Sunday, April 22, 2012

The 5 Most Patronizing Break-Up Lines

To "damn with faint praise" is an expression that is used when one is given what appears to be a compliment, but in truth is a "shove off". It is bad enough to be rejected by someone you care about, but it is quite another thing for them to reject you while patronizing you at the same time. Not that I have any personal experience in this department (a very reliable source has revealed them to me), but below are a list of five ways in which someone can at once break your heart and at the same time convince themselves that they are really letting you down easy:

5. "I don't know how I feel right now..."

This may sound somewhat promising at first; after all, the person who says this seems to be suggesting that they are leaving the door open for a possible future with you. Naturally, you then conclude that if you will only wait around long enough she will eventually realize what an incredible catch you are. Think again Godot- such words are generally a misdirection meant to distract you while she is slowly but definitively cutting ties with you. While you are plotting and planning the ways in which you will ultimately win her over, she is planning ways to avoid your calls.

4.  "I don't want to lose you as a friend..."

Yes she does. Perhaps the most popular of all break up lines, this is most certainly the absolute death knell of any relationship. For those who see a kind of hope in such a phrase, don't, because there is none. Of all the men who have ever heard this phrase, few relationships, if any, have survived to tell the tale. If getting dumped is a lot like getting shot, well then these words are meant to be the equivalent of a "silencer". If it were a lullaby, the words would probably sound something like this "Hush little baby don't say a word, momma's gonna leave you and never come back." The melody is soothing, but the reality, much like many nursery rhymes, is quite disturbing. In her mind, she may mean every single word of what she says to you, but what she means by it is probably something that runs about as deep as being admitted to her list of 500 friends on Facebook.

3. "It's not you, it's me..."

Nothing like breaking someone's heart, and turning yourself into a martyr at the same time. Not only does she stick the knife right into your heart, but she simultaneously places a halo on her head. Certainly women tend to be the more compassionate of the species, and I do not doubt that they hate to see anyone suffer, but I also imagine that their pathos extends equally to themselves as well. While the man is wailing and gnashing his teeth, she seeks to avoid this immediate unpleasantness by brazenly telling you that [in a way] she is actually the one who really deserves sympathy. Now if she meant this phrase literally, that would be perfectly understandable, for she would in essence be saying; "it's not you who wants to break up with me, but I you". However, what she is saying is far more convoluted. She is saying that she is so far beyond repair that she is not capable of being in a relationship with you... sigh.  God bless the man who believes this nonsense, for he is the reason the expression "ignorance is bliss" exists. Once again, not that I have any experience in this category, but I can say with relative certainty that she means it's over. Now some well meaning chap (not named Chapman) may take this as a call to convince her that she is indeed worthy of your love. Nevertheless, do not be surprised when you find that you are utterly incapable of "saving" her from this tragic state. Why? Because she is not really trying to recover her long lost sense of self-worth- she is trying to break up with you.

2. "If I had only met you at a different time..."

If a girl ever says this to you, ask her to finish the statement. In this case, as opposed to the others, the phrase really does trail off into oblivion. There is a good reason for that. If she leaves it as it is she could mean one of any number of things; "If I had met you at another time, I would be telling you the same thing as I am right now" or, "if I had met you at a different time, it would have been a different time". The point is this statement really doesn't admit to anything, though nevertheless leaves you with the distinct impression that she is saying that she would be with you- had she met you at the "right" time. Gentleman, she is saying nothing of the sort. She may want you to believe that this is what she is saying, but alas, she is not. The reason this "shove off" is particularly cloying is because it is the most condescending of all. It is like she is patting you on the head and telling you, I am too old for this kind of relationship, but if I were a little kid again, or at least had sowed all of my wild oats and got that out of my system, then I might consider you as a potential fall back. Yes, you represent the same kind of solace to her as a child's favorite bear or blanket, but like Christopher Robin and Pooh, she has outgrown you. I will not presume that there is not some truth to this sentiment, but in the final analysis, wherever the truth lies, it is not in your favor.

