Not long ago I saw a thing that said, "Your library: Because not everything on the internet is true." And I thought that was pretty dumb fallacious reasoning, not only because the internet has more knowledge than a thousand libraries at the touch of a fingertip, but because the thing that it looked like they were trying to imply is nonsense. When I was young, I read more than one book that said something to the effect of, "Sharks very rarely attack humans, but sometimes one will bite a human by accident, decide it likes the taste, and become a pervert who goes around attacking humans." And I never questioned it until just recently, when I learned from the internet that this notion has been debunked for a long time and was extrapolated from one bizarre case over a century ago in the first place. Five people in New Jersey were attacked by an unknown number of sharks within a week; ergo, someone proposed that "rogue sharks" were a thing and that somehow entered the public consciousness as an actual fact.
This, then, became the basis for Peter Benchley's novel Jaws. He later said in an interview, "The title was one of a thousand lucky breaks that happened to the book and the movie. Tom and I labored through about 125 titles, pretentious titles like A Stillness In The Water and Leviathan Rising, down-market titles like The Jaws Of Death and (from my father) What’s That Noshin’ On My Laig? At last, with 20 minutes left before the book had to go into production, I said to Tom, 'Look, we can’t agree on a title. In fact, the only word we both like is ‘jaws.’ Why don’t we call the bloody thing ‘Jaws’?' He said, 'Jaws? What does it mean?' 'Who knows?' I said. 'At least it’s short.' That was most everyone’s reaction. 'Jaws? What does it mean?' And always the response, 'Who knows? At least it’s short.' It turned out, of course, to be the perfect title: mysterious, dangerous, a little oblique rather than dead-on. And, yes, short, so it fit on a book cover and a movie-house marquee in gigantic letters. There was nothing subtle about Jaws in terms of invoking an almost visceral fear response in the reader."
But he also explained: "Nobody thought Jaws would be a success. It was a first novel, and nobody reads first novels. It was a novel about a fish, for God’s sake, and who cared about fish? Finally, we all knew it couldn’t be made into a movie, because it was a given that no one could catch and train a Great White shark, and everyone involved thought that Hollywood’s special-effects technology was nowhere near advanced enough to build a credible mechanical shark." That last bit was certainly accurate, as Steven Spielberg learned the hard way, but he got around that with a "less is more" approach that in the end made the movie much more frightening. Because humans enjoy being terrified from the comfort of chairs in air-conditioned rooms, "Jaws" became the highest-grossing film of all time and essentially created the concept of summer blockbusters. It was surpassed by "Star Wars" only two years later, but still. It was popular. And because humans couldn't grasp the concept that it was just a movie, they subsequently went out and murdered literally thousands of sharks in a moronic attempt to make the world a safer place. So that was a thing that happened.
I once read part of the opening scene of the novel, on the preview page, where Chrissie Watkins is devoured. I just remember something about the shark's teeth pulverizing her innards to jelly or something. Fun stuff. I've never seen the movie but I listened to the soundtrack and it gave me the heebiejeebies and that's what set me off on this shark kick. I thought I had seen the opening scene in an ad for the film airing on TV. As I remember seeing it, Chrissie was nonchalantly swimming in the moonlight, then she suddenly gasped and disappeared under the water, the word "Jaws" appeared on the screen, and it cut back to a shot of the shark's fake-looking head above the water roaring. So I expected to see that again when I found this scene on YouTube. But apparently they edited it for television. Because this version was a lot longer and involved a lot of screaming and flailing and trying to escape and "Help me! Help me! Aaaaah it hurts!" as the unseen shark nipped at her legs and kept playing with her because it was apparently part cat. So I have mixed feelings about whether I ever want to see the whole movie.
It does make for a phenomenal story. There's something fascinating, in a sick kind of way, about being stalked by an enormous creature whose thought process probably consists of "Hungry... hungry... hungry", in an environment where it's completely at home and you're completely helpless. But it's a story with zero basis in reality. Humans do not have the nutritional value that sharks need. Sharks do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, hunt humans and eat them in a gratuitously protracted manner. Sharks do not like the taste of humans. Sharks do not learn to like the taste of humans. And frankly, coming from animals that literally eat garbage, maybe we should find that insulting. The term "shark attack", in fact, is very misleading, because what usually happens in these situations is that a curious shark bites a human to find out what it is, goes "blech" (figuratively), and swims away. Just a silly little misunderstanding. Very few people are ever bitten by a shark, and very few of those die. Sharks literally kill fewer people than cows do.
