porcelainandporcupines

Have you read the Sandman graphic novels? I read them repeatedly in the ’90s; I had a series of roommates back then who were fans, and it seemed like a good idea to re-read them every time they appeared on our communal bookshelf. If you haven’t read them, I would cautiously recommend them; I certainly enjoyed them at the time – hence all the re-reading, and talking about them today – but I don’t know if they offer the same appeal to a more seasoned adult as they would to someone for whom the concept of adulthood having relevance in their own life is a bit fresher.

ANYway, so one of these graphic novels starts out, as I recall, in a club. I believe this is the storyline wherein Delirium decides to find her missing sibling, a lumberjack-looking fellow whose specific Endless identity I don’t actually remember. But this quest of Delirium’s ends up leading to Dream’s killing Orpheus, much to the delight of Desire, whose antipathy for Dream was well-established but never satisfactorily explained, in my opinion, except that every story needs a bad guy and if you’ve already cast Death as the cool older sister in your mopey family of goths, it would then naturally fall to Desire to be the bad one since, although we hadn’t fully defined the concept of thirst back then, it’s never been cool to want something or to be something.

But before we get to that, we start out in a club. Delirium, despite her, uh, delirium, recognizing that she maybe shouldn’t undertake this quest all on her own, follows her guide, the Borgol Rantipole, a lesser entity that Dream had assigned to provide her company in an earlier issue and herein appears as a hovering fish on a string, to a club to see if she can enlist Desire’s assistance in finding their missing brother. Delirium, it seems, having once been Delight, also spent a brief spell as Dumbassery, since it’s well established that Desire serves only shis own ends. Desire obviously rejects Delirium’s offer, probably while Despair oozily lumps nearby, upset that nobody wanted to include her.

But before being rejected by Desire, Delirium has to find hirm first, and so it is that we find ourselves momentarily with a human character in the club. This, presumably, is not too long after the death of Freddie Mercury, as the human, who I don’t believe is named, is telling his companion – we, the readers – that when he told another person in his acquaintance, who definitely does have a name but I don’t remember what so let’s just call him Donald, about Freddie’s death, Donald glibly replied “Well, another one bites the dust, eh?” To which Human responded “Donald, when God put teeth in your mouth, he ruined a perfectly good asshole.”

And that, dear readers, is why, while I may have some of the details of that Sandman storyline wrong, whenever I see a picture of Donald Trump with his mouth open, all I can think is “You know, Donald, when God put teeth in your mouth, he ruined a perfectly good asshole.”

(I know, you’re probably thinking “What the hell is this?” Well, for a variety of uninteresting reasons I found myself thinking about a certain cartoonish, megalomaniacal, tonsorially-challenged redhead, and I wondered what thoughts Lex Luthor might have on the subject. Spoiler alert: he is not a fan.)

Lex Luthor put down the newspaper and wrapped both hands around his mug. Eyes closed, he let out a sigh, knowing that such an action was pointless. And it was. Nothing had changed when he opened his eyes; he sighed again.

Look at him, this buffoon! Like everyone in Metropolish, Lex had been confronted with this angry image for months, heard his nattering through all manner of devices. Evin if you didn’t want to listen to him, he was obsessively replayed by every media outlet, eager to catalog the day’s gaffes and offenses.

Lex had grown tired of him. Not right away – at first, he thought they could be allies. Believing his goals, his inevitable dominance could only be bolstered by this self-proclaimed Captain of Industry. Believing he’d found another leader like himself, a man led by vision, whose wealth was no more than a by-product of achieving their goals. Yes, together they would do great things – so Lex thought.

Yet how quickly this huckster revealed himself! Of course, the truth had been there all along; Lex was angry that he too had taken so long to see past the bluster. But what had initially passed for similarities were quickly exposed as mere trapping. The finely tailored suits they both wore, that were so fitted to Lex it as though they were drawn on him, looked cheap despite their probable cost, hanging awkward and unflattering on his puffy frame. The keen business mind was nothing of the sort, just shouts of success where everyone could plainly see failure. Worse, what meager success he had achieved was not his own, but just his name hastily plastered over someone else’s work.

