More Differences in Opinion

Remember my little rant (I have been ranting a lot these days, sorry) earlier this month about Internet and podcast critics? Today I got something in my inbox that brought me back to it. YouTube, despite being wrong about my taste about 85 percent of the time, sends me videos it thinks I should watch, and it sent me one entitled “The One BIG Problem with Endgame NOBODY Is Talking About.” This title suggested one of two things. One, that nobody’s talking about it because they didn’t know about it, so the filmmakers and producers and studio honchos and all the critics and the gazillions of people who’ve seen this movie so far haven’t noticed it, but our humble Internet critic is the only one smart enough to see through the glitz and excitement to find a BIG FLAW. Or two, that the filmmakers and producers and studio honchos and all the critics and the gazillions of people who’ve seen this movie so far have seen this One BIG Problem but are all keeping quiet about it for reasons, and this humble Internet Critic is the only one who is brave enough to speak out about it. I haven’t watched the video, nor do I intend to, but I do secretly wonder which one it is. 

My guess is two. You may not be aware of this, but there is a small, but vocal contingent of Internet personalities who will do anything to tear Disney down. They hate Disney, maybe because it’s the monopoly empire taking over everything (which is true, and I really shouldn’t let my love of Marvel and Star Wars and Disneyworld cloud my judgement—but I do). Or maybe it’s because Disney is being run by SJWs who are cramming their unnatural philosophy down everybody’s throat. But they’ll do anything to make Disney look bad, which, as it’s the only thing in their power, which consists mostly of posting videos with charts and graphs that prove that Disney’s socially conscious agenda is making it fail financially. It’s not, as Black Panther and Captain Marvel—two of their three biggest targets—making all the money in the world should attest to. That’s okay, they can explain that too—Disney is buying out empty movie theaters to inflate their numbers, never mind how that makes no sense whatsoever.* 

It may be the first one. Maybe there was a flaw that just slipped everyone’s radar, just like the Stormtrooper bonking his head made it all the way into the Special Editions of Star Wars despite it being kind of spectacular. But most likely it’s just a whiny boy with an agenda out to tear down the Evil Empire. I don’t want to know what the BIG Problem is in Endgame. I saw the movie, I really liked it. I had a few issues with it. Now, onto the next movie I’m going to pay money to see in theaters, which is *checks schedule* John Wick. Oh, Ted “Theodore” Logan, what kind of wacky trouble have you gotten into now? 

* Disney doesn’t do this, but you know who does? Right-wing Christian movies. And you know what? It’s okay if you’re a pastor and you think your congregation would enjoy God’s Not Dead 2: The Return of Zombie God (or whatever that movie’s about—I haven’t seen it). But if you’re using this as evidence that the United States is aligning with your notions of a fictional small town, as well as the equally fictional heroes of Duck Dynasty, rallying behind the “traditional” notion of never being in the same room with a woman because it’s quaint and pure, then you’re being disingenuous, and that’s something that Jesus very clearly told you not to be. 

Review from the Top

Between 2002 and 2004, I wrote these updates on Sunday, sharing the events of my week and sent them out to all my friends. They were action-packed, exuberant (more exuberant than I was most of the time), and bluntly honest about myself. I started them out because I vowed to myself that something interesting would happen to me every week. And it did. 

I saved these into a file on my hard drive that got destroyed when Newcastle sat on it. Luckily I had a hard copy that went into storage, never to be seen again, until now. Because I thought it would be fun to relive my glory days as Jack Murphy (inside joke, don’t ask), I dug it up. 

It was not fun. Jesus. I was not nearly as witty as I gave myself credit for. I am the last person to complain about his past writing—I feel like most of mine holds up, maybe with a polish—but Jesus.  

I feel like someone pulled the rose-colored glasses from my face and dropped them to the floor, smashing them with their boot. 

Time for You

A question: if someone says, “That’s so nineties,” what does that mean? I think, as someone who came of age during that decade, I have a harder time of categorizing it in broad strokes than someone who didn’t. 

To me, when I think of the nineties, I think of the early part of the decade, when the eighties were hanging on by their dying hands. I think of when gangsta rap was just a toddler, when industrial music was a thing, and when alternative rock was transitioning from an actual alternative to mainstream. Fashion was baggy—so, so baggy—and brightly colored while also being muted at the same time, and people wore Doc Martens to weddings. Cars went abruptly from blocky to streamlined, and I don’t remember anything about the architecture. Right wing talk radio had only just started to infect mainstream political discourse, and everybody thought that was a fad that was going to go away. But when people talk about the nineties, this is not what they’re talking about. 

