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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Today, the fictionary grows one word larger.

This is the thirteenth FWOTD.

fanatischism (fa-nat-i-skiz-uhm)
noun

a remarkable but completely avoidable cocktail of sadness and anger invariably stemming from one’s choosing to base a portion of his/her mood on the success and failures of a particular sports team or professional athlete

For example: “I am the biggest New York Mets fan in the world and can’t stand it when they lose!”

The ‘fanatischism’ explained visually in 10 seconds.

There is a great divide — a “schism” if you will — between the relationship that a fanatical sports fan believes he has with his most favorite team and the objective analysis of the relationship’s actual impact.  While the fan will claim to extract a great deal of happiness and will unquestionably justify the amount of time, energy, and money he puts into his favorite club, the reality is that far (far!) more often than not, his team will end up not winning a championship and he will be filled with pain and sadness.

And anger.

And he will transfer this anger — sometimes quietly and sometimes loudly — to his friends and loved ones.

And then those people will be sad and angry.

It is the circle of strife.

Statistically, if there are are 30 teams in a league and you are a “big fan” for 60 years, you will see your team win a championship twice.  You will see your team not win a championship 58 times.  Statistically.  And even in rare instances (roughly 3% of the time) where the favorite team does end up winning a championship, the joy is fleeting because another season is just around the corner.

It seems appropriate, then, to ask whether we are being fair to ourselves when we invest a huge amount of our emotional energy to root for people who do not care about us to do arbitrary things in order to win an particular set of games influenced by officials prone to human error in an league environment that — in an ideal universe — should lead to a small, fleeting window of euphoria in 3% of the years we spend invested?

Packers fans one short season after a SuperBowl victory

I suppose this analysis isn’t very interesting, except for the fact that we sports fans do this to ourselves for reasons that are not entirely clear.  There are very few rational reasons to root for a particular sports team/athlete, especially in the today’s completely demystified corporate sports environment.

Each season we witness our favorite athletes speak calmly and clearly into microphones around the world: This is a business.  You have to understand this is a business.  College athletes don’t make this point particular because they themselves do not get paid, but they probably should since it’s probably not an enormous coincidence that the NCAA brought in over $840 million in 2010-2011.

We know it is a business.

It is patently obvious that our professed love and unapologetic irrationality is being leveraged against us for economic gain, and we don’t seem to mind.

But maybe we should.

Let’s hash out the two sides of the sports fan relationship:

Fan’s View of Relationship With Team

  1. Chooses team usually based on proximity and/or tradition
  2. Cares deeply about outcome of games/seasons
  3. Spends money to show support for team
  4. Spends time monitoring progress of team
  5. Professes love and adoration for team employees

Team’s View of Relationship With Fan

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In the end, we are choosing to make enormous emotional, temporal, and financial commitments to people and entities who couldn’t care less about us and are engaging in a behaviors that have no meaningful impact on the real world.  

Unless, of course, your team wins — or loses! — a championship.

Fanatics after their team wins championship!

Fanatics after their team loses championship!

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Warning! This is another grocery store post.

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A lot of folks are upset about this Dr. Pepper 10 commercial because the product is being advertised to men in a gender-negative way that is at best alienating and at worst insulting to women.  I’m annoyed by Dr. Pepper 10, too, but my frustration stems not from the question of whether it is socially acceptable to market a product to 49% of the world’s population by cinematically flicking off the other 51%.

Quite frankly, I’m not concerned about how Dr. Pepper 10 is being marketed.

I resent that it exists at all.

There are any number of cliched reasons to be anti-soda/pop/coke.

Most of us agree that, as a rule, these carbonated comfort drinks contain zero nutrition, unapologetically destroy our teeth (with fun bubbles!), and are so inexpensive that there is a serious economic incentive to fill our bodies — and our children’s bodies — with fizzy stuff instead of any liquid that resembles actual food intended for human consumption (like juice)!

