You’ve Been Warned!

One of the weirdest phenoms of the 21st century is the “Trigger Warning.”  This is a statement made before news items, blogs, plays, books, stories, opinion pieces, university lectures, movies, TV programs, poems, paintings and pretty much everything else we watch, read or hear.  The purpose is to warn us that whatever is coming next is probably too harsh for our fragile emotions to handle, and we should avert our gaze or else we’ll end up huddled in the corner – sobbing.  Personally, I think this is a rather ad hoc way to do business.  We all know life is tough, and if we’ve become such emotional marshmallows we can’t deal with trivial stuff like TV programs or someone’s Twitter opinion, maybe it’s time we put trigger warnings on life itself.

May I make a few suggestions?

Warning — Normal people disagree with each other.  Sometimes, they will disagree with you.  They are not idiots, evil or part of an international corporate conspiracy.  However, if it distresses you that anybody could possibly have a perspective, attitude or viewpoint that’s different from yours — remain calm — try to steer the conversation to celebrity gossip or, better still, just walk away when the adults are talking.

Warning — There are hundreds of different cultures in the world.  These cultures exist simultaneously and overlap.  If you are so uncomfortable being Caucasian that the overlap causes you feelings of latent Western guilt, please return to your home and watch old Michael Moore documentaries.  They will provide all the guilt you need.

Warning — Reasonable political discussions contain logic and nuance.  If you prefer shouting and/or name calling, it’s probably best to just talk about the weather.  Oops!  No, probably not!  Hmm — perhaps stick to celebrity gossip or, better still, just walk away when the adults are talking.

Warning — Not every person on this planet is your mother.  Nobody is emotionally obligated to cuddle, cajole or care about you.  If this makes you uncomfortable — uh — I don’t care?

Warning — You can’t change history.  If historical names, statues and monuments offend you so completely that you feel an uncontrollable need to vandalize or destroy them – go ahead.  Throughout history, arrogant bullies have always tried to cancel the culture that came before them (Nazis burned books, Puritans banned Christmas, the Taliban closed all the schools for girls, etc.) so you’re just another arrogant bully in a long line of history’s arrogant bullies – get used to it.

Warning — Television is NOT real.  If make-believe offends you, please do not watch television.

Warning — People in other centuries had different values and ideals.  Perhaps they were wrong, but judging past behaviour by contemporary standards is stupid.  Remember what a nitwit you were in high school?   Seemed like a good idea at the time, though – didn’t it?  Well, good luck trying to justify it now!

Warning — Humour still exists in the world.  If laughing at stupidity, absurdity, the ridiculous and the inane makes you uneasy, please pull the hockey stick out of your ass and quit spoiling it for the rest of us.

Warning — “Trigger Warnings” are bullshit.  If you are an adult and still need someone else to prequalify what you read, watch or hear, please talk to your parents immediately.  Obviously, they didn’t do their job properly, and you might want to start again.

The Top 100 Tales

In 2018 the folks at the Beeb (BBC) came out with the Top 100 Stories that have influenced the world.  “Good on ya!”  I love lists: by definition, they’re always controversial.  It’s true that scholars very seldom throw punches (I’d pay money to see that!) but normally a list such as this would generate more than a few white wine arguments over which book is where and why.  Unfortunately, this particular list does not fulfill that basic requirement because, even at first glance, it’s obviously total bullshit.

Yeah, yeah, yeah! All lists are subjective; however, there are some things in this world that are just dead wrong.  Let’s take an objective look at what the Beeb is trying to pawn off on us.

The Odyssey (#1) — No problem.  (You’ll probably get a fight from the Shakespearians, but they’re always pissed off about something.)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (#2) — We can all agree on Simon Legree.  This book may very well have caused the American Civil War, which not only changed the social structure of Western civilization but also gave us the first glimpse of the military-industrial complex.
Frankenstein (#3) — This is where things start to get a little weird.  It’s true everybody knows who Frankenstein is — although most people get him confused with the monster.  But I’m pretty sure Frankenstein is not as big an influence on young lovers (anybody who ever lived) as Romeo and Juliet which doesn’t show up ’til #13.  And from there, everything just goes sideways.  According to the list, Beloved (#11) is a bigger influence on the world than Animal Farm (#18) and Ulysses (#17) — which no living person actually understands — is ahead of To Kill A Mocking Bird (#27).  Meanwhile On The Road (the universal anthem of rebellion) is nowhere to be found!

And what about the other sins of omission? — OMG!  There’s no The Great Gatsby, no Grapes of Wrath, no Fahrenheit 451, no Brave New World, nothing by Hemingway, nothing by Hardy and nothing by Kipling who sent two generations of imperial Brits out to change the world.  Paradise Lost and Le Morte D’Arthur are conspicuous by their absence, and where the hell is Dr. Seuss?

However, it’s not what’s missing from the list that’s burning my bacon: it’s a couple of titles that the Beeb included.

