Category Archives: human nature

Superman, All-Powerful Gods, And What Sets Them Apart

superman

Superheroes mean many things to many people, especially at a time when superhero movies routinely dominate the box office. For some, they’re just gimmicks, fads, and marketing tools by big media companies. For others, they are akin to modern day mythology. It’s an apt comparison. Even contemporary heroes have a lot in common with the mythological legends of the past.

Some take it even further than that. Some will go so far as to claim that superheroes are filling the same roles as gods and deities. It’s not just the ones based on Norse or Greek mythology, either. In many respects, many iconic heroes fit many of the common traits ascribed to gods.

Superman is all-good.

Thanos wielding the Infinity Gauntlet is all-powerful.

Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, and even Mr. Fantastic are so smart that they might as well be all-knowing to most people.

Such divine, god-like feats make for iconic stories that offer lessons and insights on everything from morality to justice to society, at large. While superheroes aren’t worshiped within organized institutions or granted tax-exempt status by governments, they utilize a similar structure to that of other holy texts.

The narrative surrounding superheroes revolves around good, evil, and the struggles that occur in between. Both the good and the evil in these stories takes the form of some grand, larger-than-life character who embodies these traits and implements them on a level that’s impossible for ordinary people to comprehend. That’s what helps make the message so powerful.

However, it’s the qualities that set superheroes apart from deities that offers the most insights. I would even argue those insights are more critical now than they were before Superman, Batman, or Iron Man ever showed up on a movie screen. At a time when organized religion continues to exert immense influence on society, we should be scrutinizing these discrepancies.

I hope it goes without saying that modern superheroes can only do so much to compare with the deities of organized religion. No matter how much money “Avengers Endgamemade at the box office, it will never exert the same influence that the three main Abrahamic faiths have imparted over the two millennia. For better or for worse, history, politics, and the entire species has been influenced by these religions.

The most notable and obvious difference between them and superheroes is that the deities of religion aren’t presented as entertaining fiction. To the believers of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other religions, the deities and the characters in their holy texts are real. They’re not myths or legends. They’re real people and real forces that have real effects.

Regardless of how true that is, and I know atheists will point out how none of those effects can be verified, this is the critical difference between superheroes and deities. Adherents don’t just believe that these characters are real. They place their trust and faith in them, believing that doing so will guide them in life and protect them in death.

I understood this difference as a kid. I was both a fan of superhero comics and surrounded by relatives who were devout believers. I knew they didn’t see their holy texts the same way I saw Superman comics. Superman was just another character. They knew who created him. They knew he was a licensed fictional character from DC Comics.

However, even back then, I found myself wondering whether those same relatives would see Superman differently if they didn’t know he was a comic book character. I imagine if there were old stories about him from centuries ago, written as though they actually happened, they might be less inclined to discount him as fiction. Some might actually be more inclined to place their faith in him over other deities.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, but it only scratches the surface of what sets superheroes apart from ancient lore. Aside from how real people think these characters are, and some take it much further than others, the standard superhero narrative reveals something striking about the standard religious narrative.

To illustrate, take a moment to contemplate how Superman goes about being a hero. As the gold standard of superheroes for the past 80 years, he sets the highest bar and embodies the highest ideals for a hero. On top of that, he has powers and abilities on par with many deities. At times, he has been shown as capable of destroying an entire solar system with a single sneeze.

Despite all this power, Superman seeks only to help humanity. He doesn’t ask for praise, worship, payment, or sacrifice. He simply does it because it’s the right thing to do. He’s the ultimate paragon, selfless and compassionate to the utmost. The people of Metropolis, and the world at large, don’t need to have faith in him. They just need to trust that he’ll keep doing the right thing.

Contrast that with the deities in holy texts. Many are every bit as powerful as Superman, but display qualities that aren’t exactly heroic. Certain versions of certain deities have been shown to be petty, jealous, and vindictive, sometimes to an extreme. A deity does often help or guide believers in a conflict like a superhero, but it’s rarely done out of pure altruism.

These deities, many of which are believed to have created humanity and the world, exercise a certain level of authority over people. It’s not always outright forced, but the nature of the story provides plenty of incentives and/or punishments to those who rebel or subvert that authority. Some become cautionary tales or outright villains.

Some villains are sexier than others.

In this context, the religious narrative builds an over-arching theme that has little room for heroics. These deities and super-powered beings aren’t necessarily there to save the day. They’re there to maintain the order that they helped create. They function as the glue that holds the universe and humanity together. Anyone or anything that goes against it requires recourse from both adherents and divine forces.

We often see this manifest in the real world when religious people argue that things like homosexuality, which is often condemned in holy books, are this bigger threat to the world. That’s why you’ll hear plenty of dogmatic preachers claim that homosexuality won’t just give people distressing thoughts. They’ll say it will destroy society.

