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You're Up!

In my early adolescence, when I reached the level of English classes where simple "book reports" started to give way to analyses of symbols and themes and the dreaded five-paragraph essay, my brother gave me some advice: When in doubt, you can usually bluff your way through a substantive discussion of virtually any literary work by arguing one of the following two points:


1) All or part of the story can be read as an allegorical retelling of the death and rebirth of Jesus Christ.


2) The subtext suggests that the story's protagonist is latently homosexual.


These are so bulletproof that I'm not even going to follow them up with examples. If you don't believe me, try it for yourself at home! It works! Sometimes you can even get both in a single book. But the reason I'm bringing this up now is that I've recently discovered the emergence of a third Universal Literary Interpretation(tm):


3) The internet has gone too far.


I was going to pick some recent literature to use as examples of how you can shoehorn this argument into virtually any attempt at literary criticism, but, incidentally, all of the contemporary books I have read in the last year or so have been fairly upfront about exploring the dark side of online culture. It would be redundant to argue that Dave Eggers' The Circle, which is on its face a story about the perils of social media and big data, is actually a story about the perils of social media and big data. Plus, I think I'll have a wider frame of cultural reference if I use recent popular film and television programs, so that's what we're doing. Let's see Universal Literary Interpretation(tm) #3 in action  (SPOILERS below):


Avengers: Infinity War: In today's age of depersonalized interaction and online anonymity, it can be easy to forget that behind every profile pic lies a real, complete, valid human being with dreams, flaws, motives, passions, insecurities, and a life story all their own. On the surface, Thanos' plan to cull half of all intelligent life in the universe is merely a drastic anti-overpopulation measure concocted by a tragically misguided sociopath. What this reading leaves aside, however, is that such a callous measure would be inconceivable in a simpler age when people knew their neighbors, stood in line at brick-and-mortar stores, and communicated face-to-face. Thanos has few close relationships and, perhaps more tellingly, almost zero acquaintances. He, like many in the social media era, is unable to reconcile the difference between people as a numerical concept and the person as a whole being, which explains how such a nuanced- at times even sensitive- being can gaze upon the majestic tapestry of sapient life woven throughout a vast universe and see nothing but numbers and obstacles.


Moonlight: Is there any deeper source of anguish than the conflict between what we project ourselves to be on the outside and who we know ourselves to be on the inside? We see Chiron as a child- open, innocent and devoid of pretext. At times, the adults around him seem to know him better than he knows himself. We see him as an adolescent: experimenting, coming to terms with his sexuality, opening up to a classmate, and, as a result, feeling the sting of betrayal in the form of a savage act of hazing. We see him as an adult, masquerading as Black, the hardened Atlanta drug dealer. Outwardly, he projects an air of confidence and satisfaction, but in truth he is starved for intimacy. Black may derive a sense of security from his new identity, but the more he invests of himself into this meticulously curated persona, the more isolated he becomes. He is deeply lonely, but sees no recourse beyond retreating into this practiced facade- just as his protector, Juan, once did. The film's iconic poster shows a fractured individual- a single person comprised of three distinct identities. Which version of Chiron is real? The timid child? The troubled teen? The swaggering gangster? Which of these is the “rinsta,”and which the “finsta?” Does Chiron even know? Can anyone ever truly know?


Game of Thrones: What makes the White Walkers so dangerous? Is it their ability to command legions of the dead? Their imperviousness to conventional weapons? Or is it the fact that the overwhelming majority of Westeros believes them to be nothing more than a bedtime story? Westeros is, at best, a quasiliterate society, so news is often disseminated peer-to-peer by word-of-mouth. What is true in Winterfell may very well be fake news in Casterly Rock- a matter only made worse by Westeros' long history of political entrenchment and bloody partisan feuding. The "Seven Kingdoms" of Westeros are nothing more than seven ideological echo chambers, where tribalism is more important than objectivity and the truth is often supplanted by whatever is rhetorically expedient. Despite the show's ever-churning wheel of bloodshed, the most powerful and influential characters in Game of Thrones are not great men of war but rather those who are adept at gathering and manipulating information. Neither Lord Varys, nor Petyr Baelish, nor Cersei Lannister could swing a sword if their lives depended on it, yet each one is more potent and dangerous than a thousand seasoned knights. The White Walkers have- undeniably- descended upon Westeros. The effects of their presence are already being felt in parts of the world. And yet Cersei Lannister can get 75,000 retweets by posting, "SILLY SANSA STARK AND HER FAKE BROTHER NUTJOB JON SNOW NEED TO GET THERE STORY STRAIGHT- IF WINTER IS COMING THAN WHY IS IT SO HOT IN KINGS LANDING?????"


