When to Know You Have Redeemed Yourself

I work at the local grocery store, and one time, I was facing the shelves in Aisle 15. While I was minding my own business and organizing items, a customer approached me and kindly asked where the prunes were. Prunes, I thought, were located in the produce section—they’re a fruit after all. It turned out that at my store, prunes are only sold in the form of a can, and that they were actually located in Aisle 9, the baking aisle. Of course, I erroneously instructed the customer to search for them in the produce department, but to my dismay, the hostess was working next to me and therefore overheard my misleading feedback.

In case you’re wondering, the hostess’s job is direct customers to the items that they cannot find, so you can probably imagine how frustrated she was with this pathetic cashier’s uninformed, uneducated guidance on the whereabouts of prunes. She corrected my mistake by ushering the customer to Aisle 9, and then returned to Aisle 15 to scold me.

“These people pay our salaries,” the hostess angrily exclaimed. “If you constantly direct them to the wrong locations, they’ll get fed up and WE’LL lose business.”

Little did she realize that at the end of the day, I am just a cashier and thus not expected by my managers to know the locations of every conceivable item in the store. But I’m a man of principle in that when I’m asked a question—any question—I try to give the best answer possible to it, regardless if I’m right or wrong. That was how I was taught. I protested to the hostess that if I relinquish my competence by constantly relying on others to answer questions that were originally asked TO me, then I’ll be perceived as weak. When she continued to poke that bee hive, I naturally reacted with agitation.

“Okay, SORRY” I said with a snide tone, turning my head away and continuing to organize the items. For the next ten seconds, neither of us would say a thing. The hostess, dumbfounded by my defiance, asked what my name was in order to report me to a manager, but before she could leave the aisle, I promptly apologized to her. “I apologize for my tone-of-voice. I’ve had a long day and took my frustration out on you. I didn’t mean to.”

That was over a year ago, but I’ve routinely thought about the ways in which I could’ve better handled the encounter. Perhaps I should’ve set aside my pride, and allowed the hostess to answer the customer’s question all along. Maybe I should’ve been a little sterner when she scolded me, or maybe I should’ve just known where the damned prunes were.

Interestingly, five days ago, I’m working the register and a different customer approaches me to ask about where to find the prunes. “Aisle 9,” I told him.

I told this story because it is a glimpse into what self-redemption could look like. We’ve all made thousands of mistakes that we wish we could take back. Due to the nature of time and how it works, we can’t undo or rescind them, but we can register and put them to work.

Let’s say, for example, that I was never approached by that fateful customer. Big deal. I could’ve done my job in peace and circumvented an uncomfortable conversation with a pesky coworker. Five days ago, however, the outcome would’ve been the same as the incident that occurred over a year ago, but with one key difference: I would’ve erroneously directed the customer to the produce department, and never learned about the location of prunes, thereby setting myself up to repeat the same mistake as before.

In a world outside a grocery store, we might fail at relationships, fail at new jobs, and fail exams, but that doesn’t always mean that we’ve failed as people. Through applying this knowledge to navigating interpersonal relationships, learning a novel career position, and taking an important exam, we begin to realize that each of our mistakes, lamentable as they may be, are stepping stones toward achieving a more favorable outcome the next time an opportunity presents itself. That is the precise definition of self-redemption, because to achieve it, you must endure profound failures and hardships but take away from them the wisdom to know that you’ve done a poor job, and that you hope to do better the next time.

Now go and find those prunes.

Video: Why We Are Already Living in the Apocalypse: A Walking Dead Video Essay – Part 4 (Community)

Here is Part 4 of my 5 part Walking Dead video essay. Stick around for Part 5!

Should We Remove Confederate Statues?

“When you remove history, you set yourself up to repeat it.”

– Lawrence Jones III

You’ve probably heard of a book entitled Fahrenheit 451 (1951) by Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451 follows the story of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job is to burn books with disagreeable and contentious ideas. Initially, Montag takes a sadistic pleasure in torching time-honored pieces of literature and the homes of their owners, but as the story progresses, he experiences a change-of-heart and realizes that he’s been living a lie all along. This unforeseen existential crisis is characterized by Montag’s migration to an underground, secret society where all ideas are free and open to exchange, and the story ends with the atomic annihilation of Montag’s old society and an enterprise to usher in a new age of intellectual tradition.

Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel has been speculated to comment on excessive and unjust censorship in the media. When I was instructed to read it, I couldn’t care less about the premise. “Are you kidding me?” I thought to myself. “Firemen supposedly go around, and burn books because they don’t agree with the ideas they present? That’s absurd! That will never happen in my lifetime.”

But that’s exactly what’s happening to America in 2017. In the past week, multiple Confederate statues have been forcefully taken down and vandalized across the country. News headlines consist of “Philadelphia considers removing statue,” “Chicago Bishop Wants George Washington’s Name Taken Off Park in Black Neighborhood,” and “Confederate monument in Arizona tarred, feathered.” Another article asks about what will happen if America’s children lose our history.

I can’t believe that this is a discussion that we should even be having about political correctness. These statues have been up for 200 years, but all of a sudden, people are opting to take them down because they’re offensive. What’s my stance on the removal of these monuments?

On April 12th, 2017, I posted an article inquiring about the legality of flag burning, concluding that the act of incinerating the American flag is extremely depraved and thus should be outlawed. One-time offenders should incur a small fine, while repeated offenders should face jail time and a complete revoke of citizenship.

I have since reversed my position on flag burning because no matter how upset or disgusted that it makes me, it is nonetheless an exercise of free speech—outlawing it would practically equate to promoting censorship of any kind. Moreover, it would be quite hypocritical of me to say that we should outlaw flag burning but reject the removal of Confederate statues, because they’re two sides of the same coin. In other words, we can’t change the past in the same way that we can’t change the Constitution. Simply because they make us feel “uncomfortable,” we can’t shut them out of our lives and pretend like they don’t exist anymore.

So apparently, it’s okay to burn flags because it is an expression of free speech, but it’s not okay to display a Confederate statue in a state park because it’s a symbol of “bigotry and racism.” Are you noticing the flawed logic yet? Besides, if we’ve begun to normalize the removal and vandalism of historical statues, how long will it take until we literally remove entire passages in history textbooks that inform of Confederate generals and practices of slavery? Or worse, burn history textbooks altogether? What will TRULY separate our reality from the dystopian reality of Fahrenheit 451?

If we don’t want our children to learn about the horrible atrocities that our ancestors have committed, then we need to express to them that ignoring history won’t undo said atrocities. We need to get them to understand that the Confederate statues we’re taking down are not symbols of bigotry and racism, but symbols of what we WILL become if we regress to a state in which bigotry and racism are once again acceptable—symbols of a dark past and an even darker future if we repeat the same mistakes.

The issue, it seems, is as clear as day: continue to delete and rewrite history to push a politically correct agenda, and open the door up to the very things that you’ve already denounced. It’s sad that half of the country doesn’t see it that way.

Who is to Blame for the Violence in Charlottesville?

On Saturday, August 12th, 2017, a rally called “Unite the Right” took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was there white nationalists congregated to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Counterprotesters soon arrived to harass the rally participants, with the situation escalating into chaotic exchanges of violence. One person, Heather D. Heyer, 35, died when a car rammed through a group of counterprotesters, and another two state troopers died in a freak helicopter crash.

The conflict that erupted in Charlottesville was not self-contained, but the result of an accumulation of lingering resentments that resurfaced, either from the 2016 presidential election or from the current political climate that we live in. It is an extension of one of the worst ideological rifts in our country’s history, and another clear demonstration of two opposing groups’ inability to sort through their differences rationally.

It should not be understated that both radical conservatives and progressive liberals are at fault here, as President Trump was quoted with saying on Tuesday that “I think there’s blame on both sides.” Trump subsequently received scrutiny for not specifically condemning the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Nonetheless, the counterprotesters (i.e.: Black Lives Matter & ANTIFA) are just as guilty of inciting violence and causing discord as they were. That’s not to say that I agree with what the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists stand for—their values are acutely incompatible with everything I believe in. However, at Charlottesville, there were no white knights.