Now in the interest of full disclosure I will admit, as one who fears pain more than death by a long shot, that this isn't entirely reassuring to me. I'm much less concerned about being killed by a shark per se than about having twin rows of massive serrated bone knives go through my body. And in that situation, the thought of how very unlikely this was to happen and how incredibly unlucky I must therefore be would be of little to no comfort. The same principle applies to plane crashes. It's mostly a moot point, though, as I haven't been to the ocean since 2009 and can't swim well enough to venture far beyond shore anyway. If a shark ever did bite me, I would beg it to finish the job, and it would probably decline because I taste disgusting. It would leave me, bleeding and in severe pain, kind of like the sharks who have their fins cut off for soup and are then thrown back into the ocean to sink and die. Of course, it's not a perfect analogy because the humans who do this to them know better.
As we try to eradicate them from the ocean, we should pause and remember that they were there first. Sharks have been on this planet for 420 million years, making them much older than the dinosaurs. They haven't gone extinct or evolved beyond recognition because they're good at what they do. That, I think, adds another dimension to the fear of them - they're like something from a lost world, living fossils that have made it this far without superior intelligence or technology and could easily own us with good instincts, powerful senses (some can smell blood in the water at one part per million), and oh yeah, twin rows of massive serrated bone knives. But at least the modern ones are fairly small. Here's an idea: a mashup of "Jaws" and "Jurassic Park" (Jawrassic Park?) featuring Megalodon, a shark that lived all over the world and is estimated to have been nearly sixty feet long. Shark skeletons are made of cartilage, which very rarely fossilizes, so this shark is mostly known from its teeth - but those say it all, really.
Although "Jaws" motivated people to murder thousands of sharks, it also sparked an unprecedented interest in them that led to unprecedented research. So now we know more about them including the fact that "Jaws" is a load of chum. Peter Benchley went on to feel kind of guilty and spent the rest of his life funding and advocating for shark conservation. Today, they remain endangered both from direct hunting and increasingly from climate change (you know, the thing that, according to lots of people who don't know there's a difference between climate and weather, isn't real). You know another thing about sharks that isn't true? They never get cancer. Now I don't know how else to wrap this up so here's a weird shark audio sketch on my YouTube channel that needs more views.
"'Normal' American men are homophobic, afraid of close friendships with other men. The moment we begin to feel warmly toward another man, the 'homosexual' panic button gets pressed. It makes us nervous to see French or Italian men strolling down the street arm in arm. Must be queer! From a cross-cultural perspective it is we who are odd; close male friendship is the norm in most societies and is usually considered a more important source of intimacy than romantic relationships... We need same-sex friends because there are types of validation and acceptance that we receive only from our gender-mates. There is much about our experience as men that can only be shared with, and understood by, other men. There are stories we can tell only to those who have wrestled in the dark with the same demons and been wounded by the same angels. Only men understand the secret fears that go with the territory of masculinity." - Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, 174-75
"I know you're not comfortable hanging out with guys because you don't want people to think you're gay, but really, hanging out with girls all the time is what will make people think that." - Kami Wilson, personal conversation
This partially explains why I consciously chose to bring a guy friend to my work's movie night. The other reasons are that he's been nice to me so I wanted to be nice to him, and I wanted to make sure it didn't end up being misconstrued as a date despite following that formula to the letter besides the gender thing. But whether because of how our culture has evolved in just a few years or increased confidence on my part, I no longer care one iota whether people think I'm gay. As awful as this may be, sometimes I almost wish they did because I feel like they'd pay more attention to me. I decided, in fact, that if anyone that night asked about that guy, I would introduce him as my boyfriend. I knew he would have gotten a kick out of that. Sadly, no one did because they only cared about themselves.