Religious dogma, by its nature, depends on a strict adherence to what is the status quo for a particular place, people, and time. Defending it isn’t just seen as an act of piety. It’s akin to a superhero saving the day from evil forces. Whether those evil forces are demons from the underworld or a gay couple who want to get married doesn’t matter. It’s all about preserving a system.

Conversely, superheroes like Superman don’t limit themselves to a status quo. They’re less driven about how things are and more focused on how things could be. Superman doesn’t just want to save the day and help people who need it. He seeks to give people an ideal for them to aspire towards. This is perfectly reflected in his father’s message to him, as read by the late Marlon Brando.

It is now time for you to rejoin your new world and to serve its collective humanity.
Live as one of them, Kal-El
Discover where you strength and your power are needed
Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage
They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be
They only lack the light to show the way
For this reason above all, their capacity for good
I have sent them you, my only son

It’s in this defining message that the superhero narrative distinguishes itself from religious traditions. These superheroes, as powerful as they are, didn’t create us. They don’t hold any inherent dominion over us. They didn’t create the current situation, however flawed it might be. They still seek to help people, carrying out feats that others cannot. That’s what makes them heroes.

One fights to maintain what society is while the other fights for what society could be. These narratives can exist alongside one another and can carry greater meaning for certain people. There are critical lessons in both, but I believe the lessons of Superman are more relevant than anything offered by the stories of religion.

For much of human history, organized religion was part of that social glue that helped keep society stable. For a good deal of that history, society was only as stable as the conditions around it. People hoped and prayed that there wouldn’t be a famine, a storm, or some other catastrophe that they could not control. Survival, even among kings and emperors, was their primary concern.

Things are different now. At a time when food is abundant, poverty is in decline, and education is more widespread than ever, survival isn’t enough. For a planet of billions to thrive, people need to prosper. Doing so means aspiring to something greater than the status quo. That’s exactly what superheroes embody.

That’s not to say that the rise of superheroes is directly linked to the ongoing decline of religion, but the contrasting narratives reflect just how much priorities have changed. Superheroes don’t demand faith, sacrifice, and reverence, just to keep things as they are. They go out of their way to save a world that they believe is worth saving, hoping that it can better itself.

They can help, but they can’t do it for us. That’s another trait that Superman demonstrates, much to the chagrin of villains like Lex Luthor. Like deities of old, he doesn’t use his powers to achieve everything for humanity. He seeks to empower them to achieve those feats on their own. That process of aspiring to be greater than is often an affront to a religious narrative, but critical to the themes of superheroes.

Even if superhero movies stop making billions at the box office, the over-arching message will still be relevant. Faith in what is just isn’t as appealing as hope for what can be. The gods of religion offer comfort in familiar order, but superheroes can inspire hope in something better. Given the many flaws in this chaotic world, I believe that hope is more valuable than any ancient doctrine.

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Filed under extremism, human nature, philosophy, religion, superhero comics, superhero movies, Thought Experiment

How To Appropriately Deal With The Police (Ideally)

See the source image

There are some topics I try to avoid. Some are just things I’d rather not talk about, but others involve relevant topics that bring up relevant issues. While I will offer my opinion on some of those issues, I freely concede that I’m no expert. My opinion counts for nothing. I also know that some issues are so emotionally charged that it’s hard to contribute without making things worse.

With that in mind, I’m going to talk about the police. Believe me, I wish I were referring to the band.

Like many, I’ve watched the recent news unfold in wake of the death of George Floyd. The level of injustice within this story is simply atrocious. I cannot put into words how awful it is that something like this happened in what’s supposed to be a free society. I also don’t deny that this has happened before and, without significant reform, will happen again.

The reform part is still in the works. That’s something I don’t feel I can add to. While that process is underway, there are other things we can do in the meantime. Like it or not, we’re still going to have to deal with the police. If you’re a minority or a person of color, that’s still a daunting prospect that I can’t hope to understand.

The protests are doing their thing.

The reform is still in the works.

In the meantime, the best anyone can do is find an amicable way to deal with the police, if only to minimize the chances of another atrocity. To that end, I’d like to share this video that offers some simple, but effective rules in dealing with the police. It’s from a channel called Flex Your Rights. It’s an old video, but it’s still incredibly relevant and offers lessons that can help people navigate police encounters safely.

Please note, this is for an ideal situation. If you ever have to deal with a corrupt, dishonorable cop, then that’s another situation entirely. Hopefully, those encounters are very rare. For now, let’s try to err on the side of optimism.

I really wish this video wasn’t necessary. Hell, I wish this whole debate weren’t necessary. I’ve dealt with cops. I’ve been pulled over. I consider myself lucky. I never felt like my life was at risk. However, I know that’s not the experience of many people.

