I Can't Tell If the World Is Being Serious Anymore
About a month ago, I said that I couldn't tell if movies were being serious or not in an article based mostly on the idea that the difference between loving movies like Fast Five genuinely and loving them ironically was completely imperceptible to me (largely because I wouldn't know how to love something ironically, especially if that "something" was "butts and explosions"). When Fast Five thrilled critics and finished their opening weekend at No. 1, I decided to stop paying attention to movies for a while and start focusing on the real world.
Turns out it's worse.
Zombies Jump the Shark Riding a CDC-Branded Jet Ski
If you spend any time in the world, you probably know that zombies have been a pretty big thing lately. In the Zombie Renaissance that has taken place over the last decade or so, we've seen plenty of zombie movies, zombie merchandise, some zombie-related articles, a hit zombie TV show, a functionally idiotic zombie TV show and countless zombie-related books. Hell, even our New York Timesbest-selling book took advantage of this whole zombie craze.
"Buying this book will make your junk more appealing to other people." -- Scientists
Recently, the real-life Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to get in on the zombie fever that was spreading through the nation (and devouring its brains) by throwing up a goofy, official CDC-approved "Zombie Preparedness Kit" that, according to the CDC's site, will tell you exactly how to "prepare for a zombie apocalypse."
It's a joke (obviously).The kit is just a general disaster-preparedness kit -- the kind that anyone expecting an incoming disaster should have. There's nothing specific to zombies in the kit, they're just being cute. The CDC is dressing up helpful information so that it spreads around the Internet and builds buzz or whatever it is that things do. And it worked. That link was everywhere. I wrote a video about zombies and worked on a book with "Zombie" in the title, which means everyone I've ever met in the world sent me this link. Someone on the CDC's marketing or PR team is kind of clever; for the first time in a long time, the Internet was talking about the Center. With this little stunt, the CDC had gone viral.
But here's my question: Why the shit should the Centers for freaking Disease Control and Prevention care about going viral? I get that the Internet is a big huge thing, and a lot of people spend a lot of time online -- but that doesn't mean every business and organization needs to try to connect with the Internet on its level, especially an organization that's genuinely important. Look, T-Mobile is going to try to appeal to the online crowd, and Old Spice is going to hire Tim and Eric to make ads that go viral, because these are companies for which being cool, staying hip and connecting with a younger crowd is important. That should not be on the CDC's list of priorities. The CDC exists to help idiots, not impress them with cheeky, viral, publicity stunts. If I get bitten by a poisonous snake, I don't want to check the CDC's website and find a bunch of tongue-in-cheek Internet bullshit jokes tied into Snakes on a Plane, I want a step-by-step guide to getting snake poison out of my favorite body.
If my friend passes out because he thought he might get high by snorting a combination of ammonia and whatever's in a lava lamp , I need to be able click on an emergency link on the CDC's website knowing that it won't try to RickRoll me.
I know the Internet has stripped irony of all meaning and nothing really needs to be taken seriously on here, but that's just because we're all a bunch of jerkoffs. The CDC is run by the government. It's not supposed to be funny or hip or culturally "with it," especially when culture is at its absolute silliest (pretending zombies are real/still funny). Since when did the government need to dumb itself down to keep up with the rest of culture? Oh, hey -- speaking of the government and stupidity ...
Donald Trump Pretends to Run For President (And We Let Him)
In 2010, entrepreneur/reality show star/businessgoblin Donald Trump announced that he was considering running for president. Of the United States. Of America. Host of Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump. Sleazy, morally bankrupt and at-one-time-just-regular-bankrupt Donald Trump. He wanted to be President Trump, even though "trump," as a word, sounds like it should be slang for that sometimes flabby part of the body where the under-ass rubs up against the back of the leg. Like, "We were making out behind the shed at the mini-golf place and I was grabbin' her butt, but I had to quit because this chick had mad trump-sweat. It was gross." He said he wanted to run for president.
And we just ... let him. He had a bunch of asinine things to say regarding a position for which he was objectively unqualified, and we gave him a microphone. We had him not on our entertainment shows, but on our political shows, and we gave him a podium and listened to him spew bullshit. We took him seriously enough that we conducted public opinion polls about his possible candidacy. The result? Trump had a higher approval rating than every other potential candidate. And when Trump called out our current president, Obama would actually respond to him, despite the fact that Trumps face looks like a scrotum that got punched by a sandstorm.
