Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hugo vs. The Muppets

Which family-friendly flick is your best bet at the box office?

  
The holiday doldrums, regrettably, are upon us.

With final exams coming up soon and most decent TV shows going on hiatus for winter break, it looks like we’re going to be finding ourselves with a dearth of burdensome free time on our hands. And since pro and college football only comes on TV four times a week, that means we have a full 72 hours where there’s nothing around to preoccupy ourselves with but re-runs of Designing Women on the TV Guide Channel - and we’ve seen that episode where Delta Burke lectures her high school class reunion about starvation in sub-Sahara Africa so many times now we can pretty much quote it scene for scene.

While summer is often considered the best time of year for new movie releases, the fall slate of offerings this year isn’t too shabby, either. Although we may be staring down the lousiest crop of “Oscar-bait” in recent memory with this season’s offerings, at least we have a crop of entertaining diversions on deck to keep us from dwelling on less desirable items.

Last week, American cinemas got a double dose of big-budget, family friendly would-be blockbusters with the dual releases of “Hugo” and “The Muppets.” One is being billed as a fantasy adventure from one of the greatest auteurs in movie history, and the other is being marketed as the triumphant return to form for one of the most endearing pop cultural institutions of the last 40 years.

But what if you only have enough disposable income to score you and your amigo a trip to just one of them? Well, during my Thanksgiving hiatus, I decided to check out both feature films - and if frugality is one of your utmost concerns, then there’s definitely one option that’s preferable to the other.

So which one is more worthy of your moolah - the “Raging Bull” helmer’s first foray into family adventures, or the relaunch of Kermit the Frog’s career?

The battle. . .it ‘tis on.

HUGO
Directed by: Martin Scorsese

First off, let me say that the marketing for this movie is WAY off. Judging by the commercials, you’d think that the movie was some sort of whimsical, fantastical adventure film, sort of like the early Harry Potter movies or something. In reality, however, the movie is a pretty straightforward narrative about an orphaned kid trying unlock the mystery of this automaton his dad bequeathed to him - which results in a really less-than-fantastical second act that’s sure to piss off plenty of youngsters expecting Narnia style thrills and chills.

SPOILERS A PLENTY AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

As we all know, Marty Scorsese has a pretty big hard-on for film preservation, and I’ll be all sorts of damned if this movie isn’t anything MORE than a feature-length PSA for his film-saving campaigns. You see, the big twist in the movie is OMG, YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THE AMOUNT OF SPOILERS AHEAD, I’M BEING SERIOUS PEOPLE that the automaton was actually created by George Melies, as in, the George Melies that directed “A Trip to the Moon,” i.e., the guy that’s credited with turning filmmaking into a legitimate platform for narrative storytelling and not just carnival attraction fodder. The rest of the movie revolves around the two kid leads and, of all things, a film historian, trying to get Melies to come out of retirement so he can be celebrated for his achievements. So yeah, this probably isn’t the wondrous, fantastical family film you and your brood probably expects it to be.

The thing is, the parts about Melies as a director really aren’t that bad. In fact, those scenes are so entertaining that you kind of wonder what Scorsese could have done with a full-fledged biopic about his life - which is probably what Scorsese originally wanted to do, until the studio told him that kind of shit isn’t going to fly contra “Twilight” and “Harold and Kumar.” A lot of the scenes in the movie seem really forced, and it’s more than apparent that Scorsese isn’t in his environment when directing PG material - I think this is the first Scorsese picture I’ve seen that doesn’t include copious dropping of the “F”-bomb or the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack, and you can definitely tell that Marty feels plumb lost with the movie most of the time.

There’s a good cast, to be sure, featuring everybody from Christopher Lee to Borat, but definitely don’t expect any Oscar nods coming out of this one - except maybe for editing, but even then, that’s sort of a stretch.

There are some pretty decent action scenes here and there, but you never really feel a sense of palpable danger anywhere - especially when the best bit in the movie is squandered on a dream sequence, not once, but twice.

All in all, however, I’d give “Hugo” a mild recommendation, if only for the sequences that at least try to tell the real-life story of Melies, which is done very, very well here - the only problem being that it’s done so well that it really makes you wish Scorsese would’ve excised the main plot of the movie to focus on that instead.

MY SCORE: B-


Yeah...I'd rather have a pair of "fart shoes," too.

