Redneck or Hillbilly?

I was trying to figure out a story that’s told by one of the characters in Ozark about a hillbilly and a redneck This is the script for that part of the show:

A redneck and a hillbilly are strolling along a country lane, talking about the Garden of Eden. The redneck, drinking whiskey as he walks, believes that Adam and Eve had every right to take that apple for, if God were kind, why would he forbid them from partaking in that delicious fruit? The hillbilly listens and nods. Then the redneck finishes the bottle and throws it onto the path. When the hillbilly frowns, the redneck says, “Judge not,lest thee be judged.” When the hillbilly frowns again the redneck says, “You judge doubly, you sin twice.” Whereupon God smites the redneck dead. The Hillbilly, forever silent and diligent digs the redneck’s grave and fashions a humble tombstone from the empty bottle, and walks on. That eve he witnesses the most beautiful sunset ever ‘fore made.

Here’s a link to a youtube video of the scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8B-bNrOLj0

The point of this parable seems to be that the Redneck has the wrong attitude about life and the Hillbilly has the better one, but I’m not clear on where exactly the two types differ. They both seem to agree on the apple comment (even though some would argue this should be “fruit” since in the original language Genesis was written in, the fruit of the the tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn’t of any specific variety.). So both seem to think that the knowledge of good and evil is a good and wonderful thing and that God, being kind, actually wanted mankind to take the apple, which runs counter to about 97% of Christian doctrine.

Now it’s possible that by nodding the Hillbilly is merely being polite and placating the Redneck while disagreeing, but if so, this isn’t made clear by the narrative. Let’s take the assumption then that they both agree on this odd assertion. The first point of disagreement seems to be when the redneck finishes his bottle and throws it on the path. The Hillbilly frowns. Why? Is it because the Redneck didn’t share the whiskey? Is it because the redneck was littering? Is it because the Redneck didn’t appreciate the path?

As a secular taoist I like this last interpretation the best, but it still isn’t exactly clear. The Redneck says “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” quoting Matthew 7:1. The bible verse later says that you will be judged in the same manner that you judge others. As far as context goes the quotation is meant for those who worry about the specks in other people’s eyes when they have planks of wood in their own. So it is a tad incorrect to use the quote when someone is merely frowning at an act of disrespect.

Is the Hillbilly committing an act of greater disrespect? No, not as far as we know. Also, the Redneck is being rather judgmental himself by saying this.

The Hillbilly frowns again, I suppose at the hypocrisy of the Redneck.

The Redneck says “You judge doubly, you sin twice.”  Now, no one ever said judging was a sin, just that judging invited reciprocal judgment. Still, after the Redneck says this, he is struck down by God. So first, God definitely exists in the universe of the parable. Second, God is of the opinion that the Redneck is wrong. So I suppose we can take the interpretation that the Redneck is being ironically hypocritical each time he uses the phrase “judge not lest ye be judged.”And it is he who “sins twice” as it were.

Still, this seems like a complicated moral stance for a story about a redneck and a hillbilly. Another idea might be that God strikes down the Redneck because the Redneck is saying a bunch of stupid crap about things he doesn’t understand.

This interpretation is buoyed by the  bit afterwards about the Hillbilly being silent and diligent. However, there is the larger context to take into account. The story is told by a Drug Dealer to the Owner of a strip club. The Drug Dealer was using the strip club to launder money, but the Owner sold the deed to the strip club (or more precisely took money for the deed after it was taken from him and he was arrested). The Drug Dealer told the story to the strip club owner as they were drinking lemonade. Then the Drug Dealer’s wife sticks the owner in the neck with a syringe full of heroin. As the Owner is dying, the Drug Dealer calls him a redneck. So the Owner of the strip club is supposed to be like the Redneck in the story, and the Drug Dealer like the Hillbilly.

So perhaps the whole problem is that the Redneck didn’t consult the Hillbilly before finishing the whiskey? And then got indignant when the Hillbilly was upset about that? But then how does that relate to the part about the apple and the garden of eden? And what about the judge doubly, sin twice part?

So here’s my own interpretation, developed from trying to get some sort of consistent meaning out of what is likely an unimportant string of dialogue whipped up on the fly to work as something cool to say before killing someone.  The knowledge of good and evil (the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the garden) is a wonderful thing. But knowledge of good and evil is only worth something if you use that knowledge. That is, if you use judgment. If you use judgment, you have to be prepared to be judged in turn, but not using it isn’t a moral option either.

