Category Archives: psychology

How I Learned A Powerful Life Lesson From “Goldeneye” (The Video Game)

goldeneyecover

I grew up during a strange time. I know every adult could make that claim with the benefit of hindsight, but I think I have some substance to back it up. It was a time when the internet barely existed, Saturday morning cartoons were still a thing, video games were still mostly toys, and MTV was the ultimate evil in the eyes of parents, priests, and teachers.

There were a lot of transitions that were just starting to happen. As a kid, I didn’t understand them. I barely even noticed them until years later. I still feel their influence and have learned many lessons as a result. Some lessons were more critical than others. I still remember the day I got my first email address and I made the password so easy that my little brother guessed it. That was a small, but critical lesson I had to learn.

Another one took place a few years before that and it involved a video game that is still near and dear to the hearts of many. That game is “Goldeneye” on the Nintendo 64. For some, just mentioning that game should bring back fond memories of countless hours spent in the basement, yelling at anyone who dared to pick Oddjob in multiplayer. Those were good times.

During that same time, I went to school in an era where things like the self-esteem movement and DARE were still a thing. It seems so archaic now, given how well-documented the failures of both initiatives have become in recent year, but it was a serious issue when I was a kid.

I remember seeing all sorts of platitudes and motivational messages on TV, in movies, and at school-sponsored events. They all conveyed the same sentiment.

You’re all special.

You’re all equally good at everything.

You can achieve anything if you’re determined and work hard enough.

It all sounds so nice, but there’s just one huge problem and it’s one my awesome, wonderful parents went out of their way to teach me. It’s not entirely true.

Yes, we’re all unique, which is not the same as being special.

Yes, we all have equal worth, but we’re not equally skilled.

Yes, you can achieve a lot with hard work, but you can’t achieve anything.

These all seem like rational, reasonable lessons to teach a kid. I’m certainly glad my parents made an effort to give me that perspective because it was hard to ignore the whole “you can achieve anything!” mantra that kept playing out every day. I admit I got caught up in it at certain times. I also got upset when I felt like I didn’t achieve something that I felt I’d worked hard enough for.

At some point, I had to learn that all this idealized encouragement was flawed. My parents did their part, but it took a particularly memorable experience to really hammer that point home. This is where “Goldeneye” comes in.

There was one summer in which this game basically dominated our entire day. I would wake up, meet up with my friends, and we’d start playing the game for hours at a time, much to the chagrin of our parents. These were good times. That, I cannot overstate. However, there was one issue that often came up over the course of that summer.

One of my friends, who I’ll call Shawn, was just too damn good at the game.

By that, I don’t just mean he won more multiplayer matches than most. I mean he always beat me. It didn’t matter which character I used. It didn’t matter which maps we played in. Aside from a few lucky shots, he pretty much kicked my ass every time I played him. Some of my other friends did challenge him, but he was still the best. That much, we all knew.

I thought he was good because he played more often than me. I thought I could eventually get to his level if I practiced enough. For a good two weeks in July, I essentially trained myself with match after match in “Goldeneye.” I tried to memorize every map. I tried to get a good feel for every character and weapon. I tried to hone my aim so that I made every shot count.

While I did improve, especially compared to some of my friends, it didn’t change the outcome. Shawn still beat me almost every time. It wasn’t that he played or practiced more. Shawn just had a natural talent for gaming. His reflexes were a lot quicker than most. He had a visual acuity that most couldn’t match. He could also concentrate in a way that was downright Zen-like.

To his credit, Shawn was humble about his skill. He didn’t brag or rub it in my face, although he certainly could have. He didn’t have to in order to get the point across. In certain activities, be they sports, video games, or underwater basket weaving, there are just people who are inherently more talented. It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how much you train. You just aren’t going to reach their level.

I eventually came to accept that. It was the first time it really sank in. Hard work and dedication won’t help you achieve everything. It can help, but there are going to be people who just have more talent and you can’t always work around that. It was a hard truth that I’d tried to avoid up to that point, but after that summer, I came to accept it.

Coincidentally, this is around the same time when I stopped taking those self-esteem messages at school seriously. As I got older, my perspective became a bit more realistic. In the long run, that probably served me better than just blindly believing I could do anything if I worked hard enough. I genuinely worry how much I would’ve crushed my spirit if I had to learn that lesson the hard way later in life.

Again, I got lucky. On top of having two great parents who kept me anchored, I had a friend who was just naturally talented at kicking my ass in “Goldeneye.” While all those losses were annoying, they taught me a valuable lesson and one that still helps me to this day.

To Shawn, who I hope reads this one day, I sincerely thank you for that.

Also, I apologize for all those times I threw my controller at you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology, video games

Why “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Is The Perfect Dark Comedy

sunny-920x584-1

Every TV show, from sitcoms to talk shows to adult cartoons featuring dimension-hopping super-genius, attempts to capture a certain theme and hone it to the utmost. They try to craft the right kind of characters who exhibit the necessary traits to convey those themes while still being memorable, likable, and endearing. On top of that, they have to do it for multiple seasons, at least until they achieve syndication.

It’s an enormous challenge. Few shows succeed and even fewer do so consistently. Even among those select few, there’s a risk that the characters and stories will get stale. Due to the nature of half-hour TV shows, there’s only so much you can do before Archie Bunker’s casual bigotry becomes more pathetic than funny. That doesn’t even get into shows that end up crashing and burning in the series finale.

