Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Tribute to G.G. Allin

On the 20th Anniversary of His Untimely Death, We Reflect Upon The Life and Times of the Greatest Punk Rocker of All-Time

Twenty years ago today, Kevin Michael “G.G.” Allin loaded a fatal dose of heroin into his veins, and plopped over dead, leaving behind nothing but a bloated, discolored corpse and a good decade and a half of the greatest, most decadent, hyper-offensive puke-ola rock and roller music ever recorded. Everything you could say bad about society, you could find inside the liquor-enthused corpuscles of Allin -- a borderline psychotic, ultra-nihilistic punk rock singer whose music championed careless drug use, even more careless sexual adventuring and promoted murder of authority figures of all varieties -- politicians, policemen, teachers, parents, whoever. His stage shows became legendary for their crude excesses; not content with just singing about debauchery and bodily fluids, his concerts routinely culminated with his ejaculating of various viscous fluids -- urine, feces, snot, no-doubt-STD-tainted blood, etc. -- all over the audience. Most so-called rock and roll shows end with an encore, and the well-groomed singer thanking the crowd for their courtesy. G.G. shows, conversely, usually ended with either him getting beaten to  a bloody pulp by paying concert-goers or a mini-riot breaking out that almost always resulted in him being arrested for some form of public lewdness. Did I mention that he frequently performed while completely nude? Well, he did.

Some have considered G.G.’s music to be among the worst ever recorded. Some have said that his stage presence -- with all of that bleeding, and vomiting and urinating -- was just to cover-up the fact that he and his band mates had minimal musical ability. They’re probably right, but at the same time, those detractors are also very, very wrong: what made G.G. special -- a figure who is still revered in many circles today -- was that complete and utter lack of giving a shit. His music may have been technically awful, but at the same time, it’s some of the most brilliant, unfettered, and -- dare I say it -- beautiful mayhem ever pressed to vinyl. G.G. Allin was the sort of madman-cum-poet genius that Iggy Pop wished he could’ve been. Not only was G.G. easily the greatest punk rocker in history, in hindsight? He’s probably the only punk rocker in the annals (and anus) of recorded music.

G.G.’s story is the kind of reverse-Americana tale that makes your heart swell with patriotic splendor. Born in the relative tranquility of the New England woodlands, G.G.’s father -- a hyper violent Christian fundamentalist -- told mama G.G. that her hitherto unborn son was actually the second coming of Yeshua, hence why G.G.’s actual birth name was “Jesus Christ Allin.” Eventually, momma Allin took G.G. and his brother Merle (who would serve as G.G.’s bassist in several bands) away from dear old dad (whose quirky activities including digging graves in the backyard and pointing menacingly at his wife and children), and enrolled him in special ed courses. To make life easier for her young-un, she decided to rename him “Kevin Michael” -- the G.G. namesake, if you were wondering, stemming from Merle’s inability to pronounce “Jesus” correctly as a wee one.

If you’ve ever seen “Hated” -- the absolutely astounding 1993 documentary helmed by, of all people, the dude that would go on to direct all of those “Hangover” movies -- you know how G.G.’s high school years played out. Routinely dressing in drag, G.G. fronted numerous rock and roll outfits, all of which sucked, and majestically. After school, he went out into the magnificent urban hellhole of late 1970s New York City, recording his first album “Always Was, Is and Always Shall Be” in 1980.

While song titles like “Pussy Summit Meeting,” “Beat, Beat, Beat” and “Assface” may sound juvenile and inauthentic, there’s no denying the no-frills, low-low-budget greatness of tracks like “1980s Rock and Roll” -- a Johnny Thunders meets “End of the Century”-era Ramones ass-stomper that’s one part the most flamboyantly homosexual thing you’ve ever heard and one part what you’d expect a hate crime murder by neo-Nazis to sound like. Very, very few artists -- in any medium -- have been able to meld extremes the way G.G. did. Even this early in his career, you can see his skill in mashing the antithetical into dialectical excellence: music that’s both fragile and murderously violent, music that’s ridiculously homophobic while bi-curiously artsy-fartsy and music that’s, at the same damn time, pop-radio catchy and sinisterly anti-social.

Throughout the 1980s, G.G. went on the musical equivalent of a jihadist rampage, recording such counterculture favorites as “Eat My Diarrhea,” “Hard Candy Cock,” “Kill the Children and Save the Food,” and of course, the punk anthem  to rape, murder, dismember and repeatedly violate, post-mortem, all punk anthems, “Bite It You Scum,” alongside bands with cheery monikers like “The Texas Nazis,” “The Cedar Street Sluts” and “The AIDS Brigade.”

In 1987, GG recorded what many consider to be his magnum opus, “Freaks, Faggots Drunks and Junkies.” The zero-budget, minimalist underground masterpiece featured some of Allin’s greatest poetic works, including “Outlaw Scumfuc,” “Die When You Die,” “Commit Suicide,” and “Dope Money.” It was around this point that Allin took his violent-to-the-nth-degree stage performances to the max, with virtually every show ending with him being jailed for assault and/or battery. Or public indecency. Or inciting a riot. Or vandalism. Or arson. In his free time, G.G. started recording country music singles -- including the brilliant “When I Die” -- and visiting serial killers like John Wayne Gacy. Hey, if Matthew Sweet can spend his off-hours making cat pottery, why can’t G.G. spend his weekends hobnobbing with convicted murderers and rapists?

Things took a nosedive for G.G. in 1989, when he was convicted of setting a groupie on fire and then cutting her to drink her blood in some sort of vampiric HIV ritual or something. Although G.G. professed his innocence -- kinda’ -- he still ended up serving time in the pokey, not being released (unleashed?) on society again until 1991.

With his new band “The Murder Junkies,” a freshly paroled G.G. came roaring back on the music scene, even garnering tons of daytime television publicity on “concerned citizenry” bullstuff like “Geraldo” and “The Jerry Springer Show” (back before “The Jerry Springer Show” was synonymous with exploitative sleaze, of course.) His comeback album “Brutality and Bloodshed for All,” was arguably the most absurdly violent compact disc of the early half of the decade, featuring all-time sing-along favorites such as “Legalize Murder,” “Terror in America” and of course, that Christmas standard “Shoot, Knife, Strangle, Beat and Crucify.”

Unfortunately, G.G.’s time on this earth was short, and on June 28, 1993 -- after a concert deteriorated into bedlam after just two and a half songs -- he decided to do some drinking and heroin shooting, which I guess is a bad combination, since it kinda’ killed him. He was subsequently buried in his tightie-whities, and in accordance to his lyrical wishes, put six feet under with a bottle of Jim Beam clasped to his hand. For years to come, fans the world over would trek to his burial grounds, where, in keeping with his true-blue punk roots, admirers and mourners would pay their final respects to the musical icon by dropping trou and literally shitting and peeing on his headstone.

“Had G.G. not died that night” has become one of the great “what-if” scenarios of music history. With all of that free daytime publicity, it seemed like G.G. was really not that far off from obtaining widespread, mainstream acknowledgement. Of course, he also said that later that year, he was going to kill himself on stage, so, yeah, it’s anybody’s guess as to what could’ve been here.

It’s easy to look back on G.G.’s life as a tragedy of excesses -- an excess of drugs, an excess of un-P.C. hatred, and excess of excrement, for sure. But if you ask me, the real tragedy of G.G.’s career is that so few people -- even some of his most die-hard fans -- have been able to look past the stage show shenanigans and celebrate Allin for his musicianship. In a musical landscape that would soon be telling us that Green Day, The Offspring and A.F.I. were punk music, G.G.’s one-take, one-minute, recorded for one-dollar songs about hate, animalistic sex and extravagant violence stood out as a sharp, sharp contrast to the ever-increasing pussification of what was once the most dangerous counter-culture construct in all of entertainment. The death of G.G. Allin really was the death of punk rock music itself, serving as that final bookend to an illustrious, phlegm and blood-stained movement. Before G.G.’s death, we had Reagan Youth, The Mentors and The Dead Boys. After, we got Bad Religion, NOFX and god help us, Anti-Flag -- pseudo-sensitive, pseudo-intellectual wannabe-protestor music that has more in common -- aurally and philosophically -- with Wilson Phillips than Sid Vicious.