JK Rowlings’ Harry Potter series (#15) — Yes, we all read these books (or saw the movies.) Yes, we all thought Harry (and eventually Hermione) were hot; and yes, Quidditch is now the national sport of Nerdovia — but #15?  That’s ahead of Aesop’s Fables (#29) and Cinderella (#52.)  I don’t think so!  If nothing else, Aesop and Cindy have about a 1,000 year head start on that little wizard.  They were bedtime stories for millions and millions of children, long before Millennials decided that they were the only generation that mattered.  And besides, everybody knows Rowlings didn’t write seven Harry Potter books; she wrote two Harry Potter books — three and a half times.

But, my biggest bitch is The Handmaid’s Tale (#16).  WTF?  This little ditty is ahead of King Lear (#33), The Canterbury Tales (#58) and A Christmas Carol (#73)?  Basically, the BBC is telling us Margaret Atwood has a bigger influence on the world than William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer and Christmas!  Not bad for a book one reviewer called “paranoid poppycock.”  You want some serious grins?  Walk down any street in the English-speaking world and ask people if they’ve read the book — the book!  Chances are good you’ll get an overwhelming NO.  Why?  Because the vast majority of people who have even heard of The Handmaid’s Tale have only seen the TV series.  For the first 30 years of its existence (before Hulu pick up the option) The Handmaid’s Tale was about as influential as Pinocchio — probably less.  And here’s the kicker: the TV series isn’t even written by Margaret Atwood!  It’s written by Bruce Miller, whose last outing was The 100; Leila Gerstein, who wrote for Gossip Girl and a bunch of other people who don’t even have Wikipedia entries.  So much for spreading Margaret Atwood’s influence on the world around like marmalade on cold toast!

The bottom line is this list does serve one purpose, and one purpose only: it clearly confirms we’re living in the shallow end of intellectual history, dominated by cultural illiteracy.  Harry Potter, my ass!

A Pack Of Lies

Somebody (Hitler? Goebbels? Lenin? Trotsky?) once said, “If you tell a big enough lie loud enough and long enough people will eventually believe it.”  It’s terribly ironic that, in the Age of Information, there are quite a few of those kind of “truths” kicking around, and a lot of what we call common knowledge is just a load of crap.  Here are some glaring examples that just fall apart when you think about them:

1 – Einstein did NOT fail high school math.  Think about this for a minute!  The guy was a genius who E=MC2-ed himself to the top of the intellectual ladder, along with Newton, Copernicus and da Vinci.  What are the chances he had trouble with Grade 10 algebra?  Besides, the records show that he skipped most of what we would call high school, anyway.

2 – You can NOT see the Great Wall of China from space.  Here’s the deal.  Yes, the Great Wall is absolutely huge.  Yes, it’s the largest man-made structure on earth, and yes, it runs for thousands of kilometres, but — surprise — it’s less than 4 metres (12 feet) wide.  Your house is probably wider.  Looking down from space, the Great Wall of China is invisible — just like your house.

3 – You do NOT use “only” 10% of your brain.  The truth is, even with all our advanced technology, we know so little about the brain’s function that nobody knows how much of our brain’s capacity we actually use.  However, given some people I’ve worked with, 10% might be wildly optimistic.

4 – Coca-Cola™ does NOT dissolve teeth.  Folks, they use dental work to identify bodies that have been lying around for centuries.  Every museum on Earth has at least one set of Cro-Magnon chompers.  The corrosive elements that Mother Nature can throw at the human body make Coca-Cola look like a bubble bath.  This is just another Coke™ myth that circles our planet once a generation.

5 – Undercover cops do NOT have to tell you they’re police.  Police, undercover or otherwise, cannot entrap you into committing a crime, but they are under no legal obligation to identify themselves before you commit that crime on your own.  Use your head!  If undercover cops had to tell you they’re cops, it would kinda defeat the whole purpose of “undercover,” now, wouldn’t it?

6 – Jedi is NOT a recognized religion anywhere in the world.  Despite the best efforts of literally millions of Star Wars nerds, no national or international body outside a few fans clubs views Jedi as an organized religion.  The word is you can claim to be a Jedi on your income tax form and reap all the religious benefit and advantages.  You can’t.  Don’t believe me?  Try it!

7 – There are NOT more people alive today than have ever lived in all of history.  Do the math!  Even using the ten millennia of recorded history, fifty generations a millennium and the current reproductive rate of 23 per thousand (for most of history, it was closer to 80) the result is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 billion people.  Even counting all the lost Australian backpackers, at 7 billion, this generation isn’t even close.

8 – Mr. Rogers was NOT a Navy Seal sniper in Vietnam.  Quit saying that!  There is absolutely no evidence that Fred Rogers served in the military, nor even that he ever left the continental United States — although there’s an e-rumor that he went to Maui once, on vacation.

And finally

9 – You do NOT eat 7, 9, 12 or 16 spiders every night in your sleep.  Spiders prefer dry, still, quiet places where they can spin a web and catch themselves some breakfast.  Occasionally, maybe, a single spider might venture across your bed, but, unless they’re unusually stupid, the inhale/exhale of breathing air would scare them off.  I’m sure this lie gets retold so much because it’s a guaranteed gross out.