Then, there’s a little show called “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” In the annuls of TV history, this show is basically a unicorn wrapped in gold, covered in diamonds, and encoded with the browser history of every active politician.

Pragmatically speaking, this is a show that should not have lasted 13 seasons. For one, it airs on FX, a network most people probably don’t know they have, if they actually have it. In addition, the show’s budget is incredibly limited. The pilot was allegedly shot for less than $100 by a cast of aspiring actors who had zero name recognition, at the time.

On top of that, there’s the premise of the show. In its simplest form, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” follows the shameless misadventures “the Gang.” This crew consisting of Charlie Kelly, Ronald “Mac” McDonald, Frank Reynolds, Dennis Reynolds, and Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds basically take every traditional approach to making an enduring TV show and punches it in the kidneys.

This is a show where the characters will buy a boat with the intention of entrapping women.

This is a show where the cast will make an unauthorized Lethal Weapon sequel, complete with blackface, homoerotic subtext, and gratuitous sex scenes featuring Danny DeVito.

This is a show where two people are tricked into digging up the body of their dead mother.

This is a show where you’ll see people hold a funeral for a baby to get out of a tax audit by the IRS.

These are not the activities of lovable characters. Even Shelden Cooper had moments in “The Big Bang Theory” where he came off as genuinely compassionate. With the Gang, there are none of those moments. Sometimes, they’ll be teased. In some episodes, the Gang will give the impression that they’re about to finally realize just how deplorable they are.

Trust me, they’re doing exactly what you think they’re doing and then some.

Ultimately, they don’t just revert back to their less-than-reputable selves. They demonstrate that they never had any intention of changing their ways. Anyone who believed otherwise either hasn’t watched more than two episodes of the show or are deluding themselves. As antithetical as this is for crafting a compelling TV show might be, it doesn’t change one inescapable fact.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is funny, enjoyable, and obscenely entertaining.

It almost sounds like a paradox. As someone who only recently became a fan of the show, I have hard time explaining that appeal to most people in a way that doesn’t sound weird. It takes a moment to appreciate the appeal of watching a cast of self-absorbed, narcissistic alcoholics. However, within the tone and context of the show, it doesn’t just work. It achieves something profound.

Specifically, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is the perfect manifestation of dark comedy at its finest.

Comedy, in any form, can be difficult. Jokes, gags, and bits can become overplayed and stale. There’s only so many times you can watch Charlie Brown fail to kick a football and still laugh. Dark comedy is even more difficult. It involves taking distressing, taboo subjects and trying to make them funny. Some, like George Carlin, can pull it off masterfully.

I like to think that if George Carlin were still alive, he would be a fan of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” The show’s approach to dark comedy isn’t overly complex. It’s just exceedingly overt. It doesn’t try to balance out those dark themes with something serious or nuanced. It blatantly takes things to an extreme and dares to laugh at the absurdities.

Trust me, it gets more absurd than this.

Take, for instance, the funeral for the dead baby that I mentioned earlier. There are only so many ways you can make funerals and dead babies funny, but this show never shies away from a challenge. It also helps that every character in the Gang has the moral fiber of a Big Tobacco lobbyist on crack. They won’t just cross lines. They’ll make it a spectacle.

In this particular case, Sweet Dee is getting audited and for good reason. She acted as a surrogate to carry the child of a transgender woman that Mac used to date. Trust me, it’s more absurd that I can ever put into words. However, Dee didn’t do this out of the goodness of her heart. Nobody in the Gang is ever that altruistic. She did it because she got paid. Then, she decided to list the kid she gave up as a dependent for the tax benefits.

Naturally, this put her at odds with the IRS. Like every problem the Gang faces, she tries to run away from it or pass off the problem to somebody else. However, the problem only escalates. In most TV shows, especially half-hour sitcoms, this is the point where the characters face the consequences of their actions and try to learn from it. Instead, the Gang tries to resolve the problem by holding a baby funeral.

It’s undeniably dark, but the way it plays out is still funny. The way Dee and the rest of the Gang conducts themselves is so irreverent that the inherent darkness of the issue only makes it funnier. It shows just how far the Gang is willing to go to shirk responsibility and avoid consequences. It gets bad and it belabors just how irredeemable these characters are, but it’s still funny.

A big part of what makes that approach funny is how blatant this show is when it comes to the time-tested tropes that TV shows have relied on for decades. Take any show, from “Breaking Bad” to “Friends,” and you’ll see a concerted effort to develop and progress the characters over time. Ideally, they achieve some sort of ultimate goal by the end.

Instead of growth, the Gang actively avoids any effort at growth. Their only goal is to continue being the unapologetic assholes they’ve always been, drink heavily, and recklessly pursue whatever crazy ideas they come up with. Who they are in the first few seasons of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” aren’t considerably different than who they are in the latest season.

In any other show, characters who don’t grow and progress usually derail the underlying themes. Sometimes, that’s unavoidable. The very structure of a TV show, especially a half-hour sitcom, ensures that the characters can only grow so much. Even after the show achieves syndication, it tries to stick to a formula, even if doing so undermines the very process the characters need to evolve.

By going out of their way to not evolve, the Gang insures “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” never deviates too far from the qualities that make it funny. It even channels its use of dark comedy to poke fun at the same tropes that other shows heavily rely on. From the frustrating use of clip shows to turning romantic sub-plots into a case study for excessive stalking, the show seems to revel in spitting on these time-tested methods.