The movie was "Spider-Man: Homecoming". It was only the second Marvel movie I've ever seen, the first being "Thor: Dark World", and I liked it much better. I mean, the other one had Natalie Portman in it, so that was a few hundred points in its favor, but it wasn't nearly as funny or easy to follow. Of course I was still lost on a few things in this one because it's interconnected with all the other ones but after the first ten minutes or so it was self-contained enough. Unfortunately, I can't take movies very seriously anymore since binge-watching CinemaSins, so I often catch myself thinking things like "That's racist." "Roll credits." and "Sixty-six seconds of ------- logos." Since I've already betrayed my ignorance, I feel no further shame in asking, does Spider-Man have super strength in addition to his climbing and web shooting abilities? I ask because I felt like every bone in his body should have been broken a few times over by the end. If he does have super strength, that seems like kind of a cop-out because that's not a spider power. Spiders can, like all bugs, fall or be thrown insane distances without injury, but that's because their small size results in ten times greater air resistance than driving force. So it wouldn't work for Peter, is what I'm saying.
Then yesterday I went on my own initiative to see "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" because it's in the cheap theater now. I read all the books as a kid and have skimmed through them a bit as an adult encountering them again at work, and they really are more clever and sophisticated than one would expect. Dav Pilkey is a legitimately funny writer who apparently just stoops to lowbrow humor to trick kids into reading. His ploy has worked magnificently. And ironically, because this movie has no sexual content (unless I just didn't notice it because I'm so innocent), it's far more appropriate for children than any other Dreamworks movie I can think of. Seriously, if I had kids I wouldn't let them watch most of that garbage. Also, the theme song is by "Weird Al" Yankovic, my favorite artist of all time, so I think I have to buy the soundtrack just for that. He also did a parody of "Piano Man" about the first Spider-Man movie back in 2002, which I've never seen and don't need to thanks to his plot summary.
I haven't seen "Wonder Woman" either. Shame on me. I just don't watch a lot of movies. In a case of truth being stranger than fiction, her current status as a feminist icon is not an ironic re-contextualization, but faithful to her origins. I don't remember if I read it somewhere or it just seemed like a no-brainer, but I had assumed that the males who created her in 1941 did so as fanservice for male comic book readers. Nope! She was a feminist icon all along! Except that the psychologist who created her had a strange way of expressing it by having her getting constantly tied up (which previously I assumed was part of the aforementioned fanservice). I feel like some psychologists need psychologists. Then in the 1970s she became a "real" feminist as she still remains today. I just learned all of this just now while undergoing the thorough research that is the hallmark of every blog post I write.
This is so obvious I'm sure it's been suggested many times before, but the superhero I really want to see is Captain Canada. A superhero who drives a bulletproof Zamboni, uses a curling broom as a bo staff, and apologizes whenever he hits a villain. I can say these things because I'm practically half-Canadian after breathing their air, drinking their water and watching their broadcasting corporation during my formative years. His arch-nemesis would be Captain Quebec, his jerkface brother who has always grown up in his shadow and takes great pains to demonstrate his independence and differentiate himself. He's petty and callous and amoral and often says bad words in French that the MPAA just lets slide because they're in French. I can say these things because one of my best friends is Quebecois and she finds it funny.
Yes, Marie still exists even though I haven't mentioned her in a while. I should have written about how, a couple months ago, she was rear-ended by an idiot teenager, which totaled her car and exacerbated her scoliosis. She's been in near-constant severe pain since then, facing significant medical expenses and losing money from missed work. And here, despite being petty and callous and amoral in most of my conversations with her, she has shown her true colors. If this had happened to me, I would be consumed with rage 24/7. But she's just shrugged it off and kept chugging like a champ. Wow. So the other night she was tormenting me as I kept making stupid spelling mistakes for some reason. The first two were "mayke" (make) and "messager" (message) and they are not included in the following screenshots because that part of the conversation is classified. But I share these screenshots to teach myself humility.
Mackenzie finally read the last post about her and gave me the only feedback that really matters. Until she mentioned it, I assumed she had opted for a "don't ask, don't tell" and just hoped she wasn't upset. I never know when she's going to be upset.
"Kid", she called me, even though we're basically the same age.
the great Luke Ski - Peter Parker
Because it's catchy.