1. "I don't want to date anyone right now..."

Of all the break up lines that I am unfamiliar with, I am least familiar with this one. Whenever, this phrase is uttered, the "dumpee" may initially take solace in the fact that if he can't have the dump-er at least no one else will. However, even your solace will soon be taken from you. Indeed, she may not want to date anyone right now... if by anyone we mean you. Yes, by these standards she will remain single and celibate for the rest of her lonely days. But if by "anyone" we mean "anyone but you", then you are probably closer to the truth. In my limited experience, if a woman says this to you, not only is she interested in dating others, but she may in fact be dating someone already. And even if she is not dating someone at that very moment, it is highly likely that, either;  a) she already has her sights set on someone else and/or;  b) she will enjoy a remarkable and speedy recovery, thereby putting an end to this "tragic period of mourning and self examination", and somehow find the strength to go out on a date within a week or two of telling you this. I do not say this to men so as to cause more grief, but rather to lessen the surprise when you do go out to a restaurant and see them with another man. I know, she practically had you convinced that she was going to join a cloister, or at least go on a soul-seeking mission to discover her previously elusive purpose in life. Little did you know, that her soul-seeking mission would look more like "Eat, Pray, Love", than a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

If I have left any out, please offer them in the comment section below. I would especially be interested in hearing what women believe to be the most patronizing break-up lines, for I have not at all mentioned the lame excuses that men use for ending relationships.                            


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why Atheists Have Trouble Laughing

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ may [on the surface] seem to have nothing to do with laughter, but a closer examination reveals otherwise. The Good News of Jesus Christ is perhaps the simplest and most satisfying religious formulation in all of history. Yet if we were to ask any Christian today why that is, they probably couldn't tell us. Sure, they could stammer out something about "Jesus dying on the cross for our sins", but beyond that they would be unable to say much more. Presumption may very well be at the heart of this dearth of imagination. In any case, the Good News of Jesus Christ is simply this; that every human being as a consequence of sin is/was destined for eternal death, but by some miracle of grace, we are able to rise out of the grave and share bodily in the unending joy of the Holy Trinity. Even if this is white noise to most, it can hardly be for the man who is on his death bed, for he, more than anyone else, knows the fear of everlasting corruption.

It is this basic idea that provides the whole basis for unadulterated laughter. Hence, the cornerstone of all humor comes down to this seemingly incidental dogma. The fact that men can go to heaven means that genuine laughter is possible. If a man believes that he will live forever, and that no matter what happens in this life nothing can change that- then there is really nothing that can prevent him from laughing at anything. A prime example of this can be seen in how the Church celebrates certain details about Christ and the saints that some may deem morbid (I personally call it the dark humor of the Church). For example, who would even think to call the day that God died, "good", or who would wear a miniature replica of an instrument of torture around their neck and then call it a sign of hope. Or better still, who would take the manner of martyrdom endured by someone and create a kind of iconography out of it (e.g. Lucy presenting her eyeballs on a silver platter, Bartholomew with with his skin, or making St. Lawrence the patron saint of cooking because of his famous request while he was being burned at the stake)? There is no middle ground here- either the Church is demented in her attitude towards death, or she sees something that is less apparent to the rest of us. The point is it is very difficult to laugh at anything if you do not believe that life has any meaning. It is rather the recipe for despair. But if you believe that even death cannot separate you from God, and that even suffering has meaning, then it is possible to laugh at a funeral (though I do not necessarily recommend that). Such laughter may be bittersweet, but as the word itself suggests, bitterness is not the end of the story.

