Death Of The Waiting Room Magazine

I’ve come to eulogize an old friend. The waiting room magazine is dead. Long live the beep-beep, click-click, tap-tap of the outpatient smartphone!

Sick people used to avoid eye contact at the doctor’s office with a dogeared People, a tattered Men’s Health, an Us Weekly fresh from the bathroom. Now they stare down at their phones, mesmerized by their own importance. Oh, another text. You must be loved.

How will I know who’s going to win the 2011 World Series? Does Mitt Romney have enough of the women’s vote to beat Obama?

The waiting room magazine takes us back in time, far away from the exhausting omnipresence of Now. We don’t believe in yesterday. Tomorrow’s just an auto-update away.

Even the Pope takes selfies. Heaven help us if he tweets Cross emojis when the next shipment of communion wafers arrives.


Underdog Days Of Summer

“Glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it.”—Gandhi

Baseball is a game of failure. If a player on average gets a hit three out of ten times, he’s an all-star. What other profession rewards such a low success rate?

For over one hundred years, the Chicago Cubs have excelled at not winning a World Series. There have been winning seasons, amazing players and exciting games, but the ultimate goal remains elusive.

This summer and into the fall the 2015 Cubs have exceeded expectations. Perennial underdogs, they are a few days from clinching a playoff spot for the first time in seven years.

To me following the Cubs means more than just watching them play. From the comfort of my easy chair I will them to victory. The Cubs have taken on a mythical quality for me. The team is a reflection of my desire to “win at life” when the universe has stacked the odds against me.

Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness are classic depression symptoms. They’re a consequence of being a Cubs fan too.

I find a strong correlation between “the lovable losers’” inability to win it all and my shortcomings as a depressed person. But even non-depressed people encounter mountains of failure throughout their lives. Dare I say we’re all secret Cubs fans, or at least should be for a day?

This is a heavy line of thinking, but I’m a heavy thinker. I do enjoy the team and hope beyond hope they go deep this postseason. As profound as Gandhi was, I have to disagree. There is glory in trying to win a World Series, but winning one after ten-plus decades of coming up short—that sounds like heaven.

Update: Blame It On The Name

On March 31 I blogged about the controversy surrounding one of my favorite new bands, Viet Cong. Many people both within the Vietnamese community and those not directly connected to it found the band’s name offensive. Turns out the band, after careful consideration, has decided to change its name.

This is a wise choice. The actual Viet Cong committed terrible crimes and tore families apart. Although they have nothing to do with terrorists, the four Canadian rockers erred on the side of sensitivity.

The band hasn’t picked a new name yet. Will the music industry, when reviewing their next album, refer to “the band formerly known as Viet Cong,” as was the case when Prince went by a symbol instead of Prince?

The biggest question of all: under what name will I file their old albums on my iPod? Until then, here’s my original post.


Blame It On The Name

Pseudo hipster that I am, I recently discovered the band Viet Cong on Pitchfork. Their eponymous second album is a blistering cascade of art-noise. These four lads from Calgary have been destroying my iPod the last five days.

Two weeks ago the band released a statement regarding their controversial moniker. It turns out the promoter for their March 14 show at Oberlin College found “Viet Cong” offensive to Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans. (No mention of Vietnamese-Canadians). In the name of tolerance, the show was canceled.

Liberals once again castigating liberals for hurting marginalized groups with words!

Viet Cong don’t write political songs. As Ian Cohen notes, they don’t even write love songs. They don’t endorse the policies or tactics of the actual Viet Cong, which dissolved in 1976.

When someone associated with Oberlin College, a private liberal arts school known for its progressive values, cancels a concert by a band whose members, it’s safe to assume, don’t agree with any of the nonsense conservative numbskulls like Ted Cruz spew—only liberals get hurt.

To Infinity And Beyond

Religion and science have at least one thing in common: people from both fields theorize (hope for?) the end of the world.

Many Christians believe in the Rapture. The world as we know it, full of misery and sin, will one day be transformed. Believers will be raised in the clouds “to meet the Lord in the air.” Non-believers will remain on earth and suffer, falling for the Devil’s tricks. Sounds pretty harsh, but that’s God for you.