Maybe some of his own inventions hadn’t succeeded in the way he’d hoped, but he, Lex, was the chief innovator at Luthorcorp! His scientists and engineers carried out his vision, as they should have; he didn’t need to take credit for someone else’s work.

But the hair – that had mislead him. Lex knew, always, that it wasn’t good. He didn’t admire it, but he was jealous. If not for that long ago incident in the lab, Lex would still have his own red hair. Although, he surely would have allowed his own to thin with dignity, if it must – Nature acted without malice. Unlike Superboy.

So many times Lex had thought back to that day – he’d never believed Superboy’s claims that it had been an accident – and what his life would have been like if not for the Kryptonian’s carelessness. All the praise heaped on Superman would fall on him. He would be embraced by a loving public. He’d enjoy a better reputation in the press, that was for sure; Clark Kent would be his mouthpiece too, not just Superman’s, and would never have reason to launch his relentless, and strangely personal, campaign against Lex and Luthorcorps.

For years Lex had believed this, but now, suddenly, another possibility presented itself. Without Superman to strive against, might he, Lex, have become no better than this ridiculous tycoon who was all over the news for months? Without the very real threat posed by the son of Krypton (why was he the only one to see it?) could Lex have turned into this fearful tyrant? Lex shuddered at the thought of himself rambling on about a wall. Mere humans posing a threat? Bah! No, the only alien who should be illegal in Metropolis was Superman.

Fate had brought Superboy to his lab on that day, to provide the adversary Lex deserved; he understood that now. His path in life was always to protect the people of Metropolis; for years, that had meant from Superman, but now, here, there was a more immediate threat. And not just to the people he loved – because Lex did indeed love the people of Metropolis; why else would he fight so hard for them? – but to himself. His own wealth would be protected under such a Miser-in-Chief, of course, but the celebration of ignorance this man was whipping into a frenzy; well, it would turn people against scientists like Lex and their innovations faster than Superman ever could.

He needed to be stopped, that was clear. But how? It was too late to run himself; besides, having already been president, he was probably ineligible to run again. He could surely, between now and the election, develop something to tally the votes however he saw fit. But Lex didn’t want there to be any whiff of impropriety, nothing that might support the delusions and paranoia that, incredibly, only seemed to feed the mania swirling around this man like flies on a corpse.

No, what he needed was for everyone to see what Lex saw, for him to be so exposed that even those who’d cravenly offered their support, tepidly claiming this was the best of a bad situation, would have to say No – no, we can do better than this. It needed to happen before the election, so he would never get the votes in the first place. And Lex knew, all to well, there was one surefire way to get everyone – everyone – on Earth to turn against a business man. He picked up his phone and made a call.

“Hello, Daily Planet? Put me through to Clark Kent. I need him to deliver a message to Superman – I have a proposition for him.”

The most frustrating thing about aging right now is how much it makes me think of Milan Kundera. I spent a good solid chunk of the ’90s, maybe ’93 through ’99 – just absolutely hating that guy. It was so bad that I was planning to write abook about it, entitled “Why I hate Milan Kundera,” with the first chapter being “Because He Sucks.” It’s a compelling argument, I know, which made it all the more astonishing that it should need to be made in the first place. Milan Kundera clearly sucks, so why was he so popular?

At least in part, the answer to that is because everyone’s first exposure to Kundera was via a charming turn by a young Daniel Day Lewis in the film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. In a larger sense, though, the two halves of the equation are more intertwined, and the thing that makes him so popular is the very reason that he sucks so bad, and that reason is the clear and incredible contempt he has for his female characters.

