Saturday, February 26, 2011

At Least The Adjustment Bureau Noticed You

I recently saw the trailer for the new Matt Damon vehicle The Adjustment Bureau, and something about it affected me very deeply, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. Take a look if you haven't seen it yet:



When you break it down, the plot seems kind of ridiculous (on a second viewing I'm already wondering why the Bureau doesn't just make the adjustments they're so keen to make, rather than confronting Damon's character in the first place - wouldn't making him aware only incite him to rebel?), but the idea that there's a power or a force out there that's trying to control his/my life in some way and take away my choices generates a very visceral yet conflicting response from within.

As a way of helping clear up the message, just the other day the universe provided me with a great explanation of what was going on in the form of an excellent Radiolab podcast short called The Universe Knows My Name. In it, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich discuss fate and destiny, and use Looney Tunes cartoons featuring Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner to explore these ideas. Funny enough, this classic cartoon actually taps into some of the same concepts as the aforementioned movie.


Part of the popularity of the cartoon in the 1940's when it debuted (and to this day), was due specifically to its hapless protagonist. "He's an extraordinarily human animal," says Michael Barrier, and its about the predicaments he finds himself in more than anything.

They use the example of the trap Wile E. sets using a painting of a road set over a chasm. The plan being the Road Runner will run through the painting and fall to its death. Instead, he actually winds up going safely into the painting, and when the baffled coyote tries to follow, he winds up going through the painting and falling into the chasm. As it turns out, the Road Runner isn't Wile E.'s nemesis, it's the universe itself, which bends the laws of physics, gravity and apparently, picture entering in order to foil the hapless creature.

Barrier, along with the produces of the show explain: "I think all of us this latch onto this - 'how can this happen, the universe is out to get me!' Even though [it's] screwing you, at least it's noticing you. You know, it is kind of flattering in a way...on the one hand, it confirms our paranoia, on the other it kind of plays to our vanity."

It's a really brilliant concept to me. I've talked about being a narcissist in the past, and how I used to think of my life as a Truman Show before the movie even came out, and how video games tap into my innermost desire to be the center of the universe. So - an Adjustment Bureau would totally do that, right? You would clearly have to be important if you had creepy men in suits stalking you around, keeping tabs on you 24/7 and leering over you, post-coitus. I think about this, and my reaction to this is two-fold. Part of me is like: "hey, fuck you creepos!" and the other part is like: "well, yeah, obviously you're gonna wanna see this."

When I break it down, I'm not sure what's worse to me: the idea of the Adjustment Bureau showing up one day, tying me up and telling me to "get back on track," and to dump Emily Blunt even though she's smoking hot and clearly super into me, or hearing about the Adjustment Bureau, and slowly realizing I'm not in their book at all.


-Matt

PS: Of course I ultimately want the best of both worlds. I still play the lottery every now and again, and despite my longstanding Atheism, a part of me apparently still thinks some force out there recognizes how special/awesome I am, and deserving of all that sweet sweet cash, which would be the only possibly justification for putting money into some of the worst possible odds in the history of betting.

I guess the ultimate message here is:
"Universe, if you wanna help me get what I want, fine. But don't you DARE get in the way of me getting rich/laid!"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Day Musings - How High To Let Your Freak Flag Fly




The above comic (from one of my favorites sites on all the internets) squeezes an impressive amount of truth into just two panels. We spend a lot of our time growing up feeling like an outsider, wanting to connect and get along with others more than anything else. But somewhere along the way, by making small changes in order to make others like us more, or simply conforming to whatever we think of as "normal" in order to fit it, we actually become something really bland. And on the flip side, holding onto whatever you think makes you special can subject you to a lifetime of judgment and ridicule.

The concept of 'letting your freak flag fly,' that is - how much you wear your 'weirdness'  - a very subjective term, that of course, is entirely relative - on your sleeve has been on my mind lately. It applies especially to the dating world, where you meet people who you'd like to impress with your uniqueness but at the same time be the ideal version of whatever the other person is looking for in a mate.

This past week on Community (a show I have an undying love for, and have discussed several times), Abed Nadir, the show's incredibly smart, confident and observing but socially awkward and unaware character attempts to simultaneously woo a gorgeous librarian with his best friend Troy Barnes (literally simultaneously, as in, they approach at the same time and inform the woman of their mutual desire - to which she responds: "Let's get one thing clear: this is the cutest thing that's ever happened to me.") Although Troy is Abed's best friend, he is night and day from him - he's emotional, he's slow to see what's going on around him, and he's still very unsure of himself and who he is. He does, however, have some sexy dance moves.

Abed (left), Troy (right), and an impossibly cute bookworm (center)
The long story short is that - in a deal only two really strong best friends could make - both agree to concede to whomever the Librarian likes best, and after seeing Abed conclude a thorough analysis of all 8 Saw movies, the girl chooses Troy, who ultimately rejects her because he couldn't see why she would reject Abed. It's a hilarious and moving little plot that ends with Troy telling Abed during a a lengthy hug that: "we'll find someone for us."

Backing up for a second, I want to discuss Abed's wooing technique (and having said this, I'm very aware I'm over-analyzing what is intended to be a comedic situation, but I still think it warrants a discussion). He chooses to talk to the girl about Saw movies for their entire exchange, something no dating guide would ever suggest. But he's letting his freak flag fly high, right? Wouldn't doing anything less be untrue to himself?

