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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Phillips

Festering Pools Of Indignation And Blurry Righteousness (transcript)

Published August 4th, 2018

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Hi there. What do you think this is, Pokemon? It’s not, in fact it is THIS IS NOT A TEST, the world’s most beloved podcast, and I am Michael Phillips, the world’s most beloved – something. I have to be beloved by someone for something. Or maybe not. But if not, it’s just because the game is rigged, and I can’t get enough likes. Flip flop, fly, here’s mud in your eye, it’s summertime and the cotton’s jumping and the fish are high. You know who you are, you fish you.

They call the hottest days of summer the “dog days,” so I thought in honor of that I would give you my reviews of every known breed of dog, from A to Z. This is going to take a while, so let’s get started. The first dog on the American Kennel Club’s official list of all dog breeds is the:

Affenpinscher – Well, this dog looks like a pain in the ass, with its short, dumb snout. I read something once about why dogs with shorter snouts are more stupid than dogs with longer snouts, but science never sticks in my head. And imagine having to say “Affenpinscher” every time someone asks, “What kind of dog is that?” You’d feel like an idiot, and half the time you’d probably forget what kind of dog it was. So next up we have the:

Afghan Hound – Now this has to be one of the most fruity, stoned-looking dogs in the world. If Gwyneth Paltrow was a dog, she’d be an Afghan Hound. Nuff said about that. Next:

Airedale Terrier – Hmm. This dog looks like an asshole, with its Terrier face and uppity, better-than-you stance. Who do they think they are? I heard that terriers were bred to catch rats, and that’s about all I’d trust this breed of dog to do. I wouldn’t sleep in the same room as one, I can tell you that. Okay:

Akita – Oh jeez. This is the Japanese dog, right? The one that wants to be a sled dog, but doesn’t speak English or French so it can’t be? Seems harmless enough. Weird haircut though. Isn’t it funny that dogs “speak” different languages? They’re just like 18 month old babies everywhere, waiting to be corrupted and ruined by the adults in their lives.

Alaskan Malamute – Now this is a dog. Look at any Alaskan Malamute out there, you can just see that they’re trustworthy. You could give that dog your passwords and they’d never reveal them to anyone. Good work ethic, likes to jump up on strangers and make them uncomfortable – a perfect dog. Reminds me of my dear, departed Border Collie, Buddy, but we’re still on the ‘A’s, so:

American English Coonhound – Coonhound? Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Seems like we’re getting into the racist Southern dogs now, and that’s not what we’re about around here.

Speaking of “dog days” though, and “around here,” it’s hot around here. Hot like diablo, blast furnace hot. It’s a good thing global warming is a hoax, right? So we can just chalk up this crushing heat, and the fires and megastorms and whatnot that come along with it, to — to what? What do we attribute them to? Well, I don’t know, but it sure as shit isn’t global warming, right? All the geniuses of the world have told me so. They’ve told me that there is no such thing as global warming. They aren’t scientific geniuses, but really, what do scientists know anyway, with all their theories and speculation. They don’t know any more than some idiot Republican jerk off, right? Ha. It’s really kind of tragically amusing when subnormals and mouth-breathers denigrate and dismiss science. There’s no shortage of irony there, seeing as science itself pretty much predicts that stupid people won’t believe it.

So yeah, hot around here. Here in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles, where Jesus controls the weather, and the weather station about 200 feet from my door registered a high temperature of 119° a few weeks ago, on Weather Underground, with the bonus information, “Feels like 127°.” I took my laser temperature gauge out into the yard and aimed it at the garden hose, and it read 150°. But that’s not global warming, it’s just…yeah, I don’t know. Probably global warming. But at least it’s a dry heat. Like the dryness of everything online these days.

I don’t know what got into me, but I had a temporary lapse of sanity and I fixed some song lyrics on the genius.com website, and left some notes explaining the fixes and the lyrics and one of the editors there emailed me a few days later and said, “Hey, do you want to be an editor?” and I thought, hmm, I wonder what could be a worse fate than that? I wonder what could be a more enormous and ridiculous waste of a person’s dwindling days on earth than to fix the drug-addled, homeschooler errors and misconceptions on a song lyric site. Well, I couldn’t think of anything that would be worse, so I said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to being a genius.

The thing about sites like that – Genius.com, wikipedia, and the other curated explainers of things – is they are so dry. So god damned desert bone dry, that they almost seem like parodies of analytic, academic whatchamacallits – papers or thesis or whatever all of that unreadable dusty shit is. I understand a need to be – I don’t know – impartial, and factual when you’re laying down the law somewhere, whether it’s a wikipedia article about nuclear medicine or the lyrics to a super-dope Lil Wayne rap, but what I don’t understand is how people take that to mean that you can’t have any personality at all while doing it.

