Monthly Archives: May 2012

Happiness, Polyamory, and “The Good Life”

A study has been kicking around the blogosphere recently called The Ordinary Concept of Happiness (and Others Like It).  The study purports (convincingly, to my mind) to show that when people try to evaluate whether another person is happy or in love, they are not merely trying to identify a mental state, but are making moral/evaluative judgments about the person herself.  You can test it out yourself with the following video:

The researchers found that when they were presented with a woman in a situation that most would consider a good life or dating a good man, they were likely to accept her mental state as indicative of her actual happiness (or unhappiness) or state of being in love.  When they were presented with a bad life, or a bad man, people only tended to trust her mental state when it indicated that she was unhappy.  Her mental state showing happiness or being in love was distrusted by most respondents.  The researchers theorize that this is because people make evaluative judgments about the woman in question, and this impacts their evaluations of of happiness or love (but no unhappiness or lust).

Will Wilkinson theorizes that this is due to normative descriptions of happiness, which I find convincing.  However, the effect is the same – if you’re not living the kind of life that people think of as a good one, people won’t believe you when you say that you are happy.

It’s fairly obvious how this relates to polyamory.  To most, polyamory is not what they think of when they think of a rich, fulfilling, happy life.  Most think of having multiple relationships as disrespectful, irresponsible, reckless, and unfulfilling (much like many of the activities described as part of the “bad life” in the video above).  Therefore, people will be unwilling to trust that our lifestyle makes us happy, despite our subjective mental states.

This presents an interesting problem for the polyamorous – how do we make polyamory more accepted by society at large?  So far, most strategies I’ve heard involve showing people that we are polyamorous, and that we are happy and fulfilled.  However, the above study seems to suggest that we are working backward, that even if people believe that we think we’re happy, they’ll be reluctant to agree.  The research suggests that in order for people to believe that polyamory can make us happy, they will need to accept that polyamory is the type of activity that leads to a happy, fulfilling life.  

The question is – how the hell are we supposed to convince people of that, if the evidence that we are happy isn’t enough?  What other evidence is there?

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Normalizing Weird

This past weekend, Wes, Shaun, Ginny and I attended a BBQ at the home of one of the lovely poly families we know.  In fact, this particular family serves as inspiration and a model for Wes, Jessie and I because they were doing what we’re doing long before us.

Because I haven’t actually gotten permission to use their names on here, I’ll use initials instead.  So, V and IR are married and V is in a serious relationship with S.  S moved into V and IR’s home last year and things seem to be going great.  We don’t get to hang out with them very often because everyone is busy and they live a bit far away, but it’s always a good time when we do.

It’s especially fun because they have put together quite a poly community on their own.  With the exception of one guest’s young siblings and another person who was not explicitly so, everyone in attendance was living an actively polyamorous lifestyle.

So, when people  hear about poly parties such as this, I think (and Shaun says he gets comments like this often) that they get an image in their head of what this looks like.  Namely, they assume that a BBQ attended by a bunch of polyamorous people is automatically a big orgy or it’s all a big excuse for individuals to hook up on various couches and in various rooms of the house.  Not to say this isn’t a possibility.  I haven’t been to any parties like this personally, but I’m sure they happen.  And I would suspect that a party made up of a bunch of people with lower boundaries and fewer rules about the way they carry on their relationships would have higher incidents of hook ups, at least down the road after the party’s end.  But when we were invited to the BBQ, we were invited to a BBQ.  This meant that there were hamburgers and grilled corn and copious amounts of potato salad, good beer, and delicious sangria (made by Ginny with leftover boxed wine from their wedding!).

Looking around the yard at the various groups intermingling what could be seen was quite typical for any BBQ: a bunch of people chatting about various subjects (mostly not about polyamory, though it came up here and there since we were amongst like-minded people), kids playing in the dirt and climbing trees (that’s right, those depraved poly people brought their KIDS to a party…and the kids had a great time both entertaining each other and playing with a bunch of the adults), good food being eaten and enjoyed, everyone helping with set up and serving…you know, nothing but a normal old Memorial Day party.