This is not simply an issue of an author writing unlikable characters. While I generally prefer to like the characters I read about, in much the same way I prefer to spend time with people whose company I enjoy, it’s not 100% necessary. I understand unlikable characters have their time and place; holidays, for example, or other family gatherings. But the series of embarrassing or tragic calamities that befall so many of his female characters ends up having no lasting impact on the story. So a pregnant nurse accidentally takes a poison pill – the real surprise is that the crabby old man wasn’t lying all those years about carrying a suicide pill with him at all times. Or the woman, despondent over an unworthy man, who attempts to end her own life but instead takes a handful of laxatives and suffers not just the expected bathroom embarrassments while her uninterested beloved stands on the other side of the door, she, desperate to flee her humiliation, must then run out of the bathroom without pulling her stockings all the way up, causing her to trip so severely that she falls face forward on the lawn, exposing her bare ass to the world.

Now, I have not had occasion to have first-hand experience of the stockings that could be gotten under Communism, but from decades of Democracy stockings I do know both that even in an intestinal emergency they don’t take that long to pull up, and that if you are in such a rush that you don’t pull your stockings all the way up, that will present such a serious impediment to travel that you will not get far enough out of the bathroom to run outside, trip, and expose your bare ass to the world.

Such are the calamities that befall young women in Kundera’s novels. Should a female character manage to avoid both accidentally being poisoned and accidentally not poisoning herself, she can still in her old age look forward to being ridiculed by Kundera for having aged. And in this case, instead of acting through his characters or the role of the omniscient narrator, in Immortality (or maybe it’s Identity; I read all of those books such a long time ago), Kundera inserts himself directly into the story as Milan Kundera, sitting poolside as an older woman climbs out of the water, pausing in her post-pool toweling off to wave girlishly at someone.

She’s probably not waving at Kundera; even if she doesn’t know him, she can probably tell he’s a dick. But Kundera was there to catch the wave and can’t help but notice the incongruity of the girlishness of the act with the advanced aged of the actor, and is stunned to be witness to this older woman not knowing that she’s not beautiful anymore. Which, honestly, shouldn’t be such a terrible surprise to him – or maybe it should, because, despite his many years, he seems to have no awareness that he himself is a terrible prick. Regardless, he is so amazed by it that he goes on to repeat that this woman is no longer beautiful at least 1,000 times on just that one page if I’m recalling correctly; as I said, I read it a long time ago, so it may have been more.

This has always been my problem with Kundera – is that it’s impossible to believe that the extremely negative portrayal of women in his works is due to anything but him. Which is always the case with authors, that everything that happens is due to them, but the purposelessness of the malice directed at his females, that doesn’t add to the story, that doesn’t provide any commentary on the role of women in society, Communist or otherwise, or on the difficult and changing relationships between women and men; by the process of elimination, we can only conclude that the only purpose women serve is to show how much Milan Kundera does not like women.

And that, in my opinion, is what accounts for the disproportionate popularity of his books here in these United States. Writing as he was behind the Iron Curtain, Kundera provided assurance that, should American have lost the Cold War and been crushed under the heel of oppressive equality, men would still have plenty of opportunities to act like immature and terrified little prats toward women, benefiting from their accidental and completely avoidable deaths, or causing them disgraceful embarrassment simply for not being their ideal. So, that we may have won the Cold War, in that we just waited while the other side collapsed under its own weight, we have the comfort of knowing that, even if we had failed (or they didn’t), the State would have begun to do terrible things to those who acted against its interest, but crimes against women would still not be considered crimes against the state and could therefore proceed unobstructed, in the usual fashion.

Eventually, in ’99, I let go of my plans to take down Milan Kundera. Partially because writing a book would have meant learning a lot more about Milan Kundera than that I hated him. Partially because “because he sucks,” is a lot harder to turn into a whole book than you might think (although, at this point, you may have an inkling). Mostly, it was because I realized that when I gave up trying to convince the whole world that Kundera was terrible, I would not have to subject myself to him anymore.

And so I put his books down. I still remember closing that last one – Immortality, or possibly Slowness – on my desk at work. Under the bright florescence my coworker Matt asked “What are you reading?” And I replied, with a calm smile and a pleasant shake of my head “Nothing,” certain that the moment would be as cinematic in my memory as it was in reality. Eventually, I got rid of the books that I’d been lugging around from house to house; physically and mentally, I left Kundera behind.

