You Are Not A Genius

Let’s start with a very basic fact: If there is an average intelligence, somebody has to be below it. An average, or mean, is not the number that is most common (that’s the mode), or the number that is smack dab in the middle of all the numbers (that’s the median). No, the average is the value we get when all numbers are added and divided by the number of numbers. In this case, those numbers are I.Q. points.

Theoretically, if there was just one massive, industrial-strength moron on the planet, and everyone else were of an astronomically higher degree of intelligence, everyone (but that one) could be higher than the average I.Q. But that isn’t the case. Without any practical way of giving the whole planet an intelligence test, we can be fairly sure that the average and mode for I.Q. points is  damn near the same.

I don’t care how good you are at Minecraft (whatever that is), you my dear reader are, with high statistical likelihood, not a genius.

Einstein Genius Fake Quote

Uh, Fish Are Pretty Dumb, You Ninny

Have you seen this fish quote? It’s the quintessential quote for the internet age. First of all, it’s frequently attributed to Albert Einstein, but was never said by him (basically, if you have some banal sentiment to express, claim Einstein said it), secondly, it doesn’t really make any sense (expecting humans to have basic reasoning and problem solving abilities isn’t the same as expecting a fish to climb a tree), thirdly, if everyone is a genius, then being a genius is suddenly not special. Who cares?

And fourthly, fuck the guy who did say this. I get that we’re worried about self-esteem and people being made to feel bad about themselves, but telling everyone they’re special isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. While you’re assuring your kids that no matter what they do, they’re a success, reality is waiting in the wings to show them that you can’t buy lunch with a glowing sense of self-worth. People fail. That’s how they learn, and grow. Ever met an adult who was coddled their entire childhood and never made to work for anything? They’re the worst.

There is a kernel of truth in the idea that judging everybody on the same scale fails to truly appreciate a variety of skills. A musician shouldn’t be judged on his ability to do spreadsheets, nor would you reject a doctor if she wasn’t good at watercoloring. I’ve known intelligent businessmen who couldn’t write an intelligible literary essay to save their lives. We all have a limited amount of space in our brains (as I’ve noted before, the 10% idea is a myth), so we prudently save room for the knowledge and skill sets that most benefit our profession.

That’s what separates us (I include myself) from the geniuses. Geniuses have minds that are capable of functioning at a level beyond the grasp of us mere average schmoes. A genius isn’t just someone who is a talented guitarist or knows how to program a computer or write an enjoyable book. Those are all excellent skills to have, particularly if your line of work is guitarist, programmer or writer. But they don’t elevate you to the level of genius.

Well, What is a Genius?

After being so adamant that you are not a genius, I’m going to admit that defining a genius is kind of difficult. If we’re talking about I.Q. points, there doesn’t seem to be one consistent metric, though anything above 140-150 is generally considered genius or gifted. I’m not sure how common I.Q. testing is anymore, especially since the tests have often been accused of having a cultural bias. I’ve never taken a test (not a real one; I’ve done the online ones, but those aren’t legitimate gauges of anything), and I don’t know of many people who have. 100 is generally considered average, and most people fall somewhere around there, which is why I.Q. points are often represented with a bell curve.

But when we use the term genius in casual conversation, whether referring to Steve Jobs, Vince Gilligan, David Bowie or some other public figure, we’re not concerned with their intelligence quotient, we’re referring to their achievements. Which is why the term genius is hard to define, and why it’s becoming so overused. We should guard against conflating our personal admiration of someone with objective acclaim. Which is not to say that Jobs, Gilligan and Bowie aren’t geniuses, only that when we’re basing a judgment on a person’s output, it’s really only the historians who can make the call.

Indeed, the old adage is true: Genius is never truly appreciated in its own time. Except, that’s not a lament, it’s a recipe. Achievement can only truly be appreciated with perspective.

