Chimera Song Mosaic
Tuesday, June 03, 2003
I just figured out why my brother and I fight so much. It’s obviously because he is a Horse, and I am a Tiger. I’m borrowing from Stephanie’s fascinating entry from a few weeks back.
I first tested the saying right before I began my blog. After my brother’s gradation, we all went to lunch, and my brother’s friend, Ben, accompanied us. I think I mentioned before that Ben speaks Mandarin. So, I prompted Ben to greet me (it’s not hard—he’s pretty chatty) and made the proper reply (in English), and Ben said, “Oh, yeah—that’s a common thing to say; it means kind of neither here nor there. So-so.”
I pointed out the coincidence of my brother’s and my Chinese zodiac signs (he is a horse; I am a tiger), but no one seemed to think it was of much importance. My sister asked, “Are these two signs incompatible?” But no, they are actually compatible.
But this made me wonder about the meaning of the saying. It makes sense if I think of the animals as representing opposites; if you are a horse, you can’t be a tiger, etc. Something about the nature of Tigers or people who are Tigers is absolutely other than Horses. Today I am neither a Horse nor a Tiger; today I am in behavioral and/or spiritual limbo.
(Of course, the real meaning of the saying may have nothing to do with the zodiac, or at least maybe not the zodiac that is provided on paper placemats in every Chinese restaurant in the country. But it’s still a pretty thing to think about.)
So, I have been practicing how this sounds in Mandarin in case it ever comes up. I should also know how to say, “I am a Tiger,” because most of the time, I am.
I Feel Angry, Oh so Angry
In order to embrace my tigerness (“Tiger people are aggressive”), I want to talk about another hasty generalization I used to succumb to: I used to think every person who listened to Rollins Band had an abusive parent. Okay, I was quickly disabused of this notion by my brother’s friend, Rockni, who said, “No, my Dad didn’t hit me. I’m just angry” (explaining why he listened to Rollins Band). I could certainly relate to this because I was also very angry as a teenager. I guess angry people gravitated towards Henry Rollins’ brutal confessional lyrics: “From the wreckage of humiliation / I got my self respect / I put myself together / What the hell did you expect?” (“Just Like You,” End of Silence, 1992)
I saw Rollins in concert several times—sweaty and angry and krunk and tattooed in his little black boxer shorts. I saw all the kids milling about with their Rollins Band t-shirts with the big Rollins sun tattoo on the back. I was like, “Oh, that poor kid.” Of course, I never included myself in this tidy little theory, which would have destroyed it because my parents weren’t abusive (at least not on the scale of Rollins’ father).
I even listened to Rollins’ spoken word, The Boxed Life. I even read one of his tour journals/collection of philosophical essays, Now Watch Him Die. Henry Rollins would have been a great blogger.
The Naked Truth of Jackass: The Movie
I just saw Rollins pop up in a cameo on Jackass: The Movie. “Off Road Tattooing” was the stupidest (not stupidest in terms of most dangerous but stupidest in terms of most stupid) and least entertaining stunt on the show (my favorite had to be either “Party Boy” or the guy who shits in the hardware store, but I forgot what that one was called), and I was a little disappointed that Rollins was involved with this stage of the project.
The reason I refer to it as a project is because that’s what fascinated me about it—the human behavioral study aspects of it. Let me first offer the disclaimer that I did not want to see the movie and found it to be overall repellant. But then I looked closer and was fascinated: why would someone remain friends with a guy (or girl) who shaved his or her head without warning? It really irritated me at first, but then I thought it was funny in a shaved head kind of way. This is sort of like those parties where the guy who gets the drunkest wakes up to polaroids of his buddy’s dick in his mouth (I am switching to the male pronoun here because I have just not heard of women doing this). Why would you put your dick in your friend’s mouth while he is sleeping? That is just not nice. But I guess that’s the point: it’s funny to be not nice.
But that’s not even the most interesting thing about this project: after watching Party Boy rub his thong up against a security guard and people descending an escalator while avoiding a gigantic traffic cone and hardware store patrons witness someone shitting in a toilet display, I began to notice a pattern in the way people respond to such anomalies; they don’t respond. I was shocked by the lack of response. They seemed to freeze when the guy shit in the toilet display—none of that, “Hey, Buddy! What are you doing? My kids are watching.” The store manager could only manage a weak, “You know, you’re going to have to clean that out.” Why didn’t people respond?
Of course, I have a theory. I think that real people, when faced with some minor social trauma such as the ones listed above, are actually better at dealing with the trauma than they think they are. You always hear about people who are worried that they won’t be able to do the right thing in an emergency: “I bet if I woke to find my apartment on fire, I would just be paralyzed with fear and die in the flames.” While some people might do this, the majority of us would just get the hell out of there—no screaming, no panicking, no drama.
Which is precisely the point: I was watching this documentary of sorts, expecting these real people to respond like they would respond in the movies. I was expecting one of the hardware store patrons to step up and exclaim, Schwarzenegger-like, “Hey, Buddy, you can’t do that here,” and muscle the offender out of the store like a moral majority bouncer. But that doesn’t happen too much in real life: there are few heroics, but thankfully also little dramatics. Most people just quietly go about their business, responding to stimulus in an adaptive and ultimately nonchalant way. The people exiting the escalator didn’t stop to ask themselves, “Why is this cone here? What is the nature of the cone?” They just got off as best they could and resumed their shopping at the mall. So Jackass: The Movie reveals both the good and bad of human behavior. We don’t stop to jerk a few tears out of our "audience" (thank goodness!), but sometimes, if the crisis is imminent, we also don’t stop to think; we just respond: “That snake is bad. Let’s kill it first and decide later whether or not it is poisonous.”