What makes that comedy even more potent is that after 13 seasons, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” has lasted longer than some of the most iconic TV shows in history. It has outlasted the likes of “Cheers,” “Mash,” “Friends,” and “Frasier.” Moreover, it keeps finding a way to be funny and relevant. I think a non-insignificant part of that is how it uses dark humor.

There’s plenty more to be said about the show and why it has lasted so long. Even some of the show’s cast members have a hard time explaining why the show is still on the air. Even more likely wonder how the show can keep getting away with being so brazen about using dark comedy to tackle issues surrounding race, religion, gender, sexuality, mental health, and bird law.

There are likely many factors that have contributed to the success and longevity of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” It helps that the actors and crew of the show really enjoy working together. There’s something to be said about a show in which the original cast have a genuine passion for their work. It’s well-documented how a toxic environment behind the scenes can derail successful shows.

At the end of the day, though, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” works because it’s funny and entertaining. It found a way to take the best aspects of dark comedy and run with it. As long as it can keep doing that, the show will have an audience. If it can include more episodes that involve Mac dancing or Danny DeVito getting naked, then that’s just a bonus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, television

Torn Between Childhood And Adulthood: The Journey Of Bobby Hill

mjphkd8z03611

The greatness of a TV show is often measured in how endearing the characters are. Whether it has dramatic themes like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” or over-the-top comedy like “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” TV shows thrive and fail by the strength of their characters.

A show like “King of the Hill” is a good example of this and not just because it has plenty of great characters. The personalities and stories of characters like Hank Hill, Boomhauer, and Luanne are all endearing in their own unique way. I’ve even gone out of my way to praise Hank Hill on multiple occasions for his work ethic and his unique approach to masculinity.

However, “King of the Hill” is unique in the sheer range of characters it offers, with respect to likability. Characters like Bill Dautrieve and Khan Souphanousinphone have definite flaws, but do plenty to warrant respect. Peggy Hill is a textbook narcissist, but still does plenty to balance it out. Dale Gribble is a paranoid idiot, but he’s still a loyal friend and just fun to be around.

There are also a few characters who are just assholes most of the time. While the show goes out of its way to balance everyone to some extent, there’s only so much you can do with characters like Cotton Hill and Buck Strickland. I could say a lot about those two, in terms of how they impact the themes of the show, but I’d like to focus on a character who has confounded me over the years.

Confounded, yet entertained.

Of all the colorful characters that make “King of the Hill” one of my favorite shows of all time, Bobby Hill is the one I’m most conflicted about. I’ve always had mixed feelings about him. I can watch one episode where I have no sympathy for him, but in the very next, he’ll come off as one of the most respectable characters in Arlen.

Some of that might have to do with me, as a viewer. When I started watching this show, I was younger and had a lot more in common with Bobby. We were both overwhelmed by the prospect of growing up. We often felt beleaguered by school, adults, and puberty. I related to him a lot more than I did with the adults in the show.

Then, as I re-watched those same episodes as an adult, I saw Bobby in a different light. I had a hard time sympathizing with his struggles in certain episodes. At times, he came off as some immature kid trying desperately to avoid responsibility and hard work. In one episode, he became a full-fledged panhandler.

At the same time, Bobby had moments where he genuinely shined. While I would argue that the series finale was his finest hour and the culmination of his growth, he also had other moments in which he stepped up to do something awesome. He was, in my opinion, the most confounding characters in the entire show.

Now, after having watched and re-watched every episode of “King of the Hill,” while also having the benefit of my own personal growth, I feel like I can appreciate Bobby’s character in a new way. In terms of the bigger picture, Bobby Hill represents an important theme in the show. Specifically, his story revolves around someone torn between adulthood and childhood.

While “King of the Hill” has many themes, Bobby’s were often tied to his youth and that youth was often the catalyst for his misadventures. When the show begins, he’s 11-year-old. By the time it ends, he’s 13-years-old. These are some formative years in a boy’s life and the show takes full advantage of that.

In the first several seasons, Bobby definitely carries himself as a kid. His behavior is distinctly childlike, from using his dad’s golf clubs to hit dog shit to taking part in a camping trip in which he accidentally kills an endangered animal. Then, over the course of the show, his stories evolve. He starts getting interested in girls and sees the effects of puberty on his best friend. At times, he’s more than a little overwhelmed.

In some cases, he wants to be an adult. He even enjoys the maturity and status that comes with it. In others, he actively avoids it, clinging to his childhood and the carefree innocence that it entails. Granted, there are times when he just wants to be lazy. At one point, he states outright that he prefers taking baths because he doesn’t like standing for so long.

However, there are plenty of other instances in which he sees the rigors of adulthood and doesn’t find it the least bit appealing. It doesn’t help that he’s had some very unpleasant experiences with the adult world, which includes one in which he ran out onto a racetrack because of an asshole boss. After an experience like that, who wouldn’t long for the more sheltered life of childhood?

To some extent, it’s not entirely Bobby’s fault that the adult world is so overwhelming. His laziness doesn’t help, but there are times when Hank’s uptight parenting skills actively contribute to the problem. The only reason he had that aforementioned job at a racetrack was because Hank tried to teach him a lesson about hard work and it taught him the wrong lesson, entirely.

On top of that, Peggy often babies him in ways that reinforce how much easier and carefree it is to be a child. Whether it’s cutting his hair or giving him one of Hank’s old trophies, she often makes childhood feel a lot easier and safer, albeit indirectly. Bobby gets so many mixed messages throughout the show that it’s easy to see why he’s often so conflicted.

