Star-cross'd: Ringtone Philosophy and the Naming of Roses, xkcd Edition


Attribution: xkcd.2

A phone rings, dammit.

Since when did phones start playing personal theme music, and why does it matter?

Is it a new "big badge of cool" for everybody and their brother to attempt to lay claim to in their mad dash to be unique among the ragged rabble and wretched refuse of all the other folks scrambling to portray their own special unique identity...just like everyone else in the "cool" crowd?


"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
      -- Juliet Capulet, Romeo and Juliet
         Act II, Scene II
         by William Shakespeare3

It's like reliving the cliques and clichés of childish schoolyard games and high school rivalries all over again, only this time with so-called "adults" who should know better. The novelty has worn off; the uniqueness is cute, but it doesn't suddenly change who you are or what you can be. A ringtone, like a name, is simply a "thing" that holds no power or influence of its own outside of that which we ascribe to it. But when we permit ourselves to get caught up in delusions that we as individuals and a society can manifest surrounding words, music, trends and fads, we not only give the inanimate and otherwise inconsequential things power over us -- we also give up a degree of our own individuality, a measure of our own integrity and intellect that others can use to influence us with. "Oh, you're not with the band? / Oh, you're a Smith, not a Wesson. / Oh, you're a 'demoncrat' or Oh, you're a 'rethuglican'...

It is this tendency to lend credence and power to words, music, families, positions and social or religious associations that makes us susceptible to propaganda and manipulation. Groupthink. Newspeak. Talking points.4

It's no wonder that the overwhelming efforts to market ideas and to manipulate perceptions and emotions have made some extensive inroads into the conditioning of public opinion and response.  The problem is that this illusory and deluded emphasis on the image -- style, instead of substance -- has led to an inability to recognize quality and perceive corruption.  We have, as a nation, become numb to the levels of outrage and righteous indignation we should be feeling over the fiscal, social and military boondoggles bequeathed to our future and firmly imprinted upon our history.

The replacement of reality-based facts by distorted delusions of grandeur creates an escalating detachment from the world in which we physically live.  This, in turn, spawns ever-greater degrees of corruption and compromise, ultimately leading to downfall and disgrace (note the fiscal crisis, the two ongoing wars, the rampant corruption throughout the top tiers of government).  We can bemoan the choice to continue travelling further down this road, but such regrets are best felt prior to reaching the end, when we still have the opportunity to get off and redirect ourselves to a better, brighter alternative.

From the Wikipedia entry for Citizen Kane:

For the viewer this solves the "Rosebud" mystery, the sled is a token of the only time in his life when he was poor; more than this, however, it represents the only time in his life when he was truly happy and wanted for nothing. After this twist ending, the film ends as it began, with the "No Trespassing" sign at the gates of Kane's estate, Xanadu, an indication that sometimes we can never know the truth behind people.

It's time to encourage folks to emerge from their shelters, coccoons and from behind the blast-walls of their personal ideological fortresses, and end this recursive charade of kabuki theater in potempkin villages that has expanded so far out of control.

Sometimes, a rose is just a rose, and a phone simply <i>rings</i> without serenading the masses.



1. From the Wikipedia entry for Citizen Kane:


The film opens in a night setting on a vast palatial estate, on which the sign "No Trespassing" is posted. Gradually the camera comes to rest in a bedroom on which an elderly man is lying, holding a snow globe. He utters the word "Rosebud" and lets go of the snow globe which drops and smashes on the floor. A nurse enters and covers the man in a way that indicates he has died. The scene fades out.

An abrupt cut leads to a newsreel obituary in which we find out that the estate was Xanadu and the man who owned it and died there was the enormously wealthy media magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). The newsreel reveals details of his life - how his childhood was spent in poverty, then changed when gold was discovered in his family's mine, how he built up his empire of newspapers, how both his marriages were unsuccessful, his conflicting pronouncements, and how the power he once obtained disappeared.

