A Couple Of Big Mistakes!

Anybody who isn’t prepared to acknowledge that the world is messed up right now is probably still writing their emails with crayons.  Besides all the regular stuff – crime, poverty, injustice, starvation — we’ve got the big bogeyman Covid-19 hiding under the bed.  And that’s kinda supersized our inability to deal with this crap.  Admit it: agrarian reform is Sub-Saharan Africa is not exactly your #1 priority these days, is it?  The fact is, our world is in big trouble and we’re mostly worried about whether our facemasks make us look fat.  So, how did we get on the express bus to Disasterville?  Easy answer!  Back in the day, we made two fundamental mistakes, and ever since then, we’ve been muddling around, trying to fix them — without ever actually admitting we made them in the first place.  So just to clarify: here is where we screwed up.

We got rid of Latin – Anybody who’s ever studied Latin will tell you it’s a completely whacked-out language.  It’s full of things that just don’t make any sense.  For example, there are 3 genders, about 100 verb forms and God only knows how many declensions (whatever they are.)  It takes years of study, an incredible memory and dogged determination to learn Latin.  In fact, teachers used to have to beat little kids with sticks to make them learn the damn thing.  However, Latin had one thing going for it.  Because it’s so godawful difficult, it was the language of serious people.  That’s why all the serious stuff is written in Latin — legal stuff, (like habeas corpus and modus operandi) religious stuff, medical stuff, even sex stuff, plus astronomy, anthropology and all the other ologies.  Even today, everything on Earth that walks, crawls, flies, swims or grows has a real Latin name.  For centuries, anybody who wanted to be taken seriously did it in Latin.  Think about it!  Isaac Newton (totally serious guy) wrote Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica — not An Apple Fell on My Head.  But the very best bit is, Latin kept people who weren’t serious from jumping into the conversation with their 2-bit idiot opinions.  They didn’t know the words, so they had to shut up when serious people were talking.  Thus, the world had a quick and dirty way to distinguish the people who actually wanted to deal with the problems that plague our planet from the other folks who just wanted to flap their jaw.  It wasn’t foolproof, but it worked.

We invented YouTube – In the old days, if you didn’t know something and your friends didn’t know it either, you had two choices.  You could either spend hours in a library, looking at books, or shrug it off and go watch TV.  This separated the serious folks from the rest of us who had a life – even if it was only reruns of Gilligan’s Island.  These days, however, if you don’t know something, all you have to do is click YouTube, and suddenly there are 15 videos that answer your question.  The problem is those answers aren’t necessarily the right ones: they’re just the most popular.  Plus, a 12 minute video on how to make a missile out of a Pringles tube, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda doesn’t make you a rocket scientist.  YouTube has made information available to the masses, but it has also made a bunch of people (who should be watching Gilligan’s Island) into make-believe experts.  And these fugitives from Basic Cable think they can talk the talk with the big people.  But the very worst bit is there’s nothing to make them shut up, and they’re muddying the intellectual water for the serious folks who want to take a drink.  Not to mix too many metaphors, we simply can no longer distinguish the conversation from the noise.

So what do we do? 

Unfortunately, the horrible conclusion is until we bring back Latin and limit the influence of YouTube so we can distinguish the populo gravi from the fatuis, we’re pretty much screwed.

Disclaimer: We live in unsophisticated times, so I have to point out that this is satire.  I do not advocate banning YouTube or beating children with sticks, so please save your emails!  Cheers.

Definitions For Our Time!

Aside from fire and Velcro, language is the most useful tool humans have ever produced.  Once we went beyond grunting and growling, we were able to communicate complex ideas with a precision that made us the dominant species on this planet.  Unfortunately, these days we’re not playing nice with our words, and they’re losing their effectiveness.  We’ve taken to manipulating the language to try and give words extra meaning that they don’t deserve – and it’s failing miserably.  Here are a few contemporary words (we’ve all heard thousands of times – a day) that are supposed to carry a connotative punch – but they don’t – because we all know what they really mean.

1 — White Privilege – A bunch of privileged white people calling other white people “privileged” as if they did it on purpose just to be assholes.

2 — Twitter – A virtual stick that we beat people with until they agree not to disagree.

3 — Instagram – An historical record of just how culturally shallow we are in the 21st century.

4 – Facebook – Instagram for old people.

5 — Woke – “I live on a higher plane of consciousness than you do.”

6 — Virtue Signaling – This is how you know I live on a higher plane of consciousness than you do.

7 — Hate – Criticism you don’t like. “She said these jeans make me look fat.  She’s always been a hater!”

8 — Support – Criticism you do like.  “She said these jeans made me look curvy.  She’s always been supportive!”

9 — Brave – We’ve been using this word for everything from telling our daughters we’re gay to wearing pink chiffon, yoga pants and a hoodie.  Essentially, we’ve devalued the currency of this term so completely nobody even hears it anymore. (Remember what happened to “hero”?)

10 — Clicktivist – There is no IRL equivalent to this made-up cyberword.  The closest I can find is smug.

11 — Gluten Free – What we’ve been doing to safeguard our health — instead of finding a cure for cancer.

12 — Content Warning – The latest lame-ass attempt to keep the cybermob quiet.  We use it because — in the great tennis match between the eagerly offended and the immediately placated — the offended crowd upped the ante and declared that “trigger warning” itself was actually a trigger.  Go figure!