While rock and roll music has become a castrated, all-inclusive culture of self-celebration and corporate profiteering, G.G. Allin remains a testament to what punk, and in many ways, rock and roll music as a whole, used to be. Long gone are the hyper-virile, hyper-aggressive anti-ballads -- too misogynistic and too homophobic, some moral guardians will tell you, when the fact of the matter is, music of the like is just too damn unfiltered as an artistic vision. The same people that thirty years ago were defending to the death the stupid, absurdly macho music of W.A.S.P. and Motley Crue now decry such entertainment as offensively masculine and culturally insensitive -- instead of being chastised for puking and peeing on stage by the PMRC, G.G.’s greatest opponent today would be the sickeningly equalitarian MTV and Rolling Stone mass culture complex. Instead of being chased out of town by middle-aged parents and pot-bellied local police, G.G. would be forced into exile by 20-something hipster inclusionists, who would consider his music too “racist, homophobic and anti-woman” to be allowed to be heard by anyone, anywhere.

At the end of the day, does the hate-filled vileness of G.G. Allin deserve commendation in this, the era of mandated tolerance, sterilization and diversity? Well, it’s pretty easy to find faults with a lot of G.G.’s behavior and beliefs -- oddly, a drugged up, severe alcoholic that sings about the Klan and mutilating children probably ISN’T the best role model out there -- but at the same time, is it really all that bad to admire the dude for following his dream, and creating counter-attitudinal music that, to this day sounds true, and cutting edge, and refreshingly brutish?

G.G. was a flawed human being, no doubt. If he lived next door, you’d probably want him arrested as soon as possible. If he walked towards your girlfriend, you’d probably feel the need to ball up your fists, just in case. He died a virtually penniless heroin addict, whose life revolved around beer bottles, singing songs about torture and an unjust social system and, in his own words “staying one step ahead of the law.” He was a bandit with a guitar instead of a pistol, an outlaw with a microphone instead of a bag of looted cash. He created an entire entertainment brand, and he was nothing more than a borderline retard that slept in his own pee and allegedly lived off PB&J sandwiches and whiskey. You really can’t admire the guy completely, but as an uncompromised artiste, you have to give the guy his proper dap for being, quite possibly, the only noteworthy punk rocker in history that EVER achieved transcendent fame without ever selling out.

But alas, G.G. Allin is still dead, two decades later. And with him, all those old school rock and roll ideals -- nonconformity, artistic integrity, low-budget inventiveness and commitment to substance over style -- remain rotting in the ground with him.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why Nerd Culture is Destroying America

How the Transvaluation of Pop Culture May Be Altering our Social Values and Mores for The Worse

Like all ecosystems, the high school ecosphere is supposed to be a well-balanced one. For decades, the high school sphere was a fairly well-proportioned social microcosm, with jocks and preps serving as equally emulated-and-despised overlords while nerds and outcasts served as a sizable, much belittled underclass. Between the two poles, however, was a “middle class” of average students, who pretty much ran the spectrum from your average wannabe hip-hoppers, redneck deer hunters and backyard pretend pro-wrestlers to coffee-house poets, hyper Christian evangelicals and aimless, socially averse weekend partiers. Granted, it wasn’t the fairest system in play, but it keep things consistent, and the monoculture, for a good part of the 20th century, remained unchanged.

But then, something happened. The Columbine Massacre in 1999 was more or less a symbolic changing of the guard, representing a slow, albeit inevitable inversion of the high school social pecking order. The jocks and preps were still at the top of the pole, but their power was slipping due to the immersion of “middle class” students into the nerd and outcast subclass. And over the next 15 years, something absolutely amazing has happened: for all intents and purpose, it’s the nerds that now run the social hierarchy.

For kids that grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, stepping foot into a high school today is like stepping into some alternate dimension where everything’s been flip-flopped. Instead of a much loathed jockocrocy in place, the modern American high school is instead an un-athletic, almost egalitarian society where a good 90 percent of the student body is in, some way, shape or form, a nerd, geek, dork or dweeb. It’s actually the jocks -- the football players, the basketball players, etcetera -- that are universally decried and despised now, usually typified as the last vestiges of an allegedly racist, sexist and homophobic teen uni-culture. Judging by the non-stop rancor slung at figures like Tiger Woods and Manti T’eo in popular media -- the same media that now endlessly celebrates nerd iconography such as comic books and video games and flabby, pot-bellied heroes such as Kevin Smith, Jonah Hill and Zach Galifanakis -- it’s apparent that the nerds have not only exacted their ultimate revenge…theirs has become the dominant culture of America.

One can find news about comic book storylines on CNN…as in, the same CNN that used to cover shit like wars and international politics. While uni-culture promoting teen flicks like “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “She’s All That” were a dime a dozen fifteen years back, today’s cinema culture instead feeds us a steady diet of comic book claptrap, with obscure licenses like “Guardians of the Galaxy” now garnering multi-million dollar movie deals. Earlier this year, Wikipedia celebrated June 06th not as D-Day…you know, that thing that only killed Nazism -- but as the 20th anniversary of “Link’s Awakening” on the Game Boy. While the most popular programs on television 20 years ago were dark, satirical insights into the vapidity of modern life (The Sopranos, Seinfeld, etc.), the most popular shows on TV now are now unapologetic geek pornography like “Game of Thrones” and “The Big Bang Theory”.

The nerd takeover of American culture is really one of the most remarkably under-publicized events of the last 20 years…an utter paradigm shift not only in our entertainment preferences, but also, our social mores and values.

When assessing the most notorious mass killers in recent U.S. history, there appears to be a completely disregarded social link between figures like Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Hui Seung Cho, Adam Lanza, James Holmes and Jared Loughner -- primarily, the fact that all six were, for lack of a better term, huge fucking nerds.

Both Harris and Klebold were obsessive video gamers that cared more about designing “Doom” levels than socializing. Cho was a hardcore collector of action figures, an avid “Sonic the Hedgehog” admirer and stated that “X-Men” was his favorite movie. Adam Lanza was reportedly a mindless “Dynasty Warriors” addict, who spent hours upon hours playing computer games in lieu of actually communicating with others. Holmes -- who had a penchant for online dating sites -- was said to have had an apartment that was plastered wall to wall with Batman memorabilia, and Loughner was a political radical, whose worldview was greatly shaped by dweeb-bait like the website AboveTopSecret and the 9/11 conspiracy theory pseudo-documentary “Zeitgeist.”

Of course, nerd culture isn’t the only catalyst here, but I would argue that a fascination with these dork values is every bit as convincing as mental health issues and firearm access as culpable agents in mass shootings. Allow me to explain.

Nerd iconography is rooted in fantasy, so dork icons are generally fictitious beings, like Spider-Man or Link or Bilbo Baggins. Contrast this with the iconography of normal culture, which is rooted in reality -- a world with flesh and blood heroes that are praised for actual human traits, achievements and characteristics. When we’re celebrating “Rocket Raccoon” instead of Smedley Butler and vaunting Game Boy titles over World War II heroics, we’re very much trading in a sliver of our real humanity and instead investing it in a fantasized virtual community, where things like consequences are irrelevant. Batman doesn’t die, and if you get killed in “Halo,” you can just hit the restart button. By reinterpreting our notions of valor and bravery and heroism AWAY from real life people -- who, many times, sacrifice their very lives for a greater good -- we are in turn changing our perspectives on what death is. Since all of our role models are on-paper or on-celluloid creations that exist as immortal constructs, we in turn devalue the notion of human death and its meaning.

If you’ve ever read a graphic novel like “Sin City” or “The Watchmen” before, you’ll quickly realize that these things are almost entirely anchored around mass homicide fantasies. The characters in Alan Moore and Frank Miller comics are emotionless, amoral beings that have no qualms about murdering, since the kind of murdering they engage in is rationalized as a social positive. You see, the bad guys Rorschach and Marv brutally maim and dispatch deserve it, and as such, all of that robotic carnage can be easily dismissed as passively inconsequential. Not surprisingly, the two most celebrated super hero yarns of all-time, “The Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns,” both contain subplots in which countless nameless, faceless characters die in horrific instances of mass homicide. Planes fly into buildings, theaters get shot up by madmen, children are poisoned, an entire studio audience gets wiped out by toxic gas, cruise ships explode, and an octopus being butchers millions of New Yorkers. Virtually EVERY comic book movie promises, or at least teases, the same thing: an entire city, poised to be murdered, by some grandiose intergalactic threat or the guerrilla tactics of some cult-of-personality, pseudo-philosophical (and irresistibly quotable) madman. Within these perverted moral dynamics, there’s really not that much of a difference between the values promoted by the alleged “heroes” and the purported “villains.” In the medium -- once a niche bastion of dorks and geeks, but now perhaps our utmost inspiration and driver of contemporary popular culture -- death and destruction are similarly celebrated tools for “the good” and “the evil” alike.

