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May 29, 2009

          “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” ---Euripides (early Rip Post ancestor.)

            I’ve been defriended. Or defaced. Or debooked. Which is to say, I’ve been de-Facebook Friended.
            Now, readers of this column must already be wide-eyed at the idea that I have “joined” Facebook. I am not a social butterfly in real life or cyber. It’s just that soooooo many people encouraged me to do it that I finally took a position famously favored by Mehitabel the Cat in the wonderful tales of “Archy and Mehitabel,” by Don Marquis. Her motto: “wotthehell, wortthehell.”
            One of my first Facebook declarations, just to maintain the veneer of free-spiritedness, was “I am not a face. I am not a book.”
            I don’t believe it got much response.
            I admit that the whole style and construct confounded me. Why were people writing things like, “I love my backyard,” and what was I supposed to say about this? Good? What’s wrong with your front yard? What do you do back there? It was more evidence that on-line conversation bears little relationship to spoken intercourse. Would you walk up to a friend and blurt, “I love my backyard?” Another fellow offered earth-shattering revelations such as “Feelin’ good.” I mean, gasp.
             Then there was the extremely bright former colleague who frequently wrote at great and impassioned length about. . .not horse manure, not dead flies, not cheesey detritus, but. . .”American Idol.” Really! I mean, he also offered substantial and interesting observations about politics, music, and the occasional whimsical musing, but he was intensely interested in the goings-on of “Idol.”
            Well, maybe Stephen Hawking reads the National Enquirer.
            Oh yeah, and Ex-Colleague liked “The Apprentice,” too! And “Lost,” and just about every other mainstream American entertainment slime imaginable. Ooops! Sorry. My bitterness is showing. Forgive me, but I must bravely tell you that I have a mental illness. An article in the L.A. Times recently informed me that I have “post-traumatic bitterness syndrome” because I feel “angry” and “helpless” over past injustices (you betcha!). I will undoubtedly soon have to acquire many prescriptions for mood-altering drugs, and attend lots of therapy and encounter groups in order that I might eventually declare with a glazed look, “I am in recovery!”
            But back to “American Idol.” (And I promise to get back to my “de-friending” very, very soon, oh patient reader.) “Idol” is utterly spectacular in that it summarizes absolutely everything that is decaying, rotting, stinking, putrifying in the decaying, rotting, stinking, putrifying American popular culture. And there is also a bad side.
            I mean, where does one start? Just the name, “American Idol” pretty well makes the case for narcissism, shallowness, and sniffing the reeking haunches of fame and fortune. Of course, the show is nothing but a celebrity manufacturing center. A nobody this week becomes an “Idol” next week---abracadabra!---usually because he or she has added the most disingenuous emotion and gratuitous melisma to a song written and popularized long ago by other people. Or, as was the case with the Brit “Idol” equivalent, because he or she is frumpy, ugly, has bad teeth or bushy eyebrows.
            It’s remarkable, really. The culture is so addicted to prostration before celebs that it must create brand new ones weekly. The snake eats itself! I am reminded of a poll taken several years ago by high school children, asking to what sort of occupation they most aspired. The top answer: “An icon.” (Whatever happened to “teacher?” “Fireman?”)
            Someone in Televisionland must have read the same article. "Icon," after all, is just a couple of consonants away from "idol."
Anyhow, I don’t like being cyber-hugged. My cyber-immune system is weak, and there’s no telling what cyber-diseases I might pick up.

