Tag Archives: rebellion

Exerting Fierce Power Without Spilling a Drop of Blood

I think I might have found my new, most favorite line, in all of literature. It is from a short story called “Gordon, the Self-made Cat,” by Peter S. Beagle.

It’s the story of a mouse who asks questions. He learns that cats eat mice, and mice are meant to be eaten. Thinking this is bullshit, he sets out to become a cat. The story explores the prejudice of the cats, the fear of the mice once they’ve heard that Gordon has ostensibly become a cat — and the kind of obstacles that arise when your reputation gets passed around by people who don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish.

This story tackles intense themes of politics and prejudice, yet never loses its sense of wonder and curiosity. There is nothing gruesome or horrible about it. It is funny. It is charming. It is fascinating, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking. It is a master displaying his craft in a way that only he can, do deliver a message that so many of us need to hear.

Gordon does his thing, against all odds, and against all advice to the contrary. Gordon never gives up. He is always seeking the next level of mastery, and it all begins with this:

“They thought he was joking, but as soon as Gordon was old enough to go places by himself, he packed a clean shirt and some peanut butter, and started off for cat school.”

Is that not the best thing you have ever read? Our hero, armed with a clean shirt and some peanut butter.

I made that noise normally reserved for especially adorable kitten videos. I am so used to dark, cynical fiction that I forgot you can adventure, strive, suffer, and learn without ever lifting a weapon.

That line, that exact choice of necessary items at the beginning of the quest, is astounding. It’s whimsical and innocent, and also a giant FUCK YOU to a society that dictates mice must be hunted and can never amount to anything beyond their status of birth.

As if we needed more reasons to give Peter S. Beagle a giant hug and a fruit basket.

Check out the story for yourself, in text or podcast form, on Lightspeed.

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How Irony Is Ruining Our Culture

Irony is ruining our culture

Twenty years ago, Wallace wrote about the impact of television on U.S. fiction. He focused on the effects of irony as it transferred from one medium to the other. In the 1960s, writers like Thomas Pynchon had successfully used irony and pop reference to reveal the dark side of war and American culture. Irony laid waste to corruption and hypocrisy. In the aftermath of the ’60s, as Wallace saw it, television adopted a self-deprecating, ironic attitude to make viewers feel smarter than the naïve public, and to flatter them into continued watching. Fiction responded by simply absorbing pop culture to “help create a mood of irony and irreverence, to make us uneasy and so ‘comment’ on the vapidity of U.S. culture, and most important, these days, to be just plain realistic.” But what if irony leads to a sinkhole of relativism and disavowal?

The art of irony has lost its vision and its edge. The rebellious posture of the past has been annexed by the very commercialism it sought to defy.

Shortly after “The Real World” spawned dozens of other reality shows, the format reminded me of the coliseum in Rome. American Idol was the worst of the lot, where the first episode is a blooper reel of the worst auditions. Mass media encourages us to feed on each other, savoring the humiliation of others who could have just as easily been us. Matt Ashby and Brendan Carroll’s article is an excellent analysis of the intersection between irony and sincerity in art at the nexus of fiction, television, rebellion, and commercial interests.