Killing English

We are killing the English language.  I’m not talking about government euphemisms or corporation obfuscation.  No, this is ordinary people taking ordinary words and choking the life out of them.  Let me demonstrate.

Old — Where did all the old people go?  Apparently, they’ve all been rounded up and taken to an over-the-horizon retirement community where they’re enjoying senior living.  (I have no idea what this is BTW, but it seems to involve a lot of manicured lawns, plastic patio furniture and drugs.)  Then, one day, magically, they all become elderly and get carted off to an Elder Care Facility where … uh … I don’t know … we never hear from them again.  But old people?  No, our world doesn’t have any old people. 

Fat — Nobody’s fat these days, so unless you’re a supermodel, you have three choices — plus size, curvy and we’re not going to talk about it.  Apparently, the world believes that if we don’t actually say the word, people won’t know when their pants don’t fit anymore.

Brat — Let’s get real!  Not every obnoxious kid on this planet has a diagnosed illness.  Sometimes, they’re just brats, but if you want to get into a fistfight, mention the word.  It is amazing to me what lengths bad parents will go to, to avoid being called “bad parents” — including saddling their child with an incurable psychological disorder.

Stupid — “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”  Think about this!  Of course there is, and they’re normally asked by stupid people.  The Law of Probability alone says half the population of this planet is stupider than the other half.  However, use the word to describe someone who is obviously in Group A and you’re liable to get lynched by a Twitter mob.

Ugly — I’m not even going to go there.

Died — When I was a kid, people died.  It was a harsh reality of life.  Then, suddenly, people quit dying and began passing away (like sugar dissolving in the rain.)  It’s a cute idea, but honestly, when someone goes headfirst through the windshield, “he passed away” doesn’t really describe it.  And, of course, these days, folks don’t even pass away anymore; they merely pass (as if it were a spelling test.)  The #1 preoccupation of literature, religion, philosophy and life itself, and we’ve reduced it to this bullshit?  How bland has our existence become?

This is the language of Shakespeare, Blake and Yeats — have some respect.  But the real problem is, as we continue to drown our language in mild, we’re starting to think that way and that scares the hell out of me.

Originally written January, 2016 and gently edited

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!