And so I lived, happily ever after for 15 years without thinking of Milan Kundera at all. But here we are together now, talking about him which means, obviously, that has ended. Not because of his new book, although it’s fitting that Kundera, too, has forgotten that he’s not desirable anymore. But a year ago, as I stood in the Grove with my brother and sister on a sunny spring day that wasn’t as warm as it should have been. It was the first time we were all together in more than a decade too, and we stood in this crowded outdoor shopping complex overrun by tourists, like us, who, like us, had come hoping to spy a celebrity and who wouldn’t notice us anything other than a group, like them, of middle-aged tourists, standing around and squinting into the sun.

It was sad in that moment to realize that I too was a part of the anonymous throng of overweight Americans, that, until that moment, I’d been living like Kundera’s foolish old woman at the pool, living on as though I had value despite the cruel march of time. Perhaps somewhere in that crowd at the Grove there was a writer witnessing that moment who would be so inspired by the momentary despair that they, too, would use it as the springboard for an unrelated story that reinforces for the world what a cock they truly are.

At the same time, from the viewpoint of Kundera’s ridiculous old woman, I understood – in a way Kundera could not – that she wasn’t so ridiculous after all. She may not have been beautiful in the moment Kundera hoped to preserve (an observation which is entirely suspect because why would anyone trust Milan Kundera on these things?) but even he himself can recognize that she had been beautiful at one point. This may not be valuable in his opinion, but it is not merely the shadow of beauty that persists. Her beauty (which, it should also be noted, is not her most important quality, but again, we are limited by Kundera’s framework) may no longer be that of youth, but it continues to be visible for the people who know her. The woman herself, other people, people who are not assholes; rather than lamenting its absence, they still see her beauty, made all the more remarkable that it can still be seen despite her foolish old face.

Too, there are the people of the woman’s life who don’t know she is no longer beautiful,those who knew her before the moment Kundera felt was so important to preserve. The moments they witnessed – of beauty of otherwise – also endure, as much as Kundera’s moment, if not more because they are not insufferable twats, most likely. And, even if they are, the version of them that the old woman knew still exists, as she remembers a place where she was beautiful in the company of someone sufferably charming; her eyes alight with mischief while he stands up straighter and wonders if in the future they’ll still be together. Those two people, who managed to be lively even in the face of Communism, will continue to matter as long as anyone continues to think of them, in the present as a fond recollection or a promise of a future that will never be realized.

But the most important thing – the MOST important thing I have to occasionally remind myself about that day in the Grove, when I notice my eyelashes have vanished, or as I wait at an intersection for a beautifully upright horse to trot past while I sit in the car feeling like a melting candle, is not just that, even if only in photos or on Facebook, I will always be young enough to enjoy the sun and believe it will always be shining on me; that my brother will always have a dopey grin and a bowl haircut even as his crew cut becomes saltier; that our sister will always be taller than us because she’s older, and her feathered bangs will never go out of style. The MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember is that Milan Kundera will always, ALWAYS be a dick.

Fear not: this is not the usual long-winded post about nothing in particular, although there will obviously be more of those to come in the future, sporadically though they may.

Instead, a housekeeping note: I noticed recently that the Fun With Song Lyrics posts seem to be taking over here. And, while I enjoy those quite a bit, it seems like maybe not the sort of content the 3 of your signed up for when you subscribed to this blog. So I’ve decided to branch those out into their very own blog – funwithsonglyrics.wordpress.com, which you can choose to subscribe to or not in whatever fashion you choose.

To get with the times, there’s even a twitter account – @funwithlyrics – you can follow for updates, or send me requests if there’s a song you desperately want me ruin for you. In a couple of years, there will probably be an Instagram presence, and maybe a while after that, I’ll look into Periscope. Oh, and Reddit! Because that I’m sure will always be a thing. Just like blogging.

