Top 10 Meaningless Things People Apply Meaning To

Universal or not, these 10 things only mean something when you apply meaning to them.

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  1. Laughter – a loud bellowing from one’s mouth. For most people this conveys to others that they found something funny, but it could mean that they have a lot of air in their lungs they really want to get out quickly.
  2. Honks – a loud bellowing from a vehicle’s horn. For most people this means the driver is warning another driver or that they are unsatisfied with a recent decision they made and they must be punished with sound.
  3. Clapping – the smacking of one’s hands together. This simple act is often accepted as confirmation of an achievement but it takes hardly any effort from the one clapping other than social involvement from others.
  4. Thumbs up – a single finger is raised in the air. This symbolizes that you did something good or that it is okay to proceed, but it may as well mean that you found which way is up or that you like looking at your fingernail.
  5. Middle finger – the longest finger is raised in the air. You are so proud of your longest finger you decide to showcase it to the world. It also comes in handy when trying to reach the thing farthest from your body.
  6. Two fingers – better than one finger at a time is two. Facing frontwards, you are letting other people know you still have two fingers. Facing backwards, you are letting people know you mean peace, or something.
  7. Winks – one eye is meticulously closed as to call attention to it. This may indicate that one eye is operating in a different dimension or time vortex where it blinks at a much slower rate than the other eye. Not to be trusted.
  8. Smiles – a way of showing as many teeth as possible. To dogs, this is a sign of aggression, but to most people it’s a sign of kindness – unless betrayed by the eyes, in which case the smile is usually a sign of danger.
  9. Speech – air blown through the mouth in specific tones. The melodies of speech used by different cultures means something only to those who choose to understand it, but is meaningless to everyone else.
  10. Writing – a difference in contrast between the surface where it’s written and the objects being written. These characters are, like speech, useful only to those who understand them, but are mere decoration to everyone else.

Sleepless – a Rock Musical

In December of 2012 I wrote my first rock musical based on a compilation of songs on Spotify at that time. This is my 2nd rock musical, which like the first jukebox takes place over a period of 24 hours (here’s the Spotify link to listen):

[Act I]

  1. Sleepless by Cazzette – The scene begins on the dancefloor right after the woman the he’s been dating has decided she needs more space. He’s forced to spend the night on her floor remembering when she used to sleep next to him.
  2. All the Way by Time Flies – In the morning he wakes up and decides he’ll be alright and she’ll come back to him someday, but resolves that next time he loves someone, he’ll love them all the way.
  3. The Man by Aloe Blacc – Before he leaves she offers to keep it a secret on Facebook for a while, but he tells her she can tell everybody because he’s “the man”, which he begins singing into the streets.
  4. Summer by Calvin Harris – Once away from her his heart turns to lament as he remembers the first time he met her, last summer. Then he remembers the lies she told and how she acts so innocent now.
  5. Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore – After running into his friend who convinces him to go out with him. His friend tells him, “This is the moment and tonight is the night. Learn from that failure, gain humility and keep marching”.
  6. All of Me by John Legend – That night he meets a girl with a smart mouth and a beautiful mind. He can’t figure her out, but he sticks with her through her range in mood swings and decides to give her all of him, but she doesn’t know this yet.
  7. Fallingforyou by The 1975 – The night is ending and she begins singing to him, “If you don’t want me around…” while secretly singing, “I think I’m falling, I’m falling for you,” and then he says, “I don’t want to be your friend.”

[Act II]

  1. Midnight City by M83 – Together they are waiting for a car to come pick them up and while they wait, they look out over the city’s skyline. “The city is my church,” she says as she stares at the neon signs and sparkling twilight.
  2. Kids by MGMT – Off in the distance a car’s horn begins to honk. It’s his older brother. He stops, opens the door, the music is blaring. He recollects to her what it was like for them growing up and urges him to, “Control yourself.”
  3. Shake it Off by Taylor Swift – Before they get to her house, she urges him to “shake it off” saying that people always think the worst of her. She shares how her ex-boyfriend came around with his new girlfriend, but quickly stops.
  4. Burn the Pages by Sia – He quickly realizes he may be moving too fast and as they reach her house to drop him off, she stops him and lets him know that, “Don’t worry, I’m here by your side. Yesterday is gone and you will be okay.”
  5. Riptide by Vance Joy – “Lady, I wanna be your left hand man. I love you when you’re singing that song and I got a lump in my throat, ’cause you’re singing the words wrong. I just wanna to know if you’re gonna stay.”
  6. Rather Be by Clean Bandit – “If you gave me a chance I would take it. It’s a shot in the dark but I’ll make it. Know with all of your heart, you can’t shake me. When I am with you, there’s no place I’d rather be.”
  7. Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance – He grabs her hand and as they walk together he begins telling her a story about how when he was a young boy his father took him into the city. He said:

