5 fictional villains who are more like Donald Trump than Gollum

Rand Paul, in an attempt to connect with younger, hipper voters, has decided to mockingly compare Donald Trump to a character from a 62-year-old book. The character he chose was Gollum, and the reason he gave was this:

One candidate on this national stage wants you to give him power. He tells you he is rich, so he must be smart.

If you give him power he claims he will fix America, but there is another tradition in America. A tradition that believes that power corrupts, and that our goal should be not to gain power but to contain power or limit Presidential power…

This race should not be about who can grasp the ring. Electing Gollum should not be our objective. This race should be about which candidate will best protect you from an overbearing government.

I am the only one on this national stage who really doesn’t want power or dominion over you.

So, a few quick things. I hate Donald Trump as much as anyone else, but Gollum is not a great comparison. First off, Gollum didn’t want power or dominion over anyone, he just wanted the Ring. Also, Gollum hates himself. This alone disqualifies him from being compared to Trump. It would be more accurate, in this analogy, to compare Trump to Sauron, but even that feels forced. Sauron is, if nothing else, a competent dictator, and is also short on words. It would be nice if Donald Trump was more like Sauron.

I’m not knocking Rand Paul for not knowing more about Lord of the Rings, as I imagine the only book he reads is Atlas Shrugged, and even the best candidates take ham-fisted stabs at being cool from time-to-time, so I’d like to offer him some other fictional characters that might be better likened to Donald Trump:

Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

About a month ago, Twitter blew up after Trump’s Islamophobic nonsense and started comparing him to Voldemort. J.K. Rowling was not pleased.

Rowling is right: that is not the correct comparison. First of all, Voldemort was a power-hungry psychopath, while Trump is merely a bloviating narcissist. In this sense, he is much closer to the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in the second Harry Potter book, Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart is an incompetent and a buffoon who spends most of his time mugging for cameras and talking about how important he is. This is the most Trumpian trait any character shows in the seven books.

And if we must insist on our Harry Potter comparison being a Death Eater, I would say that Vincent Crabbe, the meatheaded crony who turns maniacally evil in the seventh book, is a better comparison than Voldemort, simply because Voldemort is always portrayed as smart.

Napoleon, War and Peace

I know Napoleon is not a fictional character, but in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, he is fictionalized and portrayed not as a genius, but rather as an egomaniac who is simply riding the wave of history. France, Tolstoy suggests, was bubbling over with revolution anyway, and it didn’t matter which Great Man took the helm.

Tom Buchanan, The Great Gatsby

Misogynist? Check. Racist? Check. Rich and entitled? Check. Callously indifferent to the destruction he leaves in his wake? Check. Just the worst? Check.

Zaphod Beeblebrox, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Beeblebrox, for those who haven’t read HHG2G, is a self-centered, charismatic tabloid celebrity who somehow manages to be elected Galactic President. He then uses his prestige and power to careen around the galaxy, make a mess, and ruin people’s lives. Also, he has terrible hair.

Satan, The Bible (and spin-offs like Paradise Lost)

Bear with me. I’m not just making half-baked comparisons between Trump and the Devil. In Paradise Lost, Satan — whose fatal flaw is his pride — rejects God, leads a revolution (“Make heaven great again!”), loses, and then spends the rest of his life eating sour grapes and trying to turn God’s favorite creations against him. He especially likes to target women and people wandering through deserts.

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Aliens made of fart gas might be a real thing

I’ve been reading science fiction for a really long time, but I’ve read it almost exclusively for the fiction, as I have zero understanding of science. But it has always struck me that, when scientists imagine other life forms, they assume that they would be carbon and water-based lifeforms like the ones found on earth. This has always struck me as strange. In an almost infinitely huge universe, shouldn’t there be a nearly infinite number of bases for life to form from?

Like, couldn’t life theoretically form from sentient evil? Couldn’t a particularly stinky cheese eventually gain self-awareness? Could not a fart learn how to play a piano?