Later in the night, while Troy is talking to the Librarian (who totally has a name I don't remember and don't want to spend the time looking up, so she'll continue to be named this way ) on the dance floor, she tells Troy she'd "love to have [Abed] as a friend, but romantically he's...you know." What a bitch! At least Troy certainly thought so.

Abed showed his true colors and he got judged for them. He lost the girl. But couldn't he have done just a bit more to meet the Librarian halfway? If she was into Saw movies, that'd be one thing, but simply engaging a person in a conversation only you're interested is actually kind of selfish. He didn't have to hide the fact that he had thoughts on the legacy of the franchise, but he also was trying to get something from her - her attention, another date, sex, whatever. Unless she was already really attracted to him, nothing about that conversation was going to change her mind.

In their final exchange, Troy comes running in and tells Abed "she thought you were weird," to which Abed replies, directly and with the utmost confidence: "I am weird." Abed knows who he is, but when it came to getting the girl he didn't take his own advice from an episode last season, (probably due to the inability of sitcom characters to ever truly grow, something I've discussed at length) which perfectly summarizes the situation.

Last year's "Physical Education" was primarily devoted to the group trying to get Abed to approach a woman they were convinced had a crush on him. The episode focused on the question of how much Abed needed to change himself to seduce a woman, since as I've said, his 'normal' self can come off incredibly creepy and weird. Naturally, the group hesitates to tell Abed to be anyone but himself, but after they see him begin to approach her as both a vampire and a snake, they settle on encouraging his amazing Don Draper impersonation that successfully seduces his friend Annie in under a minute.

Man, an evil Abed would make for a whole different show!
Later, the actual approach goes well but is foiled by the fact that the girl they thought had a crush on Abed is actually is dating a douchey white version of him(!). As postmortem later the group has this conversation with him:

Annie: Abed! About yesterday...

Abed: Oh yeah, you guys must be pretty upset.

Britta: Why would we be upset?

Abed: Well I know how important it was for you that I get a girlfriend. So when Jenny went off with 'White Abed,' that must have really hurt.

Troy: Ahh...it did!

---

Britta: Abed, you know we just want you to be happy, right?

Abed: Yeah, I know. Everybody wants me to be happy. Everybody wants to help me. But usually when they find out they can't they get frustrated and stop talking to me. Or they trick me into buying them ice cream and then shove me in a clothes dryer. Which I didn't want that to happen with you guys so I wanted to make sure you felt like you could help me. The truth is, lots of girls like me because let's face it, I'm pretty adorable, and my aloofness unconsciously reminds them of their fathers. I'm more used to them approaching me*.

Britta: So we didn't damage your self-esteem or anything?

Abed: Britta, I got self-esteem flowing out of my butt. That's why I was willing to change for you guys. Because when you really know who you are and what you like about yourself, changing for other people isn't such a big deal.

Jeff: Abed, you're a God.

Abed's last line nailed it perfectly. He knows exactly who he is, and what he likes about himself. He did what he did that week for his friends, because he likes them and wants to make them happy. He's not necessarily doing himself a disservice by pocketing any particular behavior at any given time in order to make someone else happy, especially if that happiness and sense of belonging is something he wants. On some level it can seem like a sticky wicket, because yes, I don't think Abed would be happy pretending to be Don Draper for an entire relationship, but I'd like to think we naturally let the people we know get to know our normal' self over time. Call it 'slowly re-hoisting the freak flag,' whatever it is, it's part of every single real relationship we invest ourselves in, dating or otherwise. You can't hide it forever, or else if you do, what you're getting in return must be worth the incredible amount of effort you put in, otherwise you're a fool. And fools, unlike freaks, definitely deserve our scorn.

Something I held onto for a long time but now realize is false was the idea that I can't be into video games and also be attractive to women, since most women aren't really into games. And so being forced to choose, I of course would rather stick with the inanimate objects that won't ever judge me or force me to change. The truth is, I can totally have both - it just requires a little bit of thought and effort on my part. I probably won't ever ever wind up with someone who truly hates games, but that's not a very large portion of the population, and obviously for the best for both parties anyway. Being confident in that fact will make me that much more attractive to the ones that do like games or, more likely, are simply neutral about them.

And so I go forth, with my freaky 'video-game-playing, improv-loving, and frankly-kind-of-borderline-obsessive-relationship-with-Community' flag hoisted high in the sky. Ladies:



Happy Valentine's Day, internet.

-Matt

PS: In case you're interested, here's the most recent Community episode I referenced, for your viewing pleasure, (courtesy of Hulu) FYI - this video won't be active forever, as episodes only stay up for a month or so:



*Side note: if this is true, they should probably show Abed on a date at some point, because I'd be very curious to see that date, and also know what kind of girl Abed gets along with. As it stands, he and Troy's bromance seems to be the only affectionate relationship he's been in. I'm guessing a female Abed and Troy is what Troy and Abed, respectively, both need.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

F@!#* You Craig Rowin!!

I couldn't keep it in guys, I'm sorry. My response to Craig Rowin not actually getting the million dollars he requested and subsequently earned online:

(Warning: this video is entirely NSFW)



More context, if you're interested.

-Matt