Some may declare that they indeed have witnessed this rare species of unbeliever who has either told a gut-buster, or busted a gut laughing. I would not try to deny the existence of such a creature for several reasons. First, whether one is an atheist or a Hindu, they do not cease to be a human being because they do not believe in Jesus Christ. Consequently, it is always possible that one might succumb to said vulnerability even if they don't believe in everlasting life. While one is alive there is always that whiff of hope (without which it is impossible to laugh), not to mention the natural lightness that comes with living itself. Hell is the only place without humor, for its inhabitants refuse humor's key ingredient, namely God's presence. Secondly, I do not deny that there is a kind of humor that is rather common among non-believers, such as Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and other celebrity atheists. What I would disagree with is the idea of labeling it as humor in the deepest sense of the word. Yes, it is true that such men, as G.K. Chesterton once pointed out, can sneer, but they can hardly laugh. Indeed, if you observe their laughter, there is always that hint of sourness and cynicism about it (not a smile but a smirk). What is missing is all that is truly gratifying and freeing about laughter. The punch-lines directed towards Christians by atheists may amuse in a very narrow sense, but how can they bring ultimate satisfaction when all they have really done is satisfied the ego of the joke-teller himself? What is the pay-off for successfully convincing everyone through the vehicle of humor that life is meaningless? Or as Stephen Colbert once put it while discussing Christopher Hitchins book on Mother Theresa; 'Hurray, I won, I proved that my life has no meaning, yeah'! It is for this same reason that one can hardly be joyful when marching in the name of abortion.

At this stage, some are likely to point out that many Christians (as well as their coreligionists) are anything but a barrel of laughs. To this I would simply reply, "Tell me their view regarding God and salvation and I can probably tell you why". If you believe, as do some Hindus, that man is destined to go through an endless cycle of rebirths, then I would say it is not difficult to see why Hindus lack a certain comedic flair. Or if you believe that God is a cold monarch whose primary function it is to scrupulously adjudicate and tally all of our sins and transgressions, then I do not think it is difficult to imagine why such a person might be as stiff and un-humorous as a sneering atheist. What is missing from every one of these philosophies is the conviction that because God has saved us from death, we need not be so grave. Indeed, because as Christians we realize that God has loved us to the point of foolishness, we feel that it is only just that we should return the favor.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday and the Hunger Games

On Good Friday the Pope will celebrate what is known to Catholics as the Stations of the Cross. The "stations" consist of fourteen meditations on the suffering of Christ. Interestingly enough, the Pope always celebrates this liturgy in the Roman Coliseum. At first glance, such an idea might seem a little unsuitable for such a holy event, until you consider just how unholy the original event was. In fact, it could be said that the spirit at work in the Coliseum was the same at work at Calvary. But it would be wrong to assume that both places were simply the location where people were unceremoniously killed. To the contrary, they were places where people were ceremoniously killed. Both cross and Coliseum were meant to be a spectacle of the highest order. Both existed as a great source of entertainment as well as a deterrent. Most revealing of all was not how cruel these "games" were, but with what lustful enthusiasm men watched these events. Indeed, the most terrifying thing of all was not their sheer brutality, but rather the alien-like detachment of some of the audience members. Some looked on with a sense of blood lust, some laughed, some jeered, and others vented. But whatever the response, what none of them were doing (save a few notable exceptions) was examining their own consciences.

The movie 'The Hunger Games' demonstrates just how this brutality has been updated for your viewing pleasure. A strange hybrid of the Truman Show and Lord of the Flies, this sci-fi instant hit focuses mainly on a group of teenagers who must survive the ultimate reality TV show. Whereas in the past you had to travel to the Coliseum in Rome to see the games, now the  Coliseum/Calvary experience can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own living room (with limited commercial interruptions). In a certain sense it is like the sequel to the Truman Show, for it answers a question that is posed in that particular film; "How will it end?" The Hunger Games offers a chilling answer to that question. Some may regard such artistic prophecies as just that- a fanciful look at the future. But science fiction is not a kind of "made-up reality"; it is our society and its values taken to their logical extreme. As a matter of fact, in many ways the Hunger Games have already become a reality. For example, does anyone dispute that our appetite for "pleasurable horrors" is increasing by the day? Or would anyone deny that governmental surveillance may soon render it impossible to do anything without someone knowing about it (in England now there is an estimated one surveillance camera for every fourteen citizens). Even so, it is not simply the government's fault that these things have come to pass, for we too, much like the people of Rome, have demanded bread and circuses; we too have romanticized this form of voyeurism.