The follow-up story I heard from Clara last week was that she spent all day one day reading my blog, and then her roommate and some friends came over in the evening to go somewhere and she was like "I can't, I'm reading this" and they were like "Reading what?" and she read some out loud for them and then they all stayed in reading it instead of going somewhere. So she and three other people were gushing about it to me and all I could do was blush and say thank you and then brag about it on my blog which they will undoubtedly read again and create a vicious cycle. It was probably the second most flattering reaction I've ever gotten to my writing; the first, which will be difficult to top, was when Emily squealed like a twelve year old meeting Justin Bieber when I handed her a draft of a short story to read. It was this story, which I don't think is that good but oh well. Anyway, Clara's only complaint was that she didn't like the Rammstein song I posted because it was too "yelly". I had to explain to her that she's racist because that's just what German people sound like.
Also, I had to email the bishop about some stuff that's been going on in the ward with a certain individual that I've turned a blind eye to for too long, and I put a lot of effort into this email because it needed to include all the pertinent details and for all I know it might show up on MormonLeaks someday. I wrote it out as a narrative, organized chronologically overall but also subdivided by topic so as to give it more coherence, with thoughtfully chosen words and strategically placed paragraph breaks. So the next day, the same day the bishop and one of his counselors both not only thanked me for sharing this issue with them, but also remarked on how well-written it was. Because it's obviously confidential you'll just have to take my/their word for it. Would I lie to you?
Okay, so looking back through my old posts I saw three blank lines in this space. I don't remember what I originally wrote and I have no idea what happened to it. This is annoying for me personally and a heart-wrenching loss for future historians and biographers.
Auralnauts - Darth Trump
One day it came to my attention that Coworker Jess, for obscure reasons beyond my comprehension, is not Drumpf's biggest fan. I don't know what's not to like about such an intelligent and morally upstanding guy, but I try to find common ground with everyone so I was like "Have you seen this video called 'Darth Trump'? It's a bunch of scenes from Star Wars with Darth Vader's voice dubbed over by Trump quotes." And she said she would watch it, but she forgot, and that set the pattern for the next few months. It really isn't even that good to justify the hype that was getting built up over this timer period, but eventually she gave herself an ultimatum and swore on her life that she would watch it. Hoping she understood the gravity of such a commitment, I asked, "Are you saying that if you don't watch it, I'm supposed to kill you?" She said that's exactly what she was saying.
She forgot again. This put me in a very awkward position because, as much as I've wanted to sometimes, I've never killed anyone on purpose. Don't ask about the other instances because my lawyer has advised me not to discuss them at this time. But, you know, she made a vow with full understanding of what she was getting into and now for the sake of her own honor I was obligated to help her go through with it. I already failed years ago to break my friend Cece's pinkies after she forgot to fulfill a pinky promise, so she lost her honor, and I didn't want to make a mistake like that ever again. But I chickened out and gave her another day even though I shouldn't have. This time she had the brilliant idea to put a reminder in her phone, and she remembered to watch it, and I asked if it had been worth the wait and she said "Yeah, but actually I've never seen Star Wars, so a lot of it went over my head, but it was still good though." Oh. Okay then.
The video is from December 2015, long before Drumpf became the nominee, and seems to treat his campaign as an ill-fated joke. After how events have transpired since then, one could perhaps point and laugh derisively at it for being so wrong. But here's the thing: his campaign should have been an ill-fated joke, and the fact that it wasn't is not something to be proud of by any stretch of the imagination. I was being sarcastic earlier when I called him an intelligent and morally upstanding guy. He's actually an embarrassment to his party and to this nation. Just be glad this video was made before his "locker room talk" comments (made as a young and foolish 59-year-old) became public, so they aren't included. Auralnauts also do amusing dubs of the Star Wars movies re-envisioned as a conflict between the drug-abusing dance-loving party animal Jedi and the responsible businessman Palpatine who's tired of them ruining his franchise with their antics.