This is why I am not a scientist. But this week, all of my dreams came true: scientists discovered that fart aliens could theoretically exist. I Fucking Love Science, a site that is infinitely smarter than this one, explained it thusly:

Nearly all living organisms on Earth have water-based structures around their cells called phospholipid bilayers. These keep water in (or out), and they shelter the insides of our cells from the rest of the world. Now, according to a study based entirely on computer modeling, small molecules in oxygen-free environments may be capable of forming compartments that resemble these lipid membranes. The findings, published in Science Advances last week, suggests that life—but “not as we know it”—is possible on worlds without oxygen. They just have to be comprised of methane-based cells.

It is here that I want to note that methane gas among humans who are not chemists or scientists of any stripe (i.e. me) is most commonly noted as one of the main gases present in flatulence — indeed, methane is a greenhouse gas, and cow farts are one of the worst contributors to climate change. IFL Science continues:

Astronomers looking for signs of extraterrestrial life (and places where mankind might colonize one day) focus on the habitable zone, a narrow area around the sun where liquid water can exist. However, if cells weren’t based on water but on methane—which has a much lower freezing point—could “life” exist in extremely cold worlds like Saturn’s moon Titan? The giant moon is spotted with seas of liquid methane and has no oxygen available for the formation of a lipid bilayer membrane.

There you have it: just a few planets away is a moon that is covered in fart-based lifeforms. Yes, I know it’s a jump from “theoretically they could exist,” to “FART ALIENS! EVERYWHERE!” but to paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Farts will find a way.”

Let’s all take a moment to appreciate what a spectacularly diverse and weird universe we live in. And, for the inevitable oncoming war of colonization between our planet and their moon, let’s begin investing in a GasX-based defense budget.

Featured photo by Mibrant2000

 

The Tragedy of Penn State and the Dickishness of Olbermann

I went to Penn State from 2005 to 2009, so I had left before the Sandusky sex abuse scandal was a thing that most Penn Staters knew about. I was never that gung-ho about Penn State in comparison to most of my classmates, so when it came out that Joe Paterno had been negligent in reporting Sandusky to the police (and possibly complicit if not active in a cover-up), I was in favor of his firing.

This is not a common or popular opinion amongst alumni, but a mere 10 years earlier, I had been an unenthusiastic Catholic, and had seen the exact same scandal happen within my church. So I knew that any defense of those at fault was more about self-preservation than justice, and that this self-preservation instinct would ultimately backfire on the people who loved Penn State, just as it did with the Church. In both cases, it gave me an excuse to sever myself from a culture that I didn’t connect with in a particularly meaningful way. But I’m still sympathetic to my friends who have remained Catholics and/or Penn State fans. It’s tough to deal with fallen Gods.

Paterno, the Tragic Hero

I’m not being flip, by the way, by referring to Joe Paterno as a “fallen god.” Penn State culture is largely built around the football program, and it has all the trappings of a religion: chants, songs, rituals, myths, and a moral code. The moral code is especially prevalent in Penn State football, more than in other teams I’ve been a fan of: Penn State has always put an emphasis on the integrity of the brand, and Joe Paterno was the cornerstone of that ethos. He was one of the first college coaches to place an emphasis on the “student” of “student-athlete,” and he was known for being both generous to his community and for having a moral code. He was like an old, Italian, Omar Little.

tumblr_n6m56kHuIr1qg1qx9o3_r1_500

tumblr_n6m56kHuIr1qg1qx9o4_r1_500

Unfortunately, what was hidden behind the moral code, the integrity, and the generosity was an obsession with legacy. He liked being so well-respected and revered, so when a possible blemish to that legacy — the sexual abuse of children under his care by one of his coaches — came out, he didn’t do what he should have. His pride was his downfall.

Yeah. There’s nothing remotely religious about that story at all.

The story of the fallen god is a common one, but less told is what happens to the god’s worshippers after the fall. Penn State’s response feels pretty similar to the Catholic response: long-term denial, scapegoating of certain figures who “had it out” for Paterno, the “few bad apples” speeches, and a willful obliviousness to the systemic nature of the problem. There were even riots when Paterno got fired.