The World’s (Not) Full of Idiots

The flip side of the fact that not everyone is a genius is that not everyone is an idiot.* I hear it all the time, on average once a day: “The world is full of idiots!” I had a roommate who pretty much peppered that phrase into every discussion he had (though, when I called him out on it, he denied any memory of ever saying it). Read any political site or article and you’ll learn that Republicans are idiots, and so are Democrats. Liberals and conservatives, all idiots.

The Big Bang Theory vs Community copy

It’s not just politics, though. Fans of The Big Bang Theory are idiots, as is anyone who listens to Dave Matthews Band or reads Twilight. Basically, if someone does or enjoys something that you don’t, they’re an idiot.

There have been studies that show correlations between intelligence or success and musical and literary tastes, but no such study could ever hope to prove causation, and bias almost inevitably enters into such surveys. Comparing the fan base of The Big Bang Theory, which is the most highly watched sitcom on TV, with that of, say, Community, which is poorly rated but critically adored is a fool’s errand. As a huge fan of Community (and a person who has next to no interest in TBBT), I would love to believe  that my preference reflects some sort of mental superiority. In truth, it just speaks to my sense of humor.

You Are Not A Genius. Deal With It.

Be content with your average-ness. What choice do you have? You’re certainly not going to read books on new and difficult subjects to expose yourself to original ideas and educate yourself. Who’s got time for that? Accept that you will always be somewhere in the middle, with the vast majority of the population. At least you won’t be lonely.

And learn to deal with the mindblowing notion that people who hold different beliefs, have different tastes and enjoy different experiences aren’t lesser than you.

Or, you know, don’t. Idiot.

Paleontologist Snowman

*Just as there really are geniuses in this world, there are idiots, too. They’re just not as numerous as you think, and most of them are probably refusing to get their children vaccinated for fear of autism, so evolution might weed them out anyway.

Roger Ebert and the Beauty of Art Criticism

At The Movies

This week, we lost one of the greatest film critics to ever live.

Roger Ebert was a legend in the world of cinephiles, and even casual movie fans know the iconic ‘Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down’ review that he and the late Gene Siskel made famous on their seminal review show, “At The Movies.”

The man who once famously wrote that “Video games can never be art” and reviewed movies pretty much up until the day he died at 70-years-old might be an easy target for accusations of being ‘out of touch,’ but the truth is Ebert embraced new technology and the changing face of cinema, and even when cancer forced him to leave television and stole his voice, the man continued reviewing movies and writing online think pieces at a prodigious rate. (Not only do I admire the man for his art criticism, but also because he was a staunch rationalist who had no place for hooey like Creationism.)

If you want to read a eulogy of the man, there are plenty of great ones out there, as well as a wide collection of online film critics discussing how Ebert influenced not only their tastes in film, but their understanding of the medium as an art form. My aim here is a little different.

I want to step back and discuss a topic that a man like Roger Ebert embodied perfectly.

The Beauty of Art Criticism

I love reading reviews of art, whether they are of movies, books, television shows or just about anything else. If it’s a medium I’m well-versed in, it’s fun to see what others have taken from a particular piece of work, to either see if I agree or disagree and to often get a fresh perspective on something I already made up my own mind on. Sometimes I read reviews of art forms I have little knowledge about (dance, cooking, etc.) just to learn something new.

Art criticism is a tricky occupation, and while we might not always agree with the critic’s opinion, a well crafted work of criticism demands respect. In fact, art criticism can be a form of art in itself.

But we’ve all had our Jay-Z moment when we’ve thought, “fuck critics you can kiss my whole asshole.” Maybe a critic trashed a movie or band you loved, maybe they’ve trashed you. Maybe you’ve been subjected to one too many of Pitchfork’s unbearably smarmy gimmick reviews. Whatever the reason, at some point in pretty much everyone’s life, we all spend at least a day being an art relativist.

The Emptiness of Art Relativism

Longtime readers will know that I have no respect for relativism. Moral and philosophical relativism are intellectual wastelands, and art relativism is no different. The moment you say “There are no standards,” you have incapacitated yourself from having any meaningful input. Go get yourself a cookie and sit down.