Like most themes in “King of the Hill,” the nature of the conflicts fluctuate. There is a sense of progression for certain characters, but there’s also a general consistency over the course of the show. Joseph and Luanne are very different by the final season when compared to the first season, but Bobby’s journey is left somewhat ambiguous.

By the end of the show, he finds a skill and a passion that he wants to pursue. In the same way Hank has a passion for propane and propane accessories, Bobby discovers a passion for grading the quality of steaks. It’s a passion that requires both hard work and a level of maturity the likes of which he hasn’t pursued before. It also makes for a powerful moment when he and his dad finally get to share in a mutual interest.

At the same time, he still carries himself like a kid. Even within that final episode, he gets overwhelmed by the pressure placed on him by other adults. While he managed to overcome the pressure, there’s still a sense that he’s not entirely ready for the adult world. At the very least, he’s not quite as reluctant to pursue it.

Bobby Hill’s journey, struggling between childhood and adulthood, is just one among many compelling plots in “King of the Hill.” His journey has many setbacks and absurdities, but it still feels real and relatable. For an animated show that includes eccentric characters in fictitious settings, it’s quite an achievement.

Hank Hill often says his boy ain’t right. On some levels, that might be true. In the grand scheme of things, however, the show demonstrated that Bobby Hill was as right as he needed to be when struggling between childhood and adulthood.

Leave a comment

Filed under King of the Hill, psychology, television

Getting (Back) Into Shape After Thanksgiving

2012_06_18_gettingintoshapeforsummer

By now, with the Thanksgiving festivities over and the family gatherings complete, it’s finally sinking in. You realize just how much you ate and how much you’ve probably set back that New Years Resolution you made 11 months ago. If your Thanksgiving was as successful as mine, then it’s likely you feel as anxious as I do about what we just put our bodies through.

That’s not to say it was a bad thing. Thanksgiving is a holiday. You’re supposed to overeat, over-indulge, and forget every sound nutrition advice you ever got from your doctor. That’s part of what makes it special. At some point, however, you have to let go of the holiday spirit and get back to more responsible health habits.

It can be frustrating, tedious, and strenuous on so many levels. It’s still worth doing. Take it from someone who eats like a pig on the holidays and was out of shape for the first half of his life. You do feel a difference when you make an effort to get back into shape after Thanksgiving.

To that end, I’d like to share a few tips, along with some personal insights. Over the past few years, I’ve developed and refined my own method for getting back into healthier habits after a successful Thanksgiving. I’ve even developed my own unique workout routine.

Now, I’m not going to claim that this is one of those gimmicky fitness regiments that you see in infomercials and fitness magazines full of Photoshopped fitness models. What works for one person isn’t going to work for everyone. Everybody’s body is different. Everybody reacts to holiday gorging and exercise differently. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to getting into shape, at least for now.

That said, there are many health benefits to exercise and staying in shape, especially after the holidays. It goes beyond just looking better naked and looking sexier at the beach in the summer. In some ways, the exercise you do after the holidays is even more rewarding and not just because you have more calories to burn.

You work hard on yourself to ensure you can indulge during the holidays. Like anything worth achieving, putting in the effort makes the end result more satisfying. I’ve certainly come to appreciate that effort and in the interest of helping those still digesting that extra slice of cheesecake, here is my personal process for getting into shape after Thanksgiving.


Step 1: Refocused Diet (That Makes Me Less Hungry)

Make no mistake. Diet is the hardest part of staying in shape.

There’s a popular saying that six-pack abs are made in the kitchen. That’s not just an adage. It’s true. How you eat is a major factor in how you look, feel, and conduct yourself in any effort related to your health. I know Thanksgiving tends to throw a wrench in any diet you might have maintained all year. I say that as someone who ate no fewer than three slices of cheesecake on Thanksgiving.

In a sense, Thanksgiving is the ultimate cheat day and one you should take advantage of. When that day is over, though, the key is less about eating less and more about eating right. What I mean by that is you should focus not on just eating fewer calories. The goal should be to feel less hungry.

That can be done without sheer will-power. It’s a fact that certain foods make you less hungry. Those foods are often high in fiber and protein, including things like eggs, nuts, and whole wheat bread. You don’t have to eat much of those to feel full. Most of my post-Thanksgiving meals consist of chicken, mixed vegetables, and eggs. Much of it comes from frozen meals which aren’t that expensive.

On top of that, I ditch soda and drink mainly water or black coffee. That helps keep sugar intake to a minimum. While it’s difficult to cut sugar out completely, especially after enjoying so many holiday desserts, it is important to limit it. Whether it’s your coffee or your snacks, it’s the sugar that’ll make you feel hungry and keep you from feeling energized.

I usually dedicate the first two weeks after Thanksgiving to sticking to my diet. I make sure most of my meals involve chicken, eggs, and vegetables. I do keep a cheat day for which I will indulge a little, but I try to usually make those first two weeks the most important. Get through that and you’ll be back into less festive eating habits, at least until Christmas.


Step 2: My Workout Routine

This part is somewhat easier for me because I love working out. I know that’s not a feeling everyone has, especially if they’ve never been big on going to the gym. I understand that. I too used to resent going to the gym. When I started taking my health more seriously, it became part of my routine. Now, I get upset when I can’t go.

My routine isn’t on par with an Olympic athlete or body builder. I also wouldn’t call it easy, either. You will get winded and sore from my workout, but only to a point. It will get the job done, though. I know this because it has helped keep my weight stable, even after holidays. I can also see my abs, biceps, and leg muscles too, which is a nice touch.

