social media

Reviewing the Subtext, Episode 2

I hate emojis.

Always have. Likely always will.

Most people who learn of this blistering hatred take it as one further data point on the growing spreadsheet entitled Dial It Down, Grandpa: Belknap As Cantankerous Bystander. And true, I have been an irascible old man since I was a pre-teen. But this is mostly because the world and its inhabitants are exasperating and stupid. And selfish. And rude. And whiny. And mostly quite awful.

But even taking into account my Ear-Hair-and-Back-Pain worldview, I think I have a legitimate beef – one that has to do with imprecision. Language is at best an imperfect tool, one that demands of its user careful thought and lots of trial-and-error in order to convey some approximation of the ideas that incite us to speak. Language is time-intensive to use, and resource-intensive to process. Language is iterative – it demands of us that we shape and winnow until we arrive at the version that is least wrong, or that is most proximal to correct in its encapsulation of our ideas and impulses. In sum, language is effortful – it makes demands of us.

Not so emojis. The Artist Formerly Known as Emoticons requires only that the visual cortex of our brains functions at some minimal level.

Koalas as most of us know, eat exclusively eucalyptus leaves. As a food source, there are extraordinarily low in nutrients, and extremely difficult to digest. Baby koalas lack the capacity to ferment the chewed-up leaf-mush in their guts, so were they to eat the only food with which they have painted themselves into an evolutionary corner, they would be poisoned and die. So they eat pap from its mother. Pap, for those who don’t know, is essentially a phlegm-wad of partially digested eucalyptus leaves that the baby gets from its mom’s ass.

That’s what emojis are. They are the content equivalent of a runny ass-nugget that you are attempting to feed to me. For which I am not hungry. And for which my digestive system is too advanced to need. Yet still you keep leaving them for me. They are gross and extraneous. Please stop.

The use of emojis represents the abdication of the ongoing struggle for meaning inherent in the use of words – in using emojis, you are in effect lying down like a lotus-eater, blowing a smoke ring that begins losing its shape immediately.

Which I understand. I’m as lazy as anybody. I am lured by the siren song of just becoming a pool of putty-colored pudding and heeding the call of inactivity for all time, just powering down Funyuns and staring unblinking at screens. And I further understand that not everybody is equipped for or suited to grappling with words – not many among us gravitate toward this imperfect tool for problem solving. I further understand that we are all of us busy and besieged and that emojis frequently function as a kind of Hand Print on the Cave Wall meant to indicate something like “yes, I saw that you posted this milestone/event/thing, and I offer this brief acknowledgement.”

And lastly, I recognize that much of what we encounter on social media is quite tiny in scale, and does not warrant any kind of elaborate response. For this, I have a strategy: say nothing. If an idea or observation is tiny, what – aside from imagined social pressure or a misplaced sense of decency – is compelling you to provide any response?

Think back if you can to that moment where Twitter turned a little crappier. I’m not talking about trolling, or any of the shitty USES of Twitter, I mean Twitter itself. I believe that moment was when they abandoned the Star (“Favorite”) for the Heart (“Like”) – this I think represented a further slackening of the platform. Stars have edges, and points; like language, when it is used well. Hearts are bulbous and swollen; like language, when it is abused. “Favorite” can connote an attachment that is conceptual and even intellectual; “Like” is soppy and emotional. Also, the iconography is wrong – the Heart is universally recognized as a symbol for “Love,” so there is a mismatch in intensity – “Like” is mild, shading toward noncommittal; “Love” is urgent and consuming, shading toward the enduring.

Likewise, when Facebook, that cesspit of misused language, expanded its palette of emojis from the single “Like” Thumb Up to include the “Love” Heart (at which they best Twitter, at least, in this Derby of Simpleton Communications), the “Haha,” whom if I could I would punch in the throat, the “Wow,” who is clearly dumb as a bag of socks, “Sad,” who is a gutless little punk, and “Angry,” who is at most mildly irritated, they escalated the abdication of Attempting Precision in Communications by creating the impression that they have refined and increased the capacity of the lazy to express themselves. Which is like saying that the calf that is permitted to select the veal-fattening pen in which it will spend its short life knows freedom.

