Shakespeare Without Tears – 2021

Apparently, Shakespeare’s birthday was a couple of days ago (nobody really knows for sure when it is) and I missed it.  That’s okay really; I don’t care when Shakespeare was born.  Nor for that matter do I care to wander into the great discussion about whether he wrote his own plays or not.  As far as I’m concerned, they could have been written by Fetchin’ Gretchen, the German barmaid at the Golden Hind Hotel.  Shakespeare’s plays exist: if a local boy from Stratford didn’t write them, so what?  Somebody did.

Actually, the only reason there’s any debate at all about who quill penned what for whom is scholars can’t figure out what else to do with Old Bill, now can they?  It’s not like there’s a nerdy little war going on in the Ivory Towers about whether Shakespeare is crap or not.  Rhetorically speaking what do Shakespearean scholars do all day — sit around telling each other how great he was?  That’s the point: Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language and nobody disagrees except sophomores trying to be difficult and people who’ve never seen the plays.  Everybody knows Shakespeare is the best, but I would venture to guess that 8 people out of 10 haven’t got a clue what he’s talking about.

Shakespeare appreciation runs into a bunch of trouble in the 21st century.  First of all, unless your education was terminally New Age, you got stuck with the guy sometime in your high school career.  Since modern education means kicking the delight out of everybody but the janitor, chances are good Macbeth was ruined long before Macduff got hold of him in Act V.  Besides, I’d bet even money that the person running the show in Lit. 12 probably didn’t know much more about the Bard than you did.  In those days, Cliff Notes worked both ways.

The other problem is Shakespeare wrote his plays in Shakespearean English, and we don’t speak that language anymore.  A lot of the clever stuff and the beauty of it is simply lost in translation.  For example, “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?/ It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” doesn’t mean much if you don’t know anything about courtly love.  And that’s the major problem: Shakespeare is talking about things people in the 21st century know nothing about – love and power.

These days, we have reduced love to its lowest common denominator: the relationship.  This is a cerebral little device that cuts our emotional well-being off at the knees.  Having a relationship is akin to owning a small kitchen appliance like a juicer.  You buy the thing, make juice at every opportunity for six weeks or so, but slowly by slowly, it ends up largely unused, sitting in the kitchen, getting in the way.  Occasionally, if guests come over, you might crank it up again, but eventually it gets stored somewhere out of mind until it’s time for the yard sale.  Shakespeare didn’t think that way about love, neither did his audience.  They knew love for what it is and wanted to hear the words that spoke its name.  They didn’t talk about “having feelings” for someone or “taking the relationship to another level.”  (What is this crap?  Angry Birds™ with benefits?)  No!  The Elizabethans were engulfed by love; that’s where “swept off your feet” comes from.  They felt it: they didn’t think it.  They looked forward to it and mourned its passing.  To them, it was what life was made of.  Even though we proclaim our sensitivity at the drop of a puppy, we just can’t get there from here; we don’t know anything about it.

Nor, for that matter, do we know anything about power.  In a world that no longer recognizes obscenities, the mere mention of power can still cause an embarrassed hush.  Power is to us what sex was to the Victorians: a slightly icky necessity of life that nobody should ever speak of.  It’s considered ill-bred to publically pursue power, so we dress it up in altruism and team-building.  Demonstrations of power are the last faux pas in our society, and people who have power are somewhat suspect.   They are always the villains in our stories.  They weren’t in Shakespeare’s time.  His four great tragedies are all about power.  They show the obligation powerful people have to wield it wisely and the consequences if they do not.  It’s not power itself that corrupts Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear and Othello; their demise comes from a deep flaw in their own character.  Their tragedy is magnified by the height from which they fall, not caused by it.  At the end of each play, they die, but the institutions of power are cleansed with their blood.  It is the province of the powerful who remain to set things right again.  In the Elizabethan Age, power was, for the most part, a benevolent force sometimes corrupted by the people who manipulate it — not the other way around, as we see it today.

It’s a shame that a lot of the contemporary “feelings” we have for Shakespeare are just talk.  Unfortunately, it’s too difficult for most people to enjoy Shakespeare these days.  However, it`s not impossible.  But start slowly; Shakespeare’s plays are a big chunk to take in one chew.  You don’t have to sit through an entire play to begin with.  Just go to YouTube and check out Marlon Brando delivering Mark Antony`s “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” speech, or Kenneth Branagh (as Henry V) calling his troops “a band of brothers,” or anything Shakespearean Lawrence Olivier ever opened his mouth for.  Me?  I like to curl up with a bag of Doritos™ and watch The Lion King which is Hamlet without the blood bath.

Originally written – 2012

Conspiracies — Unraveled

There’s no success like – uh – success – so, since everybody liked Conspiracies in the Suez Canal so much, here are a few more.

1 — Andy Kaufman (Latka Gravas on the TV series Taxi) did not fake his own death as a comedic hoax in 1984.  He was killed by the TCB mafia when he inadvertently discovered that Elvis was still alive.  (They were worried the avant-garde comedian was too unstable to keep the secret.)

