Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Self-Importance of Trip Advisor

TripAdvisor can be a great resource for planning an excursion, or gathering a consensus opinion of a local eatery.

It can also be a haven for self-important, self-righteous snobs.

For a spell, I'd occasionally check the forums to see if anyone was saying anything about the Comedy Walk. Way back in February, a user had this to say:

Comedy walk?
I just posted about the Groupon, now I see that they also have a deal for a "Comedy Walk" tour by Cajobri. Has anyone ever heard of them?
We are frequent visitors to St. Augustine and would be interested in trying something new.

A destination expert for the area replied with this:

1. Re: Comedy walk?
Well it would be something new. It's by ghost Augustine. I should give it a whirl so I can report on it!

He never got around to reporting on it, and that's the way things remained. Until last weekend, when a young woman had THIS to say:

2. Re: Comedy walk?
I received a gift of a 4 person pass for this weekend. We called before it was bought yesterday and they told us there would be a tour on Saturday at 8pm. Called today to reserve and the (rude) manager told us there is no tour this Saturday. No explanation, no offer of another night. Customer service definitely needs to improve from the top down.

As you can probably tell based off the first two sentences of the post, this person is lying. What really happened was that her and her mother purchased the groupon before calling to check for dates/times. Remember a few blog posts ago when I raved about how wonderful the average groupon customer is? Hooray for more evidence!

Last Saturday, I was to be out of town. Last Saturday was also apparently the last full day of this family's trip to St. Augustine. I know that my manager, the gentleman who took the call, would have offered another evening. Namely, whichever day they called, he would've suggested they instead go that night. The real kicker is that had they purchased the tickets through us, they could've gotten a full refund, because they were outside of the 24-hour no-cancellation limit. Also, my manager told me that both the woman and her mother called at separate times, and were very nasty to him.

Shocker. I found this out after I posted my reply. I'll admit, I lost my cool:

3. Re: Comedy walk?
The Comedy Walk normally occurs Thursday-Saturday. I sincerely doubt you weren't offered another day, but FYI, you can use your tickets for any other Thursday-Saturday.

4. Re: Comedy walk?
And to clarify, there is not one going out this Saturday. Occasionally, the comedian has other obligations.
Sincerely, your completely serious, business-oriented, unfunny comedian.

I know what you're thinking, "Ben, how could you be such a monster?" I honestly have no answer for that. All kidding aside, I forgot to say "sorry for the misunderstanding," which is always to imply "how can I bend over even further for your petty convenience?" This, apparently, was a problem for the Don Quixote forum-dwelling crowd.

5. Re: Comedy walk?
You weren't kidding. He does seem rude.

6. Re: Comedy walk?
Benjamin, you may want to consider saying something like, "I'm sorry for the misunderstanding." Impugning the customer does not come off well.

I always love the single, solitary monolith that is THE customer. THE hive-mind. THE entitled. THE master.

I responded:

7. Re: Comedy walk?
Alas, I should know better than to feed the trolls.

And what I was referring to was the woman who was very obviously lying about my company. I should've just stayed quiet. Don Quixote responded:

8. Re: Comedy walk?
Sorry, Ben. I'll keep my advice to myself.

And I'll do the same. But I replied with this, instead:

9. Re: Comedy walk?
It's cool. I'm very open to advice. I don't know what more you could possibly suggest based on our scant interaction, but if you came on the Comedy Walk I'd love to know your honest opinion.

But then the real TripAdvisor troll crawled out of the woodwork, and offered up this projection of self-worth. She/he had not been involved in the discussion prior to this remark, but is very active in the forums for my area. Of course:

10. Re: Comedy walk?
Sarcastic, rude, mean, not funny and not professional has been my opinion so far from this thread.
My peeps on a comedy walk in St. A doesn't look like it is happening. It is amazing how many people are
reached on this forum....forever and forever, based on my scant observation.

What do you think this person is more interested in defending, the importance/legitimacy of the opinions of forum dwellers, or THE persecuted and put-upon "customer?" I'm going with the former. The entitlement, the self-importance, the butthurt...this just oozes with it.

But you know what? I don't want money from these people. If they don't think "sarcasm" is a positive quality in comedy, they're not going to appreciate my tour anyway. If they're so easily offended, if they think I've been just so irredeemably rude, and that I've committed such a great injustice on their highest and holiest of internet forums, what could possibly make me think they'll laugh at my jokes in person?

So even though it irks me to no end that someone can slander my company with absolutely no consequences whatsoever, perhaps this forum HAS served a purpose. It's a win-win. I'll have less humorless, self-righteous twats stinking up the atmosphere on my tour, and the aforementioned twats will sleep a little more soundly feeling as if they've served some kind of noble purpose on their favorite website.

Now, if you've been on the Comedy Walk, and had a good time, write about it in the thread:

If you haven't, however, just stay away and let it die. I've done enough damage.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


"I wish I'd never been born."