Shaun and I were looking around and he said, “Yeah, I don’t think anyone would be able to tell the difference between this and any other standard 30-somethings party” and he’s completely right.  In fact, it wasn’t particularly clear at all who was dating who.  People were affectionate, but in a very we’re all friends here kind of way.  You would have had to have kept close tabs on each person and who they happened to share a kiss with at different points to get any ideas about pairings.

This was, of course, not surprising to me because, well, I don’t particularly view any of us as weird in a day-to-day sense.  Wes, Jessie, and I have a pretty normal life in terms of things like having dinner together, sharing household chores, picking movies or television shows to watch, coming up with fun things to do on the weekend, whatever.  Making plans with Shaun and Ginny is the same.  It’s just that there’s sex involved and declarations of love involved too and that distinction makes everything else seem weird to outsiders looking in.

I hope that this blog continues to serve a purpose of showing the world how “normal” we ultimately are in many ways and that you can be weird in the ways that we are without being dangerous or morally abhorrent or whatever it is people assume about people living perfectly harmless lives outside of the mainstream.

A little while back there was a troll who attacked the blog on multiple entries who, amongst other things (like insisting on saying we are polygamists and that the women involved in our relationships are obviously victims of the wills of the sexist assholes we married) said that us talking about polyamory publicly was just a way for us to look cool since we’re all so obviously boring; that us having a alternate way of living and saying that we wish people were more accepting of it was just our way of standing out in a crowd (and being bored with our own privilege otherwise or something).  I know, it was a troll and trolls can stay at the bridges under which they live, but I would like to point out that we aren’t living this way for attention.  We are living this way because it is satisfying for us, because our relationships are healthier and improved because of our experience with this life, because how could we ever go back to denying ourselves the loves we have found.  And we would enjoy the privilege of being able to live this way in peace, so we talk about it and be out about it so that people can see that it’s really OK (and that it’s OK not to live this way).

But now I’ve gone and talked about the burgers that were consumed at the BBQ and I really want another one.  V made them and they had cheese and bacon INSIDE them and were cooked to perfection.  Damn it.  Have another BBQ, guys!