But here's the thing. Donald Trump isn't running for president. Donald Trump was never going to run for president -- of course he wasn't. He's too busy pretending to be the evil mayor in a world that no one told him wasn't a cartoon. No one would ever actually elect Donald Trump. Even Trump knew this, and he's a crispy, shark-eyed troll. His media tour, where he went out and attacked Obama and China and boasted about why he'd be a great president, started when his stupid reality show was entering a new season, and it ended now that the season was over. It was a publicity stunt designed to draw more attention to Trump and his piece-of-crap show. But we let him pretend to want to be president, and we reported on it. Endlessly. Even though he looks like a wrinkled piece of spray-tanned aluminum foil, we entertained this ridiculous charade. We pretended a guy who donates money to the Democratic party and hasn't actually voted in 21 years was going to run as the Republican candidate.
Really sorry you had to see this, your boner's going to have nightmares for weeks.
It was a publicity stunt for a freaking reality show about farts. (Full Disclosure: I've never watched Apprentice.) But we turned it into the biggest presidential story of the year. Why? Because it was funny? Because someone thought it would be ironically hilarious if he actually ran and won? Because the campaign itself would make for an entertaining fucking story? Why?
Look, I know I really like writing about presidents, but I'd like to think I'm not biased when I say that the presidency is important. It should be at least important enough that when an opportunistic, canyon-faced horse's ass pretends to run in what is clearly a publicity stunt, someone can stand up and say, "Shut the fuck up, Donny."
My humble suggestion for that "someone."
Oh, and speaking of entertaining potential candidates based on how sensational they'll be in terms of media coverage instead of, say, their credentials ...
Sarah Palin Actually Runs For President (And We'll Let Her?)
Nothing is confirmed yet, but it's looking like former embarrassment-turned-trainwreck Sarah Palin is edging closer and closer to a 2012 presidential bid. She has specifically said she's not sure she wants to run, but literally every presidential candidate has done that exact thing -- they say they won't run until the last possible minute when they say, "Fine, I'll do it." It presents the image that they're both humble and a slave to the people. "I wasn't going to run, because I'm just an average Joe ... But then I talked to more and more people in this fine country who felt like their voices weren't being heard, people who felt like good ol' fashioned American values weren't being represented, and, well ... if you want me to stand up and be your voice, then, gosh -- I guess I have to. For you." In the meantime, we know that Palin recently added staff members to her Palin Committee and authorized a two-hour movie to be made about her political accomplishments. And we know that, when asked by FoxNews about running, she's said she has "that fire in the belly." And we know that she's speaking around the country while driving a giant American flag-colored bus with "One Nation" written on the side of it.
Most people who aren't running for president don't do things like that.
As someone who compulsively follows election coverage, I'd say it's pretty much a done deal that she'll run. But, as someone who is often wrong about things, it's possible that I'm wrong. Whether or not she runs, it'll only take a quick Google News search to show you that the media is already talking about her like she is. We're already talking about how she'd shake up the GOP. We're already doing polls and comparing her to other Republican frontrunner and real-life Dick Tracy, Mitt Romney.
Even if she wasn't going to run for president, she'd be crazy not to -- what with all this media buzz she's created. Now, I don't know where you fall on the political spectrum, and I don't care, because that doesn't matter right now. I'm not trying to be controversial when I say that, regardless of what party you align yourself to, you cannot argue that Palin is, using any metric by which we measure politicians, objectively bad at her job. When she was announced as McCain's running mate, her approval rating in her own state dropped by 14 points, as if the thought of Palin with more power terrified her humble, frozen people. She broke campaign promises, was involved in scandals and eventually just full on quit being governor. Then she wrote a terrible book and made a reality show, but mostly disappeared from the public eye. Until now, that is, when she wants to possibly run for president. And just like with Trump, we're ready to follow around a laughably terrible choice and pretend it's a reasonable news story.
