Thursday, April 18, 2013

ON THE AVENUES: You gaze at your own reflection, all right.

ON THE AVENUES: You gaze at your own reflection, all right.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

“The ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in; becoming narcissistic.”
-- attributed to Rod Serling (1924-1975)

Science fiction isn’t my forte, but no matter. Even if I seldom indulge, it is evident to me that the genre has its strengths, among them the ability to harness the otherwise far-fetched to the greater cause of allegorical relevance.

Consider, if you will, Rod Serling’s scripts for the Twilight Zone television series, many of which remain fresh and thought-provoking a half-century after their inception.

Serling’s personal mission, one that he pursued with considerable skill, was to befuddle white-bread network censors by disguising progressive commentaries as seemingly harmless manifestations of the macabre – tales regarded as inhabiting the science fiction canon, with commensurate camouflage.

As Serling pithily observed, “Things which couldn't be said by a Republican or Democrat could be said by a Martian."

To which I’d add: Things which couldn’t be said by a Republican or Democrat or a Martian might be said by craft beer, but not if we insist on a narcissistic self-absorption.


Lately I’ve been thinking about Serling’s admonition to reject narcissism. A talented man possessing strong viewpoints and pronounced beliefs, he came of age as a writer in the 1950s, precisely at a time when the mass hysterics and delusions of McCarthyism rendered the intellectual climate quite dangerous for those with contrarian viewpoints. It may well have been a nadir for progressivism, even by America’s remarkably low standard in such matters.

And yet, Serling possessed the innate strength of character – a sheer, contrarian stubbornness – to find a way of speaking his mind during a time when the presumed ideal of “free” speech was being honored primarily in the breach. He found a way, because to him, narcissism wasn’t a career option. I couldn’t agree more.

As others did at the time, Serling might have chosen to withhold his talent and wait for the inevitable thaw, perhaps opting for self-exile in an entirely different professional venue. Rather, he resisted drawing back and inward, and continued challenging viewers by painting the corners of the plate with nuance.

What if Serling had shrugged and gone strictly commercial, eschewing the artful for the straightforward, indulging the low common denominator all around him, and giving television audiences more by-the-numbers entertainment? Then as now, safety is easily rationalized, and in the mainstream, there’s a greater probability that the paychecks won’t stop coming.

I’m not judging others, merely noting that for whatever reason, Serling elected not to follow the easiest path. He persevered. The message got out, converts were made along the way, and these many decades later, we’re still able to learn from his experience.


My chosen profession is craft beer, and I’m no happier seeing it corrupted by shoe-gazing narcissism than Rod Serling -- in his world, during his heyday, and according to the parameters of his calling.

Craft beer means many things to many people, and that’s as it should be. Speaking for myself, it’s a hobby that eventually grew into an occasional paycheck; it tastes great even though it’s often more filling; it is a wonderful device for promoting the life of the local pub; and it’s the final, best hope for sustaining local pub culture.

But to me, precisely because I’m not narcissistic, there is more to craft beer than just those attributes. Naturally, self-interest as a business owner brings with it certain promotional necessities and instances of self-aggrandizement, but these are not to be confused with staring at one’s reflection in a pond filled with Barrel Aged Black Kolsch while reaching for the Kleenex ... and not because one needs to blow his nose.

Beer, as writ large, may very well be a commodity suitable for the Financial Times, but craft beer specifically also is a symbol, an analogy – a metaphor. Craft beer’s very founding principle is active and points outward, not passive and shrinking toward the inside. It is expansive in the market sense, but more importantly, in profits from the larger sense of community consciousness.

Craft beer is revolutionary, the overt rejection of an established order commonly known as mass market beer, which profits by accumulating capital for the express purpose of thwarting competition in purely Mafioso capitalistic fashion, and substitutes slavish conformity for the broad panoply of life’s possibilities.

When craft beer lapses narcissistic, and whenever the circle geeking starts, we as a presumed culture of appreciation are only providing the multinational mockrobrewing hegemonists with head space to mislead the larger segment of the market, which we haven’t yet reached. The established order we first rebelled against hasn’t gone away. It’s fighting back, and the best way to confront the Goebbelsian lies it deploys is to break away from our narcissism, stop looking in the mirror, and engage those folks standing just beyond the tent flap.

That’s because many of them want to come inside. Let’s give them a reason to do so.

I can’t be sure that Rod Serling would have appreciated craft beer, but I believe he would quickly see the merit in purging narcissism from the culture of craft beer appreciation. It’s repellant, even to those of us who already get it.

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