“ZACH OF ALL TRADES MISSION STATEMENT”
By Zach Simon
March 17, 2014
The biggest problem I have with many blogs/bloggers I come across is their tendency to be overly preachy. That’s something I’d like to promise you – The Reader – that I’ll never do. Very rarely will I ever purport to “know” something to the extent where I start preaching about the “rights” and “wrongs” of an issue, and I’ll never act as if you should blindly accept what I’m telling you as fact because I’m just the smartest person in the world. That’s not how this blog is going to work. Unless the subject in question is something as fundamental as human equality laws (looking at you, Putin), all I will ever offer is opinion and insight.
And for a 25-year-old, I feel like I have a great deal of that. I’ve never been married. Never had kids. So what the hell do I know about anything? What sort of opinion or insight could I possibly offer? Well, that’s ultimately for The Reader to decide, but I can start by giving a little bit of background on myself and why I started this blog.
I’ve been to 17 countries and 25 states. I’ve lived in four different time zones on two continents. I’ve gone skydiving in Argentina. I’ve been to a bullfight in Spain. I was in Germany when they hosted the World Cup. As a PR volunteer for the NFL, I snuck onto the field for the end of Super Bowl XLII, where Terry Bradshaw smiled at me and Spike Lee was racist toward me. I’ve climbed steaming volcanoes covered in snow. The tattoo I got in Italy belongs in the Hall of Fame. I hiked for five days before reaching the ruins of Machu Picchu. I’ve ridden a hot air balloon through the canyon of the Rio Grande. As a journalist in Chile, I covered many protests-turned-riots, and can now tell you that a lemon-juice-soaked bandana across the face is the best way to combat tear gas. Well, besides a gas mask – or avoiding tear gas completely. I dressed up as a Union soldier at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I’m a drummer in a rock and roll band that has headlined Chicago’s House of Blues and Hard Rock Café. I’ve been mugged and lost. I’ve been mugged and won. I know what it means to be in love. And I learned far too young what it’s like to lose a parent.
So although I’m no expert, I feel like I’ve been around the block a couple times and picked up a thing or two. I’ve had a pretty interesting life up to this point, and I think it’s given me a unique perspective on things. And throughout all of my collective experiences, I’ve come to the following conclusions about myself: I love to write. I love to argue. I love to travel and meet new people.
But above all, I love to entertain.
To me, entertainment is what makes life worth living. Ok, fine. Love too, obviously. But even the most head-over-heels, crazy-about-each-other, Stupid-Cupid couple in the entire world can’t just sit around staring into each other’s eyes, saying “I love you” all day every day. Love itself can’t sustain us from dawn till dusk. Hell no! We need some fun stuff to do. Here we are now, entertain us! Very few people feel the way that Angela does on “The Office,” when she emphatically tells Dwight that she hates “being titillated.”
Why do you think people went to stonings or watched gladiators rip each other apart? For the love of god, it was something to do! Something that didn’t involve scaling and gutting fish or mucking out stables – or outhouses, for that matter. People needed a release from the shittiness (literally) and monotony of everyday life and responsibility. Yes, the ways in which we pass the time today are – for the most part – drastically different and more sophisticated than watching gladiators decapitate each other. But we do still have activities that are unsettlingly not-so-far-removed from those ancient, “barbaric” means of entertainment. The modern day sports of MMA, boxing, hockey, and American football (among others) all possess many similar attributes. You gotta love – and fear? – the Roman still in us.
Now, I have too many entertainment-related passions to narrow this blog down to any one category. Instead, I’m going to try and make this as all-encompassing and well-rounded a blog as I possibly can, focusing on Sports, Literature, Music, Art, and Movies & Television. There’s a reason why 99.9% of the human race cares deeply about at least one of those categories, and in my opinion it is because there is just so much LIFE in these things.
Why do any of us care about watching The Big Game? Because of the pride we feel and thrill we get from watching athletes compete to achieve the highest levels of physical human accomplishment in ways normal people like you and me could never dream of. But we’re still painfully aware that we belong to the same species as LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neill, which is absolutely awe-inspiring if nothing else. And if your teams of choice (or geographical obligation) haven’t been giving you any pride to speak of lately – you know, like if you’re from Cleveland – then it’s the hope of next year that keeps you coming back for more.
We invest so much of ourselves in rooting for “our” teams that it becomes a very personal relationship. There’s a connectedness. And as a social species, connectedness is vital. No one envies how disconnected Tom Hanks was in Cast Away. When you have no one and nothing to occupy your mind, you start talking to a freaking volleyball for some semblance of entertainment. When he finally gets rescued and returns home after four years of hellish solitude and rugged isolation, remember the FIRST thing he says to his former wife? “So let me get one thing straight here. We have a pro football team now, but they’re in Nashville?”
The highs and lows we feel when we watch sports become even more profound on an international level when that team pride turns into patriotism once every four years for the Olympics. Or every two years if, you know, you’re a Winter Games person…whose heart just swells with pride from sea to shining sea every time someone lands a triple Axel. Whatever.