That needs to change.

I believe it will change.

It just won’t happen all at once.

While that change is happening, we still need to live our day-to-day lives in a civil society. Being able to effectively deal with the police can only help. Eventually, methods like this won’t be quite as necessary. We’ll never live in a perfect world, but at the very least, we can try making a better one.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, politics, YouTube

How Much Should The “Central Park Karen” Be Punished? An Honest Question (And My Biased Opinion)

Karen

In general, I try not to comment on an ongoing surge of internet outrage. In my experience, joining the digital riot often leads to misguided and misappropriated anger. Sometimes, it’s based on flawed assumptions that mirror the same flaws as the moral panics of old.

That said, I’m going to make an exception for the recent case of the “Central Park Karen,” as she’s come to be known. I hope this is a rare exception, but I feel compelled to comment because I think perspective is important when the outrage is fresh. In addition, I have some personal experience with some stereotypical “Karens.”

To those who don’t know the story yet, consider yourselves lucky. This is one of those stories that won’t damage your faith in humanity, but it will raise some challenging questions. The basics are as follows:

  • An African American man was bird-watching in Central Park
  • He saw a white woman walking her dog in the same area without a leash
  • He tells the woman to put her dog on a leash, as is required by law
  • She gets upset and threatens to call the cops on him, claiming he’s threatening her life
  • He records the incident, posts it online, and the woman is vilified
  • The woman is later fired from her job

Overall, it’s a case of a woman being an asshole and potentially putting a black man’s life in danger. Sadly, around the same time this incident unfolded, a black man was killed while being subdued by police in Minneapolis. She might not have realized how dangerous it was for her to threaten this man in such a manner, but it’s still a dick move. She could’ve gotten him killed or seriously hurt over a goddamn leash law.

In this case, the facts are hard to dispute. The whole incident was captured on video. There’s no ambiguity on who was being the asshole here. It has become the ultimate manifestation of a stereotypical “Karen.” For those not familiar with this term, it’s an internet meme turned slur towards a certain type of woman. Here’s a quick rundown of those traits by Wikipedia.

The Karen archetype carries several stereotypes that are common to “basic white women”; the most notable is the stereotype that a Karen will demand to “speak with the manager” of a hypothetical service provider.[5] Further common stereotypes associated with the Karen pejorative include anti-vaccination beliefs, racism against black people, use of Facebook and a bob haircut with blonde highlights—pictures of Kate Gosselin during the airing of Kate Plus 8 were used in earlier memes about a “can-I-speak-to-your-manager haircut”,[6] and continue to be used in Karen memes[5]—engagement in multi-level marketing schemes, and Facebook posts sharing trite motivational messages.

With respect to this incident, the woman in question, whose name I won’t use out of privacy concerns, epitomized one too many of these traits. She acted like the law didn’t apply to her and threatened an innocent person of color, likely knowing that she had an advantage by being a white woman. In watching the video, it’s hard to much have sympathy for her.

I say that as someone with some admitted bias. That’s because I’ve had multiple jobs in the past in which I’ve encountered quite a few “Karens.” In fact, every job I’ve had has resulted in at least one encounter with someone who fits one too many traits of this stereotype.

When I worked at a fast food restaurant, I had Karen yell at me for trying to clean parts of a nearby table while her family was still eating.

When I worked at a software company, I had to respond to numerous Karens who demanded urgent assistance for issues that were trivial at best.

I know these kinds of women. I understand why they evoke so much animosity. I’ve harbored some of that resentment before. I don’t deny that my past experience affects how I interpret this story. While I try to be understanding in situations involving internet outrage, that’s considerably difficult in this case.

The outrage for this woman has already led to some major impacts. The woman has already been fired from her job and has had to make a public apology. On top of that, since her name has already been made public, she’s been subject to plenty of hate and harassment. By any measure, she has faced severe consequences for her actions.

That still raises one important question.

Has this woman been punished too harshly?

It’s not an unreasonable question, even from someone with a bias against stereotypical Karens. There’s a good chance that this woman’s life has been damaged for years to come. She lost her job. She’s being relentlessly harassed. She even had to give up custody of her dog. That’s quite a harsh punishment for someone who wasn’t arrested or charged with any crime.

At the same time, we can’t lose sight of the fact that she threatened an innocent man in a way that could’ve ended very badly for him. She openly and eagerly abused her status as a white woman flaunting the law. Had this not occurred, or had the video not gone viral, she wouldn’t have changed her ways. She would’ve just kept doing what she was doing.