Taming Demons: Not Just for Exorcists Anymore

I woke up yesterday feeling distressed and hopeless. This happens to me every once in a while (and, thankfully, much less than it used to), and if I take proper precautions I can keep it from spiraling out of control for the rest of the day. Sometimes I can’t get through it by myself though. I often need to talk things out with Wes to figure out what’s sparking the distress and to determine a course of corrective action.
I struggle with insecurity…a lot. When I tell this to people who know me socially, they are often surprised by this fact. When I’m out in public, I tend to carry myself with a relatively high amount of confidence. In addition, a lot of the things I do have a performance component to it, so my ham-it-up nature suggests that I don’t worry about what people think of me or something. But much in the same way as many hilarious comedians are actually quite depressed and disturbed, my social persona is not the entire story. In fact, my outgoing nature now is the result of a lot of work.
It has been a long standing goal for me to become the person I am in public when I am alone or amongst those very close to me. It used to be that the insecure, crying, irrational girl only showed herself when she was sure that no one would see, except for Wes. It bothered me that I could be completely fine most of the time when out and about, amongst people who didn’t know me as well, but would be floored by any little thing when I was at home. Before, it was a matter of exerting lots of energy to be OK for all the people who didn’t matter as much and by the time I came home I wouldn’t be able to cope with stress. And yet, it never felt like I was exerting that much energy. When I was out in the thick of social interaction, I just didn’t think about it. I just “was” and when I would get home, I would let my mind wander to dark and sinister places where all the judgment of the entire world hid. And, if there was not sufficient evidence that people actually felt the way I feared they did, I would invent it.
I have made a lot of progress towards rational handling of this kind of thing. This is why I talk about it in the past tense. I have done well to merge the two personas so that the people in both my public and private life see generally the same version of me. This means that I am calmer and more rational at home and that sometimes I have issues in the public eye. In general this has led to a marked increase in my own sense of sanity. By bringing the two sides together I am happier all around.
But, this is certainly not to say that the issues are gone. I am still insecure often. I worry that all the things and people in my life who make me so happy are actually just fleeting occurrences and that the only thing that keeps them near me is me being perfect at all times. Any mistake I make, any moment of weakness, any bout with irrationality could be the thing that snaps the thread. This fear is so profound that even when I ask people directly if my fears are founded and they tell me that I have nothing to worry about, I can’t quite bring myself to believe them. When I hear the words, I have a lingering thought in the back of my mind, “Sure, you say that now, but wait until I really mess up”. And I translate me “really messing up” to crying one too many times or misplacing some item of theirs somewhere during a cleaning frenzy.
I have never been to a therapist, so I don’t have a name for this other than extreme insecurity. I couldn’t tell you where it comes from, what specific thing (or series of things) during my childhood led to me not believing people when they say that they like the person I am, flaws and all, but it is there. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where I can accept that this is both something I have to constantly work on and be vigilant about, but it is also a constant part of who I am. We all have our demons. I am not different from anyone else in this regard. It’s just that it’s very important to me that my demons don’t control me.
The biggest difference between the me of today and the me of a couple of years ago is that the tears don’t come so easily and that when I am weathering an episode of insecurity, the language I use has changed. Yesterday while talking to Wes about various things I admitted fully through tears that I was likely projecting all of these things, that if I ask myself rationally what kind of evidence I have to support my claims I can only answer that I have none, and that I have an active imagination and have invented this yet again. And while this may sound like I am too hard on myself, it is this type of questioning of my neurosis that leads to calm and progress. Yes, when I find that I am inventing and projecting, I disparage myself for it still, but the disparaging is less severe than it used to be because my goals now have shifted. I don’t just want to get better overall, I want to be able to deal better in the moment. No good ever particularly comes from me tearing myself apart for being weak. It is important to acknowledge it and say that it is not behavior I particularly want to repeat, but that’s where it needs to end. No one was ever as good at abusing me emotionally than me and I’d like to think that I am pretty reformed these days.
I set out to attempt to write about this is an amusing way, but as I thought about composing the first sentence I found that I had nothing funny to say. I couldn’t be self deprecating about this particular aspect of my personal struggles because it is pretty much the underlying cause of all of my problems. I can’t distance myself from it. I don’t have any hilarious stories about when I was really insecure…I generally regret all of my bouts with it and can’t glean a bright side from it. The only bright side is that it is so much better now. While I honestly and openly say that I struggle with insecurity, I don’t feel completely controlled by it anymore and sometimes that’s the best we can achieve. Being in control of our own life is truly the only definition of freedom that has ever made sense to me.
Thank you to all the people who have shown me such love and patience while I have waded through my mental mire. You know who you are. May you never doubt how much I appreciate you. And if I come to you and cry “How could you love someone like me?!?”, just smash a cream pie in my face, OK?

Compersion OVERLOAD

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Philadelphia.  The sun came up and it was immediately bright and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky.  It was warm but not oppressive.  Driving through the streets to get to the William Way Center, I saw so many people out and about, sipping on coffee or sitting in the window seats of cafes having brunch.  It is on days like this that the prettiness and excellence of the city is undeniable.

But perhaps everything looked so good to me because I was off to load in with Arcati Crisis to play at Shaun and Ginny’s wedding.

On Friday night, Wes and I went and dropped off a ton of stuff at the venue and went to buy a bunch of table cloths since the rental company they hired for linens sucks and didn’t really seem to understand what “We need them on Saturday” meant.  And then we went back to their house where Ginny’s brother Lane was, as well as several out of town friends.  They were working on wedding crafts, eating giant slices of pizza and smoking cigars on the front steps.  We hung out for a few hours and it was really fun for me to get to meet people from other realms of Shaun and Ginny’s lives, people who have know them for much longer and in different settings.  They were a diverse crowd and a funny crowd and in meeting them I got to see why we all get along so well.  They come from all over the country and I wish I was going to get more of a chance to get to know them, but seeing as I’m not going anywhere, I’m sure that those opportunities will arise.