Well, too late.

A sign on the grounds of a nearby church once stated, along with an approximate amount of abortions per year in the USA, that the fetuses did not choose to die.

Of course, they did not choose to die. At no point were they presented with a choice.

You exist now. You didn't exist, and you'll cease to exist, but that is only according to what we can observe and comprehend through linear thought.

If you had not been born as yourself, you'd have been born as someone else, but you would not have been you. Also, you have been born as someone else. You've been born as everyone else. It's not reincarnation. It could be a miracle, but it's not any more of a miracle than anything else that exists. Miraculous or not, it is truly wondrous.

I think we'd do well to abandon our delusions of specialness. I, for one, am not special.

That doesn't mean I shouldn't try to be special. That doesn't mean I don't have special or unique characteristics.

It doesn't mean I should give up on any of the hopes or dreams that I can still comprehend. I should just know that there is nothing magical about them. The universe owes me nothing. It owes you nothing. According to Carl Sagan, "we are a way for the cosmos to know itself."

Only we possess the capacity to care for one another. It is called empathy. When we act on our empathy, at our most giving, we are considered selfless. But to be selfless is not to merely give "things." To be selfless is to be at peace with insignificance.

To be at peace with insignificance is something you could actually call significant.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Capitalism - We're Just Not That Into You

External beauty. Let's fret over that, shall we?

"Love at first sight." What is that? Perhaps, more accurately, it is lust at first sight. Or intrigue at first sight, with a healthy dose of selective memory. Thank god for our brains. Without them, we would be unable to revise our own history in our heads. We might actually have to experience a useful degree of shame.

Beauty. Dove tells us you can be a fat chick and still be beautiful. Well, that's convenient for Dove, isn't it? You can be beautiful too, AS LONG AS YOU STILL BUY DOVE PRODUCTS, YA FUCK.

Either way, the message is that you still must be (physically) beautiful to have any value. We're blithering morons, so our natural assumption is that it's either beauty or UGLINESS, and that there is no room for complexity.

Commercial advertisements harass and belittle us. They manipulate our standards and our perceptions of our needs and wants. How come we're only ever privy to this when they exploit our sexuality? Is there not a certain degree of hypocrisy in the magnitude to which we respond angrily to attractive people being used in advertisements vs. all other forms of stereotypes, simplifications, generalizations, and otherwise absolute fabrications?

Modern marketing treats its "consumers" (human beings under the guise of cogs and tools) as children, and us kiddies eat it up. People love being told what to buy. Perhaps we miss that parental direction. Perhaps we lack any form of direction whatsoever.

So it's underwhelming to me when the only criticism anyone can offer up against the majority of advertisements is in the form of "that model is too skinny/curvy/made up/shopped/etc." or, "HEY LOOK HOW MUCH MORE IT MAKES MEN WANT TO FUCK WOMEN. SEXUAL ENTITLEMENT BONER."

I'm in favor of gender equality. That is, I'm in favor of treating individual human beings as such. For example, I wouldn't exclude the possibility of having a woman play on my favorite professional sports team simply on the basis of her being a woman. I wouldn't expect it, but I'm not against it at all if that individual athlete can be competitive. Natural inequalities exist between sexes and between genders, and of course we're prone to making way too big a deal out of those differences. We use them to justify arbitrary differences that we construct socially.

I do recognize that it is bad that advertisements objectify women. But where is the outrage over the way in which humans are objectified by capitalism in general? It's present, sure. But this is a voice that is not nearly as damning as the one screaming "GIVE THAT MODEL A SANDWICH...PREFERABLY A BURGER...FROM BURGER KING. I LIKE THOSE."

Is it because other forms of objectification are more fulfilling to us? Is selling blow pops more personally gratifying than selling blowjobs? Why is that? Is there any more inherent value in selling someone useless shit they don't need, or did we just kind of make that one up to compensate?

Or is using our sexuality to sell a product still bad, but better in smaller doses? I really don't know! I just wish we hated our bodies a whole lot less than we do! It's tiring, the anxiety, and it restricts us from a lot of enjoyable and FULFILLING experiences in life.

I suppose my problem is that there is an awful lot of bitching and moaning that falls into the same patterns of thought that advertisers always manage to benefit from. There's a legitimate gripe, but it's too shallow in its execution for it to hold any positive sway over the ways in which we're marketed to. As long as we're willing to be dipshits, we will be treated as such.

The recent Abercrombie & Fitch fiasco shouldn't surprise anyone. At least, the attitude should not be of any surprise. The fact that the dude came right out and said it, however, is weird.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What was that thing you said about "valuing life"?

You're against abortion. You believe "life" begins at conception.

Okay, cool. Riddle me this:

Why do you support war (of any kind)? Why do you support the death penalty? Why do you own a gun? Why do you eat meat? Why do you take antibiotics? Why do you enjoy violent movies, television, and videogames? Why do you occasionally hit your children? Why do you sometimes yell and scream when you're angry, or sad, or happy?