From the outside, this response looks delusional, but if you, like me, have a foot in and a foot out of the culture, you can see what it really is: a desperate scramble to salvage something that has become immensely important in your life. There’s a lack of self-awareness to the response, yes, but this reaction happens whenever a worldview collapses.

Keith Olbermann wins the righteousness Olympics

Keith Olbermann, as everyone knows, is a strident commentator who seems to enjoy feeling morally righteous. One of the easiest ways to feel morally righteous is to position yourself against the sexual abuse of children. No one’s going to fight you on that. But on Monday, when a Penn State alum Tweeted an article at Olberman, he responded thus:

The correct response to “We Are!” in PSU world is “Penn State!” and the students had just raised $13 million for cancer research — which is what the woman had been cheering. She was baiting Olbermann, who has gotten his righteousness jollies from Penn State in the past, and Olbermann made the mistake of not clicking on the link, or of just being a dick.

Olbermann said he was targeting Penn State students in general, not kids with cancer, but as the AV Club put it in their coverage, “let’s face it, if you have to clarify that you’re not insulting kids with cancer, the conversation’s gotten away from you.”

So yeah. Olbermann’s a dick. We knew that already.

old-man-simpsons

Incidentally, though, THON is just as much a part of the Penn State culture that produced the football program. Like football, the culture around THON cannibalized the time and resources of other on-campus organizations. While at Penn State, I was the president of the campus’s chapter of Amnesty International, and there were many times that potential new members would skip our group because of a lack of involvement in THON. “Fighting cancer in children is a great cause,” I would tell them, “It’s just not particularly relevant to human rights. Unless you consider healthcare to be a human right, in which case we should be organizing politically to get the government to fund this research rather than doing it ourselves…” at which point the conversation usually ended.

Blaming the Culture

Student activism in any real sense was not encouraged under Graham Spanier (the President who would eventually be fired during the Sandusky scandal for his involvement in the cover-up). Spanier also liked to complain publicly about the lack of student activism, while simultaneously refusing to meet with student activists and, eventually, having them arrested. One of the ways of sucking energy away from groups that Spanier and the administration didn’t like was putting all of the emphasis on THON. And it’s really hard to argue against a cause that’s donating to child cancer research, even if it takes the form of a 48-hour pep rally that is mostly put together by the frats and sororities. So while Olbermann’s an asshole for painting the entire Penn State campus as Sandusky and Paterno apologists, he wouldn’t be totally wrong if he was seeing in THON some of the same culture that gave us Penn State football.

My guess is he was just being a dick, though.

The interesting thing is that if Olbermann wants to blame Penn State students and culture — as I believe he justifiably could — as providing an environment where Sandusky’s abuse and the subsequent cover-up could happen, then he would also have to place some of the blame on his network, ESPN, which has played no small role in making college football into such a massive money-making institution that, in the mind of people like Spanier and Paterno, would have been too big to fail. If you want to blame a culture, you have to blame the whole culture: the institutions that support it, the values it prioritizes, and the economy that guides it.

It’s important to point out that Penn State is barely the only school with this culture. Any other school could have been unlucky enough to have a predatory pedophile on staff, and could have had the confluence of factors (a too-mighty football program, unscrupulous administrators, cowardly coaches) that led to Penn State’s downfall. I grew up in Ohio, and I know that Ohio State’s football culture is similarly fanatical. It could just as easily have happened somewhere else.

But it happened to Penn State, and the people who knew nothing about the scandal when the events that caused it were actually happening became the ones scrambling to pick up the pieces of their culture after the scandal had blown through.

Blaming a culture for a crime usually seems unfair — this is why people tend to put so much emphasis on personal responsibility — but cultures set the conditions for crimes. Jack the Ripper, for example, was ultimately the man who eviscerated London’s prostitutes in 1888, but he would not have gotten as far as he did if Victorian England hadn’t had such extreme poverty that the entire East End of London was basically a brothel where misogynistic exploitation and violence could thrive.