In terms of Christian mythology, Adam and Eve were naked and shameless before they ate the apple, but afterward, they had to cover themselves up because they had shame. God, being a omnipotent and omniscient, but having granted humans free will, would have known that they would eventually eat the fruit, so it’s possible to believe that it was a gift to humankind, but one that came with consequences. For the Redneck to say that knowledge of good and evil was a wonderful thing and then subsequently perform a wasteful act (finishing the whisky and throwing the bottle in the path carelessly) is hypocritical. Then for him to disparage the  judgment of others, is doubly hypocritical. Using the quote from Matthew is ironic, because it would be the Redneck with the plank in his eye. The Redneck shows no shame when he should know better and so God strikes him down. So the moral of the story is “Don’t pretend you don’t know better, when you do.”

Or at least that’s the best I can come up with.

I did a brief search for other interpretations. My favorite comes from Popmatters.com in an article titled “An Ozarker Considers Netfix’s ‘Ozark'”. The author doesn’t really analyze the parable in any real detail, however he does reveal that, much as one might expect, the terms hillbilly and redneck are not really all that distinct, even in the Ozarks. Both are pretty much insults, but ones that may be embraced by certain groups as cultural identifiers. Furthermore, the Ozarks portrayed in the show are really a fantasy version of the real place made up of previous stories and memories of the area from the seventies. In short, the parable here is a tale made up by a made up character in a made up story in made up version of a place that doesn’t really exist anymore. Its possible relevance to the world at large is remote at best. And yet I still find it oddly fascinating. Way to hack my brain, dude or dudette in the writers’ room who came up with this thing.

Interesting fact: I learned a new word from the wikipedia entry on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: merism. A merism is a combination of items of a set of things to indicate the entirety of that set. For instance “the long and short of it” or “sword and sorcery”. Yay vocabulary!

‘Member Star Wars?

Writing this in December 2016 a couple days before Rogue One comes out in theaters. I’m excited about the movie because it’s Star Wars, it looks like it’s going in a new, mostly good direction, and Alan Tudyk is involved and many of the things he’s involved in are awesome (Firefly, Wreck-it Ralph, Baseketball). On the other hand, Tudyk has been involved in some stinkers (In my opinion: I, Robot; Death at a Funeral; and his webseries Conman). The robot he is giving his voice to also looks a bit like a hillbilly with his overalls hiked up too far. (Edit from 7/2/17 I’ve seen the movie now and, interestingly enough I liked that it was going in a new, mostly good direction, but was not as pleased with it as I hoped)

Also disturbing is that Forrest Whitaker is in the movie. I have yet to see Forrest Whitaker be in a movie that’s actually good. The closest is the Crying Game, which was memorable mostly because it was disturbing, not because it was particularly good. Somehow he has a reputation of being a good actor, and while I can’t say he’s a bad actor, I can’t really think of a time where I was struck by any of his performances. I think he’s one of these arthouse actors that get thrown into a movie to give it gravitas, only it often seems to backfire. (Edit: Did NOT like Forrest Whitaker in this movie either.)

It’s kind of a shame, because I get the impression that Whitaker has a good sense of humor and likes a lot of the same things I like. It’s just he always gets these overly serious roles. In most of his scenes he seems to be expressing dismay at having learned some unfortunate truth. At any rate, his being in the movie makes me think that we’re going to have a scene at some point where there is a field of dead soldiers and several lines bemoaning the horrors of war. I suppose that could be a good thing for the movie, I just hope it’s not what the movie is about.(Edit: I was a bit off. Instead of a field of dead soldiers there was a tremendous apocalyptic wave of earth and death)

On a somewhat related note, I just finished playing a Star Wars game from about 8 years ago called Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. This was a game released from LucasArts, before the rights to Star Wars were sold to Disney, but after the last of the three prequels came out. There is a funny moment in  the game where you’re fighting in a room of collectibles and on the wall is a gungan frozen in carbonite that looks an awful lot like Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a frustrating game to play, mainly because the targeting system is so buggy. You can move things with the force, shoot them with electricity, or throw a lightsaber at them, but only if they have a blue square around them, AND you have a clear line of sight, AND they aren’t something that’s immune to the attack you’re trying. Not to mention that if you move a little bit the blue square winks off, and sometimes you can attack somebody even though they don’t have a blue square.

