Thursday, December 8, 2011

#47 The Ninety-Nine Percenter Pipedream

"Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"
- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Young or immature minded people like us experience a thought, after staring long and hard in the mirror, I mean really digging into all the relevant the physical and mental spaces - those pores, those milk jug ears, the hot mess of subcutaneous psychological untidiness - that leads to one conclusion: we are disgusting. We are repulsive trolls.

Yet the thought is fleeting. It gets swept up and defenestrated by our primal narcissism, like a buried toy meeting a mulching lawn mower. Most of the time we are thinking this: 'We deserve all the world's attention! All of it. And none for anyone else. We're going to make ALL the babies. Except we don't want attention from ugly people. Or the uneducated. We hurl drinks at their faces when they approach. The temerity!'

Chuck Klosterman put it another way. He said that every person he knew as a young man seemed frustrated that he/she didn't have the kind of mind blowing love that they felt entitled to.

The paradox isn't imaginary. It implicates hard cold laws of sociology and probabilities. Because the story of romance in the real world is not millions and millions of radiantly happy couples holding hands to the very horizon. Instead, the story is this:

-Teenagers: Skinny people sobbing because they are SOOO in luv and just got dumped.
-20 Somethings: Half are furiously onanistic and the remaining are in an obviously lop-sided relationship based on infatuation by one and guilt by the other.
-30 Somethings: Everyone is bored except for that one perfect married couple who is so resplendent and chatty at parties yet secretly seething with mutual disgust and goes home to wordless dinners where they fantasize about murder to the sound of clinking silverware.
-People past 40: Yuck.

But as for the mind-blowingly passionate love mutually felt? Love, True Love, like between Westley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride? Who has that sh*t?

And there's a reason for this. And it's the same reason that Yankees pay Derek Jeter but not you to start at shortstop. Westley and Buttercup aren't like us. They aren't the people you see on the 22 line or in your yoga class. Those people are normal. They're flawed. And I'm not talking about personality flaws, like Ike Turner having a touch of a temper. I'm talking the sh*t that reflects on your market worth: being bad at cocktail conversation or blue collared or balding or bacned or a touch unsymmetrical. Small flaws, really. 99% of people have them. But these flaws we don't forgive. Not in ourselves. Not in others.

The sweetest, most decorous persons that ever lived - put in a dating situation - would turn into a judgmental a**hole. F*cking ruthless. Because that's what humans do. We judge, judge, judge. And, oh yes, we will find flaws. And one flaw of yours in particular will stick in our craw. The Flaw. Sometimes it's your crappy job. Or strangely oversized mouth. We fixate on it, like hyenas spotting the gimp of the antelope herd. Except we don't self-admit to what we're doing. We reframe the Flaw to implicate something abstract or vague in your character (e.g., you're a workaholic, you're needy) so we don't feel like superficial bastards and can sleep at night in the event we dump you for having a recessed chin.

And as a function of this delusion that we convince ourselves that romance isn't like professional baseball, online commerce or commodity trading. Instead it's predicated on a special connection - that spark between Westley and Buttercup is personal, two hearts beating as one and all the other vomit-inducing platitudes that appear on wedding place cards. We distinguish it from basically every other free exchange in the world - i.e., where value is established by a mountain of public, agreed-upon consensus, not by what one individual person feels at a given moment. We will praise and express general affection for the idea of two homely, socially insignificant people loving each other in some god forsaken hovel or marsh - like it's cute, but don't for a second impose that construct on us. Ef that. Because unlike Shrek or Danny Devito and Rhea Pearlman we aren't weirdo losers.FN1

The delusion is sustained over time partly because not all Flaws are equal, at least in a limited sort of way. Generally speaking, the Flaw people focus obsessively on is the one they are most terrified of exposing in themselves. The overachiever angles for the handsome bar tender four years her junior so she can say to herself, 'I am desirable. All those years I busted my hump to get into Cornell, then KPMG, and otherwise compensate for social rejection but I'm dating a pretty person now, which ipso facto means I am a pretty person, right? Suck it, Bakersfield High!'FN2

Of course, a fat guy who buys a sports car still can't run fast. (On the plus side his sports car will never dump him for Carl Lewis). There's no cheating an efficient market. Even in the realm of romance, there's a cool kid club, and it's highly select and you're either in or you're out. If you're reading this blog, you're out. You're a ninety-nine percenter. You are a repulsive troll.

