Monday, October 22, 2007

Good people annoy me

Phoenix -> Seattle flight. Some laptop battery left. Now you will pay the price, which is my writing another long and complicated but poorly-thought-out blog post.

One of the most annoying bumper stickers I see is the one that says

If you aren’t completely appalled, then you aren’t paying attention.

Admittedly, there’s a point to be made about complacency. “Things are peachy for me” doesn’t mean things are great for everyone. It’s good to think about whether we have a responsibility to other human beings, and what that may move us to do.

But the other messages of that bumper sticker are:
a) I’m in the know and you are not. I am clued-in, aware, and wise. I pay attention while you are oblivious.
b) I am more socially conscious, and a better person, than you are.
c) I judge the world by my standards and I find it wanting. I know what should be happening in the world. I know what bad things other people do, and what they should be doing that they’re not.
d) You are wrong for not having the correct reaction to the fact that other people not meeting my standard.
I’m sure people who buy this bumper sticker have honestly-held convictions about moral issues. But I also think they’re unconsciously moved to buy it because it sets them up in the position of being In The Know, and grants them the moral high ground, and they’re completely unaware of that motivation.

Now, it’s normal to judge. It’s normal to have a standard, and priorities, and to argue for them. In writing this blog post, I am judging the people who wrote/display that bumper sticker.

But the difference is that the sticker is so general – it doesn’t address any particular issue; it doesn’t provide for the complexity of real life, for the possibility of someone else having a different view or different priorities or a different idea of the best solution.

It not only says “I know what is best for everyone”, it says that other people are wrong for how they *react* to the fact that folks aren’t toeing my line.

Most important of all, the world is full of appalling things. It has been since… always. Not to be a Negative Nelly here, campers, but golly gee whiz – does anyone *not* realize that right now as you are reading this, someone is being tortured. Someone is dying alone and in great pain. Someone is losing their beloved child or parent or partner to war, hunger, fire, or a wasting disease. Children are being raped and brutalized and maltreated in a hundred ways. People are lonely, hungry, hurting. Everyone who lives eventually dies, and 99.9% of them don’t want to. Most things that live in the forest get eaten by other things, and as often as not the process starts while dinner is still alive. Life is full of hurt, and loss, and brutality and injustice.

For any thinking person, just living requires that one accept and deal with that fact in some way.

Some people pretend it’s not happening. Some people dull their senses and fill their time with potato chips and Jerry Springer. Most of us make a conscious decision to think about bad things in a measure proportional to our ability to do something about them right now; we make a deliberate decision to enjoy the hell out of all the things that are great about life, because nobody’s promised us tomorrow and even our next breath isn’t guaranteed. We learn to accept the good that life offers us, and try not to allow the bad to cripple us and take away our joy at being alive.

And we do what we can to make things better for the people around us, to leave the world better for our presence. We do this in whatever measure allows us to live at peace with our consciences. This is an extremely personal decision, and not one that someone should sit in judgment about with a preachy sticker.

So, bumper sticker person, sorry if I’m not wringing my hands and jumping up and down about whatever you’ve got your knickers in a twist about today, and which you feel you’ve got the inside scoop on. It seems to me that if [insert your pet political issue here] appears uniquely or exceptionally appalling to you, then *you* are the one who’s ignorant of history and oblivious to the state of the world and the nature of existence. And that’s why I find your bumper sticker annoying.

Alternative ending:
Or maybe it's just that the sticker highlights my privileged life, good health, children, etc, and I feel guilty that I don't live a life of political activism and doing more for other people. It could be that, too.


At Tue Oct 23, 08:34:00 AM PDT, Blogger unca said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Tue Oct 23, 08:36:00 AM PDT, Blogger unca said...

Bravo. I couldn't agree more.

“One is not superior merely because one finds the world odious."