"I literally don't like anyone. I'm mean-spirited and jealous. I'm annoyed with people quickly. I'm self-righteous. I'm also passive-aggressive, and privileged and judgmental, and cruel, and ignorant, and cold, and a hypocrite, and lazy, and self-centered, and annoying, and argumentative, and flaky." This is what Mackenzie told me when we got into an argument about whether she has a heart of gold beneath her callous exterior (I said yes, she said no). At first glance, this list is disturbing, because everyone knows that women are supposed to be almost perfect and only have a maximum of three (preferably endearing) character flaws. It's particularly disturbing to a pure and innocent person like me who has never had an unkind thought about anyone. And if you believe that, may I interest you in a lucrative home-based business franchising opportunity that definitely is not a pyramid scheme?
Sarcasm aside, the simple fact is that I don't care about her real or alleged flaws, and though I may seem to portray her in a negative light I've thought and hoped it would be obvious that I like her just fine that way. I thought and hoped it would be obvious, for example, that when she said she was going to murder me it was just a bit of friendly banter (although it would have been much less acceptable for me, a man, to say the same thing to her, and therefore she was, probably unconsciously, exploiting one of the double standards that she, a feminist, abhors). In case it wasn't obvious enough I tacked a brief list of a few of her more unambiguously positive traits onto the end of that post. But it turns out that she, even though she reads all my posts and must have seen it by now, thinks she's a terrible person. I disagree. I told her at the time that I've never found her annoying and that in light of these flaws it was all the more admirable that she's nice to me anyway and gives me far more patience than I deserve. Now I want to expound further and try to articulate my words better, and post it here in case anyone else finds it useful.
I will start by wresting some fabulous words by the inimitable B. H. Roberts out of context and repurposing them. In listing her flaws, Mackenzie "is as one who walks through some splendid orchard and gathers here and there the worm-eaten, frost-bitten, wind-blasted, growth-stunted and rotten fruit, which in spite of the best of care is to be found in every orchard; bringing this to us [she] says: 'This is the fruit of yonder orchard; you see how worthless it is; an orchard growing such fruit is ready for the burning.' Whereas, the fact may be that there are tons and tons of beautiful, luscious fruit, as pleasing to the eye as it would be agreeable to the palate, remaining in the orchard to which [she] does not call our attention at all. Would not such a representation of the orchard be an untruth, notwithstanding [her] blighted specimens were gathered from its trees? If [she] presents to us the blighted specimens of fruit from the orchard, is [she] not in truth and in honor bound also to call our attention to the rich harvest of splendid fruit that still remains ungathered before [she] asks us to pass judgment on the orchard?"
So, Mackenzie, even if this picture you paint of yourself is accurate, it's still not accurate. Jussayin.
This bad fruit is to be found in every orchard, he says. As I thought about Mackenzie's condition I had a realization that perhaps the difference between "good" and "bad" people is their attitude about it. If she were a bad person, would she feel bad about her flaws, or just not care? I think the fact that she feels bad about them is incontrovertible proof that they are at odds with her core values. If she feels bad about being mean-spirited and jealous, then it's because she feels that being mean-spirited and jealous is wrong and not how she wants to be. If she were a bad person, she would just go about being mean-spirited and jealous, end of story. An extreme example: at least one friend of mine is only sexually attracted to young boys, but he has a core value that says sex with children is wrong, so that's what he lives by and that's what matters. Mackenzie's core values appear fundamentally good and in my mind, that means she is too. It may even be the case that the more she improves, the more she will be bothered by her remaining flaws, so that she will feel worse about herself despite being better. This is something to beware of.
I wanted to say something about the Native American story with the two wolves, but it turns out that's not a Native American story at all. So a better example would be "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". In that story, Dr. Jekyll's motive for creating a potion that would split him into two persons was the conflict between his desire to pursue a wild, hedonistic lifestyle like in his younger days and his desire to be a moral, upstanding person. He tried to do both. Sometimes I feel like two different people too. One just wants to be kind and love everyone, and the other wouldn't cry very hard if aliens wiped out the human race. But I think most people experience this to some degree or another because nobody is perfect but everybody who wants to be plays host to this battleground between good and evil that are both part of us. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41) Yet in my interactions with Mackenzie, I would say that her Jekyll (spirit) more often than not overpowers her Hyde (flesh) because he's the one she feeds. Or something like that. Am I making any sense?
