by RIP RENSE
May 29, 2009
“One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” ---Euripides
(early Rip Post ancestor.)
I’ve been defriended. Or defaced. Or debooked.
Which is to say, I’ve been de-Facebook Friended.
of this column must already be wide-eyed at the idea that I have
“joined” Facebook. I am not a social butterfly in real life or
cyber. It’s just that soooooo many people encouraged me to do it
that I finally took a position famously favored by Mehitabel the
Cat in the wonderful tales of “Archy
and Mehitabel,” by Don Marquis. Her motto: “wotthehell,
One of my
first Facebook declarations, just to maintain the veneer of
free-spiritedness, was “I am not a face. I am not a book.”
believe it got much response.
I admit that
the whole style and construct confounded me. Why were people
writing things like, “I love my backyard,” and what was I
supposed to say about this? Good? What’s wrong with your
front yard? What do you do back there? It was more evidence
that on-line conversation bears little relationship to spoken
intercourse. Would you walk up to a friend and blurt, “I love my
backyard?” Another fellow offered earth-shattering revelations
such as “Feelin’ good.” I mean, gasp.
there was the extremely bright former colleague who
frequently wrote at great and impassioned length about. . .not
horse manure, not dead flies, not cheesey detritus, but. .
.”American Idol.” Really! I mean, he also offered substantial
and interesting observations about politics, music, and the
occasional whimsical musing, but he was intensely interested
in the goings-on of “Idol.”
Stephen Hawking reads the National Enquirer.
Oh yeah, and
Ex-Colleague liked “The Apprentice,” too! And “Lost,” and just
about every other mainstream American entertainment slime
imaginable. Ooops! Sorry. My bitterness is showing. Forgive me,
but I must bravely tell you that I have a mental illness. An
article in the L.A. Times
recently informed me that I have
“post-traumatic bitterness syndrome” because I feel “angry” and
“helpless” over past injustices (you betcha!). I will undoubtedly
soon have to acquire many prescriptions for mood-altering drugs,
and attend lots of therapy and encounter groups in order that I
might eventually declare with a glazed look, “I am in recovery!”
But back to
“American Idol.” (And I promise to get back to my “de-friending”
very, very soon, oh patient reader.) “Idol” is utterly
spectacular in that it summarizes absolutely everything that is
decaying, rotting, stinking, putrifying in the decaying,
rotting, stinking, putrifying American popular culture. And
there is also a bad side.
where does one start? Just the name, “American Idol” pretty
well makes the case for narcissism, shallowness, and sniffing
the reeking haunches of fame and fortune. Of course, the show is
nothing but a celebrity manufacturing center. A nobody this week
becomes an “Idol” next week---abracadabra!---usually because he
or she has added the most disingenuous emotion and gratuitous
melisma to a song written and popularized long ago by other
people. Or, as was the case with the Brit “Idol” equivalent,
because he or she is frumpy, ugly, has bad teeth or bushy
remarkable, really. The culture is so addicted to prostration
before celebs that it must create brand new ones weekly. The
snake eats itself! I am reminded of a poll taken several years
ago by high school children, asking to what sort of occupation
they most aspired. The top answer: “An icon.” (Whatever happened
to “teacher?” “Fireman?”)
Televisionland must have read the same article. "Icon," after
all, is just a couple of consonants away from "idol."
|Anyhow, I don’t like being cyber-hugged. My
cyber-immune system is weak, and there’s no telling what
cyber-diseases I might pick up.
So I frequently feel my jaw bouncing off my typewriter keyboard when I visit
Facebook and find my old colleague holding forth with verve about who has
the best shot on “Idol.” I scarcely know what to say about this. Except
perhaps that. . .an “Idol” mind is the devil’s playground. . .
other pesky matters one has to face on the Book. The “comments,” for
instance, that Facebook Friends post are, well, they do not challenge the
essays of Emerson. Here are a few: “Tru dat,” “Yeah, great film,” “Ewww. Ick.
Figures,” “Sweet!” “Looks like a great time!!!” and “Now tell us how you
really feel.” (Gad.) Reading these sorts of things is when I start to
believe that, yes, you can go back to high school.
And I did
struggle a little, at first, with the trivial nature of some Friends' daily offerings. I
think it was “Feelin’ good” that drove me to post, “Visited the toilet four
times today. (So far.)” This drew some gentle complaints and confusion until
I explained the implied commentary. Bruised sensibilities were quickly
healed, and before long, people were offering some interesting facts about
toilets. Who says Facebook is a waste of time?