That kind of behavior doesn’t just put innocent people of color at risk. It gives no reason for this kind of Karen-like behavior to stop. It’s only by facing consequences for her behavior that she realizes how wrong it was. Hopefully, others like her see what could happen to them if they were to behave in a similar manner.

That’s the best case scenario, but those scenarios are rarely the end result. At worst, this woman now has even more reasons to resent people of color. She might not have harbored overtly racist attitudes before, but she might feel differently now. She and others like her will now just have to be more tactful with their hate, which could subsequently lead to worse incidents that don’t go viral.

It’s hard to say without knowing the woman personally. I’m usually inclined to accept someone’s sincere apology. I genuinely hope that the woman was sincere. If the man she threatened accepts her apology, then I think the right thing to do is for the rest of us to accept it as well. She has faced plenty of consequences already. Forgiveness should be our first inclination when it is an option.

In a perfect world, the outrage would cease if the person wronged decides to forgive. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. I sincerely doubt the after-effects of this incident are over for the woman involved. It may take a long time for her to recover and in the long run, the outrage could do more harm than good.

It leaves me genuinely torn. I believe that asshole behavior like this should be confronted and punished, especially when it puts an innocent person’s life in danger. I also believe there should be a limit to that punishment. I just don’t know what that limit is and I think it’s worth contemplating.

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Filed under Current Events, extremism, gender issues, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, women's issues

Drunks Vs. Stoners: How College Shaped My Opinion On Both

College is a weird and wonderful time. The experience varies for everyone, but it’s remarkable in that it gives teenagers on the cusp of adulthood their first taste of real independence. Most handle it fairly well. Others don’t. We know who those people are. We can identify them in almost every college movie ever made.

My experience was special in so many ways. I often credit college with finally cracking the thick shell of misery, social anxiety, and self-doubt that I’d built up over four years of high school. It was an experience I needed. I’m a better adult because I went to college. I learned many life lessons there, but I’d like to share one particular lesson that stands out more than most.

It has to do with stoners and drunks. Depending on your college experience, if you had one, this should bring back memories.

Specifically, I’d like to highlight why I preferred hanging out with stoners more than drunks. It’s something I confronted early on in my college career. As a freshman, I lived in an all-male dormitory. It was quite rowdy, to say the least, and I have any number of colorful stories that I could share. One in particular stands out and it set the tone for how I’d deal with both groups.

Even for those who didn’t go to college, there’s a good chance you’ve dealt with heavy drinkers before. They come in many varieties. Some are happy drunks, like me. When I get drunk, I tend to laugh, stumble, and hug random strangers for no reason. I’m overly affectionate, albeit sloppy. I tend to make a fool of myself, but in a not-so-messy way.

Then, there are the not-so-happy drunks. They’re the kind of people who, when they drink, have a tendency to get more confrontational. They’re not always violent, but they are uninhibited in terms of their willingness to pick fights. I remember being at a bar and seeing someone get pissed off because some girl laughed at his shirt. I could tell from how he was standing that he had a few too many.

While these types of drunks weren’t as common as the happy drunks, they often left their mark and not just with hangovers. Even among happy drunks, they did some damage and not all of it was physical. They would say things and conduct themselves in ways that made for some awkward conversations once they sobered up. One guy in my dorm had a bad reputation for pissing in the elevator every Saturday.

With stoners, the story was different and a bit more consistent. I got to know a few in my sophomore year. They were, by and large, the easiest kind of people to hang out with. Once they got stoned, they weren’t too picky about how they wanted to spend their time. They were happy just watching TV, listening to music, and lofting about without a care in the world.

For someone with sub-par social skills, like me at the time, they were a pleasant surprise. I was able to get along with them a lot easier than heavy drinkers, who instinctively wanted to do something crazy every half-hour. Stoners are just content re-watching Star Wars and bad sitcoms.

That mellow attitude was also gender neutral. There wasn’t much variation between the male and female stoners. The only thing I noticed is that the women just laughed more when they got stoned and were less likely to get paranoid. The women drinkers, however, tended to be a bit more volatile. They rarely got violent, but they were a lot more inclined to yell at people for no apparent reason.

One girl I knew through a roommate once got into a shouting match with her TV because the speakers kept shorting out. I’m pretty sure the TV won.

However, when it comes to incidents that best highlight why I prefer stoners over drunks, one stands out among the rest. It happened during my junior year. It was late at night and I was just returning from a friend’s birthday party. I’m almost at my dorm when I come across four guys who were definitely drunk, as their inability to stand clearly demonstrated.

They weren’t violent or confrontational, for the most part. A couple smelled awful, though. I suspect vomit was the source. They were actually really friendly with me because I was wearing a football jersey. They laughed and joked with me. Then, for reasons I still don’t understand, they decided to start throwing lit matches at each other to make one another dance. They even offered me a chance to throw one.

