SPidge Tales

Saturday, March 03, 2007


An anecdote is a brief story, often used to entice a reader into an essay, article, or larger story as a way to lead or transition into the main thesis, which in itself may not be enticing enough to draw the reader in as an opening. For example, if someone argued that it is morally imperative, for the sake of the American family, to eschew our commercialist lifestyle for a more eco-granola lifestyle, I might open a critique of this viewpoint with an anecdotal story about meeting a nice family at McDonald’s. If you read my writing frequently, you probably notice that I use anecdotes a lot, probably more than I should. This essay below consists of a series of anecdotes. Each anecdote leads to what appears to be the thesis of my essay, but it in itself turns out to be just another anecdote leading to yet another believed thesis that is sadly yet another anecdote. Enjoy!

Satire is, according to the Official Scrabble® Players Dictionary: Third Edition, the use of derisive wit to attack folly or wickedness. Satire works best when it lampoons persons and things that take themselves way too seriously. Comedic movies such as The Naked Gun, Airplane!, Police Academy, and even Hot Shots are timeless works of movie humor because of the way they satirize serious dramas that came before them. Sadly, the movie spoofs that we are bombarded with nowadays neither poke real fun at nor offend the current crop of dramas, horrors, romances, and epic pictures. They are boring and dull us to death. What the producers of movies like Scary Movie, Date Movie, and Epic Movie don’t get is that it is not enough to have actors dress up in similar costumes to the characters they are spoofing. That is not satire; it’s just plain old referencing. Good satire creates characters of its own independent of the movies it spoofs, such as Leslie Nielsen’s cop in Naked Gun.

That said, one of the current crop of spoofs does get one thing right. Not Another Teen Movie, a spoof of high school movies like American Pie and Varsity Blues, is generally as bad as the rest of the “Insert Genre” Movie crop, but it nails a current movie truth with the introduction of an African-American character who calls himself the “token black guy.” This lampoons the practice in film of making sure there is a minority figure in a group of white friends who can act as the comic relief. The “token” character is inserted because of a concern for diversity, however it is easy to mock this practice because the implicit idea in the creators of shows and movies is that putting a “token” in the cast in some way really alleviates real racial problems in the world, when in reality, at best it does nothing and at worst it mocks true attempts at diversity.

We see this in more than just movies. Check out any college brochure for a lily-white campus such as St. Michael’s (my alma mater), and there will always be minorities in every picture, even though minorities are about two percent of the SMC college population. This “token”-izing goes beyond just race. It goes into all facets of our lives and relationships with others. The term That Guy (which I wrote on earlier: http://spidgetales.blogspot.com/2005/10/dont-be-that-guy.html) came into existence because we all know That Guy who always gets drunk or That Guy who doesn’t know how to answer ‘what’s up?’ with a simple ‘not much, you?’ or That Guy who always shows up to work late. The NBC show The Office resonates because of its many average characters that identify with traits of people we know.

Are people really so simple that they can be stereotyped into particular roles? The racial and sexual stereotyping of old, though still with us in remnants (and, in the cases of differences between men and women, are often very true, despite the derision of feminists), have to an extent given way to personality and characteristic stereotyping. There is the ‘dumb blond’ stereotype, the ‘hotheaded redhead’ stereotype, the ‘drunken frat-boy,’ the ‘meat-headed jock,’ the ‘comic relief’ guy, the ‘fat chick who is loose because she wants attention,’ the ‘snobby prep,’ the ‘frumpy middle-aged woman,’ the ‘absentminded professor,’ and many others.

No, individuals are not so simplistic as to be boxed into narrow categories such as these, but as humans, we think in narrative. We think in story. Our religious and cultural beliefs are passed down as narratives. We use narrative to make meaning out of our lives. And, since our lives are always intertwined with others, we give stereotypical characteristics to the people we interact with to make sense of our own lives, and to find meaning and direction in our own lives. A young adult may, for example, see his football coach as the token dictatorial Vince Lombardi type as a way of seeing his high school sports career as a defining moment in shaping how he grew from a ‘boy’ to a ‘man’.