On the whole,
though, the entries by my Facebook Friends are pleasant. It really is all a
bit like an on-line version of a high school clique, in the better sense, if
there is one, or maybe ex-workplace crony hangout. The cutesy family photos
are actually sort of endearing, as are the proud declarations of
son/daughter’s accomplishments, but I do tire of the “Five Albums That
Changed My Life” stuff, which strikes me as capitulating to puerile Facebook
ploys that somebody is being paid far too much money (anything over a buck
an hour, I'd say) to dream up. (I am not a
face! I am not a book!)
“Friends” are a good and rewarding bunch, on the whole. The great poet,
Scott Wannberg, weighs in with stream-of-consciousness wonderment daily. My
Friend of Friend, Dean Stefan, wrote simply, “Who Wants Pie?” the other day,
which I thought really cut to the heart of things. I mean, I do! All the
time! Pecan a la mode, for starters. My Friend Susan took a test that found
Reese Witherspoon would be the celebrity most likely to portray her in a
movie. (My comment: “Funny. I had the same result.”) My Friend Mary Beth
posted a good article about how one of Saturn’s moons has a liquid interior
(My comment: "For some reason, this reminds me of Oprah, but I’m not sure
why.”) Bob Wannberg (another Friend of Friend) posted a great Buddy Rich
video, former Daily News editor Friend Ron Kaye sent out another
rabble-rousing announcement about L.A. as part of what I think will turn
into his run for mayor, Friend Anne kindly let me know that she enjoyed a
Tom Waits video I posted, Friend Mikal reminded me what a great movie “The
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” is (gracious, considering my effrontery in posting
controversial political comments on his page), Friend Chris wrote of “The
Month of Living Tweetlessly” in France, Friend Barry posted a very useful
haiku (Don't go for small talk/ Be sublime or be silent/ To the Nth
degree) that perhaps more Facebookies should take to heart, and old college pal Bruce asked to
become a Friend, as did my dear old high school comrade, the lovely Leslie.
But back to
my long-promised tale of being deFriended. It was Friend Tiffany (not her
real name!), really not a friend at all, who left me slightly friendless.
And in this tale lies a Facebook lesson: a Friend is not necessarily a
to me excitedly---well, Tiffany wrote everything excitedly---about wanting
to be my Friend. I barely, barely remembered Tiffany. She was a publicist
who helped me on one story about twenty years ago. She was very good at her
job, I recall, and that’s about it. Didn't recognize her Facebook face (but
then, she probably didn't recognize mine, which bears a startling
resemblance to Bela Lugosi in the role of "Ygor" in "Son of Frankenstein.")
But I heard the voice of Mehitabel the cat again (“wotthtehell”), and
“Friended” her. (Yes, friend is the latest bulwark noun to have been
slaughtered, bled dry, butchered, and shrink-wrapped as a verb by the
immediately began pouring on to my Facebook page a raging river of the
most banal, goofy, sanctimonious, precious, self-righteous, self-important, self-promoting pronouncements. Five or six new ones every time I
checked. Most objectionable were the plugs and pleas for the “causes” the
woman was pushing. She seemed to sign petitions to raise money to fight
everything from beriberi to bad hair. Perhaps these were her clients, I
don’t know, but as much as I loved Spam in the 20th century, when I used to
fry it up for sandwiches as a kid, and as much as I loved Monty Python’s
“Spam” routine, Friends don’t spam Friends.
should have just cut and run the day she sent me a Facebook “hug,” asking if
I was “all right.” Ever feel a Facebook hug? They’re cold, clammy, hard,
like formica. This seemed to have been prompted by my posting a Frank
Zappa song entitled, “I’m the Slime (From Your Video.)” As if my affection
for this music indicated some imbalance, difficulty, dyspepsia! Or worse,
Post-Traumatic Bitterness Syndrome! Hell, the song is deliciously funny, a
denunciation of television, and mass manipulation of mass psyche. You know,
like Facebook. But I
forgot, we are living in the post-irony age, where “it’s all good” is the
daily blessing, and Letterman is “mean-spirited.” In the end, I decided that
I don’t like being
cyber-hugged. My cyber-immune system is weak, and there’s no telling what
cyber-diseases I might pick up.
most about Tiffany, though, was that her proselytizing was always laced with
the most oleagenous enthusiasm, reminiscent in tone of a peppy high school
cheerleader's flouncey scribbling in a yearbook---always underscored by Tiffany’s many
little admirers, who commented along the lines of “You go, girl.” What kind
of a Friend, I wondered, was this Tiffany? The coup de grace was when Tiff
began to make noises about how signing and promoting on-line
petitions---perhaps there is a more impotent means of protest, but I don’t
know what it might be---is. . .activism.