I politely declined and was on my way. I was laughing for most of them, but I was genuinely worried. It only took one mis-thrown match to make their antics dangerous. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. It’s still a memorable incident in that it made stoners a bit less stressful to hang out with.

To this day, I know plenty of people who drink and smoke pot. They’re all genuinely wonderful people with jobs, families, and heart. I’ll gladly have a drink with any of them. When it comes to just hanging out with no discernible goal in mind, I still prefer stoners. Their so affable and mellow. They’re also less likely to puke in my kitchen sink.

Yes, that happened once.

No, I’d rather not go into detail.

It’s just one of the many insightful experiences I gained in college. It might not be the most groundbreaking, but it did prepare me for the adult world in a strange, yet wonderful way.

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How “13 Reasons Why” Handled Male Sexual Assault in The Least Sensitive Way

The following is an article submitted by my good friend, DC-MarvelGirl 1997. We’d both been working on pieces about “13 Reasons Why” and she was generous enough to submit this. She tackles an issue that I was very hesitant to write about and for that, I thank you. She does great work on her website, which I encourage everyone to visit.


We live in a world filled with double standards. It’s by far one of the biggest diseases we have in society. I’m not putting this to the same standards of COVID 19, which is by far the deadliest pandemic we’ve ever faced in worldwide. Double standards are a different kind of disease, meaning they breed this false sense of contentment. And no, I’m not just referring to the Theon Greyjoy memes, which are truly sad and pathetic. I’ll admit it. When I look up those memes, I at first chuckle. But then I remember why they were made, and it is to point out that Theon no longer has his penis. Suddenly, those memes are no longer funny.

Theon

As much as I wish this article is about those Theon Greyjoy memes, it’s not. That’s what’s painful for me. This article is about the frankly piss-poor representations of male sexual assault in entertainment. And no, I am not referring to Burt Reynolds’ “Deliverance,” which was one of the first movies to put rape of a man into a scene. At least with that movie, it was done well. Even made for TV films like “The Rape of Richard Beck” did it better, because with “The Rape of Richard Beck,” now known as “Deadly Justice,” they blacked it out before the rape happened.

What I’m referring to is the rape scene from the season 2 finale of “13 Reasons Why.” It was the scene that made many people throw up watching it. For those of you who watched it, you know what I am talking about.

scene1

Now, I’ll admit it. I never watched “13 Reasons Why,” because it was banned from my household by my mother. And after hearing about how the show got progressively worse, I’m glad I didn’t watch any other episodes beyond the pilot. It’s a show that psychiatrists cautioned teenagers from watching, because it could be triggering to those thinking about suicide. Not only does it send the contrived message that you can use suicide to get revenge, but it handled male sexual assault in one of the worst ways possible. Because I’ve never watched the show for myself, I had to do a little bit of research on the “13 Reasons Why” wiki pages, and look up articles critiquing it. The male rape scene centers around the character of Tyler, who gets sodomized with a mop handle by a character named Montgomery. Not only was the scene unnecessarily graphic, triggering, and disturbing leaving many either crying, getting sick, or feeling disgusted, but the aftermath of it all is what I’m most critical of.

I understand that “13 Reasons Why” wanted to show that men can be raped as well. But their delivery was terrible. Like I said, the scene was downright disgusting and stomach-churning. But they didn’t bother showing Tyler doing something effective to get the bullying to stop. It doesn’t help that the teachers in the show are portrayed as incompetent of seeing what’s right in front of them, giving this sense that you cannot even trust your teachers to keep you safe. But the show didn’t bother giving us scenes of Tyler handling the aftermath with maturity. They just cut to him wanting to shoot up a school dance, mirroring the Columbine massacre which is one of the most devastating tragedies in US history.

Let’s just say, I would have handled this rape scene and aftereffects a lot differently.

scene2

If I were to write out that rape scene between Tyler and Montgomery, I would have shown the graphic violence of Tyler being drowned in the toilet and having his head slammed against the mirror. Then, I would have an extreme close-up of Montgomery’s hand reaching for the mop handle as the camera shakily backs away to display him leaning over Tyler’s back. Then, the scene would fade to black, signifying what’s to come. After that, I would have it fade into Tyler sitting on the bathroom floor with his pants down. That to me is more than enough to let the viewer know what happened, without giving you every, horrible detail of what happens. Then, there would be other scenes I’d add in.

How about having Tyler go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor? All the signs could be there, showing he’d been raped, but the doctor neglects to acknowledge this and that’s one of the things that pushes him.

How about showing Tyler being interviewed by police, but an officer telling him he was asking for it? That would also give him a reason to want revenge.

