Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Probing Mind

Bleak's tireless critical brilliance probes the great cultural dilemmas of our time. Throngs cheer; mothers cover their children's eyes; intellectuals still their quills in mid-sentence as they furrow their brows; smirking punks throw things and scamper away; yet the world turns as Bleak runs to catch up.
  • Bleak went shopping yesterday, and in a wildly impulsive moment -- such a whimsical character! -- he bought five-sixths of a dozen "glazed donut rings." Even as he stood at the checkout counter, his mind was fiercely delving into the knotty questions that were posed by this strangely redundant usage. "Donut rings"? As opposed to what? Donut triangles? Donut polyhedrons? Donut bracelets? Sure, Bleak, the tiresome pedestrian mind will murkily object, there are other kinds of donuts, such as crullers and donut "holes." Bleak is quick to respond: That is true enough, in its feeble way, but anyone buying Assorted Donuts sight unseen, and finding in the package only donut holes and crullers, would rightly feel swindled. Nor does anyone refer to donut hole "spheres" or cruller "rods." What about jelly donuts? the picayune nitpicker asks. Rubbish, snaps Bleak decisively. Apart from the fact that jelly donuts are not donuts proper in the first place, being mere jelly containers, and as such more closely allied to Vaseline tubes-- Apart from this, any dim bumpkin who asks for a jelly donut, then flies into a rage because it is not in the shape of a ring, deserves what he gets, which will be derision and swift ejection from the premises. No, donuts are implicitly ring-shaped, and thus the usage is redundant. Why this pointless clarification of the very definition of the product has come about is a deeper question. The failure of our educational system to teach basics yet again? Some marketing plan to gradually separate in the public mind the concept of donuts from that of holes, so as ultimately to spring some idiotic promotional scheme on us ("New! Donuts! With Holes!")? More bitter fruit of deconstructionist thought ("Yes, but what exactly do we signify when we use the term 'donut'?") Or another tone-deaf coinage of the linguistic cripples who brought us "Super Stop & Shop" in the first place?
  • Bleak was watching House, M.D. last evening, and he will not rehearse the plot, which is the same as every other program in the series, here. The theme was the same as ever: Triumph Over Adversity. Bleak has nothing against triumphing over adversity, which is an interesting pastime of many of his acquaintances; he has nothing against the promotion of this hobby, so long as it is done in moderation, and TOA skills are not thus acquired by people he does not like. But House, M.D., which has the typical television habit of using banal rock tunes in the soundtrack to signal the presence of deep emotion and philosophical profundity, finished by playing The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as Dr. House, in closeup and looking greatly pained, perhaps though probably not in response to the music, attempted various introspective grimaces. Bleak's quarrel is not with the program, which has come and will eventually go, but with the song, which has come and will not go. It seems to have been taken as a bracing ode to hope, if there is such a thing as a bracing ode. This is not what Bleak has taken the song to mean. Indeed, he doubts that it had much of a meaning to begin with, apart from the Bob Dylan sort of meaning, which anyone, including our most thuggish Mick Jaggers, should be able to compose in his sleep. The chorus is where the interest, or lack thereof, lies: You can't always get what you want. (Repeat twice, or until full comprehension settles in, or until sleepy.) But if you try sometime/You might find/You get what you need. (Insert groans, pauses, "baby"s, "oh yeah"s as needed.) This is supposed to be stirring -- or if not stirring, shaken. What precisely is so elevating about this chorus? The first (and second, and third) line need not detain one long. This observation's obviousness is akin to a tabloid headline's, though far less interesting. "You might find" yourself feeling intellectually insulted if you were three and were told this by your mother whilst throwing a tantrum. But at least the mother's expository lecture would have had some cognitive content, if only that granted by the context (which the rest of the song does not provide -- or rather provides a la Dylan, with fuzzy anecdotes determined by obvious rhymes.) The chorus goes on to provide so many additional conditions ("if," "sometime," "might," heaped on top of "can't always") that, if anything whatsoever is being asserted, it occurs with such rarity that the claim would be an ambarrassment to a slippery adman; and carry an ontological probability of point one, with an indefinite number of zeroes before the one, for a mathematical theorist. Sort of like if Bleak were to say, "Yes, yes, I might send you a check sometime, if I feel like it, sometime this summer, assuming it snows, so you may find it in your mailbox any day." And what if Bleak added, "I may not be able to give you what you request, but I might just send along what you deserve. Yeah. Unh hunh" -- ? This is somehow morally uplifting? This is a message of firm resolve in the face of a recalcitrant reality? This makes boomers go all misty-eyed, then awaken to a new firmness of commitment? Or is this just the Stones saying, in their own grunting way, "Let 'em eat cake"? For the sake of generating controversy, Bleak adds, in his inimitable fashion: The Stones suck.
  • Mrs. Bleak is a lapsed Catholic; Bleak himself is a collapsed Protestant. Mrs. Bleak today instructed Bleak in no uncertain terms when he began propagating more of his absurd myths about Catholicism. No, she explained, the Pope does not "hover" in the air; still less does he travel on a "flying carpet, pursuing evildoers." Even less, she maintained, does he "take over people's central nervous systems so he can say stuff and do things." Nor, disappointingly, can he "inhabit plants." Bleak has incredible powers of intellection, as we have seen, nor is he afraid to speculate. But he is nonetheless humble in his vast intelligence, and unafraid to correct himself on the rare occasions when he is wrong. I think you will agree that this quality redounds to his credit. He is fortunate in having Mrs. Bleak about, who has saved him from several faux pas moments over the years.