Monday, September 7, 2009


I had a strange exchange at the post office yesterday. I went inside the building to mail my unemployment paperwork so it would go first thing in the morning (because of the postal holiday) and there was an elderly lady at the stamp vending machine. She told me that she must have pressed the wrong button by accident and I looked from her to her stamps. Her stamps were The Simpsons stamps. She told me that she couldn't imagine putting them on anything she'd mail and that she found that show disgusting. I told her I understood why she wouldn't want to send those out to friends and relatives (because she was clearly a woman of around 80 which, if I remember the times I did watch The Simpsons correctly, was a demographic they are very fond of mocking mercilessly) but I apologized as I had no money to buy them off of her. I told her that we don't watch television. For some reason that seemed relevant at the time. So she gave them to me. $9 worth of stamps for free. I thanked her and took the stamps.
Laurie and I were at first mainly just floored that a stranger had given me $9 worth of stamps for no good reason at all. But I found myself also kind of charmed by it. I have nothing against The Simpsons personally (nor do I have anything particularly for them. As I understand it, they seem like they are probably pretty tame by today's standards) but I found someone with that much conviction kind of sweet (even though she still gave her money to The Simpsons stamp. But I wasn't going to point that out to her. Because I wanted the stamps.)

Earlier today I was thinking about an event in my life, many years ago, when I came out the other side of an illness scare. I remember laying on my bed and thinking about the crap I put in my head, ears and eyes and how it stays there. Specifically I remembered when I was in Junior High there was a popular song that came out which I had, and still have, no interest in called Da Butt, by Experience Unlimited. It is a song with no recognizable redeeming merit whatsoever (if you aren't familiar with it I apologize for even bringing it up for the sake of my story), but because it was in the consciousness of my peers at that time I could, and sadly still can, remember every note and word to that miserable piece of best forgotten pop culture. If one is being honest, it would be generous to even call it a mediocre dance song but, as you can imagine, the material of the lyrical content made it popular with junior high aged children at the time. I tell you if I could locate the portion of my brain devoted to it I would break out the power drill.
And as I lay there on my sickbed all those years ago it struck me that up to that point in my life I had never actually listened to an entire Beethoven symphony - just the soundbites used in commercials, which was kind of my beginnings as the classical music snob you see before you today. I started taking command of what I put into my brain a bit more pro-actively.

I was also thinking earlier today about a book which came out many months ago called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. For those of you who live under rocks and don't know, it is the entire text of Jane Austen's masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, but sprinkled throughout, almost as much in length as the original text, are further passages where zombies attack and the main characters fight them off. When I first heard of it I thought it was a funny idea until I learned that they really have written and are publishing the book. And then it became a New York Times bestseller, which, to me, begs the question, "You who have bought and are reading this book, you do realize that you're actively taking part in an insult to your intelligence, don't you?" It's become a meta-joke. The suggestion that adding schlock to masterpieces will make the masses actually seek it out, and then it becomes a best seller in reality. It's a Mel Brooks plot come to life and seeking to eat our brains. It's like the symphony orchestra argument that John Williams and orchestral versions of Pink Floyd may fill seats, but do you really want to turn yourself and the orchestra into that just to make a buck?

I won't go down the Harold Bloom road of establishing a Western Canon of Literature and trying to steer people away from Harry Potter. Enjoy what you enjoy. Who I am to tell you what to do? (although, do know that if you are carrying around Pride and Prejudice and Zombies I do reserve my right to pass a sweeping judgment upon you in my head.) I am saying that I have respect for those who want to guard what they take in and what is associated with them and those who aspire to go seek out greatness, and do not simply placidly accept whatever arts and entertainment that pass before their eyes.

There is a larger lesson here - and we in America spend way too much energy on entertainment anyway - a self-controlly, discipliney, creating-the-world-you'd-like-to-live-in sort of lesson. I've often said that while I am extremely anti-censorship in any form, I would like to live in a world where certain things just don't sell. I would like to live in a world where people rise up and say no to, say, the fall lineup on Fox (which, if I'm not mistaken, would make the lady in the post office very happy, as, if I'm not mistaken, The Simpsons are on that network.) I know. I'm a geek. I wish everyone clamored for PBS as it was when I was young, before they felt they needed to dumb everything down.

Also, there is guarding both your own mind and the message you put forth through your behavioral patterns sort of lesson. That is all. Go forth and fallut higher.


  1. I personally like the covers to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (and the forthcoming Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters) much more than the idea of actually reading these books. I was curious, just for the irreverent schlock of it, but looking at excerpts, it just doesn't seem like a gag that will continue to be funny after the first, oh, 5 pages.

    I like the incongruity of it. Which reminds me of a passage from Eco's Foucault's Pendulum:

    Though distrustful of logical chains of ideas, I loved the polyphony of ideas. As long as you don't believe in them, the collision of two ideas—both false—can create a pleasing interval, a kind of diabolus in musica. I had no respect for some ideas people were willing to stake their lives on, but two or three ideas that I did not respect might still make a nice melody. Or have a good beat, and if it was jazz, all the better.

  2. Exactly and yes, I agree that the covers are pretty clever. I could not imagine reading the thing or purchasing the it. I take my Pride and Prejudice straight.

    Nice Eco quote, btw.