THE MUPPETS
Directed by: James Bobin

Before you can even talk about “The Muppets” as a feature film, you have to talk about the "Toy Story" short that precedes it. All in all, that five minute long short is about a hundred times better than the massively disappointing “Cars 2,” and really makes you wonder if Pixar could possibly trot out a fourth installment in the series in the foreseeable future. Of course, I wouldn’t advise it, as it’s been scientifically proven that there’s no way they’d make a better movie than part 3, but still. . .

As for the feature presentation itself, it’s pretty damn fantastic, as expected. The movie does a tremendous job of weaving some pretty adult matters into the largely self-aware narrative - that means we get subtle takes on long-term relationships, corporatization and especially the economic misfortunes of the concomitant do go alongside all of the jokes and stunts we’d expect.

What I didn’t expect, however, was just how well-done the entire thing is. The plight of the Muppets - from Kermit’s thankless role as coordinator of a next-to-impossible-to-arrange-reunion show to Miss Piggy’s axe-grinding forays to Animal’s ongoing “drum problem” - is plotted out so effectively that, at times, it ALMOST feels like your watching a real attempt at telling a cinematic story. Of course, those sorts of scenes really can’t be sustained, so thankfully, we have plenty of musical numbers, sight gags and fairly unexpected cameo appearances to keep things trucking along.

You’ll think I probably snorted a line of crack cocaine before the movie, but I am one hundred percent DEAD serious when I say that I think Fozzie Bear’s performance in this movie is one of the best supporting acting jobs I’ve seen in ANY mainstream U.S. release this year. As the not-so-straight man to Kermit’s almost stoic lead, not only does he have the funniest lines in the movie (“If you’ve seen one shopping center, you’ve seen them malls”), but he also provides the film with some of its most profound moments, like when he’s looking at the hole in the roof and fretting about the big performance and his attempt to rationalize his “success” as a performer in a Reno gambling hall. I’m not saying that he deserves an Oscar nod here, but I’d think you’d be really floored by how much effort he puts into his role here.

The movie is just out and out fun for an hour and a half. From a chorus of chickens singing “Cluck You” to Amy Adams’ show-stopping performance of “Me Party,” this is perhaps the cheeriest experience I’ve had at the local cinema in quite some time. Granted, it’s not perfect by any stretch - a lot of the meta-humor is kind of redundant, and some of the cameo appearances are really, really lacking - but as far as satisfying movie going experiences go, this one will be extremely hard to top this holiday season.

 MY SCORE: B+
...but seriously, we'd ALL rather have "fart shoes," right?


THE VERDICT: Although “Hugo” has some pretty outstanding moments, by and large, it takes awhile to get to where it needs to be, and there’s quite a few moments of inactivity that’ll make the listless among us tune out completely. “The Muppets,” on the other hand, is a pretty riveting movie from start to finish that, while having some missteps here and there, is so adhesively enjoyable that even the most cynical and hardened filmgoer ought to be smiling from ear to ear by the time it’s over. If your movie going budget is limited to just one feature this fall, I’d say the choice here is pretty damn clear: start the music and light the lights for the greenest picture of the holiday season.

Black Friday in a Bleak Economy

A Brief Analysis of American Consumption Habits in a Post-Recession Market


“Black Friday” is the most American thing anyone has ever dreamt up. The Super Bowl is the only thing I can think of that comes even close to matching it, and even then, that’s just a weaker version of the same concept. More so than any mainstream U.S. tradition, “Black Friday” vaunts our one true religion, consumerism, as the omnipresent, hyper-important aspect of our daily life that it actually is. There’s no charades or pretense here - it’s all about Americans, the marketplace, and people more than willing to do extreme things in the name of material accumulation. It’s so devoid of pretext that even the most hardcore socialist-anarchists have to appreciate it, if nothing else, for the absolute shamelessness of it all.

Despite being on Planet USA for a good quarter century, it wasn’t until this year that I decided to partake of the “Black Friday” worship service, and dear lord, was it ever the experience. I live in a pretty small hamlet outside Atlanta, so I was shocked. . .shocked, I say…to see so many of the townsfolk lined up outside the local big box mart at midnight. This, I assure you, was no measly queue, it went on for a good quarter of a mile, at least. And that’s before you got through the automatic sliding doors, and saw the indoor line, which snaked around the perimeter of the building, creating an almost perfect people chain around the entire store.