Modern gaming represent as similar devaluing of the former social mores of heroism, death and morality, with games like “God of War” and “Gears of War” featuring hyper-masculine killing machines as amoral champions of the only thing that matters -- that being, killing and more killing. In 2009, Activision released “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” a game which featured a segment in which the player was to take control of a terrorist that then proceeded to gun down an entire airport filled with helpless, unarmed civilians. The game was a favorite of Anders Breivik, whom said that he used the title as “training” for his 2011 Oslo rampage that resulted in the death of 77 people. Earlier this year, a foiled mass shooter indicated that he wanted to embark upon a similar rampage, with actual music from the “Call of Duty” stage playing while he gunned down innocents.

Mass killers with other abjectly geeky interests have also popped up on the radar recently. Trey Sesler, a 23-year-old dork that brutally murdered his mother, father and brother in 2012, was a fairly popular YouTuber whose channel was dedicated solely to pervy and infantile Japanese cartoons. Denizens of popular online nerd haunts like “Something Awful” and “4Chan” have been linked to numerous criminal activities, and in 2006, a disturbed Megadeth fan and regular contributor to the goth-cum-dweeb website VampireFreaks went on a shooting rampage in Montreal.

With the proliferation of nerd culture, we’re clearly seeing the usurping of “traditional” social values in U.S. culture. When large throngs of individuals find a sense of collectivity in “fandom” -- a wholly make-believe world -- instead of community or personal accomplishment, then perhaps its not surprising that so many nihilistic losers, whom only see “worth” in pop cultural relics, embark upon such displays of wanton carnage.

Any immersionist philosophy is probably a negative, but with these nerdy domains -- things like comic books, and science fiction, and fantasy gaming -- the thing which they are immersing themselves in is completely illusory. Yeah, things like religion, ethnicity or patriotism may be abstract ideals, but at least they are things that can be personified by real world fixtures. And unlike nationalism or religion, there’s hardly any communal benefits to nerd fandom; while a hyper loyal Christian or Elk Lodge member may feel a certain personal impetus to help out others, you really can’t cull the same social benefits out of “Star Trek” or “Doctor Who.” And that’s not even taking the necessary passivity of geek fandom into consideration: to be a nerd means to witness and watch instead of do or personally experience -- in turn, promoting a culture of consumption without similarly promoting a culture of productivity…unless, of course, you consider spending a small fortune to build an outlandish comic-con costume every year and publish lawsuit-baiting, erotic fan fiction to be worthwhile undertakings.

Every year in Atlanta, thousands of people flock to an event called “Dragon*Con,” an annual celebration of all things dorky and nerdish (with proceeds going towards, among other things, the legal defense fund for a convicted child molester.) At one point in time, the event was a sparsely populated anti-celebration, in which dozens of horn-rimmed geeks hobnobbed and talked about how afraid they were of girls. But as the year’s progressed -- and the high school strata phenomenon mentioned earlier inverted itself -- the gala eventually transformed into a gargantuan, multi-day, multi-hotel clusterschmaz with its own parade that shuts down half the town each and every Labor Day.

We used to laugh and mock and tease the hell out of those kids, but now? Nerds and dweebs of the like have become, ostensibly, mainstream America. Spending thousands of dollars to build miniature spaceships isn’t considered a pathetic activity of the marginalized anymore, but instead, a celebrated custom of contemporary American consumerism. Back in the day, things like “cosplaying” and “LARPing” and “online gaming” was seen as the bottom of the barrel when it came to social activities, but nowadays, more kids seem to be into beating each other with foam swords than they are traditional sports like football and soccer. Obsessing over trivial pop culture franchises isn’t just an accepted part of the American experience, it’s now an encouraged pastime.

These things, I am afraid, are what have utmost “meaning” to a growing proportion of the American population. And with that in mind, is it any wonder why so many nerds and dweebs end up going deranged?

Monday, June 24, 2013

What’s Wrong with Generation Y?

Ten reasons why Millennials are ruining America…and five ways we can save the so-called “Dumbest Generation” from itself. 

Almost two years ago, I penned an essay called “Why U.S. College Students are So Stupid.” It’s far and away the most widely-read article I’ve ever posted on this website, at one point, garnering acclaim from the dude that co-founded Sun Microsystems (and for all my detractors: when was the last time a legit billionaire praised something you wrote, by the way?)

I’ve been out of school for more than a year now, and virtually all of the criticisms I had about my college classmates seem to still hold true for my post-baccalaureate cohorts. It’s not so much a general anti-intellectualism I detect in some of my Millennial brethren as it is this comprehensive ethos that rejects effort, independence, self-sacrifice or productivity completely -- in other words, a generational philosophy that seems to embrace self-indulgent shiftlessness and shun self-responsibility like Dracula in front of a crucifix.

Of course, this isn’t to say that ALL Gen Y members share all of these attributes, but I assure you -- a whole hell of a lot of Millennials display some, or even all, of the following ten character flaws that I believe, tallied up, could result in our generation completely destroying America’s financial and social frameworks. That may sound like hyperbole, but think about how much generational ideology shaped the world the Greatest Generation inherited, and how much of the “Baby Boomer mentality” forged much of our current cultural infrastructure. The world is most certainly in the hands of Gen Y, and tasked with the gargantuan obligation of getting the modern world out of the economic and geopolitical quagmire that our parents created is something that not only are MOST Gen Y kids in the US unprepared for…it’s a generational challenge to which they remain completely oblivious (or worse, even unconcerned.)

So, what’s wrong with today’s youth? Well, for starters, here are ten common characteristics that you can chalk up as MAJOR generational problems among my peers…

We have absolutely ZERO ambition in life. 

It’s a fundamental question everyone who has ever done anything halfway worthwhile in life has asked themselves: what is it, exactly, that I want to do with my life? For some truly dedicated individuals, that causa sui is apparent from an early age, who then spend their young adulthoods scrapping as hard as they can to turn fantasy into reality. In other words, the general course of success is “you pinpoint something you want to do, you get qualified to do it, and then you…get this…actually do it.”

Problem numero uno for Gen Y is that a large number of kids these days have absolutely NO ambitions whatsoever. They have no idea what they want to do as a profession, and as a result, make no real efforts to expand their knowledge or skill sets through post-secondary education. Granted, Gen Y kids may have interests and hobbies, but outside of some grandiose daydreaming, they never muster up enough energy to actually get up off their asses and make a concentrated effort to pursue those things as sustainable careers. In their heads, Gen Y kids may envision themselves as the next big comic book writer, or the next John Mayer or the next Kevin Smith, but they lack the general discipline to even remotely go after such “aspirations.”  And then, it’s back to satiating the immediate wants: another game of “Tekken,” another hour or so on Facebook, another toke of the bong. Why do things when it’s so much easier to lay on your duff and squander the entire afternoon instead?

We seek “meaning” in things that provide us with virtually no return-on-investment.

Gen Y kids have wealth of knowledge on a lot of niche areas -- in other words, pretty much all of us are walking Encyclopedias, porting about detailed data on things that have absolutely zero practical import, like “Star Wars” or “Street Fighter.” While slaving away in community colleges and our minimum wage paying jobs at Foot Locker, we dwell upon “social activities” that are both costly and result in hardly -- if any -- financial benefits.

Many Millennials have an insane, beyond-vested interest in their online portfolios -- in other words, electronic “socialization” apparatuses that give us “proxy meaning” as a substitute for interest in things that are both financially lucrative and intellectually productive. Facebook, blogs, online gaming, YouTube…all mechanisms that give Gen Y youth the illusion of social impact, power and community, while their actual influence in the world, as both consumers and wealth producers, remains virtually nada.

We’re a bunch of nihilistic puds that blame everybody but ourselves for our failings. 

Gen Y kids have no idea what they feel strongly about -- politically, religiously, spiritually, morally, ideologically or philosophically. As such, they take refuge in either fringe movements (be it supporting an utterly unelectable lunatic fringe third party candidate or supporting the insane drivel of “conspiracy theorist” barkers) or they completely abandon the pursuit of meaning altogether. In short, they become amoral individuals with no real sense of what has value and what doesn’t -- they just drift through life sans objectives, cynically mocking and berating everything they come in contact with.

And with this nihilistic mentality firmly embedded in their skulls, they feel as if it is literally impossible to surmount whatever contemporary hardships they encounter, and instead revel in their own inadequacy like piglets playing in a slop bucket. Others tend to blame their personal failings not on a lack of effort, motivation or determination (not to mention poorly thought, individual decision making) but instead on these massive constructs -- some of which, like the “banking system,” are completely abstract. Long story short? Gen Y kids cling to “failure” like a security blanket -- a universal rationalization that exempts us from self-blame or pursuing any impetus to better our own circumstances.

