Monday, August 16, 2010

Animal Religions and Taylor Swift

I wonder if games are a reflection of our need to meet challenges amid obstacles, to train ourselves for dealing with uncertainty. That IS what a game does, doesn't it? It requires that we meet a specified end by overcoming a series of challenges. These challenges are often random, just like the ones we can encounter every day, and we can't predict the outcome. Religious rituals can be like games--they are a set of words or actions that are supposed to deal specifically with the challenges of sacred space and time, and to bring us to some "goal", depending on the function of the ritual.

In my house, I don't play any kind of video games, and most two-person games are out, unless I have company and that's what they want to do. However, I do own a cat that likes to play games--he likes to play fetch in particular. The goal is simple--I throw him his fuzzy rainbow ball, he hunts it down, and returns it to me like a prize mouse that he's caught. He then waits until I throw it again so he can repeat the process until he's bored. (If the inside of my house wasn't so dark, I'd have caught this for YouTube already. Why can't my cat be as sensational as Maru?). I've learned that the cat has added a rule of his own to the game--NO bringing the fuzzy rainbow ball into the bathroom. If I'm in the bathroom getting dressed for work (and I usually don't bother to close the door unless I have company), the cat will stop short of the door and stand outside yowling until I come out and throw the ball for him. I don't know why he does this. Is the bathroom considered sacred space? Or is it too profane for kitty? I suppose it depends on his attitude towards his litterbox. But does it mean that kitty has some kind of religious or ritualistic impulse? Or am I projecting one onto him? I suppose I'll never know, unless I can teach him to speak English.

Even more speculation--if my kitty has such impulses, do other animals? Our processing supervisor at work once told me that she couldn't kill ants after seeing a bunch of them carry one of their dead away and bury it. And I read an article recently on how squirrels have been observed engaging in "superstitious" behavior, though what was observed may be more like the effect of Pavlov's bell. It seems that the squirrels always acted out in a certain way, because they were often rewarded with food by humans if they acted that way. There was no real connection between food appearing and their action, hence the "superstitious" part. Still, it's an interesting question.

On another topic--I was out for my weekend breakfast on Sunday morning, and having awakened too late for my usual haunt, I visited another cafe that has a consistently good breakfast. Occasionally I have the good fortune to be there when their radio is turned off, but no such luck on Sunday. This particular radio station announces the artist and song immediately after each song, which is helpful in letting me know what songs to avoid, as most of what I hear is awful. I heard a song that day that I've been subjected to many times before in restaurants, grocery stores, and auto shop waiting rooms. This time, however, the artist was announced: Taylor Swift. So, now I can connect the perky-eyed blonde with the crappy music she makes. The song is called Love Story or some such thing, and I was just blown away by its originality--boy and girl fall in love, father doesn't approve, boy talks to father, girl and boy get engaged, and presumably live happily ever after. Gee, no one's ever written about THAT before. And we all know it's true, right? I mean, doesn't it always turn out that way? If Dad doesn't approve of the idiot you're dating at 17, then it's because he just can't understand how wonderful he is and how much you love him. Whereas Dad, who has way more life experience than said "Juliet", already knows that "Romeo" will never hold down a job, will probably get her pregnant, and then take off for a woman with bigger boobs or more money because he is "trapped" and "bored". (And so is she, really). Do I sound a bit jaded? My apologies. But I do get pissed off when I see these artists that cater to teens perpetuating the same mythical nonsense to young girls who buy it hook, line, and sinker.

Ms. Swift refers to "Romeo" and "Juliet" in this love story, which proves that she is among a long line of artists to use that metaphor who never actually read Shakespeare's original play to the end. But never mind that. She has won countless awards for her music, thus proving that the music industry is not only stupid, it's deaf. I'm starting to think I was too hard on Kayne West when he interrupted her acceptance speech, though I don't know if I think Beyonce is any better. (I'm sure I've heard unknown horrors by her as well). In fact, he may not have been hard enough on her.

But perhaps I'm the idiot here. We should give music awards to people like Ms. Swift, because, by some miracle, she sells a lot of--albums? (Do they make albums anymore?). Well, she sells a lot of something. I also think Francine Pascal should get the Nobel Prize in Literature for her Sweet Valley High series. And I hear that Lindsay Lohan is a fine actress. They should give her an award too.

It does make me wonder why the music and film industries are so revenue-driven when giving awards. Of course, in the film industry, if a director makes a crappy film, he or she also ends up making some really good films as well. Film directors aren't packaged and sold in the way that actors or musicians are often packaged and sold.

I went to a discussion of Joseph Campbell's lecture on the "Conversation between East and West" in myth and religion on Sunday. A woman in our discussion group wondered about why people can't "live and let live", why religions have to be right. I think my answer there has some relevance here--because people, as individuals, can be brilliant, tolerant, wonderful people. Put them into groups, and they behave like idiots. That's how mass marketing works, and that's the only explanation for why some of these things become so prevalent in our culture. It's all about packaging to the masses.

To wrap up, here's an Onion article from last year. Because no one says it better than The Onion.

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