And yet, none of these reasons are the root of why I believe we — men and women! — should know better than to purchase Dr. Pepper 10.

Put simply, Dr. Pepper 10 is barely a unique product.

Here are the other products in the non-“flavored” Dr. Pepper family:

  1. Dr. Pepper / 100 calories, caffeine
  2. Dr. Pepper (Diet) / 0 calories, caffeine
  3. Dr. Pepper (Caffeine Free) / 100 calories, 0 caffeine
  4. Dr. Pepper (Diet, Caffeine Free) / 0 calories, 0 caffeine

So far as I can tell, those four products match the four “desire states” that lead to purchasing Dr. Pepper-based liquid.

  1. I like the flavor (Dr. Pepper)
  2. I like the flavor, but not the calories (Dr. Pepper-Diet)
  3. I like the flavor, but not the caffeine (Dr. Pepper-Caffeine Free)
  4. I like the flavor, but not the calories nor caffeine (Dr. Pepper-Diet, Caffeine Free)

This “new” product is merely a 10 calorie version of Dr. Pepper.  In other words, Dr. Pepper 10 is Diet Dr. Pepper plus ten calories.

Ten.

Of course it’s true that 10 calories is infinitely larger than zero calories, but it’s still fair to ask: What brand of consumer is turned off by a zero calorie version of Dr. Pepper (Diet Dr. Pepper) but would instead be compelled to purchase a ten calorie drink (Dr. Pepper 10) who is not purchasing Dr. Pepper?  The commercials plainly state that Dr. Pepper 10 is being marketed towards men, but “men” is not the group that buys it.

So which consumer group is it?

The Indecisive, of course.

Yes, the Indecisive!  You know, the folks who buy 1% milk instead of 2% or skim, neapolitan ice cream instead of a real flavor, and prefer “low fat” to “no fat.”  They buy paper plates made from recycled materials and prefer their ranch dressing “on the side.”  They like medium “hot” sauce, don’t eat meat (except chicken), and just want a couple bites of your dessert.

And of course, they invented the spork.

Dr. Pepper 10 gives these indecisive consumers an opportunity to “choose” between products that are barely discernible (Diet Dr. Pepper and Dr. Pepper 10).  Grocery patrons that specialize in baby-splitting can show their off their (non-)decision-making prowess by grabbing the thing in the “middle” (10 calories vs. 0 or 100 calories).

And though doing so feels like a choice, the reality is that when you buy Dr. Pepper 10, what you’re buying is not an exciting new product — and barely a new product at all — but a tangible representation of your inability to show any kind of commitment or decision-making skills.

So while it’s true that Dr. Pepper 10 commercials exclusively directed at men are insulting to one of the genders, it might not be the one that you think.

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On July 20th, 1969, Two very important things happened as a result of the Apollo 11 mission:

  1. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon.
  2. Children began to reasonably expect that by the time they became adults, they would own rocketpacks.

I can’t help but feel a deep, nerdy empathy for the 10-year-old who, with tears welling, watched Armstrong and Co. touch-down and romp around in the Sea of Tranquility.  That child had fantastic expectations about his future that made perfect sense at the time, but that we know today to have been completely misguided.

Though our instincts might be to partially place blame on an overly optimistic star-gazing youth, it is impossible to ignore the incredible amount of rocketry-related technological progress that had taken place during his sentient lifetime.

Yet from the perspective of that 10-year-old at the time, it wasn’t incredible at all.  In 1966, just three years before the manned mission, the United States had sent its first unmanned missions to the moon’s surface.  Only 4 years before that was the United State’s first spacecraft to reach another celestial body.  The pace was incredible, and no scientifically-inclined individual in those days — child or otherwise — had justifiable reason for pessimism.

It was just life.

Of course we are shooting rockets into space.

Of course there are people standing on the moon.

Of course I’m going to have a rocketpack.

What were the reasons to believe otherwise?