The point is that our conflicted feelings of narcissism and self-loathing reflect on final calculus a tension between our personal expectations (which are huge) and the allotment social markets will allow us (which is, at least usually, rather modest)). San Francisco isn't especially unique is this regard but it is on the vanguard of a nascent collective psychology that demands fairytale endings for very ordinary people. And that's the kind of psychology that's bound to make us alienated and unhappy. And that's unnecessary.

The thing about life in America, in San Francisco, right now, for the readers of WTANGISF, is that it's f*cking awesome. And it's not f*cking awesome because it's a fairytale. Or because you're going to marry Jake Gyllenhall or Blake Lively. It isn't and you're not. It's awesome simply because the air is clean and mild, you have a decent apartment, a gym membership, a few friends, and you're not eking out a polluted, hellish existence on 12 rupees a day in Delhi. You're a repulsive troll but you're also a lucky son of a b*tch.

FN1. Right? Wait.

FN2. Go Taft.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

#46 F*cking Facebook Photos

"Humans are masters of deception. We use our minds and behavior continually to try to trick people into believing what is not true…that we're tougher, smarter, sexier, more reliable, more trustworthy than we really are."
-Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University

There's a moment in middle childhood when the difference between what you know and what grown-ups know starts to seem unaccountably huge. It's not just the stuff you're aware of but imperfectly understand - like man-made flight and pancakes - it's unknown unknowns. Crepes, blood sausage, really cool panties we don't even know about. My brother's childhood belief, recounted years later, was that people must have a chip implanted in their brains during college, which is why mom and dad were so smart.

So it cuts deep when you finally realize as a teenager that grown-ups live life like a f*cking d*ckhead. They don't know sh*t. They're bad at their jobs and confused about the point of existence. They visit psychiatrists and pee their pants. As Adam Carolla says, "I had no idea. I had no idea that this is how life would be. You know when you're a kid and you're nine years old and you're walking around, you see a cop or a schoolteacher or a dentist or an attorney, you go, "Oh, that guy must know his sh*t"… I had no f---in' idea how bad everybody, from my gardener to the highest people on the rung of show business, how horrible everyone would be."

But fine. Life disappoints. Humans are fallible even in fully matured manifestation. John Edwards. Bruce Jenner. Darth Vader. Such is life and the moping, adolescent fury responsible for goth fashion. The truly devastating disillusion, however, comes on the sly. It's covert like a ninja but it kills every bit of childlike wonder and enthusiasm you have (sadly, the opposite effect of the ninja style). Within decades you become a despairing, self-loathing, bovine-minded middle-aged man with no hopes, no dreams and no interest in the wonder of the cosmos, like Kenny Powers as a gym teacher, and you won't even know how it happened.

The disillusion is this: the reason adults don't know much about anything is that they don't care. It doesn't matter to them. All those years they fed you a diet of math homework and mnemonic techniques as if learning about the world was the quintessential part of the human condition, but as far as they're concerned, the pursuit of knowledge is a nerd's sideshow, a sidecar, the artsy little seat adjoining the motorcycle of important things: island homes, famous friends, and trophy wives. Adults know by a wealth of experience that people like Socrates, Kepler, Ghandi, Hamlet, Abe Lincoln - those geniuses end up dead. Poisoned, persecuted, starved, stabbed, shot in the head. Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump and the Situation, by contrast, end up on top of sexy waitresses.

The secret to life, it turns out, isn't knowing about sh*t. It's convincing others to validate you. Class dismissed, tiny mo fos.

But consider that for a moment. You grow up presuming that reality - waterfalls, tanbark, the gravitational mechanics of jungle gyms - is the focal point of existence. However messy and amorphous the ultimate purpose of life, you just assumed it had something to do this stuff and knowing more about it was the natural next move. The notion that reality is a kind of arbitrary and fungible anchor for some weird construct that basically amounts to sociological warfare is profoundly disturbing.FN1

And probably at a conscious level we never accept it. For most everyone naked social strategizing, like rain to a sorority girl, is yucky. Empty somehow. Thus, adult life has historically involved pretending that the reason we squabble over the debt ceiling or stem cells or Helen of Troy, fight for a plot as Mel Gibson said whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, is that such things matter existentially. They are special and intrinsic and we in the form of Bill Maher or Marc Maron or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad do not merely use them as common and fungible points of reference in the larger enterprise of propagating our DNA with someone who's not way dumb and ugly.FN2 Until Facebook.

Facebook has transformed reality from a necessary if random reference point into something extraneous. Q: Why did Jane visit the park or date that guy or whatever? A: So she can post self-promoting photos on Facebook. It's started to dawn on ladies that parks and, to the point of this blog, guys, have marginal or at least second order utility as mechanisms of social validation. And further, and this is the real epiphany, those things, in most cases, can make you look less than awesome. There are limits to what reality is willing to offer ordinary people.