Similarly, a sporting culture that values profit and apolitical coverage above all else is going to eventually to brush pedophiles, abusive husbands, and serial cheaters under the rug. Penn State’s culture is America’s sporting culture, and if Keith Olbermann wants to condemn one, he has to condemn both, or else be a bit of a hypocrite.

And a dick. Did I mention he’s a dick?

The “Penn State Experience”

When my friends would come to visit me at Penn State, my roommate would always try and give them the “Penn State Experience.” This involved football, lots of drinking, lots of parties, cheap pizza, high-quality ice cream, and a tour of the beautiful campus. His tours were always suffused with pride: pride at belonging to such a fun, happy community, pride at going to a pretty great educational institution, and pride at being able to show it off to friends from outside.

The cracks were already there, just beneath the surface, so when the cracks finally turned into chasms, it was easy for chronic non-believers and pessimists such as myself to sigh knowingly and to move on. But for my roommates, for my friends, and for my classmates, the collapse of their King was incomprehensible.

We’re used to the story of fallen Gods. But we’re used to the story from a distance: we’re used to the collapsed pedestal of Ozymandias buried in sand centuries later. We can see the collapse through the perspective of the God as he falls, undone, off of his pedestal.

But we cannot imagine the view from among the adoring crowd as they watch, horrified, as their god falls. Penn State is more than its football. It’s more than the Sandusky scandal. But Penn State culture is too busy trying to recover from its collapse to fully appreciate the former, and obtuse outrage junkies like Olbermann are too busy shouting to acknowledge the latter.

Bad news: ISIS is actually more progressive than the United States on something

Today, the Atlantic published their cover story for next month about the ideology behind ISIS. I read it because until very recently, I thought ISIS was the name of the spy agency in Archer.1413034195030.cached
It’s worth reading on its own — ISIS is absolutely loathsome, but its ideology actually follows a weirdly consistent if murder-y fundamentalist logic — but here’s a bit of it that stood out:

…Abdul Muhid, 32, continued along these lines. He was dressed in mujahideen chic when I met him at a local restaurant: scruffy beard, Afghan cap, and a wallet outside of his clothes, attached with what looked like a shoulder holster. When we sat down, he was eager to discuss welfare. The Islamic State may have medieval-style punishments for moral crimes (lashes for boozing or fornication, stoning for adultery), but its social-welfare program is, at least in some aspects, progressive to a degree that would please an MSNBC pundit. Health care, he said, is free. (“Isn’t it free in Britain, too?,” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Some procedures aren’t covered, such as vision.”) This provision of social welfare was not, he said, a policy choice of the Islamic State, but a policy obligation inherent in God’s law.

I mean, goddamn it, America. There is a single fucking thing that ISIS is more progressive about than us. Although one has to wonder why not-cutting-heads-off or burning-prisoners-alive doesn’t fall under God’s healthcare scheme and vision and dental do.

Satire is Insanely Important

I write for a living. And with that as my job, it’s easy to get lost in the drudgery of the day-to-day: editing, working through writer’s block, coming up with new ideas, trying to convince myself to turn off Netflix, etc. It’s not often that I think to myself, “This shit matters.”

With the attack on the leftist and anti-religion satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the recent hacks on Sony over the release of The Interview, though, it’s hard for me to think otherwise: Satire — and writing in general — is insanely important. Language is the only true magic in the world, the only tool we have with which we can truly change another person’s mind, or to get masses to act as one, or to destroy and humiliate bloated demagogues or systems of power and oppression.

Alan Moore, the famed comics writer, believes that our concept of magic came about as soon as we discovered language. “Magic has quite a lot in common with fiction and with fantasy,” Moore says. “We almost get into the notion that the two are pretty well interchangeable.”

“The idea of a grimoire — a book of spells. Grimoire is simply another way of spelling ‘grammar.’ According to [famed occultist Aleister] Crowley, to cast a spell is simply to spell.”

In the movie A Knight’s Tale, (yes, I’m quoting A Knight’s Tale), Geoffrey Chaucer, the famed English writer, says to a couple of thugs who cheated him out of his gambling money, “I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.”

