“I have to return some video tapes…”: American Psycho (2000)

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Based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name, American Psycho has Christian Bale playing the malevolent Wall Street financier Patrick Bateman. It traces the fall of our anti-hero from a misanthropic man filled with contempt, leisurely dividing his time between business meetings to dine and recklessly womanize, to a homicidal psychopath, who feels compelled to murder those around him, with or without the slightest provocation. Bateman is a wealthy, heterosexual yuppie who carefully masks his violent misogynistic and racist attributes – but the question is, for how long? His murders show his extreme apathy towards beggars, homeless people and women and throws light on a void, emotionless core that is perhaps the result of a blatant hedonistic lifestyle. Bateman lives in the poshest residential area of Manhattan, and as such it is difficult to imagine how he escapes the law with the kind of brutal crimes he commits.

ampsy3But it is important to note that the line between reality and illusion is blurred at the conclusive moment of the movie. The film rises above that of the narratology of a serial killer and poses a higher, more critical challenge: We are witnessing a man who is losing his identity and forming natural xenophobic tendencies in a mass manufactured, materialistic society. ampsy2

 The film is very well a critique of capitalism as much as it is of personal neuroticism. Bateman is powerful and privileged and indeed a part of the crème de la crème of society. Perhaps he feels stifled by the monotony of his extravagant, Dionysian lifestyle. Perhaps he is looking for something more and when he fails to find, it might be that he creates an alternate reality for himself. This is strictly my personal opinion, but I do not see Patrick Bateman as a quintessential serial killer such as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. He aspires to be one as he voraciously reads up on Ted Bundy and other such mass murders and criminals but Bateman’s crimes, perhaps are all psychological, giving him release from a banal, highly competitive, superficial life. His release takes the form of extreme violence, but we are never really sure how much of it is authentic. The other way to analyze it is perhaps seeing the situation in terms of a lack of communication and an inherent indifference that people harbour for fellow beings- even when Bateman frantically confesses his heinous acts to his lawyer, he is not taken seriously. Nothing is of importance. His associates are as flamboyantly decadent as he is, and the primary anxiety is about acceptance, or “fitting in” as Bateman says to his fiancee band it reflects in the exclusiveness of the restaurants they go to or the the design of their business cards, clothes, hairstyle and of course, the beauty of their trophy girlfriends. There are no real bonds or emotional connections- in fact the characters hardly seem real and to quote Bateman,

“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don’t know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.”

Indeed, throughout the film, the characters mis-identify each other (much like they mis-identify restaurants) which highlight the superficial nature of their relationships and the complete breakdown of individuality. There is something much more dangerous and horrifying than the knives, hatchets and chainsaws that Bateman desperately reaches out for. There is something more sinister than all the blood he spills. The interminable cynicism and disdain that the characters harbour exemplify irreconcilable alienation that leaves no room for hope. Bateman’s “crimes” will bear no punishment because they are as immaterial as he is in the eyes of the society he lives in. He is at once an outcast and the high priest of his dominion. Bateman comes to terms with the fact that the world is as sick as the workings of his fevered imagination. Devoid of any moral compunctions, he is unaware of his fall from humanity. He does not enjoy the crimes he commits like Alex de Large in A Clockwork Orange or Dr. Hannibal Lecter- for him it is just an insatiable thirst to perhaps find the meaning of his existence in the cacophony of murders that he so called commits remorselessly, one after the other, indeed in ridiculous, rather unimaginable numbers.
Ellis’ work has been often quoted directly by the script, the most notable instance being the part where Bateman appropriates this definition to his persona – “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there”. The movie concludes with Bateman’s monologue:

“There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it I have now surpassed. My pain is constant and sharp, and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis; my punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. No new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.”

Here’s a link to the trailer:

“I must get this crack mended”: Repulsion (1965)