2 — Thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes and other violent climate change events are all weather simulations created by the government.  They’re being used to cover up the sights and sounds of the battles we’re having with alien space invaders that have been going on — just outside our atmosphere — since the 1980s.  The basic premise is that the public doesn’t seem to be too worried about climate change, but it’s a pretty safe bet that alien invaders would scare the shit out of them.

3 — And speaking of space: the United States did not land on the Moon in 1969.  They landed on Mars.  However, NASA thought that no one would believe them, so they just said it was the Moon.  That’s why the early films and photos are black and white – to disguise the distinct reddish Martian tinge.  And, of course, all the current Mars Rover missions are being used to hide the original evidence.

4 – And staying with America, JFK was killed by a secret group of conspiracy theorists called “The Grassy Knoll Group” (GKG) who used the event to make millions, selling conspiracy theory books and making ridiculous documentaries for the History Channel.  Since the 60s, to keep the Conspiracy Industry alive, this group has killed several movie stars and musicians, at least two politicians and a princess.  However, I cannot reveal their names or the GKG will kill me, too.

And I’ve saved the best for last:

5 — The urban myth that Walt Disney had his body cryogenically frozen when he died is obviously false.  However, it is part of a far more elaborate cover-up.  In 1938, Mickey Mouse, Disney’s symbol and biggest box office star, was accidently drowned during the filming of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment of Fantasia.  Rather than risk a public outcry, possible criminal charges and financial ruin, Disney Corp. covered up the death and finished the film with Mickey’s stand-in.  (If you look closely, some scenes show Mickey with pupils in his eyes — and some don’t.)  Meanwhile, the real Mickey was cryogenically frozen using secret Nazi technology (both Hitler and Mussolini were big fans) in the hope that German scientists would eventually be able to resurrect the little rodent.  Along came World War II, and, clearly, Disney did not want to be associated with Nazis, so Mickey was quietly hidden away in the Disney vaults.  For the next two decades, Disney used a clever combination of make-up, lighting and body doubles to keep Mickey in the public eye.  (Again, a careful examination reveals subtle changes in Mickey’s appearance over the years.)  Then, in the 1960s, when scientists began to study cryogenics again, Disney Corp were worried that researchers might accidently stumble on their unsavory secret.  So, in 1966, when Walt Disney himself died of natural causes, Disney executives concocted the urban myth that Walt had been cryogenically frozen — to divert attention from the real story.  And it totally worked!  Even today, if you google “Disney” and “cryogenics,” there’s no mention of Mickey Mouse.  To the uninformed, this may sound like an outlandish theory, but I’ll leave you with this question.  Mickey Mouse is one of the most recognized figures of all time; he generates more money every year than many small countries.  Yet, since Fantasia, Disney has never used the Billion Dollar Mouse in a full-length feature film.  Coincidence?  I think not!

Cancel Culture – A Quiz

Artist Unknown

We live in dangerous times.  These days, everybody’s looking over their shoulder for the ominous shadow of cancel culture.  Anything you say, can and will be used against you — with disastrous consequences.  And it’s impossible to know what is and what is not acceptable.  For example, last month, Mr. Potato Head was just a toy (a pretty lame one, actually.) Now, it’s a sexist symbol of exclusion and oppression.  (BTW, you might think your life is crap right now, but it’s never going to be as crappy as the lives of people who are worried about the gender of a plastic potato.)  Anyway, not since the Reign of Terror have so many, been so frightened, by the opinions of so few.  But it’s real!  People are losing their jobs for not toeing the politically correct line.  One woman made an insensitive Tweet, went to sleep, woke up in the morning and discovered she’d already been fired.

But help is on the way.  Here is a quiz that will assist you in navigating the minefield that is contemporary culture.  Each statement is either true or false – you have to figure out which.  The answers are at the end.  You get one (1) point for every correct answer and minus five (5) for every wrong one.  (That’s the way politically correct works!)  Then multiply your score by 5 and that’s your “woke” percentage.  Be honest, good luck — and if you use Google, you’re already screwed. 

1 — A Star Trek super-fan was told his personalized license plates “ASIMIL8” (“Assimilate,” catchphrase of the Borg) was being recalled because it represented cultural genocide and was offensive to indigenous people.

2 — Speaking of Star Trek, the first press release for Star Trek Voyager described Security Officer Tuvok as an “African American Vulcan.”

3 — The term YOLO (You Only Live Once) has been deemed offensive to Hindus and other religions that believe in reincarnation.

4 — Advertisers are replacing the word “pyjamas” with “sleepwear” to avoid charges of cultural appropriation because the word “pyjamas” was borrowed during the British colonization of India.

5 — A local city council in the UK has banned the term “brainstorming” because it is offensive to people with epilepsy.

6 — Shanghai DisneyLand has removed all references to Winnie the Pooh so as not to offend the people of China.

7 – A number of universities have banned clapping at all public performances because that might trigger anxiety in nervous people.

8 — Transvestites have been banned from Gay Pride parades because they’re considered offensive to true transgender people.