Satire, then, is the only true curse. Never mind the quality of the satire: I haven’t seen The Interview yet, but my guess is that it’s not great. What matters is that Kim Jong Un was made to look ridiculous, like his father was in Team America: World Police. Satire sticks. It stays with us for eternity. Their legacy is eternally tarnished by a pair of silly films that they weren’t able to quash.

The same can be said of the attack on Charlie Hebdo: the type of people who would attack a satirical magazine are the type of people who realize what a threat humor and satire is to their fundamentalist vision of life. Never mind that there’s a simple counterspell to the satirical curse: all you have to do is laugh at yourself, and the curse harmlessly flits away. No one remembers a simple self-deprecatory joke, especially if it’s taken in a good-natured manner.

Our written words always outlive us. But by killing the satirists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, the terrorists have guaranteed that they will eternally be villains. They are tarnished forever. And in that sense, the murdered satirists have won.

This Week in Butt News: Butts! In! Space!

This week, Kim Kardashian posted a picture of her butt on the internet, saying that it would “break the internet.” This has naturally caused a bit of internet uproar – yes, there is already an article on the racial politics of Kim Kardashian’s butt – because sometimes, when there’s nothing else to talk about, we need a good butt uproar. A “buttroar,” if you will.

As far as I know, nothing on the internet was “broken,” as the internet already has quite a few pictures of butts already, many of which are the same butt as Kim Kardashian’s butt. But I’m glad the 21st Century’s best philosopher is keeping it relevant in 2014.


As is internet protocol, part of the uproar (buttroar) about the Kim Kardashian picture is whether or not we should be talking about Kim Kardashian’s butt picture. But these people miss the point. Because yesterday, we – and by “we” I mean “humanity” – landed a spacecraft on a comet. On a motherfucking comet. We didn’t even need to redirect its course away from the earth, we were just like, “Hey look, bro, there’s a comet, let’s go chill on it,” and then it was all like “Comet me, Bro!”  and then we did.

Irrelevant to the butt news, you say? Not at all.

Alan Moore, the great comic book writer, wrote a great book called From Hell, which focused on the Jack the Ripper murders. What he was interested in was less who Jack the Ripper was, and more in how everything that made up Victorian society could have produced a murderer like Jack. How did the art, the politics, the architecture, even the layout of the city of London contribute to the Ripper murders?

His answer, basically, was that all of it played a role. And to an extent, this is true of everything. Without putting any more weight on one thing over the other, the society that has produced the ability for us to land a spacecraft on a motherfucking comet is the same society that has made Kim Kardashian’s butt a piece of relevant news. Who knows, if we removed one element, if we would still have the other? Could space travel still be a thing without Kim Kardashian’s butt? Could the forces that brought us her butt have been inextricably linked with the forces that have allowed us to travel into the stars? At the very least, we must say that no spacecraft ever landed on a comet before this picture of Kim Kardashian’s butt.

The answer is almost certainly yes. So behold, at the other end of this link, the very NSFW butt that has allowed us to escape bonds of gravity and make our way, with no help from Bruce Willis, onto the natural phenomena that our ancestors once believed to be omens of great upheaval and change. What wonders, what upheaval, what change, will Kim Kardashian’s butt bring us tomorrow?

Photo courtesy of Chris Wall

Assisted Suicide is Wrong, Unless You’re Assisted by an Anaconda

In December, the Discovery Channel, as it so rarely does, will be living up to its name. It is going to discover something. It is going to discover what the inside of an anaconda looks like. Sure, it’s not a true discovery so much as a Christopher Columbus discovery: millions have been there before the Discovery Channel, like wild pigs, capybaras, turtles, and Jon Voight.jon-voight-anaconda-1997-

But the Discovery Channel will be the first to film it. Paul Rosolie, a 26-year-old “naturalist” and filmmaker, has agreed to be filmed being eaten alive by an anaconda during Discovery’s “MegaWeek” program “Eaten Alive.”