On Saturday, I awoke around 7:30 in the morning with honest to goodness jitters.  Not bad jitters, just the kind that you get before something you’re excited about is going to happen.  They were “night before Christmas” or “night before my birthday” jitters.  When I finally succumbed to them, I realized that I was looking so forward to Shaun and Ginny’s wedding that I couldn’t even sleep anymore.  Then I got out of bed and went about getting ready, the excitement kept building.

When we got to the place, Arcati Crisis was all business.  We set to work getting out 100 pieces of necessary Rock Music equipment in order and, since we managed to beat the bride and groom there by a half hour, we were also telling the caterers and such what to do, always with the caveat of “Um…I don’t really know, but I guess this makes sense?” Shaun appeared, looking awesome in a yellow button down shirt and sweet green and yellow tie and his simultaneously hot and hilarious sunglasses.  This is a general theme about what I find attractive him.  I usually laugh and lust all at the same time.  Ginny arrived a little bit later looking like the picture of beauty.  She wore an almond colored 50’s style cocktail dress and a pearl headband and jewelry that she made herself.  She was also wearing a huge grin and she just looks so pretty when she smiles like that.

Eventually, we got everything set up and managed a sound check while the first guests started arriving.  Peter took on the role of wedding coordinator, something he is ridiculously good at.  He had put together a schedule for the day basically down to the minute.  There were a few hitches that put us behind for a bit, but somehow we ended up being only a minute over by the end.  I believe project/event management is Peter’s mutant power, which in this day and age beats the pants off of fire vision or hand spikes…at least in terms of being useful to people.  I’m pretty sure no one wants Wolverine to organize their wedding.  Though he might be kind of awesome at a Bar Mitzvah.

We played a bunch of originals while people arrived and Shaun and Ginny floated around saying hello to everyone.  Wes and Jessie walked around the room listening to make sure we sounded balanced and the right volume and then Jessie became the wedding photographer and walked around the whole time taking pictures of everything.  I was quite happy about that because I brought my fancy camera and I know that Jessie takes great pictures.

The ceremony was short but beautiful.  Their friend Staks was the officiant and started by asking for a moment to remember that not everyone is able to marry.  This was an important statement to make, in general, but also in a room such as that where there was such a diverse group with many different lifestyles.  The vows and exchanged words were about things so fundamental to a healthy, long lasting relationship: Trust, commitment to each other’s happiness, the feeling that they both can be everything that they are around each other, growth and change, and of course, love and a general bond and commitment to each other.  I wish that everyone who had ever expressed concern about their relationship and marriage could have been there to see it because being there, hearing their words, seeing the depth of emotion between them, you would be unable to deny the reality of the relationship’s strength and awesomeness.

Lane and I were the witnesses on their marriage license which meant a lot to me.  Then after lunch was served, I, the best man, the maid of honor, and Ginny’s father spoke, people from all different places in their lives.  I get to see them day to day but have known them for a relatively short time (though it feels like I have known them for much longer).  The wedding party (Jordan and Joy) have known them for years but aren’t able to be around as much now.  And of course, a parent always has a different perspective.  All together, it was a picture of a rich life filled with family and friends who, at least on this day (and from the sound of it, for many days to come), support and love them.  And this richness, to me, is so much more valuable than money or traditional professional success.

Ginny and I sang together and it went quite well, despite the fact that the band had learned it only a few days before.  I was happy for the chance to do it since Ginny has a lovely voice and everyone got to hear it.  Then the band’s dance set started and it was over in a blur.

