Humor and Satire– Shmatire!

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Howard and I discussed Sarah Palin’s Facebook page in this week’s Perpetual Post!

When Sarah Palin resigned from her post as Governor of Alaska, there were many who claimed that she was making a huge mistake. They pointed out that it would be difficult for her to accomplish much of anything now that she was no longer an elected official. Sarah Palin went on to amass nearly 100,000 friends on Facebook. Who’s laughing now?

What Palin’s critics didn’t realize is that by joining the ranks of Facebook, she has discovered a revolutionary new way to communicate directly with her former constituents. Never mind those big government laws and regulations separating politicians from the people—with Facebook, Palin’s base can interface directly with her to note that they ‘Like’ things she has said. Not since the press conferences of former President Bush has a politician been so clearly surrounded by individuals who are free to express their feelings of ‘Like’.

You think your average Joe the Plumber is going to call, write a letter or send an email to his local representatives to enact change in the world? He doesn’t have time for anything like that! But were he on Facebook, which he isn’t, he could instead leave a simple comment on Palin’s wall (or send her a beer!) and know he’s made a real difference.

While the vast majority of Palin’s Facebook friends are her children, many others are not. Her eldest son Track, in particular, is heavily involved in her Facebook campaign, and has even founded his own group entitled ‘People Named Track’. While the group has only one member so far, it is assumed to be the beginning of a growing movement.

Palin takes her new role as Facebook member seriously, and is an active participant in the online social networking community, playing the game ‘Farmville’ and joining causes to ‘Raise Salmon Awareness” and support ‘Polar Fleece Appreciation’. Palin is also exploring the option of drilling in her Little Green Patch in an effort reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil. Her Facebook profile offers the average Joe Sixpack rare insight into her inner life, just by checking out her ‘Where I’ve Been – And Places I Can See from My House’ application and viewing her results on the ‘What Kind of Gun are You Most Like’ quiz.

Palin’s tenure as Governor may have come to its natural end, but if the internet has anything to say about it, she’s not going anywhere! Anyone who can inspire over 5,000 strangers to click a little thumbs-up button which indicates their approval after reading a short missive entitled ‘Birthday Wishes to Margaret Thatcher’, is clearly an unstoppable political force! Sarah Palin, your journey has just begun.

I took on Facebook one last time in this week’s Perpetual Post. See Akie’s response as soon as it’s up on Monday at midnight.

I think I know what it must have felt like for the people who hated television when it was in its infant stages. They probably recognized that this was the direction in which the world was headed, and that this new phenomenon was only going to become more and more popular. But that knowledge didn’t stop them from hating it, and from feeling sad as they watched it become more omnipresent every day.

It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is I don’t like about Facebook. I think a large part of the problem is that every time I visited the site when I was a member, I got the distinct feeling that I was indulging some sort of guilty pleasure. And not a fun, silly guilty pleasure, like watching a Lifetime made-for-TV movie or eating an entire plate full of hot wings. I love that kind of guilty pleasure, but this felt different. It was a dirty, wrong kind of pleasure, like stepping on a worm on the sidewalk or cutting someone off in traffic.

Not only did it feel like a bad guilty pleasure, but it also felt kind of like walking down a high-school corridor, lined with lockers and filled with frenetic teenagers. Suddenly, you were back in a world in which it was ok to make snap judgments, to snoop around and find dirt on people and then talk about it; to base your opinions of others on superficial criteria. Suddenly, I felt like I was in an adolescent echo chamber, and none of the echoes were particularly worthwhile, and many were simply cries for attention. This may not be everyone’s experience with Facebook, but can you see why I wanted out?

Even if your Facebook friends really are your actual friends, which I think is dubious for many, the types of exchanges the website fosters are the social equivalent of Cheetos; tasty at first, but also dry, artificial, and not particularly nourishing. Don’t think so? Here’s a typical Facebook exchange, re-imagined as an actual face-to-face conversation between three people:

Bob: “I am a fan of Cheese.”

Jill: “I like this.”

Pete: “I have given Bob a pretend Rum and Coke.”

Bob: “On Saturday I am going to this party.”

Is this where technology has brought us? Is this how far we’ve come? I think people probably had more interesting conversations with telegraphs.

Facebook’s utter ubiquity is also a large part of the driving force behind its popularity. After all, how could something be bad or harmful if everyone is using it? You might be wasting hours of your sweet young life on Facebook every day, but so is everyone else, so it must be ok. You might question the usefulness of giving someone a flower that doesn’t exist for them to plant in their virtual Facebook garden, but that’s just what people are doing these days, so it must have some validity.