“Son when you grow up, would you be the saviour of the broken, the beaten and the damned? Will you defeat them, your demons, and all the non-believers,  the plans that they have made? Because one day I’ll leave you, a phantom to lead you in the summer, to join The Black Parade.”

Then he turns to her and says, “I’m just a man, I’m not a hero. Just a boy, who had to sing this song.”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty debuted in the United States on December 25, 2013. This review focuses on the how the film is an essay on the transition from analog to digital – made for and by the children of the 70’s (otherwise known as Generation X), the “analog vs. digital” and “disrespect for the past” themes, “the purpose of life”, and symbolism in the film. Most of this is from memory and is my own opinions. I have not read any other reviews on this movie, but have seen the movie and trailers.

* Spoiler Alert * This article contains information about the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, please consider watching it first. * Photos credit 20th Century Fox *

Walter Mitty and Cheryl Melhoff

Generation X

In #Mitty, the movie, the actors and the director are all Generation X. Stiller was born in 1965 and is currently 48 years old. To give you perspective on the person writing this article, I was born in 1980 which makes me part of Generation X, Y, and the Millennial Generation, however I’m most likely Generation Jones. While I was able to pick up on a lot of the references and music used in the film, there are still things that I didn’t ‘get’ like the name on the t-shirt Mitty’s mom kept for him.

The movie is full of references to Generation X. Mitty’s sister is auditioning to be Rizzo in Grease, a movie that came out in 1978. She gets him a Stretch Armstrong (debuted in 1976) doll for his birthday. Mitty has a Jansport hiking bag (popular in the 80’s). At the end of the movie Mitty is wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, a leather strap necklace with a copper hex nut, and friendship bracelets. There are also several scenes referencing “Major Tom“, which is a fictional character created by David Bowie in the late 60’s.

You can always tell about how old you are based on what music appears in commercials and it’s becoming apparent that the markets have begun marketing less to the Baby Boomers and more to their children, Generation X. No where is that more apparent than in this movie, which is filled with product placements tucked in and tied to the story line from eHarmony to Papa Johns to LIFE.com, but with nods to Conan O’Brien, TBS, Cinnabon, Dell, CareerBuilder.com, KFC, Instagram, the iPhone, and American Airlines.

Generation X was the last generation to graduate high school and enter the workforce before cell phones and Internet access became ubiquitous. Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, Reality Bites, which came out in 1994, was the same year Netscape started. The World Wide Web had just begun and yet it was already clear that things were changing. It appears that Ben Stiller, despite the success he’s had since then, still longs for a time when things were more simple, more analog – and is betting his audience does too.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie Review

Analog vs. Digital

When Walter Mitty goes to give Rich the longboard at Cheryl’s home, there are at least three 70s-era cars on the street, which is very unusual for a movie set in 2013. In that same scene, on a wall, drawn in chalk is the words, “Here Comes the Sun,” which is an allusion to a Beatles Song of the same name from the album Abbey Road, which came out in 1969. On the cab ride back to his mom’s house, Walter Mitty wants to turn the cab’s digital video off to which the cab driver says ominously, “It stays on.”

Walter Mitty has an analog clock in his apartment (not pictured, but you can hear it ticking in the background) and he wears an analog wristwatch with a leather strap. Although the watch is never specifically referenced in the film, it plays a small part in the short story by James Thurber. For a sense of how Thurber thought about watches, in The Gentleman in 916, he writes, “Even the sound of a wrist-watch prevents me from sleeping, because it sounds like two men trying to take a wheel off a locomotive.”