After its preview, the producer of the newsreel feels that it lacks something and asks a reporter, Jerry Thompson (William Alland), to find out about Kane's private life and personality, in particular to discover the meaning behind his last word.


Despite Thompson's interviews, he is unable to solve the mystery and concludes that "Rosebud" will forever remain an enigma. At that point, the camera pans over workers burning some of Kane's many possessions. One throws an old sled into the furnace – the same sled that Kane was riding as a child the day his mother sent him away. The word "Rosebud" painted on the sled burns as the camera closes in on it in the furnace. There is a shot of a chimney with black smoke coming out.


2. From the XKCD site:


Note: You are welcome to reprint occasional comics pretty much anywhere (presentations, papers, blogs with ads, etc). If you're not outright merchandizing, you're probably fine. Just be sure to attribute the comic to


3. From the enotes entry:


Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet meet and fall in love in Shakespeare's lyrical tale of "star-cross'd" lovers. They are doomed from the start as members of two warring families. Here Juliet tells Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention, and that she loves the person who is called "Montague", not the Montague name and not the Montague family. Romeo, out of his passion for Juliet, rejects his family name and vows, as Juliet asks, to "deny (his) father" and instead be "new baptized" as Juliet's lover. This one short line encapsulates the central struggle and tragedy of the play.


4. Talking Points -- a refinement and extension of the GOP's infamous "GOPAC memo" that comes to us courtesy of Newt Gingrich. From FAIR dot org, circa 1995:


In fact, the new speaker of the House--who once described his goal as "reshaping the entire nation through the news media" (New York Times, 12/14/94)--has given a great deal of thought to the media and how to manipulate them.


But the clearest expression of Gingrich's philosophy of media came in a GOPAC memo entitled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control." Distributed to GOP candidates across the country, the memo's list of words for Democrats and words for Republicans was endorsed by Gingrich in a cover letter: "The words in that paper are tested language from a recent series of focus groups where we actually tested ideas and language."


Some relevant reference points:

Wikipedia's page on GOPAC  
The infamous GOPAC memo SciForums
Doonesbury reference Newt's Next hit contract


No votes yet


but then I realized how I'd blathered on and waxed poetic a tad too much, so I decided I should own up to words and not sully the rep of the Open Thread.


Still, feel free to use it as one.

Buz Teacher in Huffington Post, Bridges and Books: Bring Back the Federal Writers Project. He has a serious proposal that I for one fully endorse. 

Writers, editors, designers, researchers, photographers, and others in the book business are seeing their positions eliminated at an alarming rate. As publishers cut back, authors now have substantially fewer places to see their work published. In December, venerable Houghton Mifflin announced plans to publish no new books in the near future -- astounding. The entire industry is contracting very quickly and there is something we should consider doing about it: Bring back the Federal Writers Project, which was originally established in 1935 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to support writers, historians, and artists as a small but significant part of the WPA.

... snip ...

In the 1930s the Federal Writers Project employed more than 6,000 writers, photographers,
illustrators, editors, out-of-work schoolteachers, and librarians. It was considered a great success at the time and is now viewed as an invaluable resource that recorded American history and culture for posterity. Some 3.5 million books for adults and children were produced.

Participants in the original program included Ralph Ellison, Studs Terkel, John Cheever, Saul Bellow, Margaret Walker, Arna Bontemps, and Zora Neale Hurston. Louis Mumford called the Federal Writers Project "the finest contribution to American patriotism" of his generation.

Buz left out Arthur Miller, but that's OK. The message is clear. This is a time when we need the arts.  Please note I do not mean more entertainment. We need to step back from being consumed by the rage that wells up when we look at  the situation facing average Americans today, not to speak of Gazans et al. We need to breathe deeply and start again to rebuild this damned nation, and we need the strength, the resolution  and insight to get it right, and that means laughing a little and crying at human foibles and being uplifted by the nobility that we humans can achieve.