Have you missed us? We missed you.
But the combination of several high-level natural disasters and a sudden hankering to spend October watching old Planet of the Apes movies while sucking down banana daiquiris put the ol’ Disquieting Modern Trends Hooptie (See D.M.T: “White-Hot, Legal-Eagle, Point-Counterpoint Edition”) in the garage for a mess o’ weeks. Did we use our down time well? You betcha: a complete piston lube, several waxings, and one complete fluid replacement later and we feel fresh as daisies. Cranky, detail-obsessed, easily annoyed daisies—but daisies still.
Give us a sniff. See?
While we watched our minions labor late into the night with unwieldy metaphorical torque wrenches as the moderate temperatures of autumn became the scrotum-shrinking freeze of December, we strung up hammocks along the rafters and asked the big question: Why is the modern world so needlessly annoying?
Not that the old days were pleasant. No, no—don’t get us wrong. We wouldn’t want to live in pre-rock ’n’ roll America any more than we would want to live in the Middle Ages. A land of plenty that does not include at least seven different diet cola choices simply wouldn’t suit our demanding sensibilities.
But that does not diminish our annoyance with the petty and pointless trends that mark Being Alive Today. We are ecstatically pro-today, but vociferously anti- … well, that’s why you read the column: to find out what annoys us. RIGHT NOW. We have explored some byways of complaint lately, some high-concept suburbs of reader participation, but it’s time for retrenching in the simple task that has always rewarded us so handsomely. So, let’s get this eight-cylinder beast back on the highway of complaint and investigate several of today’s Disquieting Modern Trends.
Harry Potter—Just Not Getting Any?
The Harry Potter franchise is now essentially bulletproof—a cultural craze that has ten-year-olds reading 800-page books. Who’s going to get niggling about that, particularly at this late stage in the game? Well, there are the religious nuts who believe that Potter-mania is a front for Satanism, … and there’s us. Our problem in nutshell: Why isn’t Harry getting any? I mean this is a kid who goes to a coed boarding school and owns a freakin’ invisibility cloak.1 Not to mention that he is the star and leading scorer of the school’s Quidditch2team, the winner of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and a dude with a totally boss lightning-shaped scar on his forehead—better than a tattoo! There is no way this kid doesn’t score left and right in an environment where the coolest competition has the last name “Weasley.” We don’t get it, and it causes us to question the value of a society unaware that fame plus magical ability plus a British accent equals booty. J. K. Rowling, we suggest that you spend at least a year reading James Bond books before writing that last Potter tome. And let Harry drive an Aston-Martin, maybe, O.K.? Or meet a suggestively named supervixen?3
Frat Boys Who Wear Backwards Baseball Caps
We assume you have seen these chuckleheads walking around town in packs or maybe dining at the local Cheesecake Factory.4 They are big-chinned Alpha Kappa Deltas or at least aspire to so be someday—strapping college-hoops fans who can spell the name “Krzyzewski” and have a pyramid of Bud Lite cans proudly stacked on a mantle somewhere. They prefer The Family Guy to The Simpsons because, well, they really don’t always get The Simpsons.
Dudes, here’s the thing: the backwards baseball cap makes you look like Charlie Brown’s hapless catcher, Schroeder. If you must wear the cap5, then please wear it facing forward as God and Joltin’ Joe intended that it be worn. The brim should be forward, shading the eyes and nose from sun. The logo will be forward. If you’re wearing one of those cheapies with the plastic adjustment strap in the back, it won’t be creating a gruesome indentation on your forehead. You’ll be less likely mistaken for a prematurely bald guy in the wrong light, and you’ll help to rid the land of the beastly musical backcap phenomenon that calls himself “Gavin DeGraw.”6 The advantages of the forward cap are legion, including distancing yourself that much more from the long-ago discredited “trucker cap” phenomenon popularized by the MILF-happy Ashton Kutcher.7But what makes the popularity of the backcap so utterly disheartening and disquieting is simply this: that women have not spontaneously extinguished it by denying sweet rubbies to any dude who sports it. Ladies?
“Bands” That Are Really Just One Guy Who Gave Himself a Band Name
Hey, man—everybody wants to be in a band, right? That’s why you learn to play “Smoke on the Water” on your brother’s Mexican Strat in the first place. And if you’re willing to hang out in a basement with a bunch of guys who claim that their music is utterly unlike anything that has ever graced the planet then—by gum—you can be in a band! But the recent trend toward individual singer-songwriters or simple duos adopting deeply pretentious band names is sapping our belief that the American public knows what it’s about. The “band” Iron and Wine, for example, is really just this dude with a honkin’-big beard, Samuel Beam. The cat plucks an acoustic guitar and lays down a highly evocative baritone rumble: he is a “singer-songwriter,” not a band. The “band” Bright Eyes is really just Conor Oberst, a kid from Omaha who churns out angsty pop like Garrison Keillor churns out Lutheran jokes.8 Are the White Stripes a band or a guy whose ex-wife likes to play drums? 9
Oh how things were simpler in the past! Don’t you think that Billy Joel would rather have been known as “The Lanced Boil”? Imagine if Simon and Garfunkel could have been called “Tempura Cirrhosis.” But no. They had the guts and the daring to put themselves out there. If the new “Dashboard Confessional” album sucks, what does Chris Carrabba care? We see these cowardly bogus bands and see only the weakness and soft underbelly of Generation Y. At least when baby-boomer stars took fake names like “Bob Dylan” they were making cool literary allusions. Pretty much our view is: Conor Oberst, Sam Beam, and the like: meet us in front of the saloon at midnight so we can have Joni Mitchell kick your asses.
