Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Into the Sunset

I can see a national identity crisis looming for the United States. Well, there may be a number of ways that sentence could be interpreted, but I'm going for one that isn't entirely obvious. In case you haven't noticed, we're not an agrarian society anymore. Oh growing and selling plant crops is still a big business with lots of money to be made, but only 4% of the US workforce is employed in farming. It can be said that we take our bounty for granted, and many citizens of the United States do just that, but in the long run, we've got a very secure system set up that should be in good shape for the years to come.

So what?

Well this topic began rumbling around in my head because of NBC's announcement that it will forgo the traditional television schedule and run new programming year round. This could be a result of the recent writer's strike leaving them with an off-kilter production schedule, but recent trends seem to be heading in the year-round television direction, anyway. If people are watching and advertisers are willing to pay for time on these channels, why not make some extra money? That's what this world is all about anyway, right?

How does this relate to farming?

Why did we have the summer off from new TV in the first place? At network television's inception, the United States economy (not to mention most of its populace) ran on agriculture. People were in the fields from before sun-up to after sun-down and sleeping whenever they weren't working. There was no time for the frivolities of television (with the possible exception of men walking on the moon and Monday Night Football). At the time there were also less advertising revenues and it was actually cheaper not to produce new shows. It seems that the major TV networks are finally waking up to the reality of culture and embracing our post-agrarian society.

That's great and all, but it's not exactly an identity crisis, is it?

Not really, but it does portend what will undoubtedly be a wave of similar adjustments. Why did we all get three months off every summer to torment our parents? We had the time off so we could work on the farm without falling behind in our schooling. Even in places where agriculture is still vital to the local economy, the time required of minors to help on the farm is usually reduced to a couple of weeks in the fall. If you add in the drastic failure of US children to keep up with the intellectual prowess of the rest of the world, it's only a matter of time until our nation decides, "our education system is working right, so let's do even more of the same," and gives us truly year-round schooling.

We've seen Daylight Savings Time expand three extra weeks this year. This would be the reverse result. Initially DST was introduced to give farmers more time with sunlight to work the fields, but now we've come to realize that everybody likes more sunlight, no matter what they do to supply their livelihood (that sentence was intentionally awkward so as to include one of my favorite words to type, but I'll let you guess which one it is).

The point is that, in a nation that has always associated itself with hard work and self-reliance, we're just too interdependent to live like farmers anymore. We have to change, adapt, align ourselves with a new reality. Who knows where else this shift might rear its frightening head? Just don't be surprised when you see it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Highway Robbery

It's been a little while since I last posted so it seems an appropriate time to bring out what has become the most ongoing rant of my life.

I'll just come out and say it: I hate the greeting card industry. I can't imagine a more vile waste of time and space than an industry devoted to laziness and stupidity. How many times a year does one feel obligated to spend between $.99 and five dollars on a stupid little card with some pithy remarks about "congratulations on the new lake house" or "happy valentine's day to my brother and his wife?" (Only one of those was made up.)

It seems to me that if you don't care enough to write your own thoughts down on paper, then perhaps you don't care enough to send a card at all. Culture has conditioned us to think, "my, what a nice gesture" when receiving a card, when really the person is saying, "I spent three dollars on this and I mildly agree with the cheesy words this total stranger wrote."

I vowed at a young age not to support this vile laziness with my hard-earned cash. I have come to a bit of a compromise since vowing my love and fidelity to the wife. Whenever possible, I locate and procure a greeting card with nothing written on it so as to enable me to put my own thoughts down on paper and thus give a truly sincere token of respect or care. (In the interest of full disclosure, I do search for and occasionally purchase humorous cards, but only for the comedic value, not the sentiment; it's my version of the annoying email forward from Uncle Stu, et al).

Without getting into my utter (although quite related) disgust with the evil Free Market Economy holiday that happens to fall tomorrow, I was out searching for a card this evening. I scoured a full, two-sided aisle at the local grocery story in search of the elusive (blank inside) label, which is becoming as difficult to find as a polar bear with a bright outlook on life. I was forced to settle on a plain white Thank You card in the second row from the bottom at the far end of the aisle.

As I looked down the row, at the crowded section of bewildered men hovering in front of a very red section of cards, I couldn't help but smile. Even though their labor will result in a perfectly appropriate card, mine will have a truly unique representation of my feelings and will also look decidedly better than an index card.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Picture Perfect

My wife bought Stranger than Fiction over the holidays. We rented this wonderful movie last year and knew it deserved another viewing. We sat down to watch it over the weekend. In case you’re unfamiliar, Stranger than Fiction is the story of a man named Harold Crick who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a very real novel. The ultimate conclusion is something other than the main character would have chosen for himself. Assured by the local literature expert that the ending is a work of majestic genius, he decides to proceed with the determined course of life.

The kicker comes unexpectedly at the end. While the ending of the book becomes tragic for Harold Crick, it is universally accepted as the poetic, proper, and beautiful conclusion. However the author decides that the perfect dénouement is not worth the misery of an altogether real man.

There are a number of deep thoughts and provocative connotations running throughout this brilliant film. The ending, however, made me appreciate a unique aspect of life on the Earth. My personality tends towards the grandiose; I have an incredible craving for poetic justice. Rarely does an ending live up to the grand expectations that I place upon it. This applies to books and movies as well as the everyday events of my life. Stories ought to have grand and moving conclusions. It just seems the right thing to do.

Stranger than Fiction presents another vision of the end. Perhaps the conclusion of our stories is not about beauty and perfect timing. Perhaps the beauty of an ending is eclipsed by the beauty of reality. Are we willing to sacrifice the ghostly excellence of the possible future for the awkward delicate beauty of the mundane? Do we spend so much time focusing on the perfect conclusion to our story that we fail to do justice to the elements of plot?

The closing line of the movie echoes in my thoughts: “And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties which we assume only accessorize our days are, in fact here for a much larger and nobler cause: They are here to save our lives.

So be it.