Scientists take a more practical approach to the apocalypse. Man-made climate change will eventually wipe out humanity if we don’t get our shit together. Everyone knows this. Except conservative politicians who’d rather save your soul than the planet.

In both cases humans are responsible for the end of humanity. In the first case, the Left Behind have only themselves to blame. In the second, no one’s left to verify the prophecy.

Maybe we’re beyond speculation and dire forecasts. What if the world has already ended? The earth suspended in a blinding flash, humanity a tragic afterimage in the mind of God?

Or perhaps we’ve yet to begin. The world is in beta mode and we’re the flaw(ed) testers. God still weighing the costs and benefits of moving forward with his program.

Reports of our death are greatly exaggerated. There’s so much suffering left—obscene amounts of pleasure too. Sometimes infinity takes a long time getting started.

Donald Schmuck

A few days ago I argued here that Donald Trump’s rise in the polls is in part a response to liberals’ political correctness and defense of multiculturalism, and that Trump’s campaign represents the next stage in the descent of American politics into pure spectacle. In addition to these points, I argue today that Trump is a challenge to and indictment of the Right, specifically the failed attempts of conservatives to derail Obama’s “socialist agenda.”

There would be no “Trump surge” without Obama’s two terms as president, or more precisely, black president. The Donald is telling the GOP: “You’re not racist enough, you’re not misogynistic enough, you’re not homophobic enough.” The Right is not far enough right.

But unlike most of his rivals, Trump refuses to bring up his faith. In 2012 Republicans put their faith and money behind Mitt Romney, a deeply religious man who didn’t have God on his side in the general election. Perhaps not revealing his favorite Bible passages, as a “gotcha” reporter asked him to do last week, is smart strategy. Or perhaps a deep-seated megalomania trumps his need for a Higher Power.

Trump’s supporters claim their victimhood in the face of illegal immigration and a lack of barriers to keep out “the Mexicans.” His base are victims, I say, and they suffer from a unique brand of Stockholm syndrome. They identify with their charismatic captor, the mouthpiece for a ruthless business elite more concerned with profits than the People.

Like all bullies, Trump builds himself up by putting others down. He has no real solutions, no specific policy proposals beyond shaming his enemies. For a candidate on the rise, Trump banks on the passions of a politically illiterate mass for whom ignorance is diss.

Against The Wind

In his 2010 book The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary Age, Alain Ehrenberg examines how psychiatry (and by extension culture) has viewed and diagnosed depressed “selves” over the last hundred years.

Ehrenberg asserts that today people in the West are less bound by morals and appeals to outside forces than by an obsession with self-improvement and an inner-directed responsibility to reach one’s full potential.

I am in charge of my life and must perform at peak levels, even when I don’t feel like it. Free from old-fashioned moral constraints and the fear of God’s punishment, I have too many options and courses of action. The idea of limitless potential leaves people vulnerable to depression, or “the weariness of the self,” when they don’t live up to unattainable standards of super-excellence.

As Ehrenberg summarizes our current situation:

In the end, the story is very simple. Liberation might have gotten us out of the drama of guilt and obedience, but it has taken us straight into the demands of responsibility and action. And so the weariness of depression took over from the anxiety of neuroses. (229)

People still suffer from anxiety; Ehrenberg doesn’t deny this. But patients aren’t considered “neurotic” today. They aren’t troubled by the internal battle between Id, Ego and Superego. Today depressed patients struggle with inhibition and indecision. The depressed can’t act quickly or adjust to the frenetic pace of hyper-reality. In America not moving fast enough is a cardinal sin, akin to saving too much money or eating less carbs. Hence the status of “outsider” attached to the depressed.

Ehrenberg by no means calls for a return to less morally ambiguous times. He aims to develop an outline of the history of depression and lets us draw our own conclusions. One thing’s clear: in gaining more control over our bodies, our minds and our lives, we’ve developed new ways to torture ourselves for not being good enough or smart enough or successful enough. Especially compared to our Facebook friends.

The rain, rain won’t go away. For some of us—the brave ones—depression affords time to reflect. It’s an umbrella in a hailstorm when most people barely feel a drop.