François R. Chateaubriand (French author and diplomat, 1768-1848)

At Wed Oct 24, 01:36:00 AM PDT, Blogger Cal said...

aww, piffle.

i haven't seen the sticker, but I think you're mostly being a poop about this one.

i don't deny there's an element of look-how-conscious-i-am in there... probably for most, a trace element.

but methinks you take it, and your own analysis of it, too seriously. don't take it as an indictment of your reactions to the world's ills. take it as a fun way of saying, "hey, dude, remember how there's some pretty awful things happening? let's all do what we can." that's all it is. i think in most cases you're reading in the self-satisfaction.

yeah, the world has always had its crummy parts... no one denies that. but stuff does get better when people say, "ok, that's enough... everybody out of the pool." nothing wrong with pointing that out. and it's tongue in cheek. "appalled" is supposed to be funny, not pretentious. it's cute.

thing is, the list of people to be annoyed at is so long and diverse and interesting... are these particular bumper sticker people the best we can do?

At Wed Oct 24, 09:28:00 AM PDT, Blogger bryan torre said...

love the quote, unca.

cal, i agree there's nothing wrong with pointing out wrong stuff and advocating for change.
but i'm trying really hard to read the sticker in a way that it seems cute/funny, and i'm utterly failing.
i've run it thru my mind about 50 times and every time it comes back "self-satisfied, pretentious".
if "appalled" us spozed to be funny, what's the joke? who or what is being poked fun at? people who take themselves too seriously? it's just not working for me.
which brings me to your last point -- the list of people who need to be mocked and criticized -- and i conclude that people who put pompous and preachy stickers on their car are indeed worth the time. :-)

At Wed Oct 24, 11:25:00 AM PDT, Blogger Cal said...

well, shoot. any answer to "why is that funny?" is almost always doomed to failure, but i'll give it a go.

I read it as a variation on the "if you can keep your head while all about you folks are losing theirs, you clearly don't know what's going on" thing. There's also a flavor of, "I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you!" in there. And it's so general. Appalled at what? "Hey, honey, I just looked at the world, and you know what? I'm completely appalled!" Do the BSP really think the WHOLE world is appalling, or expect everyone to go around in a continual state of appalled-ness? No.

And as I feared, it loses something when you try to explain it.

It's possible I'm reading in humor where none was intended, but I don't think so. Again, I think it's a slightly tongue-in-cheek way to say, "Hey, dude... Darfur. Iraqi kids. Child abuse. Racism. Nancy Grace. Drunk driving. Yuck, right? Okay, back to your regularly scheduled life, but keep it in mind next time your Xbox freezes." Americans as a group tend to be pretty self-absorbed, both individually and collectively, and we tend to underestimate the suffering taking place elsewhere, to the point where we spend a week agonizing as a nation over the tragedy of Ellen's hairdresser's kids' dog. Perspective is good. Awareness is good. People promoting those things don't have to be feeling smug about it. Some are, some aren't. Don't be so grouchy. :)

And as you know, the gratifying position of "i'm aware and you're not" is-- like judgment-- a pot-and-kettle situation: pointing it out makes you guilty, or at least suspect. Whether you're pointing out the appalling state of the world, or people's motivations in pointing that out.

At Wed Oct 24, 11:36:00 AM PDT, Blogger blogball said...

Bryan,unca & cal I this could be another case of belonging. (From Bryan's prior post)
The desire to belong to group of people that supposedly tell it like it really is out there in this cruel, brutal, nasty, unfair, world we live in and they can still joke about it by putting a bumper sticker on their car.

They want to separate themselves from the “Don’t Worry Be Happy” bumper sticker people.

At Wed Oct 24, 12:46:00 PM PDT, Blogger bryan torre said...

BB, you could be right about that. I'm in the DWBH group. And we're better.

Cal, you're right that I am grouchy about it. But other than that...
The funny version of "wake up, people" might look something like one of the following:

Don't Forget That Life Sucks

People Are Dying While You Eat Your Popcorn

I Don't Have Time For Britney, Paris, Myanmar, *and* The Oscars

On Your Way To The Party, Give A Dollar To Oxfam

In One Day You Throw Away What Some People Eat In A Week.

You're right that once you try to explain *why* something is funny you're probably doomed. And I have on occasion missed the humor in something (The Royal Tennenbaums, Brother Where Art Thou?) but in general I'm the one who thinks something is hysterical when everyone else doesn't get it. And I'm really trying hard here, but I really can't find anything remotely clever about suggesting I'm spozed to be appalled. It has none of the traditional elements of humor -- it's not exaggerated, since much of life *is* appalling -- I think I need to start interviewing people who display the sticker and those who read it.
I could be wrong, but I predict that 0% of the BSP think there's anything funny about it, and that 1% of readers (you, and maybe one other person) are going to say they found it funny.