To be sure, my generation dabbled in the promise of rocketpackery, but oddly, though I was born more than a decade after the moon landing, I never felt that I was destined to carry a rocketpack. My friends and I more closely associated the technology with science fiction than the obvious end-result of our current scientific pace.  We never lived in a time — like those kids who watched the moon landing — when strapping a jet engine to our back seemed plausible, let alone the logical conclusion of the direction we were headed as a society.

At least I had video games.

Let me be clear: It’s not unusual or remotely interesting that a 10-year-old in 1969 has a vastly different impression of how the world was going to progress by the time he became a grownup compared to the impressions a 10-year-old in 1992, but the promise of a rocketpack is an interesting case.  Usually, a modern child would have a more optimistic sense of what is possible given the advances that had occurred in his lifetime on top of whatever the child from a previous generation knew/understood.

Not so in the case of the rocketpack!

As time went on, while the desire to fly around via one’s own personal rocket remained constant, the reasonable expectation that it would happen in our lifetime diminished with gradual-to-great speed.

Ironically, full-scale globalization and unrelenting world-wide media is what distracted wide-eyed kids like myself from the planet earth.  By the time I was cognizant, national attention had shifted from space travel and exploration to military technology.  Growing up, I was far more likely to hear reports of the Patriot missiles and “bunker-busters” of the (First) Gulf War than anything resembling the optimism inherent in the Apollo missions.  I feel this is true despite fond, specific memories of watching the sun rise one morning in Florida in hopes that we would see (what turned out to be an aborted) Endeavor launch.

So here we are, even further from July 20, 1969.  Do any of us still feel as though rocketpacks are in our future?  Do kids today have any optimism whatsoever about rocketpacks?  I know there are a bunch of prototypes floating (!) around, and I know that investors are always “working on a new fuel source,” but we landed on the moon over 40 years ago and the best we have to show for it are jetpacks that hover for around a half minute.

I’ve had sneezing fits that lasted longer.

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Color me unimpressed.

In any event, my generation lucked out.  What we lack in rocketpackery we make up for with the Internet.  Sure, we don’t have any fancy astronaut heroes, but there are over a billion search results for “cat videos” on Google.  Yeah, it’s true that we never really experienced what it was like to root for our country in a purely scientific, progressive context (as opposed to military and athletic prowess), but now we can order a pizza without picking up the telephone!  And our telephones don’t even have cords anymore!  No, we won’t get to watch US citizens walk on the surface of Mars anytime soon, but hey, did I mention the cat videos?

I’m turning 30 in a few months and I’m starting to believe/fear that I’ll never own a rocketpack of my own.  Maybe it’s for the best, though.  A rocketpack would seriously cut into my Internet time.

Much has been made of the Mayan prediction that the world is going to end this year, in 2012.  So far, four days down, 362 (leap year!) to go.

Are any of us prepared?

Though nowadays we politely chuckle at the notion that scientifically-inclined folks once believed the sun revolved around the earth, there’s not much going on these days to suggest that we’ve ever truly shaken that particular mentality.  Despite the fact that we have mastered the science of heliocentrism, humans continue to fundamentally believe that we — in all of our glory! — are the very real center of the universe.

There are a number of reasons to be skeptical of the Mayan 2012 prediction, not the least of which is the fact the geniuses who put together the calendar in question are the same ones who relied on human sacrifice and were not able to predict their own demise.  In essence, the Mayans are not a civilization known for their ability to plan ahead of time.

Further, just like we’ve always known about the advice of Miss Cleo, the credibility of any professional prognosticator collapses upon realizing that the predictor is frantically exploring methods of fiscal solvency.  Those who could accurately predict the future would certainly not need to rely on my $2.99/minute nor have a business model based almost entirely on the viability of off-peak ad buys on basic cable.  The Mayans, of course, were not selling their calendar for profit, but I’m sure they had a vested interest in maintaining its authority.