My workout isn’t all about going to the gym, either. In fact, I usually go to a gym at least twice a week. That’s as much as I can squeeze in. On days I don’t go, I still work out. It’s just usually involves something different. For that reason, I’ll separate my workout from my gym days from my non-gym days. With that in mind, here’s my routine.

On my gym day, I start by running at least 3.5 miles on a treadmill or outside, if the weather permits it.

I then do a series of weight training with either machines or free weights that include 4 sets of 12 reps of the following:

  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep curls
  • Butterfly chest
  • Shoulder pull-downs/extensions
  • Ab crunches
  • Leg lifts
  • Leg press

In general, this whole routine takes a little over an hour. I’ll also mix it up at times, either by doing the weight training first and then doing cardio at the end. I’ll also sometimes exchange the treadmill for an elliptical, which is easier on my feet and gives a better workout for my legs. If you have knee or foot problems, I highly recommend using an elliptical.

For days when I don’t go to the gym or can’t make it, I try to go running. Most of the time, it’s around the block. I try to run for at least 30 minutes, sometimes longer. In addition, I’ll also do 100 sit-ups, followed by 100 squats in my bedroom. This keeps those muscles strong and gets my heart rate going to burn extra calories.

I also reserve one day of the week for rest. Usually, it’s Wednesday. That’s not just a cheat day, either. It’s critical that you rest your body, even if you’re doing a modest workout routine. I’ve tried going 7 days a week a few times. I often end up hurting myself or making myself too sore to work out for extended periods. Don’t learn that lesson the hard way. Leave one day for rest. Your body will thank you.


Step 3: Staying Focused (Until Christmas)

I know it’s easy to encourage diet and exercise as a means to get back into shape, especially after a holiday like Thanksgiving. Most people can even make the effort for the first couple days after Thanksgiving, just like they do in the first few days after New Year’s when they promise themselves they’ll get into shape.

In the same way people tend to break their New Year’s Resolution, they’ll often break their post-Thanksgiving resolution and it doesn’t help that there’s another major holiday right afterwards. Christmas, with all its sugar cookies and candy canes, adds plenty of temptation to the mix and it’s not easy to resist. I don’t deny that for a second.

That’s why the most critical aspect of getting into shape after Thanksgiving involves focus. By that, I don’t just mean keeping a schedule. One reason why it’s so easy to slip back into unhealthy habits is because the holidays can be overwhelming. You find yourself wanting to just stop, take it easy, and let everything slow down.

However, the holidays don’t slow down, especially as Christmas gets closer. If anything, it makes things even more stressful. When you’re stressed out, you’re less inclined to exercise. You’re also more inclined to reach for those sugary holiday treats. It can quickly become a self-reinforcing cycle that’ll leave you even less healthy than you were after Thanksgiving.

The best way to combat this is to maintain focus. One of the benefits of having other holidays after Thanksgiving is that it offers plenty of distractions. When you’re distracted, you’re less likely to eat and slack off. Use that to your advantage.

Sometimes, it means going shopping or just hanging out with friends more often. It also can involve things like preparing holiday decorations and preparing gift lists. It may not always be productive, but if it keeps you from slipping into that ugly self-reinforcing cycle, then it has merit.


I hope these tips help with everyone still digesting their Thanksgiving treats. There’s a time and a place for indulgence and the holidays are definitely one of them. However, it’s for that reason that we make the time in between as productive and healthy as possible. As a result, it helps make the holidays feel more special in the end.

Leave a comment

Filed under health, human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

Answering (And Understanding) Where The “Good” Men Have Gone

shutterstock_249465919

Human beings are social creatures. We’re biologically wired to pursue social and emotional bonds. It’s one of the most fundamental traits for being human. Being a fan of romance, I certainly appreciate it. For that same reason, though, I think it’s telling when people encounter barriers in seeking those bonds.

In recent years, one particular question has been asked any number of ways. It’s often asked in many different contexts, which in turn inspires many different answers. The implications are still the same.

Where have all the “good” men gone?

Now, I put “good” in quotation marks for a reason. I hope that reason becomes apparent soon enough because adding that qualifier to the question frames it as a blanket statement about an entire gender. As a man, who sees himself as “good” by most standards, I feel I have a personal stake in addressing this question. However, I suspect the answers I provide won’t go over well with certain women and even a few men.

Before I answer, it’s important to add a specific context to what makes a man “good.” When the question is often asked, it’s often done from the perspective of women seeking men for marriage. We no longer live in an era where women have their spouses chosen for them or must seek marriage as a means of survival. Despite what some regressive individuals may say, I believe that’s an objectively good thing.

The complications arise when we start to establish the criteria of what makes a “good” man worthy of marriage. Most people, regardless of gender, understand there’s a difference between the person you hook up with and the one you marry. Ideally, this is a person you want to share your life with, for better or for worse. This is someone you genuinely love and go out of your way for.

The primary reason why this question is being asked, namely by women seeking a male spouse, is because they’re having an increasingly difficult time finding someone who meets that criteria. It shows in the data. According to Pew Research, about half of the adult population in America is married, which marks significant decline compared to what it was 50 years ago.

There are many theories as to why this is occurring, some more offensively absurd than others. Even the not-so-absurd theories have become mired in gender politics, which has a tendency to denigrate everyone in the grand scheme of things. I certainly have mine and I don’t think the answers are simple. Every person is different. People are complicated, in general, and so are the societies they live in.