Back in the single icon “Like” days of Facebook, it was admittedly an imperfect system – much was demanded of that white man’s hand and the cuff from which it extends. “Like” gets thorny, after all, when you’re offering up a response to a friend’s complex post – if somebody throws up “Fantastic to see that Jeff Sessions, with his abundant qualifications, has been nominated for Attorney General – the Republic remains strong” – a statement that can ONLY be sensible if the person posting it does so with withering sarcasm – then you might look like a halfwit for giving it a “Like,” running the risk in so doing of seeming to endorse and agree with an idea that by any rational measure is fully insane and completely indefensible. In this case, “Like” means something more like “I Acknowledge Your Withering Sarcasm, And Endorse Your Intent Without, Obviously, Lending Any Credence to Folly and Madness of the Content of Your Post.”

In the world of the single emoji, there were times when we were required to refine and expand upon our “Like” to more closely approximate what we meant in using it. Now, with no-nose little stand-ins for our feelings on any matter. It may seem like I overstate things when I express the belief that this incremental abdication on our part does not merely increase the proportion of ass-pap we let into our diet, but it renders us less and less willing – and as an eventual consequence less and less ABLE – to express with precision what it is that we believe, what it is we find objectionable, what it is we aspire to.

Another of the koala’s evolutionary quirks is that it has no adaptive response to the wear on its teeth that chewing for a lifetime on fibrous eucalyptus leaves causes. Some animals have multiple sets of molars that migrate forward to replace those that get ground down; some animals have chisel-teeth that never stop growing, so that as material gets abraded off, it is replenished. The koala has one set of teeth, a set that goes unreplaced and unrejuvenated – when the koala’s teeth wear out, it starves to death.

Don’t be like the koala. Don’t begin life eating poop wads. Don’t end life unable to feed yourself to drop out of a tree.


Some Jack London-Level Shit.

I knew this guy. Outdoorsy type of guy – into hunting, ice fishing, that kind of thing. He was out snowmobiling one time. He’s on his own, out in the woods – the CANADIAN woods, so not like some punk-ass Forest Preserve. This is before cell phones. He’s out in the powdery hush, all by himself, tearing around, having a great time.

Guy takes a jump, over this fallen tree, but his angle is off and he rolls midair.

Snowmobile lands on top of him. His leg is busted. Compound fracture – his snapped-off femur is poking out the front of his snowsuit.

A fucking spear. Of his own bone. Is jabbing out of a bloody hole in his leg.

And he is miles from anyplace. His Ski-Doo is totaled – one its treads is shredded, so he is not riding that thing to safety.

So his choices are narrowed to exactly two option:


  1. Die in the snow. From shock, or hypothermia, or blood loss.
  2. Haul himself out of the woods. With his arms. Like a wounded crab.


Which is what he did. He scooched himself out of the woods. He planted his hands and dragged his ass for almost three miles. It had been dark for hours by the time he got help.

I believe I do not exaggerate when I say that this is where we are right now. I don’t just mean those of us on the political Left. I mean all of us.

I believe that we have – through our own deliberate actions – landed ourselves in a snow bank with a pike of our own bone protruding from our leg. We are hobbled. We are bloodied. We are nauseated and dizzy. We bit our tongue pretty bad and maybe cracked a tooth.

We are hurt. Badly. Dangerously. Lethally, maybe.

We sit, rattled and cold, in this snow bank, a claw of bone testing the air above our leg.

And we are presented with a stark choice:


  1. Die in the snow in the woods.
  2. Haul ourselves to safety.


I feel as though we are too dazed, still, to have made our decision.

But this much I know: when you are injured and cannot walk, to remain where you are, in the snow, is to die.

My dad killed himself in 1986. As a consequence, I have always held a pretty dim view of suicide prevention and its prospects for success.

