Rendered Fat Content


Ludwig Passini: Artist in Caffè Greco in Rome (1856)
"Sometimes I amaze myself, usually when I'm in the middle of debasing myself again."

I imagine that Cafe Society served as the social media of its time. Gentlemen would congregate around a table to share gossip and show off for each other. Women preferred tea. There were certain rules of comportment, depending upon the participants' social class. The more lowly barroom observed different customs than might a cafe, though each served similar purposes. We're social animals and we seem to need to bump shoulders if not heads to maintain our sanity. Church, too, served up socialization as much as religion, the congregating serving as perhaps its primary purpose, an antidote to stultifying isolation. Even then, a few reliably disrupted the regular order. When I was a kid, a piano left unattended in the corner of the church's multipurpose room would eventually attract some show-off aching to play Chopsticks, or that small portion of it requiring only two fingers to perform. The resulting disruption demonstrated neither mastery nor erudition, and should have properly embarrassed the aspiring performer, though it never seemed to wound his self-esteem, for he was suffering from a simple form of MediaDerangementSyndrome (MDS), a social disease which compels some to abuse whatever media they encounter. Give 'em a newspaper and it becomes a flyswatter, even when no flies seem present. Leave a microphone unattended and they'll feel compelled to yell into it, saying, "testing, testing," while hysterically giggling, but this condition's no joke.

In our more modern times, we've outsourced many of the old-time social venues to social media.
This must have seemed like a good idea at one time, but the increasingly ready access to media-like contexts seems to have encouraged a fresh flood of MDS, which lately seems to have become rampant. Even our little-vaunted President revels in his immersion within it, often coming across as an irreverent troll rather than the leader of the free world. Similar downfalls commonly accompany this affliction, and anyone might well prove vulnerable to its perverting call. I've lately been wondering if I might have become an unwitting troll. I know for a fact that some people I once respected seem to have fallen prey, encouraging me to permanently unfriend their presence from my feeds. Almost everyone around an MDS sufferer knows full well of their infection, for they seem to suffer more than the afflicted one, but trying to inform another of their condition almost always changes nothing. Self-diagnosis seems the most likely means for both identifying and quelling this threat to social cohesion, but does anyone really want to afford to know this truth about themselves?

I would propose a short series of probing questions, ones which properly elicit discomfort when asking, if I thought for more than a moment that any MDSer might find the least little interest in answering even the least of them. MDS seems almost perfectly self-sealing, for it empowers the immune system in self-destructive ways, flooding it with self-reinforcing endorphins which produce their own undoing. A reassuring sense of power washes over the initiator of these gotcha games, making it seem as though they're always winning—so damned much winning—that they never notice their loss or the terrible associated costs. They experience an authentic sense of actually being smarter than everyone else. They come to firmly believe that they're performing a valuable public service, that they're the qualified teacher of everyone else, and worse, that they somehow succeed in changing others perspectives by attempting to publicly embarrass them. It's a sad performance to witness, repeated
ad nauseam with seemingly no one capable of cluing in the one convinced that they alone provide the essential cluing in services benefitting everyone, not least them self. At any old time cafe table, one might witness a general retreat from that corner until only one's left to hold forth, but nobody remains to catch. Social media's more difficult to detach from.

In my more lucid moments, I can sometimes sense my own MDS, though the accompanying wash of endorphins usually prevents me from fully experiencing the degrading effects of my presence. Pouncing seems to disable self-reflection, but I sometimes catch myself in one of those pre-pounce crouches and can successfully intervene. Sometimes, another will scream "ouch", and I might catch myself filling with remorse, though I might choose not to apologize, out of embarrassment or shock or something worse. I often wish that I was qualified to be everyone's teacher, but I deep down understand that I'm not. It's not my charter to set this world straight, but to live straight myself. My Facebook membership provides me no special dispensation from maintaining a reputation for civil engagement. I'm perfectly free to unfriend anybody disappointing my expectations, but I hold no right to chew them a new one for their incivility. I hold the sacred responsibility to let shit be, if only because it's not all about me and my sensibilities. Unfriend me if I offend you, please. I'm nobody's Jesus, Socrates, or saint. I'm struggling with an intermittent disease which seems to overwhelm me sometimes, and convinces me that everyone surrounding me just must feel a sudden and overwhelming urge to hear me perform Chopsticks with only two fingers. Sometimes I amaze myself, usually when I'm in the middle of debasing myself again.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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