Anyway, there’s new content there right now – a close look at the weirdly bleak depiction of love in The Power of Love, by Huey Lewis and the News.

One other housekeeping note, which goes for that blog and this one too:  if you get the content sent to you in some fashion – like a reader or something – I’d appreciate it if you could still at least click over to the actual site  so I know someone besides me is reading this. I know I’ll always be my own biggest fan, but it would be nice to know that someone else is out there too.

Okay! Back to your Tuesday. Wait – Wednesday; back to your Wednesday.

1. “Money for Nothing,” by Dire Straits – Particularly in this time when even the president would take the time to assure gay youths that it gets better, that a song that repeats the phrase “little fa**o*” would reach number 1 and also win a Grammy is shocking. Even more amazing, it still doesn’t get bleeped when it gets played right in the middle of the day and anyone could hear it while waiting for the dentist.

2. “Date Rape,” by Sublime – I feel like there’s like a 95% chance this is song is a deliberate mockery, but it’s still very upsetting to see the title displayed on my dashboard when it comes up on the satellite radio. That may sound like a #firstworldproblem, but I am 100% sure there are people who don’t understand this song is not in favor of date rape. And while those people are certainly idiots, they’re also date rapists; I don’t need to hear from them, even by unintentional proxy, when I’m on my way to the mall. Or anywhere, actually; the destination is not the problem here.

3. “Smack My Bitch Up,” by Prodigy – Another song whose title I don’t like to see. But also, literally the only lyrics in this song are “Change my pitch up / smack my bitch up”. This could just as easily have been an instrumental, and it would have lost nothing; alas, it also wouldn’t be any better. This is the work of a prodigy? No, sir. No.

4. “Young Girl,” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap –

“Young girl, get out of my mind
My love for you is way out of line.
You better run, girl.
You’re much too young, girl.”

Here’s an idea, creepy predator: how about you go and get yourself chemically castrated, and then write a fun little ditty about that?

5. “Half-breed,” by Cher – Cher. Come on. This is not your best work.

For those who didn’t watch (and judging by the ratings, that’s just about everyone), Marvel’s Agent Carter is the story of Margaret Carter, aka Peggy, who, although she once dated the man who would become Captain America, does not quite live in the world of superheroes. Instead, she’s a modern ’50s gal-slash-spy whose savvy and tough regularly win the day.

In season 1, Peggy thwarted some plans involving Russian operatives undercover in the U.S., cracking wise and a few skulls all while wearing a sensible pantsuit, unless she was under cover at some fancy gala; never underestimate the nefarious potential of formal events. Her success in the field, however, was not enough for her colleagues back in the office to trust her fully, in part because she was British but mostly because they were all males and it was the ’50s and competent spy was not regarded as an acceptable career path for a lady. Yet, Peggy knows her worth and continues to fight for truth, justice, and the American way, in spite of the lack of respect and recognition from the men around her.

Unfortunately, season 2, which wrapped on Tuesday, was missing a lot of the spunk and verve that made season 1 such a delight. In the second season, Peggy relocated to Los Angeles to meet up with a few other members of her team that had also coincidentally relocated to the west coast. Peggy’s main office antagonist from season 1 – Jack Thomas – did not make the transition, leaving Peggy solely with a team of men who recognized her leadership and deferred to her judgement.

Which shouldn’t have been a problem, but, weirdly, the lack of sexism was a running disappointment throughout the season. I understand that the writers might have wanted to tell a different story than season 1, but, as a viewer, watching a woman fight monsters or secret KGB assassins is perfectly fine, but seeing that same woman fight again and again the everyday spectre of sexism – a very real threat we still face, lo these 60 years later -without feeling diminished or the need to prove herself, all the while wearing comfortable shoes? That is appointment viewing. Certainly, the long overdue recognition was nice to see, but the occasional appearance of Jack Thomas, who popped up from time to time to needle Peggy and flaunt his special brand of untrustworthy smarm, served mostly to highlight how vital that tension had been to the first season.

