Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the name; Philip K. Dick helps; ceasing to be an asshole

A friend of mine told me, very mat-toe-uh-fackly, that I write this blog because (quote) I want people to think like me... (end). I disagree, that's what I tell myself. My most dependable explanation for the writings I collect in this digital place: I want to work with my thoughts, (you know, test them out, see how they roll — rather than blindly accepting them) and, when I find something that might by enjoyed by another Youman Being, I offer it — from there, I'm not really involved (it's not like I get a lot of follow up questions, most of the discussions about the posts happen before they're written).

The name, what the Tee Vee taught, might be worth an explanation. Philip K. Dick, years before I was birthed, said this:
TV viewing is a kind of sleeplearning. An EEG of a person watching TV shows that after about half an hour the brain decides that nothing is happening, and it goes into a hypnoidal twilight state, emitting alpha waves. This is because there is such little eye motion. In addition, much of the information is graphic and therefore passes into the right hemisphere of the brain, rather than being processed by the left, where the conscious personality is located. Recent experiments indicate that much of what we see on the TV screen is received on a subliminal basis. We only imagine that we consciously see what is there. The bulk of the messages elude our attention; literally, after a few hours of TV watching, we do not know what we have seen. Our memories are spurious, like our memories of dreams; the blank spaces are filled in retrospectively. And falsified. We have participated unknowingly in the creation of of a spurious reality, and then we have obligingly fed it to ourselves. We have colluded in our own doom.
I freely admit that much of this — to me — is unknown or nonsense. An EEG? Huh? What the fuck is an alpha wave? Colluded in our own doom... What now? Yet, I'm totally with him, and I don't really know why... it just works for me (I suspect it's the part about spurious memories, filled in retrospectively, and falsified... I like that, that feels right, somehow). Read a little more, if you would:
It was always my hope, in writing novels and stories that asked the question "What is reality?" to someday get an answer. This was the hope of of most of my readers, too. Years passed... But the problem is a real one, not a mere intellectual game. Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups — and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudoworlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener. Sometimes when I watch my eleven-year-old daughter watch TV, I wonder what she is being taught. The problem of miscuing; consider that. A TV program produced for adults is viewed by a small child. Half of what is said and done in the TV drama is probably misunderstood by the child. Maybe it's all misunderstood. And the thing is, Just how authentic is the information anyhow, even if the child correctly understood it? What is the relationship between the average TV situation comedy and reality? What about the cop shows? Cars are continually swerving out of control, crashing, and catching fire. The police are always good and they always win. Do not ignore that one point: The police always win. What a lesson that is. You should not fight authority, and even if you do, you will lose. The message here is, Be passive. And — cooperate. If Officer Baretta asks you for information, give it to him, because Officer Baretta is a good man and to be trusted. He loves you and you should love him.
Bringing capital T Truth or "reality" into living rooms and offices is not my objective. No-no-no. Rather, I want to — eventually, no hurry — create my own reality. Nothing to be preached or promised. There will be no fanfare. I'm not creating a product. I'm creating a lens. For me. A way of seeing. And listening. Speaking, moving, and so forth. In many ways, I'm still consumed by my tee vee teachings, my sleeplearning. Here's an example (and the raison d'ĂȘtre of this post — so please, if you made it this far, perk yourself):

When I hear somebody reject a scientific explanation for the creation of the universe (specifically, rejecting it in favor of a religious/mythical explanation) my first reaction is to mock and laugh ("dumbass," my head voice scoffs). Now, this is a usable example of what the Tee Vee taught me*, because I have no fucking good reason for doing this. In fact, I too do not accept a scientific explanation for the creation of the universe (note: I don't reject it, I just don't accept it, because I don't understand). Look at that thing: the hilarity to your right is a visual helper, designed to help eager scientific minds comprehend a theory. I've spent some time (we're going all the way back to pre-dropped balls here) considering the creation of the universe. I love it. Great fun. Very challenging. I fail every fucking time. I simply don't understand. I can slowly wade into the info, build each idea, ask my college Physics professor lots of annoying questions... yet, I can't get there. If I have ever said, "I understand the basics of Big Bang cosmology," I was fucking lying. In the past, this is something I'm sure I have lied about, because I so badly wanted to understand, yet I fell short.

Despite this, to this day, if I hear someone take a crap on scientific explanations for "the big question", a snarky moan spurts through my head. I don't like this. Its facelessness is ugly (actually, it has a face... mine). So I have to hope that, somehow, I'll remember that I have no grounds for being so dismissive — such an asshole. That's what this blog is about, reducing the asshole who works the long, thoughtless hours of the auto-pilot shift.

* I don't literally mean "television taught me to think this way". Rather, I'm thinking of the things we learn less than consciously, behind our own backs.


  1. Your approach is most original, sir.

    I'm curious to know more about your relationship with TV. What is the minimum amount of watching required to maintain a blog of this kind?