Needless to say, I really can’t tell if this demonstrates the ongoing economic downturn or refutes it wholeheartedly. When you see twenty people wheeling out flat screen TVs, one after the other, it sort of gives you the idea that maybe, just maybe, people aren’t as hard pressed for moolah as the media is leading you on to believe. Then again, when you see two raggedy looking people threatening to punch other senseless over a pair of discounted socks, it kind of leads you to believe that perhaps the plight of the everyman is just a tad WORSE than what the news is telling us.

Admittedly, I just don’t get it, but I’ve never really claimed to have my thumb on the pulse of middle America, either. Apparently, there are scores of people out there that believe that it’s well beyond reasonable to wait in line for three hours, in sub-freezing temperatures no less, to score a ten dollar gift card so they can save even more money on those House Season 3 DVDS and Monster High dolls, but I reckon I just ain’t one of them.

My initial “Black Friday” experience didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know, but it did emphasize a lot of the stuff I’ve suspected for most of my life regarding the unofficial holiday and American spending habits. First and foremost, it petty much proved that U.S. citizens have no idea what “wealth creation” really is, as a lot of people I observed appeared to be spending a ton of cash on stuff they never would’ve purchased otherwise with the false assumption that they are actually saving money on the investment. American economic thought is contradictory to everything we know about standard arithmetic, as most folks in the States somehow think that only spending half of the full price of something is wiser than not buying anything at all - as in, they honestly think spending $50 on what would’ve been a $100 purchase is financially smarter than not buying that $100 item at any point in time. The fact that they’ll never see that other $50 again in their lifetime, I suppose, is simply something that doesn’t enter their cortexes while jamming pair after pair of tube socks into their shopping cart. 



The secondary thing I noticed was that, for all intents and purposes, the thing is something of a reversion to our hunting-gathering roots. I think that most of the people that attend such events really aren’t there because they truly want something, they’re there simply because they enjoy the thrills and perils of the chase. For all the non-Americans reading this, let me assure you that shoppers in the U.S. take this shit very seriously - they plan out their shopping schemes weeks in advance, they often work in large teams to maximize their purchasing efficiency, and there’s an entire niche of subculture consumers that work out NASA-quality algorithms so that they can stretch their coupon purchasing power to positively absurd extremes. Americans may not be the best at saving money, but I assure you there isn’t another kind of peoples out there that’s better at finding ways to spend it.

Lastly - and this was the one I was the most disappointed with - was the violence factor. Granted, at many locales and venues on “Black Friday,” you’re pretty much one broken cash register away from a full scale riot taking place, but at least on my initial observation, things were surprisingly staid. Perhaps the lack of a Tickle Me Elmo­-like sensation this year kept patron-on-patron mayhem to a minimum, but there’s the additional likelihood that I just picked the wrong big box mart to observe - the rumor has it that at a certain union-hating store across town, some dudes ended up getting maced and truncheon-ed for simply cutting in line.

Ultimately, my “Black Friday” expedition validated that, at this point, there’s no way around it - America is an insanely materialistic culture. If you’re looking at factors as to why Americans seem so docile, complacent and unwilling to provoke intra-national change, that’s pretty much your answer, right there: consumerism has got us whipped something bad. It doesn’t matter how crappy the economy gets, how many wars we’re involved in, how great the wealth inequity gap is or how many of our civil rights are being pooped on, as long as we have the ability, option and freedom to spend money on largely worthless crap we don’t need, we’re more than willing to accept any of the other conditionals as a necessary trade-off. As long as there are Sonic the Hedgehog games, Mountain Dew variations and UFC action figures available to us, we’ll forego rattling the boat too much. At the end of the day, we’re not really fond of protesting and challenging big business or questioning our leaders or trying to promote intra-cultural change, based primarily on our want of goods and services. Forget justice and virtue and morality and all of that jazz - most of us avoid illegal activity because that means we won’t be able to go to Starbucks or pick up Blu-Ray special edition DVDS if we do them.