With Peggy getting along well with everyone at work – about which, more later – the burden of conflict for the season fell almost entirely on the villain, and here, too, this season was inferior to the first. Whitney Frost, a moderately famous actress and brilliant yet unappreciated scientist, absorbs a deadly otherworldly substance during an accident in a lab. The substance, Zero Matter, disfigures her in the most artful fashion, and imbues her with the terrific power to, uh. . .absorb more Zero Matter, and talk about how powerful it makes her? I mean, she does also have the ability to absorb actual matter from time to time, which leads her to kill a number of people who betray her as well as a bunch of rats that did nothing other than be be rodents, which was kind of sad.

But, despite all Whitney’s blathering, it seems that the main benefit of absorbing Zero Matter is that it gives her the capacity to absorb more Zero Matter; apart from that, it’s no more impressive than if she were harming people with more run-of-the-mill weapons. If anything, it’s less threatening, because the Zero Matter occasionally does not do what Whitney expected. Which is frustrating for her, but doesn’t have any kind of impact on the story because Zero Matter is a brand-new substance in the world and not well-understood by anyone, character or writer, is seems; without any definition, there’s nothing surprising about what Zero Matter does, since we have no expectation that it will do anything other than what is convenient for the story. Can Whitney absorb people’s matter from many feet away? Sure, but not when Peggy and Jarvis are escaping from her.

Poorly as Whitney compares to the season 1 threat in theory, it becomes even more starkly contrasted when Dottie Underwood herself actually arrives for a few episodes to show Whitney how it’s done. Whitney supposedly gets the upper hand in the scene they share, but Dottie later remains undaunted in her strange, non-romantic flirtation with Peggy, and Dottie is the one who escapes by the end of the episode. But, while the visit from Dottie makes Whitney a little less impressive, what it really throws into relief is how much this show would benefit if Peggy were working with a few of these strong, capable women, instead of against them.

There are two women on Peggy’s side, although they are unfortunately tangential to the action. Rose, an agent at the SSR who poses as a secretary in the headquarter’s false front, is called into service when the SSR is infiltrated and there isn’t anyone else they can trust. Rose is as capable as Peggy, albeit more comic-relief; it’s unfortunate she’s only recruited for the mission as a last resort. The other is Ana Jarvis, the inconsistently accented wife of Mr. Jarvis, who seems to serve no other function but to be fully supportive of her husband’s platonic relationship with Peggy, and then get shot, and then continue to be supportive. Ana appears to have an interesting back story, with her shifting accents and ready consumption of wine, so it’s a shame she isn’t given more to do.

The sororal relationships might suffer but the show does focus on the romantic ones, and here Whitney Frost does have the more compelling plot. Whitney gets involved with Ken Marino (played by character actor Ken Marino) after killing her husband, which, to be fair, was mostly in self-defense; repulsed by Whitney’s artful disfigurement and her Zero Matter absorption skills, her husband enlists the shadowy cabal behind his run for government to stop her. They neither succeed nor survive, freeing Whitney to turn to Ken Marino, an old boyfriend who never stopped loving her. So much so that he encourages her to flaunt her artful disfigurement – to that point, hidden neatly behind a well-placed lock of hair – to let the world see who she really is. It’s an unexpectedly touching seen, particularly given the ridiculouslness of the set-up, which is a credit to the actors. Wynn Everett as Whitney is remarkably vulnerable at this support, and her gratitude at finally being accepted for who she is is both heart-warming and heart -breaking. Ken Marino, as Ken Marino, plays his devotion to Whitney straight; there are no jokes in his feelings. For that brief moment, we in the audience genuinely hope those two will make it.