            So I frequently feel my jaw bouncing off my typewriter keyboard when I visit Facebook and find my old colleague holding forth with verve about who has the best shot on “Idol.” I scarcely know what to say about this. Except perhaps that. . .an “Idol” mind is the devil’s playground. . .
            There are other pesky matters one has to face on the Book. The “comments,” for instance, that Facebook Friends post are, well, they do not challenge the essays of Emerson. Here are a few: “Tru dat,” “Yeah, great film,” “Ewww. Ick. Figures,” “Sweet!” “Looks like a great time!!!” and “Now tell us how you really feel.” (Gad.) Reading these sorts of things is when I start to believe that, yes, you can go back to high school.
            And I did struggle a little, at first, with the trivial nature of some Friends' daily offerings. I think it was “Feelin’ good” that drove me to post, “Visited the toilet four times today. (So far.)” This drew some gentle complaints and confusion until I explained the implied commentary. Bruised sensibilities were quickly healed, and before long, people were offering some interesting facts about toilets. Who says Facebook is a waste of time?
            On the whole, though, the entries by my Facebook Friends are pleasant. It really is all a bit like an on-line version of a high school clique, in the better sense, if there is one, or maybe ex-workplace crony hangout. The cutesy family photos are actually sort of endearing, as are the proud declarations of son/daughter’s accomplishments, but I do tire of the “Five Albums That Changed My Life” stuff, which strikes me as capitulating to puerile Facebook ploys that somebody is being paid far too much money (anything over a buck an hour, I'd say) to dream up. (I am not a face! I am not a book!)
            But my “Friends” are a good and rewarding bunch, on the whole. The great poet, Scott Wannberg, weighs in with stream-of-consciousness wonderment daily. My Friend of Friend, Dean Stefan, wrote simply, “Who Wants Pie?” the other day, which I thought really cut to the heart of things. I mean, I do! All the time! Pecan a la mode, for starters. My Friend Susan took a test that found Reese Witherspoon would be the celebrity most likely to portray her in a movie. (My comment: “Funny. I had the same result.”) My Friend Mary Beth posted a good article about how one of Saturn’s moons has a liquid interior (My comment: "For some reason, this reminds me of Oprah, but I’m not sure why.”) Bob Wannberg (another Friend of Friend) posted a great Buddy Rich video, former Daily News editor Friend Ron Kaye sent out another rabble-rousing announcement about L.A. as part of what I think will turn into his run for mayor, Friend Anne kindly let me know that she enjoyed a Tom Waits video I posted, Friend Mikal reminded me what a great movie “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” is (gracious, considering my effrontery in posting controversial political comments on his page), Friend Chris wrote of “The Month of Living Tweetlessly” in France, Friend Barry posted a very useful haiku (Don't go for small talk/ Be sublime or be silent/ To the Nth degree) that perhaps more Facebookies should take to heart, and old college pal Bruce asked to become a Friend, as did my dear old high school comrade, the lovely Leslie. (I accepted.)
            But back to my long-promised tale of being deFriended. It was Friend Tiffany (not her real name!), really not a friend at all, who left me slightly friendless. And in this tale lies a Facebook lesson: a Friend is not necessarily a friend.
            Tiffany wrote to me excitedly---well, Tiffany wrote everything excitedly---about wanting to be my Friend. I barely, barely remembered Tiffany. She was a publicist who helped me on one story about twenty years ago. She was very good at her job, I recall, and that’s about it. Didn't recognize her Facebook face (but then, she probably didn't recognize mine, which bears a startling resemblance to Bela Lugosi in the role of "Ygor" in "Son of Frankenstein.") But I heard the voice of Mehitabel the cat again (“wotthtehell”), and “Friended” her. (Yes, friend is the latest bulwark noun to have been slaughtered, bled dry, butchered, and shrink-wrapped as a verb by the Internet.)
           There immediately began pouring on to my Facebook page a raging river of the most banal, goofy, sanctimonious, precious, self-righteous, self-important, self-promoting pronouncements. Five or six new ones every time I checked. Most objectionable were the plugs and pleas for the “causes” the woman was pushing. She seemed to sign petitions to raise money to fight everything from beriberi to bad hair. Perhaps these were her clients, I don’t know, but as much as I loved Spam in the 20th century, when I used to fry it up for sandwiches as a kid, and as much as I loved Monty Python’s “Spam” routine, Friends don’t spam Friends.
            I really should have just cut and run the day she sent me a Facebook “hug,” asking if I was “all right.” Ever feel a Facebook hug? They’re cold, clammy, hard, like formica. This seemed to have been prompted by my posting a Frank Zappa song entitled, “I’m the Slime (From Your Video.)” As if my affection for this music indicated some imbalance, difficulty, dyspepsia! Or worse, Post-Traumatic Bitterness Syndrome! Hell, the song is deliciously funny, a denunciation of television, and mass manipulation of mass psyche. You know, like Facebook. But I forgot, we are living in the post-irony age, where “it’s all good” is the daily blessing, and Letterman is “mean-spirited.” In the end, I decided that I don’t like being cyber-hugged. My cyber-immune system is weak, and there’s no telling what cyber-diseases I might pick up.