We even think of ourselves as belonging to, or embodying, certain roles, in order to see our life narrative as not simply individual, but tied into the narrative of the communal whole. I have ‘performed’ many roles over the years. In Little League, I was the gawky uncoordinated kid who struck out every time. In middle school, I was the smart nerdy kid who always got picked on by the cool kids. In high school, I was the star baseball player and the guy who the social studies teacher always called on to read, because I read with passion and used proper inflection while most of my classmates read in a dull monotone. In college, I played baseball and got involved in student activities, which lead to me being ‘the well known guy who everybody liked’ (seriously. If Facebook was around during my undergrad years, I would have had about 800 people on my friend list under St. Michael’s alone). At pretty much every life stop, I have been the funny guy who makes everyone feel welcome. And, sadly, at pretty much every life stop as well, I have been the guy who girls love to hang out with, who makes them laugh, who they can have great conversations with, but is somehow not quite worthy of taking them out on a date and getting a kiss goodnight.

Because of that last role I play in the narrative of life, I have become as close to an expert as there is on the dreaded ‘Friend Zone.’ I know what it is like to get the ‘just friends’ talk. The ‘you are a great friend, but that is it’ talk, and the ‘I like you as a friend’ talk, and the best one of all, the ‘I don’t want to ruin our friendship by taking it to the next level’ talk. Are there times in the past where I wish the girls would have just said, ‘Sean, when I mean I don’t want to date someone I am friends with/someone I work with, I just mean you, because I would definitely date the right friend/coworker’ or ‘Sean, you are just not good looking enough for me’? I always used to say ‘yes, I’d rather just hear the awful truth’ and thought of the ‘you’re a great friend’ speech as a euphemism (to see my old essay on euphemisms, click here: http://spidgetales.blogspot.com/2005/11/euphemisms.html).

And, maybe it is a euphemism. But not all euphemisms are bullshit. Some are. I have gotten a couple letters already from places I applied for jobs that said “while we are sure all the applicants were more than qualified, we have chosen the candidate we feel is best for the job.” Bullshit. Maybe that candidate was best, but how the hell do you know that all the applicants were qualified? But, the ‘just friends’ speech is not really a euphemism. It results from this innate sense in all of us not to hurt others. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. If the stakes were turned, and it was girls I am not interested in asking me out, would I come right out and say, ‘sorry, you are not good looking enough,’ or ‘your personality sucks’ or ‘I don’t like the fact that you have already hooked up with dozens of guys,’ depending on whether I am turned off by her looks, her personality, her loose morals, or a combination thereof? No. I would be polite and friendly about it, try to deflect the issue as much as possible, and throw out euphemisms and half-truths such as ‘I’m not looking for a relationship right now’ or ‘I don’t want to ruin our friendship.’

It’s only natural to be polite and friendly to a fault. Sadly, this leads to false hopes and even bigger hurts when things don’t work out. I wish I could go back in time and visit my 10th grade self. I would say to 15-year-old me, “Sean, you’re making a mistake. Don’t ask the prettiest girl in school to be your homecoming date. She is going to say no. Learn your place in the school’s social status line. And, if you do make the mistake and ask her out, don’t be fooled by the ‘I’ll think about it’ answer. She’s trying to be nice and didn’t want to hurt your feelings right away. Later she will tell you she’d rather just go alone.” I would warn the 16-year-old 11th grade me, “Sean, save yourself from getting yelled at and swore at by the coach, save yourself from getting stuck on the bench most minutes of each game. Skip basketball and go out for bowling instead.” (I’ve chronicled my high school basketball incident here: http://spidgetales.blogspot.com/2005/10/i-begin-basketball-coaching.html)

