Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Richard Sherman, Rene Descartes, and Elton John Walk into a Bar...

The recent uproar over the post-game interview between football player Richard Sherman and sports journalist Erin Andrews has spawned a wide-ranging discussion about "thugs" and race. And while that may be interesting on some level, what I found more interesting about these events was the manner in which an athlete can spin something to make it redound to his benefit. Seeking to capitalize on all this drama, a company that sells headphones ("Beat" by Dr. Dre) asked Sherman to appear in their recent ad campaign. In these commercials athletes are confronted with a variety of hostile environments. However, instead of responding with a similar kind of vitriol, they simply don a set of headphones and tune it all out. The one which features Richard Sherman has him taking questions from reporters after a game- which at first is congenial- but when one of the reporters asks him about his "thuggish" behavior, it quickly goes south. Visibly displeased, he responds by putting on a set of headphones, turning his back, and tuning everyone and everything out. The commercial ends with the words "Hear what you want" flashing on the screen:

The song that you hear in the background at the conclusion of the advertisement includes a sample taken from the Elton John classic "Your Song", which is cleverly re-purposed by the artist Aloe Blacc in his song "The Man". Put it all together and what you get is a strange marriage/confluence of characters in the same "barroom" at the same time. Descartes walks into a bar and declares "Cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am). Elton John walks in and begins a discussion about first love. Richard Sherman walks into the bar and proposes a sort of marriage between the two ideas. What comes out of the meeting is the very epitome of what is wrong with the modern world today. Descartes argues that the only thing that we can know for certain both begins and ends in our head. Elton John disagrees with this sentiment, and points instead to the sublimity of love, and how it permits us a sort of freedom and transcendence from the isolation of our own thoughts. Hearing this dispute at the end of the bar, Richard Sherman comes by and offers a most unfortunate solution.  

Only in our day and age could a group of individuals even fathom writing a love song dedicated to being madly in love with one's self. Thus, instead of the chorus being; "… And you can tell everybody, this is your song. It might be quite simple, but now that it's done. I hope you don't mind/ I hope you don't mind that I put down in words… how wonderful life is while you're in the world", we are regaled with the lines; "And you can tell everybody, I'm the man, I'm the man, I'm the man"! I suppose that means that "Your Song" should be "My Song", and Descartes' "Cogito" is now to be translated as; "I think, therefore I'm the man". And the truth is with all the technology around us today, we really can have quite a raucous time lost in our own head. Put on your headphones, check your Twitter, carefully craft your public image, and yes, "only hear what you want to hear". That terrifying phrase is all too reminiscent of the little boy from the movie The Sixth Sense who when whispering about dead people says; "They only see what they want to see." This is not to say that everything in the world that is said about us should be listened to (God forbid), but the problem is that we have completely gone to the other extreme. Now as opposed to obsessing over what others think of us, we obsess over what we think of us. It is the Zen of narcissism. Worship yourself, listen to nothing which contradicts that narrative. If it does, immediately declare yourself a victim of misunderstanding and injustice. And whatever you do, make sure that there is enough noise to distract you from thoughts of regret and doubt. Salvation by pride alone. "This is my world," obey your thirst, and whatever you do don't listen to anyone who doesn't immediately affirm you. Below is a video that is similar to the above commercial, though I think it more accurately depicts the consequences of only "hearing what you want to hear":

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