But since we are all of us plowed into the same fucking snow bank, and since all our fucking noses are stinging from the smell of spilt gasoline, it is not fucking suicide that your inaction represents – it is murder suicide.

If you have concluded – understandably – that you wish to remain still and permit death from shock or the cold to overtake you, I can appreciate your position. I can. It’s rational, even, in its way.

But your inactivity also consigns me to death. And my children. Because my arms are BARELY equal to the grueling job of dragging myself to safety and my kids to safety. My wife and I will be dragging till our shoulders are burning in pain. 

And that effort MAY be enough. If we persist, and get lucky. We MAY be able to summon the strength to drag ourselves out of these darkening woods.

Unless. You find yourself too defeated to contribute to the dragging. It is conceivable that we can drag ourselves. There is no way we can drag you, too. Your shock and disbelief – I understand these entirely & feel them myself. My wife feels them. And so do my children.

But shock and disbelief also are feeling luxurious, to me. Shock and disbelief and the release of death that they bring in their wake – these are a GUARANTEE that we perish. All of us. All of us on the political Left. All of us on the Right. All of us who are apolitical. All of us.

And maybe you’re like: “It’s different now. We’re not like your friend. We have cell phones. We can call and get rescued.” We’re in the middle of the woods. No bars, no signal. To wait for a chopper to airlift us out is to die.

And maybe you’re like: “Hang on. This shard of bone won this snowmobile ride fair and square. Maybe we should give him a chance.” The shard of fucking bone has been telling you straight up for two goddamn years – “If you place your trust in me, I will bring you gangrene and death,” and now that’s what we’re getting.

And maybe you’re like: “Whatever, man – you’re a white male. What possible difference can this make to you? You’ll stay safe.” NO ONE IS SAFE. Am I white? Yes. Am I male? Yes. But I am also left of fucking Trotsky, and am as lippy as I can get. The fact that I will follow you up the fucking chimney does not matter – my skin and my genitals will delay this, not prevent it. The sequencing of how we each perish doesn’t mean squat because we will all fucking perish.

And maybe you’re like: “Dude. Your metaphor has really gotten away from you, here – you’re kind of all over the place.”

Which is fair. But it is also true that we are STUCK IN A FUCKING METAPHOR THAT HAS SPUN OUT OF CONTROL. A dense thicket of badly constructed metaphor.

But here’s the problem. As I attempt in vain to tamp down the fucking dry heaves that have been plaguing me since Tuesday night; and as I gaze into the eyes of my trans son who is old enough to understand with appalling clarity that half his fucking countrymen have deemed him unworthy and unequal; and as I have watched my social media feeds get clogged with reports of all forms of intolerant bullshit LESS THAN A FUCKING WEEK AFTER THE FUCKING ELECTION, MONTHS AWAY, STILL, FROM INAUGURATION – the situation is so fucked and so various in the ways that it is fucked, and will require so much to un-fuck it that it cannot be contained in a single fucking metaphor.

But I stand by the essence of it:

It is WE who drove ourselves out into these woods.

It is WE who gunned the motor and didn’t stick the landing and got our fucking leg crushed.

And it is WE who can either stare down at the femur sticking out of fucking leg and wait to die, or we can for fuck’s sake start dragging ourselves toward town. Speaking for myself: I have no fucking intention of getting claimed by the cold or the wolves or the shock. Fuck this femur. And fuck this hypothermia. And fuck this leg wound that is fizzing with infection. I’d sooner cut my own leg off and eat it than to succumb to this idiocy. I’d sooner dine on nothing but cannibal flank steaks from now until the midterms than lay down and die for this.

I get it. I do. It’s fucking easier to lay back and watch the fog of your breath get carried away by the cold wind. It is seductive, watching your blood bubbling around the baffling lance-tip of your bone. There is an allure to the looming embrace of oblivion.

And it may well be that the effort it costs us to drag ourselves out of these backwoods will come to nothing. Maybe we’ll give it our all, and still we will die. Maybe the expanse of these trees and the bitterness of this cold will prove too much for us. Maybe our wound is too cruel and our will is too weak.

