Thursday, June 30, 2016

Being an A-Hole is Not a Good Thing

One night, while I was out at a bar with a group of colleagues, someone in our crowd started texting a man she was seeing.

Someone else in the group, who knew this woman better than I did, probed her about why she was talking to said man. It turned out he was married and she had found this out a few weeks earlier.

Her friend's rebuff made her defensive. She'd also had a few drinks so it wasn't a surprise that she snapped at him.

Her reply (I'm paraphrasing as I'd also had a few that night) was along the lines of:

'Yeah, I know he's an asshole but at least he's not a pushover.'

Something about this exchange has stuck with me since I overheard it two years ago. The woman in this story was not, in my experience, a bad person. She was very generous and actually helped me out during a sever depressive episode.

I don't think she's horrible. To me this sentiment 'It's better to be an asshole than...' is just a very sad reflection of modern culture.

We've somehow accepted that being a complete douche-nozzle to the people around you reflects strength. A-holeness is a virtue, something to strive for. Being the biggest middle finger to people you disagree with or don't get along with is a prized trait in romance, media and politics. We don't appreciate someone who can bridge divides or resolve problems. We adore the ego-maniacs who step on everyone around them as they climb the ladder.

There's a number of reasons why a man like Donald Trump has a very solid chance of being the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. And while I don't think his belligerent dickishness is the only cause of his rise, it's certainly a major part of it.

It's not a stretch for anyone listening to Trump or the people who adore him, that 'telling it like it is' equates to saying the most hateful things you can just to make the person on the other side angry and hurt.

Yet Trump is just the most prominent example of how much we value A-holes in our society. Reality shows abound with awful people doing awful things to each other. Some of the best fictional TV shows star narcissistic characters, who though enjoyable to watch, also do horrible things to others.

And I think that's why we love A-holes. They're entertaining and often very driven. I get the appeal of someone so outrageously full of themselves that they don't (appear) to care what other people think and go after their goals.

I doubt though, if push came to shove, any of us would say that we'd enjoy working for a boss like Trump or having a friend like Kanye West. Most people would also get pretty sick of a boyfriend of girlfriend sleeping around or breaking their promises to us.

That's because the A-holes biggest problem is that they rarely benefit others around them. They use people and discard them and very often their self-centerdness is not a sign of strength but an indication that they need to overcompensate for their insecurity.

Yet still too many people fall for their deceptions only to realize later how much they regretted wasting their time on someone who couldn't have cared less about them. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

No, the 'Bad Guys' Don't Always Win the Game of Thrones

One of the best aspects of Game of Thrones and the book series it's based on is how you never really know who could die.

Early on it was clear to both show fans and book readers that Martin's epic story wasn't going to follow the normal formulas we've come to expect from TV or fantasy novels.

Characters that would be the untouchable hero of any other story, not only lose their struggles but lose them hard.

The noble father, Ned Stark, gets decapitated. His hot blooded son Robb, an unmatched warrior, tries to avenge him. In the hands of a lesser author, the Young Wolf would get his justice. He would have hardships, he would face seemingly insurmountable odds, but he would win.

Not so in Westeros.

Instead, Robb's one-time allies turn on him. He, his mother and his army are slain at a wedding. His enemies triumph.

The 'good guys', those characters that act out of a sense of honor, altruism or who value the better angels of human nature, rarely seem to come out alive or on top in Martin's world. It's those self-interested characters willing or eager to kill, maim and betray anyone, that prevail.

Or so many fans believe.

I used to be in that camp. The camp of 'the worst characters always win'.

Now I think that's an oversimplification.

Yes, the characters we know and love (Ned, Robb, Jon, Tyrion) never seemed to truly get ahead.

They get shat on by the author but so do the characters we hate or love to hate.

The genius of the show and the books is not that the 'good guys' are doomed to fail simply because they do what they think is moral. It's that all the characters rise and fall based on the repercussions of their actions.

By the third book (and season) it seems that the Lannisters have won the Game of Thrones. The Machiavellian Tywin and his family have triumphed. Their rivals are dead or spent. They should be able to rest easy.

Yet just as they reach the height of their power, the Lannisters are brought low by the choices they've made.

King Joffrey's petulance and sadism gets him poisoned by The Queen of Thorns and Little Finger. Tywin, the seemingly unbeatable political juggernaut, is done in by the son who he mistreated for being a dwarf. Cersei, blinded by her fear of the Tyrells and her overconfidence, underestimates the High Sparrow and she is swept from power.

Then we have (maybe) the most hated families in the Seven Kingdoms: the Freys and the Boltons.

After murdering Robb and gaining the favor of the Lannisters, these two factions also seem to have made it. For almost three seasons (and two books) neither house seemed to face much in the way of justice for massacring so many.

Seeing Ramsay Bolton, possibly the most rabidly sadistic character ever created, continue to climb the ladder of success was especially infuriating.

Yet if the Starks' greatest weakness is their sense of nobility and honor, the Bolton's penchant for unrestrained fear and brutality is theirs.

The Red Wedding and Ramsay's bloody excesses, alienate the people the Bolton's are supposed to rule. In the show, Ramsay's abuse of Sansa drives her into an alliance with Jon Snow and they overthrow him. In the books, the Bolton's betrayal leads to a Great Conspiracy against them led by the Mandelrys.

The Freys don't fair much better. They are targets for the Brotherhood without Banners and don't have the respect of the people of the Riverlands. Both in the books and on the show, the Starks do get revenge (though they've gotten more of it in the show).

None of this means that characters like Jon will necessarily triumph when the last episode or the final book comes out. Martin has made it pretty clear the story will end on a bittersweet note.

What's also clear though, especially with Season 6 having wrapped up, is that being the cruelest, meanest, most conniving a-hole in the realm can be a handicap as well as an advantage.

You may get to the top but the one who wins power and stays in power strikes a balance between ruthlessness and compassion (cough, cough Daenerys).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Today I'm Tired- Reaction to the Worst Mass Shooting in US History

I'm very tired today.

I'm tired of these  mass shootings.

I'm tired of seeing stories about this school or that club being shot up.

I'm sick of America's infatuation with firearms and the inability of many to even consider any kind of reform that could make attacks like these less frequent.

I'm sick of religious extremism, terrorism and the hate for the 'other' it inspires.

I'm worn out by how another person's preferences in the bedroom can inspire such malice among some and a total lack of empathy from others.

Most of all though, I'm exhausted by the aftermath of bloody days like today.

The hyperbole from pundits. The broad generalizations and hate against one group or another that will just lead to more attacks like these taking place.

The heated, angry and often hateful exchanges that will rage on social media and fail to enlighten anyone.

The fact that so many will be driven by fear to the arms of war-mongering politicians and media outlets who will offer simple, misguided solutions for a trend of violence that has no easy answer.

I'm tired of seeing this cycle repeat itself again and again. I'm tired of our inability to reflect and scrutinize ourselves as a society.

I'm tired of knowing that this will not be the last time I feel this weariness.