The reason why I put those two suggestions above, is because male rape isn’t given the same consideration as female rape. When a female is raped, it becomes a world-wide news story. When a man is raped, it’s not treated the same way. I tried to research cases of male rape in the recent years, and you wouldn’t know if there was, because the news doesn’t talk about it. Look at cases such as Corey Feldman and Brent Jeffs. Brent Jeffs I’m just mentioning, because his story is downright heartbreaking. He was raped by his own uncle, Warren Jeffs, the head of the FLDS. Jeffs’ story is one that many do not consider at all. Of course, people have the knowledge that Warren Jeffs raped and molested boys and girls alike, but they often forget to acknowledge that boys in that “church” were raped. They’re blinded by how horrifically the women and girls in that “church” are treated, that they forget about the boys. That to me is the saddest thing.

scene3

If “13 Reasons Why” bothered displaying how the criminal justice system fails to acknowledge male rape victims, then that would have been a much more powerful impact than Tyler trying to shoot up a school.

Overall, “13 Reasons Why” failed in a major way to display consequences of male sexual assault. They neglected important details with the character of Tyler, and didn’t even bother showing Tyler going to the authorities until season 3. And the fact that Montgomery was just arrested on the spot for raping Tyler, when there’s no rape kit having been done? I don’t buy that for one second.

However, keep in mind, they did the same thing with Hannah Baker in season 1. She didn’t go to the police reporting teachers’ negligence. She didn’t go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor. She just blamed everyone for her suicide with tape recordings, claiming it to be all their fault when she didn’t bother going to higher authority for help. And the fact that they display her mother blaming everyone as well? To me, that’s even more pathetic. I understand that you are hurting because your daughter took her own life and that she was raped. But she also failed to get help beyond going to a guidance counselor, who clearly wasn’t doing his job.

Therefore, do yourself a huge favor, and do not watch “13 Reasons Why.”

DC-MarvelGirl 1997

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Filed under health, human nature, media issues, philosophy, psychology, rants, television

The (Many) Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” Fails At Confronting Serious Issues

There’s a place for mindless, shallow, escapist entertainment in this world. I would argue that place is even greater now as we cope with a global pandemic. Sometimes, you just want to turn your brain off, watch your favorite superhero movie or Michael Bay explosion-fest, and enjoy yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s also a place for entertainment that attempts to have a meaningful, serious conversation about a real-world issue. I’d also argue that kind of entertainment is more important now than it was last year. I know this kind of entertainment is risky, especially when it tackles taboo subject or social politics. Sometimes, that effort evokes distress, disgust, or outright hate. It’s still worth doing.

However, that kind of media can be counterproductive when it gets an issue wrong, flawed, or ass-backwards. When the conversation it attempts to have is misguided or contrived, then its effects can be outright damaging.

This is how I feel about “13 Reasons Why.” It’s one of Netflix’s most serious shows in that it attempts to confront serious, painful issues. From teen suicide to bullying to sexual assault to mental illness, this show attempts to portray these issues in a way that helps us talk about them. I respect that goal. I think the show’s creators, actors, and producers had good intentions.

I also think they failed in too many critical ways.

I don’t just say that as someone taking the time to critically analyze a show. As someone who was a miserable teenager, I really wanted this show to start this conversation. I wanted it to send a good, meaningful message through its morbid themes. After the first season, I was very disappointed and a little depressed.

The premise of the show has the right ingredients. It revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who took her own life and left pre-recorded tapes behind for her fellow students, namely Clay Jensen, to follow. The story attempts to explore what led Hannah to this grim decision that left her family, friends, and community devastated. Unfortunately, in doing so, it starts the wrong conversation.

That’s not just my opinion. Organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and the United States Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology have criticized the show for how it depicts suicide. It has also been linked to an uptick in suicides and suicidal ideation among teenagers. Now, that might just be an unlinked correlation, but it’s still a distressing sign.

Then, there’s the plot of the show itself. This is where I felt the show really lost sight of its mission because, as a show, there’s a need for drama. Unfortunately, incorporating that drama undermines the conversation and, in some cases, turns it against itself.

Beyond the graphic depictions of Hannah’s suicide, which was received so negatively that was subsequently cut out, the whole show is built around a world of teenage caricatures that don’t exist in the real world. It portrays a world that relies heavily on stereotypes, gives little depth to characters no named Hannah or Clay, and makes every issue seem overly simplistic.

That’s good for dramatic moments and concise plots, but not for having real conversations about complicated issues. The people in Hannah’s life, from her parents to her friends, barely function as background characters. The authority figures, namely those in the school or in the police, are even worse. They’re essentially portrayed as never caring in the slightest, only seeing teenagers like Hannah as a nuisance.

