Paper, Rock, Pencil


When I was a kid we didn’t have cell phones, we barely had video games and we certainly didn’t have high-definition television, so in reality, what was the point of playing video games, really?  There was no Halo or Call of Duty, there was Super Mario Bros. but no Mario Kart.  When I was in seventh grade N64 came out with Goldeneye, which for the longest time was one of the coolest video games ever.  That game defined multi-player for a whole generation of people.  What this meant was that we didn’t have the ways to entertain ourselves that today’s youth has at their disposal.  We had to get by watching TV with commercials and no Netflix streaming.  We played hand games like Paper, Rock, Scissors and still did things like arm wrestle.

I remember trying to teach my little sister how to play Paper, Rock, Scissors and like much of the wisdom I attempted to impart on her it ended in me getting mad and her being slightly amused.  Explaining why paper trumps rock is no easy task.  I imagine that theoretical physicists have a tough time explaining how a paper could beat a rock, but I tried my best to explain it to my sister in the way that it had been taught to me.  She didn’t buy any of the logic behind this at all.  In fact, her smart-ass response was to introduce “pencil,” an instrument that wasn’t a part of the game (as indicated by the title.)  I was not enthused to have my game mocked by sister and insisted that pencil could not beat paper even if I accepted her logic that a pencil can write on paper.  Her argument was that if paper beat rock than pencil beat paper because you can’t write with a piece of paper.  Furthermore, she argued, paper and pencil working in unison could beat rock and scissors combined because the written word will always triumph over rudimentary tools like scissors and rocks.  I didn’t buy her argument at the time, but I kind of do now.

The reason I buy the pencil argument now has a little (meaning actually a lot) to do with the fact that my primary vocation is that of a writer.  This is not the only reason that I buy the pencil argument.  I’m not just a writer, I’m an Essayist, which means that what I do is essentially assess the world around me.  One thing that always seems to amaze me is that history is only looked at with a certain amount of awe when it is not our own.  We don’t like to think about mistakes we’ve made or how we mistreated someone or even about times in our lives when we were unhappy.  We like to create an imagined view of the past that glorifies it creating a fictional life for ourselves.  This is not reality though.  My theory on the lack of objectivity in history, even our own history comes from a piece written by Chris Lorenz which can be read here.  I think that you can understand how one should view the world by understanding his conclusion: “Historians, however microscopic, must be for universalism, not out of loyalty to an ideal to which many of us remain attached but because it is the necessary condition for understanding the history of humanity” (Lorenz, p.584.)  This is a much more complex way of saying that sometimes you need to broaden your argument not to gain a new audience or appeal to a group you wouldn’t otherwise appeal to but to give your argument more value.

I recently wrote a paper on the primacy of alcohol in the evolution of Led Zeppelin.  I was chastised all semester for taking on this topic by students and faculty alike, but what I was looking for was why alcohol mattered in the grand scheme of things when it comes to rock and roll.  What I found was that touring is very boring and there is little to do on a tour bus or on a plane.  Oftentimes the way you can make things a little more fun is by adding alcohol and/or drugs to the mix, which is essentially what Led Zeppelin did.  They were pioneers in touring while drunk/high/barely conscious.  The reason that this matters is because in our culture there is a glorified idea of what it means to “Party Like a Rock Star” and to live your life with “Rockstar status.”  In our society, being drunk, stoned, and a little out of your mind while still maintaining your basic functionality as a human being is actually embraced and looked on as a good thing.  When Led Zeppelin were at their peak popularity (1969-1977) they were legends for their partying antics.  Tearing up hotel rooms, riding a Harley down the corridors of the Riot House, and pissing on a DJ were relatively normal behavior for these guys and it was because they lived in a time where counter-culture was a key part of social rebellion that these kinds of antics were viewed as not only cool, but things that one should attempt to replicate like a Jackass video.

Most of us will never behave like Led Zeppelin and even fewer of us could get away with acting like that.  What we can do is rebel in other, more subtle ways, that a young child might do, like attempt to play “pencil” in the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”  She did not realize it then, nor will she probably acknowledge it now, but she was engaged in a form of social rebellion that we all engage in at some point in our lives.  We all experience a time when we don’t want to be like the rest of the world.  Indeed there are times when we want nothing to do with the rest of the world.  We create a counter-culture that makes little sense to those who do not know us intimately, but this culture that we create is just as valid as partying like a rock star is and will always hold more sway than rock star status.


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