I am also astounded by the way in which Facebook manages to make us look at data through the wrong end of a telescope. The notion of saving the rainforest is reduced to a vehicle to get people to download applications which enable them to plant more worthless virtual flowers. You join the cause to fight world hunger with the same level of interest and concentration you use while taking a test to find out what kind of Pirate you would be. Things that matter in the real world are reduced to empty, baseless concepts.

On the flip side, trivial information is given the star treatment and insignificant facts are trumpeted to the skies. On Facebook, commenting that you are sleepy, or in the mood for a muffin, or that you partied way too hard last weekend, is expected—and is bound to be recognized and commented on by numerous people. Terse, staccato snippets of conversation rule the day, and all the while, the amount of useful information we are really learning about each other, and our actual closeness to one another, continues to stagnate.

Human beings love drama; they love gossip, they love secrets and allies and conflicts. Facebook provides them with all of those things, and more—but at a price. It sets the stage for a living, breathing soap opera, and in return, it gives our lives the same amount of depth, dignity and meaning as you would find on an episode of General Hospital. Devotees to the site, I’m sure, would like to tell me that I don’t have to be a member of Facebook if I hate it so much, and they’re right. I just wish more people would question exactly why they do choose to be members.

Below is a sneak-peek at my next article for the Perpetual Post, in response to Bobby Jindal’s remark last week:  “Volcanoes Should Be Monitored”.  Howard’s rebuttal: “Volcanoes: Free Market!” can be found here.


The idea that volcano monitoring is wasteful spending is ludicrous. This statement, made by Governor Bobby Jindal after the President’s televised speech to a joint session of Congress last week, was witnessed by millions-which in itself is extremely dangerous. Not only do volcanoes need to be monitored, but they need to KNOW that they are being monitored, so they don’t get any ideas.

Americans are a fussy, over-attentive people. We monitor our blood sugar, our lavish houses, and our sleeping babies-and none of those things, with the possible exception of the babies, have the potential to release explosive clouds of noxious fumes and ash into the atmosphere, followed by torrents of deadly molten lava. (Even if the babies do release clouds of noxious fumes, they are unlikely to level an entire village.)

The careful observation of unpredictable and potentially devastating natural energies gives our government the chance to avert catastrophes and save countless human lives. And even in situations where natural disasters are unpreventable, officials can still react quickly and efficiently to avert a crisis-that is, if the government feels like bothering, and has the time to intervene. Sometimes, it’s a little busy, and people need to take care of themselves.

Sure, $140 million may seem like a lot of money to spend on volcano monitoring, but citizens should keep in mind that the technologies used for surveillance are constantly developing and improving. In fact, in recent years, modern strategies have included encouraging volcanoes to join online social networking sites. This is a tremendous help to volcano monitoring teams, since it gives them up-to-the-minute information on certain volcanoes. They know immediately which fiery craters were at Mount Kilimanjaro’s New Year’s Eve party, and which are in a bad mood because Studio 60 got cancelled. Status messages such as, “Mount Shasta is feelin kinda restless and explodey lately“, or “Mauna Kea is watch out people!” are invaluable, as they tell us precisely, in a crater’s own words, what we may be able to expect from it. Learning through Facebook that, “Mount St. Helens can’t remember the last time I tasted a virgin’s blood…hint, hint!“, tells volcano monitors that they’d better get moving and scare up a few virgins to placate that particular volcano.

Which leads to my final point: Without keeping tabs on volcano activity, how will we know when the Gods are angry with us? Who will tell us that Pele is pleased, or that Keuakepo is in the mood for revenge? Clearly, no price is too high for volcano monitoring.

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of articles in magazines and newspapers written by people who are also leaving Facebook.  More often than not, they’ll include a status message they once wrote which they now consider to be particularly wince-worthy, and part of the reason they had to get out. I particularly enjoyed Steve Tuttle from Newsweek’s example:  “Steve is in a Honey Smacks mood this morning.”

Do you have a status message you similarly can’t believe you actually wrote?  Or have you ever read one by someone else that you just couldn’t get over?

Because every damn time I signed on to Facebook, my feed went like this:

[Girl you found distasteful in high school]: Has posted pictures from her wedding!

Click here to view her photos, while wondering if perhaps you misjudged her, back in the day.  Find photos distasteful, even for wedding photos.  Feel slightly depressed, if also vindicated.

[Person you barely talk to who lives in a different city]: Is home from work!

[Guy you had several ill-advised hookups with three years ago]: Has compared you to his other friends!

Click here if you find this somehow enraging.  Click around some more, trying to figure out whom you have been compared with, but give up after a few minutes.  Feel somehow violated.

[Girl you know through an ex-boyfriend]: Is a fan of “Bill Withers”.