For a show that wants to have a real conversation about teen issues, this is a terrible message. Teenagers already have an incomplete view of the world. Many of them already think nobody cares about them. The sequence of events in “13 Reasons Why” only confirms that. How is that supposed to help any teenager who might be contemplating suicide?

That’s still not the worst part, in my opinion. If “13 Reasons Why” has one glaring flaw, it’s how Hannah’s suicide essentially affirmed her motivations. To some extent, Hannah got exactly what she wanted when she killed herself and made those tapes. She punished the people she held responsible. Her story became the story that everyone talked about.

This isn’t just a terrible message with a depressing premise. It effectively misses the entire goddamn point in the conversation about suicide and teenage issues. In effect, Hannah doesn’t commit suicide because she’s clinically depressed or mentally ill. She does it as a very graphic “Fuck you!” to a world that didn’t listen to her.

It doesn’t just hurt her family. It doesn’t just cause more pain to her friends, some of which genuinely tried to help her. It gives the impression that suicide will make someone relevant. It’ll make everyone who didn’t care suddenly care. It ignores the pain caused by someone’s suicide and focuses on how it punishes those who wronged her.

Hannah was wronged. There’s no doubt about that. She was outright raped. She was a legitimate victim. If the show had decided to focus only on sexual assault and avoid suicide altogether, it might have sparked a more meaningful conversation.

However, the show grossly simplifies her issues, as though one egregious act is all it takes to send her overboard. People, even teenagers, tend to be more complex than that. On top of that, Hannah is shown to make bad choices and take little responsibility for her actions. We, the audience, are supposed to sympathize with her, but she makes that more difficult than it should be.

I wanted to like “13 Reasons Why.” I really did. I wanted it to further an issue that I think should be addressed. I was genuinely disappointed with how it panned out. The fact the show got multiple seasons only made it worse, rendering every serious issue as little more than a catalyst for drama. I don’t recommend this show to anyone if they want to confront issues like suicide and depression.

Ironically, if not tragically, Netflix already has a show that addresses these issues in a much more meaningful way. It even manages to do this with cartoon characters that depict humanoid horses. Yes, I’m referring to “Bojack Horseman.”

I understand it’s a cartoon. I also understand it’s a comedy that’s meant to make you laugh at times. However, the fact it still manages to depict the real struggles of depression and mental illness in a relevant only makes “13 Reasons Why” more tragic in the grand scheme of things.

These are serious issues that deserve serious conversations. If you can’t start that conversation better than a cartoon horse man, then you’re doing something very wrong.

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Michael Jordan, Intensity, And Championships (With References To Glengarry Glen Ross)

There has been an ongoing, and at times insufferable, debate in the world of basketball. Who is the greatest of all time? ESPN recently released their ranking. The top five are as follows:

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Magic Johnson

Do you agree with this list? How do you even go about determining who is the greatest player, given how much the sport has changed over the decades? That’s not an easy question to answer, especially for a sport like basketball. Unlike football or baseball, it is possible for one player to make a huge difference on a team’s chances of winning. Just ask the Cleveland Cavilers.

That question has gotten more scrutiny lately and not just because there are no sports to distract us. A comprehensive documentary entitled “The Last Dance” has added some rhetoric to the greatest of all time conversation. This documentary covers the career of the number one player on ESPN’s list, Michael Jordan.

If you haven’t seen this documentary and are marginally interested in sports, I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, it’s worth seeing for reasons beyond the sport it covers. It offers an unprecedented insight into the life, drive, and mindset of a player that many believe to be the greatest. That insight is also something that has inspired some mixed feelings.

Now, I’m old enough to remember the second half of the Michael Jordan era for the Chicago Bulls. I remember seeing his team win those last three championships and being in awe. To say he was an iconic athlete would be an understatement. In the same way it’s impossible to describe how big Michael Jackson was in the 1980s, it’s impossible to articulate how big Michael Jordan to the sports world in the 1990s.

Being like Mike wasn’t just a marketing slogan. It was a testament to just how much Michael Jordan dominated at everything he did. I know there’s an entire generation of basketball fans who only know the greatness of Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, but in terms of sheer star power, Michael Jordan was bigger.

There’s always caveats about whether he would dominate as much in today’s game. I’m of the opinion that he would. Like I said, I grew up watching him in his prime. He’s one of those rare athletes who would have found a way to dominate in any era. However, that’s just my opinion. We’ll never truly know if Michael Jordan is better than Lebron James or Bill Russell.

However, Jordan’s greatness isn’t the only thing on display in The Last Dance.” In some sense, it exposes the dark side of being great. In public, Michael Jordan is that smiling, friendly guy who tries to sell them overpriced sneakers. In private, and during games, he was not that. He was incredibly intense. Some even call him a bully.

