Monthly Archives: February 2016

Hot/Crazy Matrix: Pop Culture and Souls

I generally don’t write about popular culture because what’s now popular in culture doesn’t resonate with my sensibilities. I’m more interested in the Kingdom of Heaven than which celebrity is getting run over the coals in the tabloids, or who divorced who, or who said what, or who got into what scandal or even in what’s playing at the movies. But I’m here on earth now. And I have three children who are beginning to use social media. My daughter often comes to me with questions about what she reads. So perhaps that’s why I’m delving into something as apparently picayune as the so-called “Hot/Crazy Matrix.”

For those of you who like me had never heard of this, the Hot Crazy Matrix is the standard men should use to decide whether their girlfriend is too crazy to handle. If she is “hot” or very pretty, she can have a high quotient of crazy. But if she’s not pretty, she must have a very low corresponding crazy quotient.

The other day, I was talking about this with a good friend of mine. We were asking one another if we were suitably hot to justify our craziness. We chuckled at first, then we both groaned. Neither one of us is particularly crazy. But as my friend said, “We’re both women. We cry. We cry when we’re angry. We cry when we yell, we cry when we get yelled at . . .” and I interrupted and said, “Yep, and when we’re happy, and when we’re tired . . .” and we both chuckled.

She added, “And these emotions can be confusing for our men.”

I laughed and then looked out the window and watched the rainwater run down the glass pane. “I wish I was younger sometimes, just so I could be hot again, but I was also hurt so much more easily.”

She agreed, and we kept talking, and later, I asked my daughter if she had heard of the Hot/Crazy Matrix.

“Isn’t that what Facebook started out as?” My daughter glanced at the book she was reading and made a face. “Didn’t some guys make a book of faces and didn’t they go and rank women based on how hot they are? Mom, did you know that one of the popular girls told Alice she was ugly today and would never have a boyfriend? I told her off, it’s the same thing, it’s all about how a woman looks isn’t it?”

“Ugh,” I said. “What girl said that?”

“A popular girl, of course.” My daughter raised an eyebrow and then we both sighed. “She’s really hot. And she has a boyfriend.”

“And you told her off?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

“Mom, isn’t there another website now, called Hot or Not?” My daughter grabbed my cell phone and clicked on the web browser.

“Ugh, I don’t think I want to see it,” I said.

My youngest son swept in behind my daughter. “You’re looking at hot girls? I wanna see.”

“No,” we both said.

“What?” Ben tried to look over Maddie’s shoulder. “I like sexy ladies.”

I grabbed the phone from Maddie and put it in my pocket. Then I thought about how to talk to them both about it. My other son had also wandered into the kitchen (which is in fact the site for most of our conversations). I wanted to explain what love means, and what endures, as opposed to what doesn’t endure. I thought about a lot of things. I thought about another one of my friends, the writer Natalie Owens, said to me over private message in regards to this issue: “Popular culture is a way to control people and create desensitized citizens lacking respect and compassion.”

I agree with that characterization, but I needed to keep it simple. Easier for a boy to digest. And for a girl too. So I said, “You know how important it is to have love right?” I checked on my kids and they all nodded.

So I continued, “It’s hard to find it. It’s such a simple thing, love is, but to find someone you can share your life with, you need to look for what’s not gonna change in them. Looks change. Views change. Interests change. But there is something that is never gonna change in a person you’re with.”

“Their souls?” Maddie gave me one of her surprised smiles, the ones she gives when she understands something complex or sounds smart.

I smiled back. “Yep. That’s what we need to focus on. When the man we’re with is unkind or cold or distant or harsh or busy, we gotta feel for what really matters. Quite simply, is their soul one that brings us to life? Does our heart leap a little when they enter the room? Do we feel a deep attraction to the piece of them that doesn’t change over time or years or depending upon what shell they’re in? Does it feel like we can talk to them until forever and a day passes? Do they feel comfortable and exciting—or as another friend put it, do they feel like a spiritual being in a physical body that reminds us of Home? Does their being jive with us? Do they resonate or vibrate or feel right?”

“But Mom, what does this have to do with the Hot/Crazy Matrix?” Maddie sent a pointed look to my pocket, where my cell phone was lodged.

I shook my head. “Well, just as I need to think about the soul of the man I’m dating, he needs to think of my soul too. So no matter how emotional I get, how, I dunno, men wanna call it being crazy whenever a woman is vulnerable or expresses a need or—”

“—But Mom,” Maddie said, “That woman in Gone Girl was definitely crazy. She was hot too, and she seemed to get away with being crazy because she was so hot. That’s how she was able to kill the one guy and scare her husband into doing what she wanted him to do.”

“True! But not many women are truly psychopaths like she was, are they?”

Maddie shook her head.

“Just because a woman is needy sometimes, or emotional, or vulnerable, or has expectations, or carps, or criticizes, or wants too much from the man she’s with doesn’t make her crazy or bad. And when we put tags or definitions or stereotypes on everyone it keeps us from focusing on the bigger picture.”

“In other words, it dehumanizes women?”