Not only is it stupid to wish I could go back in time and give myself that advice, but it is redundant. I told myself the same thing when I lived through it. Intuition told me I was stepping out of my league in the dating department, especially as a 15-year-old who had never asked anyone out. Going for the prettiest girl the first time you try and date is like stepping up to bat against Roger Clemens before playing Little League. And, I knew going into the basketball season in 11th grade things weren’t going to work out. I was on Varsity during preseason in 10th grade, but got dropped to JV before the regular season to get more playing time. My JV coach moved up to Varsity and brought up two other guys, but not me. I knew then I wasn’t in the long term plans, even while I averaged 16 points per game on JV. No, surprisingly, those events really don’t bother me anymore. One, they happened in high school, and nothing from high school can truly be considered real life. And two, the real heartbreaks are not those events that you know deep down won’t work out. They are the things that you really believed would work out, but didn’t. For sports metaphors, think of the Boston Red Sox standing one out away from their first World Series championship in 68 years in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, or the New York Mets losing Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS after Endy Chavez made the game saving catch that seemed to shift the momentum.

I can think of a few examples (and will share a couple) of this type of empty feeling in my life. They don’t happen during the event, but sometime after. There comes a point where you just feel that knot in your stomach, knowing that something isn’t right. Things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to. And not only that, they were completely out of your control. There was nothing you could have done to fix the problem. The first example takes place my senior year of high school during baseball season. Junior year, I finally got really good at baseball, making All-League, getting 32 hits, and hitting my first homerun (a grand slam, no less). We were a Class D school, playing in a league with all B and C schools. Our record was only 7-16 since we played against larger schools, and we got a low 9 seed in the Class D sectionals. We won four in a row to win the Section 2 championship, before losing in the state regionals, a game before the state final four. I went 11 for 20 (.550 average) during the five games. I was sad we lost, but ready for senior year. Again playing against B and C schools, we went 8-13. But, we were left out of the Class D sectionals, event though we crushed the top D seeds during non-league regular season games. I was upset. I started slow that year, but hit my stride, hitting 3 homeruns, including one my final home game. I really felt that this was the year we were meant to win states at the D level. I was going to lead my team to a state title, but my chance was taken away not by another team beating us on the field, but by an uneducated sectional committee that could not understand strength of schedule. The other empty feeling moment happened the final summer I worked at a certain summer job. A few days before the end of summer, one coworker had to leave early. This person hugged me goodbye and left, and at that moment I felt empty. I felt that things did not go the way they were supposed to, the way I believed they would earlier that summer. When this person was hired to work there with me, I thought we really connected, and I took it as a sign that the final role I had always played in the narrative of life would be going away. But it didn’t, and there was nothing I could have done to make things turn out any different. I hope life is going great for this person and that this person is happy, as I do for all my friends I worked with there and all my friends from high school, college, grad school, and all other walks of life. But would I mind if someday, I end up rich and famous, with supermodels on each arm, and this person sees me and feels a little jealous and wishes that she had taken the opportunity to be the one on my arm? No.

Are these examples of things to regret? No. They are events that I could not have changed, no matter what I did. Regrets are for things like robbing banks. If I did something that stupid, I would sure as hell regret it sitting in my prison cell. Regrets are for actions you could have done differently. We should regret not trying out for the high school soccer team. We should regret not asking the pretty girl to prom. We should regret not applying to our dream college. We should regret not sending a resume to that great company. Hell, we should regret not trying out for American Idol. At least the people we laugh at in the early episodes went for their dream. If they didn’t, there would be no one to mock on Fox television, and there would be no Randy, Paula, and Simon to satirize on SNL. Most of the fun in blowhard TV personalities such as Dr. Phil, and now Simon, is seeing them lampooned in sketch show satires.

Satire is, according to the Official Scrabble® Players Dictionary: Third Edition, the use of derisive wit to attack folly or wickedness. Satire works best when it lampoons persons and things that take themselves way too seriously. Comedic movies such as The Naked Gun, Airplane!, Police Academy, and even Hot Shots are timeless works of movie humor because of the way they satirize serious dramas that came before them…


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