The other day a friend in Uganda asked me what Black Friday is. I and many if not most Americans have long recognized that Black Friday is a sickening orgy of consumerism that brings out the worst in humanity, but when he asked me about it I realized I have no clue what the original paper-thin excuse for its existence is. To my knowledge, it literally is and always has been nothing more than a sickening orgy of consumerism that brings out the worst in humanity. I didn't use those exact words in my explanation but I felt, as seldom before, profoundly embarrassed to be an American. I saw that one company this year started its Black Friday sales at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
So speaking of Thanksgiving, this year I decided to try something new and revolutionary: giving thanks. Here are some things that I'm thankful for this year. The list is biased toward the latter half of this year because I habitually try to block out most of my memories.
* Not being in school.
* Becoming dependent on melatonin.
* Finally getting endowed.
* My sister getting married (albeit on my graduation day) so I can finally have those adorable little nieces and nephews I've been praying for. Better get on that, Heather.
* The development of effective Ebola vaccines and treatments.
* My friend Terrah doing my apartment search for me because I would have rather stuck a dirty needle in my eye. And also giving me food.
* Being forced to move into this great little apartment complex with only one roommate who's frequently gone and the best neighbors I've ever had. Excluding Barky McBarkerton next door, who needs to die.
* Sixteen new temples and eight new missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being announced, to say nothing of the long-overdue death of the stupid Young Women's class names.
* Millennials finally getting their revenge on idiot boomers who have been relentlessly mocking them for struggling to survive in the economy that the boomers ruined.
* "The Mandalorian" TV show demonstrating what Star Wars is supposed to be. Even though the unnecessary existence of yet another streaming service is really annoying.
* Hong Kong voters coming out in record numbers to overwhelmingly displace their pro-Beijing council members with pro-democracy ones.
* Congress passing and Trump signing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Suck it, China. Whatcha gonna do, stop manufacturing all our cheap plastic crap?
* My crush giving me stimulating conversation and an unsolicited hug.
* Not developing any serious illnesses or injuries that would put me into life-ruining medical debt because my country has the worst healthcare system in the developed world and I don't have insurance.
* "The Rise of Skywalker" coming up and looking like it's going to have enough epic battles and stunning visuals to compensate for the plot holes, SJW preaching and lame Disney jokes.
* Not wasting time or money on any dates.
* Trump's wall still conspicuously failing to be built.
* 2019 thus far (knock on wood knock on wood knock on so much wood) having been a much, much, much, much, much better year for me than the crapstorm from hell that was 2018. Largely because Kristin Pike wasn't part of it.
Warning: this post has been composed on two hours of sleep
Rammstein's song "Deutschland", released earlier this year, poetically describes the cognitive dissonance of wanting to love one's country in spite of the horrible things it's done. They lyrics themselves don't go into any detail about what those horrible things are in Germany's case, even though Rammstein has never shied away from dark and taboo topics that most normal people don't want to think about. The video, however, depicts (among several other things) the band members reenacting a concentration camp execution, and despite their obvious good intentions some, including actual Holocaust survivors, considered it quite shocking and tasteless. I think that's a good thing. I worry about a future day when everyone who experienced World War II firsthand is gone and its horrors have become ancient history to the desensitized idiots running the world.
When I heard that "Jojo Rabbit" is a comedy about Nazis, but didn't hear about any commensurate outrage, I knew I had to see it. Without knowing anything else I could guess the sort of thing they were going for and how its approach offers what is, unfortunately, a very timely and relevant message in this era when Nazis are making a resurgence. (In the United States, that is. Germany doesn't actually let self-proclaimed Nazis march in its streets. Go figure.) I frequently have a dark sense of humor that I probably need to repent of, but more to the point, I think there are legitimate times and places to apply humor to most subjects that conventional wisdom suggests should never be joked about - either because context makes the humor profound rather than shocking and tasteless, or because it is shocking and tasteless but in the right way. It's a balancing act, to be sure.
And the worst specimens that humanity has to offer are not exempt from this principle. As David Morgan-Mar of Irregular Webcomic! wrote, "Yes, I make jokes about Nazis. I make fun of the Nazis because they were pathetic, evil excuses for people who deserve to be made fun of." When he wrote this way back in 2013, it probably seemed reasonable to describe Nazis in the past tense.