Yet there is perhaps one thing that separates the Coliseum of today from the original. Beyond the manufactured romances, the orchestrated tribulations, or even the adversarial drama, there is one curious detail that is typical of these type of films/realities. In former times men conducted these brutal sports with a kind of practical mindset. No one claimed that what they were doing was in any way virtuous, only that certain lives were more expendable than others, and that on occasion such expedients were necessary. By contrast, today we do try to argue that our brutality is virtuous and there are any number of euphemisms that prove this point (for examples see previous blog on Euphemisms). From Big Brother in 1984, to the N.I.C.E in Lewis' space trilogy, to the so called "tributes" whose names have been chosen from a "lottery" in the Hunger Games, such misleading language is the staple of every dystopian society. What this all indirectly reveals (whether the euphemism occurs in a sci-fi movie, or in everyday life) is that we know we are guilty, and so as a result we are making a painful attempt to call our guilt by a virtuous name. Why else would we go to such lengths to "pretty-up" things that are so ugly? Why else would we try to make oppression, death, totalitarianism sound so delightful? Much like Pilate, we have washed our hands in the soothing ablution of dishonest euphemisms. Indeed, we have admitted our guilt by shifting the blame. And so the cross looms over history like an immovable object dividing us into two camps- those that acknowledge their guilt, and those who prefer to call it by a less ignoble name.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

7 Songs That Sound Deep... But Really Aren't

There are a couple things that characterize songs that "sound deep, but really aren't". First, the song must use highly poetic and stylized language. Secondly, it must sound a bit like a fortune cookie. For example, Pearl Jam had a song off the album No Code called 'Who You Are'. The chorus went something like this... "You are who? Who you are." What you do is take a phrase, say it, then reverse it; "If you are not with the one you love, then love the one you're with." Brilliant! Ultimately, in order to fit into this category, a song must have every appearance of saying something profound (meaning that the song must be well constructed and the artist must be under the impression that he is saying something sublime), while simultaneously managing to say very little at all. This type of genius is difficult to capture, but we have managed to track down this rare creature and study it in its natural habitat.      

7. Kansas - Dust in the Wind 

Perhaps it is unfair to put Kansas on this list, for I would not say that their songs are bereft of meaning (I actually like them). But they do have that element of... 'Shh, you are about to hear something profound. Gather round my children, while I teach you an important life lesson.' "I close my eyes, only for a moment but the moment's gone. All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity. Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind." Preach it brother! "Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea. All we do, crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see." I can't tell if he is trying to tell me something, or he's just really depressed. In another of their songs, we have the lyric; "If I claim to be a wise man, well it surely means that I don't know". Well, OK, I suppose there's something to that, but I liked it better when Socrates said it. At any rate, this is not so much an indictment of Kansas, who may have in fact been trying to say something meaningful (as depressing as that message may be), rather it is a commentary on a song which has all the classic characteristics of heavy-handedness.

