The 10 Facebook / Twitter / Blackberry Commandments

I remember a discussion from an English class in high school where we were discussing if Man invented God to fulfill a human need, or if God actually exists.  Now, most comedians I know range from ambivalent to hostile towards God and religion, which if you have seen and heard a lot of comedians seems to be pretty justified on their parts.   But if humans did invent the concept of God I think the most compelling evidence of this may be the Twitter and Facebook explosion on the Internet.  It is clear that humans, at least Americans, like the idea of some larger presence observing their actions and thoughts to give them relevance.  Now politically we cry out for privacy and independence, but Twitter and Facebook seem to reveal our true nature, at least the nature of the shallow and enlightened people we have become.  We still need relevance bigger than ourselves, so if God and religion cannot provide it, we will simply invent something to give us that sense of cosmic community.  Of course I think this is incredibly stupid and would prefer to believe in an invisible man or force than in the insecurities of people, sublimated into social networking and technology, but to each his own.

So with that in mind I propose a 10 Facebook/Twitter Commandments:

1) Thou shall not put RIP messages on social networking.  I remember George Carlin talking about how our culture is obsessed with death and he was probably right.  Funerals may be entirely useless, but at least they have more gravitas than a Tweet or a Facebook status.   When people write RIP messages on social networking sites I really believe what they are saying, perhaps subconsciously, “I’m a thoughtful and caring person and I need people to know this about me, even if it involves a modest exploitation of the loss of a loved one.”  Stop doing it, your deceased cannot read anymore, so your thoughts and/or prayers are sufficient.  And if you write messages on Facebook pages of deceased people (seen it a few times) the only dignified thing to do is have the page taken down – he/she cannot “like” you comments anymore.  And lastly, a website where I describe movies and masturbating probably isn’t a sanctified enough place to honor someone.

2) Thou shall stop telling people how the weather is. Pretty self explanatory, but next time you think of updating something mundane like that, stop, think and try to appreciate it and feel it without looking for validation or to feel like people out there now know how you feel so you have some increased validity.

3) Thou shall not make awful jokes.  There are some really awful jokes being shared on these websites.   Compounding the problem is that there seems to be no shortage of stupid people willing to “like” or comment with a “brilliant” on these jokes.  You probably don’t know who you are, but perhaps I will let you know in the future.  Here’s a hint – if your jokes read like a mediocre joke for Jay Leno, stop.

4) Thou shall not observe the sabbath.   “Follow Friday” is a huge circle jerk on Twitter.  It is where people tell other people to follow certain people that they are friends with or find funny.  It is the prosthelytizing of social networking. 

5) Thou shall not demean compliments.  I always enjoy when I see the news feed on Facebook and someone has wished 8 people in a row Happy Birthday.  It somehow manages to demean the insignificant wishing of a happy birthday on the Internet.  Another one, specific to comedians, is when someone who runs a show rattles off “great set” to every comic on the lineup.  Thanks for that – now I know that I am equally as great as everyone who did you show.  Greatness and quality are relative terms and although I have been part of some great shows, not every show taking place in every bar of NYC is “great.”

6) Thou shall step aside on the sidewalk when you are using your mobile device.  A year ago if someone walked into me while staring at their Blackberry they would apologize.  Today they look at me as if to say, “huh?”  In another year I assume they will say (imagine bitchy NYC 20-something, “What the fack?”  I will be in the wrong for not getting out of their way while they send LOLs.  Your tweets, bbms, etc. can wait.  You are not that important, at least not important enough to walk slowly through crowded streets slowing down pedestrian traffic and walking into people.

7) Thou shall treat photograph-taking with the same importance that you did when you needed ato actually get photos developed.  For selfish reasons I carve out a comedy exception to this (in Catholic terms think of it as a dispensation), but can people stop using every moment of the day as a moment worthy of preservation?  We have already managed to cheapen dead people and birthdays and compliments through social media, and now we have cheapened nostalgia.  “Grandma, do you have any photos of your friends when you were younger?” “Why yes in fact I have 4,566 photos – here are the 97 of us drinking Smirnoff Ice.” Awful.

8) Thou shall not say “hit me up on Facebook” – self explanatory. 

9)Thou shall not give more weight to texting donations, Twitter rumors and Facebook groups/Friends than is appropriate.  The real story about the millions of dollars that texting raised for Haiti after the Earthquake is whether or not young people would have been nearly as involved for a tragedy if t had not been so easy to donate.  Technology like that allows us to do some good, but more importantly it has removed the desire or need to be proactive and actually be involved or care.  I know dozens of people who texted donations, but it was a middle aged couple I met in Cleveland who were headed to Haiti to voulnteer.  And let’s not forget the most important thing Facebook has accomplished was to get a woman near death a chance to host a television show that died 7 years ago.