Putting Mr. Hyde in his place once and for all isn't done overnight either. Jesus commands us in the Sermon on the Mount not only to abstain from sinful actions but from the very inclinations toward them - yet He's well aware that this is difficult, unpleasant, and unnatural, hence He compares it to plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand. Surely He understands if, partway through the process of plucking out her eye, Mackenzie decides that this really really hurts and she'd rather keep it after all. Surely He understands if it takes several attempts and lots of backsliding before she finishes cutting off her hand. I feel like some kind of insane religious fundamentalist talking like this, but Jesus is the one who chose those metaphors, not me. Note to idiots: I am not advocating literal self-mutilation. All I'm trying to say is that Mackenzie should have lots of patience with herself and so should everyone else. With themselves, I mean. And I wouldn't even need to remind her of that if she were a bad person because she wouldn't be getting exasperated with herself in the first place.
Maybe I'm completely wrong. I don't actually have the means or the authority to judge anyone's heart. Maybe she is as evil as she claims. The weird guy at church who makes up his own doctrine certainly thinks so. He's never met her, but he thinks he can tell by looking at people who's going to "perdition" and who's not, so he said she's some kind of demon or something who's drawn to me because I have the Holy Ghost and she wants to make me lose it. He said some other things too but I'm not comfortable sharing them even in a redacted format. All I can say to that is that if it's true, she's doing a terrible job. She knows some of my secret temptations and never uses them. In fact, she encourages me to be better in some ways. Worst demon ever. Or maybe I should say best, since she's the worst at being bad. I hesitated about whether to share this with her but I did and she was so fascinated by the weirdness of it that despite merely disliking him before she wants to meet him now.
When she tried to convince me that she's evil, she somehow missed the irony that earlier the same day her boss had accused her of being a crybaby snowflake who cares about minorities too much and pushes reverse discrimination, because she isn't a fan of fireworks because they traumatize veterans with PTSD. How cruel and self-centered of her. Later that week, she hosted another campfire with ten other people; more proof that she literally doesn't like anyone. At that campfire, my tinfoil dinner ripped open and spilled into the dirt and she insisted on giving me hers because she's privileged and judgmental. She claimed it was because she couldn't stand to see me pouting. I said, "Then I've finally figured out how to get what I want from you?" In the silence that followed, I realized that sounded a lot creepier out loud than it did in my head. Did I mention that she's given me far more patience than I deserve?
A Brief Review of Freedom Fire 2017
Ryan Innes was invited to return from last year and he's still the blackest white guy I've ever heard. I wouldn't be surprised if he holds a seance before each performance to channel the spirit of Luther Vandross. There was also a group called The Party Crashers, though I feel like they should only show up when they aren't invited. They did a medley that included the one innocuous passage from "Baby Got Back" that's in a bunch of kids' movies, and I assumed they would end there and launch into "Feelings" but instead they kept going and caused me many seconds of discomfort. Did they not notice there were children in the audience? Did they not care? Who invited them anyway? Oh right, the mayor. For better or for worse, that song is an integral part of the cultural milieu in which we live and we just have to deal with it. There was also a group of singing first graders, and when they were announced as "the future class of 2038" I swore out loud as I suddenly felt impossibly old, though I realize now that he must have meant 2028. Then there was the obligatory fireworks and laser show and more singing by The Party Crashers. The end.
The Future Sound of London - Papua New Guinea
"Clara" from church recently discovered my blog. Well, I mentioned it to her first, but I don't think most people that I mention it to ever bother to look at it. I think they assume it will be dumb and boring. But she loved it, and she read some aloud to her roommate who just today gushed about it being "addictive" and made me very happy. Anyway, Clara noted that I talk about music a lot and she asked about my taste and she said she would classify it as "hipster" even though she doesn't think I'm a hipster per se. So this week I tried to pick out something that I think qualifies as "hipster". You've probably never heard of it. Again, I'm no expert on genre but I think this track is "trance" music because it's electronic but more suited for meditation than dancing. The deluxe edition of the "Accelerator" album whence it comes has a second disc with ten remixes of it, all of them worthwhile in my opinion.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.