This frustration aside though, it’s fun fighting with and against wookies, jawas, and Rancors; throwing spaceships around with the force; and seeing all the iconic robots and ships from the movies. Also you get to be Darth Vader for a bit, which is neat. The story line of the game isn’t too bad either. It at least has one or two interesting characters. Not the main character, Starkiller, who, while voiced excellently by Sam Witwer, has a strange arc that makes it hard to figure out his motivations. Rather it’s two side characters that I wanted to know more about.

Proxy is a droid that can use holographic projectors on its body to appear as any one he’s studied sufficiently. He repeatedly says that it is his mission to kill the main character, but he obviously cares about him too. Also he has strange insights into the people he pretends to be. There’s a line about midway through the game after Proxy becomes Darth Vader to deliver a message. Proxy says “I hate having to be him” and Starkiller says, “I think he does too.”  I would love to play a game where I could play as Proxy, or see a movie where he was around more. But I’m not even sure if he made it to the sequel of the game, and since the story is no longer canon, we might never see his like again.

The other character I wanted to know more about is Maris Brood, the apprentice of one of the Jedi Knights Shaak Ti. Shaak Ti herself is a canon character now, I think, but at least in the game Maris Brood was way more interesting. She was trained by someone who followed the light side, and yet she herself was dark side. She had an affinity for animals, notably a Megarancor that you have to fight when you battle her. She also could teleport and used lightsabers like tonfas. Shaak Ti’s fight by comparison was something of a letdown and I didn’t get anything of where she was coming from. Maris Brood seem to have a genuine beef that I would have liked to know more about.

Doing research for this post led me to a novelization of the game, which I might check out later, because overall the game was like a glimpse into a much larger story. I play games for three reasons, to pretend to be someone else, to challenge my brain with interesting puzzles, and to be entertained by an engaging, if often not particularly sophisticated, plot. The game had definite good points in all three categories, although it stopped frustratingly short of complete success in any one of them. The ending was a bit contrived and the one choice you could make to influence the plot was way too little, way too late. By the time it comes, you’re almost not even aware that it is a choice, since the rest of the game is so linear.

Now is a good time to pick it up if you’re looking for something to play that’s not too expensive, since it’s got a lot of good Star Wars references, but if you want a game from around the same time period that’s easier and more fun to play, Infamous is probably a better bet. You have many of the same powers, but without the clunky UI. Also Infamous has choices all the way through it that affect gameplay as well as the character’s appearance. Granted the affect on gameplay isn’t very drastic, there are mostly a few lines of dialogue that are different and a few missions that turn out differently. Still, it’s much more satisfying from a roleplaying perspective and it meshes with the storyline better too. I think a good takeaway might be that Force Unleashed tells a better story, but Infamous tells its story better.

Along the lines of remembering things from the past, I’ve run into a lot of stuff on Alzheimer’s research lately. First there was an episode of 60 minutes that aired recently about a group of people living in Colombia that have a rare genetic mutation, making it almost inevitable that they will develop Alzheimer’s. It’s a recessive mutation, so not all of the people get it, but by testing for it, researchers can know ahead of time who’s going to get the disease, and therefore they can know how well whatever therapy they come up with will work. Most of the therapies they currently have show little or no effect on the disease, but that might be because the patients who receive the therapies aren’t getting them early enough.

Far more exciting in my opinion, though, is the research coming from Li-Huei Tsai about using the light from flickering LEDs to lessen the beta-amyloid plaque in the neurons of rats with Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid plaque build up is though to be one of the major contributing factors in the development of the disease. It was theorized that causing neurons to fire at a certain rate, known as the gamma frequency, would encourage janitor cells in the brain (microglia) to clear up the plaque. Initially Tsai, used a rather invasive procedure (optogenetics) to cause the neurons to fire at the right frequency. She found that there was, in fact, up to a 50 percent reduction in plaque using this procedure. However, when she simply tried using LEDs with no further surgery she found it had almost the same effect!