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Known to probe into the depths of human psychology (and psychosis), in Repulsion, Roman Polanski weaves a tale of mounting horrors suffered by the heroine – a beautiful, sex-repressed French girl living in London – from a state of mental woe into a stage of dithering madness and then to the dark extremity of murdering a brace of fellows who happen into the lonely apartment in which she is hidden.
Catherine Deneuve is remarkable in the central role of Carol – secretive in nursing her obsession, and starkly sad in her insanity. Suffering from an intense androphobia, she is repelled by the thought of men. This is aggravated by the lustful lover of her older sister with whom she shares a London flat and the story goes on to show how she how she murders, first, her innocent suitor and then the lecherous landlord when they unwittingly invade the fetid place.
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Simultaneously attracted and repelled by sex, she is a virgin who finds her sister’s relationship with her married lover, extremely disturbing. Distortions in the rooms of the apartment tacitly reveal her mental state and we witness the slow psychological disintegration of a young woman plagued by her inner demons as she wages a futile battle against dementia, triggered by the intense loneliness that is at the core of her being. Within the tempest of violence and horror in this film, Polanski has achieved a haunting concept of the pain and pathos of the mentally deranged.
This definitely has to be one of the most compelling thrillers that I have seen. I found it very stifling and the sheer morbidity of it gave me goosebumps. This film is part of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy (the others being The Tenant and Rosemary’s Baby) and most of the gruesome occurrings happen indoors, adding a very claustrophobic air to the already grim film. Brilliant job done by Deneuve, who brings out the trauma of isolation without the aid of much dialogue.
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Here’s the trailer:

Theatre of Fragmentation and Myth : In Search of an Identity

Modern theatre in India, as we know it now, saw its birth in the colonial ports of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, and catered to a largely bourgeoisie, English educated, westernized audience. Much of the theatre in this era copied the British drama that toured the country, and therefore took on to some extent the aesthetics, dramaturgical structures, and even the architecture of Western drama. The theatre of this time was, quite expectedly, heavily influenced by the norms that defined British dramaturgy and aesthetics. Post independence, Indian dramatists such as Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, Habib Tanvir, Vijay Tendulkar, and Girish Karnad, among others, began to feel the need to emerge out of the colonial hangover that Indian theatre was facing at that point. These playwrights, who are often called members of the “Theatre of Roots” movement, experimented with traditional Indian forms of performance such as Kathakali, Chhau and Yakshagana, to compose drama that was truly “Indian” in essence.

folk1(Yakshagana performance)

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folk3(A Chhau mask)

 

In Karnad’s plays Hayavadana (the horse faced one) and Nagamandala (the realm of the snake), he folk traditions, mythology, and a language that is simple yet filled with connotative richness, and show the playwright’s enduring love for myth and history, or “itihasa”. His interest in the performative style of Yakshagana can be seen in his liberal use masks and dolls in Hayavadana and animals such as the snake, mongoose, and dog in Nagamandala. It is important to note also, that the basis of both the plays is oral tradition which acts to enhance their performative potentialities. This is especially true in case of Nagamandala, which is an open-ended play, highlighting the unrestrictive and mutable nature of folk-tales. Such mutability is found in the characters of the plays as well, who undergo transformations in order to reach the semblance of an organic whole. Karnad interlaces ritual and performance, and provides us with a holistic unit combining dance, music, poetry and drama. 

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The plight of an extreme existential crisis is apparent in the figure of Hayavadana-half horse and half man-as well. Both plays are a sociological study of the “other”. From a feminist point of view, the identity of a woman is shown to be forced into subordination by a society defined by unequal power relations. The female subaltern becomes a double victim owing to her gender and is prevented from realizing her creative potentials. In the play, a woman’s alienation from her spouse and her unrequited desires culminate in her deliberate mismatching of heads, with the validation of an indifferent mother-goddess. Folk-tales depict the perception a person can have regarding their own identity as can be seen in the case of Hayavadana, who is perplexed by his incomplete, part human-part beast identity and states how neither religious devotion nor an interest in social and political affairs helped his cause.

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Similarly, the naming of characters in Nagamandala acts as a signifier of problematic identities- for example, Rani’s husband is named “Appanna”, which literally means “any man”. Karnad’s reconstruction and re-interpretation of oral traditions and myths seek to deconstruct age-old customs and beliefs.

Hayavadana opens with a ritualistic evocation of Ganesha, as can be seen in many genres of Indian performance, and shows Karnad’s process of decolonization. A commentary on the deity, who provides a contrast to the figure of Goddess Kali, provides crucial insight on the theme of identity and fragmentation:
 “An elephant’s head on a human body, a broken tusk and a cracked belly-whichever way you look at him, he seems an embodiment of imperfection, incompleteness. How indeed can we fathom the mystery that this very ‘Vakratunda-Mahakaya’ with his crooked face and distorted body is the Lord and Master of Success and Perfection? Could it be that this Image of Purity and Holiness, this ‘Mangala Moorty’ intends to signify by his very acceptance that the completeness of God is something no poor mortal can comprehend?”