Rosolie says he will be safe because he will be wearing a “custom-built, snake-proof suit” – snake-proof in the sense that he’s still going to be eaten by a snake, but in that the snake won’t enjoy it – and because he will have an “emergency line” attached to his ankles, which hopefully means the show will end with one group of people pulling on Rosolie’s legs, and another pulling on the snake’s tail.

The "Snake-Proof" Suit

The “Snake-Proof” Suit

Rosolie presumably lived, as the show has been shot already and he’s still tweeting about it – though, come to think of it, it’s totally possible he’s tweeting from the inside of the snake in his snake-proof suit while doing prep work for the follow up, “Pooped Alive,” – but he could very easily have died doing this stunt, and people would likely have responded with a very well-justified, “Well what the fuck did you think was gonna happen?” and then write him off as just another candidate for the Darwin Awards.

Which, dear reader, brings me finally to the point: Remember Brittany Maynard? The girl who had a terminal brain cancer and decided she’d rather die on her own terms than slowly and painfully from her disease?

Maynard very fortunately lived in Oregon, where she could legally choose to “die with dignity,” and, this past November 1st, ended her life surrounded by her friends and family.

This was a national controversy. Maynard was playing god. The state shouldn’t be involved with life and death, people argued. Suicide is a mortal sin, others argued, and Maynard would have to burn in hell for dying on her own terms rather than her tumor’s terms. Or, you know, on God’s terms, but hey, in this scenario, God and the tumor were basically one and the same.

Maynard’s problem, of course, was that she chose a death not properly suited to trash TV. She could have easily died by feeding herself to an anaconda, or by walking a high-wire across Chicago, or by skydiving from 128,000 feet. Death is fine, after all, as long as it’s for spectacle, and as long as you’re seen as “risking” death and not “attempting” it.

So Maynard’s problem was branding. Death, we all know, is chaotic and random, and you’re supposed to play the cards you are dealt. Folding is not an option. But you are more than welcome to say, “Hit me,” when dealt two Kings.

The 9/11 Corporate Tribute Round-Up

9/11 has become what is undoubtedly the weirdest day to live in a country with the concept of corporate personhood. Here are some of the Tweets that have been coming out of corporate Twitter accounts in honor of September 11th.

I took screenshots instead of embedding them because some of them will undoubtedly be taken down.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.11.32 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.12.13 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.16.38 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.17.27 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.02.36 PM

For those who don’t know, the Fleshlight is a male sex toy disguised to look like a Flashlight.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.00.47 PM

For those who don’t know, Brazzers is a porn site. Their next Tweet read “.@MadisonScottXXX gets her sweet tight ass fucked in “Wet and Ready”” followed by a link to the video.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 11.45.47 AM

This Tweet has since been taken down.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.05.43 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.06.31 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.08.38 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.10.18 PM

 

And a couple from last year:

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.18.46 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.20.59 PM 3017252-slide-screen-shot-2013-09-11-at-22453-pm

3017252-slide-pretzelcrisps_0

The Ice Bucket Challenge Isn’t Slacktivism

14929011085_05765aaf17_h

Facebook exploded this past week with the “ice bucket challenge,” which asks people to film themselves dumping water on their heads or to donate $100 to support ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) research charities. Then they nominate three more people to do the same.

Obviously, some people ignore the challenge, as they are totally allowed to do, and others don’t have enough money, so they dump ice on their head. Others, like me, have neither a bucket nor $100 to spare, and pray quietly that no one nominates them.

Others still have been getting on the internet in droves and posting pictures like this:

ice bucket

…and just generally decrying it as “slacktivism.”

The clean water joke is mostly that, a joke, because most people that have shared that meme presumably flush the toilet when they pee and not just when they poop, and thus waste clean water for purposes even less noble than raising money for a charity on a far more frequent basis than the ice bucket challengers. Or maybe they’ve been to a water park or a swimming pool before. Either way, “wasting water” isn’t a complaint that holds any water (ha!) with the ice bucket challenge, considering there are far more mundane wastes of water out there.

As for those who call it slacktivism, they’re just wrong. It’s not slacktivism. It’s not even activism: it’s philanthropy with a gimmick. And it’s a particularly effective gimmick: the ALS Association says that it has received nearly $12 million more than they received in the same period last year as a result of the ice bucket challenge. So kudos to the ice bucket challenge people for figuring out a clever way to raise money.