At the end of the day, Shaun’s mom came over to me and complimented the band and things like that.  And then we talked about this blog.  Shaun had told me on Friday that she read much of what is on here…including my post about Easter.  Oops!  Well, hi, Shaun’s Mom (since you might be a regular reader now)!  But, the blog did something unexpected.  She didn’t react to the things I said in a defensive way in the slightest.  Instead, she apologized that I had felt uncomfortable and hoped that I would come back to visit and give her another chance.  Then she reminded me that this is all weird, and she’s right.  I have talked before about how I feel like I’m generally in a bubble when I’m at home because my life makes a lot of sense there.  Everyone there is part of it and is an active participant in my “lifestyle”.  Often when I blog about this stuff I am doing it because I have moments (many moments) where the bubble bursts and it inspires a lot of thought from me.  The absurdity of life is always blog worthy.  For Shaun’s mom, she just didn’t know what to expect, how to feel, anything about me and I explained to her that I was in a similar boat that day because it was the first time I was being introduced as the girlfriend.  So often I am introducing Jessie to people and people see it as “the wife giving her blessing” or something.  We were both in odd places and it was an absurd day on top of that.  But it meant a lot to me that she wanted to talk to me about it, that she wanted to move beyond it.  I felt accepted and saw potential of becoming part of the family and that means a great deal to me.

If yesterday was not argument enough that polyamory can be highly functional and truly preferred, I don’t know what is.    I was immensely happy for them all day, through the night, and am still beaming about it.  This is the picture of compersion.  I was so grateful to them for including in so many aspects of the day because I felt free to express to them how wonderful their love for each other makes me feel, and how lucky I am to get to experience it.

As the day went on, I often looked at Wes and Jessie and would feel compersion for them as well.  I was so happy that they were there and that they got to enjoy the day together along with me.  I am so happy that they found each other and that there is so much wonder in this house and in this life.  I understand that our lives are strange to many and seems impossible for many others.  That’s fine.  Everyone is different.  But take this as an honest and heartfelt statement: I could never go back to monogamy after having had what I have now.  There is so much joy in this life.  I feel overjoyed and happy so often, all because of the amazing people close to me.  How could I ever wish for anything else?

I have been going on like this for days.  I’m sure I’ll calm down with all this sentimentality and sappiness at some point, but for now, I feel like I am bursting with it.  I just can’t stop saying “I love you” and “I am so happy”.  I’m sure I’m making cynical people want to barf, but I’m OK with that.  To the Vomitorium with you! (Spell check does not recognize “vomitorium” and suggested that perhaps I meant “Victorian” or “Janitorial”.  No, those are not what I’m talking about.)

Well, I’ve blathered on about this long enough I suppose. I promise to return to my posts about stripper heals, germaphobes, and feminism shortly…though probably not all in the same post.  Although, now that sounds like a challenge.

Gina Sez: Posts About Shoes are Relevant

Last Friday, I accompanied Ginny for a day of achieving nebulous wedding related goals that took us traipsing across town.   I say nebulous because really all we had in mind was to go get pedicures…

Note: For whatever reason, Ginny and I step out of our decidedly non-girly roles when we spend days together.  On one of our first dates, we went searching in antique stores for tea cups and bought yarn.  Subsequently there have been days filled with us wearing spiffy dresses, getting pedicures, and drinking overpriced specialty “martinis”.  Whatever, don’t judge us, Judgey McJudgerstein.

Anyway, we ended up stopping at several places in a futile attempt to find comfortable shoes to complete her wedding outfit.  I was also looking for shoes to go with my awesome Wedding Band Star outfit, but my requirements are a bit more specific.  I wanted light blue, open toed shoes of some sort and was experiencing complete failure in finding any.

I know…you’re sitting at the edge of your seat by now wondering what I’m going to talk about.  I can feel it in the air.

So, I thought today I would look on the Internet for a quick solution.  If the shoes I want exist, surely the Interwebz will give them to me.  I found my way to Amazon after the “rest” of the internet thoroughly disappointing me in terms of design AND prices I’m willing to pay.

Note: I am willing to pay $15 for shoes at this point.  Maybe $20 if they’re awesome.  Maybe.