But. Even it’s futile, even if it’s pointless, even if my arms give out by the time I can get out of these godforsaken woods, I will by god die crawling.  


Parallels, Unwelcome - The Cubs; The Debate

So tonight marks a likely soul-quashing addition to the growing litany of indignities and infamies we face on a daily fucking basis, in the form of the final presidential debate, and penultimate loss that will end the Cubs season.


I grew up in Massachusetts in the 70s. So I was a fatalistic young Red Sox fan, well before they were able to assemble winning enough squads to take it all. Much of my capacity to hope was beaten out of me by 1978, when they blew a fourteen fucking game lead against the cocksucking Yankees and then watched as Bucky sonofabitching Dent drove the nail into their season's coffin. There was a brief, too brief, period there between game 6 of the '75 World Series and that punkbitchass home run by Bucky shitwagon Dent in '78 when a world of unseen possiblity lay just over the horizon, there for the taking if you were true of heart.

There is comfort to be had - albeit comfort of a dim and cold sort - in knowing that the shit storm currently pelting you will not relent. Your capacity to feel betrayed is extinquished; the fervor of your belief snuffed out. You know that superstition is folly, that there are no curses - be they of the Bambino or Billy Goat varieties. You come to know that you live in a barbaric and indifferent hellscape where meaning is a delusion, where your worst fears are routinely confirmed, and which further data reveals that is little better than a shit centrifuge where your idiotic little dreams get spun into a fecal slurry along with everybody else's. It is a foul-smelling reality, to be sure, and an unjust one - but you are by God seeing it with clear eyes.

It's not just that Santa doesn't exist, it's that he stole your mom's identity, emptied her accounts, and blew it all at the dog track. Then tore his stack of losing betting slips into confetti he scattered over the greasy turd he squeezed off into a padded envelope and mailed to her. 

So the mercy of having the final debate is that we will each of us - wherever we might fall on the political spectrum - spared the lies and provocations of a semi-sentient cannister of Tang. At least until tomorrow. When he's bitching about what a socialist stooge the dude from Fox fucking News is.

Sometimes your dog will get a piece of their poo caught in their fur, waggling out of their asshole like a partially descended testicle. As the human, already tasked with fetching and bagging their shit, you rightly shake your head at your dog and go "Sorry, friend - I know I've got a thumb and everything, but you're on your own." And the dog will furrow its brow in reproach, hike his rear feet skyward so his butthole abrades the ground, and haul himself forward with his front feet. He will sometimes leave a streak on the sidewalk that seems to you indelible. But the rains will wash it away. Or the rats will come to claim it. 

That. That is your silver lining. Rats fighting in the moonlight over the prize of a stripe of dog shit. 

We have permitted ourselves to become these rats. But when you are a rat that has had the hope beaten out of it, you shake your head at the rats biting and raking at each other, and amble over to the rancid bounty of the Dumpster.

So it is with the Cubs tonight. Since despite admirable pitching, the heart of their fucking order has resolved keep their fucking bats on their fucking shoulders, we the bleak-hearted know that all the frenzy expended by fans all over the country, all the gnashing of teeth and murmured pacts with Satan, will lead nowhere. The flashy whore that is Los Angeles will continue to prosper, just as the flashy whore in the power tie will continue to flourish. 

The nectar of defeat is a bitter goddamn potion, to be sure. But if you take sips along the agonizing trail, you won't have guzzle the whole decanter at the end. Likewise, where your countrymen have elevated an undeserving, persecuted, hectoring, petty slab of shouting to potentially occupy the highest office in the land, you squinch up your fucking face and take little hummingbird sips of the poison sloshing in your cracked chalice. If you're lucky, maybe you'll build up a tolerance. And it will kill you more slowly than most.



Reviewing the Subtext, Episode 1

An irregular (and likely infrequent) series where I review stuff based solely on its poster and my prejudices.

