Tiring On All Cylinders

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” – people who don’t know what sleep or death is.

Fatigue, if left untreated, can in severe cases lead to being asleep, which of course can be incredibly detrimental to living a continuously wakeful lifestyle. So, try to avoid fatigue where possible by occasionally sleeping for eight hours every single day sometimes. People are definitely getting less sleep than we used to, even a few years ago. Sleep issues came in at number two of the top health complaints in a 2015 survey among Americans. “That’s probably because of the time difference and jet lag screwing up their body clock!” you cry. But no, the survey was also carried out in America if you can believe it. So either people are getting less sleep, or just think they are. Well certainly it seems people are more educated on things like sleep apnoea than they used to be. And maybe we’re therefore more eager to self-diagnose with that knowledge, assuming that the diagnosing part of doctoring is where the big bucks are. It could be another casualty in the war of cyberchondria; reading about conditions online and instantly assuming you have it, like how I convinced myself I had throat cancer because I couldn’t hit the high notes in an Elton John song for the first time in a while. Although the symptoms weren’t as specific as that, it did list ‘sore throat’ as one, and after straining for the same unattainable note for a few hours, that’s exactly what I had. Turns out it was just a mild case of glandular fever, or the kissing disease, if you like to brag about being disgusting. See also ‘the love bug’ as a euphemism for chlamydia, or if you have oral herpes, just say you have an ‘infectious smile’.

But you’ve been there. Convinced you have Lyme disease because of a rash; or meningitis because you have a stiff neck; or worms, which would explain your loss of appetite, vomiting, and your coat looking less thick and shiny. So is it us being over dramatic, or are people actually getting less sleep than we used to? And if so, why?

Kristen Knutson headed an investigation into this in a journal called ‘Sleep’ a few years ago, where they identified that, yes, people are getting less sleep than we used to around forty years ago, and one way they measured this is identifying an increase since then in the proportion of ‘short sleepers’ – people who get less than six hours of sleep in every twenty-four hour period. Interestingly, they also worked out that statistically people are more likely to be short sleepers if they are over 45 years old, male, have some college education, are single or separated, and are African-American (again, from an American study). So if you were wondering how Bill Cosby can sleep at night, the answer is, statistically not very well.

One reason would be the role of technology in our lives, even something as ubiquitous as artificial light, but also having immediate access to stimulating media on our phones, right up to the point when we shut our eyes to go to sleep. Apparently the colour blue brings to subconscious mind the daytime sky and is featured in a number of apps like Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Safari, so what chance do we have? One of those apps is so popular it literally had a movie made about it. No-one’s made a movie of Twitter yet, but any new Scary Movie instalment is surely only one fired writer away from just being a ninety-minute long recitation of the funniest tweets of that year. So how is this going to get any better? Children born now will be on their phones more than any previous generation, so by the time they’re my age, will they just be wakeful monsters, devouring all illuminated content with a mildly blueish-hue? Sleep deprivation can also contribute to weight gain, since it of course increases fatigue. And weight gain will just continue the cycle of not wanting to exercise. We all know the feeling of being inexplicably tired from having done nothing all day. Not working up energy or motivation can lead to feeling knackered, even though you’ve expended hardly any energy. Newborn babies need sixteen hours of sleep a day, and I can only assume this is because they’re also tired from laying around doing fuck all.

So what is our ultimate fate? The movie Wall-E probably had it bang on, apart from not mentioning that humans will eventually stop sleeping entirely, and probably employ some weird dolphin brain-technique of sleeping with half of our brains at a time, while the other half mindlessly scrolls through social media updates that don’t make any sense, since they were written using only half a brain. Never has the phrase ‘wake up sheeple’ been less appropriate. Don’t try so hard to be ‘woke’. Stop scrolling looking for ineffective petitions to share. Put your phone down, and pick up something with a numbing orange glow to it, like a Lucozade or some fire. Stare into that until you feel drowsy, and take a nap. Just half an hour or so. Meditation’s gaining a lot of traction in the west among wannabe Buddhists, and probably vegans, but why not settle for the original, subconscious meditation that requires no training or purchasing of expensive manuals.
Get some sleep sheeple.

 

 

Next time on the bandwagon, I’ll teach you how you can make a basic shelter, just using objects found in any ordinary household, including the house itself.

Advertisements

All Persons, Living or Dead, Are Purely Referential

Pop culture references were invented in 1989 by Seth Brundle, when working in his lab, late one night. He was writing up his findings to an experiment on the influence of synthesiser music on coked-up rats, when he accidentally drew a crude comparison to the scene in Back to The Future, when Marty McFly steals rock n’ roll from black people, then tells a room full of white people they aren’t ready for it yet. In suggesting the rats were similarly unprepared, the scientific paper went whatever the 80s equivalent of viral was (no, not that) and thus the first pop culture reference was born into the world.