So what is it? 

Modest Tea

I’m not a success by any means. I’m only a marginally published author, and I don’t think I’ll be published any more than I already have been. I’m not an artist, not anymore, even after all the work I put into it over the past ten years. I’m divorced and living in the curtained-off living room of a one-bedroom apartment, most of my stuff in storage. I can’t get a job, despite four solid months of looking—though I do have insurance and some work at The Container Store. The Murphy name terminates with me, in that I have no children.  

When my ancestors, who fought and toiled their way through Ireland and Poland to get to the United States and battled in wars and suffered to bring me to being, look at me, will they be disappointed?  

Probably not, because I’m happy. I’ve got a lot to worry about, but I live a good life. I have lived a good life. I’ve seen the world. I lived in one of the most exciting cities on the planet for six years. I’m living in an exciting city now. I’ve met countless people who have enriched my life. I’ve written six novels and am in the home stretch of a seventh. I’ve got a cat who may be the most annoying animal in the world, but he is the most precious thing to me. My roommate is the Queen of Cracking Me Up.  

I know that my ancestors would see that I’m not toiling in a field eighteen hours a day, that I had married for love, that I’m broke but not starving, that my name and my memory will carry on long after I’m dead because of the people I’ve touched—not just because of genetics, that I can turn my dreams into words that live in my hard drive, but may go elsewhere, who knows, I’m not counting anything out. They would see all of this and breathe a sigh of relief. They would be proud. They may not understand things like cafes, but they would be proud that I go to them so frequently and drown myself in my imagination. They would be proud that I made something of myself. That something may not be CEO or bestselling novelist, but it’s enough. It’s all I want*.  

And so, on this, my forty-third birthday, I give myself a slow clap. I did it—I kept it together, despite how hard the world (and my biology) have made it. That calls for some cake. 

_________________________ 

* Well, that and a freaking job. 

Something About a Bullfrog

One of the advantages of having such an unusual name is that, when I hear someone say “Jeremiah,” I’m 80 percent certain they’re talking to or about me. So I’m trained to react to it like a dog reacts to its own name.  

That’s why I was in a state of such high alert when the lacrosse bros were sitting behind me in the cafe, having a long, detailed conversation about their bro, Jeremiah. I was so tense and unfocused while they were there that I don’t think I wrote more than a paragraph. By the time they wrapped up, I was a wreck, relieved that they and their bro were gone. 

Taking their place were a middle-aged lady and a teenage boy who, based on their conversation, were a church youth leader and a church youth. They talked about, at length, a fellow youth named Jeremiah. Was this this same Jeremiah as bro Jeremiah? It doesn’t matter. I have a repetitive stress injury from my ears perking up every time they heard that name.  

I don’t think I can adequately express the amount of anxiety that hearing my name coming from strangers causes me. That’s why I avoid wearing my name tag at work. It’s been literally years since I’ve heard my name spoken about a person who wasn’t me, so the bombardment gave me a bit of a complex. That’s why I was so relieved to go to work that evening, where people don’t ever use my name, even when they are referring to me. 

Uncle Larry

I’m terrible about keeping in touch with people. If you’re not on Facebook, and, hell, even if you are on Facebook, you’re not going to hear much from me. I say this because it’s been years and years since I’ve talked to my uncle Larry, and now he’s gone.  

For about a half-decade he was the most important man in my life. I was living alone in New York, and the holidays struck violently as they always struck, but Uncle Larry always threw a holiday party for his extended family the weekend before Christmas, and I was always invited. Even when it wasn’t Christmas, I visited him and his mother and father, living together in a tiny house in Linden, New Jersey, quite frequently, and, even though he had a plethora of kids of his own, he treated me like a son. This had been going on a while. When I was just learning language far too long ago, he and his wife, my late aunt Christine, would call me “Jeremiah James Murphy Dukes,” to which I’d reply, emphatically, “No Dukes! No Dukes!” This continued well into my adulthood. 

Larry Dukes was a kind, generous man who believed in the power of family, and he didn’t define family as rigorously as some might. He let people in constantly, even when those around him were skeptical. I’d tell you some of these amazing stories and how much brighter everybody’s life was because of his openness, but they’re not my stories to tell. 