The internet, as always, is flooded with cynics, and sometimes, they’re right: the Kony 2012 video was a particularly bad example of slacktivism, where sharing something on social media was mistaken for actual political action, and where the political ends of the campaign were poorly thought out in the first place. And “liking” Gay Rights doesn’t bring about gay rights: actual political action does.

But charities shouldn’t be condemned for finding a way to hack the short attention span of the internet and to turn it into a sudden influx of funds. And that’s the way of the internet: to take anything attempting to make a positive change, and to cynically chew it up and spit it out. Usually, there’s an element of truth in the cynicism, but with the ice bucket challenge, the cynicism has finally overstepped a bit and has simply revealed itself as cynicism: the challenge actually is making a difference for those charities, and that affects real world change.

Most of the claims about the challenge are at the very least exaggerated: complaining that people would “rather dump a bucket of ice water on their head than donate to a charity” ignores the fact that many people do both in order to both raise money and spread the message. And if people decide to dump the ice water on their head instead of donating, so what? They could have just as easily ignored their challenge and broken the chain, which would cut off the possibility of someone else down the line donating that money. Any harmless act that results in an uptick of philanthropic giving is a positive act.

Other complaints are patently ludicrous: Vice claimed it was an excuse for people to show off their beach bodies, and that’s why it took off: “it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism.” Leaving aside the fact that the inclusion of the word “narcissism” in any article discussing a millennial trend is getting incredibly boring, let’s assume for a minute that it is simply narcissism: good. Narcissists are the worst, most of the time, and if the ice bucket challenge gets them to do something that is at least nominally in service of others, than maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Another complaint is that the ice bucket challenge is cannibalizing money from other charities, and this is just a little bit over-the-top. First off, there’s nothing stopping an ice bucket challenger giving money to any charity: ice buckets aren’t specific to ALS in any tangible way. Second, the summer months are traditionally dry periods for charities, so many of the ice bucket dumpers were likely not donating to charity anyway.

Slacktivism is an issue in the internet world, and it is a real thing. But internet cynics tend to think internet activists are far dumber than they are: during the DOMA decision, they were annoyed that many people on Facebook changed their profile pictures to the HRC’s equal sign, claiming that “changing your profile picture doesn’t influence the supreme court.” Which no one who changed their picture really thought: the equal sign was a symbol of solidarity, not an impetus of change. They’re doing the same now: assuming that ice bucket challengers are all miserly narcissistic slacktivists rather than well-meaning people who have found a fun way to give.

Photo Courtesy of the University of Central Arkansas.

Selfies are Sign of Social Decay, Says Society That is Definitely Not Decaying Otherwise

14671962237_a743d438c3_kThe people of America have spoken: Selfies are bad.

Kim Kardashian’s upcoming book that will solely consist of selfies of herself, says America, the place where Rush Limbaugh’s history of America is taught in schools, is a literary abomination.

Dumb Tweeters are taking selfies at Auschwitz, and writing an article on how that is wrong is a serious and worthwhile and not at all self-evident editorial stance, says the press of a country that thinks there isn’t 24 hours of news worth covering in the entire world every day.

A Polish couple taking selfies of themselves fell off a cliff and died, and this is all because selfies and not because of cliffs, says the nation that is honestly pretty happy cliffs are there to hold back the rising seas of a hotter world.

Selfies are linked to narcissism, says the country where taxation is seen as personal theft rather than communal gain.

Nude selfies are a gigantic threat to our schools says the citizens of the nation that has experienced 63 school shootings since Newtown and has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to protect those kids.

Selfies are ruining your relationships, say the people who elected a Congress so dysfunctional that it is literally the least productive in history.

Selfies are a sign of addiction, say the Patriots of a land that prefers to jail addicts (as long as they’re a certain color) rather than treat them.

As of press time, there does not seem to be any other signs that anything is going wrong in America. Just the whole selfie thing.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Lee.