Now here’s the clincher, and the thing that ties this whole blog post up. A human gamma wave is a neural oscillation of between 25 to 100 Hz, 40 Hz being the most typical. The unit Hz stands for “Hertz” and means “per second.” Most monitors and TV sets show images at around 60 frames per second. This equates to a light oscillation of around 60 Hz which is well within the gamma range. Furthermore, Gamma oscillations occur when the mind is in a state of extreme concentration, which can occur during meditation, during a difficult calculation, or…playing a particularly engaging video game.

Playing video games could possibly keep you from getting Alzheimer’s.

My Own Back Yard

Passion flower. Image from http://www.neoninc.org/budburst/resources_plant.php?Species_ID=27

For the last six months or so I’ve been walking the dogs around the field behind my house, and I’ve noticed there is a great diversity of plants there. I got into to plant identification for a while, and it was fun figuring out what everything was, but I had slacked off the last couple of months because I started teaching more classes and other things came up. Last week though, I started reading Evil Genes by Barbara Oakley, an interesting book about the genetic and environmental causes of evil. Oakley writes the book in a conversational yet journalistic style and she often describes the area where scientists live or where their labs are situated by talking about what kind of plants are there. She’ll say things like “The lab is nestled amidst hills of wild barley and bluegrass.” This gave me another reason to look into plant identification: it can help with my writing.

Another factor is that Fall is beginning to influence things. Plants that were unremarkable before now have flowers and color. There’s an area in the back of the field where you can walk between two copses of evergreens. And there, almost hidden in the nettles that the dogs were sniffing through, was a very strange and awesome looking flower. It looked almost like something you’d expect on an alien world. It was pink and purple and had some very prominent stamens or something sticking out of it, and it was on a vine. There were a bunch of them, so I cut one off and brought it inside and showed it to my mom. “Oh,” she said rather matter-of-factly, “That’s a passion flower.”

“A passion flower?”

“Yes. It becomes passion fruit later on.”

Well, this blew my mind. I thought passion fruit was from some exotic place like Hawaii or Madagascar or something. Turns out it’s native to Tennessee. In fact the passion flower is Tennessee’s state flower. The natives in the area called it ocoee and it’s the namesake of the Ocoee river.

Ironweed

After this, I found a strange purple flower along the edge of the field where some dogwoods and honeysuckle separate the field from the road and determined that it was Ironweed, so called because it has a hardy root system that’s difficult to dig out. The Indians supposedly used some part of it to ease stomach aches. There were also several large plants that looked a little like wild carrot, except they were larger and the flowers were much more sparse and not in a true umbel but more of a branched system. I thought that these were cow parsnips until I did some further research for this blog. There’s another plant that looks a little like a thistle mixed with an aster that I haven’t been able to identify, but these set backs if anything, make me want to know more.

All this is very exciting, but civilization places pressures on the situation that I didn’t quite expect. Yesterday a man came by the house to work on the tractor, which has lain more or less dormant since the beginning of spring. Weeds and grasses pushed through its mechanisms, the back left tire had gone flat. When the man got the thing to start by replacing the battery and shorting the starting circuit with a screwdriver, it seemed to be asking us to please leave it alone to die in peace. The man said that he would come back and do some more repairs on it, but that we ought to be able to use it to mow the field if we didn’t care that none of the gauges worked and the screwdriver method was the only way to start it.

Our tractor sitting in our field after Tractor Man looked at it.

We could mow the field.

And I felt a surge of panic. Mow the field? But that’s where all the plants are! You can’t just mow them down! Sure there are snakes and ticks and chiggers and what not that breed and stalk their prey in the tall weeds and grasses, but I still haven’t figured out what all the weeds and grasses are.

Crazily I thought of maybe just asking my brother, who operates the tractor usually, to just mow part of the field. Or maybe leave a circle untouched, but I know the field is going to be mowed eventually. All the plants will grow back next year, just as they have this year, and it someways maybe they are there in the first place because we mow the field. Still, it’s a little disheartening.

Turd Polishing

Earlier I posted a review of a production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical  in which I basically praised the cast and crew, but made a few remarks about how I didn’t care for the source material. This review was part of a deal I had with a friend of mine where he would post my reviews of local events to his website, so he can get content and I can get practice and/or recognition for my site. However, my review was apparently a bit upsetting to someone involved with choosing the productions . I’ve since gotten rid of most of my criticisms in my review. The way I figure it, I’m supposed to help promote these events so I should leave my issues with them out of it. However combating this idea is the idea that even if I’m promoting something, I should be as frank as possible so that the promotion rings true. Also there’s another layer to this, as I don’t necessarily have to promote all the events if I don’t want to, and in fact maybe I shouldn’t.