I should mention that I have almost 1600 Facebook friends, but a relatively small group of actual friends.  I have been tempted when my cell phone contract is up next year to get rid of my blackberry.  I now have a land line phone in my apartment because I don’t want brain cancer and I told a friend of mine – how many pithy conversations, flirtations and communications would there be if people had to call my home phone.  He responded, “then most people would not have contact with you.”  And he is right, the question is – have we already become a society that values quantity of contact and “friends” over actual quality of friendship.

10) Thou shall follow me on Twitter.  I am a comedian and not famous so I am forced to play the game.   But rest assured, 95% of the time I obey the Commandments.


Brown Town

With the election of Scott Brown to the United States Senate it appears that the Republicans will get what they have wanted – nothing.  The 59 votes will not be enough in the Senate to pass the health care reform legislation over the 41 conscience-driven Republicans who will be willing to filibuster. 

I have said it before and if you read this blog you really should go on and purchase Nixonland.  The lesson is that the last time a Democratic President tried to push forward a sweeping and needed social agenda – middle class white anger rose up to deliver monstrous losses in the midterm elections.  Lyndon Johnson won big in 1964 and then watched most of his congressional gains disappear in 1966.  And LBJ had the advantage of not being a confident black man in an era of constantly streaming information and misinformation.  Perhaps if Don Draper were running a 24 hour-a-day campaign against the Civil Rights Act and the country had a troubled, centuries-long relationship with Texans then LBJ would have known what Obama is up against.   Seriously – if you have not read Nixonland you are cheating yourself at a chance to predict the future.

What would the Tea Partiers (and their co-voters) have thought of LBJ? "He's bad, buuuuuut it could be worse..."

Martha Coakley certainly ran a poor campaign, which hurts even more given that she is a Williams Eph.  However, just 9 years after George W. Bush took office, I am hearing “Scott Brown drove a pick up truck” and “Coakley didn’t know who Curt Schilling was.”   This stuff still matters? 

Republicans are taking the country to Brown Town.

The Republicans have become the party that cheers when a perfect game is broken up.  Sure you can’t win, but in a sense neither can the other guy.  And that is now our politics – since when did every single piece of legislation of any meaning require 60 votes in the Senate – oh right, 2009.  I don’t remember liberals like Ted Kennedy fighting George Bush on No Child Left Behind – W.’s signature act in his first term not related to unjust war or tax cuts for wealthy people (until Bush underfunded it).  But Scott Brown is coming to town on a “no cap and trade,” “no health care reform” platform.  The health insurance industry has spent $100 million fighting health care reform to convince people that it is a fundamental threat to our society, second only to Islamic fundamentalism.  The Democrats bent to pro-life concerns and to Joe Lieberman and still not one Republican came over.  Republicans have become a party of hypocritical (really – how can you buy the Republicans as the party of populism in practice – it would be like believing those Exxon commercials where their “workers” talk about helping to create fuel efficient vehicles) obstructionists, which I guess if you consider environmental protection and expanded health care coverage the “wrong direction for America” then you probably think these guys are just voting their consciences.

And I was out there calling Obama a little arrogant during the campaign (because he seemed to have a few moments), but claims that he is acting arrogantly from some voters I think is coded language and false.  The man was elected with the most votes in United States History and has tried to push an agenda (and will likely fail) reflective of that mandate.  These folks might as well say uppity because I think that is part of what some of the backlash is about, at least in terms of the speed and intensity with which it came.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that in our country’s history there has always been a middle class white backlash following massive strides for black people.  After the Civil War and Reconstruction came the Compromise of 1877 which ceded the South to Democrats (the old pre-Strom Thurmond Democrats, the ones that hated Lincoln) and Jim Crow; The Great Society which yielded The Voting Rights Act and The Civil Rights Act gave way just a few years later to sweeping middle class white anger spearheaded by Sarah Palin’s uglier, smarter, better educated and more paranoid predecessor, Richard Nixon; and then the election of Barack Obama gave way almost instantaneously to zealous anger.

Furthermore, in a society of iPhones, blackberries, YouTube, etc. people say they want change, but are no longer conditioned to wait for it.  As George W. showed, fear from terror makes people loyal to you (at least for a time), but when people’s wallets are hurting it’s every man and woman for themselves.   Our lack of patience is another factor that has led us to Brown Town. 