However, this question about “good” men frames the issue a problem ascribed to men. It implies that the issue has nothing to do with a the overall desire to seek long-term romantic bonds. Like I said before, humans are emotional creatures wired to seek romantic bonds. The problem is that the men worthy of such bonds just aren’t there anymore. That’s why women are asking the question to begin with.

As a man, who hopes to one day find someone to marry and love with all my heart, I can offer my take on the answer. Simply put, those good men exist. They’re just not where you’re looking to find them. Even if you are, you might not even realize that those men are good because you don’t give them a chance.

Now, I understand that answer is basic and simplistic. It’s the sentiment of one person who just happens to contemplate romance than most straight men are likely to admit. Everyone’s situation is different, but there is a bigger forest to see and my opinion is only one of those trees. To see that forest, it’s necessary to understand the question better.

Thankfully, there has been research done on this topic. According to a study done in the Journal of Marriage and Family, a major factor driving this question could be a combination of demographics and math. To understand how, this is how they compiled the data.

Focusing their analyses on single heterosexual women, the researchers used data from the American Community Survey (2008-2012; 2013-2017) to predict the likely characteristics of these women’s husbands if they had husbands and then compared those characteristics to what’s actually available in these single women’s dating pool. More specifically, the researchers generated “synthetic spouses” for the single women in their sample by first matching them with demographically similar women (e.g., same race, education, military status, income) who happened to be married. The “synthetic spouses” were designed to reflect the characteristics of the husbands of the similar-married women. Thus, assuming women of similar demographics are looking for similar characteristics in their partners, this method offers a starting point for documenting the characteristics single women might be looking for in a partner.

The long and short of it is simple. The women in the study had criteria for the kind of man they want to marry. However, when that criteria was applied to the male population, there was a significant disparity. Over half the male population was eliminated on the basis of income alone. Essentially, the supply of men who meet this standard for marriage is not sufficient to meet demand.

That’s not to say that it’s the fault of women for having standards that are too high, although I know some have made that argument. While I agree that there are some women who make wholly unreasonable expectations of men, I think they’re the minority. I would argue those changing standards have less to do with gender politics and more to do social and economic factors.

Both women and men are able to be more independent today than they were 50 to 100 years ago. A basic consequence of independence is that you can afford to elevate your standards. When you have the money, time, and resources, you’re less likely to settle for less. It’s the same reason why you willingly pay extra for a better phone or faster internet if you have the means.

A much bigger factor, in my opinion, has to do with the economics and imbalances in marriage. Over the past several decades, the wealth gap has grown and the ability to make a comfortable living, which the women in the study prioritize, is getting considerably difficult. For a man, especially if he doesn’t have a college degree, it’s getting harder and harder to meet those criteria.

At the same time, the investment in relationships has only grown. It’s no longer enough to be a steady, dependable partner. Along with our newfound independence, men and women alike seek something greater from their spouse. That something often requires money, time, and resources. Between student loan debt and the rising cost of living, those assets have become increasingly scarce.

On top of that, the price of failure has gone up considerably as well. While both parties suffer significant loss when a relationship or marriage fails, men tend to take a bigger hit from a material standpoint. Between alimony laws and child custody, men stand to lose a lot if they don’t measure up to the woman’s ideals of a good spouse.

None of this even attempts to factor in the effects of other trends in gender politics, such as the anti-harassment movement. The criteria for a “good” man doesn’t even matter if it becomes overly difficult to be intimate with someone without fear of being accused of something. Even without such complications, the underlying question still evokes troubling answers.

Those answers still aren’t complete. There are still going to be women out there who cannot find a suitable partner for reasons beyond her control. There will also be genuinely good men out there who struggle just as much to find a partner of their own. As a romantic, I believe love does inspire people to make these connections, even when we insist on making it more difficult.

Leave a comment

Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, men's issues, psychology, romance, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

“Rick And Morty” Season 4 Premier: Is Morty Poised To Become Evil?

Rick and Morty Season 4 Credit: Adult Swim

Some things are worth waiting for, but when that wait spans nearly two years, that’s pushing it. Patience is a virtue, but after a certain amount of time, it becomes a test in how much you can tolerate frustration. For fans of “Rick and Morty,” the line between patience and frustration got real blurry for a while.

The last episode of Season 3, “The Rickchurian Mortydate,” aired on October 7, 2017. That might as well have been another lifetime and several universes ago. In that time, a lot happened behind the scenes. Show creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon explained in 2018 why it took so long and, delays aside, there was a legitimate reason for it, which hopefully helps the show in the long run.

That didn’t make the wait any less arduous. However, on November 10, 2019, it finally ended with the premier of Season 4, Episode 1, “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat.” To say I was excited would be like saying Kalaxian Crystals help lighten the mood at a lame ass party. I built my entire day around it. I even cussed at the clock many times for not moving faster.

This was basically me all day.

As frustrating as the two-year wait was, I can attest that it was worth it. This quirky, colorful piece of nihilistic sci-fi didn’t miss a beat. Everything in “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat” is a testament to why the show is so awesome and engaging. By the end, I quickly forgot about how frustrating the wait was. I’m just glad the show was back.

There’s a lot to unpack with this episode. The premise is fairly simple by the eccentric standards of “Rick and Morty.” Morty joins Rick on a quick space excursion to harvest valuable death crystals. These crystals have the ability to show someone how they’re going to die, which makes them both useful and terrifying. From there, plenty of violence, hilarity, and jokes about fascism ensue.