“Yeah,” I said. “And it dehumanizes men too.” I paused and patted down a stray strand on Ben’s head. “It keeps them from focusing on more than how sexy a woman is, and it keeps him from really trying to understand her behavior.”

Ben grinned and said, “I still think Adele is beautiful.”

“So do I!” I chuckled and listened with one ear as Ben talked about how Adele was the most beautiful mom ever . . . and continued to cogitate on the deeper meaning or importance of the phenomenon known as the Hot/Crazy Matrix. Sure, I can be quick to speak out against anything that dehumanizes women, but to my way of thinking, the Matrix dehumanizes men too. It encourages them to look on the surface for what really lies within. It gives them yet one more method for categorizing, defining, representing . . . that which is really beyond easy comprehension.

Are some women crazy? If you want to apply a scientific test to it, you’ll see that a certain percentage of women suffer from mental illness. You’ll find the same percentage applies to men, though, so if you’re looking to understand a woman’s behavior by assigning all their behavior to whether it’s sexy or crazy, you’re drawing both too wide and too narrow a band of understanding around these behaviors. In other words, you’re not seeing the penumbras of color that fan out when you get to know another human being.

Understanding others is important. And categories can help . . . except when they cause you to ignore deeper truths. If you’re in a relationship, look for the essence of the soul you’re attached to, and that essence lies in how their soul connects to your soul. Do they feel comfortable? Do they feel familiar? Do they love you? Do you love them? Are you better with them or without them in your life? Do you feel more complete because of them—or less? Do you both love and respect them? And yes, can you look past their surface flaws?

These are hard questions to answer sometimes, and if you’re having trouble answering the question, that’s a sign that you might be with the wrong man or woman. But it’s a question worth answering—because we all deserve to experience deep and lasting love.

As far as the Hot/Crazy Matrix . . . I would subject this relic of modern popular culture to the same analysis. Is such a Matrix good for us? Does applying it to the people in our lives make us happier or less happy? Does it make us wiser, better souls to think in terms of whether the woman we love is hot or crazy? Is it fair to call all women some degree of crazy? Does it help us find happiness to subject others to easy tags and categories? Do we want others to subject us to the same type of thought—in other words, does the Hot/Crazy Matrix follow the Golden Rule? Or is applying this Matrix not the way we would want someone to view or treat us? In other words, if you’re a man now and you were to reincarnate as a woman in the next life, how would you feel about the Matrix? Would you like it? Or would it hurt you?

 

 




Fascism in America and Donald Trump

For years, it was an outlandish insult to compare someone’s behavior to Hitler’s. The accusation would be bandied about and in almost all cases, the actions that gave rise to the comparison paled in comparison to anything that occurred in Nazi Germany. Thus I hesitate to even address whether the current popularity of Donald Trump is a harbinger of things to come. Nonetheless, after reading an article in Slate by Jamelle Bouie that analyzes the elements of fascism, and which cites commentary by both liberal and conservatives who view Trump as having fascist tendencies, I think it is a matter that should be examined.

As Bouie explains in that Slate article:

“Part of the problem of talking about fascism, at least in American political culture, is that there’s nothing close to a common definition. Sometimes, it’s used as a synonym for Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy. Most often, it’s a political insult, usually directed from the left to the right, but often in the reverse too, always in service of narrow partisan points.

This is too bad because fascist and fascism are terms that actually mean something apart from contemporary political combat and the particulars of early- to mid–20th-century Europe. And while that meaning is fuzzy, contested, and contingent, there are elements that scholars can agree on.”

By Università Reggio Calabria [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Università Reggio Calabria [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0

What are some of these elements? Bouie takes an excellent article written by Umberto Eco, in which Eco lists 14 elements of fascism, and narrows it down to seven factors. I reviewed both lists and recommend that before you make up your mind you read both articles. For the sake of simplicity (and desiring to be as accurate and truthful as possible), I will summarize the elements as they appear in the original article by Eco.

The factors are: a cult of tradition (which merges disparate pieces of myth and history in a manner that defies critical analysis); a cult of action for the sake of action; a rejection of modernism; exploitation of the fear of difference or diversity (emphasizing “fear of the intruder”); “derives from individual or social frustration” thus appealing to a “frustrated middle class”; obsession with a plot; humiliation at the wealth and/or force of an enemy; a belief that pacifism is deficient because “life is lived for struggle”; emphasizes popular elitism, with the corresponding belief that every citizen belongs to the best people of the world; a cult of heroism that celebrates death in the service of country; a cult of machismo; valuing collectivism over individualism; respecting strong leadership in lieu of “’rotten’ parliamentary governments” or weak and dissolute legislatures; using Newspeak, or overly simplistic syntax and jargon (which defies critical and rational analysis by potential challengers).