To my disappointment, the titular protagonist is not an actual rabbit. He's a ten-year-old boy who looks like my cousin Jaden, who's more than ten years old but close enough. The rabbit part is a nickname he acquires that has little significance to the movie unless I missed some deeper threads of symbolism, which I probably did because I don't know how to art. Anyway, Jojo is living in a fictional German town toward the end of World War II and he's completely enamored with the Nazi cause. He worships Hitler and detests Jews even though he knows nothing about them. And this is the guy we're supposed to root for. There's a powerful and, ugh, timely message here about indoctrination and people, to say nothing of children, getting swept up by dangerously wrong ideologies. How did Hitler brainwash millions of normal people, and what's to stop someone else from doing the same? This movie won't let you not think about that.
Much of the humor in "Jojo Rabbit" focuses on making the Nazis look ridiculous, which isn't hard. Their fanaticism and xenophobia are ripe for satire, with the latter being an interesting example of shocking and tasteless in (what I regard as) the right way. Several characters say vile, appalling things about Jews without disclaimers or irony of any kind. (The exception is when the Jewish character Elsa says them to Jojo sarcastically to mock him.) But these lines are so absurdly hyperbolic and impossible to take seriously that they make the Nazis, and really by extension all racists everywhere, sound stupid, which is funny because it's true. It's a subtle but significant step beyond "racist jokes" that exist solely for shock value. The shock value is there, but it has an actual message. As with Rammstein's video I can understand the perspective of those who would find such a portayal irredeemably offensive, but these are things that happened and we still have to grapple with them all these decades later using every tool at our disposal.
Hitler himself has been ripe for comic treatment in everything from "Looney Tunes" to "Robot Chicken", I think in part because he's transcended mortality like perhaps no other figure of the twentieth century. What he did was orders of magnitude larger than the human mind can truly comprehend, so for those of us whose lives he didn't directly ruin, he's more of a symbol than an actual human being. I can't personally hate him any more than Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. He was a comically deranged little man, and an appropriate target of humor for the same reasons as Nazis in general, but constantly making him the butt or promulgator of jokes risks becoming tasteless and dismissive the kind of person he really was. (This is less of a risk with random Nazi characters, because in real life not every person who threw their lot in with that ideology back then was pure evil. Nowadays it's harder to rationalize.)
"Jojo Rabbit" solves this problem in two ways. First, the Hitler in the movie is not the real Hitler, but Jojo's imaginary friend who embodies his youthful zealotry for the Nazi cause. He can be goofy and funny and even - shudder - likable at times because he is, in fact, the product of a ten-year-old child's brain. Second, even with that being said, the movie starts to show us his true colors and eventually (spoiler alert) makes known in no uncertain terms what it thinks of him and what he stands for. One of the people I watched it with expressed her bewilderment that they had a ten-year-old child say the f-word. I think it should be more shocking that they dressed a ten-year-old child in a Hitler Youth uniform and had him say terrible things about Jews, but more to the point, if there's ever a completely appropriate and unobjectionable context for the f-word, this is it. I don't doubt that Jesus himself would say the f-word in this context.
Other than that, the tone of the movie tends to avoid dark humor as such, differentiating between comedy and tragedy. The plight of the Jews and German resistance fighters, and even one Nazi officer who turns out to be human after all, is played completely straight. Still, scattered throughout are some instances of death and injury played for laughs, and one humorous mention of Gestapo torture. Somehow it works and doesn't seem inconsistent. Another David Morgan-Mar quote seems apropos: "It is my general philosophy that humour can help ease despair and loss. That's why I can make jokes based on some of the most terrible events in human history. I've done it before, and I'll do it again. But never feel that I am insensitive to the real world suffering and loss experienced during these dreadful episodes."
In summary, Nazism is a cancer and the only platform we should give its proponents is one that comes with a rope and a long drop. Racism is a cancer. Xenophobia is a cancer. White supremacy is a cancer. If we as a species could grow up and learn that, maybe movies like "Jojo Rabbit" wouldn't need to exist.