At Wed Oct 24, 04:01:00 PM PDT, Blogger Cal said...

well, i suspect we've reached the point of diminishing returns here, but just for fun, and to further put off the rest of what i need to get done today:

Bryan: It has none of the traditional elements of humor.
not so, van gogh. it's about context. "not paying attention" (school kids, boring speeches) and "appalled" (pretentious society people condemning the antics of the unwashed) are juxtaposed with an assessment of the overall state of the world, people dying, etc.

when you take your poll, remember it's just presenting the message in a kinda cute way-- it's not supposed to be hilarious. but I submit that it beats most of yours on the humor scale (not #3... that was cute) mostly because the lack of specificity, which you take as a general indictment of your entire DWBH world view, is part of it as well. It doesn't endorse anything specific on purpose. It's a little bit silly. (It doesn't matter what you do, just go do it! Quick!)

Anyway. One way of reading it lets us feel superior and condescending because we understand how the BSP are unthinking puppets to basic human motivations, whereas we have Insight and Wisdom. The other way lets us smile and maybe take another look at our immediate priorities.

And laying out the choices this way lets ME feel superior. So I'm gonna go with that. :-)

At Wed Oct 24, 04:49:00 PM PDT, Blogger bryan torre said...

diminishing returns, yes.

"One way of reading it lets us feel superior and condescending..." Yes, it does indeed, no problem conceding that.

"Boring speeches... juxtaposed... people dying... lack of specificity = little bit silly..."
I submit that you are the only human being who thinks it's supposed to be funny. In fact, if you can find a single person who has that on his/her car (no fair putting it on yours and then calling me) because they think it's funny because it's so over-the-top, I will give you a hundred dollars, take you to dinner, and kiss you on the lips (no tongue).
So there.

At Wed Oct 24, 05:23:00 PM PDT, Blogger Cal said...

okay, fine.

ftr, i haven't been saying the BSP "think it's funny cuz it's so over the top". just that there was an element of fun here. that the message was fundamentally tongue-in-cheek, not pretentious.

that said... i took the liberty of googling this, and I confess that it's not being used in the way i was talking about. it's mostly being used the way you describe.

there may be a difference between folks who quote it on the internet and those who put it on their car, but i realize i'm reaching here. :)

so, conceded: people who have it are probably taking it at face value. mock them in good health.

At Thu Oct 25, 10:29:00 AM PDT, Blogger bryan torre said...

Cal, sometimes I think you just argue to hone your skills and to wind me up.

At Thu Oct 25, 05:11:00 PM PDT, Blogger Irma said...

I quite enjoyed this exchange. Thanks, guys.

The "alternative ending" was a nice touch. Americans love options, and here we have it!

At Fri Oct 26, 09:38:00 AM PDT, Blogger unca said...

Maybe it's just me but the word, "appalled" seems to imply at least a modest degree of self-rightousness on the part of the writer. As such, it leaves no room for humor.

At Fri Oct 26, 11:24:00 AM PDT, Blogger blogball said...

I agree unca. The word does have a snooty quality about it.

Remember that bumper sticker or phrase “Life Sucks Then You Die”?

I have to admit I did chuckle when I first heard that. Maybe because it doesn’t sound self-righteous. It’s more like we are all in this together.

At Mon Oct 29, 12:37:00 PM PDT, Blogger Derek and Sara said...


I ignore everything and life is good :)

At Tue Oct 30, 08:44:00 PM PDT, Blogger Drew said...

Camus said it best. Read The Fall.

At Sat Nov 17, 11:55:00 AM PST, Blogger SoozeSchmooze said...

So glad Blogball that you brought up the old blue wagon bumper sticker...Life Sucks Then you Die! one comment to this whole mess is that bumper stickers are dumb to begin with... :) but at least some are funny!! Gotta love the tongue in cheek ones...sooze


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