While that may surprise others who only know Jordan through his marketing team, it really shouldn’t. You don’t win six NBA championships, multiple MVPs, and a nickname like “Air Jordan” by being overly nice. In the world of professional sports, you can’t be Mr. Rogers. You have to be intense, sometimes to an extreme.

Michael Jordan was the epitome of extreme. Even as a kid, I saw it in the games. The man looked like he was ready to run through a wall and over people to win. The way he played the game with such intensity almost made him seem superhuman. That makes for amazing television, but on the court and in the heat of the game, it makes him something else.

That intensity reminds me of another famous insight into what it takes to succeed. It’s not nearly as iconic as Michael Jordan making the winning shot in the NBA Finals, but it’s close. It’s Alec Baldwin’s legendary speech about closing in “Glengerry Glenn Ross.” In case you need a reminder or some brutally honest motivation, here it is.

Look at Baldwin’s demeanor. Listen to the intensity of his voice. He sounds like a bully. He doesn’t sound at all likable. He sounds like the kind of guy you wish you could punch. Unfortunately, he also sounds like the guy who succeeds at what he does.

He’s intense.

He’s abrasive.

He demands greatness from others and has no sympathy for those not willing to put in the effort.

That won’t make him many friends, but it will make champions. That’s the kind of intensity that athletes like Michael Jordan channel. It’s not something that just anyone can do. It’s not even something you can entirely fake. You can try, but it only goes so far. You either have it or you don’t.

Being intense, competitive, and a little abrasive is often unpleasant, but it’s critical in pursuing success. Whether it’s selling real estate or winning six NBA championships, you need that kind of intensity to raise your game and those around you. You can have all the talent and charisma in the world, but it’ll only get you so far if you don’t have the drive to push yourself.

Michael Jordan had that drive. He pushed himself and those around him. He stepped on a few toes. He made plenty of enemies. He strained himself and his teammates. He also made mistakes, but that only fueled his intensity.

That’s why, in my opinion, he’s the greatest of all time.

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How Much Of What We Know Will Be Wrong Years From Now?

Take a moment to consider all the things you think are right, true, and valid. Please note, I’m not referring to opinions. I’m talking about things that are, in your mind, unassailable fact. These are things like certain laws of physics, certain assumptions of politics, and a general understanding of how the world works. To us, they’re both common knowledge and common sense.

Historically speaking, it’s a guarantee that at least some of what you believe to be completely true will one day be proven completely wrong or at least only partially true. It won’t happen to everything you think you know. You may not even live to see it. However, that day will come and you’ll have to consider the painful possibility that you were wrong about something.

I pose this little thought experiment as a means of refining perspective. We like to believe that we live in a time when the great mysteries of the universe are either known, unknowable, or within our grasp within our lifetime. Every generation likes to believe they have a firm grasp of everything they need to know, more so than any generation before them. The idea that another generation might be better than them is untenable.

Again, history says we’re destined to look foolish to the vast majority of people 100 years from now. It’s not just from changing social attitudes. It’s not just in the workplace, either. Rest assured, there are things you accept today that will be wrong, rejected, or scorned in the future.

It’s hard to know what those things are. From a societal standpoint, our current attitudes regarding wealth disparity, the treatment of animals, and how we care for the elderly could be subject to categorical scorn. In some cases, it might just be a product of circumstances, but that wouldn’t make it any less wrong.

In terms of science, it gets even trickier. Over the centuries, there have been a multitude of well-accepted theories that were subsequently proven wrong. If you’re a creationist, don’t get too excited. Those theories were wrong because we uncovered new information that helped us craft better theories that nobody even thought of. It’s how we got things like germ theory, the big bang theory, and quantum theory.

Many of these revelations began with us looking for evidence that we were right. Even though confirmation bias is a powerful force, it can only do so much against an unforgiving reality. Even the likes of Albert Einstein got a number of key issues wrong when seeking to understand the universe.

Years from now, our smartest scientist will seem like a mediocre college student. It’s just a matter of time, effort, and discovery. Every time we think we understand something completely, we uncover information that reminds us just how little we know in the grand scheme of things. It can be frustrating, but it also is what helps us progress as a species.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the impact of tools like advanced artificial intelligence. Everything humanity knows is limited by how much humanity can collectively understand. Our primate brains are driven by primate instincts. That limits our ability to understand things beyond a certain point. In theory, an advanced artificial intelligence could understand things in ways our brains literally cannot process.

That’s why it’s such an important perspective to maintain. You are going to be wrong about something at some point in your life. Years after you’ve passed away, your children and grandchildren will find out that you were wrong about much more than you thought. It’s inevitable. It’s also humbling and worth embracing.

We’ll never know everything about everything, but knowing more than we used to is always valuable. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.

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Filed under human nature, philosophy, psychology, technology, Thought Experiment