Another Week Ends

Click here to listen to the accompanying episode of The Mockingcast. 1. As the major outlets […]

David Zahl / 12.11.15

Click here to listen to the accompanying episode of The Mockingcast.

1. As the major outlets begin to run their year-end reflections, doom n’ gloom seems to be descending even more heavily over the Internet than usual. I’m sure it doesn’t help that we’re entering an election year, but sheesh. Time to crank up the Christmas music a little louder. That said, a couple of the columns are pretty good, for example, author Bret Easton Ellis sounding off on “Living in the Cult of Likability” over at The NY Times. While he may extend the trolls out there a bit more rope than I might, it’s hard to disagree with his take on how the little-l laws running wild on social media short-circuit both connection and creativity:

Will the reputation economy put an end to the culture of shaming or will the bland corporate culture of protecting yourself by “liking” everything — of being falsely polite just to be accepted by the herd — grow stronger than ever? Giving more positive reviews to get one back? Instead of embracing the true contradictory nature of human beings, with all of their biases and imperfections, we continue to transform ourselves into virtuous robots…

The reputation economy is yet another example of the blanding of culture, and yet the enforcing of groupthink has only increased anxiety and paranoia, because the people who embrace the reputation economy are, of course, the most scared. What happens if they lose what has become their most valuable asset?

There are limits to showcasing our most flattering assets because no matter how genuine and authentic we think we are, we’re still just manufacturing a construct, no matter how accurate it may be. What is being erased in the reputation economy are the contradictions inherent in all of us.


2. Of course, no one has been skewering the zeitgeist more thoroughly or inventively this year than South Park. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done something different this season and committed to a single over-arching story about political correctness. Yes, the show is crass and ueber-confrontational and pretty exhausting at times, but as James Poniewozik noted in the NY Times this week, those qualities are also what make it the perfect venue for capturing our era of outrage. Get a load of this:

In the season’s darkest episode, “Safe Space,” the townspeople assign a single child to filter every negative comment from their social media, to protect their self-esteem from all manner of “-shaming.” After the boy nearly dies from the strain of filtering the entire Internet’s hate, an allegorical figure named Reality — wearing a silent-movie villain’s cape and mustache — shows up to scold South Parkers with a lecture that sums up this season’s Swiftian brimstone morality: “I’m sorry the world isn’t one big liberal-arts college campus! We eat too much. We take our spoiled lives for granted. Feel a little bad about it sometimes.” Affected by his words, the citizens are moved to action: They take Reality to the town square and hang him.

3. On a more hopeful note, in a recent installment of Ask Polly, Heather Havrilesky marshals prog-rock heroes Yes to counsel a reader who claims “I’m Sick of Being Unhappy and Alone!”. The heart of her advice?

“Digressions are what you need right now: focusing on something that has nothing to do with who you are, how lonely you are, how tired you are of looking on the bright side. Because looking on the bright side is impossible when you feel as bad as you do now. You can’t perk up and be more optimistic. What you can do is simply look away from yourself. Or, as Yes put it, “Don’t surround yourself with yourself.”

4. Next, Commonweal eulogizes French historian-philosopher-theologian René Girard, who died last month. We ran something about his conception of scapegoating a couple years ago, but since then I’ve heard his name more and more, and their piece provided a useful refresher. I was especially struck by the following, which sounds almost Fordeian:

maxresdefaultThe exposure of scapegoating and the identification of God with victims reaches its apex in the Passion narratives of the gospels. Girard argues that we have yet to catch up with the insights contained in the biblical text, since humankind resists giving up the scapegoating mechanism that has served it so well—especially given the fact that we remain blind to our own complicity in scapegoating and do not realize how deeply embedded it is in our institutions and practices.

5. Writing for Aeon, the always wonderful Mark Oppenheimer penned “Convert me! Why Proselytisers Are Good for Civilisation“. The article itself couldn’t be more humane or charitable, ht SJ:

I like proselytisers because they refuse to respect the proliferating barriers that we place between ourselves and other people. With the demise of the door-to-door salesman, hawking encyclopaedias or hairbrushes, only local politicians, canvassers for progressive causes, and religious proselytisers have the temerity to ring doorbells and make their pitch, or to walk up to strangers on the street and proffer their hands. By their continued existence, they testify to the belief that it’s a good thing for strangers to encounter one another, unmediated, without prior appointment by telephone, text, or email…

Can they be an irritant? Sure. But less of one than pop-up ads on my web browser or the solicitation calls that come every night at dinner time. The face-to-face proselytisers look me in the eye and make a pitch, and while you could say that they are trying to sell me something, I prefer to say that they’re trying to save my soul. Or improve our country. It’s American, in the best way, making their pitch with words and not guns. Even when they’re wrong, it’s right that they keep coming.

6. Social Science Study of the Week: People who say they love following the rules are also the ones who are most likely to be fired for breaking them.

7. Humor: New Yorker’s Academic Job Listings for My Exes is pretty amazing – it’d be interesting to see if they would/could do a companion piece for the fairer side of the coin. Mallory Ortberg compiled a list of Charlotte Brontë’s Most Inexplicable Denominational Burns, and it’s even more entertaining than you might suspect (example: “And again, when of moonlight nights, on waking, I beheld her figure, white and conspicuous in its night-dress, kneeling upright in bed, and praying like some Catholic or Methodist.”). And Local Business Comedy’s Christmas parody of Postal Service’s Give Up record, above, is inspired.

8. Finally, in The Paris Review, Dave Griffith takes a long look at Flannery O’Connor’s lesser-known story “The Displaced Person”, which I commend to you for its wisdom on the perils of “topical writing” and seasonal subtext. Favorite part was an aside she wrote to her beau Erik Langkjaer:

“The only conclusion we came to about [ministering to the poor] was that Charity is not understandable … Strange people turn up.”