[Person you barely talk to who lives in a different city]: Is cooking dinner!

[Girl you were good friends with in 7th grade and haven’t talked to since then]: Has sent you a friend request!

Click here to accept her request with enthusiasm.

Click here to send a message to this girl, summarizing what you have been up to for the last fifteen years, and asking what she is up to in return.  Wait weeks, but never receive a response.  Wonder why you even bothered.  Feel slightly irritated every time you notice that she is constantly on Facebook.

[Person you barely talk to who lives in a different city]: Hates morning commutes!

[Ex Boyfriend you are no longer in touch with]: Has left a comment on the photo of [some girl you don’t know].

Click here, despite your better judgment, to read the comment and look at the photo of the girl, so you can see if she is prettier than you.  Decide that she looks kind of dull and is probably not as funny as you either.  Wonder why you even care?  Feel animosity towards Ex Boyfriend for no definable reason.

[Girl you like but haven’t talked to in years]: Has thrown an apple at you!

Click here to pointlessly ‘throw’ a random object back at her in lieu of meaningful communication.

[Person you barely talk to who lives in a different city]: Is listening to a great album!

[Hipster you are vaguely acquainted with and were always a little scornful of]: Has posted pictures from the album “Amazing Wild New Year’s Blowout Party that was Full of Sexy Hipsters Who Are Cooler than You”.

Click here to view the album.  Judge all of the people in it because they are mugging at the camera and attempting to look sexy.  Also, everyone is drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and wearing trucker hats.  Tell yourself you would rather have spent New Year’s Eve at home on your couch, which is good because that’s what happened.  Feel slightly bad about yourself for unexplainable reason.

[Person you barely talk to who lives in a different city]: Is a fan of “Pastrami”.

Click here if you are also a fan of “Pastrami”, because the zany, eclectic things we express fondness for help define us to others.

[Random dude you worked with two jobs ago]: Has given you a Martini!

Click here to ‘give’ a ‘drink’ to [Random Dude you worked with two jobs ago], because that constitutes rewarding social interaction or something.

[Person you barely talk to who lives in a different city]: Loves Grey’s Anatomy!

[Girl whom you vaguely recall got married right out of college]: Is now listed as ‘Single’.

Feel overwhelmingly curious and slightly appalled that this information was posted on Facebook and now as a result you are pointlessly aware of it.

[Girl who you shared some classes with in college]: Has tagged herself in a photo!

Click here to view the photo and note that while it is flattering, it also looks very little like how you remember the girl actually looking.

[Person you barely talk to who lives in a different city]: Is hungry!

[Person you don’t know]: Has left a comment on the status of [Girl whom you vaguely recall got married right out of college and is now apparently single]:  “Hey!  What happened?”

Feel even more appalled that someone would publicly post a brief, impersonal question like that; do they really expect an answer?  Well, maybe.  After all, what does [Girl who used to be married] expect, after announcing her singleness on Facebook?   Begin feeling ill about the whole scenario.

[Guy you are vaguely acquainted with]: is listed as “In a Relationship” with [Girl you have met twice].

Feel faintly surprised at the match, but mostly indifferent.  Wonder how [Guy] and [Girl] decided that their relationship had reached the critical “Change Your Facebook Status” level.   Speculate as to whether they discussed whether or not to change their Facebook statuses at the same time, and, if not, wonder which of them did it first, and if the one who did it first worried that the other one would feel that it had been done prematurely.   Feel slightly depressed by this train of thought.

[Guy you were close to in college but haven’t seen in five years]: Has sent you an invitation!

Click here for details on this invitation to “An Awesome Show I’m in that is Happening in a City You Haven’t Lived in Since 1999.”

Feel flattered by the invitation, but also confused.  You’re probably not going to hop on a plane to see the show of a friend you haven’t spoken with since college.  But you still feel too guilty to respond to the invitation with a “No”, so you absurdly put “Maybe”.

[Person you barely talk to who lives in a different city]: is beginning to depress you with their constant updates.

Click here to scan through your Facebook friends and realize that very few of them represent actual, current friendships or even associations that you remotely value.  In fact your list of contacts feels like an eerie social graveyard of expired friendships, badly ended relationships, and vague, past acquaintances you care very little about.  Begin to feel depressed by the fact that so many people have passed in and out of your life without leaving much of an impression on you.  Wonder how a website that is so meaningless, vacuous and shallow has become so overwhelmingly popular (particularly with younger generations), and what that means about how we view social interaction today and the direction in which it is going.

Pour yourself a real, actual drink.  Note that you have a closer relationship with Jim Beam than with most of your so-called Facebook friends.

Leave Facebook.

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