6. Aerosmith - Dream On

Much like the former, this too has a haunting intro in the classical vein. The listener is pulled in by the musical drama, and as he follows the lyrical carrot, he expects that there will be some kind of payoff. Alas, the carrot is one of those fake ones you find on display at your Local Pier 1 Imports; "Half my life is book written pages/ Live and learn from fools and from sages/ You know it's true, oh, all the things come back to you". Some actually refer to this as the law of physics, but I digress. All of this sounds rather thoughtful, that is until you get around to asking what that thought is? Steven Tyler then goes on to say in the chorus; "Sing with me, sing for the year, sing for the laughter, sing for the tears. Sing with me, just for today. Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away." The chorus begins with a sort of anthemic rise, until we reach the conclusion which turns out to be a whole lot of cryptic garble. In point of fact, the final words of the chorus sound a little too much like a lyrical- though decorative- space filler. I guess what I am saying is I don't quite understand why the Good Lord is going to take me away tomorrow. And if he is, should I be pleased about that? Moreover, why is Steven Tyler asking me to sing with him? I get the feeling he has a reason, he just never gets around to telling me what that is. One of the primary characteristics of such navel gazing classics, is the ability to leave the listener with the distinct impression that you are actually going somewhere with your poetic collage of images. However, what the listener receives instead (as is demonstrated by the beatific fortune cookie on display above) is a big fat nothing burger, a veritable donut hole without the donut.

5. Blue Oyster Cult - The Reaper

I will avoid mention of that magnificent cow bell and get right to the issue. I love this song, mainly because it reminds me of Steven King's book "The Stand". In the TV miniseries (inspired by the book), 99% of the population dies as a result of a plague. This eerily upbeat song about embracing the reaper serves as the backdrop for this almost universal march towards death. As interesting as that all sounds, the song by itself is a little more dubious in its messaging. The music is certainly haunting and the general subject matter sounds interesting, but everywhere in between reads a little too much like a teenagers first attempt at writing a depressing poem; "Valentine is done. Here but now they're gone". Whaaa? "Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity. We can be like they are." Yipee, we too can kill ourselves with the hope of something good coming out of it. At one point in the song there is a musical interlude which one would suspect represents the appearance of the reaper. Is the song about accepting the reality of death, or an invitation to suicide? I do not know, but what I can say is that the final verse, like so many of the songs of this ilk, is purposely oblique so that only the most credentialed occultist may be able to interpret it; "Came the last night of sadness, and it was clear she couldn't go on. Then the door was opened and the wind appeared. The candles blew and disappeared. The curtains flew and then he appeared". Wow, did he just rhyme appear and disappear, and then conclude it by putting "appear" again? I think he did.

4. America - Horse With No Name

Taking into account the sheer breadth of nonsensical lyrics that this band has produced, they themselves could be the focus of an entire blog (need I mention The Tin Man or Ventura Highway). You need only read the first verse then you will know exactly what I mean; "On the first part of the journey, I was looking at all the life. There were plants and birds and rocks and things, there was sand and hills and rings. The first thing I met, was a fly with a buzz and the sky with no clouds. The heat was hot and the ground was dry, but the air was full of sound." There is not much that I can add to this lyrical abyss other than to say that a second grader could write better lyrics. I say second grader because when I was in second grade I wrote my first poem about a buzzing bee which had more content than this one. The chorus then wades into even deeper waters; "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to get out of the rain" (I won't even ask what a horse with no name even means). In the desert you can remember your name 'cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain." There is much to say about the potential paradox of a desert, but this "ain't" it. I will simply conclude with the second verse, which requires no comment other than to say that I hope they were on drugs when they wrote it, because no other explanation, save humor, could exonerate them from such stupidity; "After two days in the desert sun, my skin began to turn red. After three days in the desert fun (did he just say "desert fun"), I was looking at a river bed. And a story it told of a river that flowed , made me sad to think it was dead." Huh? A story about a river that tells a story about a river...

3. Bette Midler - The Rose

'The Rose' is a well crafted song, but the lyrics sound a little like something you mind find in a hallmark card. You know, that kind where you can't really think of your own material, so you find some sappy card which says everything that you feel like you would say if you were only a little more poetic (we won't even talk about 'Wind Beneath My Wings'). Actually it is probably not something you would say, but as long as someone else can say something nice for you, it saves you from having to worry about it. You then simply add your signature at the bottom of the card. This is the type of song that makes the sentimental type well up with emotion and feel like the songwriter has divined the secret thoughts of their soul; "Some say love it is a river, that drowns the tender reed. Some say love it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed. I say love it is a flower and you its only seed." Behold, the meaning of life revealed in one fell swoop! "Just remember, in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed that with the sun's love, in the spring becomes the rose." I can't tell if this is a botany lesson, or a helpful reminder about what happens when the seasons change. The truth is I understand exactly what Bette is trying to say about hope and adversity, and I think that her sentiment is well taken, but I just can't get the image out of my mind [whenever I listen to this song] of a card with a few scattered seeds on the cover and a gigantic rose inside superimposed over the words of the song. Perhaps it's just me.