Alternate titles:


  1. Quirk: Because 500 Fucking Days of Goddamn Summer and Juno and All the Rest of That Type of Shit Were Not Enough, Apparently
  2. The Irreverance of the Conventionally Attractive
  3. Hazel My Eyes and Groomed My Beard
  4. Supposedly Endearing
  5. Friendship Bracelet: A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Written by Committee
  6. These Two Just Torched a Homeless Guy
  7. The Tyranny of Gluten
  8. I Know, Right?
  9. Ring Pops - Lives and Loves of the Sweetly Insubstantial
  10. Vitamin Water: A Vapid Love Story
  11. The Life Advice Bots Shat This One Out, So I Guess We Better Watch It

I have seen this poster smirking at me from bus shelters all over town. And, to be clear - it is a show I will never see. Or I might. If I am nailed to a plank and a nearby TV is tuned to it. But short of that, I cannot see any Stockholm Syndrome-type circumstance that might lead to it earning my viewership. And I further understand that it is not aimed at me. I am a 50-year-old man who's seen too fucking much for this transparently calculated kind of horse shit to reach me. But then, my 13-year-old is also too sophisticated to fall for this sort of shit. As are our dogs. We also have an elm out back that has not time for this.

Based on this imaga, and this image alone, here's what I know:

He, we'll call him Zack, because hat-bear-eyelashes, has some kind of terminal illness, hence the hat. He'll be unconvincingly (but ADORABLY!!!) losing that lustrous hair to chemo any episode now.

She, we'll call her, I don't know, Penelope or Beatrix, because look at those vacant eyes twinkling in what is meant to be a rascally way, is "too smart for her own good" (which is Hollywood for "at most passably smart, to the detriment of her romantic prospects - pairing off and breeding being the One True Destiny And Source Of Contentment For The Ladies") and is unable (or unwilling?????? What is she AFRAID of?????) to allow herself to be vulnerable enough to Land a Man. I can tell all this because she is smirking at us. 

They are surrounded by what I take to be a series of Bucket List Activities (in the upper left corner, partly concealed by her head, I'm pretty sure is "Fuck a cow" - and "Change a Tire" is a dead giveaway that you're what sociologists call an Authenticity Striver*), which they will dutifully work their way through, learning tidy little lessons in the wake of each. The entire first season, at least, will be shot through with a "will-they-or-won't-they" vibe that attempts to replicate the Sam-and-Diane magic, but it will be written in a ham-handed way, and the principles, being devoid of inner lives, are not equal to the task.

Season 1 will end with a "cliffhanger" (Hollywood for "artless stab at emotional manipulation") where Zack IS NOT DOING WELL AND MAY NOT MAKE IT. Will Penelope or Beatrix summon to courage to reveal her TRUE FEELINGS?!?!?! 

We'll never know. Because it will be cancelled before a second season ever happens. At the behest of the show runner, marketing interns at the studio will try to seed a "viral" campaign in the manner of "Mindy Project" or "Arrested Devlopment" urging fans to petition heartless studio execs to reinstate the beloved show. This falls flat. Due to the inelegant prose of the interns, and perhaps more pressingly, the wider world not giving anything like a rat's ass.

The heartless execs move on to other middling fare and grow still richer.

These two actors took this to be their big break - he bought a boat; she pushed a roommate down the stairs. In this, as in most things, they were mistaken. He will drift away from acting, about which he's always been ambivalent, eventually becoming a stuntman. Due to a back injury, he will get hooked on Oxycontin and die of an overdose. She will keep striving, landing a few regional commercials over the next couple years - earning just enough to delude herself that she can make a go of the dream. She will return to Ohio, unnoticed, to act as caretaker to her mom, who has dementia. She becomes an art therapist. Which is what she should have been doing all along.

Footnote. Six years after its cancellation, the show's title turns up as an answer in the first round of Jeopardy! in the Potpourri category. None of the contesttants rings in. This is the last time this program attempts publicly to enter the consciousness of the culture. In this it is thwarted.

* This is not an actual thing. But it oughtta be.


