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Monday, November 30, 2009

Michael Ian Black - My Custom Van ***

You probably know Michael Ian Black from any of the numerous "I Love the [Something's]" shows on VH1, or as an integral part of comedy troupes The State and Stella. I didn't, however, know him as a stand-up comic on his own (his album, I Am A Wonderful Man, is quite fantastic), or an essayist. Well... "essayist" might be a rather misleading term. Yes, his book, My Custom Van, is filled with essays, but it won't be found on shelves anywhere near the works of John Gardner or Noam Chomsky.

Not that I'm complaining. I wouldn't have bought a book from Black expecting him to expound on theories of libertarian socialist philosophy. I bought his book to laugh my ass off, and that is exactly what I did. Each of his brief essays reads more like a set from his stand-up routine, and it isn't hard in the slightest to hear him reading them in his own voice, to a crowded little college town comedy club.

However, as fun as it is to have Michael Ian Black run loose (and I mean, really loose) in your hands, as you page through all 50+ of his essays, I don't suggest doing it all in one sitting as I did. The book is a quick read, and you'll blaze through it if you want to, but it is definitely the kind of thing that would be best taken in small doses. By the time I finished, some of the essays were beginning to run together. Those in the back of the book are just as hilarious as those in the front of the book, but taking it all in at once is almost overwhelming, and I found my brain going numb to the hilarity. And that's just not fair to the genius that Black is. Even if he does repeatedly insist upon that genius. Humility is overrated.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Are you crazy?

My friend Rob asked me today if I ever feel like I am insane.

The three subjects that we most often get talking about when we're online are politics, music and movies, but really they all boil down to a single, unifying topic of "Who the Hell Are We?" because sometimes it's really hard to tell. We're not like the people that live in our neighborhoods. We listen to weird music and watch weird movies and have weird political opinions. Growing up in the kind of place where we both did, in the very red belly of Central Pennsylvania, it can be difficult goings if you identify with anything short of a huntin', fishin', beer-swillin' redneck or a psychotically religious, conservative farmer. Your parents probably are, and your grandparents definitely were, and on backward through your lineage and down the street and clean across town. It's everybody.

It's not something you even think about growing up, because it's just How Things Are, but eventually you get to a point where you can't help but question every time your grandmother goes off on her rants about what an asshole Martin Luther King, Jr. was (true story--but not my grandmother, thankfully). You can't help but cringe at the jokes that get passed around at the holidays, at the bumper stickers you see on the backs of your uncles' trucks. But you are the exception to the norm. All the kids you grew up with are flying Confederate flags in their front yards (because Pennsylvania was, and still is, a bastion of the South) and hang on every word Glenn Beck cries out of his fat face. How did you turn out the way you did? You want to see universal health care and the military to be disbanded. Are you crazy? Or are you just one a' them socialist faggots?

So you start questioning yourself. You wonder what you're fighting for. Or what you're fighting about. Or who the fuck you're even fighting. I got to a point recently where I decided I was tired of fighting completely, and that if the United States wanted to elect a rights-stomping, war-mongering, religio-nut to its highest office, maybe I just didn't belong in the United States at all. I didn't go around threatening to move to Canada (who would care?), but I sort of just realized that maybe I'm not an American at all; maybe I was just born into it. I was born into a Christian household and I'm certainly not Christian, so is it possible that I'm really a Swede, trapped in an American's body? I don't even root for America in the World Cup (Go Germany!), so really, what kind of patriot am I? I'm not even a fan. It's impossible not to ask yourself what the point of all the arguing is. Thankfully, the nation over, I'm still in a small majority in the core of my progressive beliefs--but what happens when more Liebermanns and Lincolns jump ship and leave me in the minority. Is it our responsibility to educate the rest of the entire United States on why they are so wrong and who they are so badly hurting? That's a steep measure, especially when they don't want to hear you, let alone listen. Should we just let them go down that path and stand back and watch as they burn their hands on the stove again and again until they turn around and ask us, why we don't have enough band-aids?

What are we supposed to do? What do I even mean by "fighting" as I've stated above. I have no idea, and that's another place for mental disconnect. You believe something so strongly in your head, but what are you doing to exact change? Are you donating money to the campaign fund for Dennis Kucinich or to the United States Socialist Party? Do you pay your taxes and your Union dues with a smile on your face? Are you at least leading rallies on your state capitol, making yourself and your fiery opinions heard? Or are you just blogging in a frustrated state of defeat at three-thirty in the morning. That's what I do. I've never liked to call myself a "writer" because, to me, it means that I do it as a job. And while it might be a goddamn job to get these words out sometimes, it certainly doesn't pay my bills. Still, what I do is write. That's how I guess I do my fighting, even if I just end up shadowboxing more often than not. I hope that someone can read this silly site of mine and find themselves nodding along every once in a while, and then tell someone else. Not to increase my site traffic (though that's nice too), but to educate. To pass along knowledge. I'm not so conceited to think that what I write here is essential to the betterment of mankind--but I hope I write with enough conviction to help someone who is waffling in their own beliefs, either in their politics or philosophies or just in themselves.

Because we're all crazy. If you sit and think about things, you begin to feel it, wearing away inside your brain. And if you don't, you're even crazier, but you don't know that. Mr. Beck tells you you're a patriot, and that people like me don't even support our national soccer (not football) team. I do feel insane. I feel crazy all the time. I am surrounded by people who don't understand a word I'm saying, and it makes me physically tired when I just talk about music with some people, let alone worldviews. But that's just how it has to be. It's something that we need. And I'm glad to know that there are others in the world who feel it too. If no one was as crazy as I often feel (and with the ability, time, money and dedication to do more than just write about it) we wouldn't even be as far as we are now. We'd still have slaves, because our parents did. Tradition.