Well, I thought Amazon was failing me too.  Who knew that my shoe inspirations were so obscure and expensive?  But then…then they showed me the way:

Can you hear the angels?  ‘Cause they’re totes singing.  If I ever saw a more impressive shoe, it must have erased my memory due to being too incredibly awesome to be remembered.  Now, get a load of the item name:

7 1/2 Inch High Platform Sexy Shoes Circle Light Up Shoes Stripper Shoes Ankle Strap Sandals Chrome Blue

First of all, I didn’t even know they made shoes that were 7.5 inches tall.  Second of all, apparently I can strip in these and not die.  I mean, they wouldn’t put that into the description if I could die wearing them, right?  Of course not!  and, of course, they light up in a way that is reminiscent of any of one of my favorite things: Oscilloscopes or Jacob’s ladders .

OK, I know that’s supposed to be pretty lights or something, but I choose to assume that it’s a tip of the hat to 1800’s science.  You know the kind I mean: Bringing the dead back to life by harnessing the power of the swirling lighting storm above your roof.  Or, um, using oscilloscopes to look cool.  That’s a thing right?

So yeah, these shoes combine my love of impractical, dangerous science with my love of being 7.5 inches taller.  In addition to those excellent things, wearing a ridiculous pair of light up stripper heals to Shaun and Ginny’s wedding would make me THAT woman at the wedding.

Picture it: I show up in a tube dress of some sort and those shoes, barely able to walk because those shoes are basically stilts and I am not trained in the art of not walking like an idiot in them.  In my hand is a handle of vodka and my hair looks like I just came back from a pretty wild night that resulted in me falling off of a dock somewhere.  I come in, see the looks from their family and friends and say something to the tune of, “Hey! DON’T JUDGE ME!” Maybe I’ll quote Jesus in a garbled fashion like, “mumble mumble mumble LEST YE BE JUDGED!” and then fall over…all classy like.  Then Peter will revive me with smelling salts and say “It’s time to play music now, Gina” and then we’ll all know how much of a rock star I really am.

This is how memories that last a lifetime are made, people.

Or…you know…not.  But only because the shoes cost over $100.

But seriously, folks:

When I went to meet Shaun’s mom on Easter (in the post I realize I described a similar “slut crashing the party” scene…), I put decidedly too much thought in the best way to NOT look like a slut.  This is, under any other circumstances, not difficult for me because I tend to not particularly dress like a typical hooker (mainly because I don’t have the budget for lightning shoes), but I was terrified that I was going to be walking into some kind of situation where she would want to brand me “Home Wrecker”.  Much in the same vane, I really don’t want to do anything to bring about the idea of “Oh…there’s that (married) whore who is invalidating their marriage”.  So, I will be looking like something out of Mad Men along with the rest of the band who will be similarly nicely dressed.

But still…I will dream about those shoes…and making a YouTube video of the scene I described above, because that’s fucking funny.

Gina’s Favorite Things: Comic Book Science

I have a confession to make: I used to watch Baywatch.  Even better?  I watched Baywatch with my dad.

You see, back in the late 60’s/early 70’s my dad was a lifeguard at Zuma Beach near Malibu in southern California.  Things about the job haven’t really changed much since then.  As you might guess, the reality of lifeguarding in South Bay expressed on Baywatch was…um…not accurate at all.  It was so very inaccurate, with Pam Anderson’s giant boobs barely being controlled by her flimsy uniform and David Hasselhoff…well…being David Hasselhoff, that we watched it for the pure hilarity of it.  It was one of the most entertaining shows on tv because it was so very terrible.

Watching CSI (any of them) gives me similar entertainment.  Here you have a group of Hollywood Attractive men and women who are all supposedly chemists who run around solving mysteries.  I don’t know much about being an actual crime scene investigator, but I’m fairly certain that they don’t generally investigate AND get into fire fights with deranged maniacs AND arrest them.  I’m pretty sure they pick up hairs, dissolve them in stuff and then put the solution in a variety of analytical machines.