Facebook isn't like that. On Facebook you have hot friends and a cute nephew and are being hugged by Mark Wahlberg when you celebrity saw him at a restaurant in Venice. On Facebook you don't have to accept being a mid level marketing manager with a used Jetta and a boyfriend who kind of looks like Janet Reno. On Facebook you're a f*cking superstar. On Facebook your knowledge about and engagement with the ostensible stuff of life can be regularly and almost wholly staged and for that reason is effective like never before in tricking people into believing that you're tougher, smarter, sexier, more sensitive than you really are.FN3

This isn't a knock. Any adult more interested in bumblebees than impressing Salma Hayek is a f*cking d*ckhead. This is, nonetheless, WTANGISF.

FN1. Carolla said in this regard, "You know how long man has been walking this earth? Millions of years [ed.: including direct ancestors]…the fact we all happen to be here at the same time at relatively the same age is one in a billion…if you were here in 1855 and I was here in 2025 we'd still be really close in time. …It is kind of a weird miracle-coincidence we're all here at exactly the same time. And, by the way, we're all going to be gone about the same time too. So, here the thing: what the f*ck are we killing each other for? Shouldn't we relax?…We have a short run, a little window, in terms of the earth's calendar, just a blink of an eye. How about we save the killing for the next group of assholes that comes when we're gone. But nope, we can't do it. We got to start building bombs and going at each other. And whenever I say that to someone, they say, 'What kind of f*ck fag pills you been eating?' All right."

FN2. Maron on Bill Maher's show said, "You can think for a long time that you're angry FOR A REASON. But, a lot of times, if you just do a little more thinking, you're probably just f*cking angry. Politics [or whatever] becomes a template for your [self-made] fury."

FN3. Concededly, social media technologies mess with conventional definitions of who people really are, so the point is overstated. Still, it's not likely that virtual realities like Facebook will ever cannibalize the primal realities of in-person interaction, whatever Keanu Reeves movies suggest. Because at some point you have children and you can't tweet your way through that sh*t.

Friday, May 13, 2011

#45 Unavailable Man Love

"But in our research, and in the work of other scholars who study the psychology of behavioral ethics, we have found that … [human] conduct, whether in social life or work life, happens because people are unconsciously fooling themselves."
-NY Times, April, 2011

The subconscious influence of popular culture is pretty astounding. An abstract idea, something intangible, impersonal and totally made up that never needed to exist, like Rock 'n Roll, the Simpsons or Milfs somehow catches the collective imagination and changes everything, the way people talk to each other and sh*t.FN1 In real life. If you really think about it, Holden Caulfield style, and are a freshman at Vassar, it will freak your a** out.

No one can seriously contend that 30 Rock is a bad TV show. It's funny, it's smart and it consonates in a comfortable way with the snarky, self-referential ethos of the moment. But it's also had this effect: every other highly educated, upwardly mobile white chick in SF who clocks in between a 6-8 in the looks department is now pretending to be Tina Fey.

The idea of Tina Fey is something like this: present-day reality, most notably the men that populate it, is a hilariously and fundamentally flawed FAIL! and that's HILARIOUS but in a knowing, equanimous, basically sympathetic way that concedes we're imperfect and not an overcompensating, over-invested blockhead like Tyra Banks.

Being superior but only ironically so is a savvy move. It creates a psychological valence that can't be called into question. It's saying, "You, you, you! You're all ridiculous. Your lives are shams. But concededly so is mine, so no madsies that I judged you!…even though I made the moral standards by which you and I were judged, plus I rendered the judgment not you which has implicit significance, so naturally I win."

But this kind of winning has limits. It translates into certain situational victories, the kind that get you an edge at work or a high five, but it's not Charlie Sheen winning. It's not a marker for sexual success. 30 Rock plays this straight: Tina Fey's Liz Lemon character is single. She has man trouble. And that, ostensibly, should undercut her designs on inner awesomeness.

But it doesn't. Because if you watch 30 Rock for more than 3 minutes it's clear that Liz Lemon is not single for conventional reasons. She isn't single, by way of example, for the reasons that stars of a) Friends, b) Sex and the City, or c) Rock of Love were single (the semi-tragic inability to, respectively, a) be three pretty girls and three handsome guys but not do the math (consistently), b) make a connection as enduring and powerful as the one the girls had with high-end handbags, c) take off his bandana).