We’ve made “entertainment” our religion. 

One of the very few things Gen Y kids have a reverence for is entertainment. Their movie and television watching habits take on this weird ritualistic quality, and they speak about their favorite writers -- almost always those of the science fiction-fantasy-comic book variety -- as if they were canonized saints. In many ways, the lives of Gen Y kids revolves completely around their preferred form of “fandom” -- in turn, making the entire Millennial Generation a throng of individuals more than happy to be consumers, with no aspirations at all of becoming genuine producers of value.

Fandom has replaced faith for my generation, with the epistles of yore being abandoned in favor of the DVD box set. The most pressing ideological choice for Generation Y isn’t Protestantism vs. Catholicism, but “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek,” and instead of debating the social implications of conservatism versus liberalism, the most passionate discussions we engage in are about DC versus Marvel. Now, just how much would you trust industry and national security to an entire culture that vaunts such trivialities above political, economic and social matters?

We’re utterly incapable of doing anything without the Internet.

Alike nuclear energy, the Internet has proven a double-edged sword. On one end, it revolutionized both industry and the press, creating a trillion dollar social pillar (and that’s just Apple’s presumptive net worth, mind you) that made running businesses and media enterprises simpler -- and more cost-efficient -- than at any point in human history. Never  before have we had access to information so great, and with it, never has the potential for self-employment, true grassroots social activism and individual, intellectual bettering been so facile. And serving as the “Hiroshima and Nagasaki” counterpoint to the equation, goddamn, has the Internet utterly infantilized an entire generation.

Here’s a fairly lengthy manifesto I once penned, detailing the myriad ways the proliferation of the Internet has permanently damaged my generation’s ability to think and socialize. With the expansion of mobile media devices, it is now true that Gen Y kids NEVER leave the Internet -- they even sleep with their Internet-powered Smartphones beside them in bed, perpetually anchored to the World Wide Web like toddlers clinging to their mothers’ skirts. Without the aide of the Internet, we can’t cook a dish, drive anywhere, do homework or arrange meetings with more than one person at a time. If the Internet just up and vanished tomorrow, my cohorts would literally be thrust backwards into a mental Dark Age -- leaving them not only utterly incapable of managing their lives, but completely oblivious as to how human life can function at all sans a tablet or MP3 device.

We don’t know the difference between “want” and “need.”

Generation Y cannot make even the foggiest distinction between materialist “want” and financial “necessity.” We think we can delay paying bills indefinitely, and that we can put as much over-the-monthly-limit charges on our credit cards as we so desire. We use student loans to buy flat screen televisions, and bitch about not being able to pay rent when we spend a sum tantamount to rent in needless cable television, Smartphone and various online application subscriptions every month. And don’t even think about the term “budgeting” -- we just spend as much as we can, on whatever we want, with money we don’t technically have, and that’s that.

Things like “savings plans” are becoming alien concepts to my generation. The concept of living within your means -- or god forbid, below them in order to save up money for a rainy day -- is not only foreign to Gen Y kids, its completely incomprehensible. As hyper-consumerists, we’re completely oblivious to the “consequences” of our reckless spending on utterly unneeded leisure and luxury items. Which, in turn, leads to yet another criticism of the Millenials…

We’re never responsible for our own actions.  

One of the commonalities shared by my cohorts is that, no matter what they do, it’s never THEIR fault. If they have to file chapter 7 bankruptcy at the age of 20, it’s not because they unwisely spent money and were too ignorant to fully understand how credit works, it’s the credit card companies themselves for “targeting” them as easy prey.  If we flunk out of a college course, it’s not because we didn’t study and bothered to show up for class, but because the teacher “had it in for us.” For Gen Y, everything in the world is a viable scapegoat, except the notion of self-blaming.

Even worse, we expect to have our records expunged, so that when we do mess up, not only do we NOT have to take personal responsibility for screwing up, we get to immediately start with a blank slate after whatever “penalty” we are forced to incur as a result of our poor decision making. Even worse, we expect someone or something to immediately “bail us out” at the first signs of trouble -- that our credit card companies will “forgive” our debts, that our student loan officers will simply “wave off” our monthly minimum, so on and so forth. And speaking of pinning blame on others…

Because we think we’re “disadvantaged,” we don’t even try to improve our lives

The idea of “personal responsibility” is a foreign concept to Generation Y. No matter how much one messes up -- academically, financially, occupationally, etc. -- the ONLY thing we refuse to blame for such personal hardships is our own, less-than-wise decision making. And as such, we’ve become experts at “self-victimization,” turning ourselves into Omni-oppressed individuals that face so many (almost entirely) non-existent barriers to success that we simply cannot envision ourselves succeeding due to being so “unfairly” disadvantaged in virtually every area.

Of course, there ARE cultural obstructions that serve as obstacles to many youth. It’s absurd to think that things like classism and racism aren’t major social blights in the U.S., but by that same token, I believe it is just as absurd to claim that such institutions are SO ingrained in modern infrastructure that it is impossible for anyone that considers themselves a minority, in any capacity, to achieve a modicum of self-sustainability through hard work, determination, and that thing we used to call “personal will.” And don’t think it’s just the “big” variables that we see as barriers to accomplishment -- gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. -- it’s also some incredibly trivial “self-qualifiers,” too. You would be AMAZED at the number of young people out there that genuinely think they are being “held back” by the intangible “social framework” because they’re atheists, or vegetarians, or they have slight medical problems, or they have a profound inability to communicate with others without sounding like a jackass. We’re an entire culture that believes the world is working against us, and as such? We don’t even think things like “effort” are even worth it anymore.

We never stop letting our parents run our lives. 

Once upon a time, being an adult meant leaving your parents’ home, getting a job, and being in charge of your own financial well-being. For an ever growing number of Gen Y kids, all three of those things are becoming antediluvian ideals, replaced by a new social order where children never stop being children, even as their own thirty-hoods stare them directly in the face.

To say that Gen Y kids remain economically dependent on their parents -- or guardians, or kin, or whoever was legally responsible for raising them as adolescents and teens -- is like calling Rush Limbaugh “just a little plump.” Even after college, many Gen Y kids remain in their parents’ home, where they remain coddled, fed and fiscally supported as if they were pre-teens. There’s never an impetus to become one’s own person, and even if they do get the idea to just up and leave, guess who keeps paying for their rent, and utilities, and even their credit card debt? Independence used to be something young people would strive for: with Gen Y kids, however, it’s the most terrifying prospect in the known universe.

We’ve allowed commercial culture to become our only generational unifier. 

While stability in a post World War II, post Great Depression America was our grandparents greatest cultural concern, our parents greatest concern was making lots and lots of money (as the 1980s no doubt demonstrated.) Our generation, however, has made consumption our utmost social ambition: instead of striving for national success or interpersonal wealth, all we care about is buying crap. We go to school to work, so we can buy Apple computers and new cars and new tablets and new video game systems and a whole bunch of other nonsense that serves no other purpose than to drive us into bankruptcy. Commercialism isn’t just our foremost existential motivator, it has, in many ways, completely absorbed our culture in such a way as to make every other possible qualifier -- be it religion, ethnicity or race -- obsolete.

Now, on the surface, you may be wondering what’s so bad about that. I mean, what’s the downside to an entire generation of multiculturally diverse people coalescing into a color-blind, language-deaf monoculture, anyway? Well, the problem there is that this mass consumption causa sui makes us lose not only our preexisting senses of identity, but also, our morals and ethics, which are firmly attached to those personal qualifiers we lose in a commercial uni-culture where the only thing that matters is which brand you support. With material culture as our agreed upon highest power, we’re not only rejecting all of the norms and values attached to an industrious society, we’re basically obliterating every other form of meaning out there. The end result, I am afraid, could very well be an American society, 50 years from now, that’s even less socially conscious or conscientious than the Weimar Republic was in the wake of World War I.

All of that criticism is quite heavy, I admit, but that’s not to say that there isn’t still a little bit of time to alter the trajectory of Gen Y. Here are five potential remedies to wait ails the Millennials…but be warned, for these things to be effective, our generation has to actually make a concentrated effort here (a task beyond Herculean, I am aware.)

Solution One
Bring back the notion of “personal responsibility.”

As a culture, we could improve our overall lot in life by doing two things: believing that are lives have some sort of greater meaning (which exists beyond eating, buying and Facebooking) and then believing that we -- as individual beings -- are ultimately responsible for our own outcomes. As you can see, saving Gen Y from itself is already proving itself to be a steep uphill battle.