And in the name of material gain? Buddy, we’re willing to resort to some downright primitive behavior if it means saving a buck or two


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Thanksgiving Dinner…with GWAR

Celebrating the holidays with America’s number one shock rock icons
 
 
Honestly, I’ve never really been the sort for holiday traditions. Granted, I do have some rituals I like to partake of every year, but when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas - perhaps the most traditionalistic of all U.S. holidays - I really don’t have that much to bring to the table…unless you really like pizzas made out of Taco Bell menu items or burritos constructed out of Dollar Tree inventory, of course.

That said, there is one Thanksgiving tradition that I would LOVE to celebrate each and every year. Forget A Charlie Brown Christmas or that lame ass Macy’s Parade, I’m talking about festivities of an altogether different sort - you know, the kind that involves fake blood, wry social commentary, and one hell of a mosh pit.

For most of the 2000s, Thanksgiving week was basically Atlanta’s biggest for heavy metal shows. For a few years, we had Slayer, the most metal thing this side of uranium, play at The Masquerade (which is sort of like the CBGB’s of A-Town) every Turkey Day. For whatever reason, that tradition came to a halt around the middle of the decade, only to be replaced by perhaps an even more awesome November tradition.

If you don’t know who GWAR is, you might as well just give up on life now and save yourself the time. If you DO know who GWAR is, then you really don’t need me to tell you how awesome they are. For the last few years, GWAR has made their rounds in Atlanta each November, and this year, I was fortunate enough to attend their latest rampage through the ATL.

It’s been YEARS since I’ve attended a legit metal show, and needless to say, as soon as I ascended the staircase to the concert hall, a good half a decade of repressed memories all came back to me. Going to a real metal show is sort of like partaking of a modern primitive ritual, this opportunity to air out your aggression, frustration and misery through the lost art of slamming into the dude next to you as hard as you can. The circle is your modern day pagan camp fire, and the mosh pit is the virile dance of the tribal warrior. . .well, if tribal warriors wore cargo shorts and Philadelphia Flyers jerseys, anyway.

All in all, I can’t say I was a really big fan of the opening acts. The first band, a Texas outfit called Warbeast, was one of those ironic-pseudo-metal throwbacks that sounded like Pantera on a really, really off-night. Every Time I Die, the curtain jerkers for GWAR, put on a pretty energetic performance, even if their GRR-I’M-ALL-ANGSTY-AND-WEARING-AMERICAN-EAGLE-AND-BEING-EMO-AND-YELLY style of metal really isn’t my forte.

There was almost a forty minute waiting period between the end of ETID’s set and GWAR’s introduction, although the interstitial, in which hundreds of attendees started chanting along to “War Pigs”, was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of in quite some time.


Needless to say, the wait was WELL worth it, as the band absolutely dominated all night long. It’s one thing to be a band that sounds great live - which GWAR definitely does - but to put on such a fun show is taking it to a completely other level. The moments of banter in between songs was every bit as amusing as the music itself - as far as live acts go, I think the GWAR experience is positively unparalleled in modern heavy metal.

In general, I don’t think GWAR gets enough credit for what they do. Metal bands really aren’t known for longevity, but these crazy ass art school kids from Virginia have been decimating The United States of Outer Space for well over 25 years now. Although a lot of people tend to write them off as a joke, behind all of the quasi-offensive songs and prop-filled mayhem, there’s some pretty insightful political and social commentary at play. There really aren’t too many bands out there that can perform songs about nuclear omnicide, contemporary payola schemes, and almost Baudrillard-ian takes on the Desert Storm, but GWAR manages to do it while including on-stage decapitations and the annual sacrificial slaughter of the latest pop culture celebre, no less. In many ways, I would include them on the same list as Mike Judge and Chris Morris as our generation’s best social satirists. 



Although I never thought I would be using the term “emotional” to describe a GWAR performance, that is EXACTLY how I would describe that night’s show. As the band’s guitarist, Cory “Flattus Maximus” Smoot died earlier this month, you couldn’t help but feel a little moved when Oderus Urungus (the group’s lead singer, who sort of looks like a cross between the alien from “Predator” and Gene Simmons) said that he thought it was a shame that he couldn’t bring back his recently deceased bandmate. Of course, he sandwiched the comment in between a lament for “Pepsi Clear” and a pro-nuclear holocaust ballad, but there’s only so much warmth you can expect at a GWAR show (outside of standing next to a dude lighting up a J, ostensibly.)