As it stands, I don’t think Trump fulfills all of the listed elements. He does not completely appeal to traditionalism or to ancient myth; indeed, he can barely quote from the Bible (which is supposedly his favorite book?). If Trump were to start weaving the Holy Grail or the lost gospels or the missing tribes of Israel into his message, or even evoke the Holy Wars from the Middle Ages, then perhaps this element would be satisfied. Trump also is not rejecting modernism, nor is he even citing phrases like “original intent” of the Founders—but he is emphasizing so-called “traditional views on marriage” over modern ones that support the freedom of gays to seek legal rights. So the elements of traditionalism and rejection of modernism remain yet to be satisfied, but could easily be met with a bit of tweaking of Trump-speak.

The cult of heroism is not heretofore really met by Trump. If Trump wanted to, he could meet this element by reaching out to military vets, by opposing any and all restrictions on the Second Amendment, by calling for the wider use of the draft, by reaching out possibly to more sports celebrities, by creating more outreach to young men and boys, particularly in the American south and the western states, and perhaps even by picking up outdoors activities like hunting. It should be noted that all such prospective moves would actually increase Trump’s popularity.

218px-Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_3

“Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore 3” by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org

The fourth element not met by Trump is a belief that pacifism is deficient because “life is a struggle.” Trump speaks of taking it to ISIS and he often sounds bellicose when facing almost any sort of resistance; take, for example, his recent refusal to appear on a Fox News Debate mediated by Megyn Kelly. Certainly Trump is obnoxious. Certainly he speaks brashly and creates controversy frequently—but he also preaches a love for the good life brought by living as a state-protected capitalist. He does not live as if he struggles with more than his own appetites. That, however, could change. Trump could always adapt an even more aggressive view on foreign policy as well as on terrors both domestic and foreign, but it is more likely not in Trump’s demeanor to sincerely adapt his verbiage to that of a Spartan, warrior-like Dictator. He’s simply too comfortable living in his penthouse to sell the concept that from his standpoint, life is a struggle.

While four factors of the elements of fascism are not well-met, the other ten elements are met somewhat better. Trump does believe in action for action’s sake: he advocates appointing new Supreme Court justices to overthrow the Court’s ruling on gay marriage, he wants to build a big wall between the US and Mexico, he wants to give ISIS what’s coming to them, he wants to appoint more action-oriented negotiators . . . and in general, he tends to bellow, “Let’s just do something, it’s better to act than to over-think everything.”

Trump also appeals to a frustrated middle class rather than to either poor or wealthy Americans. His views on forcing all Muslims to register (or to be banned altogether) reflects a fear of the intruder as well as a bit of an obsession with a plot (and he’s certainly not alone in holding such a fear, for the threat of radical Muslim terrorism is a real one). In addition, Trump speaks to humiliation at the hands of terrorists in the Middle East (and he could easily broaden this sense of humiliation if he focused on the economic power of China and other Asian countries who export cheaper or superior products to the United States).

"Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H1216-0500-002, Adolf Hitler" by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H1216-0500-002 / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-H1216-0500-002,_Adolf_Hitler.jpg#/media/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-H1216-0500-002,_Adolf_Hitler.jpg

“Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H1216-0500-002, Adolf Hitler” by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H1216-0500-002 / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons

Trump’s main slogan is “Making America Great Again.” Laced within this slogan is the concept of popular elitism as well as a strong thread of collectivism. Add in something similar to Mussolini’s black shirts and you’d see an America that celebrates the pageantry of belonging—which we already see in popular culture every Sunday in the fall and winter, when the masses parade around wearing their favorite football jersey. Trump may not be the one who brings fascism to America because he lacks a certain machismo, but a politician with a military or athletic background may be able to activate the popular mindset by tying worship of guns or sports into the cult of machismo a bit more closely.

The final two factors, dismissal of weak legislatures and use of Newspeak, are met by nearly every single modern politician. Almost all politicians speak in soundbytes, and unfortunately this is probably our fault. We’ve stopped demanding intelligent and rational debate and we’ve become addicted to easy concepts delivered via pretty talking heads or in brief articles that can be scanned and comprehended with a minimal expenditure of intellectual energy. As Americans, we have largely stopped reading newspapers and complex works of philosophy or political theory. We don’t take the time to read anything longer than a few hundred words. We have made the landscape ready for seeds to grow in this way for the growth of Newspeak.

As far as the “rotten parliamentary government” element, Trump is not alone in attacking the Congress. Politicians from both major parties, as well as independents, have criticized paralysis in the House and Senate. Indeed, such criticism is completely warranted. It’s absolutely ridiculous that the United States government keeps getting shut down due to petty partisan bickering. Our elected officials are making it easy for an authoritarian and charismatic leader to take power by showing the weaker underbelly of democracy transformed into inanity.

In conclusion, we bandy words like “fascism” about far too often. And Trump is not yet a Fascist as viewed through the lens of careful historical analysis. But if Trump wanted to, he could skew in the direction of Fascism and by taking such a turn, he could probably garner more popular support. I sense that we are but one major radical Muslim terrorist attack away from the ground becoming fertile for a leader to combine some of Trump’s bombast with a stronger version of the poison that is Fascism. So while Trump is by no means Hitler or Mussolini, I do think that much of Trump’s rhetorical can best be viewed from the lens of history, quietly informing us as to the truth.




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