An unlikely pairing of Rod Serling with craft beer narcissism — and a glance back at 2013.

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14 years and 13,727 posts into this writing experiment, I’ve long since given up trying to remember what I wrote and when I wrote it. Often I’ll get a brilliant idea about a topic, start writing, then become overwhelmed with deja vu. Upon closer examination, it will be revealed that I certainly have “been there” before, perhaps ten years ago, often using an eerily similar pattern of words.

Earlier today I referenced a craft beer commentary.

BEER WITH A SOCIALIST: Pokemonification? The beer market is plenty big enough for legacy brewers to benefit from segmentation.

The rest of the day something indefinable kept nagging at me. It wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. that my YouTube feed disgorged the link (above) about the new Twilight Zone series, which in turn prompted me to search NA Confidential for the article about Rod Serling that I seem to have remembered writing.

I found it, and my leitmotif was “narcissism,” or the very word that kept occurring to me as I read the Pokemonification screed. Consequently, I’ve been plunged into one of my familiar moods of contemplation with regard to then versus now. 

Obviously the world was a very different place for me in April of 2013. Trench warfare at NABC Bank Street Brewhouse was ongoing, and in retrospect the craft beer world outside our besieged perimeter was a confusing and fog-shrouded landscape.

Re-reading my words almost six years later, I stand by them. What I didn’t know at the time was my eventual decision to deal myself out of the war and sidestep the narcissism (the Pokemonification?), resolving to navigate a course backward to the egg — to hop off the tilt-w-whirl and find a quiet, clean, well-lighted spot to contemplate the universe with a mug of Pilsner Urquell or Fuller’s London Pride.

As John Lennon sang, “I just had to let it go.”

In 2016, I kept repeating to people that comebacks are impossible unless you go away — and I did just that. While I was away, metaphorically, there was enough time and space to rediscover who I really am, as opposed to the role I was expected to play in an off-Broadway production of Craft Beer Nation. It was a role I’d become weary of performing, because my beer-related interests (along with numerous other topics having little to do with beer) were elsewhere. 

Every now and then we must shed our skins and evolve into the next iteration. The process can be gratifying and painful in equal measure, and my only complaint is that in the overall scheme of things for me, time is running short. How many reinventions are left?

Just the same, these past few tumultuous years have been worth it, all the births and deaths, ups and downs, and agonies balancing ecstasies. Most importantly, being involved with Pints&union has helped me understand that my life experience is still useful.

I’m not exactly fashionable, but I don’t care. At the age of 58, I can show up with mismatched socks and not give a damn. Apart from a sliver of new music, popular culture utterly eludes me. The historic preservationists can deal with their buildings, and I’ll embrace beer and beer-related culture. The re-educational “legacies” mission has only just begun.

Narcissism still annoys me, as it did Rod Serling. He’s been gone for a very long time. I hope to stick around a while longer. Here’s the column from April, 2013. 

Heavens, what a photo.

ON THE AVENUES: You gaze at your own reflection, all right.

“The ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in; becoming narcissistic.”
— attributed to Rod Serling (1924-1975)

Science fiction isn’t my forte, but no matter. Even if I seldom indulge, it is evident to me that the genre has its strengths, among them the ability to harness the otherwise far-fetched to the greater cause of allegorical relevance.

Consider, if you will, Rod Serling’s scripts for the Twilight Zone television series, many of which remain fresh and thought-provoking a half-century after their inception.

Serling’s personal mission, one that he pursued with considerable skill, was to befuddle white-bread network censors by disguising progressive commentaries as seemingly harmless manifestations of the macabre – tales regarded as inhabiting the science fiction canon, with commensurate camouflage.

As Serling pithily observed, “Things which couldn’t be said by a Republican or Democrat could be said by a Martian.”

To which I’d add: Things which couldn’t be said by a Republican or Democrat or a Martian might be said by craft beer, but not if we insist on a narcissistic self-absorption.

Lately I’ve been thinking about Serling’s admonition to reject narcissism. A talented man possessing strong viewpoints and pronounced beliefs, he came of age as a writer in the 1950s, precisely at a time when the mass hysterics and delusions of McCarthyism rendered the intellectual climate quite dangerous for those with contrarian viewpoints. It may well have been a nadir for progressivism, even by America’s remarkably low standard in such matters.

And yet, Serling possessed the innate strength of character – a sheer, contrarian stubbornness – to find a way of speaking his mind during a time when the presumed ideal of “free” speech was being honored primarily in the breach. He found a way, because to him, narcissism wasn’t a career option. I couldn’t agree more.

As others did at the time, Serling might have chosen to withhold his talent and wait for the inevitable thaw, perhaps opting for self-exile in an entirely different professional venue. Rather, he resisted drawing back and inward, and continued challenging viewers by painting the corners of the plate with nuance.

What if Serling had shrugged and gone strictly commercial, eschewing the artful for the straightforward, indulging the low common denominator all around him, and giving television audiences more by-the-numbers entertainment? Then as now, safety is easily rationalized, and in the mainstream, there’s a greater probability that the paychecks won’t stop coming.

I’m not judging others, merely noting that for whatever reason, Serling elected not to follow the easiest path. He persevered. The message got out, converts were made along the way, and these many decades later, we’re still able to learn from his experience.

My chosen profession is craft beer, and I’m no happier seeing it corrupted by shoe-gazing narcissism than Rod Serling — in his world, during his heyday, and according to the parameters of his calling.

Craft beer means many things to many people, and that’s as it should be. Speaking for myself, it’s a hobby that eventually grew into an occasional paycheck; it tastes great even though it’s often more filling; it is a wonderful device for promoting the life of the local pub; and it’s the final, best hope for sustaining local pub culture.

But to me, precisely because I’m not narcissistic, there is more to craft beer than just those attributes. Naturally, self-interest as a business owner brings with it certain promotional necessities and instances of self-aggrandizement, but these are not to be confused with staring at one’s reflection in a pond filled with Barrel Aged Black Kolsch while reaching for the Kleenex … and not because one needs to blow his nose.

Beer, as writ large, may very well be a commodity suitable for the Financial Times, but craft beer specifically also is a symbol, an analogy – a metaphor. Craft beer’s very founding principle is active and points outward, not passive and shrinking toward the inside. It is expansive in the market sense, but more importantly, in profits from the larger sense of community consciousness.

Craft beer is revolutionary, the overt rejection of an established order commonly known as mass market beer, which profits by accumulating capital for the express purpose of thwarting competition in purely Mafioso capitalistic fashion, and substitutes slavish conformity for the broad panoply of life’s possibilities.

When craft beer lapses narcissistic, and whenever the circle geeking starts, we as a presumed culture of appreciation are only providing the multinational mockrobrewing hegemonists with head space to mislead the larger segment of the market, which we haven’t yet reached. The established order we first rebelled against hasn’t gone away. It’s fighting back, and the best way to confront the Goebbelsian lies it deploys is to break away from our narcissism, stop looking in the mirror, and engage those folks standing just beyond the tent flap.

That’s because many of them want to come inside. Let’s give them a reason to do so.

I can’t be sure that Rod Serling would have appreciated craft beer, but I believe he would quickly see the merit in purging narcissism from the culture of craft beer appreciation. It’s repellant, even to those of us who already get it.

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