While Walter Mitty does have a computer, it’s an older model, Dell laptop, which echoes his cell phone, an older flip-style phone. In contrast, Cheryl’s character uses a modern smartphone with Internet access. She still uses terms like “buffering” when searching the Internet (something she probably doesn’t have to do and isn’t a term used much any more). On the flip side, the photographer, Sean O’Connell does not have a phone at all – nor does any place Sean is currently located (ie. a shipping boat).

While on the shipping boat, a deck hand takes a picture with his smartphone for Instagram, and asks to be Facebook friends. This foreshadows Mitty’s meeting with Sean O’Connel in Afghanistan who doesn’t take a picture at all, instead choosing to remember the moment as “me”/himself without the camera. This lost desire to be ‘in the moment’ shares a sentiment with those who identified with Charlene deGuzman and Miles Crawford’s I Forgot My Phone video which  went viral in August of 2013.

Ben Stiller's Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie

Disrespect for the Past

Walter Mitty works with analog film, something Kodak stopped making in June of 2013. Mitty’s co-worker, Hernando (which means “bold voyager”) has a man-crush on the photographer, O’Connell for still using film, which acknowledges he is well aware that although he is surrounded by film negatives, digital pictures have largely replaced analog film. Mitty states that he has never lost a negative despite “over a million” negatives passing through his care over the last 16 years he worked at TIME magazine.

“Negative Asset Manager” is Mitty’s job title, but it’s also a metaphor for the deprecation of ‘everything that’s come before’. In the final scene of the movie, Mitty tells his former boss that the magazine has been built by many people over a long time, which the new boss is now treating as a negative asset on the balance sheet that needs debited or written off. The message is that businesses are created and ran by people, not balance sheets, and should be treated with more respect, even when things change.

When Mitty’s boss, Ted Hendricks asks Mitty where the picture was, Mitty says it’s in a “silver bath” to which Ted does not even try to understand. He later asks someone else to look it up only to conclude that it “doesn’t exist.” Of course it exists, but simply Googling “silver bath” will only give you shiny pictures of bathroom accessories. You have to know that it was a part of photo processing, which is something older generations, even Generation X, understood – even if only in context.

The most visual disrespect for the past occurs as Mitty is entering LIFE magazine for the last time and movers are literally dropping art onto the floor as they violently remove it from the walls. All of the desks are empty and covered in drop cloths like dead bodies, a symbol for the lost jobs and the lost magazine.  After working at the magazine for over 16 years, during his 17th year, the job ended – a ‘death” which could be a metaphor for the death of his father, which happened when Mitty was 17.

Walter Mitty Purpose of Life

The Purpose of Life

In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty movie, LIFE Magazine’s motto is, “To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed.” This motto is written on the wall of the lobby and is repeated in the wallet O’Connell gives Mitty and in the background of the movie as Mitty leaves for Greenland. However, on the wallet, O’Connell added one more sentence, “That is the purpose of life.”

Off the coast of Greenland when Mitty jumps into the ocean, the captain of boat yells, “Don’t fear the porpoise,” which sounds like, “Don’t fear the purpose.” In this movie, Walter Mitty is 42 years old. In real life, Ben Still was 47 at the time of shooting the film. While younger than Brad Pitt, he still may have fears about the purpose of his life, just like Walter Mitty. Just like us. Just like me. He doesn’t want to be the old man bringing the news on a telegram.

Film Symbolism

The most blatant symbolism used in the movie was with allusions to 35 mm film reels and negatives. From the lights in Mitty’s apartment hallway to the windows on the outside of his apartment building, to the dots on the glass in LIFE magazine lobby, to the fuselage of the Greenland airplane at night, the film perforations, also known as perfs or sprocket holes and rectangular acetone film frames themselves were apparent throughout the beginning of the film.

The word “Life” was used throughout the movie, not just as the name of the magazine, but also in conversations Mitty had with Cheryl and his mother. It’s also referenced on the bottom of the longboard Mitty traded for in Iceland. In large print it says, “LIFIO”, which is Icelandic for “can survive”. Similarly, Cheryl comments to Mitty “last in, first out”, which is commonly shortened as “LIFO” in business process management. Find any more? Leave a note in the comments.