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You probably wouldn’t take too seriously the advice of a sopping-wet weatherman running through a parking lot in the rain with a newspaper over his head yelling, “Weather predictions!  Get your weather predictions!  Only $5 a piece!” and yet, here we are, giving tongue-and-cheek credence to a civilization composed of peoples who weren’t even around long enough to see hampsterdance.com.

Generally, when we refer to the Mayan 2012 warning, we take it to mean that “the world is going to end in 2012.”  But unless you think the sun is going to explode, or the entire universe is going to implode, or the large hadron collider is going to create an event that somehow sucks our big blue planet into a literal oblivion, the planet earth is going to be just fine.

To reiterate, here is a list of horrible things that would not actually be the end the world:

  1. Nuclear war leading to the end of all biological life
  2. Biblical flood leading to the end of all life
  3. Natural disasters leading to the end of all life
  4. Hyper-contagious biological virus leading to the end of all life
  5. The Rapture (as I understand it)

If any of those things were to happen, the world would still be here.

The world would be fine.

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We are not exactly keen on the Mayan people’s fondness for attempting to shape the future predicated on a steady diet of blood letting and human sacrifice, so it’s a little suspicious and weird that we consider any of their predictions at all.  And yet, when you think about it, it’s actually not too surprising that we are laser-focused on their end-of-the-world declaration when you consider our collective self-obsession.  That it comes as no surprise to any us that we are alive during the end point in the history of a planet that is around 4.5 billion years old should come as no surprise.

No surprise at all.

So how shocking is it, really, that we once believed the sun revolved around us?

Let’s say the Mayans were (are?) right.  Let’s even go as far as to say that their calendar exists for the sole purpose of sending a message to future inhabitants of the earth that the End of Days is coming, eventually.  If that is the case, we are making the wrong kinds of preparations (not to mention the wrong kinds of movies).  We are focused on nuclear war, religious war, and environmental catastrophe when the reality is that none of these things would literally lead to the end of the world.

And so here we are, in what could be — but is, for the record, totally not — the pivotal moment in the world’s history and we are too self-absorbed to even digest the dire warning correctly.  When we think of the world or universe ending, the absolute worst thing that we can imagine — in the deepest, darkest, scariest portion of our highly-developed brains —  is that we and our human companions are no longer kicking soil around on the earth’s crust.  But just as you do not cease to exist when an army of red ants is maliciously swiped from your leg, the world will be just fine without us stomping around on an insignificant portion of its surface area.

If the world were to end as we presume, via hellfire from the sky, or from a Great Flood, or as the result of continents-wide earthquakes or a supervirus, we would just be another notch on nature’s bedpost, just like the dinosaurs who romped around for a time before us.

I bet the tallest brontosaurus, in his tiny walnut-sized brain, as asteroids began to rain unapologetically from the sky, thought to himself, “The world is ending (and I never even figured out why my arms are so hilariously short)!”

Since we humans are proof that the world did not end ex post dinosaurus, we should also recognize that the same will true if (when?) we are systematically wiped from the planet in the next 12 months.

Welcome to the first annual so-far-as-you-know Faux Outrage Year End Review (“FOYER”) for 2011!  Not only will this post be a clearinghouse for all of the horrible/awesome stuff I wrote this past year; it will also give you an opportunity to see what it looks like when I write while hopped up on (generic) NyQuil.

The year started out on a serious note when I wrote Mom Homage in honor of the person responsible for 30-40% of the clicks on this website.  Shortly thereafter, I alienated every single old-school, kind-hearted person I know by penning a screed against thank you notes before exposing my general distaste for General Tso’s when it is sold by the pound.

In February, I tried my hand at serious short fiction.  It did not go well.  Lesson learned.  But by the end of the month, I returned to my inane roots and disassembled grocery shopping, or what I call The Least Efficient Process in the Universe.

March brought on the beginning of baseball season and the realization that February is mathematically the worst month of the year.  I dismantled kindergarten logic and pointed folks who were interested to an inspirational video about What Teachers Make.