I’ve recently engaged in this debate with someone who, quite articulately, argued that art criticism is meaningless because we (meaning humanity) made up the standards. In other words, because people devised what we do and don’t like about art, and because lots of people can’t agree on any given standards, we shouldn’t even bother trying to hold art to a standard. The only criteria for successful art is if you, personally, enjoyed it.

Now, on one hand, that is absolutely true. I don’t care that the NPR music critic hated JT’s new album, I love “The 20/20 Experience” (of course, plenty of other critics have received the album positively so it’s all a wash). Personal reactions to art are an indefinable and unimpeachable human experience and no amount of intellectualizing will change that.

But this sort of thinking confuses what art criticism is about. When a master such as Ebert reviews a movie, he’s doing it with knowledge and experience. Yes, art has an emotional effect that can, on rare occasion, completely overwhelm the mind (even great art critics will admit to admiring some particular work but being unable to explain why), but that isn’t the only way we experience art. Art, while highly emotional, is also the product of the artist’s mind, and that being the case it should be possible to dissect it intelligently, with reason.


The Bush presidency coincided with a strong anti-intellectual movement in this country, and while I could make arguments for why that was (both serious and snarky) the only relevant factor to this conversation is tragically ironic: The Internet. The single greatest technological achievement in the history of mankind (take that sliced bread) is, in its ideal form, a completely democratic global network of shared knowledge and wisdom. In reality, it’s a tool for masturbation, both literal and figurative.

The internet blew up just as we were coming out of the ‘politically correct’ 90s, that era when everyone’s beliefs had to be respected and we were all supposed to be slow to judgment because no one’s experiences were more ‘valid’ than others. This PC mindset spurred two reactions in the following decade: First, it basically got adopted by every group to pretty much say, “You can’t judge me for my opinions, no matter how stupid, vile or hurtful they are.” Secondly, people were so sick of being relentlessly nice to each other (or, at least, being expected to be) that they were looking for a way to unleash the wrath of their pettiness.

In walked the Internet.

While every half-evolved ape with a dial-up connection was commenting on videos and blogs and Amazon reviews, decrying everything as the worst thing ever and the creator as a total ‘FAGLOLZ,’ the line between genuine criticism and aimless hating was being blurred. The anonymity of the internet provided the perfect environment for baseless critiques and vicious ad hominem attacks. It became harder to take any criticism seriously when there was just so much rubbish out there.

You take the heady mixture of the “No one can tell me I’m wrong” mindset with the “Everything sucks” reactionary critique and you’ve got yourself a fertile breeding ground for an anti-intellectual relativist free for all.

Defending Art Criticism (and Intelligence)

At some point in the last decade, having a college education became a bad thing.* It’s not just that college graduates tend to be more liberal (though that’s a facet), it seems to be assumed that anything a person learns in 4 (or more) years at university could be gleaned just as easily reading a few random articles online every other day. This misrepresents the true purpose of a college education (though, to be fair, some universities seem to forget the true purpose of a college education).

You go to school to learn how to think. And no, I don’t mean, learn to think like a dirty liberal. I mean, you are supposed to be rigorously taught how to approach topics, how to question in a way that isn’t merely didactic but is in fact revelatory. The are many things that set an educated person apart from a non-educated person, and while those include a fuller literary experience and higher mathematical training, such benefits are secondary to the heightened appreciation of art that an education can provide.

You don’t have to go to university to become an intelligent appreciator of art, but you do have to have an education. Maybe that takes place in your family living room or at the local cinerama, but wherever your education takes place, it cannot be done in a vacuum. Because, while you can be a solitary math or science genius, there’s no such thing as an Art Critic Savant.

Art is a conversation. Between artist and audience. Between audience and audience. Between teacher and student. Between artist and artist. When we say we can have no standards because everyone experiences art differently, we’re only half right. Yes, we all experience things differently and we all come to art bringing our own thoughts, emotions and memories, but that doesn’t mean that the art itself doesn’t have inherent meaning or merely exists in a black hole absent of all other art.