No, Liz Lemon is single because the guys she hooks up with are all literally or metaphorically unavailable. In absurd ways. They possess faults (by character or situation) that are way beyond deal-breakers. They're midgets or blood relations or beeper salesman or white collar criminals or twenty years old or, as in the case of her current beau, pilot Matt Damon, both emotionally and geographically remote.

This is a crafty conceit. It dismisses the relevance of romantic failure as a relevant identity marker by transposing the source of the failure from Liz Lemon the person to some vague behavioral condition. The problem is not that Liz Lemon is undesirable, no, it's that her decision-making is haywire.

It's actually craftier than that because everything else about Liz Lemon's world implies she has the best brain in the postal code. She's the BAWSS.FN2 She's the winner even when she pretends she's not. Liz Lemon may love unavailable men but in every instance she's the only party who KNOWS that her relationships are doomed. It is up to her in a climatic of moment of exasperation to condescendingly lecture each and every one of these clueless horndogs on the intractability of the situation.

Liz Lemon's flaw, then, is not really unavailable man love. Her flaw is that men are f*cking retarded (metaphorically). And that's a fake flaw, like not owning a TV or being called a womanizer.

The semi-attractive, upper class women of America, nowhere better represented than San Francisco, California, heart the hell out of this sh*t. They only go for unavailable men! Men who ADORE them but are way too young/gay/moving to Alaska/hot but dumb/vampiric to sustain a living relationship. It's hilarious! A hot mess! Comical disaster!FN3

But it's even larger than this. Bullsh*t self-effacement about one's seduction skills has become the default M.O. of career women everywhere. SF women are wildly enthusiastic about their horrible fashion sense, inability to flirt, lack of maternal/sensual instinct, and any other epigamic traits that typically draw people together romantically. Jezebel, in its amusing take-down of the 30 Rock's "skinny glutton" leitmotif, describes the message as such: "I may look glamorous, but I have the mind and soul of a fat person! And this is hilarious!'"

Hilarious indeed, like religion or a snooty vodka preference or the verse Morgan Freeman reads at the end of Invictus or any other delusion to cope with certain terrifying prospects of existence, such as thunderstorms, mortality, being judged or getting dumped. LOL. "You know why that crappy thing happened? Because of God. I mean social convention! I mean he lived in Boulder, it totally couldn't work! One thing is clear: in no way was it because I didn't measure up in some intrinsic way! No way! I run triathlons! My career is demanding! Actually, you know what the reason was? I so can't wear high heels! Isn't that absurd? The reason I'm single: my inability to walk seductively in misogynist foot wear!"

It's madness. It's fantasy. It's manufacturing whole lives out of pixie dust and solipsism. But SF women don't care. They don't give a sh*t. They've seen that video about the honey badger. And nothing will ever be the same.

FN1. It's equally possible that the causality moves the other way. Society redefines itself on the down low then seizes upon some random trend or icon as the coherent expression of that redefinition, like the dude who proposes precisely when his hair loss starts to show.

FN2. Aside: After new statistics showed more female than male managers in the workforce last year, there has been a spate of articles on the incipient dominance of women in higher education and corporate America. The default explanation is men lack the social intelligence of women. This has to be partly true but misses a more obvious explanation: women sort of ENJOY being part of a corporate structure and liked by their bosses and perceived as competent. They are emotionally invested. To the male mind, this is insane. Guys HATE corporate life. They hate the soul-crushing boredom and the demeaning affects of hierarchy and everything else that made Office Space a cult classic. If a job wasn't a crucial variable in sexual selection (which it presumably is not for women), no dude would ever work in a million years. Not when there's fishing, tents and nerf sports.

FN3. The huge and sort of cliched appeal of the unavailable man is that he's harmless. Sure, he represents all kind of neatly packaged drama due to the inherently conflict of him being unavailable but really that's downside protection. It's almost the opposite of reckless. It's more like an insurance policy. It's provides a huge sense of security. When the relationship fails as it inevitably will there are no casualties. It's precisely what was supposed to happen. By contrast when an available guy (who's not gay or a werewolf or married) dumps you it means something. They got to know you in a very intimate way, saw every angle and facet and they passed. It's the judgment of just one guy but not really. No man is an island. When you get dumped, society has spoken.

Monday, January 10, 2011

#44 Google Heuristics

The world's most advanced answer machine presumes the BIG questions ...

