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Washtenaw Flaneurade
22 May 2011
When Potatoes Matter
Now Playing: The Dirtbombs--"Good Life"

Back during the Internet's relative toddlerhood, when I was in college during the mid-1990s, we still called the thing "the IRC," or "Internet Relay Chat." A far cry from the world-spanning Moloch of today, it was mostly chat rooms rendered in script that wouldn't have looked out of place on a TRS-80 (unless we actually used TRS-80s, which I can't remember and which probably would have been funnier). Every now and again we would get joke lists via email of the kind that still occasionally show up in people's inboxes. One of my personal favorites was one listing great ways to confuse your students (on the supremely infinitesimal chance that any of my hundred or so former students are reading this, savor that one, I guess). This was primarly down to #30 or whatever it was: "Wear mirrored sunglasses and speak only in Turkish. Ignore all questions." I still crack up over the possibilities of its applicability in everyday life.

My recent cooling period on the Internet (or, somewhat more accurately, Facebook and the British Horror Films Forum I've frequented now for eight years) has put the strategy in mind more than once. It's not just that it all seems to be taking more and more of my time and energy; I've been writing fiction pretty much nonstop since the end of August, and that's tightened things up a bit. My work schedule, too, has recently changed, though in a way fulfilling a few ambitions, with more hours and greater opportunities to learn (which are already paying off at home, although it can be a pain getting up at five in the morning for the majority of the week). For the past couple of months, my "own time" has been more and more precious to me, and I may well be blaming the Internet a little too much for my own lack of discipline. I have to ask, too, why I'm on it so often. It has become a major, practically basic feature of postmodern life, but that's no excuse for staying on past, say, two hours (I should stress that this doesn't happen very often, but it feels quite obnoxious and endless when it does). It doesn't help, either, that I feel temperamentally unsuited to much "Internet culture."  The vast majority of "jargon" irritates and occasionally enrages to a truly irrational degree. The frequency of interesting, civilized debates degenerating into atavistic, witless screaming matches may be a confirmation of some fundamentally pessimistic views of human nature, but it isn't one that I really want (or more importantly, need) to see. I don't need, for instance, to innocently call up the Barnaby Jones theme tune off YouTube in a moment of easily excusable nostalgia and find a racist flamewar going on in the comments section (I do need to refuse to find out how it started). It's at moments like those that "wearing mirrored sunglasses and speaking only in Turkish while ignoring all questions" is really the only way to go.

My disillusionment with the Internet puts me in mind of the time that I should never consider "the good old days," when I went online at the library and had the rest of the time to read, write, listen to the radio, watch movies, cook, and engage in any number of activities. I'm well aware that millions of people manage to accomplish this feat pretty much daily, but for some reason it seems to eat into my consciousness at an increasingly alarming rate. So, starting this weekend, I'm resolved to limit my access to a maximum of two hours a day, and even that's probably stretching it. This decision may force me to discipline myself and my free time and maybe even (paradoxically?) blog a little more. I have toyed with the idea of giving my Internet home an honorable end over the past couple of months (probably more seriously than I have since 2007), but I know I'll just start it back up again at some point, and it's much easier just to keep it around (I still like the title). It strikes me as a little odd that, about this same time last year, I was drifting into a total anomie, disinterested in largely everything. It was a brief yet horrible feeling, and fortunately it's been the diametric opposite recently. There's so much to do right now, and it seems like I can't quite decide on what to handle first. Books I still need to read, movies I could watch, home cooking to do, photos to take, bike trips to be taken, stories and longer projects to be edited, gardens to be planted and tended... Restricting the Internet, and taking a writing break, will help nicely.