I don’t do this professionally. I’ve done a lot of reviews of movies and some books on my livejournal page, but those weren’t done with any real attempt at quality. I’ve done one other review for my friend’s site, and that’s it. I don’t work for a newspaper or a magazine. I might like to some day, but I’m doing this in my spare time, and I don’t really have a lot of that. So I’m not as prepared as some to deal with these moral quandaries. Am I peeing in the punch bowl by giving criticisms in my reviews? Or if I don’t give criticism am I being a soulless shill?

My guess is the answer is yes on both counts. So I try to go middle of the road, but in this case going middle of the road means you get hit by both lanes of traffic.

Anyway, I’m being overly dramatic. Unfortunately or fortunately, we live in a world with other people who we sometimes disagree with. I disagree with the person who chose the musical. I think the players did an admirable job polishing it and making it look pretty, but that ultimately GATPM is a turd. That isn’t to say I’m right and the people who like it are wrong. Just that my opinion, amateur though it may be, is that GATPM is a disturbing example of wish fulfillment and has no moral compass.

The reasons I think this are perhaps unique to myself and a small set of people. First off, I don’t find infidelity to be very funny. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t mind that I don’t get Showtime stations in my cable package (watch an episode of Californication if you don’t know what I’m talking about). I’m not married, but my parents still are, and I have friends who are, and so I see marriage as an overall positive thing. Furthermore, while I don’t believe people who cheat on their spouse are going to Hell or anything of the sort, I do think that a marriage is a contract between two people, and if someone breaks that contract, then they are despicable and cannot be trusted. In GATPM, Norbert cheats on his wife the moment he gets a chance, but it’s the wife’s fault he cheats, because she can’t leave the trailer due to her agoraphobia. It’s sickening to me, and that kind of distracts from the humor.

That isn’t the worst part though. Jeannie, Norbert’s wife, has agoraphobia because the last time she left the trailer, her baby was kidnapped. Her. BABY. Was. KIDNAPPED. So she’s afraid to leave her trailer for twenty years. There is no indication however that any attempt was made to try to find the baby. No police were consulted as far as the audience knows. If it weren’t for the fact that the kidnapping is performed on stage, the audience might miss that it even happened in the first place. Nobody seems to care that a baby has been taken from his home by unknown persons. Maybe I wouldn’t be as upset about this if it weren’t for the trial of Casey Anthony that was recently concluded. Kaylee wasn’t kidnapped, of course, but something about watching a baby get stolen while the audience is supposed to laugh reminds me of stuffing a baby in the trunk of a car to go partying. Again, this distracts from the humor.

Finally throughout GATPM, different characters sniff markers to get high off their fumes. I don’t find this particular funny either. Maybe if I didn’t know that a great number of people in trailer parks are addicted to meth or some other drug I would think this was perfectly fine. But I can’t help thinking sniffing markers is a placeholder for all types of drug use, and to see it be promoted to such degree…well again, it distracts from the humor. It’s difficult to say why I have a problem with this and yet still enjoy movies like the Hangover, which blatantly promote drug use.  The humor of the Hangover arises from the characters dealing with the downside of drinking and taking drugs to excess. Another movie I enjoy that promotes drug use is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and again, its how the character deals with the effects of the drug, and not the taking of the drug itself which is funny.

Perhaps that’s the central issue with GATPM. Sad things happen in the plot, and they’re laughed at, and yet we only rarely see characters dealing with them, which I think is completely backwards. I’ve seen movies about sad subjects from divorce to suicide which were hilarious, but they were funny because of how the characters dealt with the problems, not because of the problems themselves.

GATPM was written by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso. I don’t know what involvement Betsy had in the writing, but I suspect some amount of wish fulfillment on David’s part. Norbert has an affair with a stripper and at some point both his stripper girlfriend and his wife are singing about how much they love him. All is forgiven by the end of the play. There are no repercussions. Granted, this is a comedy, but repercussions can be funny. In fact, I’d say that almost half of comedy is repercussions.

So I think GATPM is a turd. The people who performed it did a good job with it, but that doesn’t change my opinion of the musical.

Yay for digging deeper holes.