Police officers, too, have received scrutiny for not “keeping the peace.” At the same time, whether you’re on the right or left, a police officer or just a regular citizen, these days it is virtually impossible for you to understand another person’s point-of-view (and even sympathize with it) because “he or she is not on your side.” And it’s this attitude of taking sides that’s spiraling what are supposed to be peaceful protests completely out of control.

Turn the clocks back to March 11, 2016, when the Trump campaign cancelled a rally at the University of Illinois in Chicago because of increasing safety concerns. Footage shows Bernie Sanders supporters disrupting the event by shoving, harassing, and shouting at Trump supporters. You did not see this kind of animosity during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and even post-2016 presidential election, tensions between the right and left continue to soar, with Charlottesville illustrating that uncomfortable reality.

Generally speaking, people should discuss their opinions rather than attack them. In the case of Charlottesville, it would have saved three lives, and in the case of the University of Illinois, voters would have been able to see their preferred candidate in person without any disturbances. This behavior should of course not be solely encouraged of protesters and counterprotesters, but of all Trump supporters and former Clinton supporters alike, Democrats and Republicans, males and females, and people. No matter your beliefs, age, gender, or skin color, the best way to diffuse any conflict is through simply talking about it first. And even if you find yourself in disagreement with someone else, what exactly do you think that throwing punches and shouting obscenities are going to accomplish?

Obviously the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists should be vehemently condemned by anyone with a modicum of common decency, but the fact remains that violence will always be unproductive, no matter who it comes from.

Conflict resolution is a skill. Let’s all start practicing it before the next civil war breaks out.

Are We Living in the Golden Age of Television?

Are we in the midst of an era when television is in its prime? Can it soar higher than it is now, or is it as good as it’s ever going to be? These are two questions that circulated through my mind after finishing the critically acclaimed first season of HBO’s Westworld (2016), a television show based on the 1973 movie of the same name. Westworld is about a fictional, western-themed amusement park where attendees (or “guests”) pay large sums of money to fulfill their darkest desires. In essence, the guests are permitted to murder or have sexual intercourse with the park’s “hosts,” human-like androids that occupy the park, while the “programmers” write the scripts for the hosts and control all of their behaviors.

Westworld is renowned for its thought-provoking examination of the relationship that mankind has with its own technology, and of key themes that include fate, free will, life, death, God, reincarnation, and the nature of human consciousness. I could spend hours—literally days—talking about these things, but keeping within the scope of this article, I will save that for another time.

I didn’t think Westworld could live up to the standards I’ve set for other shows that I hold such a high opinion of, but Season 1, Episode 10 (“The Bicameral Mind”) proved me wrong. In this 95 minute finale, the writers managed to deliver an unbelievably satisfying payoff to the preceding 9 hours I spent with the show, addressing almost every single inquiry into the world, characters, and narrative direction. Even better, almost every scene had its own “Shyamalanism,” a term I coined that describes how the revelation of a plot twist incentivizes an audience to re-watch a television show or movie to spot out the Easter eggs they didn’t notice the first time around. I won’t spoil anything here, but let’s just say that much like M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies, there are certain story bits in Westworld that you would easily overlook upon first watch, but would blow your mind upon a second or third watch. That is the mark of brilliant storytelling, because to truly deliver a satisfying payoff to any great piece of media, you have to display things in plain sight and subvert attention from them until they become relevant to the twists that you want to reveal.

I bring up Westworld because it’s one television show out of the dozens of high-grade shows that have come out in the past two decades. Between 1999 and today, we’ve gotten amazing shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Dexter, Prison Break, The Walking Dead, Black Mirror, Orange is the New Black, Narcos, Sherlock, Stranger Things, and my personal all-time favorite, Breaking Bad, which I consider to be the Mona Lisa of Television for its complex layered writing and exemplary character development. Let’s not forget the spin-off to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, another show commonly considered to be golden entertainment.