Ride The High Country (1962): Sam Peckinpah is a director whose critical adulation I've never been able to understand. The Wild Bunch (1969) was slightly underwhelming when I first saw it, and I could never figure that out until much later (I think a lot of male viewers and critics get overwhelmed and somewhat flattered by the rampant machismo). Major Dundee (1965) offers the unique spectacle of an uninvolving disappointment with an unimprovable cast of quirky character actors of which Charlton Heston is the thespian triumph (and it's a real performance, not a "Heston"). Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) is frequently unwatchable, even if Warren Oates is strangely endearing throughout. Straw Dogs (1971) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) are both very good, and the latter has one of the best Western soundtracks ever. So it was with a mixed track record in mind that I approached Ride the High Country, Peckinpah's first Western and, as it turned out, a superb cinematic achievement. Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is an aging lawman who takes a job with a bank to buy gold from miners in a nearby camp and transport it to safety. He enlists his old friend and partner Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott, who sounds like a patrician version of Foghorn Leghorn) to help, and en route they run into Elsa (Mariette Hartley), the dissatisfied daughter of a religious zealot (the great R.G. Armstrong). Gil feels mistreated and abandoned after his years of service to various communities, and has his own plans for the gold. What follows is a gently subtle morality play, with an old friendship tested and a new romance kindled (between Elsa and Gil's young protege Heck, played by Ron Starr). There's plenty of action, especially when the family of Elsa's intended (two of them played by future Peckinpah stalwarts Warren Oates and L.Q. Jones) get riled up, but it gets subsumed into the larger story of Steve and Gil. Their contrasting attitudes towards the hand life has dealt them make for surprisingly powerful drama, especially considering that the characters are played by two leading men who attracted criticism in their prime for being slightly wooden (Scott in particular is fantastic). The end might be heartbreaking if it didn't seem so natural and inevitable, as the mountains loom in the distance, two people prepare to begin a new life, and my take on Sam Peckinpah becomes more and more conflicted.

There will be more in the near future, but I can already feel other priorities press. A good omen, maybe.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: 22 May 2011 6:16 PM EDT
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22 May 2011 - 9:17 PM EDT

Name: "Tara"

What a great post! Your plan is excellent and inspiring. I recently skimmed through one of those mostly useless wellness magazines (when we were without power, and I was at a Starbucks, frustrated because I couldn't get online) and found an article that said children's daily "screen time" - including internet, TV, video games, texting - should be limited to two hours. Even eliminating video games and texting (don't bother much with either), I had to wonder how often I've limited my screen time to two hours a day. I'm glad to say that I haven't been online so much since the power outage. Can't say I've been doing much more than logic problems in the meantime, but I still see that as a step up. Anyway, it sounds like you have plenty of worthwhile projects to keep you busy. I predict that these will become more rewarding as you continue your fast. I may have to  start clocking my own time.

And, I'm very glad that you haven't cancelled this blog. It provides worthwhile internet time for the rest of us : ) 

23 May 2011 - 1:54 PM EDT

Name: "Himadri"
Home Page:

In theory, one should be able to use the internet for all sorts of valuable activities. In practice, it’s mainly used to access pornography. It’s sad, I know, but there it is…


Like yourself, I too think I spend far more time on it than I should. And at the same time, I am very pleased to have made friendships with all sorts of people whom I wouldn’t have known without the internet. (Present company included, naturally!)


Internet psychology is an interesting area to study, as people’s internet personae are often different from their real-life personae. It’s much easier getting into unpleasantness on the net, even with the best of intentions. If, say, you see someone you think of as a friend being treated unfairly, should you or should you not interfere? If you do, you run the risk of becoming embroiled in often quite nasty disputes with people you don’t even know in real life, and sure, that’s pretty damn silly; and if you don’t, you feel guilty for not having stood up for a friend. It becomes awkward – especially when there is unpleasantness between two people both of whom you think of as friends. I still don’t know how to handle something like that: there seems no code of internet etiquette on such matters!


But for all that, I have found the internet invaluable in finding people who share my often esoteric interests - whether it’s British horror films, or translations of 20th century Russian literature. Without the internet, I would never have come into contact with such people, and my interests would have been merely lonely pursuits.


And the best thing about the internet, for me, is that I can scribble away to my heart’s content – and there’ll be at least a few people who read what I write!


(The worst is the realisation of just how many stupid and illiterate people there are out there! God knows, I'm no Einstein, but really, when you read some of the things out there, you really have no option but to leave your sentence unfinished and type in three dots instead...)


As for Peckinpah, I find him a very uneven director. I love The Wild Bunch, but perhaps my favourite Peckinpah film is Cross of Iron – which is, now that I think about it, possibly my favourite war film.


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