Friday, December 3, 2010

#43 The War on WFTs

“Well, it’s no mystery that ass has always been tits’ greatest enemy. It’s almost like a Muslim-Jewish thing, but with tits and ass. It’s the choice in life.” - Kenny Powers

“Important things are inevitably cliche, but nobody wants to admit that.”
- Chuck Klosterman

Let’s clarify from the outset: in this post you shall be moved in progression from glib superficiality to deep and self-reflective profundity. A playful comment or two will segue into a provocative yet indulgent and probably pointless examination which will segue into something honest and decent and a little wistful. It will be like life that way, in terms of emotional arc. So be prepared to get f*cked up with some truth, my beautiful b*tches.

In the last few weeks Autumn has descended upon San Francisco not simply as a matter of the Gregorian calendar but as a bona fide weather phenomenon, with heaps of rain and arctic gales. A big time brumal blow-out. None of that soft-dying light and twittering sparrows crap from Keats. Any sense of summer and hope you’ve been clinging to was collared and defenestrated through and out the tenth floor windows of your soul. The optionality and incentive to lay out at Stinson or Southwest it down to San Diego on a Friday, the mojitos, the glory, the jewelry, the cash, being coked out on a boat - it’s f*cking over. Dead. Crushed and mangled on the dented hood of a parked car below.

As a matter of consolation and bereavement we’ve brought out the fall fashion collection. As per unspoken collective agreement the ladies are showing boutique-y boots, wool coats and black tights/jeans and the dudes sport jeans and black J Crew jackets. Although the average temperature difference between SF summer and winter is about 4 degrees, we all kind of agree to dress like it’s snowing.

Now the dirty little secret of winter fashion is that, in the underground and fiercely fought battle between ass and tits, it gives ass the advantage. Put a sweater or a jacket upon a fine set of boobs and they drown in a sea of fabric. They disappear like buoys in a storm. Moreover, absent some really fine tailoring the whole package can create a mistaken impression of dumpiness across the middle. For tits and Nazi Germany’s 6th Army, winter is a bad situation.

The ass, meanwhile, loves the holidays. It loves ice-skating outfits and patterned tights and jouncing back from the gym in Lululemon Athletica. It feels radiant and fabulous, like the brightest bulb on a decorated tree.

But let’s get serious: it’s really never not winter in San Francisco. Season in and season out, ass is constantly getting the attention and the glory. In a free market economy equally divided between two embattled factions - women with fine asses (“WFAs”) and women with fine tits (“WFTs”) - this has ramifications. A social credit is imposed in one case and a tax in other. And hence, in the absence of any countervailing controls or regulation, over the years WFAs have been allocated to SF by disproportionate number. They are everywhere. Triathletes and Marathon runners. Flat chested vegans and A cup, type A MBAs. This is the spontaneous SF order. This is non-linear and this is fact. But it’s beyond competition. It’s beyond conflict. It’s open war. A war on WFTs.

The modern condition is such that most of us don’t have any experience with actual, non-metaphorical war. But we understand war. We get the gist: awesome shoulder-rolls, intrigue, and megalomania, on one hand, and beautiful bare-chested men and saucy vixens on the other. Troy, Avatar, Gone with the Wind and Star Wars - it’s all there. The lesson, as a movie critic once so deftly put it, is that war is a story about ambition and commerce, because life is about ambition and commerce, but every war eventually transmutes into a love story because life is often that, too. We get it. Explosion, light-saber duel, another explosion. And Bam! Pregnant.

And thus we know: the singular conflict in life is not between tits and ass. That is an absurd reductionism.* Tits v. ass is just one conflict out of many, and like most conflicts over status (like those in religion, professional sports, cola choice, etc.) it is mostly determined and motivated by ignorance, instinct or some coincidence (by family connection, geography, etc.) of cultural association. And further, if you alter the context, inform the instinct, or reverse engineer the cultural association, then one’s loyalties are influenced. The significance of certain variables gets reconsidered. New feelings are stirred. Sides are switched. Jews are baptized. Wolves are danced with. Because life isn’t just about motor-boating fun bags. It’s also about finding spiritual connection. As Forest Gump says about destiny versus randomness, it’s about both. Both are happening at the same time.

And so it goes that SF guys who live long enough in SF learn to love WFAs. Many of us deep down don’t want to do it. For a time we resist. But eventually we surrender. Because we are vulnerable. Because deep down the human spirit is generous. Sooner or later the sweet tailpipe of SF women puts a spell on us. We get charmed.

