November 20, 2017

Flea market anthropology

Flea Market Anthropology
(The Stupidity Rant Part II)
by Eric Rigney

I am not offended by much. I think maybe it’s because of all the stuff I’ve seen and been close to (or participated in) in my lifetime. But for whatever reason, not much offends me. In fact, sometimes I think maybe I’m not offended enough. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am outraged at times. Occasionally, even ranging beyond incensed to flat out indignation. But I am not offended. I think the difference is that offended is more of a personal thing: you have done something against me or those I love or in opposition to something I believe in; therefore I am hurt and angry. I just don’t feel much of that.

But like I said, maybe I should get offended more. Maybe what our society needs is for those of us with values to get offended when those values are assaulted or minimalized. Maybe I’ll work on getting offended more often, but probably not – I really like not being easily offended. It allows me, I think, to deal with people who do not believe what I believe, and to relate to them where they are.

Or maybe I’m full of malarkey, as my dad used to say.

At any rate, there is at least one thing I am offended by, and it is very specific: I am offended by stupid people who choose to advertise their stupidity. Now don’t misread me here — I am not offended by stupid people. Heck, I may be stupid myself – I guess it depends on who you ask. I think stupid people are like insane people: they usually don’t know they’re stupid. It’s usually others who say, “Man, that guy’s stupid.” For instance, there was likely more than one person out there who read my last article and said, “Man, that guy’s stupid.” So I’m not casting the first stupid stone. It’s not stupid people I am offended by — it’s the fact that some of them insist on letting the whole world know they are stupid.

Allow me to explain. When my family and I venture up to Ohio to visit my wife’s parents, we usually make at least one trip to the anthropologist’s dream, the flea market. Now anyone who’s been to any flea market anywhere knows that such venues are a veritable free-range habitat for stupid people. Thus you may expect me to say that people who patronize flea markets offend me. But that’s not really accurate — after all, the fact that I am in a position to observe flea market patrons and browsers implies that I am also a flea market patron or browser, hence I fit into any category into which I attempt to place the others. No, it is not the flea market itself, where one may find great deals on good and practical wares such as fresh vegetables and fruit, books, clothes, and miniature apes and Coke cans that dance to “The Macarena.” No, what I am offended by are some of the other items one might find there: specifically, t-shirts and bumper stickers and hats and buttons that all but scream, “I AM STUPID. PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE ME ALONE WITH SHARP OBJECTS OR LET ME HANDLE YOUR BREAKABLES.”

A case in point. This past weekend I saw a shirt that said, in fancy script on a starry, angelic-looking background, “Everyone’s got to believe in something … I believe in Jesus.” This, I guess, is one of those things I’m supposed to smile and nod at because I’m a Christian, and I’m not supposed to knock anything that even remotely relates to God or Christianity. But this shirt is so stupid it offends me. What a ringing endorsement for the Christian faith! “My belief is based on nothing more than some vague notion of believing in something, anything — and hey, it might as well be Jesus. Aren’t I spiritual!”

There are many other examples of such stupidity, of course, but most are just variations on a few themes. There are the aforementioned soft-brained religious items, of course (the most stupid and offensive: those featuring a gaudily Caucasian-like Jesus looking like He’s about to cry or go to sleep). But it doesn’t end with such good-intentioned slush. Other offenses include: the various products asserting the superiority of either Ford or Chevrolet automobiles (as if anyone besides people in the Brotherhood of Stupidity cares which brand of car you prefer); proclamations of alcohol consumption prowess (bragging about how drunk you can get and how many stupid things you do while intoxicated is akin to boasting about the time you set your hair on fire because you were bored); and cartoon characters like Looney Toons’ Sylvester warning us about how cranky you are until you’ve had your daily allotment of coffee (imagining a stranger walking around his house in the morning in his underwear kvetching at his spouse and children does very little to convince us of his mental aptitude). Just visit your friendly neighborhood flea market soon and see how many of these and other offenses you can spot. You could even make it a family game! Whoever spots the most stupid shirts or hats gets a free artery-clogging refreshment of his or her choice at the flea market concession stand!

Of course, if such offenses of stupidity were confined to the flea market, the obvious would apply: just don’t go to the flea market. But this mental Ebola has somehow escaped its confines and has infested other parts of the population, and for the past couple of years it has surfaced in the form of the most heinous, absolutely nefarious, suffocatingly offensive way possible: the bastardization of a beloved cartoon icon. I am speaking, of course, of Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Waterston’s inspired comic strip about an incorrigible little boy and his imaginary-to-everyone-except-him tiger.

Anyone who has driven a vehicle in this region of the United States recently will know what I am talking about when I use the term bastardization: drive long enough and eventually you will be passed by an overly-detailed truck or car (Ford or Chevy, of course) whose back windshield will feature a boot-legged image of Calvin doing something out of character: either urinating on a car manufacturer’s insignia, or mooning you, or flying you the bird, or sitting on the toilet, or saying, “Kiss my a**, I’m on vacation” or kneeling at the cross. (Mr. Waterston, if you happen to read this, please do not visit this part of the United States, as I am afraid you will drive your car off the road).

I am at a loss to understand how poor little Calvin came to be corrupted so badly. How did we come to this? Perhaps some victim of mental Ebola huffed a little too much raw ether one day and decided that it would be clever to have a picture of Calvin peeing on a Ford symbol detailed onto their tinted back windshield. Then maybe someone saw this and decided they liked it — except they wanted Calvin peeing on a Chevy this time. Thus it snow-balled until every stupid person in the world wanted Calvin peeing on something on their vehicle’s window. Then maybe somebody said, “Hey, I don’t want to be stupid like everyone else. I want my own particular badge of stupidity!” So they decided to have Calvin flip fellow drivers off. And, of course, all of this coalesced in some well-intentioned offended person eventually responding with a portrayal of poor misused Calvin kneeling at the foot of the cross.

Ah, the humanity.

I’ve decided I’m going to get Calvin detailed onto my window, too. He’s going to be standing there with a pleading look on his face, saying, “Hi. I am a cartoon character. I do not excrete micturition on insignia, pull my pants down at passing autos, raise my finger in an obscene gesture, or show my allegiance to Christianity. I am inanimate. Thank you.”

Was it Mark Twain who said, “It is better to be thought stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”? That’s great advice, but let’s change it to “…than to detail your pickup and remove all doubt.” Oh wait. Maybe we’d better not: we might start seeing decals of Mark Twain peeing on Calvin…