Imagined White House Press Briefing, January 2017

(Newly appointed Press Secretary Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino saunters to podium, looking fly.)

Reporter 1: You… you got a statement, or anything?
The Sitch: Nah. Whatchoo nerds wanna know?
(Hands shoot up.)
The Sitch: No print. TV only.
(Many hands drop. Single murmured "Aw.")
The Sitch: You. Where you from?
Reporter 2: TMZ.
The Sitch: I will take your question.
Reporter 2: Will the President be releasing his tax returns?
The Sitch: Get out.
(Nervous press corps laughter. Exchange of uncertain looks.)
The Sitch: No joke. Out.
(Reporter 2 is escorted from briefing room.)
The Sitch (to Secret Service.): Take his thing.
(Secret Service agents confiscate Reporter 2's press credentials.)
The Sitch: Now find a some stairs to throw him down.
(Nervous Secret Service laughter.)
The Sitch: Not a joke.
(Sound of Reporter 2 getting hustled to a staircase, and tumbling painfully down, bones crack.)
The Sitch: Next.
(Couple tentative hands raised.)
The Sitch: You. Where you from? 
Reporter 3: E!
The Sitch: Bring it.
Reporter 3: According to documents obtained by--
The Stich: Ho. What's "document"?
Reporter 3: Sorry. Ah. Papers.
Reporter 3: Um. Read-y things?
The Sitch: With you. G'head.
Reporter 3: According to documents obtained by Talk Soup, President Trump acquired Rumpelstiltskin in 1989, from Andrew Dice Clay--
The Sitch: DICEMAN! 
(Voice of Andrew Dice Clay, from backstage)
Dice: You know it, bro!
(Polite applause from press corps as Dice pokes his head out from curtain, finger guns press corps.)
The Sitch: Fuckin' LOVE that guy.
Reporter 3: Totally. 
The Sitch: Continue.
Reporter 3: And that Rumpelstiltskin was, as late as 1994, shackled in the basement of the Trump Casino in Atlantic City, literally spinning straw into gold.
The Sitch: Yeah. So what?
Reporter 3: But that President Trump declared a loss of nearly a billion dollars the following year.
The Sitch: Yeah. And?
(Mugs to Dice backstage.)
Dice: (Leans out, to Reporter 3.) Ya dildo!
(Hold for press corps laughter. This takes a while)
Reporter 3 (Composing self, wiping away a tear.) Sorry. (To Dice.) This fuckin' guy. So my question is: how is it that one year, President Trump had sole possession of a magical figure, providing him with a literally unending supply of gold for the asking, but then declared a significant loss the following year?
The Sitch: Simple. He kilt him. Who's next?
Reporter 3: I'm sorry. Quick followup. He… he killed him? 
The Sitch: Did I fuckin' stutter?
Dice (from backstage.): OH!
Reporter 3: You did not. I'm just trying to understand. President Trump. Took the life of. Rumpelstiltskin. Who was spinning gold for him. As a… business decision?
The Sitch: Yeah, that's right.
(Stunned silence.)
Reporter 3: Was… was Rumpelstiltskin… sick, or anything?
The Sitch: Nah.
Reporter 3: So. President Trump. Had a limitless profit center. And he… killed that guy?
The Sitch: Guy. Come on. It's not hard.
Reporter 3: No, I know. It's just. Gold. Like, basically infinite gold. For, I don't know, the cost of feeding the guy.
The Sitch: And he choked him out, yeah. What's the mystery?
Reporter 3: Did… did he have, like King Midas lined up and he fell through, or something?
The Sitch: Look. Friend. Step off, OK? Little man got fat. Prez got a rule. No fatties. So. He kilt him. Big whoop. Move on. Quit bustin' balls. Now who wants a fuckin' t-shirt?
(VP Pence emerges from backstage, wielding a t-shirt cannon. Press corps clamors for an awesome Trump/Pence/Diceman T. Pence fires. Over and over. And it is so fucking sweet, you guys. So, so fucking sweet.)