Dry heat, man. There is no more personality on the web. That may sound like hyperbole, but comparing what we have now to where it all started, it’s kind of like walking out the door of a comedy club with 4,000 little stages in it, directly into an AA meeting. And now we’re all locked in the AA meeting, and it isn’t your turn to share for another six or seven thousand hours. So sit tight, and keep working the program. And yeah, the comedy club with 4,000 little stages in it is chaotic and noisy and most of the time you can’t hear yourself think, but it’s alive, isn’t it. The web used to be that way. Alive. When you clicked a link you had no earthly idea what was waiting for you on the other end. Now it all leads to more advertising, more corporate “content,” and more people observing the fucking Marquess of Queensberry Rules. That dryness, that dry heat is overflowing into and overwhelming everything.

I know I talk about this all the time, but damn, I’m so disappointed with 99% of pop music these days and 99.999% of what passes for “rock” music. It’s so lazy and dull and repetitive and all the bands seem fragile and sleepy. I keep thinking, well, when things get really bad economically or socially, then maybe the kids will respond with some kind of rebel music, the way we all did in the olden days. Ha. Or the way we thought we did in the olden days. But things are already pretty bad economically and socially, I mean, how much worse can they get? Oh look, they say, unemployment is really low! Yeah, sure, maybe it is, but when is the last time you got a raise? I know in my last job it was years. Years since I had a wage increase, and meanwhile the Yankee dollar buys less than it did 20 years ago. So tell me again how great things are. But it seems like the young people who are picking up instruments deal with the shit situation by providing limp escapism rather than resistance, or noisy complaining. And I don’t necessarily mean loud guitar music and people flopping around on stage. It doesn’t have to be that. It doesn’t have to be anything I like, it just has to be alive. Please.

Would it even matter if they did respond with anger though? In some ways – in most ways – music never changes anything. Those dirty hardcore punks screaming about Reagan in the early 80s didn’t exactly topple the Republican party. But on the other hand, music certainly changes people, and then those people go on to change whatever they can change. Maybe all they can change is their bed sheets, but it’s something. Rock and roll as a thing didn’t change anything, it just became commodified, and now computer nerds and real estate agents call themselves “rock stars.” And they get away with it because “rock star” doesn’t mean anything anymore. Nothing dangerous or interesting, anyway. Check out any random “rock star” today. They look like librarians and accountants and people who cry when someone yells at them.

Resistance, protest, it’s just so difficult now. The worst things imaginable happen – things that would have been all over the news for two or three weeks before the Internet – but now those things happen and everyone emojis how terrible it is, then they’re on to something else. We don’t have time to get immersed in anything anymore, or even absorb anything that’s happened, because there’s always a new tragedy or a new outrage waiting to be clicked on. No young person sits in their room for a month anymore with a Clash album or a Bob Marley album, or even a god damned Depeche ala Mode album, listening to it over and over and having it become part of their DNA in the process. If you say, “Oh, they listen to it while they’re walking around doing other things,” allow me to suggest that isn’t the same thing, because it’s not. So I guess it’s not surprising that they don’t value music the way it used to be valued. It’s just another button on the phone.

That would seem to lead to complacency, wouldn’t it? And it does, but at the same time everyone has become hyper-sensitive to insult, little festering pools of indignation and blurry righteousness. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be in a band now if I was a kid. I’d be afraid that the outrage police would ruin my career in a few hours because I said something negative about a bus stop or a glass of iced tea. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a really good thing that people can’t get away with being racist or misogynistic or homophobic without thousands of people calling them out on it now. I mean, I think it’s good. It all smells a bit uncomfortably like lynching sometimes though, and if the crowd gets something wrong, well, too bad. There’s no taking it back. If someone gets labeled as something, whatever that something is, you can trot out all the evidence in the world proving that they aren’t whatever you said they are, and it’s all useless. The die is cast in the blink of an eye and it can’t be broken.

The hyper-vigilant public microscope that’s constantly staring at everyone and everything without ever blinking makes it almost impossible to make a mistake anymore without that mistake practically ruining your life. It’s an odd dichotomy, the newly developed gnat-like attention span combined with the lack of forgiveness. The world forgets about you quickly, unless you’ve done something that’s been considered offensive. That, they never forget. It’s crazy. Can you imagine someone like Sam Kinison – not sure why he just came to mind, but he did – but just imagine him getting the chance to appear on stage someplace more than once today. His entire set would be on YouTube before he was even on his third bottle of champagne and his career would be over. He’d be hounded and shunned and no one would want to be seen with him.