9 – The word “hysterical” is unacceptable because it is derived from the Greek word for uterus.

10 — There is a claim that calling someone “exotic” has “nasty racial overtones” and is a micro-aggression.

11 — The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, once corrected a woman audience member for saying “mankind” by saying, “We like to say peoplekind, not necessarily mankind.  It’s just more inclusive.” and was accused of mansplaining.

12 — The standard size of chairs in arenas, auditoriums, airplanes and classrooms is considered a micro-aggression against people who are overweight.

13 — The word therapist is being replaced with counselor or analyst to avoid subconsciously triggering people who may have been sexually assaulted.

14 – Now that “heart attack” has been replaced with “cardiac event,” the acceptable term for fatal heart attack is “life-limiting experience.”

15 — In many jurisdictions, the term police force has been changed to police service because the word force is considered too confrontational.

16 – Some universities have stopped using trigger warnings because there is concern that warning students about offensive material might actually trigger emotional distress.

17 — “Long time, no see” and “No can do” are unacceptable because they mock the English dialect of 19th century Asian American immigrants.

18 – The name of the string instrument mandolin has been changed to Italian lute to be more inclusive and reflect that both men and women play it.

19 — Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is under pressure to remove “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” because it’s sexist to suggest that women are more vindictive than men.

20 — An advertisement for exercise bicycles, featuring a man (presumably a husband or boyfriend) giving a woman an exercise bicycle as a Christmas gift, was pulled off TV for being overtly sexist.

ANSWERS

1 — A Star Trek super-fan was told his personalized license plates “ASIMIL8” (“Assimilate,” catchphrase of the Borg) was being recalled because it represented cultural genocide and was offensive to indigenous people.

True – The guy’s still fighting it in court.

2 — Speaking of Star Trek, the first press release for Star Trek Voyager described Security Officer Tuvok as an “African American Vulcan.”

Also true — even though the planet Vulcan probably doesn’t have either an Africa or an America.

3 — The term YOLO (You Only Live Once) has been deemed offensive to Hindus and other religions that believe in reincarnation.

False.  But, on second thought …

4 — Advertisers are replacing the word “pyjamas” with “sleepwear” to avoid charges of cultural appropriation because the word “pyjamas” was borrowed during the British colonization of India.

False — but you don’t actually see the word “pyjamas” around much anymore, do you?

5 — A local city council in the UK has banned the term “brainstorming” because it is offensive to people with epilepsy.

True — It’s has been replaced with “thought showers.”

6 — Shanghai DisneyLand has removed all references to Winnie the Pooh so as not to offend the people of China.

True — Guess why?

7 – A number of universities have banned clapping at all public performances because that might trigger anxiety in nervous people.

True — There are two (that I could find) in the UK and several in the USA.

8 — Transvestites have been banned from Gay Pride parades because they’re considered offensive to true transgender people.

True — The most notable case was in Glasgow in 2015, but there have been a number of other places, as well.

9 – The word “hysterical” is unacceptable because it is derived from the Greek word for uterus.

True — Many “woke” writers have made the case that linking hysteria and women is inherently sexist.  (Apparently, the ancient Greeks were insensitive bastards.)

10 — There is a claim that calling someone “exotic” has “nasty racial overtones” and is a micro-aggression.

True — The convoluted argument is that if you’re “exotic” you’re not from here; therefore, you’re being excluded.

11 — The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, once corrected a woman audience member for saying “mankind” by saying, “We like to say peoplekind, not necessarily mankind.  It’s just more inclusive.” and was accused of mansplaining.

True — Unfortunately, this is absolutely true.

12 — The standard size of chairs in arenas, auditoriums, airplanes and classrooms is considered a micro-aggression against people who are overweight.

True — and several organizations have taken that argument to court — especially against airlines

13 — The word therapist is being replaced with counselor or analyst to avoid subconsciously triggering people who may have been sexually assaulted.

False … so far

14 – Now that “heart attack” has been replaced with “cardiac event,” the acceptable term for fatal heart attack is “life-limiting experience.”

False — although I like the sound of that.

15 — In many jurisdictions, the term police force has been changed to police service because the word force is considered too confrontational.

True

16 – Some universities have stopped using trigger warnings because there is concern that warning students about offensive material might actually trigger emotional distress.

True — One wonders if they’re even teaching controversial subjects anymore.

17 — “Long time, no see” and “No can do” are unacceptable because they mock the English dialect of 19th century Asian American immigrants.

False — No lesser authority than the OED has judged both phrases have been in common use for many years by a number of ethnic groups.

18 – The name of the string instrument mandolin has been changed to Italian lute to be more inclusive and reflect that both men and women play it.

False

19 — Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is under pressure to remove “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” because it’s sexist to suggest that women are more vindictive than men.

False — although a number of quotes have quietly disappeared from the pages over the last few years.

20 — An advertisement for exercise bicycles, featuring a man (presumably a husband or boyfriend) giving a woman an exercise bicycle as a Christmas gift, was pulled off TV for being overtly sexist.

True — And aside from a ton of free publicity, I’ve never been able to figure out why.