But, understand, we will never be complete. We will always feel hollow and wanting in the most intimate of things. That is the tragedy. All the ass-magic in the Marina can't change a man from his core beliefs**. And so many a good man in San Francisco will have his day of reckoning and on the day he will self confess: “I’m not an ass man. I’m a tit man. And this is WTANGISF.”***

*Unless you’re a sultan, Hugh Hefner or otherwise carry on a highly unusual way of life.
**To paraphrase a man with a mind like a f*cking scientist.
"The fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance." - David Foster Wallace

Sunday, September 5, 2010

#42 The Social Proof Problem

“Matchmakers say the dating scene is probably worse than anywhere.“

- “In Man-Rich Silicon Valley,” New York Times.

“One of the big problems ... these days was that the women were too picky.''

- Same article.

The concept that a woman’s desire for a man depends on other women’s desire for that man is hard for guys to get their minds wrapped around, no matter how many Playboy models David Spade impregnates. Because guys are way too objective and ahistorical to care about sociological judgments. Every male model in the world could descend upon SF to serenade the SF 6s and SF guys would say, good, go sick. Take Kelly Osbourne off the marriage market while you’re at it.

It’s a question of epistemology. Men use their brains to organize their thoughts and make sense of them and the surrounding world. Women, on the other hand, let their survival impulses guide them, like the Great Buck Howard on the hunt for his hidden performance fee, towards the set of behaviors that best serves to their immediate situational advantage and then, like acquitted Nazi Albert Speer, they use their brains to gerrymander a patch-work of communicable ideas and beliefs that make their behaviors acceptable to the wider world.

This is partly why it's difficult to understand the feminine take on reality: what counts is how things FEEL, subjectively, for a particular human at a given moment, kind of like a personalized wind chill factor, which is basically unworkable as measure of standardized, sharable truth and yet, at the same time, if you think about it, the only truly relevant measure of human experience. When our biology tells us to hook up with some person, our biology is saying that person’s genes are survivors - they are capable of making babies who are popular with and attractive to subsequent generations of people.

In this way, the fact female desire is so heavily dependent on the opinions and social proof of other females actually makes rational and probably scientific sense. Good looks, earning potential, charm - we chase after these things as if they have intrinsic value but really they are just features probabilistically associated with reproductive success. As Adam Carolla says, "I don't care how ugly you say a dude is, if he's f*cking a new hot stewardess every night, then you can say all you want about his schnauze and male pattern baldness but he can't hear you, because he's on top of another stewardess."FN1

The forgoing generally all works out on balance. Some dude who is cool but generally ignored will, given enough time, start hanging out with some cute nanny he met at the park and then suddenly ever chick in his universe who hadn’t been aware of existence double takes. He gets his chance. Usually.

A theoretical problem: if we accept as a predicate that all women, at at least some time in their lives (because they’re tired or depressed or thinking rationally about the matter), feel a total or almost total lack of interest in men as a romantic or sexual (or whatever) objects, then imagine what would occur if, by some probability-defying confluence of events, women in a particular society all experienced this lack of interest AT EXACTLY the same time AND share with one another the fact they feel this way at exactly the same time. If logic holds, then in the aftermath of this hypothetical moment no woman in that society would ever again desire a man because, so long as no foreign woman entered the society, all the men around would be undesirable to the other women. The implied cognition in every woman’s brain (that no man around had social proof of value) would stultify the system.

This, of course, is no hypothetical. This is San Francisco, and like snow blindness in cats, it scares the livin' sh*t out of us.

It happened like this: in most human spaces, like IstanbulFN2, Chicago, New York, or professional graduate programs, there’s an upwardly mobile class of women, be they, respectively, Ukranian women, Iowa farm girls, 24 year old struggling actresses (who are dazzled by a $60 restaurant meal), or sorority girls, that disrupt such a hypothetically static system. Graduate school may be the most relatable exemplar. The first semester starts and everyone has their section and the social hierarchy of cool and uncool gets worked out in a few weeks and all the girls fixate on about three guys as being desirable with the rest being generally ignored but then, not long thereafter, two guys, guys no girls deemed worthy of attention, reportedly hook up with UNDERGRADUATE girls! The whole hierarchy and design of things has to be re-thought. Wildcard, bitches!

But what you get in San Francisco is system shock pre-emption. Certain infrastructural realities like excessive living costs and industry specific professional opportunities (no fashion, no media, no marketing) enforce an on-going population stasis. A homogeneity. Putting arguments about the attitudes of professionally successful women aside, the absence of an young and non-affluent (but aspiring) class of girls robs SF women of a competitive motivator. It’s confusing to type A, successful women when they move here knowing the Bay Area is full of type A, successful men since they come to understand that, in the minds and expressed opinions of the type A locals, none of the men have any social value. In a (somewhat dated but probably sort of relevant) New York Times article about the “Man-rich” SF Bay Area, a relationship coach of 10 years is quoted as saying, “I've never seen things so bad...The women are very tough on the men. They're constantly finding reasons to not like them.”