2. Poison - Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Speaking of roses... In 1991 the sequel to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure hit theaters. Not exactly academy award material, though nevertheless most amusing. At any rate, the movie featured a scene in which Bill and Ted, who are sort of like Valley Boys, are told by "God" that in order to save their lives they must reveal to Him the meaning of life. Both pause for a moment, and then consult one another, and then turn towards the divine being again, declaring; "Every rose has its thorn/ Every night has its dawn/Every cowboy sings a sad sad song/Every rose has its thorn." After they finish reciting these words, they wait in great anticipation for the response- and they are not disappointed- for "God" affirms that they have answered correctly! Appropriately this dim witted pair manage to turn this dime store wisdom into their personal motto. Why? Because it is precisely the type of teenage melodrama that makes any given adolescent feel like they are grasping at the very marrow of life. The song depicts a failed relationship, which clearly the song writer greatly laments. When he arrives at the chorus he has every intention of revealing what sage advice he has gained from these events. The first morsel is the paradox of the beautiful rose and her subsequent thorns. Then, like a great epiphany, it is revealed that every night has its dawn, a proposition that few could squabble with. Then we are told that every cowboy sings a sad sad song. At this point I have to ask, what does a cowboy singing a "sad sad song" have to do with your girlfriend dumping you? Is the implication here that cowboys are generally inclined to sing happy happy songs? And furthermore, does Brett Michaels consider himself a cowboy because that's what it sounds like he's saying? This magnificent hodge-podge of unrelated sayings is spectacular in that it shows that you really don't need to know what the heck you are talking about, as long as you say it somewhat creatively.

1. Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven

Known to incorporate Lord of the Rings references into their songs, this band has a whole catalogue of lyrics that sound like they could be the soundtrack of Dungeons and Dragons. With Robert Plant's fixation on Tolkien, and Jimmy Paige's penchant for dabbling into the occult, Zeppelin was able to capture some of the mystery of Lord of the Rings without any of the content; "There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold, and she's buying a stairway to heaven/ When she gets there she knows if the stores are all closed, with a word she can get what she came for". Even the band America might be tempted a chuckle at the sheer stupidity of these lyrics. "There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure, 'cause you know sometimes words have two meanings". Hey Robert, I'm just looking for your words to have one meaning. "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow don't be alarmed now (I suppose the words hedgerow and alarmed now kind of rhyme in a way), it's just a spring clean for the May queen." There is perhaps something alarming about a bustle in a hedgerow, but it is difficult to get too terribly excited about a "spring cleaning" event, even if it does involve a May Queen. "Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there's still time to change the road your on." This lyric couldn't be any more ridiculous if it said; "when you come to a fork in the road, take it". In fact, I think the latter has far more potential.      

Receiving honorable mention are Iron's Butterfly's admittedly nonsensical 'In A Gadda Da Vida', which, according to them, sounded cooler than calling it "In the garden of Eden". I think a better name would be 'Yabba Dabba Da Vita', but what do I know? The other song receiving honorable mention is R.E.M's  'It's the End of the World As We Know It But I Feel Fine'... In truth, I could have used any number of songs from this band (remember 'Swan Swan Hummingbird'?), but this one in particular is so littered with nonsense from start to finish, that I couldn't leave off without mentioning it. And lastly, I honor, "Owner of the Lonely Heart", by Yes with its ode to... only God knows the answer to that.