            What grated most about Tiffany, though, was that her proselytizing was always laced with the most oleagenous enthusiasm, reminiscent in tone of a peppy high school cheerleader's flouncey scribbling in a yearbook---always underscored by Tiffany’s many little admirers, who commented along the lines of “You go, girl.” What kind of a Friend, I wondered, was this Tiffany? The coup de grace was when Tiff began to make noises about how signing and promoting on-line petitions---perhaps there is a more impotent means of protest, but I don’t know what it might be---is. . .activism.
            Tweet tweet. And I don’t mean Twitter.
            Still, as a “Friend,” I refrained from comment. Until the day, that is, Tiff posted a paragraph in all capital letters about how THE DEATH PENALTY IS PRIMITIVE AND INHUMAN AND I HATE IT AND HOW CAN WE DO THIS AS A CIVILIZED SOCIETY blah blah blah. Hey, I couldn’t help myself. It’s my Post-Traumatic Bitterness Syndrome, I'm sure. I Post-Traumaticked a little comment that went something like this: “I’d gladly throw the switch on the electric chair for any child murderer, or mass murderer, or person who enjoys visiting horror on the innocent.”
            And. . .
            My Friendly comment on my Friend’s page promptly disappeared! (Some defense of free speech for a self-proclaimed liberal.)
            And still, my patience won the day. She means well, I told myself---which lasted until a series of fawning, saccharine, goo-goo eyed, drooling declamations about how glow-in-the-dark wondrous is our new president and his family. The straw that broke the camel’s ass was a picture of the First Family next to Tiffany’s ejaculation that (recreating from memory here) “This makes me want to burst out singing! Camelot! Camelot!”
            To paraphrase another Facebook commenter, "Ewwwwww."
            Now, I voted for Obama over the priapic kook he ran against (and that pinhead Alaska beeyatch), and I’m always glad to see a little honest enthusiasm associated with politics, but this was just so. . .what’s the word? Oh yeah. . .dumb. Bone-wearyingly, brain-crushingly dumb. I mean, put my head in a blender and hit “ice.” I know I’m naïve, but it was hard to believe there was anyone so giddily childlike---not to mention unashamed---as to post, or boast, such feathery nothingness.
           My PTBS finally took charge. I very gently offered Tiff a couple of URL’s to articles reporting (accurately) how many of Obama’s policies and decisions are very close to the polices and decisions of the previous administration. I know, I know---I’m a naughty Facebook Friend. But Facebook Friends don’t let Facebook Friends drive. You crazy. One of the articles, by the way, was by Noam Chomsky.
            Her response: “Yes, Rip, we have to be watchful,” and some strange declaration about “never forgetting losing someone on the first plane.” (Presumably a 9/11 reference.) Such drama! I wrote back that I had no idea why she was referring to 9/11, and that, “This has nothing to do with being watchful. It has to do with being realistic. I posted this to show the other side of the rah-rah Camelot Obama-can-do-no-wrong stuff.”
            Tiffany fired back within minutes about how her back hurt (huh?), and how her second cousin, or her mother, or her father, or her dog, was a friend of Noam Chomsky. I asked why she had brought this up. (I wasn’t too interested in her back.)
            Uh-oh number two.
            Friend Tiffany promptly announced that I was being “hostile,” and that she did not know if we could remain Friends!
            Oh my Gawd! Not. . .hostile! Well, in her defense, poor Tiff did not understand that I am a victim of PTBS. Guess I should have warned her about that, but you see, it’s part of my disease that I didn’t! My knees knocked. My mouth went dry. My forehead sweated. The prospect of not being Tiffany’s Friend any longer was just too. . .too. . .underwhelming.
            I wrote back that I found her message hilarious, that I had met her once twenty years ago, and that we most certainly were not friends. And that to imagine you are “friends” with anyone because you type something on a Facebook page is adolescent. Camelot! Camelot!
          That was it, of course. My face was promptly booked. Wiped clean from Tiffany’s world, at which point I received a private communiqué from her (rigged so I could not respond) about how we could no longer be Friends (har!) because “You do not understand me.”
           Is this life in the 21st century or what? Someone you do not know claims you as a “friend” without seeing or speaking to you face-to-face, then ends the “friendship” without ever having seen you or spoken to you because you “don’t understand” her.
            Rod Serling? Are you there? Hello, Rod?
            Phew. Well, it’s so nice that this little cyber high school yearbook exists for little middle-aged high school girls like Tiffany to declare themselves morally pure “activists” because they sign petitions against evil, and for cultivating a coterie of little admiring girlfriends who tell them how glorious they are.
            Who wants pie?

We get e-mail!

Hi, Rip:

I want to offer an on-line amen to your blast about Facebook. In a moment of personal weakness, I also signed up for Facebook.

The result is, I have never read so much trivial crap in my life. It's all on-line small talk: I did this, I went there, I ate this, I saw that movie -- Jesus, who gives a shit? I read (or, more correctly, past tense: read) a hell of a lot of "so what" stuff, including some borderline embarrassing admissions from people I know (Please stop! Too much information!). I was either bored or found myself wincing at the drivel people were posting on line.

Facebook is faux communication, a kind of let's pretend land that I seldom visit because it reminds me how trivial our lives are. Hell, Rip, I don't expect major league insights from folks. But this relentless personal narration of the commonplace ought to be outlawed as the written equivalent of waterboarding.

Okay, enough fulminating from me. Keep up what you are doing.

Best regards,

Encino, CA.

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