Ironically, if you relocated 10,000 hot stewardesses into SF (and provided them with the resources to afford rent, etc.), the dating scene would improve for SF women. The guys around them would suddenly seem a little rakish, a little smoother. For what happens to an unattractive guy when he’s given a little money and the affections of a pretty girl with a little charm? He becomes against all reason and probabilities the the very thing SF women say doesn’t exist in San Francisco: David Spade.


Carolla said that in the context of a story about low test scores in the U.S. He further commented, “All these countries are ahead of us yet they all wish they lived here? I'm not sure how much these metrics are worth. We're not bilingual, our math skills are not that of India or parts of Asia. We're down in the middle of everything. Except for the part that everyone wants to come into our frat house. So we're a dumb frat house with ugly dudes yet everyone wants to party with us? To me, that's the ultimate test score."


If you spend some time in Turkey you learn that Russian women figure into the nation in an interesting way. The story goes something like this: the rise of modern, progressive(ish) Turkey coincided with the fall of the USSR. Ukranian women with no money or really resources started to show up in Istanbul, invigorating the local prostitution market. This development surely had some pretty negative and seedy externalities but at least on an anecdotal level it seems to have created a nascent class of eligible hotties. The Russian girls who were once whores (in the sense that they gave blow jobs for fifty Turkish Lira and a black eye) are increasingly becoming “whores” (in a sense that they give blow jobs for Beamers and beach houses and Turkish girls hate them).

Friday, June 25, 2010

#41 Misanthropy in the Marina

The worst part about middle school was the disorder. It was sociological chaos. You didn't really know who your friends were. You didn't know who YOU were. You'd figured out that being cool mattered ALOT, far more than puppies, ponies, mom, Little League, Nature or just about anything that made people happy, and you’d matured enough to sense how things might turn out for you coolness-wise, but matters remained inchoate. There was optionality. You were just a kid and you knew it. Kelly Clarkson’s get fat. Bad asses with tween ‘staches stop growing. It was still anyone's game.

In situations such as this, situations of extreme social flux, things get touchy. Fiercely competitive. Rumors start. Stupid plastic watches get worn. People are socked in the face. Anything to pick up an edge. Those who weren't vigilant about discriminating against the ugly, the nerdy or the poor would wake up one afternoon thirty-five years old, unshaven and destitute. Possibly handicapped. A Denny's waitress or a prison bottom. You were 13, you didn’t know.

The transition from valuing relationships strictly on whether people are cooler and more advantaged than you are (OMG that guy's so hot! I love hot boys!) to whether people are smart and nice to you and cool enough (as cool as you) is a rite of passage that happens for most emotionally functional, self-aware people by their late twenties. Chronologically, your engagement with the rules of hierarchy goes from bewilderment (junior high) to depression (high school) to savvy (college) to Machivellian over-reaching (post-grad) to gradual acceptance and a sense of proportion.

The people who live in the Marina haven't figured this sh*t out.FN1 You'll see grown-up women with the romantic sensibilities of Justin Bieber fans, 30 something men doing an impersonation of a thirteen year old doing an impersonation of an adult. There is posturing and being loud contestsFN2 and factitiously enthusiastic hugging and everything else associated with hyper awareness of social ranking coupled with a kind of behavioral skills paralysis, like a school sponsored dance where the boys stand on one side and the girls stand on the other, everyone fearful that they'll get punked or somehow exposed, shamed by a mean girl or thrown against a locker by a guy with a tween 'stache.FN3

An enormous problem with populating a city with people who spent their adolescence getting humiliated in dodgeball is that after they graduate from Cal or Stanford or Penn or Cornell and start working at Bank of America and Hewlett Packard they want to be perceived as winners. But they still feel, deep down at the level where their humanity is, like acne riddled losers. This is a devastating combination.

The Marina gets the brunt of it because the former high school dweebs move there expecting that it will be the final stage in their ascendance to the cool kid club. It's not of course, partly because you can't educate or monetize (unless you're D.Trump) your way into the high heaven of being a 9 and partly because San Francisco doesn't have cool kids, not even in the affluent neighborhoods. Sorority girls from the University of Florida just ain't around. They visit for one dork-fested, fog dampened weekend and think, screw this.

