Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.

That's the title of a book I'm "reading" these days, by the affable Chuck Klosterman.

(I say "reading" because it's the first ever book-on-CD to which I've ever listened. I was initially wary of the format; when I read a paper-and-ink book, I like to start off each sitting by skimming about the last half-page I'd read before jamming the bookmark in. Also, I never leave a book in the middle of a chapter; I've gotta finish that sucker. So when I get to work and Chuck's in the middle of a rant about how he's irritated that The Man Show unfairly gave the perception that mens' fascination with tits could be notheing but purely visceral, I feel uncomfortable that I have to turn it off, mid-rant. I'm not one of those weirdos that sits in the car for four minutes as Don't Stop Believin' by Journey finishes playing.)

(Unless it's in my garage. Then I'm semi-hidden. Oh, Steve Perry, you soft-rock my world.)

I'm generally enjoying the "book," even if Klosterman's unvarnished hatred for When Harry Met Sally..., one of my favourite movies*, took up a good five minutes of my commute to work today, which it did. However, one of his early essays — the thing is a collection of short essays on a variety of pop-culture topics — makes the argument that, somehow, the MTV show The Real World profoundly changed American society; how people interact with each other, the increasing one-dimensionality of peoples' personas and the idea that, in essence, "it's viewed as more desirable to be identifiable than to be interesting."

I have two bones to pick with Klosterman on this. First, the idea that this show radically altered American society... it's on cable, it's stupid, it's only potentially-watched by a very small slice of the population (e.g. teenagers and early-twentysomethings). Sure, it may have spawned all the awful "reality TV" there is out there these days, but might it actually have an "impact" on how people carry out their day-to-day lives? Hell, people watched Seinfeld through a good chunk of the '90s — which a hell of a lot more people watched than ever saw The Real World — but you don't see people celebrating Festivus in the millions.

Second, his idea that the US has more one-dimensional people than it used to is easily-debunkable, on many fronts. First off, perhaps there were always that many colourless people in society, but being a self-described "nebbish" guy who liked math growing up, maybe he never met all the self-absorbed drama queens that I imagine have always existed, but he only sees on this program. Perhaps watching this inane TV show just exposed him to this facet of humanity with whom he'd never interacted.

Plus — and I'm not sure how he wouldn't ever factor this into his thinking, or at least admit he did — it's a television show. Producers manufacture situations, edit things to make people fit certain roles, and misrepresent in the name of "ratings" and "excitement." The idea that The Real World is, in fact, real — which Klosterman accepts, prima facie — is entirely laughable.

But, on a more personal front, I meet deep, colourful, multi-dimensionals characters all the time, and I don't see their numbers decreasing at all. They're old, they're young, they're "smart," they're "dumb," but very few of them are as boring as he insists people have become.

Some of them may even be reading this right now. In fact, you probably are.

* I'm not entirely sure why this is the case, but I'll give it a shot... I find Billy Crystal funny, I found the dialogue quick and witty, and yeah, I can identify with the situation in the movie. All guys who have female friends can. (Incidentally, I think Harry's a bit off... his assertion that men can't be friends with women they find attractive without sex getting in the way assumes that the only way men would ever interact with women is in terms of having sex. I mean sure, boning her would be great, but if that's the only reason you'd ever be friends with someone — to eventually "lay some pipe" — well then, I daresay you're a sad, sad individual.)**

** And I'm not saying this from the perspective of a guy who's knee-deep in babes, looking down on the poor sexless men in the world from my high-and-mighty perch saying, "Well, shit, fellas... there's more to life than getting laid" — because that's extremely easy to say when you are getting laid. But I'm not.*** So there.

*** It is really not funny, the degree to which this is true.

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