On Action and...Not Action.


The other day, I was listening to a podcast in which the participants were reviewing/discussing the latest Johnny Depp vehicle, Public Enemies, a movie so far off my radar that I had to look up the title just now. I’ve seen the trailer a few times. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen enough of that movie in fewer than five minutes that I don’t need to spend the more than two hours to see it entire. I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen enough of Depp for my lifetime. It’s not that I think he’s a bad actor, and I certainly don’t see him as great. He just kind of exists on the fringes of my consciousness, exhibiting a certain Depp-ness that I’ve only once felt was very compelling. In fact, other than his turn as Thompson, the most enjoyment I ever got out of Depp was the episode of Extras wherein Orlando Bloom was totally obsessed with comparing his looks and acting to Depp’s.

Back to the point of all this, these particular podcasters were discussing what they felt was the lack of characterization portrayed in the film. One of these said, and I paraphrase, “the characters are very much defined by their actions, we don’t really get to see their inner lives or motivations.” I, as is my habit when I am alone in the car, immediately spoke in the direction of my portable, digital listening device, “Isn’t that life? What, do you have a running omniscient narrative in your head informing you of people’s secret motivations and dreams?” Through this rather flimsy critique of the movie, I was transported back to my freshman writing class and the adjunct professor obsessed with existentialism. “Existence precedes essence,” they say, and I’m often inclined to agree with them. I don’t know what goes on in the head of anyone but myself, and I’m not sure of that all the time. Our only criteria for judging people is their actions.

Unfortunately, things get sticky because, as humans, our brains are hard-wired for the tasks of classification, segmentation, and labeling. Being inherently lazy creatures, we tend to grasp at the low hanging fruit when it comes to making judgments about those around us, and our sweeping generalizations allow us the comfort of not getting to know people. From their actions in recent news cycles, I can judge Mark Sanford a hypocritical philanderer, Michael Jackson a freakish drug addict, and the Supreme Leader of Iran a brutal cheatybeard-mcliarface. All of these public actions are easy to categorize, but their weight is meaningless without the full context of their private actions. Of course, I don’t have time for that, and neither do you.

American culture has become hyper-reductivist because none of us have the patience for much more…let alone the time. In his book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, author Chuck Klosterman details how MTV’s The Real World popularized the idea affecting a single trait as one’s defining characteristic. It certainly does make it easier to be a person if you only have to think about one thing all the time. I am sports-guy, I am encyclopedic-knowledge-of-pop-music guy, I am loves-to-drink-and-party person, I am more-concerned-about-the-environment-than-you-are girl, I am geek. There isn’t necessarily a problem with offering this one-dish menu to the world at large. It can be beneficial when one is at a party and a stranger to most of the guests to be introduced according to one’s favored conversation topic. However, hit the sustain pedal on that one note too long, and people wonder where the rest of the song is; jump from key to key and you’re a flake.

The personal, philosophical problem I’m experiencing right now with being judged by my actions is that I don’t have time enough to act anymore. I want to be a complex person with varied interests, and I can be every one of those people that I mentioned, given the proper context. Reading DougV’s recent post about geekdom made me stop and consider, am I geek? From a basic interest level, I’d say I qualify as geekimus minor, but I’ve already established in my brain that only actions matter. By that measure, I’m seriously failing the geek test. I haven’t actually purchased a computer since 2000, I stopped with the pen and paper role-playing games when I got a girlfriend, it can take me months to finish a video game, and I have never owned a subscription to any of the following publications: Wired, Popular Mechanics, Game Informer, Nintendo Power.

I kind of recoil at the thought of being “Married Guy,” not because of anything to do with marital dissatisfaction, but because of the undertones of emasculation. However, an examination of my activities last weekend leaves little doubt: breakfast together, shopping trip to Costco, holiday party at a friend’s, watching a movie together on the couch, coitus. Next is an abbreviated list of things in my sphere of interest for which there was no time (or, in some cases, funds): hiking, sitting in a bar with some friends and a low-key band, Halo party, hockey with the guys, road trip to Cleveland, golf, tennis, making ratatouille from scratch, undermining the North Korean dictatorship of Kim Jong Il, buying that new TV I’ve wanted for a long time. Maybe that podcast guy was right, maybe I need to spend more time examining people’s motivations whenever possible.

Comments

  1. Seriously, I am a current subscriber to 3 of the 4 magazines you mentioned... and only I think because Nintendo Power sucked after Super Mario 3 came out...

    But besides that obviousness, I think it's silly how we are so prone to catalog and file each and every detail about our lives, or people in them. I find the feelings I have toward the idea ironic because of what I consider to be a true, and personal "friend." Long ago when I was under the age of 10, my younger sister and I had a long shouting match regarding our vastly superior number of friends. For some reason, this arbitrary fact was the most important aspect of my person, and I was forced to justify my existence by the volume of people in my friend-stable.

    I look back now and laugh histarically at the notion because I have long since given up on that idea. My friends are people who are I deeply care about, and would take a bullet for... not just some dude who bought me a beer last weekend. I think the important thing for me is that the meaning of the label to one's self is what counts. Redgardless if I'm a punk or a nerd, I care to know what I am, at least as part of my personal identity. I won't wake up tomorrow feeling guilty about my choices in life, but I find humor in the idea that because electronics and video games are my primary hobbies, that the label geek suffices.

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