Bird Box: No one really knows where they came from, but they're everywhere now. They are strangely compelling and have an almost supernatural way of demanding your attention even though they are scientifically proven to make you want to kill yourself. Their devotees are all certifiable lunatics. I'm talking about Instagram celebrities. What did you think I was talking about?


These are fun! I could do this all day. Feel free to submit your own in the Facebook comments. The more unnecessarily wordy and pretentiously academic, the better.


I think the reason these work is that it's just something you can do with any prominent real-world idea. The Bible and the internet are both fairly well-known throughout human civilization, and while less of a hot-button issue nowadays, the topic of gay rights was, unfortunately, very much a point of contention back when my brother and I were in high school. I'm embarrassed to recall an era when, as a nation, we were still trying to figure out whether same-sex couples should be afforded basic human dignities like the ability to visit one's partner in a hospital- to say nothing of the right to marry. Thankfully, that matter is settled in the United States (for now at least). As a result, that particular Universal Literary Interpretation(tm) may wane in relevance or even morph into something else as time goes on and representation of LGBT people in media continues to improve. Consider the X-Men: In the 1960s, the original X-Men comics drew parallels between the prejudice faced by mutants with superhuman abilities and the concurrent Civil Rights movement. However, when the comics were adapted into a series of live-action films in the early 2000s, the civil rights allegories were tweaked to reflect the struggles faced by the gay community in that decade- most noticeably in a scene from 2003's X2 in which a teenaged mutant "comes out" to his parents, who then ask him, "have you tried not being a mutant?"


Hello, friends! Rob here.


I apologize for the above. I'm not really sure there was a point to be made there- I was just kind of thinking out loud I guess. I think the Bird Box thing came to me first and then I remembered my brother's old English paper lifehack and the rest of it just sort of... happened. I would hope that by now you know what you're getting yourself into by reading this blog, but if not, sorry that it wasn't a bunch of tour anecdotes! Anyway.


HOLY BANANAS THAT TOUR WAS NUTS! WE SOLD SIX THOUSAND TICKETS IN DC! WE PLAYED TWO NIGHTS AT THE HISTORIC BEACON THEATRE! WE DID "RIDE THE EARTH" IN PHILLY AND ACTUALLY REMEMBERED HOW TO PLAY IT! WE GOT BACK TO THE TODAY SHOW! HODA IS STILL HUMAN SUNSHINE! I ATE ONE HUNDRED DUMPLINGS IN THE SPAN OF THREE DAYS! COOL STUFF HAPPENED IN BOSTON AND INGLEWOOD, TOO, BUT I CAN'T THINK OF SPECIFIC EXAMPLES OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD! DEAL WITH IT!


And now, Europe looms on the horizon. I can't believe we're actually going. I'm gonna take a cue from Ron Swanson here: "I worry what you just heard was, 'I am excited about going to Europe.' What I said was, 'I can't believe we're actually going.'" I have long maintained a personal policy/defense mechanism of not believing that any cool thing we're told were going to get to do will actually happen until well after the fact. I honestly couldn't tell you when we first started hearing from the Council that Europe was “in the works,” but I would swear up and down that our first European tour has been about eight months away since 2014. So no, I still don't believe it's real, and I will continue not believing it's real until it's over and I'm on a plane back to the 'States. Please do not attempt to refund your tickets based on this information. I am swollen with good vibes thinking about how many people are ready to cross an ocean to share journey with us.


And yes, I do appreciate the irony of invoking Ron Swanson- a man whose vehementdisdain for all things European is well-documented- in this context. But let's be real, I'm just looking for an excuse to link to some Ron Swanson highlights. Here are several more for no reason!


One last order of business: The friend whose thing I'm plugging today is my big brother, Andy! Andy is one of the best musicians I know, and he's always been a source of influence and inspiration for me. I just posted something on Facebook about his band, Bravo Delta, the other day, but I've been waiting for a good occasion to shout them out on the blog for a while now, and this seems like the perfect moment for it because their new album, Unbreakable, drops today! I'm going to plagiarize myself and describe their music as “airtight hard rock/metal, music with a message, and bitchin' guitar solos.” See for yourself :



In case you're trying to spot which one is Andy, he's in the first close-up at the beginning of the video and he has the most hair of anyone in the band.