13 — Conversation – As in “We need to have a conversation about that.”  And it means: I’ll do the talking, and if you don’t shut up and agree, I’ll go Twitter (see Item #2) on your ass.  Not to be confused with “dialogue” which is too yesterday to be taken seriously.

14 — Issues – Problems that can’t possibly be solved.  A handy way to maintain perpetual victim status.

15 – Giving Back – The stuff rich people do when they are a) “woke” (see item #5) b) “virtue signaling (see item #6) and c) have some time on their hands.

16 – Awareness – Wasting time stating the obvious.  Does anybody know anybody who isn’t aware of inequality?

17 — Authentic – Social media sincerity that takes a ton of careful planning.

18 — Shaming – No, I’m not going to go there.

19 – Toxic – I don’t like this, and I’ve decided that nobody else should like it either.

And finally the one that demonstrates just exactly how easily the language can be manipulated:

20 – ‘Splaining – Add any prefix you want (man, age, size, eco, etc.) and you can get pissed off about it.

I’m An Addict!

They say that the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  Well, here goes!  My name is WD, and I’m an addict.  Hard to believe, but it’s true.  Despite what you see, I’m stuck in a secret cycle of abuse.  Oh, I’m good at hiding it, denying it.  I only use it to relax – unwind.  I can quit anytime I want to.  But no, I can’t.  I’ve tried.  I’m an addict.  For me, one is one too many and even a whole series is never enough.

I guess my story’s the usual one.  It all started innocently enough; just a few schoolboys having a bit of a vicarious adventure.  I don’t remember who tried it first, but by the end of the summer, all my friends and I were doing it every weekend.  For a while, it was all we could talk about.  Fortunately, the habits of the young are fickle, and when school started, most of my friends drifted away to homework and hockey practice.  However, I remained, every weekend, watching black and white back-to-back reruns of Richard Greene’s Robin Hood and Roger Moore in Ivanhoe.  Soon, an hour a week simply wasn’t enough, and I began experimenting on my own – searching for a bigger thrill.  It was then that I discovered … Doctor Who.  I remember thinking, I’ll just try it; I can always change the channel.  But I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  I watched it all, even the credits, in the gathering twilight of an autumn afternoon.  It was a wonderful excitement, exhilarating and confused.  I was too young to truly understand what Time Lords were or the symbiotic relationship Who had with the Companion, but I wanted to know.  I wanted to open my perceptions to the sophisticated storylines, explore the language, and fill my senses with the ideas that I never found on regular TV.  I didn’t know it then, but I think I was already addicted — to British Television.

Emma Peel

From Doctor Who, it was easy to graduate to watching The Saint.  After all, Roger Moore was just Ivanhoe in a tuxedo – wasn’t he?  No, he was more than that — stronger, with deeper plots and worldly situations.  Then it was The Avengers.  Just as my pubescent friends were discovering the hidden fantasies of Barbara Eden’s belly button, I had Diana Rigg all to myself.  For a teenage boy, Emma Peel had a dizzying depth of character, compared to Anthony Nelson’s do-as-you’re-told Jeannie or the submissive Samantha Stevens.  She was my fee verte, and I was a slave to her.  Sated with suggested sex, mystery and espionage, when The Prisoner was broadcast in the early 70s, I was unable to resist.  I wallowed in its nonlinear drama, letting it wash over me, week after week, until — hauntingly unresolved — it ended, and left me empty and cold.

I should have stopped then – gone cold turkey — but I was ready for the hard stuff: Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Speedball comedy with a walloping high so potent that even today I find myself laughing outrageously in its etherealic flashbacks.  The Pythons opened my mind to non sequitur, the absurd, the tilted storyline, bizarre characterization and oh, so much more.  I don’t know how many traditional motifs I abandoned that winter.  It’s all a blur to me now.  But at the end of it, I knew I was never going back to North American TV.  I was hooked.

Since those heady days, I’ve spent forty years searching, always searching, for more of the roll-off-the-sofa/pee-your-pants highs that the Pythons delivered.  Through Fawlty Towers; Black Adder; Yes, Minister; Red Dwarf; Ab Fab; The Office and so many others.  Even Mr. Bean!  That’s how complete my habit has become.  And it wasn’t just comedy; it was drama, as well.  Mysteries, espionage, political intrigue — I’ve tried them all.  Night after night, I’d tell myself just one episode, but hours later, I’d still be slumped on the sofa — covered in cookie crumbs and stinking of Earl Grey tea.  The only thing that saved me from utter degradation was I’ve always had a violent allergic reaction to Jane Austen.  Otherwise, I would have been up to my eyes in costume drama.  Then along came Downton Abbey and I was lost.

Today, British television is easy to find.  My dealers were always PBS and The Knowledge Network, but now there are so many other ways to feed my habit.  Netflix, Prime, Acorn, Britbox — they’re all there – whole seasons of Sherlock, Broadchurch, Vera (back to the days of David Leon) House of Cards (the original with Ian Richardson) and even Lovejoy and Agatha Christie — if that’s what you fancy.  This year, I watched all ten seasons of MI5 again, 60 years of murder with Morse, Lewis and Endeavor and, of course Top Boy and Shetland.  But it doesn’t end there because late at night when my skin crawls for long vowels, Manchester accents and proper pronunciation, I surf through YouTube for snippets of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Cracker, The Inbetweeners and even grainy bits of Jimmy Nail’s Spender.

My name is WD, and I’m an addict.

Originally published 2013, and gently edited for 2020