I mean, I could be wrong about what the job actually entails, but much in the way that I’m pretty sure that most marine biologists start out (and never stop) crawling around in mud collecting samples of various mollusks as opposed to getting to swim with dolphins on a regular basis, the CSI shows make it seem like forensic chemistry is ridiculously exciting, dramatic, and entirely populated by sexy chemists.  Every time one of the female investigators shows up at a crime scene in leather pants, low cut shirts, and high-heeled boots, I laugh as they step around in blood and discuss the great abundance of semen on the walls and floor lamps.  Every time one of them glides through the lab with an unbuttoned, completely stain-free lab coat, I laugh because that’s not how you wear a lab coat and also, there’s probably not a safety manager there.

In short, I find the science in movies and television geared towards the general public HIGHLY entertaining.  It is most certainly one of my favorite things about popular media.  I know the awfulness of some scientific premises in media thoroughly annoy scientific people, but to me it’s just hilarious.  It’s not that I suspend disbelief.  It’s that it adds an element of comedy to a movie that probably isn’t all that serious to begin with.

I went to see The Avengers this week.  I absolutely loved it.  I have really enjoyed all of the Marvel movies that have come out in preparation for this one and it did not disappoint me.  It also had one of the greatest idiotic science sentences that I have ever heard.  It was so bad that I actually laughed out loud in a quiet theater about it.

I wouldn’t really call this a spoiler, but fair warning, I’m going to talk about a tiny part of it.

So, Bruce Banner, world renowned gamma ray expert and giant green anger monster, is talking to Tony Stark, one genius to another.  Banner jumps into gear to help look for this thingy that has a specific gamma ray signature.  He is told that they have tried all methods of detection and have failed (whatever that means).  Banner says something to the tune of “You haven’t tried everything…Get all of your spectrometers, put them on the roof and set them to detect gamma rays.”

That sentence is basically meaningless.  Stark says something about how brilliant that idea is and all I could think was, “I don’t think you know how spectrometers work…”

First of all, spectrometer is a catch-all term for analytical machines that analyze chemicals by exposing them to different wavelengths of light (infrared, UV/Visible, for instance).   When you say something like, “GET ALL THE SPECTROMETERS!” you are saying that all spectrometers work in the same way, require the same sampling methods, etc.  They aren’t and they don’t.  In addition, you don’t just walk up to a spectrometer, throw an unknown sample on it and say “tell me what that is”.  You either have to have a library of spectra for known substances to compare against or be really good at reading spectra (which, for me at least, is very difficult).  If you’re trying to figure out the concentration of something in a sample, you don’t just throw the sample on there and say “tell me how much is in there”.  Again, analytical chemistry is a science of comparison.  To figure out the concentration of something in an unknown mixture, you have to make up several samples with that particular thing in various known concentrations.  This is called a calibration curve.

What I’m saying is that analytical chemistry is a pain in the ass.

Readers of this blog will probably start to figure out that I have biases against various realms of chemistry.  I have already ranted at length about inorganic and now I’ve got my sights on analytical.  I should point out that I am very happy that both of these things exist…I just don’t want much to do with them myself and commend the people who have a passion for them.  My dislike of analytical chemistry is what made my graduation from college take 10 years instead of 5 (I just didn’t want to write those damned lab reports, so I had one class to finish for 5 years following the completion of everything else).  Luckily, the analytical professor at my university is one of the most patient saints in the world.  But I digress…

So that’s just what’s wrong with saying “use the spectrometers”.  Next he says that they should put all the spectrometers on the roof and set them to “Gamma Ray”.  Look, I know that gamma rays are waves just like light, but a generic “spectrometer” is not going to just detect them for you.  What’s more hilarious is that the reason they need an expert is that the particular thingy they’re trying to find has a particularly strange and faint gamma ray signature, so it would stand to reason that you would need a really specialized, VERY SENSITIVE detector to pick it up.