Even if you’re not really into heavy metal, I’d strongly advise you to check out the band if they’re ever playing in your neck of the woods. There’s just so much fun packed into their two hour performances that as soon as the show concludes, you can’t wait until the make their return next year. That, and it’s probably the ONLY time you’ll be able to pay money to get splashed in the face with fake blood, alien intestines and various other simulated bodily fluids (seriously, don’t ask), at least until Gallagher decides to start touring again.

Henceforth, I think attending a GWAR concert should be a prerequisite for the Thanksgiving holidays for everybody. Certainly, it’s something WAY more entertaining than a lot of our longstanding traditions, like watching a stupid Christmas tree get lit up or watching the Detroit Lions forget how to play football. 


Middle America can keep the cranberry sauce and stuffing; from here on out, I reckon I’ll be vouching for crowd surfing and getting sprayed in the face with zombie mucus, thank you very much

BONUS VIDEOS! 

 

GWAR'S Epic Introduction!


GWAR "killing" Snooki of "Jersey Shore" Fame!


GWAR performing "Bring Back the Bomb!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Problem with Modern Atheism

How Irreligion is Slowly Turning into What it Detests

I assure you...we'll get back to this one a little later on.

Last month, Penn Jillette, world-famous skeptic/libertarian/magician/one-time video game character unveiled what he called the “Ten Commandments of Atheism” to demonstrate how “modern culture” has drifted away from the archaic, draconian Mosaic law.

The only problem is, half of his Commandments were pretty much taken directly from the Old Testament, and the other five are just variations replacing a trust in the Abrahamic god with trust in several abstract concepts, like “love” and “knowledge.” Apparently, as much as we’ve moved away from the superstitions of the post-Babylonian era, we really haven’t advanced that much as far as core scruples of humanity go.

Unbeknownst to themselves, modern atheists have some real problems working against them these days, the least of which is the fact that washed-up comedians that look like Batman villains are making asinine statements on behalf of their entire population.

As a non-practicing atheist, I can’t help but look at Jillette’s attempt to iron out a doctrine for secular humanism as indicative of pretty much EVERYTHING that is wrong with modern atheism. As annoying as evangelical Christians can be - and trust me, they can be pretty damned annoying - I think the hardcore non-theists of the modern era are every bit as aggravating and irritating as their hyper-religious counterparts, if not more so.

So, what exactly are the atheistic activists doing wrong, you may ask? In short, pretty much everything, but to be just a tad more specific, five major faux pas that, seemingly, nobody in their ranks has picked up upon yet.

Attention, all ye of little faith: for I give thee wisdom.

PROBLEM NUMBER ONE:
Atheism has pretty much become a religion

According to the dictionary thingy on my word processor software, “religion” is defined as “people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities” AND “an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine.” The keyword there is “institutionalized,” because atheism, at the current, has gone from being a personal state of disbelief to being a systematized, cultural experience.

At one point in time, being an atheist simply meant that you didn’t believe in a divine being. As such, you didn’t have to buy a membership to an atheism club, or take up social causes pertaining to so-called “secular humanism,” or basically wear your non-religion on your sleeve like some sort of smarmy armband. Basically, you just didn’t believe or support any established religious causes, and that was it.

But today? Amigo, there’s an entire atheist culture out there you have to buy into if you want to be considered ‘one of the elite.’ This means hanging out with other atheists at events that peculiarly resemblechurch services, and canonizing certain figures prominent to the atheist cause, which is not at all like anything the Catholic Church does. And much like religious folk, they ALWAYS feel as if their system of belief is under attack, and they ALWAYS seem to be on the defensive when it comes to discussing their convictions in a public forum.

The odd, cruel irony is that for a lot of modern atheists, their lack of religion is just as important to their personal identity as actual religion is to the holier-than-thou folks. If you attend a skeptics meeting, don’t be surprised if you hear two attendees bickering about whether Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett is more right when it comes to interpreting Darwinian theory, the same way you might hear two fundamentalist Christians arguing over whose interpretation of the scripture is more accurate. The modern atheist response to the industrialization of religion has been the industrialization of irreligion - nowadays, you’ll encounter people that proudly display “Flying Spaghetti Monster” decals on their car as if the mass produced, industrial reduction of their entire beliefs system ISN’T any less pitiable than those guys that have Jesus Fish and Bible verses on the back of their vans.