So are we living in a golden age of television? As a matter of fact, we are. Don’t believe me? There is already a Wikipedia article aptly titled “Golden Age of Television (2000s–present).” Apparently, there was a golden age of T.V. in the 1950s as well, but the 2000s golden age is being dubbed the “New,” “Second,” or “Third Golden Age of Television” because of transformations in the way that we consume media. In addition, the critically acclaimed aforementioned shows have (each in their own right) changed the language of episodic filmography, effectively revolutionizing how stories are told on the small screen. After all, television is a language, and every good show has helped us see it as one.

But if film is a language and every language evolves with time, then what has modern television done to evolve the way in which it is being communicated? There is a long list of examples, but here is a condensed version: Breaking Bad was the first show to take a seemingly innocent and virtuous character, and transform him into a cold, calculating, and ruthless one. Dexter was the first show to make its audience root for, and empathize with, a serial killer. The Walking Dead was the first show to combine realistic human dramas with a zombie apocalypse. Game of Thrones was the first show to depict adult themes in a fantasy setting and regularly kill its lead characters. Stranger Things was the first show to successfully emulate ‘80s media. And finally, Orange is the New Black was the first show to make its side characters more interesting than the main character.

It might seem overly reductive to say that these shows were the “first of their kind,” and while that is true to a certain extent, they were unarguably the first of their kind in the modern era of television. That’s why we’re living in the New Golden Age of Television.

However, golden ages by definition don’t last forever, so when will we see television start to drop in overall quality? It’s hard to say, as it could be in another 10, 20, 40, or even 100 years. Nobody knows for certain, but what is certain is that if our beloved T.V. shows can continue raising the bar, they’ll never get boring.

Angry Joe Versus His Audience: A Response

Angry Joe is a YouTube content creator who has amassed over 2.8 million subscribers. He is best known for his Angry Reviews: 30 to 40 minute long video game reviews of high production value consisting of skits, special effects, angry rants, and in-depth critical analyses. Joe gained popularity from his propensity to call game developers out on their greed and hypocrisy, especially with respect to overpriced DLC and microtransactions.

Recently, Angry Joe announced that he would suspend production on Angry Reviews until at least September so that he could take a much needed 2 month long vacation. This resulted in a massive backlash that would be marked by persistent hatred and criticism and a net reduction in Joe’s subscriber count. Fans of the esteemed game reviewer were notably and understandably upset, complaining that Joe was already on vacation and didn’t need to take any more time off. Joe responded by disabling comments and ratings on subsequent videos, and ranting on Twitter about how he has been producing quality free content for the past 9 years and has thus earned himself a break.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I, too, was a part of the criticism that beset Joe’s vacation announcement. I wrote a comment saying that we fans need to band together and dislike every piece of content that isn’t an Angry Review to send the message that Joe’s behavior isn’t acceptable. It received up to 55 likes, and shortly afterward, Joe in fact disabled comments and ratings on his Game of Thrones review.

Joe then addressed the censorship of his fan base on the 27th, reasoning that he wanted to prevent the more negative side of his community needlessly attacking fans of his Let’s Plays, trailer reactions, and movie reviews in the comment sections. Joe also illustrated that the current content drought isn’t anything new to his channel—there simply aren’t any games right now that he is interested in reviewing, so he took time off until the triple A titles come out.

As upset that I am with Joe for turning a blind eye on his own audience and leaving it in the dust, I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I forgot about the emotional toll that the Internet can take on someone, and overlooked just how much work goes into a single video game review of Joe’s caliber. To put things into perspective, my Halo 5: Guardians review was 32 minutes long, but it took over THREE months to produce with the constant interference from work, school, and other responsibilities. That’s about 100 hours in real time to create a half hour YouTube video, but because this is the Internet—the cesspool of ignorance and entitlement—people somehow think that a 30 minute review equates to 30 minutes of work, which isn’t true. The argument that “Joe doesn’t have a real job” is therefore invalid.

I hope Joe takes as much time as he needs to recuperate both mentally and emotionally from this debacle, but I also expect him to come back with some kickass reviews in the fall. Until then, I’ll see you guys on the next… Angry Joe Show!