Life today, if not life always, is a barrage of bullshit and such. It comes at us every which way — from vapid stares in rush hour traffic to asshole drivers who deem the road their own to the idiocy of American politics and news to the insane obligations of labor to our most private fears being invaded, owned, dictated, and undermined by maudlin TV ads. Sometimes, it comes at us from our lovers and friends, from co-workers and fellow drinkers at the bar in the form of a question, a nod, a high-five demanding complicity in matters and beliefs that disgust us. And, at times like that, all seems lost.
But there are tactics at our disposal, means of parrying those would-be knocks to decency and peace, ways of negotiating the morass of images, glances, words, ideas, ideologies, assaults that are heaped upon us at a dizzying clip. There are ways of jamming the circuits of nonsense, of disrupting the flow while claiming some dignity, grace, and power.
Indifference. At once overrated and underrated, indifference is exceedingly powerful. In movies, of course, we are consistently given the vision of vengeance: I was wronged and now I seek justice! Sometimes, this supposed justice comes in the form of an ass kicking; other times in comeuppance, aka schadenfreude, as the wrongdoer suffers some horrible, humiliating demise. You never see someone wronged and just shrug it off. You never see someone not be bothered by the ass hats and douchebags and shmohawks of the world. But what is more devastating than not being affected by another? Of course, indifference runs rather profound risks as few things are as disconcerting as not feeling the world around you happening. Used strategically, however, it delivers a wallop — not that you care, of course.
Melodrama.What never ceases to amaze me is the general decorum of everyone, at least in San Francisco. People are just so well behaved. It’s rare to see or experience the kind of escalation of sentiment that you see in soap operas or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or, my favorite, John Cassavetes films. Rather than indifference or the expected reaction about this and that, you go haywire. Now, this may seem silly as over reaction abounds in our private, emotional lives. But it’s usually when it’s expected or to a controlled degree. Amplify the emotionality at different times and it throws people off.
Arhythmia (as distinct from arrhythmia). Unstated things are expected of us at all times. What we say, when we say it, how we say it is prescribed (more or less) by insidious, invisible, and pervasive mechanisms. You can look at a stranger, or a friend for that matter, for only so longer before you’re expected to look away. You’re only supposed to take so long doing this and that. But acting out of rhythm is powerful: it jams the discursive circuit — what’s expected — but it also demands your rhythms be different, too. I think of movies once again and of the long take. Everything moves so quickly these days — 140 characters and out — that we’re confused and annoyed by things that linger. See, for instance, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days.
La Perruque. This is a goody and something we all do to some extent but, done with knowing abandon, it becomes quite powerful. La perruque, which means “the wig” in French, is to appear to be working for the boss when you’re in fact working for yourself — writing your novel, using materials to make your own goods, studying for and exam and so on. This phrase and idea comes from Michel de Certeau’s brilliant book, The Practice of Everyday Life. As he writes, “It differs from absenteeism in that the worker is officially on the job. La perruque may be as simple a matter as a secretary’s writing a love letter on ‘company time’ or as complex as a cabinetmaker’s ‘borrowing’ a lathe to make a piece of furniture for his living room.” It is a simple but effective dissimulation.
Humor.Americans love to smile. It’s a veneer that glosses over the awful. But we’re generally not very funny. Humor is an incredibly effective way of literally transforming situations into something else. Humor is a way of folding things — experiences, ideas, emotions — into different patterns in order to be funny.This is not just a matter of being funny. Sarcasm can be funny, kind of, but it doesn’t transform anything. On the contrary,at best, it recapitulates the same old shit; at worst, it drags everything down. Larry David is fantastic at this: his humor reorganizes our assumptions: “I’d rather have the thieves than the neighbors – the thieves don’t impose. Thieves just want your things, neighbors want your time.”
Generous eyes. Our generic social interactions are defined by so much suspicion, so much fear and loathing. Disrupt expectation with generosity. Consider your gaze as you sit in a bar or walk down the street. Rather than scanning with a will to judge, scan with a will to accept.