Archive for October, 2012

Personal Space

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Idle Nonsense, Manners, Tacky

It was in high school when I first heard the pejorative great unwashed masses. I didn’t know then that one of the principal points of reference is an 1868 book by Thomas Wright about the working class in Victorian England. The longer phrase great unwashed masses of humanity was apparently first used by Edmund Burke but often appears in the short form great unwashed. Even to my uninitiated ear, it immediately conjured up the ignorati, know nothings, or more specific to a bygone era, the laboring class whose hygiene and uncultured tastes were clear class separators. Some decades later now, I understand the term more generally as referring to the public, Ortega y Gasset’s mass man, an undifferentiated mob encountered anonymously on the street. These days, outside of a few construction workers or day laborers, I don’t find anyone’s hygiene to be at issue, nor do most encounters offer the possibility of determining what anyone may know (though I suspect most know nothing worth knowing), but one starkly irritating impression is that people lack a proper sense of personal space. This is reinforced daily and with alarming intensity.

My daily commute includes legs on sidewalks, buses, trains, plazas, hallways, corridors, aisles, atria, escalators, and elevators. Each surround and its choke points and bottlenecks implies its own unique traffic flows, and I find myself jostling in close proximity to others especially in the confined spaces of buses and trains. Some indignities are to be expected, though nothing perhaps like those inflicted by packers on Japanese subways who shove people into trains like sardines. (In Chicago, we either pack ourselves in or step back and wait for a less crowded train.) I try to be patient and forgiving, since the alternative is to get stressed about it, but emotion sometimes overwhelms me and I shoot a nasty look.

/rant on

Listen, idiot: I know you’re from outta town (Blue Line from O’Hare to the Loop) and don’t know the etiquette, but do I really have to ask (?!) you to move your purse/briefcase/bags off the seat so I or someone else can sit? And you with the smartphone stuck to your nose: open your bloody eyes and watch where you’re going. Whatever information is displayed on that tiny screen for your tiny brain can surely wait. And WTF is up with dingleheads who step into obvious traffic flow only to stop to get bearings? (Try that on the roadway, frogger, and see what it gets you!) Does your entitlement extend to the entire sidewalk or corridor like no one else is traversing that space? Has becoming a screenhead narrowed your peripheral vision so you can only see directly ahead? And if you’re on an escalator and have gorged on too many Big Gulps to suffer climbing stairs anymore, maybe you could at least move your fat ass (and the wheelie bag you can’t carry anymore, either) to one side so a few of the rest of us can squeeze by your bulk! I know this is a lot to ask, but if you’re in a tight space on the bus or train, maybe you can unshoulder your purse or backpack and stop poking me in the back or butt with it. Much appreciated.

And while I’ve got my dander up, the exoskeleton of an automobile surrounding your body is not actually an extension of personal space. Nor is it okay to line-jump or cut others off at the ramp or any of a variety of other behaviors you jokers indulge in from the illusion of comfort and safety in the driver’s seat of your behemoth SUV. That shit actually causes accidents where people are injured — and all so that you can wait in line a couple car lengths further in front? Asshole … scratch that. Idiot asshat!

What really amazes me, however, is the number of people I see waddling around with compromised locomotion — almost always someone in middle age who has blimped up to the size of a small planet and wears a circus tent like it’s spandex. Nearly everyone gains some weight after the metabolism of youth slows, but really! Isn’t the discomfort of no longer being able to lift your leg — having to swing it around the side to move — isn’t that enough motivation to, um, stop supersizing your meals or maybe just forgo the pop for water?

/rant off

Traffic Report No. 08

Posted: October 25, 2012 in Blogosphere

I feel a series of rants coming on. So be warned, you select few readers, that your ears and eyes may well be scorched. Maybe it’s election season coming to full swell, or maybe it’s seasonal affective disorder settling in. Maybe it’s the Mayan apocalypse soon to unfold! Dunno, don’t care. At a time when things seem to be going pretty smoothly for me, it’s odd for my mood to be getting cranky. (OK, even crankier, since I’m always cranky.)