In Nagamandala, Karnad uses folk traditions such as supernatural elements, and infuses his human and non-human characters with magical qualities. The process of a woman’s deification from her prior status as an abused housewife, as well as Naga’s quest for a tangible identity, fall within the framework of oral narratives.

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(Nagamandala)

Fantasy and myth are used as tropes to address pertinent psychological and social concerns. Just as the sutradhar or Bhagavata is an important entity in Hayavadana, the prologue of Nagamandala portrays the existential conflict faced by a writer or sutradhar, who is caught in a state of limbo where he can neither sleep nor stay awake. He is shaken out of this inertia by lamp flames that become symbols of creative energy, who aid him in transcending sleep and death.

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Misty Mountains : Remembering Darjeeling

darj23Hills have always been associated with a sense of freedom, of liberation and peace. But for me, it’s always a sense of feeling very overwhelmed. Mountains are mysterious in a silent, all-seeing way. They are imperious. Sentinel like.

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Darjeeling. The sleepy little child of the Lesser Himalayas. The land of patchwork tea plantations, colonial bungalows, sunrises and beautiful, rosy cheeked children with infectious smiles. Of shaggy dogs stretching on the mall road and little ponies trotting along, who will break your heart.

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Darjeeling is about meandering roads that go round and round, all the way to the zoo and back to the mall. Dotted with little cafes and hillside houses with slanting roofs and closed wooden doors. Glass windows, chimneys and little gardens creeping with wild flowers. The smell of coffee and mountain air.

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2011 autumn is when we visited Darjeeling and fell in love with this misty, effortlessly nostalgia inducing place all over again. It was the perfect get away. Close to the city, yet a whole world away. After the overnight train journey, it was a matter of couple of hours till we reached the familiar mall road. We were staying in this lovely little place called Revolver, named after the Beatles album. A homely place owned by couple with a pet calico cat, the hotel has 5 rooms, one after each Beatle. And a small library too.

darj14(the the stairway to our place)

darj13(the living room of Revolver hotel)

We were living in the John Lennon room. 🙂

The days would start early, mostly because I’d incessantly nag AB to crawl out from under the covers. Sure, there are was not much to do. But some vacations are meant only for hillside coffee, a whole lot of walking among the trees, and breakfast at Keventer’s. Which was where our days would begin. The meat platter for AB and chocolate milkshake for the both of us. Indulgent, to say the least.

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It’s always nicer to get a seat in the open terrace. The sunshine feels warm and beautiful. And the world feels like a better place.

After a long and heavy breakfast, we would go for walks. Stopping by little roadside stalls and curio shops. And, of course, sneaking into Glenary’s for some more unadulterated gluttony. And by that, I mean heavenly muffins and cakes.

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The mall, lined with brightly painted green benches. Overlooking the mountainscape. Dense, alpine forests with oaks, sal trees and wild orchids. The railway station with its steam engines and toy train.

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darj20 We would sit for hours on those benches. Watching the slow, gentle ponies. Always underfed, always obedient. Silently carrying little children, and at times obese, indifferent men and women who are probably 5 times their weight on their weary backs. It’s hard not to feel depressed seeing them and the general lack of compassion or sympathy people have for these majestic animals. And we would watch the pigeons being fed crumbs of biscuits and bread by old couples and young people who are probably in love. Pigeons that flutter and fly in a flourish of wings and feathers.

And then there would be AB imagining himself to be an airplane.
darj12We found this tiny little drinking joint, that’s very easy to miss. Nondescript, bordering on shady, right below the mall. We are pros at finding such haunts, I guess. Daffey Munal Restaurant, the name. We would go up to the bar and have beer. I find beer wonderful, even in the cold.

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As the later afternoon sun grew dimmer and a mild chill set in, we would browse the curio shops. A kaleidoscope of colors- tinkling with gemstones, bright necklaces, silver bracelets and stone earrings. Stopping by tea stalls for our evening tea. And more eating! I have had the best momos on earth in the street side shops of Darjeeling. Nothing else compares. Equally amazing are the phalays and hot buns. And no. You don’t die of food poisoning or a violent bout of diarrhea if you have them.

darj18One afternoon we visited the Himalayan Zoological Park. It is beautifully kept and the animals seemed well looked after. That was probably some consolation, because my heart usually aches when I see big cats in captivity. Somehow, tigers are just not meant for confined spaces. Nor are wolves.

darj3On the way back from the zoo, we chanced upon Hot and Stimulating Cafe. A tiny place that caught our fancy as we heard the strains of “Redemption Song” coming from inside. In we went. Dimly lit, wooden place with Bob Marley posters on the wall. We took a window seat and watched the hills outside. Gray, blue and white. Peppered with green and brown.