How do you get people to believe that they have the capacity to alter their lives for the better, and especially, do so in a way that emphasizes person responsibility as an utmost social value? For starters, the hyper consumer state -- which promotes single-minded, self-absorbed individualness above all other causes -- has to be dismantled. From there, Gen Y kids have to re-shift their priorities to “greater causes” than mere self-gratification, which, necessarily, would have to also instill in those same individuals a sense of “self-management” that would take precedence over theorizations of victimization. Until we get people realizing that they, as lone human beings,  are responsible for their own contemporary conditions -- and certainly, within themselves, additionally having the capacity to change those conditions -- we aren’t going to be getting anything done, for a long time to come.

Solution Two
De-emphasize pop culture and place a greater focus on the real world.

With such a ceaseless emphasis on entertainment, technology culture and other realms of inconsequential geekdom, there has never been an American generation so utterly unattached to the real world -- meaning not only the economic/political/social realm with consequential affairs, but the world outside of the “Internet sphere,” where everything is reduced to memes, abstractions and “distant” matters that exist solely on the screen of one’s smartphone or tablet.

Imagine, if you will, what would happen if Gen Y abandoned its infatuation with manga and graphic novels and instead elected to immerse itself the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Erich Fromm. How would our generational ideals change is we replaced juvenile fare like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight with the prose of Benjamin Barber, Daniel Yergin or Thomas Friedman? What if instead of being bystanders playing video games and watching WorldStarHipHop videos of real-life domestic abuse as entertainment, we become active observers of the political, social and economic arenas -- in short, we became a peoples whose tastes were more New York Times than The Colbert Report, who prefer Newsweek to IGN, who would rather watch the documentary films of Errol Morris and Warner Herzog than mindless crap like “Iron Man 3?” The cultural dividends, I assure you, would be far greater than simply a more enlightened citizenry.

Solution Three

Of course, the Internet makes us lazier. It also gives us a universal “distraction” from being productive in the real world -- why go job hunting, or why study for that exam, when it’s much easier to just play on Reddit all day and watch YouTube videos of people getting whacked in the testicles instead?

For all the good the Internet does as a business and information distribution tool, it also promotes a whole hell of a lot of idleness -- as well as skew our sense of what “social interaction” is. That, and it’s freewheeling, internationally-binding copyrighting laws-be damned nature is, in my opinion, understated in its effects on how my generation perceives property and civility. Ours is a generation that simply believes it can “torrent” everything it needs, without consequences -- certainly, not for us as brazen pirates, and doubly certainly not for the artists, publishers and developers that have seen their livelihoods become unsustainable due to the proliferation of peer-to-peer “sharing.” We see nothing wrong about purchasing custom-made term papers off the Web -- in short, the Internet, and the culture surrounding it, plays no small part in our mass narcissism and ability to feel shame or guilt about our own doings. Curtail this “Internet mentality” -- with its detached, unsophisticated and brutish character -- and you’ll know doubt begin seeing a Gen Y ethos that’s a whole hell of lot more respectful and civic-minded.

Solution Four
Start reminding us that actions (and much more importantly, inactions) have dire consequences.

For far too many Gen Y kids, being an “adult” means freedom to do whatever the hell they want, without anyone telling them they can’t or shouldn’t (which probably explains why must of Ron Paul’s supporters are all Millennials.) The rub there is, adulthood isn’t about being “free” to do whatever the hell you like, it’s about being responsible enough to dictate your own life and make your own decisions…and at the very least, acknowledging that what you do has consequences beyond your contemporary state when you do it.

This problem is compounded by the fact that so many Gen Y kids live in this perpetual present state, where things like “pasts” and “futures” are irrelevant -- and even worse, many Millennials seem oblivious to the fact that what they do and say now might just have ramifications later on in their lives. Simply put, Gen Y has to shift its focus away from instant pleasures and towards longer-term ambitions, which means sacrificing individual wants for greater common goods. Granted, it’s not easy getting the most self-absorbed, non-civically minded generation in U.S. history to adjust its tune overnight, but if we can come to realize the direness of so many contemporary problems and how they WILL definitely affect us in the long haul -- the economy, the state of health care, the funding models for social services, etc. -- then maybe, just maybe, we might be able to start thinking about things beyond what we’re going to eat later in the evening.

Solution Five
Change the definition of what’s “important” in modern culture.

Perhaps the likeliest means of shifting generational attitudes is also the most difficult -- hence, why I positioned it last instead of first. Simply put, Gen Y is a product of an earlier generational ethos -- that of our baby boomer parents -- that vaunted materialistic excess, vapid class ideals and incessant consumption as a path to personal fulfillment. Since birth, we’ve been bombarded with a single message -- buying stuff makes you happy -- and as the nation’s staggering credit debt numbers demonstrate, that little self-cause has lead us into an economic quagmire the likes of which the U.S. has not seen since the heyday of the Great Depression.

What was important or “functional” for our parents just doesn’t work for us -- mostly because the world left to us by our parents is a completely banged-up, environmentally, socially and economically desolate facsimile of what used to be the American Dream. Instead of following our parents’ ideals -- buying expensive furniture with our credit cards, taking out gargantuan loans from the bank to pay for unnecessary hair transplants, cheating on our spouses and thinking that having lots of built-up equity will make us complete as individuals -- we need to develop new ideals that celebrate things of substance as opposed to style. Maybe instead of celebrating a mass culture that promotes extravagant spending, we should champion a counterculture movement that encourages saving, thrift, charity and sound investments. Instead of promoting a social milieu of hyper-individualism and materialistic obsession, perhaps we should focus on collective improvements and concentrated efforts on real-life social issues -- homelessness, wealth inequality, and if absolutely nothing else, the fact that our culture ISN’T getting a fair amount of representation in any political or civic arena.

In other words, maybe the best way for Gen Y to rectify its woes is to do the one thing it fears more than anything: growing the hell up.

Friday, June 21, 2013

What’s So Inhumane About the Death Penalty?

An argument in favor of capital punishment…albeit, with a few caveats.

If you absolutely HAD to place me somewhere on the political continuum, I suppose you’d have to lump me in the left-of-center category. That said, there are still a whole lot of planks in the liberal platform that I’m not necessarily in support of, like legalizing every drug known to man (as we all know, the only reason methamphetamine and heroin causes social problems is JUST because they’re illegal and they in no way, shape or form encourage people to do violent, unreasonable or unlawful things) or scaling back military spending (you know, not that the military is the number one bank roller of future life saving medical technologies and consumer-grade stuff that will shortly make our lives easier and shit.) But perhaps the one area where I stand out most vividly amongst most United States leftists is my stance on the death penalty…which is right next to the switch, if they’d let me.

Imagine, for a moment, that instead of blowing his own worthless brains out, Adam Lanza had been apprehended by police officials. The question from there is simple; what is the most fitting punishment possible for an individual that just brutally gunned down two classrooms of first graders?

Yeah, I can see how “life in prison” would be no picnic, but in the case of figures like Lanza -- highly visible figures that, if left among the general prison populace at any super max in America, would wind up gutted alive in milliseconds -- their lifetime prison sentence would actually be pretty livable, compared to what lesser criminals have to go through. Lanza, had he not taken the Adolf Hitler route, would likely be sitting in a room-temperature, hyper sterile cell right now, all by himself, in a room with a nice bed (which is way better than my futon), some clean clothes, some solid reading material and hell, maybe even a TV with a cable hook-up. Shit, they let some prisoners have Playstations, so he could feasibly be playing “Call of Duty” online right now. He’d get three warm meals a day, ample opportunities to exercise under  a guard's watch (so that some Jack Ruby-type doesn’t try to douse him in boiling cooking oil while nobody’s looking) and more or less free health care -- all fringe benefits of being a lifer that ordinary, non-murdering people like you and me aren’t guaranteed in the slightest (unless O.J. is secretly an admirer of the blog, of course.) Yeah, I suppose there’s some sort of punitive element in the fact that he would have to spend the remainder of his days thinking about how his life could’ve turned out differently, but let’s face it -- there’s no way that creepy little shit was ever getting laid, holding a steady job or becoming a productive, independent citizen on his own, anyway.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, it costs U.S. taxpayers a good $34,135 a year to house just ONE prisoner, while California’s Legislative Analyst (a nonpartisan office) said that it costs the Golden State almost $50,000 a year to house inmates in state prisons. A breakdown of their annual cost projections are listed below:

Security costs = $19,663/year
Health care costs = $12,442/year
Prison operation costs = $7,214/year
Administrative costs = $3,493/year
Food, clothing and “activities” costs = $2,562/year
Rehabilitation costs = $1,612/year

So, yeah, we’re more or less spending what it costs to purchase a brand new Lexus every year on every single scum-sucking, low-life criminal in the nation’s justice system. And yeah, I know that not all of them are really guilty, and a lot of them have some psychological baggage that made them likelier to be nefarious criminals, but most of them are STILL shit heads that aren’t innocent, and while they’ve no doubt had crappy lives for the most part, absolutely NO ONE is forcing them at gun point to yank copper out of buildings, rob liquor stores or sell methamphetamine out of the trunks of their Yugos. They choose to do the crime, and now they’re doing the time. Even an utter mongo can understand that “risk/reward” dynamic, including pathological antisocial miscreants like Lanza. You can blame as many psychiatric conditions and social problems as you want, but that still doesn’t exonerate individuals of the like from consciously doing things that they know are socially impermissible for personal gain. As Mark Kleiman, one of the best criminologists on the planet recently said, the primary root of crime in the U.S. is just one thing: bad decision-making on the part of individuals that ought to know better. So why don’t we penalize bad individual decision-making as extreme as Lanza’s with the most severe legal reprimand we’ve got?

Housing prisoners in general population cells is expensive, but housing death row inmates is about three times costlier -- thanks, primarily, to appeals costs. In the United States, the average inmate on the Green Mile spends FIFTEEN GODDAMN YEARS waiting to get killed, which ultimately results in a state burden of $1.3 million per individual death row prisoner. But, let’s imagine that Lanza was given a life sentence and shipped out to a super max. He was 20 at the time of his crime, and the average life expectancy for a male in America is, give or take, about 70. That means he’d be in jail for fifty years, at an annual cost of $45,000 (easily.) Well, you know how the multiply button on calculators work: we’d either gas the bastard at a price tag of $1.3 million when he turned 35, or shelter and coddle him until he dropped dead from natural causes, at a taxpayer cost of just $2.25 million. By the way, that last estimate is a really conservative figure, since the ACLU tabulated the annual cost of housing prisoners over the age of 50 in the U.S. prison system at about $66,000 per year.

You may think you can win me over with a couple of platitudes about morality. “Well, if we kill the guy that killed somebody else, how does that make us any different than the killer to begin with?” For folks of the sort, I’ve already formulated a response: because assholes like that DESERVE to die, that’s why. Granted, I believe that the threshold for capital cases should be extremely narrow, and the evidence better be absolutely staggering, but in the case of admitted mass murders like John Wayne Gacy and James Holmes and Jeffery Dahmer and Timothy McVeigh, I say a simple lethal injection isn’t a just enough punishment.

Do I want some sort of primitive, Code of Hammurabi shit as U.S. legal code? Absolutely not, but in extreme circumstances -- acts of mass death alike the Sandy Hook shootings -- I think the death penalty isn’t only fair and reasonable, it’s pretty much the only moral decision to go with. Individuals of the like have absolutely zero regard for human life, so why should we treat their pathetic, worthless lives as if they had any value, either? “Treat others as you would wish others to treat you,” so goes the Golden Rule. I think by the time you put a bullet in your 22nd kindergartner’s skull, you’re pretty much declaring that civil law is something you don’t have much of a regard for. In that, why should we abide by the same rule of law you so blatantly disregarded when it comes time to assess your crimes, muchacho?

I am an extremely lucky person, that’s never really been the victim of any crime. I have, however, talked to quite a few people that have been the victims of violent crime -- we’re talking serious stuff, like rape and armed robbery. And you know what? The day they were assaulted and victimized, they died a little themselves. Their minds will never be able to fully recover from what they went through. Their lives will constantly hark back to that moment of victimization, a single point in time that takes over every waking moment of their conscious experiences. The fact of the matter is, they’re not just victims that one night they were robbed, or shot, or assaulted, they will be victims of that incident for the remainder of their lives. And remember, we’re just talking about non-capital crimes here, the kind of shit people only serve 10 to 20 for. Now, let’s amp that suffering and perpetual torment up to about a billion, because that’s what the parents of those kids at Sandy Hook will be going through until the day they die. Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen “M,” too, and I know full well that eliminating the individual responsible for your grieving doesn’t bring your kids back from the dead, nor does it really alleviate any of that hurt you will be feeling for the rest of your days. But at the same time, there’s a definite justice that arises from seeing such purveyors of violence and mass death taste the fear that their victims felt, to feel, albeit momentarily, the insufferable anguish their victims and their victims’ loved ones will port about for decades to come. When you send shit bags like Ted Bundy and Jared Loughner to the gallows, that’s more or less the only time they will EVER sympathize with the people they killed, maimed and butchered. For a few minutes, they too, will know what it’s like to be a victim, to be a person that has their life involuntarily taken from them. They have to look their victims in the eyes, and they have to suffer in front of the people whose lives they’ve completely ruined. And then, they have to experience the same thing they put their victims through -- only theirs comes in a much more sterile, painless and respectable process.

And if there’s anything unjust or immoral about that, I’m just not seeing it, folks.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Your Field Guide to the Denizens of Starbucks

The Nine Types of People You’re Certain to Encounter the Next Time You Pick Up a Salted Caramel Mocha Latte

I love and hate Starbucks. On one hand, there’s no denying that their coffee and coffee-like products are incredibly delicious -- albeit stupidly overpriced -- but as far as the general atmosphere the chains typically foster and promote? It’s enough to make a man wanna’ dig his eyeballs out with miniature  ice cream scoops, really.

The problem with Starbucks, more or less, isn’t the chain itself as it is the people that frequent the eatery (or would “drinkery” be a better fitting term?) To put it briefly, Starbucks is like a nesting ground for every permutation of slacker, asshole and social misfit out there. It’s a place where every shade of unproductive human being goes to squander an afternoon, while the dulcimer tones of “She & Him” -- aka, the sound of the universe eating its own shit -- plays on an endless loop.

As a college student in desperate need of both free Wi-Fi and caffeine at every waking hour, I’ve probably been to about one hundred different Starbucks chains across these United States over the last half a decade, and over time, I realized something peculiar about the populaces you meet at said franchises: no matter where you go, and no matter when, you end up encountering the same nine stereotypes EVERY freaking time you spend an afternoon at Starbucks.

Granted, they may not all be at your local ‘Bucks at the exact same time, but I assure you, if you camped out over a day, you would SURELY encounter the nine types of people listed below, whether you live in Brooklyn, Omaha, or Walla Walla…

The Nu-Wave Christian Meet-Up People

This one, I suppose makes sense. I mean, if you’re a hardcore Christian evangelical type, I guess there really aren’t that many social gathering places that are conducive for proselytizing. Since dens of inequity like Hooters are completely off the menu altogether -- and since Chick-Fil-A’s coffee selection is rather limited -- I reckon one’s options for bible study get-together locales are expectedly narrow.

You never see just one, of course. Usually, they’re all huddled together in a corner somewhere, usually with a study bible in the center of their completely innocent circle jerk. Most of the times, they’re wearing tee shirts and shorts (maybe jeans and a North Face jacket if it’s winter) and good lord, are they likely to be the absolute whitest people you’ve ever met. Seriously, they’ll sound like they waltzed out an episode of “Silver Spoons” or “Step By Step” or something. Granted, there may be one token member with a tan in their entourage, but as a whole, don’t expect much variation in pigment amongst ye olde faithful.

Thankfully, they tend to keep to themselves. They will talk about god and Jesus and all of that stuff -- volubly -- and they might even hold a mini prayer vigil while they are there, but they probably won’t approach you, unsolicited, and start talking your ear off about Deuteronomy and stuff. The physical features of the females tend to fluctuate (some are your standard, almost hittable blondes of normal size and structure while some look like 19-year-old versions of  Zelda Rubinstein) but assuredly, all the guys in the posse will resemble, in some shape or manner, Justin Bieber. Always.

The 40-Year-Old Community College Student

Usually a female, but sometimes a male. But yeah, usually a female, and often, with a very boy-ish haircut. Feel free to draw your own conclusions from here…you homophobe.

You can distinguish these denizens from others at the local Starbucks by a few physical characteristics. First, they will have a laptop with them, but it will NEVER be a Mac. Secondly, they will always have a couple of textbooks (with highly visible USED stickers plastered on the spines), sprawled out upon one of those modern art IKEA table tops in the “lounge area.” That said, for whatever reason, they will never actually LOOK at the seemingly randomly selected page in front of them. In fact, despite the fact that they tend to have numerous academic texts and a couple of notebooks and pens and maybe even a graphing calculator scattered all around them like a protective barrier, they will never, EVER appear to be doing anything that resembles “studying” in the classical, Continental sense.

