Changism

9 Apr

Man, True Detective is so fucking complicated, man...

Man, True Detective is so fucking complicated, man…

I used to smoke a lotta weed. Not A LOTTA lotta weed. Just a lotta. I never went to work stoned, never operated heavy machinery while blitzed (or at any other time for that matter), and never let it get out of hand where I would lose an entire weekend to a double chambered bong and a binge viewing of Three’s Company on DVD. I’d smoke after a long day at the office. It was better than going to a bar and drowning my sorrows in a bottle of brown. Also, surprisingly, cheaper.

And then it just ended. I can’t remember the exact circumstances. It might be my guy (drug dealer) stopped coming by (got busted by his mom), or I lost his number, or I just stopped. It was about five or six years ago, I guess. I was thirty-three (Jesus Years Old) or so, and I just stopped smoking weed.

For those of you who have never partaken, or who have but are more casual dabblers in the ganja of goodness, there really is no withdrawal from marijuana smoking. You don’t get the shakes or start throwing up or suffer from raging, caustic, explosive diarrhea. You get a little moody, but that’s about it. As many have pointed out, pot is habit forming, not addictive. I feel worse if I don’t drink coffee in the morning.

Nowadays I smoke once in a while. I go to a party and a joint is passed and I have a puff. But the stuff is usually so good and my tolerance is so low that weed blitzkriegs me like I’m Poland circa 1939.  I just don’t like it much anymore. Maybe the pot got too strong, but I think it’s not so much the drug as something else. I don’t regret all those stoned out days in my past. The past is for many things, but it shouldn’t be for regrets. I miss those days in a fond “I was thinner and happier back then” sort of way. It’s not that I decided to shape up and fly right, to say no to drugs, be a goody goody and all that claptrap. Something clicked in my head. I just didn’t like weed anymore. I had changed.

***

When I went on my Information Diet a couple of months ago I gave up, amongst other things, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. When I went off the diet I kept Stewart but ditched Colbert. He’s okay, but he doesn’t hit the threshold of what I need from an entertainer for me to keep watching. The only reason I’ve kept The Daily Show is because it’s like familiar and comforting. But I find Stewart’s take on the news of the day to be somewhat strained, more mean-spirited and cynical than it used to be, and—not so surprising—kind of depressing.

Stewart and Colbert were old standbys for me. They were comfort food. They grounded me day in and day out with a little bit of wit and wisdom. Over the past few months, however, I’ve felt more and more like a bored choir to which these two men are preaching. Why is this so? Have they changed so much? Or is it me?

This curious condition, let’s call it Changism (because that’s all I’ve got and I already named the post that) is best exemplified with The Simpsons. For a good, oh, ten to fifteen years, The Simpsons was go to, must see TV. Along with Seinfeld it was the great comedy of the 1990s. On a superficial level The Simpsons was withering satire, but in a far deeper way it was the quintessential American family sitcom. Unlike South Park or Family Guy, one could truly care about the characters on The Simpsons. Homer may be an idiot, but he was a loveable idiot. Bart was precocious, but he wasn’t really all that bad. There was nuance and compassion in The Simpsons which had rarely been seen on televised animation. The Simpsons, for all its slapstick humor, social and political satire, and pop cultural comedy, was a sweet show, though one which never became too sticky.

And then it got bad. I guess. I can’t really tell. I don’t watch The Simpsons any more. It’s not that I don’t like the show, it’s that, like marijuana, I simply fell out of the habit of experiencing it. About ten years ago—when I was still watching it, but many had already turned it off—a friend of mine said the following words: “Jake, The Simpsons fuckin’ sucks. It’s just not good anymore. I don’t know why you keep watching it.” I didn’t just think he was crazy for saying that, I was shocked by his anger at the show. To him, the drop off in quality was a personal betrayal by the show towards him. Many have since echoed my friend’s sentiments, saying that The Simpsons should self-cancel and ride off into the sunset before it becomes a caricature of itself.

Last year I decided to try The Simpsons again. I taped a few episodes and they languished on my DVR for weeks.  Before I watched them I knew I wouldn’t like them. If I had really wanted to watch the show I would have. But I was uninterested in The Simpsons. It was like spotting the guy in the next room rolling a joint and me saying, “Whatever, I’ll stick with Chardonnay.” When I finally did get around to watching those episodes, I found them amusing without necessarily being entertaining. The show, while not bad by any means, was a shadow of its former glory.

While watching the show I noticed jokes that felt stale and old and unfunny, but which were in actuality none of those things. There were moments when I knew my past self – the younger, thinner, more stoned, less cynical, more hopeful Jacob – would have appreciated a certain joke or sentiment. The Simpsons of 2013 would have worked on me in 1998 but didn’t in 2013.