Of course now most Democrats are running for the hills at this point because the only thing more important in DC than doing what you think is right in the face of manipulative lobbying campaigns is holding on to your power.  So unfortunately, we are all headed to Brown Town soon.


Aging Gracelessly

Brett Favre has become a big joke to many sports fans with his inability to stop playing football and pronounce his name correctly.  This is often the case with great athletes, unable to hang up the cleats or sneakers or skates because their lives have had no other real goal or purpose other than excelling at sports.  But that is excusable in a sense because to attain the level of excellence they have achieved they had to be single minded from a young age and dedicated beyond reason to get where they are.  Sort of like Michael Jackson minus the all the abuse.
Brett Favre warming up for another season.
Brett Favre warming up for another season.

But it seems to me that from Facebook and fantasy sports to Harry Potter and plastic surgery our culture is obsessed with staying in our teens and twenties no matter what.  And to compensate for this, we’ve begun to add the words “classic” and “historic” to things that have not really obtained classic or historic status in any objective sense of the word.  Harry Potter is not a “classic” as is printed on the book covers.  And unlike its true classic predecessors, The Lord of The Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, which have withstood a test of time, Potter has no deeper meaning or societal commentary that is usually necessary for something to gain elevation beyond pop relevance.  But to justify our culture’s unwarranted obsession with things puerile and fleeting we tag them with words like classic so that instead of feeling vapid we feel like part of something important.  And boy do we live in a golden age of importance!

Ipod now refers to the regular iPod as “iPod classic” – how many decades was Coca Cola in business before they threw classic on their beverage.  Watching the E! channel against my will yesterday I heard Ryan Seacrest make a bold proclamation that the cast of Dancing With The Stars this Fall was the largest in the show’s “History! ” It just seemed to cheapen the word History.  I think of History in terms decades and centuries, not in terms of a few television seasons.  To say nothing of the fact that the word “star” is still a misnomer for this show.  

At this age I was already "classic" in today's terms.  As opposed to the bow tie look, which was and is classic in the more traditional sense.
At this age I was already "classic" in today's terms. As opposed to the bow tie look, which was and is classic in the more traditional sense.

Fame has always been fleeting and cheap, but even by that low standard it feels like we are actually living through a time where the value of celebrity is being downgraded.  If he had known what we know now Andy Warhol might have re-stated, everyone will get their 2-3 seasons of fame.  Like the Kardashians. 

But to quote DeNiro from Heat, there is a flip side to this coin.  While older people are trying to resist maturity, their kids, left under the watchful and protective eyes of cell phones and the Internet, are in a hurry to leave childhood.  I watched Big yesterday, the film with Tom Hanks.  And in it he plays a 12 year old boy who likes playing with toys and does not know much about girls, etc.  It was a fun, humorous film and completely unrelatable to kids today.  Nowadays to get a kid to act like that and have the audience believe it, it would have to be a 7 year old, because by 12 Josh Baskins c. 2009 would be sexting on his iPhone and encouraging Elizabeth Perkins to do that thing he saw in a porno. 

Josh Baskin 2009: I want to be big.  Then I want to bang Elizabeth Perkins and put it on YouPorn.
Josh Baskin 2009: I want to be big. Then I want to bang Elizabeth Perkins and put it on YouPorn.

If I were to make a satirical film about the future it would just feature a society filled with people who looked 24 – some would be 13 year olds trying to look and act older, neglecting the fun and innocence of youth; others would be 58 trying through surgery and fashion to look younger and neglecting the wisdom and quality that can come from a long and fulfilling life.  Then there would be a group of 24 year olds going, “What the fu-k is going on?”  And it will star Seth Rogan playing all three since he is the only actor in his 20s who acts like a teenager, but looks much older than he actually is.

Seth Rogan, The Embodiment of America: Act 17, Real Age 47, Claim To Be 27
Seth Rogan, The Embodiment of America: Act 17, Real Age 47, Claim To Be 27

The Empire State Building was built around 80 years ago in 14 months.  I look around Manhattan and see buildings one-fifth the size taking five times as long to build.  Technology serves a legitimate function, but I feel like our culture in general is taking major steps backwards, while the bells and whistles of technology give us the appearance of progress.  As my Uncle is fond of saying, “Don’t confuse movement with action.”  Right now it feels like our culture is making a lot of movement, but not much action. 

Now back to my Nintendo Wii.