Why are we on board with that? Shamelessly willfully ignorant morons shouldn't be allowed to run for president, right? We're giving her attention and creating buzz and seriously entertaining a Palin campaign. Shouldn't we be saying, "No, you quit being governor and spent the last four years having a TV show and quietly acting like a goofball all across America."? We're covering a potential presidential candidate who used to be a reality TV star for the second time this year. It's, again, a situation where I can't tell if the news media that promotes and perpetuates this story really means it or if it's some kind of joke. It's so hard to tell anymore, because everything in our culture is handled with some kind of subtle wink and a nudge. I mean, there should be some things we take seriously, and one of those things should be our public evaluation of the people who are attempting to run our army, right? She hasn't done anything serious in four years and she will probably be the Republican nominee for president. It's like the government and the media are trying to be as pointless and unpredictable as the Internet, which ... well, holy shit, you guys! The government shouldn't be like the Internet, because we don't take anything seriously, which is why my next entry is ...
The Shake Weight!
I'd like to step away from the government and the media to talk about a device that only exists to give robots commercials to masturbate to.
For those who don't know what the Shake Weight is: It's a fitness tool that came out a few years ago and is only famous because its commercials are hilariously and sexually absurd in that beautiful, un-self-aware kind of way. The shake weight is a dumbbell that you rapidly vibrate, up and down, to work out your muscles. You don't have to lift or curl the weight, you just grab it with both hands and shake or "jerk" it around. This is supposed to build muscle in a woman's biceps, as well as the right forearm of men watching along at home.
If it's (somehow) not clear from my tone, that picture and that video, I'm making the same observation that literally every single person who has watched a Shake Weight commercial made when they saw a woman panting while feverishly jerking a hard cylindrical object: "Oh, like a penis!"
The Shake Weight ad took on a kind of cult status for its misguided imagery and comic stupidity. (Something about women in tank tops giddily pretending they're not giving a handjob when they clearly are is one of the surest ways to go viral.) It's been referenced by The Daily Show, South Park, Saturday Night Live and plenty of others. We all laughed and joked and made our own parodies and cheered if it came on at a local sports bar, and the people behind Shake Weight cheered as they raked in $40 million freaking dollars. And that was just in 2010. We don't know how much they've made since because they haven't posted it yet, but I'm going to out on a limb and say it's more than A) people who sell legitimate workout equipment, and B) people who sell actual handjobs will make this year.
Now, I've done no research on this, but I'm positive people aren't buying this because it's a good workout, no one actually thinks the Shake Weight's patented Inertive Tugnology (or whatever) actually works. So that's $40 million of ... irony? Coffee table purchases? I may have mentioned this before, but everything I do in life is based on trying to look cool in front of the aliens who will eventually take over this planet, and belonging to a country that buys the Shake Weight tells a completely different story than belonging to a country that laughs at it. Because when the aliens enslave you and go through all of our records, they're not going to understand the difference between a purchase and an ironic purchase (in fact, I don't either). They're just going to think, Wow, these humans spend millions of dollars on something that's not functional as a weight or a vibrator.
They'll say that because that's what we did. We did that. We spent money on something that was functionally useless and hilariously stupid, so we could own something about which we were completely not serious. I understand laughing at the Shake Weight ad (recap: it's like a dick!), but I don't understand the jump to ownership. Like everything else on this list, it plays into the modern wave of non-irony or post-irony or whatever you call the thing where people embrace intentionally stupid things that they don't actively like. The CDC gets silly and pointless to get meaningless viral buzz. The news media covers two obviously ridiculous potential presidential candidates with stone-cold seriousness because the coverage might be funny or good for ratings. The public spends money on an unintentional joke because they think owning something funny will make them funny. Our culture's got this ironic detachment, where we actively do things even though we don't really mean it, and the media and the government are adopting that, matching culture at its dumbest.
This confused version of irony can be fun and all but, at the end of the day, the history books will describe us as a people who loved Fast Five, who seriously covered a potential Trump candidacy and who spent over $40 million on Shake Weights. And I guess I'm saying I'd rather that not be the case. Someone needs to take something seriously, right? For the history books? And the aliens? It can't be me. I photoshopped a picture of a robot jerking off to a Shake Weight ad, for my job.
But someone else is on this, right? So we don't get lost in a meaningless blur of detached pseudo-irony? Someone will make sure that doesn't happen, right? Guys?
Check out more from Dan in Pop Culture's Retarded Future: Stuff They're Actually Making and My Brief Time as a Student at Hogwarts.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer, (ladies), and has never purchased a Shake Weight, (alien ladies).
Check out DOB's run down of 5 Terrible Situations for the Socially Awkward Man. Or read he and the rest of the Cracked staff's look at 9 Major News Stories Everyone Got Wrong This Year.