Yes, the show jokes about fascism about a time when fascism is no laughing matter to some people. Then again, this is the same show that gave us Abradolf Lincler so I don’t see why anyone should be surprised.

However, it’s not the fascist jokes that really made this episode stand out for me. What I found more intriguing was how this episode furthered Morty’s story. It’s a story that has changed a great deal since the first season.

When the show began, Morty is a deer-in-the-headlights teenager who is constantly overwhelmed by Rick’s exploits. He often comes off as scared, inexperienced, and naïve. He tries to maintain some level of idealism in the face of Rick’s misanthropic nihilism, but it rarely pans out. Sometimes, it’s downright traumatizing.

Then, beginning with “Close Encounters of the Rick Kind” and really further escalating in Season 3, especially with “The Ricklantis Mixup,” the show began hinting that Morty had a dark side. The hints weren’t subtle, either. Rick once stated that an overly confident Morty is a dangerous thing, which has fueled plenty of fan theories about where Morty is heading.

This episode will likely add more fuel to those theories because it shows what Morty can do when he’s motivated. Season 3 already showed that Morty has become more and more capable. He has been able to utilize Rick’s technology and solve Rick’s life-threatening puzzles. If the first episode of Season 4 is any indication, he’s capable of going even further when he’s got a strong incentive.

In “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat,” the incentive is simple. He wants to pursue a future in which he dies happy with his long-time crush, Jessica. It’s a simple desire and one most people can understand without the aid of portal guns or magic crystals. On the surface, it’s not the kind of thing that would lead someone to committing egregious acts that require military intervention.

However, true to the high-level absurdity that is “Rick and Morty,” this is exactly what where Morty takes things. He’s not content to just know that this future is possible. He’s willing to go to great lengths to make it happen, even if it means going against Rick, bullies, the police, the military, and anything else that gets in his way.

It’s scary, yet revealing to see Morty go this far. It’s certainly not the first time the show has explored his dark side. In “Rest and Ricklaxation,” we find out that when Morty is purged of his toxic side, which includes his limitations, fears, and poor self-esteem, he becomes an full-blown sociopath.

Conversely, in that same episode, we find out that when Rick has his toxic side removed, he becomes kinder, more understanding, and downright affable. He doesn’t even randomly burp without excusing himself anymore. It implies that the toxic parts of Rick are part of what make him so misanthropic and cynical. Behind that toxic shell is someone who does have a sense of humanity, albeit to a certain extent.

For Morty, it’s the opposite. Strip away that shell that makes him feeble, inept, and whiny, as was often the case in the early episodes of the show, and his core persona is very different. He’s darker and more self-centered. Whereas Rick’s motivations rarely go beyond petty self-interest, Morty demonstrates more high-level narcissism. He’s willing to bend the world around him to his will in order to get what he wants.

Beyond adding more fodder for the popular “Evil Morty Theory,” it hints that Morty has a dark side in the mold of Walter White. I’ve mentioned before how Walter White walks a unique path into becoming a villain. A key part of that path involves a villain revealing that he has a dark side of himself was always there, but never came out because there were no influences to draw it out.

In “Breaking Bad,” a number of events compounded over time to bring out Walter White’s dark side. It started with him claiming that he did what he did for the good of his family. By the end, he flat out admitted that he did what he did out of selfishness. While Morty’s circumstances are very different, the signs are there too.

When Morty is inclined to be selfish, he can be downright dangerous. He hasn’t completely broken bad yet, but if “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat” is any indication, he can walk that path and he won’t always be able to blame Rick for it. These were ultimately Morty’s decisions and, given how the show has emphasized choice in the past, that’s a potentially relevant development.

Whatever happens with Morty, I’m just glad this show is back. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out over the course of this season. I’m sure there will be controversy, debates, arguments, and outrage. That’s part of what makes “Rick and Morty” artifact in our cultural landscape.

Until then, wubba lubba dub dub!

Leave a comment

Filed under philosophy, psychology, Rick and Morty, television, Villains Journey

How “Bojack Horseman” Offers A (Refreshingly) Balanced Take On Addiction

bojack20bar

People are complicated. Every person deals with their own set of complications. Some are more serious than others. A person who suffers from crippling addiction doesn’t face the same challenges as someone who has an extreme fear of clowns. Both require different approaches to deal with it and not every person is going to handle it the same way.

I suspect that most people would agree with everything I just stated. Most have probably endured their share of possible complications or dealt with someone who has. It’s one of those basic, but understated facts of life. However, when it comes to complicated problems like addiction and depression, popular media tends to do a lousy job of portraying those problems.

It’s not just that issues like addiction, drug abuse, or depression are overly simplified. The characters involved rarely reflect the complexities surrounding this issue. Look a most TV shows, movies, or books and you tend to get a stripped-down version of these issues. It usually plays out like this.

A character starts the story happy and healthy, but vulnerable and foolish.

Said character makes a few bad choices that triggers the problem.

That character goes through upheavals, losses, and setbacks.

The character hits rock bottom, realizes they have a problem, and decides to get help.

Whatever help they get magically works, the character’s issue is solved, and the credits roll to some upbeat song meant to sell the soundtrack.

I understand most people don’t expect the complex struggles of real people to be boiled down into a half-hour TV show or a two-hour movie. To some extent, these stories sell the fantasy that difficult problems have simple solutions. It’s comforting, but it can be dangerous to those who need help that doesn’t involve magical solutions that leave time for commercial breaks.