It’s like four people sitting on opposite sides of a puzzle, all working on the same jigsaw puzzle. They all have different perspectives, and when they complete the puzzle, their individual views are going to be different, but the completed puzzle still exists as a definitive shape and image.

To say that we can’t have standards because we don’t all agree on what those standards should be is absurd. Cultures all across the world rose up with different religious and philosophical underpinnings for what should define morality, and yet pretty much across the board we all managed to agree on some very basic tenets (no murder, no stealing). This suggests that standards, man-made or not, are going to exist whether we want to acknowledge them or not.

We might not all agree on what is beautiful, but should that mean our pursuit of creating or discovering it is meaningless? Absolutely not.

Art is Beauty, and finding the beauty in art is the role of the critic.

R.I.P. Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert Thumbs Up

*I’m a student of history, so I know this isn’t the first time anti-intellectualism has taken root in the culture. But this moment in history does seem particularly precipitous for America because other nations are poised to take advantage of this weakness.

Fake Women Don’t Have Curves

I’m not sure when I first heard the phrase, “Real women have curves,” but I do know that it’s always struck me as odd.

I understand it, of course. Both as a physiological point of true femininity and a feminist statement about body image, I get why the message is out there. Our culture definitely puts a heavy emphasis on the appearance of women and little girls are raised up often being pressured to pursue a difficult (if not flat-out impossible) standard of beauty.

The common refrain is that “these days” we expect women to be stick figures with barely any curves, whereas in the past (ah, the nostalgia) we used to think women with a little meat on them were beautiful. Remember Marilyn Monroe?

American Masters: Marilyn Monroe

That icon of beauty would be considered a heffer by today’s standards, or at least that’s the common wisdom.

But this “fact” ignores a couple of things. One, while Monroe for a few years was THE torchbearer for Hollywood beauty, she wasn’t the only one. And two, she really wasn’t that big. People talk about her like she was Roseanne Barr. Hardly. She had some thickness to her, but she was still rather svelte, even by “today’s standards” (whatever those are).

You know who else was a Hollywood superstar in the same years that Marilyn was going around being all Ms. Fatty McFatcheeks? Audrey Hepburn.

Audrey Hepburn

Marilyn might have been the bigger star for her looks alone, but no one was going around calling Aubrey Hepburn an ug-o.

Here is my admission: While I think Marilyn was a gorgeous woman, I personally feel Audrey was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace a negative. The wonderful thing about this world is that both beautiful women can exist and they don’t undermine the other.


Let’s fast forward to our modern day, where the only women we’re forced to be attracted to are anorexic sticks. At least, that’s what I keep hearing. The fashion industry only uses models with bodies like teenage boys who puke up every meal while their ribs stick out from behind their -A cup breasts.

But wait, men are berated for being obsessed with bimbos with big, fake boobs. So, what is it? Are men into big-titted whores or translucent Skeletors?

Is it possible that men aren’t actually one size fits all and some of us like women with curves and some of us like skinny women and even more of us like both, depending on a multitude of factors? No, that can’t be it, men aren’t that complex.


The problem I’ve always had with the phrase “real women have curves” is that it’s insanely sexist, both to men and women. First, it implies that women need a counterattack against all the mindless cavemen who only drool over runway models (pro tip: It’s mostly gay men picking those models, not straight dudes). The truth is, males, the multifaceted gender that can’t be summed up in sitcom tropes, actually like women of all sizes.

Jennifer Lawrence, Aubrey Plaza, Christina Hendricks

The above women probably draw about equal shares of salacious attention from male internet commentators, though, admittedly, I haven’t done the research. Jennifer Lawrence, Aubrey Plaza and Christina Hendricks couldn’t be any more different in body types (other than, of course, all being white), yet they all play into male sexual fantasies.*

Men don’t need to be told that women can have curves, we are all very aware of it.

But the truly sexist aspect of the “real women” phrase is aimed at women. What an odd notion this is: a woman is only ‘real’ if she has curves. So all those naturally thin women who have small breasts and/or straight hips are clearly not “real women.” What a gross and utterly hateful way to supposedly assert feminist strength.