They don’t, though, because they’re villains. But still, even the failure of their romance  is more involving than Peggy’s who, sadly, is reduced to a rather conventional love triangle. It seems that, if Peggy is getting along with all her male coworkers, the only possible story is for her to have to choose between two potential romantic partners. Which, as much as I enjoy when the people inside the television succumb to their feelings to finally Do Kissing, due to the completely unnecessary dragging out of this plot it makes Peggy’s happy ending for the season that she finally picked a man. And, I mean, it was a good kiss: I was almost afraid for the fellow’s face, having to hold up under the onslaught of her feelings. But Peggy also completed her mission; she literally saved the world, along with a team of people who recognized her leadership and would follow her anywhere; it doesn’t seem like two grown-ups kissing should be equally momentous.

Even though Whitney Frost was captured and Peggy got her man, season 2 still ended on a cliff hanger. Due to poor ratings and a change in leadership over at ABC, prospects for season 3 don’t look great. Which is unfortunate; although this season was uneven at best, Marvel’s Agent Carter is a fun program with a game and capable cast, and, as the first season demonstrated, does know how to tell a good story. If there is a third season – and I hope there is one – I hope they can course-correct. I like Peggy Carter, and I’d like to see more of what she’s capable of.

Despite the many reports extolling their safety, I must admit that my concerns about self-driving cars are not in any way safety-based. I mean, developers and engineers can trot out all the stats they want to demonstrate that their algorithms will make better safety decisions than people; I have no reason at all to doubt them, other than that they’re attempting to sell a product and their entire pitch for said product is that I make poor decisions. Certainly nothing there to rub anyone the wrong way.

Hurt pride aside (also the name of my new band, covering break-up songs from the ’90s), there are bigger issues than safety that have to be addressed here. Yes, I have concerns about the other drivers on the road, particularly the folks who apparently don’t think a snow storm and reduced visibility are any reason to slow down; but I would wager that safety isn’t a real compelling issue for them either.

And that, I think, is where the self-driving car misses the point. Consider, for a moment, the Latin name for the car: the automobile. Auto, you no doubt recall, is a fancy way of saying self, and a reminder that the very purpose of the car is to be self-driven. Except that, in the original, the self is a human. The automobile has been such a whopping success – detrimental though it’s been to the environment and the well-being of small animals and often pedestrians of varying sizes; another sure sign that safety is not nearly as meaningful as the folks at Google seem to think – not just because it takes less effort than walking, or because it is eminently more practical than owning a horse, not to mention less gruesome when the time comes to take one out of commission; but because it puts the person front and center. Or, more accurately, slightly to the left.

Either way, no longer are we reduced to being merely the captain of our fate.. Even a simple trip to the grocery store, we get to be the captain of an actual ship (well, ship-ish), and even if we don’t have the vast expanse of space or the ocean before us, we are still the ones to lay in a course and we are the ones to make it so.

And that, I think, is the crux of the underwhelming response that has greeted the self-driving car; it’s not just that we are prone to ignore any threat that isn’t imminent; it’s that we object to the diminution that comes from the redefining of self.

Because the biggest question that I have, when I imagine the self-driving car, is: what am I supposed to do with that time? Do I just sit there like some schmuck staring at my phone while the car makes all the decisions? Maybe it’s my public transportative roots coming through, but if I’m not actually driving I expect there to be other people around, giving me someone to look at, people to ponder or have some kind of interaction with; something that makes it seem like I am active participant in this endeavor.

In a way, I have those interactions as a driver, too. I nod along with the other drivers when they decide to pass me (because, it bears repeating, I’m not going to go any faster no matter how close you get); I graciously allow other people merge on the highway; and I feel grateful when they let me change lanes. And sure, I get frustrated when they don’t. But all of that gets wiped away if the cars are the ones yielding the right of way, simply because it makes the most sense to do so.

What I imagine with the self-driving car is a sterile bubble of isolation. Is that accurate? Maybe not. But that’s what the people behind the self-driving car have to address. People don’t purchase cars to be passengers. If the self-driving car is to be successful, it has to present some sort of active value to the actually self-aware entity it is designed to transport. Like the moving sidewalk or escalator, that still allow people to be mobile, if they choose, just much faster. Because otherwise, it’s just people sitting, by themselves, in a weird little pod. It may be safer than the automobile, but it’s also sadder.

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