What is your earliest memory? What is your favorite memory? What is your saddest memory?

How are you feeling?

What we've just explored is a slim portion of the peaks and valleys of human experience. Life is dense, rich, and confusing.

Life is not simple. It doesn't matter how much you wish it were, or how many times you belt along to the chorus of "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. No matter how monotonous and banal you've managed to make your own existence, you've got some complicated shit to deal with.

Imagine someone who completely and utterly lacks the ability to comprehend any of the above. They may have something very generally describable as feelings, but only if we're willing to call a plant experiencing photosynthesis "emotional." More realistically, they have biochemical reactions to stimulation.

Granted, we all have biochemical reactions to stimulation, but we experience ours in the form of a complex menagerie of subjective feeling. An unborn fetus has none of this, but yes, it's alive.

You may now protest: "But wait, you're reducing life to its mere components! Life is so much more. It's a miracle!"

But you only value a human fetus purely on the basis of its being alive. Don't get me wrong, I can see the appeal. You see it as perfect and innocent. It has done no wrong, so why shouldn't it deserve to live? Perhaps because life is neither perfect nor innocent.

Consider the many questions above. How often are you willing to accept death as a natural consequence of life in your answers to such questions? How willing are you to kill an imperfect, impure human being? What about an imperfect, impure non-human being? It's alive just the same!

Do you think the goal of  love and marriage is to have children?

Really? And you wonder why so many pregnancies are ultimately unwanted. Have you considered that maybe not everyone should be having children? You might be tempted to preach abstinence-only sex education. Have you considered that the states where this method is employed have the highest number of teen pregnancies?

But gays can't get married, because they cannot bear offspring. Never mind that plenty of straight parents are horrendous parents. Never mind overpopulation.

But yeah, have babies, because you can. And because life is a miracle.

I'm sorry, who is reducing life to mere components, again?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mormons: They Can Take a Joke, Why Can't You?

If Trey Parker and Matt Stone have taught us nothing else, they've at least made us aware of how good-humored our Mormon friends can be.

Has there been any significant backlash from the LDS in response to South Park or the Broadway hit, The Book of Mormon? Trey and Matt have already lost longtime voice actor Isaac Hayes to the cult of Scientology (and, ultimately, death...but that was bound to happen regardless). They've had to retroactively censor and remove South Park episodes featuring the prophet Muhammad, because Viacom is...Viacom. Occasionally, Fox News has had bones to pick with them regarding their depictions of religion in general. Never mind how Fox News usually dismisses South Park/The Daily Show/The Colbert Report as silly toilet humor. When religion is targeted, IT'S SERIOUS, DAG NABBIT!

But have you heard a peep from the Mormons? Last I checked, they're totally cool with being the butt of the joke.

The reason I'd like to establish this as the nearest thing to fact as possible, is because I have a Mormon joke in the Comedy Walk. Of course, I've not yet had any Mormons on the tour (and I don't necessarily expect to see them any time soon). But as soon as I whip out The Book of Mormon (the scripture, not the soundtrack from the musical) there is gasping, laughter, gasping laughter (gaspher?), and anxiety.

My boss, after checking in on the tour for the first time in months, asked me if it was possible for us to be sued for religious discrimination. It's not, but it's a good question for him to ask, being the boss and all. I can forgive him, as he is from Northern Europe. I consider this region of the world to be superior to the United States in almost every way imaginable, save for the food and the lack of concrete protection of freedom of speech.

But he's not the only one who has expressed some concern, and has suggested that maybe I shouldn't lampoon Mormonism. The bottom line for me is this: everyone knows that there are Mormons who go door-to-door (this is the only part of Mormonism that is being mocked in the bit, by the way). Nearly everyone has either hid behind the couch, scratched their heads in confusion, or slammed the door on these nice, clean-cut lads who just want you to be as happy as they are. Okay, maybe not everyone has hid behind the couch, but I was frightened by them as a child.

Don't give me this line of bullshit about not wanting to offend, when you yourselves have such a nasty and vitriolic reaction to their arrival at your doorstep. And isn't this so very often the case? The most religious among us, by my own anecdotal experience, react the most negatively to door-to-door proselytizers. What the fuck is that? How insecure are you in your beliefs that you think two dudes in short-sleeve button-down shirts are going to ruin heaven for you? 

And no one ever even bothers to ask how I obtained The Book of Mormon. Duh, I got it from MORMONS! Yes, they were in my house, because I had a housemate who couldn't say "no." They're like vampires in that regard; they cannot come in unless you invite them. I would not have let them in myself, but I would have at least been very cordial and polite. I can confidently say I'd react this way, because I've had proselytizers from other faiths at my doorstep, and I've been nothing but nice to them.

Seriously, Christians, why can't the rest of you be as cool as the Mormons*?

*Minus the funding of anti-gay marriage propaganda, of course.