They always have an MP3 player with them, with at least one ear bud wedged into one of their canals. Whether or not there is actually music coming OUT of those speakers, however, is yet to be determined. If you catch a glance at their laptop screens, it always looks like they are doing something or another with Excel, or some other database-like program. Except every five minutes, they feel the need to wave their hands and say “hi” at some one that enters the establishment. If these kinds of patrons are on site for an hour, they will no doubt spend about 45 minutes just chit-chatting it up with whoever is in the vicinity. If you make eye contact, THEY WILL instigate conversation, so do your best to not stare (unless, of course, you really want some discourse on how hard English 1101 is.)

The Incredibly Gross DeviantART Make-out Couple

You’ll always find two kids -- probably in their early 20s, but with acne-ravaged visages so cratered and pockmarked by puberty’s cruelty that they actually look more like they are in their early 40s instead -- hanging out on one of those faux leather chairs -- usually, positioned in the absolute darkest corner of the building. They will spend their time at Starbucks sipping on lattes, showing each other pictures on their smart phones and playing decisively nasty-ass looking games of tonsil rugby -- resulting in a horrific goulash of androgyny, gothic make-up and cigarette smoke odors -- for God and everybody else to witness.

The male variety will look sort of like Marilyn Manson, except skinnier, hairier, and dorkier. The tee-shirt has to be black, the pants have to be black, and he’s probably rocking some pewter jewelry of some kind. Imagine a cross between Danzig and Napoleon Dynamite, and you pretty much have the male of the species starring you in the face.

The female, however, fluctuates in appearance. Sometimes, she’ll be anorexic thin, and sometimes, she’ll be roughly the same size as a small manatee. She’ll either be wearing more make-up than Gene Simmons, or displaying a slightly fuzzy and dimpled moon face that’s paler than mayonnaise. She’ll ALWAYS sound like a valley girl, no matter which region of the country you are in, too. From their morose outward appearances, you’d expect their chatter to be somewhat intellectual, but…no, they mostly talk about what they watch on Netflix, how awesome the last show by some shitty band no one’s ever heard of/cares about were and then resume playing ookie mouth. And despite their high school-esque, nihilistic banality? They’re probably eighth year grad students somewhere.

The Completely Unfazed Laptop Dude Suspiciously Well-Dressed To Just Be Sitting Around Drinking Coffee By Himself

For starters, this dude is usually a couple of years older than everybody else in the building. Frequently, by a few decades, too. He never really says anything, to anyone. I think he makes his order by pointing at the menu item and simply nodding, I guess. Whereas the younger folks in the building have their backpacks and Apple laptops, this guy sits himself down at a desk, solemnly sips coffee (in an actual ceramic mug as opposed to one of those cardboard cylinders or plastic cups everybody else is using) and delicately types away at his Dell computer, stopping periodically only to check his Blackberry or procure a document of some sort from his briefcase.

While everybody else at the ‘Bucks is rocking Keds and blue jeans, he’ll be wearing a three piece suit (it’s either jet black or yellowish-brown…there are no in between colors for a man of his stature.) He’ll do this thing where he stops every three minutes or so, looks up, emits something that sort of sounds like a sigh and then collapse back into his computer work. Whether or not he’s dwelling upon the existential uncertainties of middle age for a respite or simply letting out an SBD fart, we’ll perhaps never know.

You may think the guy is there for a job interview. That happens a lot at Starbucks, you know. But the dude never meets up with anyone. In fact, he doesn’t seem to leave the building, at all, ever. He will NEVER leave the place before you do, and if you make eye contact with him, he won’t as much as return your stare. With such an intense focus on his Internetting, you’d surmise the dude to be a day trader, or some big-time IT fella’ for a major solutions firm. That is, until you waltz by and see the game of “Minecraft” minimized on his taskbar…

The Jovial Police Officer

Some cops are scary looking. Others are really, really fat and about as intimidating as a hairless kitten. If you see a cop at Starbucks, there really shouldn’t be a surprise as to what kind of police officer you’re likeliest to encounter.

The policemen that frequent Starbucks remind me a lot of the old school resource officers everybody had back in high school. I mean, yeah, he had a gun and a badge and all that other stuff, but he just acted so damn goofy -- kidding around and cutting up and acting suspiciously friendly to everyone -- that you saw him less as a man of the law and more of remedial, possibly Special Ed student that was way bigger than all the other kids.

Well, that SRO apparently switched positions, and now he’s a dude that’s ALWAYS at Starbucks, laughing it up at the counter with the teenaged barista that’s more than a little creeped out by the chrome-dome, hot-dog necked social servant awkwardly flirting with her. And for whatever reason, Starbucks cops always seem to be the kind of officers that have motorcycles; I guess that means all the “Rampart” po-po probably are chilling out at the Dunkin’ Donuts instead, enjoying munchkins and racial profiling and making each other smoke PCP like in “Training Day,” I suppose.

The “PG-Rated” Biker

And just when you think things can’t get any more “Village People" up in here, in comes the family-friendly motorcyclist. He’s kinda’ like Lorenzo Lamas in “Renegade,” if the only thing “Renegade” was a renegade about was his mortgage and home schooling his kids that he’s unaware utterly hate his guts.

Most of the time -- but not 100 percent of the time -- the PG-rated biker is a middle-aged, largely overweight, typically bald man, who may or may not have some religious-bumper stickers taped all over his helmet like a Jehovah’s Witness’ Trapper Keeper. He’s pretty amiable -- perhaps not as amicable as the jovial cop, but still pretty chat-happy -- and if you’re within ten feet of him, he WILL attempt to engage in discourse with you.

So, typically, when you encounter a biker, you expect a pretty coarse conversation -- lots of swearing, a couple of threats, and some ominous grunting. Well, the PG-rated biker, as the name suggests, does none of the sort, instead displaying a polite, perhaps overtly-approachable demeanor that seems to run contra to the whole “owning a crotch-rocket” persona. So yeah, it’s a pretty safe bet: these dudes almost assuredly own homes with illegal sex dungeons in them.

The Wi-Fi Scammers Out Back

Easily identifiable by their liberal usage of the terms “dude,” and “fuck yeah,” the wi-fi scammers out back (an entirely different breed from the wi-fi scammers inside the building or in front of it) come in two primary varieties: one that’s mostly benevolent, and one that surely isn’t.

First, the annoying - but non-malicious -- scammers. Generally, they are young, college-aged guys, typically wearing a baseball cap (pick a random SEC college team or MLB franchise) and a band tee-shirt. As a general rule of thumb, if you want to know whether or not a musical act sucks, if you see a band celebrated on the apparel of one of these kids, they almost assuredly do. More or less, they're just at Starbucks for the free Internet connection -- they hardly, if ever, actually purchase anything at their visits, and they make no efforts to approach others and engage in discourse. Rarely do you see just one of these varieties of wi-fi scammer at a time; almost always a duo, you will periodically see a small posse of cheap ass nerds huddled around a table, smoking cigarettes (who cares if there’s a new company policy forbidding it, they’re REBELS, after all!), talking about how much class “sucks” and how great “Call of Duty” is. Despite their borderline obsessive need for wireless Internet at all times, they never seem to do anything that appears to be worthwhile, like homework or job scouting while they are at the ‘Bucks. Well, unless you count trolling people on Reddit or trying to buy hookers on Craigslist to be productive, of course.

The second form of scammer is the kind that’s actually kinda’ dangerous -- the folks that log on to the communal wi-fi network and try to steal the shit out of everybody’s information that’s also using said network. An inversion of the non-malicious scammers, you will NEVER see individuals of the like hanging out in groups. Lone wolves of the like, you know, gotta’ do all their shadiness alone. Generally, they are there to hack into people’s accounts and retrieve sensitive info, like social security numbers or (most likely) some poor sap’s credit card details while he purchases Pac-Man shaped things on Fab. A good way to root out potential phishers is to open up a Word document and type, in 72-size, blindingly red bold font, “STOP LOOKING AT MY COMPUTER, BITCH.” Anybody at their laptop that kinda’ shudders a second afterward is probably hacking the network. And legally, you have every right to approach them soon after, and give them “the business.” Well, probably, anyway.