We have an infrared spectrometer in my lab.  It cost $35,000.  It’s a pretty good IR spec, but ultimately, infrared spectroscopy is a pretty limited analytical technique.  You sample by putting a drop of your unknown stuff onto a diamond.  IR light gets refracted and reflected through the diamond all up in your sample.  The bonds of the molecules get all excited and shake, rattle and roll and the machine converts these movements into an image, a spectrum.  You can tell the structure of a molecule by where peaks on the graph are.  It can only tell you big components.  For instance, in an organic molecule you will always see huge peaks indicating the presence of carbon-hydrogen bonds because organic molecules are ALL ABOUT those.  If there are subtle things you’re trying to find, good luck.  IR, at least a $35,000 IR, doesn’t do subtle very well.  It’s like your loud uncle at Thanksgiving who outs your in the closet cousin…but instead of a cousin, it’s carbon.

That’s a terrible simile, but whatever.  I like the image of a loud, asshole IR spectrometer eating a mountain of mashed potatoes saying, “DID YOU KNOW THAT CARBON IS GAY?  HE’S TOTALLY GAY.” And then everyone at the table says, “Yes, IR, we know. And since we are all made of carbon, perhaps we’re all a little bit gay…” and then a conversation about how we are all equals in the eyes of atoms and how we should all just get over who people fall in love with or are attracted to because we’re all just bags of chemicals anyway and chemicals just react.  It’s what they do.

Well, this just got really off topic.  Whatever, that’s what they pay me here for.

Hmm…I don’t actually get paid.  Well, then, um, I can talk about whatever the hell I want.

Anyway, back to Avengers science.  So the point I was making about the IR is that even not particularly sophisticated ones are hella expensive.  Spectrometers get more expensive the more impressive their detectors are.  Could you imagine how much a spectrometer with a detector calibrated to pick up a very particular gamma ray signature to find a strange alien cube by just scanning the ambient air on the roof would cost?  That’s NASA money…nay, that’s “Haha, we won’t pay for our foot soldiers to have working equipment and proper personal protective equipment, but by God, we need that thing that finds alien gamma rays deep in the arctic or something” money.

I’m sure there’s some sort of equipment that could be used for this process.  I don’t feel like googling it.  But I would think that if you had a spectrometer that did all that, you wouldn’t really want to stick it up on the roof.  You also wouldn’t want to walk outside with it on a flying aircraft carrier.  Just sayin’.

After Banner says this brilliant nonsensical thing, he and Stark exchange a bunch of techno babble to which Captain America says something like, “Uh, what?”  Don’t worry, Captain America, they didn’t actually say anything.

It is a generally known fact in the Geek Realm that Star Trek: The Next Generation scripts regularly had places where the characters were just supposed to adlib techno babble.  I suspect that’s why there were just so many mentions of tachyon pulses, polarity reversal, dilithium, and deflector shields.  I got the feeling during the particularly scientific moments in Avengers that this was what they were doing.

Stark: Hmm, science science science science.

Banner: Yes, that’s because of science and science.

Stark: Science!  Brilliant!

Banner: Yes, brilliant! GET ALL THE SPECTROMETERS.

Yeah, I laughed a lot.  Just like in Iron Man 2 when Stark makes a new element by building a proton accelerator out of crap he found around his beach mansion.  I thought that was simultaneously hysterical AND completely hot.  I often describe that scene as one of the hottest things ever filmed.  Stop laughing at me.  Whatever.  Robert Downey, Jr. plus tank top, plus proton accelerator = Drool.*

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are not necessarily shared by all contributors to Polyskeptic.

In conclusion, I love good science, but bad science can be fabulous…when in movies featuring Norse Gods, giant dudes with anger management problems, people with eyepatches and Uzis, and Captain America.  I never have a problem with stupid science if the point of the media is not to be scientific.  Comic books are awesome and also ridiculous, therefore the science gets to be far fetched and a little nonsensical. Plus, it’s fun to be a scientific person poking holes in the scientific claims of someone like The Incredible Hulk.  It doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the movie that he says a bunch of bullshit, it just makes it Marvel.  I go into it expecting to hear it and get a little disappointed when I don’t.

Hmm…now all I want to do is watch a bunch of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Stupid work.