It always bothers me when, in an attempt to battle one societal ill, a group swings in the complete opposite direction and creates an equally vile counterattack. The worst part is that this disenfranchisement of ‘skinny women’ (and I’m not talking about thin, Victoria’s Secret Supermodels, I’m talking about true skinny women) has spread to men. Those ‘Gender Study’-taking, enlightened males who would never insult a heavyset woman feel no compunction when mocking a naturally skinny woman as being a ‘skeleton’ or ‘gross.’

Is this really better? Is this actually helping?

I get it. When a person is made to feel bad about themselves, the first reaction is to lash out against someone else. But this natural instinct has solidified into a movement where skinny women, women who can no more naturally change their bodies than ‘fat’ women can, have suddenly become open target for our societal mockery.

Progress? I think not.

If you want to celebrate the women with curves, celebrate the women without them, too.

As for me, big or small breasts, hips or not, I am forever a leg man.

*A conversation like this almost necessarily must reduce any female examples to their purely physical appeal. All of these women are very talented in their art, but for the purpose of the conversation at hand I’m merely focusing on the physical.

House M.D. Finale

I have loved a lot of television shows over the years.  Stone cold classics like The Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men; cultishly beloved comedies like Arrested Development and Community (yay for a 4th season! #sixseasonsandamovie; nay for no Dan Harmon!); and plenty of other shows that are less officially cool but still had compelling characters, conceits and/or plots.  I think the first show I every truly obsessed over was MacGyver, a show that doesn’t hold up all that well but was certainly iconic (and fed a burgeoning interest in science which was being starved in Christian elementary school).

But only one show has been a borderline religion for me.

House M.D. was the groundbreaking character study of an Americanized Sherlock Holmes in the form of brilliant, acerbic, bitter and atheistic diagnostician, Dr. Gregory House , played by the incomparable British actor/comedian/novelist/musician/etc. Hugh Laurie.  Considering that the show has gone down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most popular show in the world, it seems like there can’t be anyone who wouldn’t have at least some familiarity with the show.  Here is proof that I’m not a hipster: I’m glad that something I love is loved by millions (billions?) also.

Though the show has always been a strong performer for its home network, Fox, its audience in the U.S. has declined in the most recent seasons, and with fair reason.  The ‘Huddy’ romantic plotline of season 7 was terrible, something I knew was coming for years but always hoped they’d find a way to avoid.  Even when they set it up in the season 6 finale (spoilers!), I had hopes that the writers could find a way to make it interesting.  I was, unfortunately, too optimistic.

I write that paragraph to get my shit-talking out of the way.  In my opinion, the best seasons of House were 2 and 3, but other than season 7, every year has had its strong runs that are worth revisiting, including this current and final season, the 8th.

The show has its fair share of critics.  Some of the laziest are those that decry it for having a formula (what show doesn’t?  Even fans of Mad Men must realize that there is a loose formula to most episodes which makes the odd ones stand out).  To criticize the show for sticking to the formula of the brilliant doctor who solves medical mysteries is like complaining that all Sherlock Holmes ever did was solve mysteries.  That’s the entire conceit!  (And that ignores the fact that the show actually did a good job of throwing in random off-shoot episodes.)

There are those who criticize the medicine and actions of the characters.  I hate to break it to you, but the real lives of doctors, like that of lawyers, cops, firemen and teachers are boring.  That’s why we have television, to make life seem more interesting than it really is.  And, yes, the actions and procedures House and his team takes throughout the series are over the top and something real doctors would never do, but again, it’s a show centered around a doctor who is far more brilliant than any doctor around.  You just have to go with it (I knew a girl who complained about the ‘unrealistic’ choices of the doctors on House, and then would turn on Grey’s Anatomy; welcome to Irony 101).

But forget the criticisms.  The show is ending and I just want to express how much it has meant to me.

