance over the top of a chunk of debris, drop down suddenly, and say some variation of “There’s way too many! We can’t go in there.” The protagonist will then proceed to go in there.
  • … the hero owns a motorcycle. Or, if he/she doesn’t, they will steal one, no matter how many other vehicles are available.
  • … heroes and villains have a tendency to steal cellular phones from men in business suits who are crossing the street. These men then proceed to point ineffectually, shake their fists, and yell “Hey! That’s my phone!” They then proceed to stand there, not doing anything about it.
  • … the Final Confrontation always takes place in an area free of civilians who might get underfoot.
  • … the Doomsday Device can always be stopped and started from one single button/key/etc.
  • … the head of a multi-national corporation is always evil.
  • … the little guy is always better than the big guy.
  • … if you dive screaming into a horde of enemies, the universe graciously goes into slow motion so others can watch in awe.
  • … nobody ever sees the body being put into the body bag. You either see the bag being zipped up, or you see it once it’s already been closed.
  • … though they have a tendency to peek under the bloodstained white sheet at a grisly murder, no detective ever yells “Oh my God! That’s disgusting!” and vomits.
  • … somebody who has an outlandish theory (usually about a coming disaster or something about that nature) and is ridiculed for it by his colleagues will be vindicated in the end. No exceptions.
  • … a hero’s companion who has supposedly been converted to the dark side, will always come back in the end, usually right before sacrificing themselves to free the hero.
  • … the hero is almost invariably a very acrobatic person. They usually also have martial-arts training.
  • … despite the obvious disadvantages, the hero always matches the villain’s weapon: even if a gun is available, the hero will keep fighting with that trusty sword. And win. No matter what.

More later.

Movie Land

In the same vein as my “TV Land” post, here is the world described in Hollywood films. In Movie Land…

  • … if a black person is present, he or she will inevitably die first.
  • … in the absence of a black person, or after they have departed, any person with glasses will die immediately.
  • … if the room is dark and silent, somebody is going to die.
  • … if a silence is followed by an absentminded moment of relief, somebody is going to die.
  • … a shadow dropping from the ceiling is a surefire predictor of death.
  • … fire leads immediately to explosion. No exceptions.
  • … at least one car will explode at some time during the movie.
  • … the female companion of the villain will, somehow, some way, defect to the hero’s side.
  • … the hero will survive. Even if he is tossed out into the void of space, somehow, he or she will survive.
  • … somebody who coughs has a terrible disease, and will be dead within minutes.
  • … anybody who discovers an ancient artifact will immediately investigate it. They will subsequently die.
  • … the person who makes clever quips throughout the beginning of the movie will either be killed heartbreakingly, or become the comic relief.
  • … if the two focal characters are of opposite sexes, they will have at least one make-out scene, and probably a sex scene.
  • … a projectile depicted in slow motion always finds its mark.
  • … a one-liner is always a precursor to victory. No exceptions.
  • … the more risky a driver you are, the less chance anything bad will actually happen to you.
  • … if a spacecraft is punctured, a low-ranking person will be ejected into space.
  • … an ominous but seemingly empty planet contains some sort of bizarre killer being that’s been waiting for 2,000 years. Always.
  • … an evil villain who pretends to spare some poor weakling will kill him in short order.
  • … a religious person who has lost their faith will regain it by the end of the film.
  • … a cold, introverted, uncaring sort’s heart will be melted by the end of the film.
  • … a cold woman will defrost by the end of the film, in a big way. She usually ends up having a love scene with the hero.
  • … children are never killed, but are instead used to inspire fear and suspense that they might be killed.
  • … if a police officer catches up with the hero (or villain) during a chase, that officer will be killed before pursuing legal action. Heroes and villains do not get speeding tickets.
  • … if the camera is focused on the starter as someone turns the key, a car bomb is about to explode.
  • … a person admitted into the hospital in critical condition either recovers remarkably quickly (their eyes usually snap open at the end of the film), or they flatline while the hero is present.
  • … CPR either drags out endlessly or saves the recipient at the last possible moment.
  • … zombies cannot use weapons. No exceptions.
  • … alien creatures either speak English (often unaccented), or they speak in primal, indecipherable growls.
  • … anybody who goes to “check anything out,” will be dead quickly.
  • … a savant-ish person will either find a great use for their talent or they will become sociable by the end of the film.
  • … if it’s unlikely, if it’s foolish, if it makes no sense, if it’s implausible, if it has no bearing on the plot, it is certain to happen at least once.

More on this later…movies are definitely a more fertile ground for this than TV.