And I don’t mean Twitter.
a “Friend,” I refrained from comment. Until the day, that is, Tiff
posted a paragraph in all capital letters about how THE DEATH PENALTY IS
PRIMITIVE AND INHUMAN AND I HATE IT AND HOW CAN WE DO THIS AS A CIVILIZED
SOCIETY blah blah blah. Hey, I couldn’t help myself. It’s my Post-Traumatic
Bitterness Syndrome, I'm sure. I Post-Traumaticked a little comment that went something
like this: “I’d gladly throw the switch on the electric chair for any child
murderer, or mass murderer, or person who enjoys visiting horror on the
And. . .
comment on my Friend’s page promptly disappeared! (Some defense of free
speech for a self-proclaimed liberal.)
And still, my
patience won the day. She means well, I told myself---which lasted
until a series of fawning, saccharine, goo-goo eyed, drooling declamations
about how glow-in-the-dark wondrous is our new president and his family. The
straw that broke the camel’s ass was a picture of the First Family next to
Tiffany’s ejaculation that (recreating from memory here) “This makes me want
to burst out singing! Camelot! Camelot!”
another Facebook commenter, "Ewwwwww."
Now, I voted
for Obama over the priapic kook he ran against (and that pinhead Alaska
beeyatch), and I’m always glad to see a little honest enthusiasm associated
with politics, but this was just so. . .what’s the word? Oh yeah. . .dumb.
Bone-wearyingly, brain-crushingly dumb. I mean, put my head in a
blender and hit “ice.” I know I’m naïve, but it was hard to believe there
was anyone so giddily childlike---not to mention unashamed---as to post, or
boast, such feathery nothingness.
My PTBS finally took
charge. I very gently offered Tiff a couple of URL’s to articles reporting
(accurately) how many of Obama’s policies and decisions are very close to
the polices and decisions of the previous administration. I know, I
know---I’m a naughty Facebook Friend. But Facebook Friends don’t let
Facebook Friends drive. You crazy. One of the articles, by the way, was by
“Yes, Rip, we have to be watchful,” and some strange declaration about
“never forgetting losing someone on the first plane.” (Presumably a 9/11
reference.) Such drama! I wrote back that I had no idea why she was
referring to 9/11, and that, “This has nothing to do with being watchful.
It has to do with being realistic. I posted this to show the other side of
the rah-rah Camelot Obama-can-do-no-wrong stuff.”
back within minutes about how her back hurt (huh?), and how her second
cousin, or her mother, or her father, or her dog, was a friend of Noam
Chomsky. I asked why she had brought this up. (I wasn’t too interested in
Tiffany promptly announced that I was being “hostile,” and that she did not
know if we could remain Friends!
Oh my Gawd!
Not. . .hostile! Well, in her defense, poor Tiff did not understand that I
am a victim of PTBS. Guess I should have warned her about that, but you see,
it’s part of my disease that I didn’t! My knees knocked. My mouth went dry.
My forehead sweated. The prospect of not being Tiffany’s Friend any longer
was just too. . .too. . .underwhelming.
back that I found her message hilarious, that I had met her once twenty
years ago, and that we most certainly were not friends. And that to imagine
you are “friends” with anyone because you type something on a Facebook page
is adolescent. Camelot! Camelot!
That was it, of course.
My face was promptly booked. Wiped clean from Tiffany’s world, at which
point I received a private communiqué from her (rigged so I could not
respond) about how we could no longer be Friends (har!) because “You do not
Is this life in the
21st century or what? Someone you do not know claims you as a “friend”
without seeing or speaking to you face-to-face, then ends the “friendship”
without ever having seen you or spoken to you because you “don’t understand”
Are you there? Hello, Rod?
it’s so nice that this little cyber high school yearbook exists for little
middle-aged high school girls like Tiffany to declare themselves morally
pure “activists” because they sign petitions against evil, and for
cultivating a coterie of little admiring girlfriends who tell them how
glorious they are.
We get e-mail!
I want to offer an on-line amen to your blast about Facebook. In a moment of
personal weakness, I also signed up for Facebook.
The result is, I have never read so much trivial crap in my life. It's all
on-line small talk: I did this, I went there, I ate this, I saw that movie
-- Jesus, who gives a shit? I read (or, more correctly, past tense: read) a
hell of a lot of "so what" stuff, including some borderline embarrassing
admissions from people I know (Please stop! Too much information!). I was
either bored or found myself wincing at the drivel people were posting on
Facebook is faux communication, a kind of let's pretend land that I seldom
visit because it reminds me how trivial our lives are. Hell, Rip, I don't
expect major league insights from folks. But this relentless personal
narration of the commonplace ought to be outlawed as the written equivalent
Okay, enough fulminating from me. Keep up what you are doing.