Suddenly something soft, something furry brushed gently against our legs. Precariously feline. And that was when we met Princess Fenelamela. The queen. The most regal cat I have ever, ever met.There she was, looking up with her big, questioning eyes. And then jumping straight on my lap. Her paws stretching out and placing themselves on AB’s lap. She felt at home. And so did we.

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It was difficult leaving her. Maybe a little more difficult than it usually is when leaving behind all the little animals that I meet regularly.
How can it not be, when she looks at you like that?

darj8I love traveling. And somehow, no matter where I go, near or far, I meet and get attached to cats (dogs too). It’s inevitable.

The next day, it was raining. A slow, steady drizzle. And as we walked under a shared umbrella, it felt positively magical. Rains make mountains even more beautiful, if that’s possible. An unreal kind of beauty. Distant and aloof. We went to Glenary’s for dinner. It was our anniversary. And it felt perfect as we sat, waiting for our food in the yellow glow of the lights.

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Waiting for food is depressing. But equally exhilarating is when your order finally arrives. I now forget what we had. But afterwards, I remember having a lot of Old Monk and thums up back in our room. And the most gorgeous sleep afterwards.

The week went in the blink of an eye. And it shall remain one of our most special trips. That is why I shall not recount the horror show that was the return journey. When our train ran late and we spent the whole night in the station. Scared. Worried. Maybe that’ll make for another post.

Of New Market

New Market crawls with the noon crowd. The complacent, even happy, sun shines in hues of gold and white through the glass windows of the shops, over the parking lot, lighting up a million dusty roadside stalls selling everything from bags and purses to cheap, glittery jewellery and strings of beads in yellow, red and green; gaudy hair clips and suspicious looking cosmetics that form a riot of colours on the footpath; little curio shops that sell absurdly priced antiques, and beady eyed, paan chewing, semi-precious jewellery sellers who size you up from behind gold framed glasses.

And when you step into the dark labyrinths of the erstwhile Hogg Market, you are greeted by a dark coolness that relieves you of the heat outside, and the overpowering smell of meat emanating from the slaughterhouse within the complex. I’ve always managed to avoid that side of New Market though. And everywhere you can hear loud, frantic, extremely enthusiastic bargaining between wise women who are forever convinced that they are being conned and seasoned shop owners who are always on the lookout for a  good con.

Students and couples-in-love, in pairs and groups and hordes can be seen loitering about the parking lot. Sitting, standing, eating phuchka and ice creams and chaats. Being happy in general. The middled aged having a cold drink or two. Tired after several bouts of bargaining and some shopping too, expectedly. “Freshly cut” fruits and jhaal muri. Paapri chaat and bhel puri. Chana batura and juices. Dahi vada and dosas.They might seem diarrhea inducing (and probably are) but you cannot help but give in to monstrous growls in your belly, ignited by the sight and smell of these devious, positively evil food-like things.

Women and men saunter into jewellery stores and carefully pick out engagement rings, and wedding rings and bracelets and necklaces and earrings and jewelled wrist watches. All at a good price. Indian weddings are lavish affairs and we are sentimental about our shopping. And then they drift on to inspect colourful shoes and handbags and cushions and bed sheets; all the while digesting the aforementioned positively evil food-like things. What better than a vigorous bout of shopping to aid in the break down of your lunch/dinner/whatever it is?

I can write endlessly about New Market. As a child I used to find it a magical place. A you’ll-find-everything-there place. And that enchantment has not faded till date. Because it is one place where you’ll find everything. Literally everything. From banana chips to flower vases with plastic flower, cheap imitation jewellery and diamond earrings, heavenly brownies and spicy masala cola, suitcases and sand paper. Everything. And you can spend hours just walking around this place doing absolutely nothing. A window shopper’s paradise. A struggling, forever-broke young girl’s 4th circle of hell. Yep. The one associated with GREED. Anyhow, it’s one of of my favourite places in Calcutta. I especially make it a point to visit Nahoums. Mostly for those wonderfully decadent chocolate fudge brownies, the bread rolls and the jam tarts. And their shortbread. I also make it a point to haunt the different antique jewellery shops. Especially Chamba Lama and more recently, Asian Arts right beside it. Wonderful place for silver jewellery. My go to place for stone nose-pins.

