On Real Vices

From the exhibit at the Great Apes House, Bronx Zoo, circa 1963-67

From the exhibit at the Great Apes House, Bronx Zoo, circa 1963-67

9:27 pm ET, Delta flight from Atlanta to Shanghai

One of the best things about long-haul flights is catching up on films I don’t have time to watch because, you know, life. It only took a 14.5 hr flight, but I finally got around seeing Adam Mckay’s Vice and I am fucking amped up.

My brain is exploding with all the emotions and thoughts, so this may be the most incomprehensible dribble I’ve ever typed on screen.

(Thanks for joining.)

Originally I started writing an entirely different diatribe because I found myself in such anger and disbelief towards what we allowed the Bush-Cheney administration to get away with. But of course this is a McKay production and it wasn’t going to be one-note like that. No, they’re going to add some clever twists and turns and hold a mirror up to us, the viewer, and ask “don’t you think you’re complicit, too?” Thus, I had to trash draft 1.

First, some praise: Like The Big Short, it’s clever. It’s smart. And it had an unbelievably elegant and cheeky way of addressing some pretty fucking dense and boring content, like politics, international policies, and world relations. It was entertaining and moved at a quick pace. Would you expect anything less from Adam McKay, his creative team, and actors like Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, et al?

Now before I was hurtling through the air in a tin can across the Pacific Ocean, I had a bumpy check-in. The seat upgrades I tried purchasing from the Delta app didn’t go through, causing my charge to dance in some weird AMEX limbo and no seat change. Which was exacerbated by an unwelcome lecture from my mom for how her idea of handling the situation would be better. I bite down on every smart ass retort bubbling up to the surface and try to recall every piece of advice on patience from my therapist. We get through security and Nancy gets held up because of her belt. Then her watch. Then nail clippers in her pocket (what?). We’re walking out of the security area when she suddenly realizes that she doesn’t have her phone.

All this to say I was not in the mindset to consume anything that would make think. I very much wanted to tune in and tune the fuck out.

(In case you were wondering, the family friend who drove us to the airport was able to drive back and drop Nancy’s phone off. And AMEX is taking care of the weird charge. Thank you for your concern.)


Tuning out did not happen. McKay shined a bright light on all of Cheney’s shady dealings, but what was the real vice here? Was it his desire for power? Or was it something else entirely? Perhaps it was our own apathy, the quietest and most insidious of all the vices. On the surface, it seems harmless. It wields no weapons and draws no blood. But it’s no less dangerous. Because it feeds on our desire to avoid life’s unpleasant realities. Our desire for greed. Our desire to want a comfortable life, even if it means sacrificing our civil liberties and compassion.

There’s bound to be a few casualties when it comes to the common good. This is the story we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves stories every day — I had a long day at work today, so I deserve a night in instead of going to the gym. A woman stops responding to a man’s texts anymore, so the man thinks “She must be a lesbian”.

Apathy is truly a vice. Choosing to stay with the status quo or denying a reality because the truth is too much to bear or fix. There are some people who insist on separating their lives from dirty things like politics. But politics is personal. Every decision you make is a choice of how you see yourself in the world and the kind of reality you want to live in. And honestly it’s fucking overwhelming and exhausting to consider this. I don’t want to think about how global warming will result in climate refugees. Or that the bees are dying and we won’t have avocados anymore. Or how wars may be waged over clean water.

This is a constant struggle for me and one of the many subjects that compelled me to start this little blog. I don’t know what the answer is. All I can think of is the story of the guy walking on the beach that’s scattered with starfish that have been washed ashore. He sees a kid throwing them back into the ocean, one by one. “Hey kid,” he says, “There’s too many starfish on the beach. There’s no way you can save them all.” And he said “I know, but I can make a difference in the ones I can save.”

Like the kid, I feel like I’m on a beach surrounded by starfish gasping for air, living, breathing things that need care and attention. I can’t care or attend to them all, no matter how much I want to. But I can make a difference in this one. And that one. And this other one. And that will have to be enough.

So maybe the antidote to apathy is to remain open and care. And to question. To always question “why?”

Originally posted on May 1, 2019 at Alwaysatodds.com.