I’m at the midpoint of my sixth year blogging, and my avowed purpose for this blog has always been to work things in my head and share results with the faint hope of sparking some discussion. Everyone learns plenty of things in the course of a lifetime, though as I argued in a comment elsewhere just yesterday, most of those things are not really worth knowing, being the sugary, predigested infobits circulated constantly throughout the dominant culture. In comparison, the connections and insights I offer here at The Spiral Staircase range pretty far to the edge of the map.

There are lots of outliers doing something similar, but they must have more time to crank out daily or weekly installments to meet the demands of their readership. My readership is so tiny that I feel no pressure to publish on a schedule. While each new post picks up a couple new likes from readers unfamiliar to me, and new subscribers often sign up at the same time, discussion and commentary is nearly nonexistent. Daily views hover between 20 and 40 with periodic spikes when a particular keyword search hits (such as vertical drinking), many of which I’m convinced are bots. I even stopped getting spamluv. Considering how some blogs generate hundreds of comments (often attracting trolls) within days of posting, it’s probably a good thing no one is engaging me. My ample comments elsewhere don’t draw much attention, either, since I typically don’t offer effusive praise to bloggers or chime in with the usual recycled commentary so familiar to anyone with any wherewithal.

My blogging focus shifted a few years ago from cultural criticism to The End of the World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKT). That focus isn’t exactly played out yet, but I’ve never been able to keep my attention riveted there, much like one can’t stare at the sun. It’s just too much. So I’m slowly swinging back toward cultural criticism with heavy reliance on inquiries into the nature of cognition and consciousness. I’m also growing more interested in what one might call the cultural mind or the Zeitgeist. Like culture or demographics, it doesn’t exist except as an abstract concept around which to form an understanding of human history. My interest is growing because, as I’m discovering, so many aspects of postmodernism are intuitive expressions of the Zeitgeist, though it takes unusual clarity of mind to recognize them. I will continue to nibble away at it.

In the Toy Story movie franchise, the character Buzz Lightyear often voices the phrase “To infinity … and beyond!” One could argue that this Disney creation is as much a vehicle to market action figures as it is storytelling. Either way, the characters are stand-ins for easily recognizable archetypes, which when deployed against children’s unformed minds prove to be pretty effective brainwashing. Buzz Lightyear’s story isn’t the main focus of the Toy Story franchise, though he has full treatments elsewhere. He’s clearly a militaristic, play-by-the-rules (until they become inconvenient) type cut from the explorer/conqueror cloth that has been a human preoccupation and folly from Alexander the Great to the Spanish conquistadors to Capt. James T. Kirk of the Star Trek franchise. They all seek to expand their dominion into unknown but not necessarily unoccupied territory — a continental or interstellar land grab, if you will. For those of us in the early 21st century, an age of fully enveloping media, the fictional characters probably have as much influence as real, historical figures, even if the former’s impact is reduced to catchphrases that work like political soundbites or talking points, gaining power through heavy repetition. A character cannot be iconic without such shorthand as “Beam me up, Scotty,” “Make it so,” “Today is a good day to die,” “I’ll be back,” “Use the Force, Luke,” etc. Buzz Lightyear’s rhetoric is spatial, but humanity is also heavily interested in different aspects of time or the conflation of the two: space-time.

To say that time telescopes in human conception is both obvious and strangely hidden from view. We operate continuously according to different time horizons, from the immediate to the near-term to the long-term, and how we strategize changes completely to accommodate each. Whereas we occupy what some call an eternal present, like all other creatures in fact, where immediate sensation is ever at the forefront of cognition, we may be the only species able to project ourselves backwards and forwards in time beyond a few moments to contemplate history and the future. This isn’t to say we alone among species possess memory; that’s clearly not true. But our symbolic and conceptual thinking is unique, and it gives rise to varied and sophisticated ways of relating to space-time.