Which, maybe – I was going to say maybe the world doesn’t need a Sam Kinison, but I don’t believe that. We do need entertainers that offend and shock because it makes people think about shit. Like reminding you that maybe everyone in the world isn’t just like you, and you should be glad for that. But I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m saying this right. If someone like Sam Kinison was starting out today and that video was on YouTube, half of the world would be disgusted and the other half would adopt him as their champion, which is kind of what happened before the Internet anyway, didn’t it. So I guess I don’t have a valid point here. Never mind. Thank you, good night!

Here’s the thing though, let’s talk about Roseanne, since she’s a perfect example of the mob wiping someone from the face of the earth. If you were paying attention to Roseanne before she called a black woman an ape on Twitter, it was pretty obvious she was a nutcase. A drooling right wing conspiracy theorist without the tiniest shred of rationality or insight or perception or common sense. That was obvious. It was there for anyone to see. I saw it, and I thought, well, she’s a fucking idiot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not going to watch her show, or whatever kind of thing she does that might come onto my radar. They’re entertainers for Christ’s sake. Have you ever met an entertainer? You wouldn’t want to have most of them over for dinner. Especially the TV and movie types. But it was better when we didn’t know what everyone thought about everything.

I don’t want to lump the racist stuff in with the abuse of power stuff though. Though, really, racism is abuse of power. But no, these guys, these producers or whoever, people – men – “bosses” – with power over people’s jobs or careers, those fuckers shouldn’t be granted any leeway. They should be eliminated, I’m with that. When people’s prejudices and idiocy can affect someone else’s life, yeah, that doesn’t work, and those guys should be tossed onto the scrap heap of history. But aside from them, what do I care if someone telling me a funny story is a racist or a homophobe or a Nazi? How does that affect me, or anyone else? I’m not sure it does. But then…I saw a movie preview the other day, and I thought, oh that’s looks like something I might want to see, and at the end it said, “A Woody Allen Film,” and I thought, fuck, does that mean I can’t watch it now?

So it’s a conundrum, ain’t it, baby. I understand the people who want to blow up someone’s career because they are a despicable or deplorable person. Hey, it would be a lot easier for me if some fucker like Woody Allen wasn’t allowed to make movies anymore, then I wouldn’t have to make those Sophie’s Choice movie watching decisions, right? But it’s good that it’s not easy, and it’s good that I have to ask myself, do I want to watch that movie? Or listen to that comedy or music or whatever? It’s good to question yourself and make your own decisions and take your own stands. If we, as a united Twitter or whatever, can just remove those people from their jobs, then no one has a choice and no one gets to make a decision.

Freedom is painful, of course. Trust me, girlfriend, when I tell you there is a large part of my brain that says, let’s round up all the fucking Nazis and put them into one of those car crushers at the junkyard and make pudding out of them. That would satisfy a very large part of my brain. But then the smaller part of my brain says, “mjp, you idiot, as soon as they hose the Nazi blood off that crusher, they’re going to throw you into the crusher.” So I have to accept that if I am in favor of my own freedom, which I most assuredly am, then I have to be pro-freedom for everyone. Or almost everyone. I still think the Nazis should go into the crusher. But I don’t think Roseanne or Sam Kinison or Ariana Grande or GG Allin should go in there.

People have not changed since Twitter was invented. People have not changed since television was invented, or radio, or the wheel. There have always been people with stupid ideas and vile beliefs. Hitler didn’t invent hating Jews, he just maximized the potential of Jew hating. Your neighbors have always had different beliefs than you, you just didn’t know it before. And we all got along a lot better than we do now. I’m not sure all this career-smashing is going to accomplish anything. It isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It isn’t going to turn a misogynist into a feminist. It’s just going to make them more careful and circumspect with their misogyny. Which just means they’ll stay around longer and someone younger or more female will have to wait longer to get that job.

The real solution is to change individual people’s outlooks on things. Or one person’s outlook on one thing. You know how annoying someone who just discovered vegetarianism is? Or a newly-sober person? They go a thousand miles in the opposite direction of where they’ve been, and they won’t shut up about it. Imagine if you could change a Nazi’s mind about being a half-blind hate-machine and harness that kind of vim and vigor, and get it working for good things. Yeah, sure. Well you can, sometimes, but most of the time, no. And I’m not one to talk about solutions anyway. I am not a soultioner, as the second President Bush might say. I’m more the ‘sit here and marvel at it all and then talk to you about it’ type. Like I mentioned before, you won’t find me at the march, whatever the march is for, but good on ya for marching for me. I appreciate it.

I really do, because someone needs to march. I suppose. I mean, I like to see it. I like to see a million people clogging up downtown Los Angeles, or Brooklyn or Washington D.C. It seems necessary. It feels necessary. I’m just too old for it. I’d have to be carried in one of those – what are they, not a rickshaw, one of those chairs up on two sticks, all covered in pillows and golden stuff, carried by four shirtless, muscular guys wearing Anubis masks. I’d really have to be on one of those, and I don’t think that would make a good impression with the Twitter people and gutter punks and Occupy-types. They’d probably all want to occupy my chair, for starters, and then where would I be?

The world’s greatest punk rock band, Bad Brains, had a song back in the 80s called “Destroy Babylon.” Which is a concept I could get behind, then and now, and it said things like, “organize, centralize/it’s time for us to fight for our lives/destroy Babylon,” but it also said, “don’t beat yourself upside the head/don’t beat yourself for this,” which may seem contradictory, but there’s more than one way to affect change, isn’t there. When they asked Siddhartha what he had to offer, he said, “I can think, I can wait, I can fast,” which I don’t suppose the Occupy movement would find very helpful. They’d want him to pick up a bucket of wheatpaste and get his lazy ass to work.

I read all of those Hermann Hesse books when I was in my 20s – Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, The Glass Bead Game, Demian, Beneath the Wheel, Narcissus and Goldmund, Journey to the East, Peter Camenzind – and I couldn’t tell you anything about any of them, with the exception of, “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.” But books kind of run through me like that. I don’t retain a lot. I’m like a goldfish, or like they say a goldfish is – because who really knows what a goldfish is thinking – so I can read a book for a second time and think it’s just wonderful, as if I’ve never read it before. The same way goldfish read.

Hesse, Ayn Rand, John Updike, James Baldwin, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov – I read all of that and a lot more, while sitting at the receiving end of a printing press. I even read Frank Herbert. But it wasn’t “Dune,” it was a book about computers called, “Without Me You’re Nothing.” I didn’t even have a computer – no one did, it was like 1982 or something – but I read that book anyway. I hardly made any money, but there was a mail order catalog, Daedalus, I think it was called, and they sold remainders, so you could get books for a dollar in there, and I just bought and read the five cheapest books in the catalog whenever it would come in the mail, whatever the books were, so it was a mixed bag. There was a big five volume set written by a child psychologist, Robert Coles, called “Children of Crisis,” and I read that whole fucking thing, two or three thousand pages, because it was only a few dollars, and because you can’t just read New Musical Express and Melody Maker all day. I do remember a few things from those Coles books, but if you want to know what they are you’ll have to read them yourself.

I don’t know how we got onto the subject of which books I read 35 years ago, but that was some job, eh? Printing was actually a skilled profession, if you’ll allow me to elevate it to that, but it was repetitive, and once I got good at it, once I mastered the art of printing insurance policies and letterheads, I could load up the press and just sit there and read while it ran. It used to irritate my bosses, so much so that they bought a second press for me to run, figuring that would keep me busy. And it did for a while, until I figured out how to keep both presses running and still read at the same time. After that they gave up trying to get me to stop reading. I’m pretty sure all of that reading taught me how to write, by osmosis if such a thing is possible. I sure didn’t learn it in school. Maybe it’s something you’re born with too, a writing gene. A lot of people learn to write, but I prefer those who just…write. Who have some kind of inborn flair for it.

Some write, some read, some talk into microphones, some sew buttons onto underwear all day. Some would do just about anything to make some money these days, and I’m one of them. Still out of work – five and a half months now. Who would have thought? I’d find a job running printing presses somewhere, but all of the printing presses are in the landfills, and I can’t work in a dump. I sunburn too easily. I’m probably old enough to be one of those people who stand by the doors at Walmart and say, “HELLO!” whenever someone walks in. Do they still have those people? I don’t go to Walmart, so I don’t know. Well, sometimes, if I’m out in the desert and I need something I go to Walmart. The last thing I bought at the Walmart out there in Joshua Tree was a 10 pack of black socks for $10, and I swear that was six or seven years ago, and I still wear those socks every day. They are indestructible. I guess I can see why people shop at Walmart.

Goodness gracious, I’ve strayed, haven’t I. Or have I? I didn’t really have a point to make or a story to tell this time. This is the Daedalus remainder catalog of podcasts. Half an hour of random, low-priced words flying into, and out of, your head. But that’s better than nothing. It’s probably better than the other 20 podcasts queued up on your phone there, waiting to get into your ears. I mean, you don’t become the world’s most beloved podcast by sucking, now do you. Okay. I’m glad we got that settled, and I’m glad everything is working out for you, if it is. And if it isn’t, here’s hoping for better days. They are right around the corner. Down there at the end of that dark alley. Don’t be afraid, just keep walking. And I’ll see you next time, have no fear.