Long story short, atheism, alike the religions it supposedly detests, has become a social institution, with preachers, sacred texts, official canons, denominational organizations and yes, its own cultural niches the EXACT same way Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Paganism has. Modern atheists may say they ain’t religious folks, but they sure as hell seem to act that way about the things they believe nowadays.

PROBLEM NUMBER TWO:
Despite being anti-religion, they still partake of rituals and traditions DERIVED AND SUPPORTED by religious institutions

Let’s say somebody told you they were in support of animal rights. You ask them if they’re vegetarian, and they say no. You ask them if they boycott animal furs, and you notice that they’re wearing leather boots. You ask them what their favorite hobby is, and they say “hunting, fishing, and taxidermy.” As a last ditch effort, you ask them if they’re in support of baby seal clubbing, and they tell you they’re planning a vacation to Alaska next winter, with shellacking sticks definitely going on the carry-on. Although this hypothetical individual tells you that he or she is against something, that same person is pretty much supporting the very industries that are propped up by that thing he or she supposedly detests. Thusly, this conjectural person’s entire belief system is inherently self-defeating.

Now, let’s flip the script. Are you in favor (meaning that you, as an individual, are likely to support or personally do) any of the following?

  • Get married
  •  Participate in the political process
  • Celebrate or attend a publicly funded parade
  • Attend, support or promote a private college

Well, if you said yes to any, you’re basically supporting a religious cause of some kind. Marriage, as a social construct, is propped up entirely by religious precepts, the same way just about ALL of our modern funerary customs are. Never mind all of the political rhetoric spouted by so many active campaigners, a ton of our democratic “traditions” were culled directly from church doctrine and religious decrees. Every damn holiday you can think of has some sort of religious background - even the really crappy ones, like Columbus Day. Traditionally, the whole idea of private colleges was to instill and promote certain dogmatic policies, when that pesky Constitution sort of makes such attempts at public colleges just mildly illegal. Even so, you’ll encounter scores of atheists that are married, deeply invested in politics, celebrators of holidays or alumni of religiously-founded colleges.

Now, empirical wisdom would say that if you are opposed to a certain ideology, odds are, you’d be opposed to the institutions promoted by that ideology as well. Now, I’m not saying that atheists SHOULD abstain from marriage, or remain politically unaffiliated, or refuse to celebrate Christmas, or not spend money on educational institutes founded by religious nutzoids (and there’s a LOT more of these out there than you would initially think), but if they really wanted to make a point - and not one of those horribly misguided ones they’re known for - it might actually help if they kind of preached what they practiced.

PROBLEM NUMBER THREE:
They’re using techniques and policies pulled straight out of religious playbooks

Academy Award winning Shakespearean thespian Charles Norris once said that he thought “YouTube” was a recruitment tool for atheism. If that’s really the case, then it means the atheist agenda is just now realizing what mainstream Christianity has thoroughly understood since the 1940s - media is one hell of a format for proselytizing.

If you heard Christian music, or watched a Christian movie, or a Christian TV show or even played a Christian video game, you probably recognized it, because the product kept telling you that it was Christian-oriented over and over. Well, atheist activists have decided that this format - the pop-propaganda model pioneered by Eisenstein, really - is pretty conducive for getting out their message, too. Take a look at this YouTube video here. . . 



. . .now, compare it to THIS video, recorded in the early, early ‘90s…



Notice any similarities? Not only are the formats similar, they’re pretty much the SAME damn thing. And that’s not the only media gimmick the atheist-activists are “borrowing” from the religious folk, either.

Youth-centric activity programs? Check.

School seminars? Check.

Really, really spooky and age-inappropriate reading material for the wee ones? CHECK.

Granted, the atheists probably didn’t INTENTIONALLY set out to rip-off Jack Chick or public access programming from 20 years ago, but if that ISN’T the case, it’s probably all the more damning in the long haul. After all, it’s one thing to copy the template pioneered by the people you detest…and it’s a whole other ball game when you do such a horrible job of aping them in the process.

