My One-Man Beijing Olympics Boycott
Plus, Ask Matt explores the stupidity of the metaverse and the nobility of unpleasant work
Editor’s Note: That nagging question you keep asking yourself? The one that has no immediate answers? Why not Ask Matt™ instead at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the Beijing Winter Olympic games upon us, which event are you most looking forward to?
The closing ceremonies. The Winter Olympics to me are kind of like presidential elections: I can’t wait for them to be over so I don’t have to think about them for four more years. Not that I think about them all that much even while they’re transpiring. Whenever I see a Winter Olympics story, my brain tends to do the same thing it does when tiresome gasbags start prattling on about cryptocurrency or the metaverse: it tucks itself in for a long winter’s nap.
Make no mistake: I celebrate sport. I will drink at sports bars. (The big-screen loudness helps drown out the inner voice reminding me of the futility of it all and our pending expiration.) I will wear a crisp sports jacket. And I’m not even opposed to getting a “precision haircut” or hot-towel treatment at Sport Clips. Because what kind of philistine wouldn’t like a little taken off the top from an attractive stylist in a referee shirt? That said, I can’t take much of the Beijing Winter Olympics seriously as “sport.”
Curling, of course, is about as much of a sport as me sweeping up the kitchen floor after my ice maker spits cubes beyond the rim of the glass. The luge is for lazy athletes who’d rather let gravity do all their work. And skeleton is a “sport” for those who weren’t bright enough to make the luge team – they ride the wrong way on their sleds, just waiting to crash face-first so they can suffer even more brain damage. I don’t find much sport, either, in China’s non-Olympic national sports, such as: concentration-camp building (for Uyghurs), movie/internet censoring, NBA bullying, and pandemic exportation. (It’s kind of an odd year to celebrate China, when China helped shut down the world for the past two. I don’t mean to be a peevish grudge-holder, but a reparations check might be nice. They could pay it in yuan, since that will doubtless end up becoming the global reserve currency after they helped decimate everyone else’s economies.)
Not that I don’t appreciate the bounties of China. I have spent many an hour pondering the magnificence of Zhang Ziyi and Joan Chen. And I am making Szechuan beef tonight – extra spicy, just like Zhang Ziyi! So I’m not some mouth-breathing nationalist who can’t appreciate anything that China does for us: They make lots of cheap goods so we have something to buy at Walmart. They keep us from spending $2,000 for our iPhone, since most of its components are assembled in China’s slave-wage sweatshops. And every time I feel like my own country - our dear, benighted US of A - is hurtling into the moral abyss, I just look at China, and think, “We still have so much further to fall.”
So thanks, China. You’re good for my ailing national identity’s self-esteem, but not for a lot else. Therefore, I’m conducting a one-man boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Neither will China be invited to my next birthday party. Not that they’d need to attend in person anyway, when they can just surveil it through my phone.
Is it now time for me to start ignoring the metaverse as assiduously as I've been ignoring the multi-cloud, and before that, 3DTV?
The short answer? Yes. The longer answer? Yes, please.
For those who don’t know what the metaverse is – Google it. Since, as alluded to up top, lengthy discussion of it has the same effect on me as drinking vodka’n’Sominex smoothies. But silly Tower-of-Babel builders, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg - sorry, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg - who is now not only championing it, but re-naming his entire company after it, seem to have short memories. The metaverse has existed to ho-hum effect for a long time before he started pretending the wheel had just been invented. Here’s my old friend and former Weekly Standard colleague, Jonathan V. Last, writing about what essentially was the same thing – Second Life –some 15 years ago when people were still going to video stores and encouraging you to check out their band on MySpace. (Note to clickers: Ignore the Washington Examiner logo, it was a Weekly Standard story. WEX just inherited our archive after our mutual corporate parents diabolically cut our throats.)
The bottom line is that virtual reality is no greater shakes than actual reality. The former just has more Zuckerdorks running around with AR goggles in it. Do you currently live with apprehension and disappointment and anhedonia? Well here’s a spoiler alert for you: You’re not gonna drag your sad sack over to the metaverse and find out that everything is puppy dogs and unicorns and all-you-can-eat buffets. The last of which often don’t work out so well. Life is hard. Maybe it’s supposed to be. And maybe the greatest kindness we can pay to each other is to not pretend that it doesn’t exist, or to pretend that it exists more fully-realized in some tech nerd’s imagination of an augmented reality. Rather, we should fully engage with the flesh-and-blood human beings right in front of us. Who have real problems. Not metaverse problems.
Everyone seems to be quitting their jobs during this Great Resignation trend. Good for them! But why do so many people not actually pursue their true passions and instead end up in jobs and careers that they wouldn't actually do for free?
Lucky guy who hasn't worked a day in his life
Because most people aren’t as lucky as you, Lucky Guy. They have to do hard things they don’t necessarily want to do to put food on the table. I say this as someone who has been a lucky guy, myself. Before I hit an unemployment skid (alluded to above – but before that, I basically did whatever I wanted to do, and was paid nicely for it as a spoiled magazine feature writer), my vocation felt like a hobby. Due to the infrequency with which I wrote back then, several editors likely thought it was my hobby, too. And even now, I’m writing things I want to write, for money. Which isn’t the worst way in the world to make a living
But a lot of our brothers and sisters either don’t have or don’t see their options. Which is not necessarily a failure of imagination, as so many of our easy-answer, self-help gurus would have us believe. It would be lovely if everyone could do exactly what they wanted to do for a living, and to be handsomely compensated for it. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works. And plenty get stuck playing by the way-the-world-works rules, rather than how-we-wished-it-worked rules. So I encourage them to keep their eye on their prize, whatever that looks like. To find passage into their true bliss, if that is at all possible. But in the meantime, they shouldn’t beat themselves up for doing whatever needs to be done. Which to me, feels like unsung heroism. Doing what you have to do to feed your family, even if you hate doing it? That is the hardest and noblest work of all. God bless whoever does that.
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Bonus track: Here’s one of my very favorite Elvis Costello tunes, “Suit of Lights.” It’s a song Costello wrote about his father, a jazz trumpeter and former big band leader of some renown who in his latter years, ended up playing dive pubs and workingman’s clubs, long after the music he favored had ceased being appreciated. The audiences were often unruly and inattentive, but he kept playing anyway: