NPF: GREATER THAN

It's difficult to overstate the percentage of entertainment for people in my age group that consists of finding someone more pathetic and mocking them until we feel better about ourselves. It's an intersection of three factors: basic psychology, the vast opportunities provided by the internet, and the fact that most of our lives blow. Go ahead and canvass the 25-35 year olds in your life. See how many of them are unemployed, temping, minimally employed, or working but drowning in student loans. Hitting 30 and realizing that you have absolutely nothing nudges one toward the crueler end of the comedy spectrum.

Like People of Walmart, aka my favorite thing ever. It's an extraordinarily popular website based on the very basic premise that "At least I'm not that guy." It's not something we're proud of, but let's not kid ourselves. When you've spent 9 hours in a cubicle before walking home to your fourth-floor efficiency that you can barely afford, a self-esteem boost and a hearty chuckle (well, we tend to cynically snicker) are in order. After mailing out 75 job applications – for jobs that 500 people will apply for – it seems logical to say "Man, this job market is really a HOLY SHITBALLS WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD IS THAT???"

Haven't cleaned your bathroom, washed the dishes, or done laundry in three weeks? Well A&E has a neat little show called Hoarders, the sole purpose of which is to make you feel like less of a slob. You'll feel slightly better about failing to take out the garbage for a week or two when you see a woman who lives waist-deep in back issues of Life…and better still when the people cleaning out her kitchen find a dead cat beneath twenty years of pizza boxes.

These are but two examples. It's a sad trend, I suppose, but that doesn't stop me from participating (at least in People of Wal-Mart; I'm not much of a Hoarders fan yet despite Scott N.'s noble effort). Are we bad people? Probably. Is the popularity of this kind of entertainment surprising? Of course not. There's a very good reason that so much TV and so many of the most popular websites falls into the "reality" category. It certainly doesn't depict our reality, and that's the whole point. Show us someone else – someone dirtier, dumber, poorer, and preferably fatter – who makes our phenomenally disappointing forays into adulthood feel like something short of complete failure.

Which brings us to Fail Blog, appropriately enough.

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26 thoughts on “NPF: GREATER THAN”

  • Crazy for Urban Planning says:

    I can change the subject to one not as depressing as my job hunt and unfortunate life. I just went to an awesome presentation by Will Steger who has been doing expeditions since he was 17 and he took a boat from Minneapolis to New Orleans and ate out of dumpsters for a summer! He has been doing trips to Antarctica and the North Pole for the past 20 years. Check out http://www.willsteger.com/! He had tons of good pictures and data on how fast the frozen parts of the world are changing because our temperatures are increasing. The bottom line is we are screwed, for any skeptics out on this blog check out http://www.extremeicesurvey.org/index.php. Its run by a photographer in Colorado who has been taking time lapse pictures of every glacier in the Western Hemisphere for the past several years. His images show just how fast the glaciers are receding… one series of pictures shows you a glacier recede about a mile in 75 minutes. This extra water is going to end up in oceans which will then rise. I'm rooting for an end of Florida.

  • Hey Ed, write a book! If you do I'll buy a copy. But not a compilation of blog postings like everybody seems to be printing out lately… an actual honest-to-goodness couple hundred pages of something worth reading. With lots of footnotes. And a picture on the back of the slipcover of you with facial hair and a rat on your lap.

    (I just turned 30 and as an alternative to wallowing in still-single-and-lonely drunken self pity I've ramped up my little start-up business and through sheer terrifying grit have managed enough contracts and customers to pay the rent and groceries for at least the next month. Being a grownup is scary as hell.)

  • It's staggering, isn't it, to think of all of the many opiates we have these days to pacify ourselves?!
    Reality TV, blogs, movies, surfing the internet. All what Pascal would call "divertissement."

    "The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us on to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us, gradually and without ever adverting to it, to death."

  • People of Walmart is pretty good, but I prefer VICE magazine's "Dos&Donts". Dirtier, funnier, and makes fun of hipsters more often (I guess the hipsters don't go to walmart much?).

    And yes, I hear you all welcoming me to 1999. Cheers.

  • Ed, every time I read one of your posts relating to education or being a young college graduate, it makes me really sad that I'm going to be graduating soon. Of course, the alternative is to go to grad school, racking up incredible amounts of student loan debt for little in the way of increased job opportunity.

    Thank God for schadenfreude and Lamebook.

  • Wouldn't it be entertaining if a good chunk of the population refused to pay their bills?
    Or resisted being evicted from their homes?
    FOX could even make a reality show from it- " Fuckin' With The Man".

  • But Ed — you are off on the great adventure that is Southern Living. Have you noticed how many of those People of Wal-Mart photos come from the Missouri-to-Georgia belt? And yet: how many of those folks are wracked with existential angst, or harsh self-judgment?

    I think the French immigrants to the South imparted a Gallic indifference to peer pressure, and an ability to enjoy life's little pleasures — whether it be passing hours at a boulevard cafe, letting the cappuccino cups pile up, or crouching about a hole in the fence, lookin' through a hole.

  • Ladiesbane, the only difference between people of Walmart in the south and people of Walmart in the north is the northerners dress in flannel so the belly fat and humongous butts are less obvious than on the southerners in their spandex.

    And you don't have to be in Ed's age cohort to indulge in schadenfreude. I think the "thank god my life isn't quite that bad" resonates with us aging boomers, too. After all, we're the generation that was promised a retirement (based on our now evaporated 401Ks) on tropical beaches and instead a lot of us are now wondering if we're desperate enough yet to apply at McDonald's.

  • Don't forget fail blog. I have literally spent hours just laughing at the stupidity that can be found there.

    Then once you have kids you start watching Super Nanny to know that whatever mistakes you might make, at least you aren't as bad a parent as they are.

  • Oh, Nan, I agree — my family has deep roots in the South and the Muncie-to-Minnesota midwest, and there is endless comic material in both areas. But I actually do enjoy the flamboyantly fucked up South. I was brought up by teetotalling Norwegian farmers, and I can hear their shocked gasps every time I look at someone whose fuschia tank top has been cut to resemble fringe, beaded, and attacked with glitter glue. Leggings to match? Go for it! No money for fake nails? Red Sharpie on some masking tape! Right ON!

    My own schadenfreude is reserved for the grooms-to-be on Bridezillas.

  • @CfUP: "frozen parts of the world are changing because our temperatures are increasing. The bottom line is we are screwed"

    Nah. If you learn anything from looking at the examples Ed provides, it is that we are proudly and consistently maintaining a Lowest Common Denominator status. Rats and cockroaches got nothin' us. Case in point, we have recipes for them, and, as far as is known, the reverse is not true.

    I mean, 2 million years of omnivorous scavenging develops some serious dumpster-diving skills (and a high gross-out factor, which is of tremendous survival value). We will degrade ourselves right down to whatever it takes to survive, and not only survive amongst disease-ridden filth and squalor, but actually thrive, and thrive quite happily.

    Mama Earth done tried to kill us off twice so far. Maybe third time's the charm, but I doubt it. SupervolcanoToba didn't do it (70,000 years ago), Whatever the fuck She threw at us a million years ago didn't do it. I doubt the piecemeal and half-ass efforts we are currently attempting will do it. Not global warming. Not overfishing. Not even nuclear holocaust, despite the projections.

    Supervolcano Yellowstone might do it. But I doubt it. I have a feeling the inhabitants of the Phillipines will shrug it off and keep going, just a little leaner, a lot meaner. They are tough little bitches, live in the right place, and have figured out how to breath with microscopic glass needles suspended in the air.

  • ladiesbane is spot on– they show bridezillas on the telly in England, and I have often wondered exactly how much Xanax the grooms-to-be are on. I mean, the couple met, fell in love, planned a wedding, and suddenly the husband discovers he's marrying a satanic slavedriver with all the patience and personal charm of a rabid wolverine– and they're FINE WITH IT. That just can't be normal.

  • This posting reveals kind of a whole new world for me, one that I sort of knew existed, but one that I have almost no interest in. I strolled over to People of WalMart and the Hoarders website – and yeah, it seemed interesting for about ten seconds, but that's my limit for this sort of thing.

    What I have noticed is the change in humor styles. I spend a little too much free time at dating sites – sometimes the mostly innocent pictures women put up of themselves are the only glimpse of femininity I see all day (OK I work a lot of hours in a lot of solititude). The point is, younger people on these sites often emphasize their sarcastic sense of humor. This style of humor – prevalent among the young – is not at all dominant among my boomer age cohort. Their humor seems small and biting to me.

    Years ago, I had a good job at a major corporation. I couldn't understand the fascination people had with "Dilbert". My view was, work your ass off to escape such a horrible situation, rather than wasting energy lampooning or complaining about it. My next job was at a shitty company, where "Dilbert" made complete sense – I finally got the strip, and the why of sarcasm.

  • I watched Clean House (I think Hoarders is a clone of it) and it taught me that your physical environment is a reflection of your emotional state, and reminded me that too many of us use shopping as an emotional crutch. Plus I don't feel as bad about the kitchen floor, because at least I can see it.

    I saw a very fat women clings to dozens of pairs of $400 high heel shoes because they made her feel sexy and feminine. Lots of people couldn't let go of stuff because it belonged to dead parents, and they couldn't say good-bye. Others clung to stuff from their happy childhood to soothe their unhappy adulthood. Some bought stuff from a certain era because it fed their fantasy of an earlier, happier time. It was fascinating.

  • Gingersnapper says:

    Ed, how do we know you're NOT that guy in the Walmart link? That's kind of the way I always pictured you ;-)

  • re: the last paragraph of your entry, all i could think of was the pioneering work done by fox with it's cops franchise. that wasn't even so much "there but for the grace of god go i" but "ZOMG, that actually happens??!!" certainly showed the other networks what pays the bills.

  • Well, now that we've all had our little smug wine-sipping superior Thurston and Lovie Howell III chuckle about this…

    Consider. Long odds are they inherit the earth. You don't.

    Fat, stupid and uglies will, by default hard-wiring, breed with anything that will breed with them. That's why they have all those little fuck trophies underfoot that annoy you in the supermarket, and you don't.

  • Another great week of posts…especially want to thank you for this one…wasted an hour and a half yesterday morning at Fail Blog and associated sites and yeah, I may or may not have been chuckling the whole time.

    An interesting personal observation: while in high school, my girlfriend and I witnessed a minor accident right in front our car; after I let her out to go into the toot-n-tote at that corner, she returned as mad as I'd ever seen her because everyone in the store was laughing and commenting on having seen the accident and watching one of the drivers bounce around inside their car.

    Mind you, this was over 30 years ago but apparently we (Americans) were/are innately tuned to be entertained by others' miseries…something my girlfriend castigated even me for since even my juvenile mind was giggling and didn't understand her outrage.

    If only I'd been more entrepeneurial… or less of a stoner… I might have realized the tv potential?

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Barbed Wire:

    Another corollary to what you noticed: American like watching people die in horrible ways so long as it isn't us. Hence our delight with war like the Iraq war and war games like "Modern Warfare 2."

  • This hit home for me. I've been spending a fair bit of online time over at Portal of Evil (both the forums and the newsfeed), and Encyclopedia Dramatica. The former tends toward arch snark, the latter is out-and-out mean. Funny mean – or possibly mean funny. I can laugh at the stuff, but not when I try to imagine the people who wrote it.

    IRL, as they say, my life is going great guns. My husband is working full time, my retirement pay is almost what I was taking home at the end, we're keeping the house, I'm spending morre time with our sons, health is good, etc. So why the fondness for schadenfreude-flavored fun? Maybe I'm just an unpleasant human being. ;>

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