New Focus (A 3 out of 5 Star Review of Being a Critic)

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The name I gave to this blog some years back was ‘The VO Review (…of life and whatever)’. I’m not sure what prompted that exact wording along with the parenthetical and triple dot; but I went with it and if I recall it came to me quite quickly. I was eager to get into this blogging thing. I’ve never really been prompted to change the name, although I don’t know if I’ve ever been very clear what the VO Review is supposed to be. I’ve later added in the header “feeling free to think too much” which, granted, is sort of cheesy. But it describes quite well how I am and what I feel like I’m doing when I write.

So today while on on my daily jog I started getting some inspiration. I felt a desire to more clearly detail what this ‘Review of Life’ is and what it means to me to be a critic. There are all sorts of opinions out there about critics and what worth criticism has. Many people associate the concept with unpleasantness and labored justifications for judging an artist, person, or public figure, and their works, persona, or impact on society. You may have heard before that, “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, criticize.” The quote is reductive and nearly useless unless someone were to elaborate on what they thought the words meant.

For me critique is more often associated with the literary notion of it. I took a course ‘Academic Writing on Literature’ and learned about various approaches and theory with regards to intellectual critique. I myself am quite fond of giving more than a thumbs up or thumbs down opinion of movies or saying more than whether I liked or disliked an album, artist, band, or song. This particular college course and my own opinions about art and the world have made it clear that I am intrinsically motivated to intellectually analyze and criticize “stuff”.

Some critics can twist themselves into all sorts of knots trying to see what isn’t present in a text or a film or whatever they are being critically observant of. So I understand some of the unease that critics create within our judgemental internet/information culture. I’ve recognized how many critics can take up an authoritative tone such that they assume people should listen to what they are saying; that they themselves were making a definitive statement on whether a band was the next big thing or why it was almost imperative that we agree with them that something was objectively bad. Criticism can easily devolve into very wordy and convoluted contrarianism. Perusers of a Pitchfork Media review might understand what I’m talking about.

So back when I named this blog the ‘Review of Life’, I had the intention of observing and analyzing just about anything in life, and ruminating on the worthwhileness and intrigue provoked by my various experiences. I also planned on doing far more media (music, film) reviews than I’ve actually done. The content, however, has drifted more in the direction of social criticism and philosophy. But, so be it.

With that in mind, and after that inspirational jog, I now feel motivated to take a more committed approach to this angle of intellectual criticism. Criticism is rewarding and useful when it acknowledges the nature of its subjectivity and presents ideas for improvement while acknowledging what is impactful about the subject matter. How did something make me feel? Did I learn something? And how will others possibly think or feel about it?

Consuming content, watching movies, listening to music, is more than being about the mere enjoyment of it. I do understand the draw towards simple escapism, but I still find it absurd that, for example, the Twilight films are some of the highest grossing films of all time. There are some things that I cannot help but notice and consequently feel like they are objectively bad, uninteresting — or even worse — a blight upon society. That’s still my opinion. But there will be times that I feel the need to declare such things — such as, the world may have been a better place had Twilight never existed. Nevertheless, maybe we just had to learn our lesson as a society with regards to that. I want to be self aware and authentic when I make these sort of statements, but also don’t want to be the rain on a parade or the poop on the party.

So with that in mind, I wish to begin this now more focused review of life by levying a 3 out of 5 star score on the practice of ‘being a critic’. Being a critic can be rewarding in that you challenge yourself to understand an artist/person’s intent, explore what might be there for improving one’s life or society, or simply acknowledge how it impacts you on a basic human level. However, criticism leads to discontentment — and if not done with a relative amount of self awareness — critics will soon become the cynics and naysayers and tastemakers of life and all art. This modest rating of 3 out of 5 is a demonstration that it’s good to constructively be critical of things, but that it’s probably a good idea not to be critical of all things; most often being reserved for either artistic or educational purposes.

Now just wait for when I give a critical review and levy a sore upon life itself!

Quick Hits

Show that earns its greatness merely from its pilot: Community

New approach to knowledge: Love knowledge for what it teaches me, not because it helps me prove that other people are wrong or ill informed.

New approach to my moods: Understand how they may be a pattern and habit of thinking that can be improved and redirected in an effort to foster greater well being.

Shameless admission: These quick hits most certainly sound like self improvement platitudes

Relevant quote: “Self Improvement is Masturbation” -Tyler Durden…Fight Clube (5/5 Stars)

Why that’s okay: It’s perfectly normal and healthy…to improve oneself

Movie that can be identified as freedom and war porn: 300 Rise of An Empire (I watched it recently) 2/5 stars

If I had to yell out my favorite movie while being dangled over a pool of piranhas: Unforgiven (5/5 Uber Stars)

Would I feel restless and unsure about it later even if it saved my life: Yes

PEACE

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Thoughts on Personal Narratives (The self truths found in our little life fictions)

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Lately I have been fixating on the idea of personal narratives; the necessary psychological mechanisms that keep our sense of self apart of some overarching life story. Most of us hope this story is one of success, contentment, and perhaps doing some good in the world. Our minds do not deal well with seeing life as the isolated and disjointed moments and events that it is. We crave, or rather, literally have as part of our machinery of thought the need to make all these dots connect into a bigger picture.