I lost my grandmother in April and also realized that I have also lost the ability to call anyone I knew without the help of my smartphone. I turned 29, which I decided is the same as turning 30.

In May, self-checkout stations found their way into my crosshairs, as did cereal commercials and poor, defenseless apples.

June is the month that I decided we should stop using the word “overrated” and stop pretending the show Undercover Boss is about the plight of the American worker.  I also debuted the so-far-two-part That Should Be A Thing series in June.

That Should Be A Thing Part I: Open Door Policies
That Should Be A Thing Part II: Parallel Universal

My brain started to melt a little bit in July (it seems), because I started out that month a weird love letter to freedom and a discussion about whether friendship means something different inside a bar than at a lunch counter (if those even exist anymore).  Then I went on to discuss the strange realization that I never put my fan on high and the completely un-strange realization that I am scared of bears.

August started out with a little backwards-looking introspection and even-further-back exploration of the food we (can choose not to) eat.  The month ended with a retrospective of still-helpful shorthand phrases I used to use when the Internet and I were coming age.

September started out pretty serious, first with a frank discussion about (my) (very) low-skilled labor, and next with a poem I wrote on 9/11/2001.  The middle of the month is when I appeared as a guest blogger at Lessons From Teachers and Twits.

Thankfully, things lightened up a bit in October!  I sang the praises of the classic bicycle bell and awkwardly recounted the day when it became clear that I should not be put in charge of counting.  The month ended with a love letter to Halloween, the one day when we pretend that we believe in ghosts and that children can enjoy the company of their neighbors.

More recently, I wrote a defense of the barometer and told a true tale of graphite, art, and friendship.

And finally — just before the end of the year — I got to say “uncle” when my burrito-shaped baby nephew Max was born!

Of course, 2011 also saw a number of additions to the Fictionary:

  1. annexiety  (01/25/2011)
  2. glawing  (05/11/2011)
  3. expertease  (08/25/2011)
  4. fictionary  (10/19/2011)
  5. cropportunity  (11/09/2011)
  6. desirony (12/13/2011)

What a year.

See you in 2012!

Time to add another word to the fictionary!

For the record, we’re up to twelve FWOTD now.

desirony (de-si-ro-ny)
noun

an emotional imbalance that stems from the impossible, unfortunate longing to erase knowledge and experience so as to be able to experience, again, for the first time, the overwhelming joy of a particularly influential discovery

For example: “I am so jealous that you are fortunate enough to never have read Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  I’ll never touch the book again because I know it won’t be the same as the first time, so all I’m left with is an uncomfortable case of desirony.”

Desirony is constructed from two root words: desire and irony.

After all, what could possibly more ironic than the desire to remove a positive experience from your own life for the purposes of seeking it out the first place?

I doubt Alanis Morissette could even answer that question.

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(An aside! The most ironic thing in the world actually happens to be Alanis Morissette’s Ironic, the video for which you can find above.   It is not at all controversial — and is in fact bordering on cliche — to point out that song, which reached #4 on the Billboard chart in 1996, contains lyrics that seem to completely misunderstand the meaning of the word “ironic.”  However, due in part to the song’s popularity, primary usage of the word is shifting to favor Morissette’s definition [“unfortunate”] as opposed to, you know, the actual definition [“ironic”].  In conclusion, Alanis Morissette is probably a genius.)

Though our lives — even your life! — are filled with joy, we do not long to reexperience every single positive event that has ever happened.  We fondly remember these events, sure, but we are not overcome with the specific desire to, for example, relive the night we watched a reasonably entertaining movie like A Serious Man.  There is no part of you that pines for the experience of watching it again, for the first time (unless you are an enormous, insufferable Coen Brothers fanboy/girl).  On the other hand, maybe you do think about your maiden Shawshank Redemption voyage.

Or maybe it’s just me.

In any event, while I am not yet convinced desirony is an affliction that impacts anyone other than myself, I have nonetheless have decided that it is a word worth introducing to the world (that will never be used again).