Okay, so here’s my question. There were a couple of pop culture references in that paragraph, but did they make it better or worse? Are pop culture references entertaining in and of themselves, or do they need to be making a comment on the subject of the reference? Pop culture references are the poor-man’s metaphor. They provide an easy, immediate comparison to something, in order to illuminate it and draw satisfying parallels, like Abed in Community seeing his world through the prism of TV and movies, and commenting on the tropes of those media as rules by which to live his life. But whereas metaphor is only used to illuminate, pop culture references can either additionally, or exclusively, have the surreptitious motive of displaying your particular taste, or bragging about your pop culture knowledge/nerd credentials.

Sure, we’ve all slipped the odd The Office quote into conversation (if that’s true, excellent) but what is the allure of doing it? Is it the feeling of a shared experience, the idea that you can relate to someone on the most basic level of ‘I’ve enjoyed this thing, let’s see if you have too’? Because if that’s true, why not just insert the names of universally enjoyed foodstuffs into conversation? ‘Yeah I’m having a great weekend, a real Red Velvet Cake of a time. ‘ ‘How’s the weather? It’s warmer than that pasta we had once!’ Is it because pop culture gives a low-level, accessible opportunity for artistic critical analysis, where you can slag off an episode of Game of Thrones with no prerequisite of intelligence or education. You just have to have watched it and have an opinion, even if that opinion is ‘dragons + tits = great TV’.
But what about elements of pop culture which require a decent level of knowledge of pop culture itself in order to enjoy it? Metatextual or post-modern pieces, such as parody, satire or homage. You couldn’t enjoy an episode of Community or the movie Hot Shots in a vacuum. A lot of alternative comedy subverts traditional forms, and so relies on some knowledge of the genre to understand what’s being commented on. And not even for comedy. Just take a look at the trailer for Ready Player One, which basically looks like the most expensive fan film ever made, The Phantom Menace notwithstanding. At first glance, I couldn’t glean any information about the story from the trailer. It seems like it’s being marketed on nostalgia and plain old recognition of existing properties – “Did you like Star Wars? Well it looks like this film does too!” Could it just be a ploy to use an overly familiar set of logos and references as packaging for a mediocre story? Basically ‘The Big Bang Theory: The Movie’, or the commercial equivalent of ‘you had to be there’.
To make up my own mind, I read the book Ready Player One to see if there was a substantive basis of a story. I wanted to see if the the pop culture references were a garish accoutrement, like putting googly eyes on the Mona Lisa. Or if, as the trailer suggested, the references themselves were the whole point; a movie built on a house of cards, specifically a game of Top Trumps where the only category you’re allowed to play is ‘brand recognition’.
To be honest, it’s a little of both. The story requires the main character to educate himself on 80s pop culture in order to complete his hero’s journey, so they are presented as necessary for the chosen narrative, but equally the entire time you’re reading it, it feels like the author is peering over your shoulder, waiting for another ostensibly obscure reference to crop up, so he can elbow you in the ribs and bark, ‘Remember? From before!?’

But it’s still enjoyable. And if you pretend this is a singular problem with this book/movie then I’d suggest that it just seems like the logical end point of a culture obsessed with self-referencing, and increasingly scared to venture money or intellectual effort in a new idea. We shouldn’t chastise a child for saying a swear word if they’ve grown up hearing their parents use that language, we should tell them why swearing is lazy and unimaginative, even if it is hugely fun. If we didn’t want Dr. Frankenstein to make that monster, we should have disposed of our corpses more carefully.
Just to clarify, that was a metaphor, and then a pop culture reference, both used to illuminate the same idea. Which did you prefer? I liked the one with the thing from a movie in it.
Commenting on pop culture can be fun and interesting (and not commenting in the Gogglebox way, where you just say ‘that’s sad’ or ‘that was funny’, like an audio description service for psychopaths), because it’s still culture, but with a qualifier of assumed familiarity. And if we’ve got a problem with that, then we should stop constantly watching reboots like some sort of robot. Robocop for example. Which is a robot, and was a reboot. And is a pop culture reference.
How funny.

 

Next time on the bandwagon, I listened closely to all of The Beatles’ back catalogue on Spotify to listen for hidden messages, and it turns out that Paul McCartney isn’t dead, but physical media is.

Private Practice

‘We talkin’ ‘bout practice’ – Allen Iverson, 2002.