I’m trying to think of more examples of what an incredible man my uncle was, but all I’m doing is choking up. Most of what I remember about him can be distilled into feelings—feelings of safety and joy and warmth, a feeling like I belonged (something especially precious when you’re living in a city that wants you to feel alone). I can’t describe how happy I was spending time in his house on Ainsworth Street. 

He’s had a lot of hardship in his life, which he endured alone because he never wanted to be a burden on others, like the idiot he was. But now I like to think that he’s finally resting. If Uncle Larry is reading Facebook in heaven (he never did on Earth, though, so why should that change?), I hope can see how much I love him. 

Post Script: A memory of Uncle Larry that sticks with me occurred at his father’s funeral. We were following the casket out of the church, and I found myself walking alongside him. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was—John Beck was also an incredible man—both for his loss and for all the loss he’d suffered in recent years. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, and I supported him, and I would do anything he needed. I wanted to tell him just how important he was to me. But there were no words that this writer could think of that would efficiently communicate that, and besides, this was a quiet time. So I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. He nodded. We’d said everything that needed to be said. I’ve been touched by that head nod for almost two decades. 

The Golden Rule

I’m going to go on a rant here for a minute, so bear with me. I’m not a very good Christian, but I’ve been thinking lately about things like the audacity of Joel Osteen and of Donald Trump autographing Bibles, and I’ve been thinking about the things that Jesus has actually said, and it’s got me a little riled up. You see, I’ve had this pet peeve for a while, and it recently exploded out of me when I saw a preview for a Netflix movie called Good Sam, the “Sam” being short for “Samaritan.”  

Here’s the thing that really bugs me about that: The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not the story of one guy being nice to another guy in need because he’s nice. It’s the story of a rabbi and a Levite, both high-ranking figures in Jewish society, leaving a man to die on the side of the road because they didn’t want to get their hands dirty. It’s about how you will find more humanity in a filthy, despised foreigner than in the people who lead us. And it’s true today. Close your eyes, being completely honest with yourself, and ask, who is more likely to stop and help someone dying on the side of the road: Franklin Graham? The Koch Brothers? Or a maligned migrant worker on his way to his tiny home after twelve hours at an illegal, dangerous job? Think about it, and you know the answer. Not only would the poor man stop and help, but he’d take the person in need home to dinner too, even if it means he has to sacrifice his own meager portion to feed them. 

Jesus is telling us in that tale to be nice to people, yes, but he’s mostly telling us not to rely on those in power. Because here’s the thing that we, as Americans, always forget: Jesus wasn’t in power. He wasn’t mainstream like he is today. He wasn’t the establishment. Jesus fought the establishment tooth and nail. He mocked the establishment and made it look foolish. He chased the establishment around with a whip. He challenged the establishment so much that they nailed him to a piece of wood for it. Jesus wasn’t telling people which bathroom to use, he was getting in rich people’s faces and telling them that amassing wealth is a sin against their fellow man.  

The question you have to ask yourself is this: Which Jesus are you going to believe? The one whose words can be twisted to back up your preconceived prejudices and hate, or the rebellious badass who tore up the gospels and freaked out the elites? And while you’re thinking about that, ask yourself this: Which Jesus do we need more today? 

A Difference of Opinion

I used to listen to a lot of movie podcasts, but I really stopped because most of them are just really negative. I had one that I had been holding onto because it had some positivity to it, but I think I’m going to dump this one too, after what just happened. 

They were talking about a movie from my childhood which I don’t remember as being particularly good, but still a lot of fun. They identified two plot holes that they kept bringing up snarkily as evidence that the movie was badly written. But I decided to rent the movie because I remember loving it as a kid, and I have a high tolerance for plot holes (it’s just a movie, it’s not worth getting that bent out of shape about). Those plot holes were addressed within the first twenty minutes of the movie. They weren’t plot holes, they were just bad viewing comprehension on the critics’ part. And more importantly, by viewing one of these as plot holes, they literally missed the entire point of the movie. 

This is such a thing among Internet critics, complaining about plot holes as a way of justifying their opinion. It’s okay to have an opinion, and it’s okay not to have a solid reason for it. I’m tired of being told not to like something (and that there’s something wrong with me for liking it), and I’m tired of the reasons I’m told not to like something being so spectacularly wrong.  

I wish that seeing a thumbnail for a YouTube video proclaiming the failure of a property I’m really into wasn’t something I took so personally, but at least I can take comfort in knowing that my reasons for liking what I like (i.e. it connects with me) are sound, and some troll can’t take that away.