The Smelly Dude Listening to Kelly Clarkson

It’s an oddly specific thing to point out, but if you hang out at the local ‘Bucks long enough, you will assuredly encounter a figure of the like. Granted, he may not always be listening to Kelly Clarkson…sometimes, he may prefer Beyonce or Christina Aguilera…but these factors, they remain constant: he’s listening to female-vocal pop music (loudly) and he will stink (even more loudly.)

And it’s a special kind of stink, too -- a combination of wet garbage, underarm B.O. and a scent that can only be described as “posterior detritus.” At his laptop, he’ll be banging on the keys like he was playing “Typing of the Dead,” but if you ever catch a glimpse at his screen, he’s more than likely just starring at a blank Google search screen while air drumming “Since U Been Gone.” You know, because if there’s one thing this guy needs to do, it’s build up more sweat around his pivot joints and…shudder…unseen crevices.

The major positive here is that the character is highly unlikely to engage in conversation with you. This is because doing so would take him out of the “Kelly Clarkson zone,” and let’s face it, any time he’s not in that, he’s probably a million times likelier to shoot up the place. Oh, and that rusted-ass 1987 Toyota Camry with the “Info Wars” bumper sticker on it in the parking lot? Come on, you don’t need me to tell you that shit has to be his.

The Absolute Fattest Person You’ve Ever Seen in Your Life 

It’s not so much the fact that you encounter a person of such unfathomable girth at the eatery as it is the fact that you somehow manage to witness someone with even MORE unfathomable girth the next time you walk into a Starbucks. This, I assure you, is no meager observation: each time, you will SWEAR that said individual is about as obese as a human can be while still having the faculties to walk, and then, the next time you grab a latte? Holy shit, there’s a guy there that’s got the person that has to be the fattest person you’ve ever seen beat by a good ten or fifteen pounds. It happens EVERY single visit, people.

The funny thing is, this isn’t a repeat customer, either -- we’re just dealing with a steady influx of impossibly overweight peoples, who for reasons yet to be identified by science, really like themselves some Starbucks. Questions, obviously, are abound here; why does the eatery attract so many human/walrus hybrids, despite the fact that the chain itself serves an infinitesimal amount of solid foodstuffs?

Well, not to get you kids to concerned, but as it turns out, some of the items at Starbucks contain an absolutely horrifying amount of calories.Of special note is the chain’s peppermint white hot chocolate, a seasonal offering that contains more caloric impact than either a 40 ounce serving of Mountain Dew or three cheese roll-ups from Taco Bell pureed into a fine pulp. So, with that in mind, maybe it’s not all that surprising that Starbucks is such a haven for Jenny Craig cast-offs and Weight Watchers dropouts, after all…

UPDATE: Oh, and one last thing, for potential international readers: if you’re ever in Hong Kong, you might want to reconsider frequenting any Starbucks chains in the vicinity. Trust, me, you just ought to…

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why the Next Generation of Gaming is Going to SUCK.

Who will win the next round of console wars? Nobody, actually. 

After this year’s E3, I have to say that I’m not too impressed with what the next crop of gaming consoles are offering. In fact, from the looks of it, the next generation of console gaming might just be the most boring epoch yet, for several reasons.

First and foremost, there’s not really that much of a “gap” between the next-gen and this gen in my eyes. Seriously, you could show me footage of a newfangled PS4 game and footage of a game like “The Last of Us” side-by-side, and I really wouldn’t be able to tell you which one is “next generation.” If there’s a visual difference between that new “Call of Duty” game coming out on the Xbox One and the games that are already out on the 360, I genuinely can’t spot it.

Secondly, there are the games themselves. I watched both the Sony and Microsoft presentations, and if I didn’t know any better, a good 90 percent of the games coming out next gen are nothing more than really shiny, third-person shooting games with bad lip-dubbing and everybody talking like “Game of Thrones” characters. So yeah, it’s basically more of the same old, same old, only with WAY more ridiculous and self-indulgent melodrama thrown into the pot. More cut scenes, hoo-ray.

And then, there are the sequels, rehashes and re-dos, almost all of which are unnecessary. Internet warriors left and right like to chide the producers of quality year-in, year-out games like “Madden” and “Forza” for churning out the same material over and over again, but holy shit, when Nintendo does the exact same thing, who gives a fugg about originality all of a sudden? Not that there’s all that much to champion and celebrate regarding all of these “new” I.P.s, anyway…hope you like grandiloquent, self-important, SyFy-made-for-cable-original-quality-scripted “Halo” and “Mass Effect” wannabes, because that looks like ALL we’re going to be chowing down on until the Playstation5 comes out.

And then, there are the consoles themselves. Good lord, I don’t even know where to begin.

The XboxOne, in case you haven’t heard, will employ a lot of proprietary safeguards that some on the Internet find just mildly irksome. For one thing, game discs are more or less “locked” to individual units, so if you want to play a used game on your console…well, you’re screwed. The system also requires an “always online” component, which judging from the fate of games like “Diablo 3,” is the hardware design choice equivalent of sticking your junk into an aquarium filled with piranhas, and expecting nothing bad at all to happen. And also, the hardware’s killer app looks like it’s going to be a TV show, so yeah, I guess there’s not much else to say about that.

The Playstation4, which appears to resemble a Playstation2, only fatter, has none of the “security measures” that its next gen Microsoft competitor utilizes, so of course, the masses are already declaring the PS4 the presumptive victor of the console wars. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the games being released on Sony’s next console are going to be any better than what the XboxOne is offering…in fact, outside of some really chintzy looking Square offerings (who, as we all know, can do online play like nobody’s business!), there really doesn’t seem to be much of a difference AT ALL between the software being hawked by both manufacturers. At the end of the day, the next gen wars may be decided by a choice between two fundamental evils…a ganky online service that may be down for weeks at a time and steals your credit card data, or a steady cloud-supported network that charges you for extra characters in “Killer Instinct.” Make your choice wisely, Internet.

This is what hardcore gaming looks like, because hardcore gaming looks like cats.

And then there’s Nintendo, a company supported by millions of hopeless fan boys the world over, whom got their collective panties in a bunch because the next “Smash Bros.” game -- which has been outsourced to a developer that’s been churning out pure fighting game shit for the last five years -- features Mega Man and that dude from “Animal Crossing” in it. As for the rest of Nintendo’s E3 line-up, it was LITERALLY nothing but the same old stuff: two Zelda re-dos, a “Super Mario Land” re-do, ANOTHER goddamn Pokemon re-do, a “Donkey Kong Country” re-do…would it really kill you motherfuggers to dream up a NEW intellectual property? Shit, a high-definition version of “Urban Champion,” at the least.

Long before this year’s E3, I decided that I was going to sit the next gen out, and after E3, I may not buy another gaming console ever again. Looking at the sheer shit being shat out by the Big 3 of gaming, I can’t help but wonder how the industry, once a wide-eyed, originality-driven culture of mirth and merriment, has turned into such a bloated, grandiose, money-sucking, soulless enterprise. So, you want me to pay 400 bucks to run around in grimy grey environments and shoot things in the head…again? No, that’s cool; I’d rather check out the backlog of Game Boy Color games out there, or even better, explore all the awesome Sega Master System games I missed out on way back when through the miracle of Flash-based emulation. Hell, we even have clone systems out there that let us play “Super Metroid,” “Gunstar Heroes” AND “Mega Man 3” on the same piece of hardware. Now why should I spend my hard-earned dough on experiences that are much more expensive, and nowhere near as fun?

As a through-and-through retro-gamer, a lot of new-wave gamers accuse me of being “blinded by nostalgia.” Well, after this year’s E3, I know for a FACT that what’s driving me towards pre-360 gaming isn’t wistful remembrances, but simply the notion that I don’t like video games that suck. Why throw all that money at online-centric games that are formulaic and full of themselves when I can trek back into the past and play more simplistic, more accessible, and generally more enjoyable games on the Saturn, the Neo Geo Pocket, the Amstrad, and the Nintendo 64 instead? Shit, there’s such a wealth of gaming options from the fifth console generation alone that I could easily occupy myself until the next, next Xboxes and Wiis get released.

So good luck with your XboxOnes and your PS4s and your Wii-Us and all of those utterly trite looking games that you’ll be charged an arm and a leg to play through once and never touch again. A good two or three years down the line, I might pick up a 3DS or a Vita, but I doubt it.

In the meantime, you’ll see me having a blast with all of those long-forgotten or never-experienced Game Gear gems, Neo-Geo CD mints and Atari 2600 classics. I’ll be having a hoot with my software, while all of you next gen gamers?  Looks like you have nothing to look forward to but disappointment after disappointment.