  2. Good post. I agree, the drawing is ridiculous. So is the theory, which, like transubstantiation, I do not understand. See, I grew up watching Superman. All I know is Truth, Justice, and the American Way

    Well, that and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

  3. What my daughter taught me. She was about 8. I walked in and she was watching Seinfeld with her mom. I asked what was going on. She said, "TV is for little kids and stupid people. You don't want to watch this." And she was right. I just wanted to participate, or something. I've tried to watch shows that smart friends say are "great!!!, but with almost no appreciation of the medium. Amazingly, I still get most of the references to TV in popular culture, I guess because they are so pervasive and merely serve as shorthand for gross and general points, not because they reference anything substantial. Still, that left hemisphere must be good for something.

    The image of personal reality as a created lens is attractive. I'll think about that.


  4. Long comment, here we go.

    JRB — My relationship with television? I can answer that. Minimum amount? I don't like. Like I said, if you believe tee vee has greatly influenced your perspective (which I obviously do), that's enough.

    Some of my earliest memories took place in front of it. I've watched an obscene number of sporting events, although, probably fairly average for kids whose childhood revolved around putting on a uniform and playing a game. As a kid, I watched dead-on-arrival network comedies (laugh tracks, mild slap-stick, mild double entendre), no drama, no news. By late middle school/early high school, I'd watch Mtv and their wonderful reality programming (obviously, this taught me everything I could wetdream (using that as a verb) about sex and boy-girl stuff... the internet didn't get installed until I was 16, and remember, if you can, we're talking dial-up Web 1.0.

    College rolled around and television went away. I'd still watch sports, but since booze had recently been invented, the tee vee fell to the background (for the first time, I'd watch without sound — which I almost exclusively do now as well... watching sports = listening to music).

    Farewell to college, I slowly moved back to regular programs, but this time my viewing shifted to the DVR/Tivo deal and watching full seasons on DVD. Unlike my childhood, I now sit down to watch something specific — just flipping through the channels is out of the question. That's a solid sum-up. When sex and drinking reigned supreme, tee vee went away. Sex and drinking are now easier and less intoxicating... tee vee is back. Here are the shows I made an effort to watch over the last two years — a mix of old and new, in order of enjoyability:

    The Wire, Eastbound & Down, Twin Peaks, Bored to Death, It's Always Sunny, Mad Men, LOST...

    But... again, the blog isn't about tee vee.


    Thanks DP. The drawing, the image, it is funny. It plays, I think, off of the idea that "seeing is believing". Try to explain a wildly complex, difficult scientific theory with words, watch the faces scrunch confused. But! Show someone a picture, and they'll probably nod, "Oh, I get it now... it looks like that. I 'see'!"


    Thanks drip, play with the idea, it might grow on you. I think I disagree with the assessment of your then 8 year old. She's probably correct about a large percentage of it, but let's hold out hope for the non-child and non-stupid in all of us. Check this out, I think Coffeen has a generous take on the possibility of television.

  5. Well, my eight year old is 26 now. I have a great deal of difficulty paying attention to television. I've tried West Wing and 30 Rock and The Sopranos but literally, I could not pay attention. I've loved The Wire, Deadwood, and Twin Peaks on DVD. My daughter (the same -- the one and only) insists that I will love Mad Men, so I'll give it a go this year on DVD. The problem is probably how I watch, not with the medium. I go through periods of intense movie watching, in theaters, mostly, and have no trouble there, so maybe it's a hardwiring problem.

    I enjoyed Cofeen's class on rhetoric, and have followed him for a few years. I find him excellent and I could write a long response to The Wire article, but it's your blog. And it's a good one.


  6. Can't pay attention, eh Drip? That's interesting, strikes me as unusual and charming. The TV — whether the viewer enjoys the show or not — tends to capture attention... and yet you are resistant. We should get you in the lab, you know, for some rigorous diagnostic testing. Figure out what's wrong with you. Fix you up. Make you all better.

    I assume Mad Men is much more amusing for people who breathed in the 60s. For me, the laughs are akin to the satisfaction of a cheap cigarette, and with the antiquated museum vibe intrinsic to period pieces... that's strike two.

    Coffeen is a lot of fun. If you write that response, send it along.

  7. I.....I love this. I might eventually have something better to say about it, but knowing me that probably means I'll think about it a lot and internalize some, completely forget other, and never say anything directly about it again. Kind of like Tee Vee!

    I'm a huge fan of what you said on how you feel about the Dick quote ("I freely admit that much of this — to me — is unknown or nonsense....Yet, I'm totally with him, and I don't really know why... it just works for me"), it matches what I feel about Dick in general and I think is much more widely applicable, for instance how I feel about Beefheart (who I mention just as an example because he's been on my mind a lot recently). Where does the quote come from?

  8. Ethan,

    Dat righ' dare, wutch you done, lil' performance in da furs' couple sentences... atta bebe, playing it good n' tight — like dat.

    Dem quotes comin' from a book, goes buys da name: The Shifting Realities of our man Philip K. Dick. Got sum good gets, yous prolly wise to get jo eyes on it.

  9. I missed this one, it popped up while I was on my own Toobz vacation.

    As to PKD, I'm in his debt mainly thanks to Richard Linklater's rotoscope. Even Keanu Reeves didn't turn me away.