PROBLEM NUMBER FOUR:
They haven’t realized that snootiness is every bit as annoying as self-righteousness

Atheists have a public image of being smarmy, self-absorbed pricks that you want to punch in the face for simply existing. A lot of times, it seems as if there’s so much smugness emanating from them that your first response is to ball up your fist and start serving some hand burgers. Case in point: try looking at this photo of Bill Maher for more than ten seconds without feeling the urge to discuss punch your computer:

Props to some guy named David Shankbone for the photo

When you look at most religions, the communication approach taken by their respective members is almost always open and cheery or closed and vindictive. Whether or not the ambassador is the world’s jolliest Hare Krishna or apparent Buffalo Bills fan Fred Phelps, they’re at least attempting to play up the significance of whatever they believe, which is a sharp contrast to how most atheist activists present themselves and their convictions. As condemnatory as a lecture from Kirk Cameron may be, I would much rather get told I was going to hell by an 80s sitcom star than sit through a wooden Christopher Hitchens lecture or any Amazing Atheist video. Why? Because elitism as a channel to salvation (even if that salvation is completely unfounded) is way more palatable than elitism simply for the sake of elitism. If a religious person preaches to you, it’s generally because they want to convert you to their side of the fence (or embezzle funds from you, whichever seems more appropriate at the time). Conversely, if an atheist lectures you, what’s the point, other than demonstrating just how much better they are than the faithful?

The currency may be different, but the payment plan is the exact same. The religious have “holiness” and corner the market on “faith” and “virtue”, while the atheistic claim “reason,” “logic” and “knowledge” as their own intellectual property. One side says you can’t be A unless your with them, and the other side says you can’t be B unless your on their side. Clearly, one side is completely annoying and egotistical…and what do you know, so is the other one, too!

PROBLEM NUMBER FIVE:
…THEY’RE HYPOCRITES. 

...told you we'd get back to it.

Atheist-activists accuse religious folk of doing all sorts of dumb, illogical, offensive and dangerous things all the time. They criticize the religious for promoting their convictions as part of their civil personas, and they chastise them for bringing their spiritual beliefs into political affairs. They yammer on and on about how religion stifles free expression, and leads to the repression of both knowledge and liberty, and how it forces individuals into herd mentalities. And then, there’s all of the death, mayhem and destruction that organized religion has caused.

All of these accusations, I agree, are completely and absolutely valid assertions. The only problem? You can say that atheism, as a cultural practice, has done “all of the above,” too.

If Mel Gibson and Tim Tebow are ass-hats for emphasizing their religion in regards to their public image, then how is it that Seth MacFarlane and Joe Rogan aren’t equivalent ass-hats for promoting their irreligion as central aspects of their public image? If Michelle Bachmann is a dingbat for bringing her admiration of the apolitical gospels into political discourse, then isn’t Ron Paul also a dingbat for bringing his admiration of the apolitical Ayn Rand novels into political discourse?

Never mind the fact that both Christianity and Islam played major roles in the expansion of literacy throughout Europe and the Mideast during the Middle Ages, and that religious institutions supported and even bankrolled numerous scientific and technological projects that expedited human knowledge across the globe throughout history. Nor should we note that just about EVERY revolutionary figure in the 20th century - from Gandhi to MLK to Malcolm X to Cesar Chavez - were all people firmly rooted in specific religious movements. Oh, and about that whole religion equating death and misery thing?

The Soviet Union, China, Germany and Cambodia - combined - killed damn near a quarter of a billion people last century. And all four of those regimes implemented national policies that made religion - all religion -verboten within their respective boundaries. So if you hear something rumbling in the background, it’s only a blackened pot saying something to a charred kettle right about now. 

Which is EXACTLY what John Lennon wanted, right?



So with all of that out of the way, what’s my final bit of advice for the godless in the 21st century? My advice, I suppose, would be to stop caring so damn much about what you don’t believe in. If the religious are a bunch of kooks and mongoloids for placing so much emphasis on what they believe, what does that make a person that places just as much emphasis on what they DON’T believe? Atheism is just a perspective, and that’s it. It’s not some cultural obligation, and it sure as hell isn’t the primary qualifier regarding one’s merits of a human being. I don’t believe in any god, nor do I think that any religion is promoting anything that even remotely resembles a true vision of reality. But at the same time, I genuinely do not give half a poop if someone does believe in a god or supports some religion, because I - gasp - don’t place a weighted emphasis on religion in regards to how I perceive the world and human beings in general.

You know, just like atheists used to.