But it's worse than that because the generally applicable SF ethos - that shallow materialism and the exclusion of others is a bad thing - holds true even on Union Street. So what you get is a bunch of putatively reformed but resividist dorks thinking like high minded, progressive SF citizens but feeling and acting in the confused and desparate terms of a tweener playing a status game he doesn't quite understand.

The result and WTANGISF is this: not even Marina people like Marina people. All Marina chicks, even the self-sabotaging, silly ones, hate Marina men for being thoughtless, unoriginal hacks/dweebs and all the guys hate the chicks for being supersilious, insecure b*tches. Everyone thinks that they're surrounded by a**holes.FN4 Everyone points accusatory fingers, everyone gets blacklisted. It's a**shole hysteria. It's Douche Scare(TM).

But it's more diabolical than that, because Marina residents, basically, just like thirteen year old kids, aren't really a**holes. You may have some loud-mouth clowns from USC here and there but for the most part it's just decent twenty somethings working their little tails off to friend up and fit in. They try to act douchey and contemptuous, but they're total poseurs.FN5 Socially retarded, sure, psychologically damaged from years of high school nerd harassment, maybe, but bonafide evildoers, no.

On the other hand, the most damning villainy is usually the most subtle. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist and so on. Perhaps the Douche and Bieber-fan factor is eating away at us in repeated and non obvious ways, destroying us bit by bit, like Chinese water torture or 44 minutes of Real Housewives. Psychological battery, spiritual assault. The waves of stupid pulsing out of Bar None, the piles and piles of attitude expelled like so much b*tch effluvia from 6s who think they're 9s: it's easy to dismiss as sociological nonsense, temporary perturbations of the system, like tears in the rain or a fart in the wind. But day by day the alienation builds. The disenchantment. The confusion. Everything - the posh stores, the wine bars, the views of the Bay - is so wonderful yet everyone's unhappy.

We can say all that and still concede this: villainous or not it takes some kind of a warped genius to simultaneously be a misanthrope and a conformist kiss a**. If you go around accusing everyone of being a Douche and then do everything in your power to seek peer approval and respect, then you're culturally engaged, you're mixing it up, but you never have to settle on any particular identity and you never have to settle for a romantic counterpart to that identity. You never have to concede that you're ordinary. There's no confabulation differential in your nutty Lake Wobegon mind, where everything self-related is way above average. You can go to your grave believing your virtue, your charm, your glamour ... it's all unassailable. That no one would dare deny it. Except all the people who know you. And those douchebags can go to hell.

FN1. B&T, cougars, and yuppified breeders are common and colorful and sometimes nuanced Marina character types but not relevant to our immediate purposes. None informs the big picture sociocultural mindset of the Marina, except as an amusing curiosity, like that special ed kid who was integrated into gym class the last semester of the 9th grade.

FN2. When you travel abroad you discover something never discussed on MSNBC: Americans, comparatively speaking (NPI), produce a stunning amount of noise in conversational situations. Americans tend to socialize with the same technique they use to impress bears or panthers, emphasizing decibel volume over word combination. Other nationalities find this trait intrusive and obnoxious of course but mostly you can tell they find it bewildering, like it's an invention of evil they hadn't thought of, a brand new way of being a jerk.

FN3. The tween 'stache is quietly the most dangerous 'stache because with the other 'staches, even the evil mastermind 'stache, there's always the sense that a regular Mike Ditka / Magnum PI 'stache or a Hulk Hogan handlebar 'stache is going to come around to help. But if you're confronted by a tween 'stache, watch out Wil Wheaton, because that's the only 'stache going in your universe. You are on your own.

FN4. A fun fact on the scarring power of high school: when some researchers looked into how much a man's height affects his professional success they found an increase in salary accorded to each additional inch of height but more interestingly they found unexpected discrepancies in the data. Eventually they worked it out: if they controlled for adolescent height, then the effect of adult height on wages for men was essentially eliminated. It all depended on how tall the guy was in high school.

FN5. There's nothing intrinsically absurd about being depressed and tormented by a**holery. It's a sign of complex character and higher level thinking. It's why we love Hamlet and Holden Caulfield. But a word of caution to wanna-be poets and NPR listeners: it will not get you laid. Lionize Hamlet and Holden if you like but those f*ckers could not close. The Situation would have tapped Ophelia ten times by the Fourth Act. In the aftermath, she'd probably hate men forever, start drinking Jager and get thee self to a boob job but she wouldn't have committed suicide. So who's the a**hole?