The Dating Game
My closest friend, by whom I mean someone who actually lives very far away that I don't talk to very often but who knows more about me than anyone else except God and doesn't think any less of me for it, is almost exactly the same age. She's a week younger than me. In her twenty-six years, she's been in more relationships than I can count and been engaged once or twice. In my twenty-six years, I've never been on a second date. She, by her own admission, is somewhat codependent and can't stand to be alone, so she ends up dating guys that she knows aren't a great fit. I, in contrast, am so settled into my solitary lifestyle and eternal cycle of rejection that the hypothetical prospect of being in a relationship, even with someone I really really like, is deeply unsettling and becomes less attractive the more I think about it.
But regardless of our differing paths we're both equally single. I muse on that sometimes and I invariably conclude that, as far as this one topic is concerned, I'm the luckier one. It must be so much better to never have something than to have it and then lose it. Over and over again, no less. When I'm thinking rationally I determine that my phenomenal failure rate has been a blessing in disguise.
Recently she lamented that she had been on a date with this guy and really hit it off and was hoping for things to become quite serious. Alas, some girl he'd been interested in for years chose that time to reciprocate those feelings, so now he's with her instead. My friend is very bummed out. I was able to empathize because this sort of bullcrap is my least favorite bullcrap of all the multitude of bullcrap that constitutes what we call dating. You don't operate in a vacuum. You can't just stand on your own merits; you also have to be better than everyone else who wants what you want. It doesn't matter how much you want it, how hard you try, how well you plan, how hard you pray; someone else that the object of your affections finds more attractive than you can come along and erase all your efforts in an instant, and there's nothing you can do about it. Often there's no way to even see it coming.
I shared with her the metaphor that I'd come up with for these situations. It's like playing a video game where, at random intervals, invincible enemies pop out of nowhere and instantly kill you and send you back to the beginning.
Actually, let me back up. Figurative language isn't really my thing but I think this metaphor has potential. I will attempt to explain what dating was like for me as an Aspie YSA by comparing it to a video game. I didn't grow up to be much of a gamer because my parents thought every console prior to the Wii was evil or something, but I enjoy them when I get the opportunity. (Legend of Zelda FTW). They're a nice way to relax and escape from the existential horror of this sick joke we call mortality. Usually.
Okay, so first of all, you've heard about this metaphorical game growing up and people have tried to make you excited for it. You're intrigued, but it's not the sort of thing you'd take the initiative of choosing to do in your spare time. You're more of a book reader. As you get older, people try to encourage you more and more, offer to help you with it, and whatever, to the point where you cave and decide to see what all the hype is about.
So you check out the instruction manual, and discover upon doing so that it's written in an amalgamation of Chinese, Sanskrit, and drunk spider footprints. Most of your friends, despite their assurances to the contrary, seem to read it just fine, and you ask them for help and they try to give you a summary. Sometimes people charge money for books and seminars about what they think it means.
The only way to actually figure it out, you finally conclude, is by trying the game yourself and learning as you go. So you start the game, and discover upon doing so that it's a maze. You know those antique DOS games from the nineties that are challenging, but reasonable, and you're just going along collecting items and figuring out where to use them and then suddenly there's this maze segment that's almost impossible to finish in less than an hour without a walkthrough? And it's completely disproportionate to the difficulty and tedium of the rest of the game and you're just like, What genius thought this would be fun? So this game is like that, except instead of side-scrolling or top-down it's first-person, which makes it even worse.
Also, there are land mines in the floor. So it's also like Minesweeper. Do you know how to play Minesweeper? I don't and I don't know anyone else who does.
You can't figure out the controls from the instruction manual, but your friends tell you what each of the five dozen buttons and triggers is supposed to do. You start the minefield maze and discover upon doing so the difference between theory and practice. Sometimes the controls do what they're supposed to, sometimes they do the opposite, sometimes they do nothing, and sometimes they leak battery acid all over your hands.
When you step on a mine, the damage varies. Sometimes your character dies and sometimes he just loses a limb or two. The plus side, if it can be called that, is that you have unlimited lives in this game. The downside of the plus side is that every time you die you get sent back to the beginning and the maze randomly rearranges itself. You get bored quickly and would rather not play this game anymore. But your friends assure you that everyone steps on mines and yes, it sucks and it's always going to suck, but what can you do? Apparently that's supposed to be comforting.
Also, even if you manage to avoid the mines through luck or telepathy, at random intervals, invincible enemies pop out of nowhere and instantly kill you and send you back to the beginning.