Why do any of us put on a favorite album or a song when we’re feeling blue? Or when we’re happy? Or bored? It’s the power of relatability. Haven’t you felt a song speak to you so personally that it seems impossible it wasn’t written specifically for you? Everyone knows what that feels like, and it’s maybe the most powerful aspect of music. The way the artist can make the listener – a complete stranger – relate on a deeply personal level to what is being sung about. “Kurt Cobain must understand what it’s like to be me. He would totally want to be my friend if he were alive. He gets me.” No, no he didn’t. In fact, he probably would have hated me. Even as an angsty, pissed off teenager, I had way too much fun and laughed far too often for Kurt Cobain to even consider being my friend. But of course that’s not what I thought back when Nirvana was molding my adolescent thoughts and feelings. That’s the connection that music creates. You don’t even need lyrics to do it. Just ask Beethoven or Paco de Lucia.
One of my favorite things about fiction – whether it’s literature or film – is that it can teach you just as much about life as nonfiction or history can. The way that we relate to an artist’s song or music is the same way we learn about life through people or characters. It doesn’t matter if they’re real or fictional; whether they’re on a screen or a page.
Nelson Mandela devoted much of his 27 years in a South African prison to reading novels, including John Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath. “When I closed that book, I was a different man. It enriched my powers of thinking and discipline, and my relationships.”
THAT is the power of good entertainment. It inspires us to be better. That “WOW” moment can come from a book, a painting, or a come-from-behind victory by the underdog New York Giants against the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII (damn you, Spike Lee!). Feeling connected somehow to our fellow human beings – or an idea – is what keeps us going, what gives us some purpose. And life is so fragile that these things deserve to be celebrated. These things that inspire us, make us smile, give us joy, let us appreciate the beauty in life; these things aren’t mere guilty pleasures that serve to amuse us. They shape us for the rest of our lives.
President Barack Obama reiterated that sentiment when he welcomed the 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox to the White House. Obama described the way that the city of Boston rallied around its sports franchises to form a sense of close-knit community and support after the bombing of the Boston Marathon. The president said that sports sometimes “seems like it’s trivial, it’s just an entertainment. And then, every once in a while, you’re reminded that sports represents something else and it has the power to bring people together like almost nothing else can.” Even in “normal” tragedy-free seasons, the championship-winning teams of each of the four American major sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) are rewarded with a trip to the White House in order to be personally congratulated by the most powerful man in the entire world.
Besides all of the aesthetic and emotional aspects of enjoying our various entertainment passions, let us also recognize how many practical advantages there are to the widespread popularity of such things. Passion is the biggest job creator. Think of all the people who are employed because of the existence of organized professional sports. The athletes themselves are the smallest demographic. There are the people who work for each individual franchise, those in the media who devote their entire lives to coverage, statisticians, trainers and physicians, employees of companies like Sports Authority, the construction companies who build the stadiums, manufacturing companies that make sports equipment, security guards, popcorn vendors, ticket scanners, traffic cops waving their mini light sabers directing people where to park their cars…the list is endless. Nike is currently ranked 126 on the Fortune 500 list with some 40,000+ employees in 160 countries on six continents. And that’s just one company in a highly competitive market.
The same goes for all of our other categories. Have you ever actually sat through all the names in the credits at the end of a movie? Those are all paid employees. Apple is the sixth largest company in the world. What do you think people use iPods and iPads for? For fueling the pursuit of their passions, as well as having practically unlimited access to music, movies, and television, all at the touch of a finger. Walmart is #1 on the Fortune 500, and you can buy anything even remotely linked to entertainment there. Entertainment makes the world go round.
All of that being said about the importance of entertainment, obviously there are things happening in this world that are more significant than an album review, a critique on Season Two of a certain television show, or an analysis of the World Series. It’s a huge world we live in with very serious things going on every day. Whether it’s the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision, genocide in Africa, cancer research, sex trafficking…serious issues such as these are of paramount importance. Anything that directly improves or diminishes a human being’s quality of life – let alone many people’s lives – is newsworthy, and therefore deserves coverage to spread awareness.
That’s why I’ll also be writing about politics and world issues, even though it’s not the main focus of this blog. After all, I have a journalism background, and not all my passions are strictly entertainment-related. For example, on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, I wouldn’t have blogged about Game of Thrones. You dig? It’s essential to pay attention to impactful world issues, and to do something about the situation when possible.
When it’s all said and done, we’re all human. Even those of us with the most power and responsibility on Earth have mutual interests with us “normal” folk. President Obama watches HBO, Anderson Cooper listens to Lady Gaga, Vladimir Putin is a judo champion, and Martin Luther King Jr. was a diehard Star Trek fan.
Hell, it’s entertainment that’s helped sustain human beings through the toughest situations mankind has had to endure, whether it’s Mandela reading books in a dank cell for 27 years, or African/African-American slaves singing in the cotton fields so often that eventually the blues were born as a music genre unto itself.
Even brain surgeons need to relax at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s with Seinfeld, SportsCenter, Beyoncé, or a glass of scotch and a good book. We all need entertainment that we’re passionate about, and we all need passions that entertain us.
This blog’s purpose is to celebrate all of them.
~ Zach of All Trades