Everybody Lies

I started watching the show here and there while I was in Charlotte, the first of my 10 Cities Project.  I didn’t really get hooked until Philly, just as the show had finished up its 2nd season.  Right at a time when I was coming into my own and for the first time starting to actually label myself as an atheist (even though I had stopped believing in God years earlier), here was this amazing show about a sarcastic, dark, vaguely-depressed but very-intelligent atheist.  Not to toot my own horn, but yeah, I related.

Atheists don’t see too many portrayals of themselves in media.  Or, at least, we didn’t.  That’s changing, but up until House, I can’t think of a single atheist who was the central character of a major network television show.  If there was one, it wasn’t a character where atheism and the pursuit of pure rational truth was his (or her) defining trait.  In the era of Bush, House was a breath of fresh air.

Hugh Laurie has said about the character of House that he is “on the side of the angels but that doesn’t mean he is an angel,” and that pretty much nails it.  The character of House, and the show that takes his name, is all about dichotomies in human nature, the contradictions that make us undeniably human.  We can be logical but overwhelmed by emotion.  We can be a good person and do something terrible.  We can be fundamentally honest but lie, because, well, everybody does.  We can know that it’s never lupus, but still have one case of it.

At its best (I’d argue season 2’s “House vs. God“) the show could be a gripping medical mystery, a compelling philosophical discussion and a tremendously funny drama (there’s that dichotomy again).  Plus, the show was always an actor’s class put on by Hugh Laurie (with assistance from Robert Sean Leonard).  The fact that Hugh Laurie never won an Emmy for his work on the show is a testament to how strong the acting work on television has been the past 8 years, but that still doesn’t mitigate the fact that it’s one of the great oversights in the award’s history.  House on the page is a great character.  House on the screen is an icon.

Farewell House

So, it is with great sadness that I will be watching the finale tonight.  It can be a little silly to get so invested in a television show, but no more silly than being invested in The Great Gatsby or OK Computer.  Great television is art just like any other form, and when House M.D. was at its best, it could transcend the medium (think of the powerhouse back-to-back episodes, “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart“).

Everyone has speculation and spoilers on how the show will end, but I’m not interested in that.  So far I’ve been able to avoid most advanced tidbits about the finale and that’s how I like it.  I look forward to sitting down one last time with the good doctor to be insulted, scammed and manipulated before being brilliantly healed at the last minute.  As House would tell you, existence can be an unending string of pain and struggle, so its nice to have a distraction once in awhile.

Farewell House.  I’d say never change, but we both know that wasn’t an option.

You talk to God, you’re religious. God talks to you, you’re psychotic.


Hey, you know they’re all the same.
You know you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in.
Live right now, yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else.
~ Jimmy Eat World

Be Yourself

Damn good advice.

I guess.

Sure, you should be yourself, I should be myself, Lady Gaga should be herself (‘cos she’s fabulous!).  Be ourselves.  Simple, clean, doable.

Kind of meaningless, too.  Who are we if not just a combination of outside influences?  Do you think your favorite band is Muse because of some spiritual resonance with the universe (seriously, your favorite band is Muse?)?  Your lucky shirt was mass produced at a million units and your most cherished novel is on a high school reading list in Pomona (assuming you have a favorite book; if you don’t then you are unfuckable and thus not worthy of consideration; good day).

Being ourselves just means enjoying the things that a million people before us enjoyed.  You might argue that you are a unique composite of a variety of tastes, but let’s be honest, if you’re a big Tim Burton fan you probably also have Emily the Strange accessories and frequently shop at Hot Topic (let’s hope you’re also a 16-year-old girl, cos otherwise that’s creepy, dude).

You are a brand.

Buy In

There is such glaring irony in the way car makers and sports drinks try to sell themselves as the products for people who are Individuals.  There isn’t much profit in lone wolves.  They expect us to, as that orange philosopher Hobbes astutely puts it, “express individuality through conformity.”

Like we have a choice.