Very few TV shows or movies have the time to get into all the nuance surrounding these issues, especially for problems such as addiction. More than any other issue, TV and movies tend to get the nature of addiction very wrong. Addiction, itself, is already subject to all sorts of myths and misunderstandings. That’s even more troubling in the middle of a serious opioid epidemic.

For that very reason, it’s genuinely refreshing to see a popular TV show handle the subject in a more balanced manner. Even if that show involves anthropomorphic horse men that sound like Will Arnett, a little balance goes a long way, especially when dealing with real issues that impact real people.

That show, of course, is “Bojack Horseman.” It’s a show I’ve mentioned and praised before for how it confronts the myth of happy endings. It’s also a show that sets itself apart by lampooning and deconstructing the world of celebrities, happiness, politics, popular culture, and injustice. The fact the show can do this while also being funny, entertaining, and genuine is a testament to the show’s quality and brilliance.

I’ve been following this show since it aired. I’ve watched it grow through several seasons, following a unique path to acclaim and success. I was among those disappointed to hear that the show will be ending after Season 6. I don’t know if there will ever be another show that tackled so many sensitive issues in such a balanced way, but that makes it’s handling of addiction in Season 6 even more impressive.

Since the show’s first season, addiction has been both a common theme and a volatile catalyst. In fact, the very first scene of the first episode makes clear that Bojack has a drinking problem. It’s not subtle in the slightest. When he’s not melting down or mentally torturing himself, he’s drinking heavily or ingesting copious amounts of drugs.

Sometimes, he’s downright creative with drug use.

Throughout the course of the show, this has caused more than a few problems to say the least. People have died. Hearts of been broken. Souls have been crushed, regardless of whether you’re a man, woman, or horseman. These moments have helped give the show a level of dramatic impact that few others have matched.

It has also portrayed addiction with more tact, nuance, and understanding than any show I’ve seen to date. If you or anyone you know have dealt with addiction, then this show “Bojack Horseman” offers a compelling message that’s worth heeding.

Bojack’s addiction issues started off simple, but over the course of five seasons, it has become clear that there’s much more to his self-destructive behavior. It’s not just that he’s a celebrity and celebrities tend to get away with more than most, which the show touches on in some hilariously memorable moments. His life, his upbringing, and his choices have created a complex web of influences that fuel his addiction.

It’s not just that he’s depressed.

It’s not just that his parents were neglectful, hateful, and downright cruel.

It’s not just that he betrayed his best friend, who helped make him a success.

It’s not just that he slept with his best friend’s girlfriend.

There are many other gross misdeeds I could list. A lot happens over course of five seasons and it gets very dark. However, the show never attempts to pin Bojack’s problems with addiction on a singular cause. In Season 6, he attempts to finally confront those problems, but doing so doesn’t mean finding simple solutions. In fact, the solutions are prone to complications of their own.

The first three episodes of Season 6 has Bojack doing something important in the context of treating addiction. It has him look at his life, as a whole, and not just focus on the triggers that inspire his self-destructive behavior. Like addicts in the real world, Bojack learns that there’s no one thing that caused his problems. It’s not a single choice, either. Unlike the light-hearted show that made him famous, life is more complicated than that.

In some respects, drinking gave him the comfort and warmth that his parents never gave him. In others, it allowed him to overcome crippling social anxieties, which only got elevated when he became a celebrity. It wasn’t just that he was dependent on the alcohol to give him a quick dopamine hit to his brain. He came to rely on it, so much so that it incurred more and more complications.

Another part of what makes this portrayal feel balanced is that Bojack’s addictions are never framed as the sole source of his problems. Some of his most regrettable choices in the show happened without the aid of alcohol or drugs. He can’t use addiction as an excuse. Even though he tried to in earlier seasons, he’s not making those same excuses in Season 6.

It’s not a smooth process. Few plots in “Bojack Horseman” play out that way. Bojack struggles with his treatment, which is a novel concept for most shows that tackle the issue. Even when he’s not drinking, it still haunts him. That’s another thing addicts in TV shows rarely show. Once they get treatment, it becomes an afterthought. In real life, treating addiction is an ongoing struggle and always will be.

That’s a tough message for any show to depict, let alone one that needs to resolve things within 22 minutes or 26 episodes. On top of that, the act of not resolving serious issues, such as addiction, means the show can’t have a happy ending. That’s something most shows avoid, but “Bojack Horseman” is different.

On multiple occasions, the show points out how flawed the idea of happy endings are, often in depressing ways. At the same time, though, this is necessary context with which to frame addiction. For someone who has as many issues as Bojack, a happy ending just wouldn’t make sense.

It won’t end like this. It just won’t.

He can’t just come to a profound realization in the backdrop of sad music and suddenly be cured. His story and his struggles keep unfolding. Like real addiction, confronting and treating it is a complicated process that can often last a lifetime. It’s frustrating and depressing, but that’s the nature of life and “Bojack Horseman” doesn’t run from that.

With the second part of Season 6 scheduled for release in January, 2020, the end of “Bojack Horseman” is near. What this means for Bojack, his addiction, and the consequences of his choices remains to be seen. No matter how it ends, the show has achieved a great deal by daring to confront the complications of life that most avoid.

The fact this show can achieve this through a cartoon horse voiced by Will Arnett is an even greater accomplishment. While most people will never be able to relate to a half-man/half-horse former sitcom star, they might be able to relate to his struggles with addiction. Sometimes, being able to deal with things in a quirky, animated show helps make those things less daunting in the real world.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bojack Horseman, psychology, television