Angry, Part 2: It’s Really More About Being Humble & Chillin’
I was watching MTV’s 22 best voices of the decade or something like that a few weeks ago, and while I agreed with most of the selected “best voices,” I was particularly annoyed by something young actor Julia Stiles said while commenting on Kurt Cobain. I think she said, “I loved Nirvana when I was a kid—I was like, ‘Oh! I’m so angry!’ But now I realize that I had nothing to be angry about—I wasn’t starving or anything.” (This is a very loose paraphrase.)
The reason this pisses me off is because I am tired of people trying to belittle teenage angst. It’s real, and everyone experiences it to some degree, even if he or she grows up in the suburbs. (Sometimes especially if he or she grows up in the suburbs, as is seen in movies like American Beauty—there you go! I am confusing real life with the movies again!) It happens, and the suburbs or a privileged upbringing are not safeguards against teen anxieties and anger.
Why do so many intellectuals (and actors) feel the need to excuse their anger—I don’t mean excuse it by saying it wasn’t their fault, but excuse it by pretending that it has no validity? Just because you find out that there are true injustices and horrors in the world, such as slavery and child prostitution, does that erase the day-to-day difficulties that humans—even young humans—experience? I think not.
I think there is a lot of anger in the suburbs—there is a lot of anger everywhere. But in the suburbs, they have the most time to think about it. Maybe this is why we have heard of so many acts of violence and deranged social behavior happening among the “good” kids (I’m thinking specifically of the upper middle class neighborhood in the south where there was a huge incidence of syphilis among teenagers because they were engaging in orgies while their parents were away at work). Maybe if these kids had more homework to do or they had to go to work or they had more parental supervision, they wouldn’t be doing these things that we think are naughty and dangerous.
Okay, but back to Julia Stiles’ comment. First of all, Kurt Cobain and the other members of Nirvana used to really irritate me because they were always whining about the fact that the majority of their listeners were pre-teen suburbanites and therefore unworthy of their constituency. They longed for the days when they had a small group of hardcore, fucked up, and decidedly “alternative” listeners. Now that they found that the majority of their listeners were from an unfamiliar background, they did not know what to do with this information. Did it change the authenticity of the band? Were they no longer “alternative”?
Please. The reason so many people “found out” about Nirvana is because they were good. They should have known they were good and that lots of people—many people—wanted to listen to them. An artist can’t control his or her followers. Most musicians should realize that they are singing down the generations: Guns N’ Roses had the strongest following in the 13-22 year old category, even though all of the band members were way past this tender age, and the content of their lyrics was way inappropriate for that age (but anyway that doesn’t matter to me because it’s “supposed” to be fictional, even though in GNR’s case it was not); Britany Spears is probably 20 right now, and most of her listeners are under the age of 13. Why couldn’t Nirvana “get” this?
So in addition to being offended by the ignorance of Nirvana’s attitude in their heyday, I was also offended because I was one of the fans who was being summarily rejected by the band (and I wasn’t even a real fan—to me, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam are much better representatives from the high trinity of Grunge that transcended Seattle and moved in gushes across the US—the same kind of “Grunge” that bands are producing nowadays, but to call one’s band “Grunge” is the kiss of death—don’t get me started on that lunacy). As a teen suburbanite, I fit very nicely into their category of unworthy listeners.
Which is why I am so annoyed by Julia Stiles’ comment. I refuse to have my upbringing and yea, my very existence, negated or unauthenticated by yet another ignorant celebrity. Then some people will say, “What do you expect from celebrities? They have to think of a ‘good’ response at a moment’s notice, and anyway they are used to someone feeding them their lines.” But the two celebrities I mentioned are among the more “thinky” celebrities. Nirvana was a very thinky and certainly moody—therefore sufficiently-fucked-up-to-be-valid—band, and Ms. Stiles chooses films that are adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, so that’s smart, right? The point is that we do this to ourselves. Many people have suggested that the ones who rail the hardest against the suburbs (and the non-thinking flesh machines that they produce) are they themselves from the suburbs—and it becomes apparent that since these big brains were produced by the suburbs, then to think that the suburbs are primordial cess-pools of stupidity and conformity of thought is just bad logic. And to further complicate matters, I say it is conforming to mass thought to say that the suburbs are bad. After all, we’re the ones who thought this up in the first place, right?
It’s just good sense to realize that the smartest people aren’t the richest, but the richest people do produce some of the smartest ones. Why? Because of access and opportunity—decent public schools, good nutrition, trips to Europe, full rides to college without scholarship.
Don’t hate suburbia; embrace it instead. That’s what everyone is working toward (we all have some hard-working immigrant relatives in the not so distant past), and it’s not because of some mindless pre-programming (okay, maybe there’s a little of that, but the media doesn’t account for everything! Sheesh! Think for yourselves!). It’s because of a desire to live in a level of comfort (and yes, that sounds just like conformity) and security. These are basic human wants: a pot to piss in and a window to throw it out of. Don’t malign your neighbors or your hood because of it.