We’re not all going to sew our own clothes, design and build our own cars, grow, cook, mix, bottle, stir all our own food and drinks.  Even if we did, we’d still follow directions and recipes that had already been established (with maybe a few tweaks here or there).  Individuality expressed through material objects is an oxymoron to its very core, because all matter is just part of a cosmic stew that has existed for billions of years.  We rearrange the parts, but the parts are all the same.

That’s a pretty metaphysical way of saying, go ahead, buy your favorite brand shoes and eat your favorite fast food, they are just as much an expression of your individuality as making your own moccasins and eating vegan steak in a chickpea au jus sauce (I don’t know if that’s a thing, but it probably is).

An’ I don’t really care if ya think I’m strange, I ain’t gonna change

We pay lip service to individuality, but we find comfort in conformity.  We ‘like’ when people post our favorite song lyrics, we have entire conversations of nothing but movie quotes and we’ll laugh at and share anything that references a beloved childhood cartoon or the obscure sci-fi movie we devotedly watched 10 times.  We manufacture nostalgia for things that occurred 5 minutes ago.

Who hasn’t instantly bonded with a coworker or bar buddy over the well-timed drop in of “The snozberries taste like snozberries” or “Excuse me while I whip this out”?  We are programmed to seek out similarities (for evolutionary reasons, it’s safer), and so we forge our relationships out of common cultural touchstones.  For our generation, those common experiences are less flapper girls and speakeasies and more Antoine Dodson and Chocolate Rain.

Ironically, despite the fact that the internet allows for a wider dissemination of obscure music, films, literature and other mediums of art, we still live in a world of top 40 songs and $300 million dollar blockbusters.  It’s not that we stopped sharing experiences, it’s that we now share so much more.  Michael Bay’s latest 2 hour music video is gonna be the talk of July 4th, but at the same time, a subculture of that same crowd is going to be debating whether “Source Code,” Duncan Jones’ follow up to “Moon,” proves he’s a talented auteur or just a one hit wonder.

Take for instance the cliché of the hipster asshole who “knew the band before they were big.” Plenty of people won’t listen to anything that’s massively popular just because it is massively popular.  But these people aren’t eschewing all pop music conventions in their tastes.  They hate on Katy Perry while proclaiming the glory of Animal Collective, when in fact both are just opposite sides of the same coin: Popular Music.  It is music that is meant to be enjoyed by the masses, even if those fanbases are wildly divergent in demographic and size.

The Punk music scene was the ultimate expression of disdain for fitting in with mainstream culture, but even in its infancy, the scene still had a uniform and a style and plenty of infighting about what was or wasn’t ‘real punk.’  In other words, what belonged and what didn’t.

I’m not critiquing music scenes here.

I’m arguing that we do not assert our individuality through our tastes.  Rather, we express our conformity to a greater whole.

Well, do ya, punk?

In our fictions, we make heroes of the strong loners, but in the real world we mock or distrust them, even vilify them.  Clint Eastwood’s characters are legends in the fictive mean streets, but their real world counterparts are just old cranks on porches (even Hollywood’s version of an old crank ends up being a badass with a cool car and Asians who can’t act for neighbors).

Hollywood culture sold us on the notion of the James Dean/John Wayne/Humphrey Bogart stoic loner who exudes calm, cool self-confidence.  The rebel, the soldier, the cowboy.  It plays into our American mythology, the nation founded by pioneers and wild men on horseback, traversing the untamed wilderness.

The thing is, America was also built by racial bigots and religious extremists who tried people as witches if they were different.  By legend, we praise individualism, but by practice, we punish it.


You’re never going to express any form of individuality by the movies you watch or the Ipad you buy or the pets you own.  These are all ways of expressing your connection to some culture, big or small.

And you won’t do it by the art you create.  All successful expressions of ourselves expose our shared humanity.  That’s what makes it successful, the ability for other people to relate to it, to bring it into themselves and find internal resonance within it.  We can (arguably) express a new perspective on an old topic, but unless it’s a perspective that other people can come to share, it’s only going to be lost in the deluge of artistic expressions

If you want to truly find individuality, your tastes shouldn’t be exclusive, they should be inclusive.  Devour literature and music of all kinds, not just Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Indie Rock.  Explore artists you’ve always avoided and locations you feel uncomfortable at.