Remember: You can check out the other mostly-useless Faux Word of the Day words by checking out the Faux Outrage Fictionary!

If you ask the doctors, on Friday, December 2, 2011, my first/best/favorite/cutest nephew, Max Louis Sparer, was born about four weeks early. But if you ask anyone else, even those with intimate knowledge of human gestation, they will tell you that Max was born not a moment too soon.

We were told to prepare for a Christmas Baby, or perhaps a Chanukah Baby, or maybe even the “First Baby of 2012” that local news stations insists on covering (and donating diapers to). In the end, though standard American calendars do not arrive pre-printed with December 2nd in bold lettering (I guess International Day for the Abolition of Slavery is too much of a snoozefest to be considered worthy of embolden status), the date suddenly seems more notable than any other.

The moment Max was born, husband and wife became mother and father, mother and father became grandma and grandpa, and grandma and grandpa were finally bestowed the prefix they had been pining for and so richly deserve: “great.”  Cousins, incidentally, remain cousins.

As for me, I need to get used to saying “uncle.”

So far, Max knows a few things. He knows how to sleep, how to cry, fidget, look like a burrito, grab disproportionately large adult fingers, and is slowly learning – and I’m sure will quite soon master – the art of eating food. Most enjoyably, Max knows how to coo like a pigeon, which is especially impressive once you consider the fact that he has never even seen a bird.

My brother, his nervously smiling father, can’t help but to repeat one single word when he is asked to describe his son:

perfect!

He’s perfect.

A perfect baby boy.

Everything is perfect.

Truthfully, it’s hard to blame my brother, and it is quite easy to admire his position in life.  Max has done nothing wrong, and at this rate, he never will.  He will be a perfect infant, a perfect kid, a perfect tween, teen, young adult, and man before he’s elected the first King of the Moon or is the first to fly a rocketpack around Mars or whatever we’ll be impressed by in the impossibly-distant future.  Whatever Max does in his lifetime, right now we have every reason to believe that he will do it perfectly because there has been no evidence to suggests otherwise.

But while our hearts bet on perfection, our intuition unapologetically paints a wholly different picture.  There will be mistakes, intentional and otherwise.  There will be mishaps, misunderstandings, and heartache belonging both to parent and child.  There will be times when the tears will not be of joy as they were on Friday, but because we were wronged, or have wronged another.  There will be times when our voices will be raised not because of the overwhelming need to share, but because of the overwhelming need to be right.  There will be sadness, words uttered out of spite, and times when we simply fail to say “I love you,” even though it’s the only thing on our mind.

There will be all kinds of times.

And though Max may grow up in a world without knowing the pleasure of a dial-tone, he will be allowed — like all of us — to learn for himself what it is to be human.

He will learn what it is like to fail spectacularly, and to be better for it.  He will learn that in his days of deep, dark sadness, there are those who cannot help but to be there for him.  He will learn that the more he tries to separate himself from a past that he has no choice but to be a part, the more he will recognize that his footprints pushed into the dirt behind him are possible because of the trails that have already been blazed.  He will learn — as we all do — that what seems like destiny can also be understood as the result of a series of non-accidents expertly placed like rungs on a ladder enabling us to reach previously impossible heights.

The more I think about Max, the more I begin to understand that I am just as excited about his unfortunate brushes with imperfection as I am about his unflinching triumphs.  I want to see him learn, to grow, and for him to learn what it means to be growing.  I want him to know that it is okay to fail, a lot, because our initial failures are so often the first steps to a better understanding of the world around us.

In any event, I have a sneaking suspicion that above all, Max will be just fine.  He has two wonderful parents, four wonderful grandparents, and a huge network of friends and family who will be there to help pick him up when he falls.  He will be standing on the shoulders of giants, just as we all were and continue to be.

Though I believe Max’s first word will probably be “mama” or “dada,” selfishly, I cannot wait for the day when he finally gives in and says, “Uncle!”

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