New Market exhausts me, and makes me go through severe, tormenting pangs of guilt for blowing up money on absolutely unnecessary things. But I guess it also releases a gleeful rush of endorphin. It’s all about indulgences and at times it just feels good to blend in with a motley crowd of strangers. Anonymity is comforting even in the chaos.

Love Loves to Love Love

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“Love loves to love love. Nurse loves the new chemist. Constable 14A loves Mary Kelly. Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle. M. B. loves a fair gentleman. Li Chi Han lovey up kissy Cha Pu Chow. Jumbo, the elephant, loves Alice, the elephant. Old Mr Verschole with the ear trumpet loves old Mrs Verschoyle with the turnedin eye. The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead. His Majesty the King loves Her Majesty the Queen. Mrs Norman W. Tupper loves officer Taylor. You love a certain person. And this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody. ”

– James Joyce, Ulysses.

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P’s first day at work: G&G Enterprise

“That’s your desk,” the portly man announced with some authority. He fished in his black trouser pockets and pulled a blue and white handkerchief from it, blew his nose in a slow, deliberate manner, and shoved it back into his pocket after a perfunctory peek into it to check whether he had gotten anything interesting.

“Thank you,” I cleared my throat. He blinked at me. Once, twice.
“Well, you better start. We at G&G Enterprise, believe in quality along with quantity.” The fluorescent light made the bald patch on his head gleam. Sleek. He would have looked like a seal, had his face not been pinched into a perpetual scowl. He seemed deeply rueful of the general incompetence of his staff and humanity in general.

He didn’t return my half smile.

He took out a stack of paper from under an exceptionally dusty desk and slammed it on my would-be work space which was equally, cringeworthily dusty. An alarmingly stuffy room in a basement stacked with garbage. Piles of paper staggering ominously on crumbling, wooden desks and tables. One locked steel almirah. A lopsided calendar from two years back on a damp wall. A chair that was to be my seat of honour. And a remarkably stupid painting of flowers in a vase right in front of my desk. It was so ironic that I had to stifle a chuckle. A wastepaper basket filled to the brim with crumpled paper. A pen stand, a diary, a paper weight, a blotter. A telephone that I soon discovered was dead. These were to be my companions for Idon’tknowhowlong.

“Of course we don’t allow smoking under any circumstances. It is against our ethics. We believe in having a strong moral foundation.”

“Of course,” I quietly felt the pack of cigarettes in my pocket.
Officious, bald bastard. I threw my fakest smile at him.

“G&G Enterprise has 15 stellar employees. We are a small family with a solid core,” he said in a proud, scholarly 
voice. “Dedicated to Deadlines. That is our motto,” he paused. Probably for some response from my end.

What shit was he on? What’s with the speech?
“That is rather inspiring Mr K.”

“Very well. I understand you are aware of your work scope and been assigned your daily tasks? I do not tolerate lackadaisical loafers, mind you. I take daily updates and conduct surprise checks. Your generation is all about fast food, fast talking and foolery. Remember, nobody gets a free lunch,” he snickered maliciously at his own little wisecrack.”Anyhow, haven’t got all day to waste. We are very busy people. Any questions?”

“No,” I quietly shook my head.
“Well then! I shall be off now,” he waddled towards the door.
“Uh, Mr K?”
“Yes?”
“Who do I ask for a cup of tea?”
“Tea? Why, there’s a tea stall ride downstairs, across the road. Wonderful stuff for Rs 5/-”

Great. I sat down on my chair and sifted through the pile of yellow papers that I was expected to edit/salvage/study/puke over/burn. How wonderful.

Bedtime Stories

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Little Peter always knew that he wasn’t alone in his room when he slept. When his mother tucked him in and kissed him goodnight, he used to plead with her not to turn off the lights.

Little Peter was afraid of darkness. And the sounds that came from under his bed. The soft taps on his shoulder, as he shut his eyes tight under his blanket. The raspy breathing that he could hear. The soft scurrying sounds, the even softer whispers.

His mother had told him never to peek out of his blanket and to just sleep tight. Or else the bogey monster would get him. Night after night, he would stay awake. Eyes shut. Trembling. Never peeking out of the sheets that he would curl into.

But then one night, he broke the rule…and this is what he saw. Or did he?

Childhood can be darn scary time.

Death of a Salesman

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“You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and your finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory.” 

― Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Well, we are all about selling and being sold, aren’t we?