Be a consumer.  Not a consumer of products, but a consumer of ideas and experiences and art.  Your output in all aspects of life reflects your influences, so why narrow the scope?

On The Road

I don’t travel the country because I want to prove I’m some sort of Beatific Rebel, criticizing middle class America and thumbing my nose at convention.  I do it because I believe that a diversity of experience is what will make me a fuller person, a more complete artist.

I don’t care if people think of me as an Individual.  My only concern is that I never stop growing and learning.

Which, I guess, is what being myself is all about.

Where Should I Move Next?

“Thank you to God for making me an atheist.”

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes Sunday night and totally killed it (or was super mean and uncalled for, if you have sand in your vagina).

He ended the show with a throwaway comment that I assumed was going to get lost in the sounds of remote controls clicking off.  But it didn’t.  And thank God for that.

In case that video gets taken down for any reason, the incomparable Ricky Gervais ended an American awards show with:

“And thank you to God, for making me an atheist.”

Brilliant.  Of course, Ricky comes from a country where Christianity (and religious belief in general) has been on a decline for awhile.  It’s no wonder that some of the most prominent atheists – Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry, Gervais – are British.

Bringing that British humour to American shores always has risks (Americans can be a bit dense with their humor – I know that’s a blatantly baiting blanket statement, and I’m okay with it).  But then, to proudly declare one’s atheism on television (without being an attractive, genius, fictional miracle worker) is going to ruffle some feathers.

So, on cue, here come the whiners.  You can read the comments on the page (most of which seem to be pro-Ricky) or you cannot.  But let me just give you a sampling of some of the response.

Amy • January 16th, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Never heard of Rick before, but I certainly hope that I never see him again. I thought he was very obnoxious!
Also, what an uncalled for and cowardly remark to include in the last seconds of the show…….No wonder this world is the way it is!!!!!

Lindy • January 16th, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Just goes to show you that heavy drinking affects good judgment. Not surprising for an atheist!


Deb • January 17th, 2011 at 12:50 am

Very inappropriate. Comments he made about some of the stars were very inappropriate and last but not least, the comment he made about God making him an Atheist, was completely inappropriate. The show was to honor show business and the people involved, not to bash people’s religious beliefs. Won’t watch next year.

Such umbrage at Ricky’s declaration of atheism. The first two insult him for being an atheist (cos obviously his being an atheist makes him an unrepentant alcoholic who is ruining the world), and the last one complains of him “bashing” religious belief.

Um, huh? Where was the bashing? All Ricky did was say he was an atheist. How is declaring one’s lack of faith an attack on another person’s faith?

Before some Christians get their panties in a bunch, let me say that I understand these comments aren’t representative of all Christians. The fact that I have to say that everytime I write about atheism/Christianity should say something about the general level of sand in vaginas in this world, but I’ll let it go.

Those three comments are fairly representative of how people react to any public admittance of atheism (like those billboards). They either take offense or they accuse the person(s) of being what’s wrong with the world.

Yet they don’t bat an eye at someone saying “God bless you” or “I’ll pray for you.” These are just as innocuous statements as saying “I’m an atheist,” which is why I think anybody getting offended by either side should just step back and shut the hell up.

Atheists whining about religious statements being everywhere are annoying, too. Oh, boohoo, it says “In God We Trust” on money. Waaaah.

But, the fact is, there are far more Christians in this nation, and they are far more vocal about voicing their discontent the moment an Atheist steps out of the shadows.

Nothing Ricky said all night was in any way offensive towards Christianity.  And, believe me, if Ricky had wanted to be offensive on that subject, he could have been.

So, tell you what Christians.  Stop getting offended when someone says they don’t believe what you believe.  And maybe when someone actually does do something offensive to your religious sensibilities, we atheists might give a shit.

Probably not, though.