Part of this can be attributed to the same thing that happened with Colbert and Stewart – I’ve changed. The person I am today doesn’t like The Simpsons anymore. I wish he did because when I liked The Simpsons, I truly loved it. But like many people in my general age range, my life has turned towards a place where The Simpsons don’t quite fit in anymore. We’re older, more entrenched in careers, less imaginative about potential futures. We have spouses and kids and watch SpongeBob and Thomas the Tank Engine with them. (Being childless, I obviously only watch these shows for my own twisted amusement.) We don’t smoke weed anymore, our late nights end before midnight, not after, we turn down more social invitations than we used to. We are more grounded, more responsible. We are adults. And our brains have been rewired over the years to pick and choose what is part of our lives and what is not.

It’s not that The Simpsons is bad. It’s just not who we are anymore.  

Why does Jon Stewart not work for me anymore? On one level, he has been rehashing a lot of the same stuff over and over again – Fox News people are idiotic hypocrites, Congress is full of know nothing losers; on another, there is a dearth of good material – no elections, no GOP President to mock. But personally, I feel that what Colbert and Stewart have always given me is something which I no longer need. They pat me on the back and tell me I’m right for supporting gay marriage and NSA oversight. They rub my tummy and tell me that I’m a good boy for believing in a strong middle class and classic FDR liberalism. They cradle me in their arms and sing me to sleep with their late night medley of sarcasm and irony which is just clever enough to make me feel smart and good about myself.

Just like Homer Simpson once again saving the day through his own well-meaning ineptitude, Stewart’s consistently smug self-satisfaction wears thin after a while. Especially to a person who has grown far too old for that shit.

***

I never stopped watching Letterman because I never watched him in the first place. I was always a Leno guy.

Hah! Fuck that. I loved Letterman, but it’s true I didn’t watch him religiously or anything. When I was in college a few friends and I would watch him nightly, but I think that was because we had all just moved to New York and Letterman represented a certain mythical element of New York that was both edgy and safe. After college I’d catch him when I caught him. It’s not like he wasn’t going to be on the next night.

For years I didn’t have cable, and my late night television watching was usually a rerun of Seinfeld or The Simpsons or maybe Letterman until the Top Ten List.  This was when I still smoked weed, so I probably found those lists much funnier than they actually were.

Letterman was the dweeb from the Midwest, the country bumpkin who threw a hard R in the middle of “Washington.” He was the guy who would throw things off of roofs to see the splatter pattern. His friends were the cue card guy and the counterman at the deli down the street; he always preferred the working class stiff to the stuffed shirt. He never quite dropped that sense of wonder at being a small town rube who actually made it in the big city. He was the true master of self-deprecating humor, always knowing that if a joke didn’t work, he could always make fun of the jokester for telling it. He was never the Hollywood schmoozer that was Jay Leno, was never as mean-spirited as Kimmel, and never as smugly self-righteous as the guys on Comedy Central. David Letterman didn’t have to be the smartest guy in the room because he was the funniest.

All of which is to say that I don’t watch David Letterman anymore, and mainly for the exact same reasons I don’t watch The Simpsons and am seriously considering leaving The Daily Show to the dustbin of a past life’s fandom. I can’t even remember when I stopped watching Dave. Probably when I finally got cable and could watch Sports Center and cooking shows.

When I heard that Dave was retiring it was not a complete surprise – he outlasted Leno, and late night is a young man’s game. But with his announcement I was caught in a dizziness of nostalgia. I think it will be the same when The Simpsons finally decides to cash it in. I will not think of the past ten years of what some call mediocrity but what I call the byproduct of Changism. I will think of the first decade and sitting on my couch with my friends, passing a joint and laughing at Homer’s hijinks. Similarly, Letterman to me exists in a past preserved in 85% amber and 15% marijuana. He is to me a memory of what came before, a remnant of the Jacob that existed in the past but is with us no longer.

We like to blame these shows for going stale, but it’s really us who simply freshened up. I am not the same person as I was twenty or ten or five or even one year ago. I think I would be more disturbed if I liked The Simpsons or David Letterman just as much as I did in the past. That would mean that I had not moved forward, that I had not evolved. I used to love Pink Floyd. But that was when I was a sad sack stoner who thought the world was against him, and Floyd was a perfect complement to that mentality. Now, while I still think the world is against me, I am at least no longer a sad sack stoner, I mean at least mostly. I used to read every Stephen King book that came out. Now I only go back to him when I need a quick easy read and a hint of nostalgia. Jon Stewart has not had a major downturn in quality. I have had a major change in my own sensibilities, and Stewart is being moved out. I can still appreciate Pink Floyd music, it just doesn’t do to me what it used to. David Letterman, who has not changed one whit is not the same David Letterman to me as he was fifteen years ago, because I am no longer the same Jacob Mendelsohn.

Still, at least I still love the Beatles, Woody Allen movies, and eight balls on Saturday nights. Some things never change.  

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