Why would anyone spend more than two minutes playing such a terrible, horrible, no good very bad game? Because apparently there's a really cool cutscene at the end, and when people reach it, they become so excited that they decide it was all worth it and decide how much they hated the game. Especially decades down the road when the rising generations are playing an even harder and stupider remake of the game, and these old people who beat it decades ago don't understand what the issue is. (You can just watch the cutscene on YouTube, but people will tell you that's a cheap counterfeit of the real experience because the audio quality is poor or something.)
Whatever. You're more of a book reader.
Once upon a time there was a generation of Americans known as "baby boomers" because they were born during a time known as the "baby boom" which was preceded by an event known as the "Big Bang". They were born at very young ages, but like many humans, after a few decades had gone by they started to get old. And like many humans, some of them hated everything the rising generations stood for. In particular, the (white) baby boomers seemed to have a personal vendetta against "millennials", by which they meant anyone aged zero to thirty, long after virtually all actual millennials had graduated college (where applicable) and the next generation (Generation Z) had been coming along for well over two decades.
In their prime, the baby boomers had pretty handily ruined the economy and the environment, leaving millennials to clean up their mess and become the first generation in American history with a lower quality of life than their parents. When millennials and Gen Z-ers couldn't afford various luxury industries that previous generations took for granted, (white) baby boomers blamed them for "killing" or "murdering" said industries. When millennials and Gen Z-ers complained about the circumstances forced on them and proposed political or economic solutions, (white) baby boomers mocked them for being "lazy", "entitled", and the personal favorite of many, "snowflakes". This last was literally one of the stupidest insults in the English-speaking world. Anyone who said it unironically sounded like a five year old calling his sister random words because he didn't understand how insults work.
This is not to say, of course, that millennials as individuals or as a group were without flaw, but the negative stereotypes leveled at them were for the most part unfair and unwarranted. One day, millennials decided they'd taken enough abuse and started responding to baby boomers' bullcrap with a sarcastic and condescending "OK boomer." There was nothing particularly clever about this phrase, but it became wildly popular because of its surprising effectiveness at offending the very same (white) people who had been mocking them for being easily offended. One boomer, a (white) conservative radio host, was so offended that he published a very stupid Tweet, which in fairness was less stupid than almost every Tweet written by the President of the United States at that time, but was still very stupid.
This Tweet was received about as well as anybody who knew even the tiniest bit about the history of race relations in the United States would expect. Most responses simply consisted of the words "OK boomer." Indeed, like most of the bullcrap that spawned this retaliatory catchphrase in the first place, the Tweet was too asinine to merit actual constructive or thoughtful responses. Some were attempted anyway. I didn't bother, but if I had bothered, I would have simply asked a few questions in the hope of prompting introspection that would lead this misguided (white) guy to his own conclusions. I would have asked:
Were baby boomers legally bought and sold by millennials who took them from their homes in obscenely crowded ships, forced them to perform arduous manual labor, beat them with no repercussions, and had complete control over their lives, for hundreds of years?
Did evangelical Christians ever develop an almost universally accepted theology claiming that baby boomers were cursed by God because of their lineage, and therefore fundamentally inferior to millennials?
Did scientists ever develop almost universally accepted hypotheses claiming that baby boomers were biologically more primitive and less intelligent than millennials?
Were baby boomers at one time classified as three-fifths of a person by the U.S. government?
Have baby boomers ever been burned, shot or lynched because of their age or the year they were born?
Did eugenicists like Margaret Sanger regard baby boomers as an "undesirable" population and leave a legacy that would continue to systematically target their communities up to the present day?
Did the Home Owner's Loan Corporation ever label neighborhoods with high percentages of baby boomers as "risky investments" that would subsequently be denied mortgage loans for decades?
Have baby boomers ever been denied access to public pools, clubs, restaurants, theaters, libraries, hotels, etc. that were open to younger people?
Have baby boomers ever been forced to sit at the back of public transportation because of their age or the year they were born?
Did baby boomers ever have to use separate water fountains from millennials?
Is a job application with an "old" sounding name demonstrably less likely to be accepted than the exact same application with a "young" sounding name?
Do baby boomers disproporationately get pulled over while driving compared to millennials?
Are baby boomers disproportionately targeted and incarcerated for drug offenses and other non-violent crimes that millennials are far more likely to get away with?
Are baby boomers regularly murdered by millennial police officers with little or no provocation?
Do millennial supremacists march in American streets with few if any repercussions?
