Thursday, February 4, 2010

Big Ball of Bland

Okay, it's mean to pick on Salman Khan, but I can't help my kneejerk reaction to this headline on the cover of the Indian People magazine:

" "I've Never Had a Bad Day": Looking back on his two decades in Bollywood, Salman Khan says no matter how rocky the journey, he would not have it any other way."

I hope that's a typical People headline, grabbing a quote out of context to make the blandest statement possible, and the article at least contains a vague disclaimer like, "Well, maybe I wouldn't have run over those people. That day kinda sucked a little."

I've been noticing the public use of language more than usual. Words have always been my thing, so they tend to pop out at me. But like, someone was making a sign at my place of employment, and we went to prove the correct use of the apostrophe in "Presidents' Day." Only to discover that the name of the actual federal holiday is still really "Washington's Birthday," even though I haven't heard anyone call it that in years.

The history of the blurring of the holiday, which ended up lumping Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays together in popular thought, is entangled with the "Uniform Monday Holiday Act" -- something I'd never heard of, having taken the goofy "holidays must fall on Mondays even when they don't" thing for granted. An actual copy of the signed act is here, and boy, does it pack a lot of legalistic gobbledy-gook in a few short sentences.

The Wikipedia drily adds "The Act was designed to increase the number of three-day weekends for federal employees." And apparently, zooming through various sources, that's really all it means for something to be a "federal holiday." People employed by the federal government don't go to work. Or as I think of it, "a postal holiday," because that's what it means to me. Nobody else is guaranteed anything, although some of us are very lucky, and we mostly align to get these random holidays.

I realize this is all a trivial thing that my attention happened to fall onto. But still -- I'm just getting really tired of the artificiality of so many things. I'm sick of words and names and symbols being detached from all meaning and all reality. If we care about Washington's Birthday -- and it could have some symbolic meaning for the country, which is mostly ignored -- why not call it what it is, and celebrate it when it is? Same goes for Lincoln. Sloppily combining the two generally means that neither gets any appreciation. Any potential meaning is just squished together into a big ball of bland.

Actually, my idea of a holiday is Talk Like a Pirate Day, because some people just made it up. It exists because they observe it. That's a holiday: a popular celebration. I don't need an official proclamation to celebrate my own birthday, or my honey's, or Shah Rukh Khan's. Not that I'd be such a nerd to do THAT, mind you. Of course, these are more or less private. My friends might be celebrating along with me, but it's not something that can unite the community at large in festivity. But neither can "official" holidays that have been bleached of all significance.

From there, I could go to the communication that goes on between us human beings in this country and our government: all of it formal and mediated and legalistic, nothing straightforward at all. Where straightforward communication isn't possible, the pent-up desire for expression, actual communication, will become twisted and unhealthy, bursting out at inappropriate objects, or with irrational rage. One the one hand, official channels where nothing seems honest, by virtue of stiff formality and a roundabout, spin-heavy use of language; on the other, talk radio, or mobs in the street.

Oh my God, I'm saying it turns upon itself, and becomes perverse. I'm talking like a Freudian, only about the Communication Drive instead of the Sex Drive! (Buries face in hands).

As if that isn't embarrassing enough: with those words in my text, the blog bots are going to be out in full force now. Great.

But anyway. I don't want to be a naysayer -- I want to put forth an idea of positive communication, where people say what they mean and mean what they say, and can expect similar courtesy back. It's bizarre what a strange and difficult idea this sometimes is. What I see all the time is, that people are using "spin" and a certain artificial style of language, and avoidance of what they really mean, or what the situation is, even in circumstances that should be utterly trivial. I see people refusing to face reality or talk honestly even when nothing is really at stake. That doesn't bode well for dealing with more serious things.

And now, out into the world, where I will find a hundred new things to annoy me. Thank God for the Hyderabad radio!


ajnabi said...

I think it's hilarious that the 15th is an off day. I mean, really? Schools still have to be in session, so why don't you, Federal Employees? :-D

memsaab said...

Bland AND incomprehensible. But I feel I'm not missing much...

Anarchivist said...

I am much better off avoiding the "real world" entirely. It only makes me angry! Sadly, I must continue to venture forth, if only to subsidize my DVD habit...