When the Little Light inside the Car Doesn’t Turn Off as Soon as the Door Is Closed but Instead Fades Dramatically after Eight Seconds
When we first saw this, we loved it. It was like the lights going down before the overture, making driving an event in that very precious Volkswagen way. But now it just bugs us, playing on our obsessive-compulsive nature. Man, we have to stop and watch that light EVERY TIME we get out of the Hooptie to make sure it goes off, no matter how cold, wet, or late it makes us.10All of this stands as simply the proverbial iceberg tip regarding ways in which modern cars are just too damn clever for their own good. How about those mini-vans where all the seats can folded into the undercarriage when, previously, you had to haul them into your garage in a hernia-inducing, obscenity-shouting festival of annoyance? I mean, those bastard seats used to take up a significant portion of our garage, and now they essentially vanish into thin air? Or the heating and cooling systems that maintain different temperatures on the driver and passenger sides —what, is there some impermeable yet invisible barrier that keeps the molecules from mixing together in new cars? We find these things disquieting because we suspect that they are lies or—in the alternative—proof that we no longer understand contemporary existence. In either case, mounting disquietude can be sharply detected.
Music on the Radio, Generally
During the holidays we’re like anyone else—cruising the highways of this great land (and of New Jersey), visiting our families, and trying to find a party where a woman named “Zsa Zsa” will do things with eggnog that are banned below the Mason-Dixon line.11 As we cruise, we pop on the radio in the hopes of catching a string of tender pop morsels—whatever heavily-compressed surface-glittery funkfest has recently been marketed to the American teen in hopes of stimulating his need to feel cool. Yet lately it seems that the only things we hear are: “Morning Zoo” shows; Bill O’Reilly’s Radio Factor; and pop-music programming that is more racially segregated than Johannesburg in the 70s. Is there really any doubt that a radio dial chock-a-block with Smokey Robinson, the Pretenders, and Michael Jackson (black/white/tan; male/female/mutant) is America at its jumbled best? The prospect of “radio” shifting over to thousands of satellite channels, each one programmed for a single block of a single city so that advertising can more accurately shoot us up with message (not to mention that half of these channels will be programmed by the increasingly irritating Howard Stern12) can only be seen as a triumph of bureaucracy. We prefer “Tears of a Clown.”
Eva Longoria, Overexposed
To be clear: we like a hot little Latin(a) number as much as the next guys. Terri Hatcher gives us no wood, and that other blonde who was naked in the N.F.L./T.O. ad seems like some plastic surgery resident’s final exam, and Felicity Huffman (how we love to say it—FelIIIcity HUUUUFFman) receives awkward MILF-y creds for sure13. But Eva—and the other statuesque and frigid redhead, what’s her name?— seem a cut above, like the cheerleaders who never looked at you in high school. We recognize this dynamic and find it comfortable and reassuring, reminding us at it does of the wasted promise of our youth (see D.M.T.: “Cry in Your Beer for the Lost Promise of Your Youth or the Impending Irrelevance of Your Dotage Edition”). Thus, we are fully in favor of Eva capitalizing on her fifteen nanoseconds of fame with as many Good Housekeeping covers as her publicist can squeeze in.
And yet we only see Eva. And we see Eva EVERYWHERE. She flogs hair-care products, canned meats, lint removers, and adjustable-rate mortgages. We find her overexposed and would like to offer her some friendly advice. Whither from here, O Eva? Whither shall you sprightly dash, when the flashbulbs are silent and talk show hosts go dark? Will you execute a reverse double pike Stephanopoulos14 and get a color commentary gig on ABC news? Perhaps launch your own fragrance, available at more upscale Golden Corrals across the country? Or be the first to release the catty tell-all book on how far up your costars shave? All we are saying is to lay off the photo shoots for at least two days of tactical planning. Temperance! Abstinence! Circumspection! We are happy to conference with you on these and other topics, collect, whenever it suits you, or we could have you out to D.M.T. Plaza for a little high level back-and-forth and melon-ball massages. The cabana is free until February.15
Next Edition: Physical aging. Now that it’s happening to us, we stand appalled by it.