I notice that you had no problem spelling out "Boomer", yet only referred to the n-word as "the n-word". Is this because you actually know fine well that the latter word is much, much more offensive than the former, for very obvious reasons, and that only a complete imbecile could fail to recognize this?
The Tweet was eventually deleted with no explanation or apology, but it would forever be immortalized as yet another piece of our species' sad history, and the first organized retaliatory strike by millennials in a war that they sure as crap didn't start.
I <3 Hong Kong
What's happening now in Hong Kong feels like the most Earth-shaking event of my life since the Arab Spring erupted while I was in high school. At that time I was on proverbial tenterhooks to see what this would mean for North Africa, the Middle East and the world. And what it meant was that Tunisia transitioned to a constitutional democracy, seventeen other countries did not transition to constitutional democracies, and Syria spiraled into an eternal civil war that's now a primary contributor to the largest refugee crisis in world history. Not exactly on par with the fall of the Iron Curtain. As yet there have been no other comparable events of such obvious significance in my lifetime. 9/11 could have been, if I had been old enough to understand its repercussions or if I had ever so much as heard of the World Trade Center before that day, but it wasn't.
The proposed legislation that pissed many Hong Kongers off enough to protest has been retracted, but the protesters have still had enough and they want their independence from mainland China altogether. I fully support that goal because the government of mainland China is evil to the core. And this is where things have a chance to turn out differently than the Arab Spring. My hope, in fact - and I don't know the likelihood of this happening, so I'm not getting too excited, but I really really would love it if it did - is for the protests to spread across the mainland, for the entire country to rise up and bring down Winnie the Pooh and the other murdering dictators who control their lives. It would be difficult to coordinate without Facebook, but the government wouldn't have a chance in hell of suppressing such an uprising if it included a majority of the population.
Of course, it does have the power, in theory, to suppress the protesters in Hong Kong, and every intention of doing so. I say "in theory" because there is ample historical precedent for poorly armed, vastly outnumbered underdogs kicking their enemies' trash (e.g. the American colonists, the Viet Cong, the Alliance to Restore the Republic). So I'm on the tenterhooks again waiting to see what will happen, wishing I could actually contribute to this cause I believe in. If I were an actual successful multimillionaire author instead of a virtually unknown blogger talking to himself, I could have enough political and financial influence to put my white savior complex to some use, but as the situation stands I can do little more than pray for them. And I know prayer is powerful, but as the continuing epidemic of mass shootings in my own country demonstrates, it's not a substitute for action.
Even the best case scenario will come at a heavy cost. There is almost no conceivable chance that many, many innocent people won't be disrupted, hurt and killed for standing up for their city's freedom. This is probably why many other Hong Kongers are wary of, or even opposed to, the protests. Every sane protester is undoubtedly terrified. I hope that as the situation deteriorates, their courage and convictions will not falter, and that others will be emboldened by their example to join their ranks. This is mostly what I pray for. I pray that God will strengthen their hearts for what lies ahead. As Captain Peter Quincy Taggart said, "Never give up, never surrender!" As the singers on Atari's video game cash-in album "Yars' Revenge" sang, "Better to die a hero, than to live a slave." And I'm sure there are some similar quotes from real people that I could throw in if I felt like it.
My one piece of white savior advice that will make no difference to anything is that their actual physical violence and vandalism need to be directed at the right people. The protesters need to stop disrupting civilians' lives and livelihoods, no matter how justified they feel. They are needlessly alienating potential allies from their cause. Maybe they need to target police officers. They probably will need to target soldiers and bureaucrats as things heat up. But they should never target anyone merely for having, or being suspected to have, certain political leanings. They should not vandalize businesses, airports, train stations, and the like that are not actively strengthening the government of mainland China. They need to let their call for freedom ring loud and clear without giving others reason to paint them as terrorists or common criminals.
And if/when all hell breaks loose, they should fight clean and with dignity. The government of mainland China will undoubtedly commit war crimes. The rebels shouldn't stoop to that level. While certain regrettable actions may be justified and necessary for this cause, there is a line that should never be crossed. Some things are never justified by even the most noble cause. People of Hong Kong who will never read this, I implore you not to become the very thing you seek to destroy. I know it's none of my business, but I'm praying for you, for your own sakes and for your children and your grandchildren. Good luck.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, 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.