I’m not sure I’ve ever understood the grammar of the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’. Although I have said and heard the phrase so many times through my life that I feel I’ve gradually improved my understanding of it enough to perfect the phrasing. ‘Practice makes perfection’ is more sensical. And it’s something I wholeheartedly believe.
Unfortunately, practice itself is unglamorous. A skill is impressive only after it has been honed, once all of the imperfections and hints of incompetence have been buffed away in private, unspoken torment. If the destination is Disneyland, the journey is just a necessary evil of monotony and pained anticipation; a car ride where you clench your fists and shut your eyes until you’ve tolerated enough progress to arrive.
A magic trick, for example, can look cool to watch, but dreadfully uncool are the endless hours of fumbling and dropping playing cards trying to conceal a move that lasts less than a second. This was something that I tried my sleight of hand at as a pre-teen, even then realising how embarrassing it was. Luckily I would keep a set of my sister’s underwear nearby to rapidly change into as a less controversial past-time for me to be caught in the midst of if one of my parents walked in. At least that didn’t involve the indignity of trying to better myself. I’m joking of course, I don’t even have a sister. To be honest I don’t know whose underwear it was.
Similarly, we all like to see a heart shape poured into our cappuccino foam, but we certainly don’t want to see the mad coffee-drills that baristas of a certain coffee chain have to endure every morning to get those heart shapes so lovingly uniform, as part of the ‘Zero to Nero’ scheme. Apparently for every one that’s not up to code, they have to snort a coffee bean whole, as some sort of sick perversion of the idea of waking up to the smell of coffee. It’s barbaric frankly, and as far as I know, entirely true.
Actually, if you consider masturbation a sort of ‘practice’ for sex, and there’s really no reason why you should, then it makes more sense that when someone walks in on you having sex, they feel embarrassed, but if someone catches you masturbating, you’re the one who gets asked to take your sister’s underwear off. Or whoever’s it is.

But for whatever reason, there seems to be something deeply shameful about practice, about the idea of actually working on a skill that you plan to display or utilise in the future. Does it maybe seem almost narcissistic, in that you’re spending your time on yourself, putting man hours into your own betterment? The practice of certain skills can definitely be seen as more worthy of one’s time, such as improving your ability to play a musical instrument, or getting really good at life-saving surgery, or learning which of your friends would most appreciate incessantly being tagged in dog videos on Facebook. These things are fine to be good at, and to be seen to be trying hard at; practicing a musical instrument has a generally accepted artistic merit, proficiency in which is enviable, but the aforementioned boring hard work that needs to be put in to reach that level is something that a lot of people aren’t prepared to face. Or indeed, they see the end product of someone banging out some heart-rending Chopin on one of those random pianos that get scattered around cities (ostensibly as a way to bring art and expression into a more public forum, but mostly it’s toddlers running up and smushing the keys with their palms, like a chimpanzee who’s just discovered mashed potato), and feel inspired to take up a instrument themselves. But then they become daunted by the apparent chasm between the first dipping of the toe into the musical pool, and the submerged depths of even a semi-decent amateur pianist.

It’s this mythologisation of natural born talent that feeds wrong-headed ideas of child prodigies, overnight successes and savantism, which in turn discourages extended periods of hard-work and practice, unless met with an unreasonably quick manifestation of proficiency and success. Ask any leader in their field how hard they worked to become good at something, and they won’t hesitate to expound on the hours and years spent grinding away in obscurity. Steve Martin, considered one of the greatest comedians of all time, believes he was born with no natural comedic talent, but worked tirelessly to develop his skill. If he had the viewpoint of most people, that you’re born to do something, or your career chooses you, then he would have simply decided that it wasn’t going to happen, and there’d be no ‘Steve Martin’ as we know him now. If someone had shown him a video of some Chinese 5-year-old beating a computer at chess, which I assume exists, then maybe, and god forbid, the movie Cheaper By The Dozen simply wouldn’t exist. Or they would have just got Robert De Niro or some shit.

To use a more up front example, this is my thirty-fourth blog post, and I’ve been writing it on and off for almost two years. That is a tangible way in which I have continued to practice a particular skill, however useless. Feel free to go back and read my first blog, see whether it’s shit, see whether I’ve even got better. You could at least assume that by now I would have worked out how to consistently end a blog post in a satisfying way, perhaps with a summarising statement about the chosen topic. Maybe something like ‘the obscuring of effort behind displays of aptitude is something that continues to feed an expectation of quick results and short-term dedication, before losing interest and logging on to Facebook to share a meme about how the only time you felt really alive was when you demonstrated a card trick to some classmates in year 5, but for some reason, despite having never put any effort into anything since, nothing else has ever quite measured up to that feeling of pride and acceptance. Must be because you weren’t born special.’

Well, I could certainly try to summarise the topic in that way, but instead I’ll just say that more than perfection, practice makes realistic expectations of a life lived through a prism of hard work paying off. And Cheaper By The Dozen 2.

Next time on the bandwagon, I found a frog on the pavement outside my house, and instead of kissing it in the hopes of turning it into Prince Charming, should I play the song ‘Kiss’ to it, in the hopes of turning it into Prince?