A contemplative might say that getting to a place of non-narrative interaction with life is where the things we are seeking actually are; that we are essentially looking in the wrong places. A certain presence and fulfillment is attainable when narratives are shed. It’s probably impossible to achieve such an inner nakedness completely.

I told myself some sort of story to be alive, still breathing, and at this keyboard, today, in this moment. No matter how uneventful the story was, it still led me here and I told it to myself without even knowing it. This seems almost inescapable. But taking the time for existing just to exist can be immensely rewarding. I’ve been sometimes good at it, and at others times woefully misguided. I’m not suggesting I’m any sort of monk or guru on this topic but it interests me greatly

I do not necessarily think the goal of life should be to rid oneself of all personal narratives. This is impossible. Thus, it would seem prudent to find ways of making our narratives work together or at least coexist without chaos. And this might be exactly where my obsessing on this topic comes from. I’ve been making an attempt at comprehending the tangled web of narratives and considering how these become the forces that shape history. From the micro to the macro, butterfly wings flap, etc.

Are we reaching a critical mass amount of narratives? Is the world ultimately too small for all of our stories? Are there any pragmatic ways for our narratives to interact and not lead to devastating conflicts? Has there ever been? Narratives quickly solidify and become the rigid and reckless ideologies of bureaucrats, businessmen, the disaffected mobs, and tyrants. And here I go with visions of dystopia…par for the course.

A bunch of bottomless deep queries and thoughts have been entertained in this blogging exercise, and not much has been provided in the way of answers. The existential gravity surrounding these thoughts are often too uncomfortable for most people to bare and with good reason. But as I’ve over thought issues about society, people and their narratives, I’ve started recognizing and pulling apart the stories that I’ve told and still tell myself. There are many slight and grand fictions that I have persisted in throughout my life; both profound and mundane, yet fabricated nonetheless.

What are some of the things that I tell myself that allow me to feel at ease being me, doing whatever it is I’m doing, right now? At ease being me? That’s a silly notion. Maybe this is where a contemplative might chime in again and say that it is okay to be me right now and I don’t need to justify that with a narrative.

I’ve caught myself following conflicting narratives in the same day; even in the same moment. Which is the voice of reason? Likely neither. But I think one seems to have more sense than the other. So without providing a moral to this story I will go on being my skeptical self about all the narratives human beings weave to give themselves meaning, with the understanding that my self proclaimed “wise skepticism” is also..just a narrative.

Super-Charismatic-Large-Personality (…too much cleverness?)

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Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could somehow quantify the amount of influence that one super-charismatic-large-personality (SCLP) possesses? These sort of people don’t have to be explicitly defined as genius, but nevertheless they have an unmistakable gravitas about them. The examples stretch from the admirable and brilliant to the base and absurd. Jesus (if he was one dude), Churchill, and Oprah to Snooki, Rodman, and Daft Punk (despite the helmets, that’s impressive).

Those names immediately make what I’m talking about seem rather broad. But for the sake of discussion let’s examine the abstract idea that the amount of fame/notoriety/influence a person gathers can be quantified into a number. Every person, given the right circumstances, certainly has potential for being noticed and furthermore having an impact. But what is different about those who possess the ability to make their “15 minutes” into something more sustainable? And why/how is it that every now and again we get an uber SCLP. A nuclear bomb of personality that has the capacity to move society into new phases (both for good and ill and everything in between).

These types have been a focus of our fascination for centuries. That has in many ways been the goal of history, to learn the psychology and the biology and to zone in on the genius and freakish gravitas that key figures had; to understand and learn from it. Cleopatras, Hitlers, Washingtons, Mandelas, Jobs, Bezos, etc. Where do they lie on the SCLP scale? Does this attempt to measure the concept very loosely just do a disservice to the complicated creature that is a human being? Probably.

It seems clear that there have always been people whose genius, charisma, and otherwise difficult to term “social pull” has astronomic potential. Whose words that, regardless of being true, bring others to follow them. A demeanor that garners irrational trust, regardless of whether their intentions are pure. Stirring up a devotion so intense, that many times these personalities are lifted up to a level of sainthood. Some will be very much deserving of admiration, even if just for the skill and technique they possess, but hopefully more so for the fact that they make the world a better place.

And here is where a significant problem exists. How often is that gravitas used to pull humanity down a darker path? Has that not been our tendency? Even in the name of doing “good”? Has the net benefit of this SCLP resulted in a better world for most? Is uber SCLP a gift or a curse to society? Or should we, as Gautama says to Siddhartha “beware of too much cleverness.”