Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Television Incision

What's all this nonsense about a woman president? It's a freaking TV show! It's advertised every day on television, radio and Internet and there's so much hype, you'd think a woman was really leading the country. Well, one isn't; it's just a television show!

Granted, I'd probably vote for Geena Davis if she ran for the office. She's taller than our current President and unlikely to be caught with, say, Monica Lewinsky, like our last president. She has always seemed bright to me, and I don't think she ever snorted cocaine or ducked out of Vietnam. But she's not really the president and, if she's as smart as she appears, probably won't try to be, either.

Broadcast networks have become so adept at "creating buzz"--an entertainment term meaning "spreading lies"-- that they've convinced large segments of the general public that televised poker is watchable. Poker is boring live and in person! If a friend of yours asked you to sit and watch while he and half a dozen losers came to your house wearing sunglasses and headphones, then proceeded to bet all their rent money away, would you take him up on the offer? If the answer is yes, will you please mail your rent money to me? It's not like you weren't going to blow it, anyway.

Another prevarication sweeping the nation is Reality TV. I'm not talking so much about the fact it sucks, although it certainly does; I'm talking about the "reality" part. What's "real" about it?

"We're gonna put you in a contrived situation and thrust conflict on you. Then we'll give you the chance to make chump change if you're willing to humiliate and debase yourself."

"Forget it, I'm outta here."

"Okay, you can go back to your job."

"How much for the humiliation and debasement again?"

It's no more real than "The Wizard of Oz" was; the difference is, these people have no talent.

Another thing I can't stand on TV is college football. I find college football rather dull, but that isn't my principal objection. I support anyone's right to watch uninteresting things, as I sometimes do myself. What I hate are these 47 year old men who haven't been in college in 25 years--or maybe never even went to college--painting their mugs and shouting drunken epithets at the top of their lungs. Or the really pathetic ones who went to one university and get their kicks ridiculing another university; that stuff isn't terribly amusing even if you're still in college, let alone when you've been out for 2o years. Listen: I DON'T CARE WHERE YOU WENT TO COLLEGE! Okay?! If I care, I'll ask; otherwise, don't tell me!

How about this? "Wednesday night, a television event..." If they can't think of anything else to say about a program, it's likely to be billed as a "television event." What if they threw a network executive into a black hole? Would that be a "television event horizon?" Do I even have to rail about how pompous it is to call something a "television event"?

Then there are the biggest liars on television: the local news. The key word in local news is "children." What are your children eating? What are they doing? Are their schools safe? Are their toys safe? Tune into the local news tonight or your children might perish in a fiery crash! All sorts of misleading techniques are employed in order to frighten you into watching. I'm surprised the national networks haven't appropriated this method: "Watch 'Friends' tonight or you'll lose all your friends." "If you don't watch 'CSI: Miami' tonight, you'll be murdered by a Miami street gang, even if you live somewhere else!" How long before this happens?

Seven paragraphs in, and I haven't even mentioned award shows yet. Let's not bother this time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

How Many of Us Have Them? (Ones We Can Depend On)

These are people I like:

People smarter than me who don't rub it in.

People dumber than me who don't fear, ridicule, dismiss or mock intelligence.

Anyone who treats intelligence with respect and admiration but not with excessive reverence, as though smarter people are somehow better people. The same goes for wealth, beauty and athletic or creative talent.

Charlie Watts. As a lifelong Rolling Stones fan, I've always really liked the band's two most visible figures, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. As great as they are, Watts is my favorite; he's casual, soft-spoken, has perfected his craft to a level of nearly absurd precision and has recently beaten back throat cancer. That's my man!

Balanced people. This is what I aspire to. You know the type: confident, but not overbearing. They spend about as much time listening as talking. They care about what others think, but not to the point of sublimating their own essence or living their lives to please others. They never look for trouble but stand up to troublemakers.

Bicyclists who wear regular clothes and not those ridiculous shorts or helmets. Leave the technical equipment to Lance Armstrong and just ride!

Lena Horne. This one I shouldn't have to explain.

UPS and FedEx Drivers. Maybe I've just been lucky in my experience, but they always seem to be nice people.

People who keep stories about their children brief or expand only WHEN I ASK!

And finally, I like people who don't insist on making lists of ten or numbering their lists (that's nine types of people I like, if you're counting).

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Misconceptions, Mismanagement, Misgivings and Misanthropy

There's plenty of blame to go around for this mess in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but I'm not here to point fingers, except at one man: Kenny Rogers!

Now that we've determined whose fault it is, perhaps we can postpone the rest of the Blame Game due to bad weather. The frustration and rage among destitute survivors, relief workers, politicians and the public at large are all understandable and a great deal of vitriol and violence have erupted since Katrina unleashed its deluge last week. I cannot tell people to swallow their grief, their anger or their hopelessness, nor can I promise everything will be all right by and by. For many thousands, it won't be all right anytime soon, perhaps never again.

For these reasons, I'm going to cut my fellow man some slack. I'm even willing to look past looting. True, I think it's foolish and unproductive to steal a television, especially when you have no house or electricity, but in the general scheme of things, there are greater concerns afoot (I'm unwilling to look past rape or firing guns at rescue helicopters or any forms of unprovoked violence, but that should go without saying). I'm also willing to give George Bush an incomplete here. I think his administration responded slowly to the crisis, but so far I've been unable to trace this to any particular cause. I'll leave that to more qualified people and hope they do their research at a later time. And Bush did travel to the region, deem the recovery efforts "not acceptable" thus far and vowed to fix it. Jesse Jackson dismissed this move as "largely ceremonial", which is probably true, but in fairness, what exactly is Jesse Jackson doing besides castigating the President? Kanye West lambasted the President, too, saying he "doesn't care about black people." That may or may not be true, but at least West was doing something at the time; he was trying to raise money for the relief effort. Still, they both get a pass from me; they all do (except Kenny Rogers).

I only wish we could delay all these attempts to find scapegoats or politicize the issue until as many people as possible are housed, clothed and fed. This is, of course, not a realistic expectation and it's a bit starry-eyed even to breach the subject. In short, I'm not offended by all this mudslinging--it's human nature in the face of such catastrophe--I just don't think it helps. That's what I'd say to anyone eager to single out FEMA, George Bush, the state and local governments of Louisiana and Mississippi, or the victims of this crisis as the villains in this saga: forget about that! (Some people really are blaming the victims, by the way, claiming their "lawlessness" delayed the aid, which I find preposterous)

And for a moment, let's talk about race. I don't have all the answers, but I do think there's a perception among African-Americans that white people put their hands on their ears and say "la la la la la" whenever race is mentioned. Conversely, I think a perception among whites exists that blacks inject race into every discussion, whether warranted or not. This is one reason we can't talk about it. Blacks get accused of playing "the race card" and whites are either embarrassed about the past, afraid to offend, or ignorant on race issues. Because of this, the few times we really talk about the topic of race, the dialogue either becomes rancorous or, more often, remains utterly shallow and perfunctory.

I don't know why the lives of African-Americans and Latinos ultimately appear to have less value than white lives. It's hard to fathom that it's as simple and bald as "they're not white, so who cares?" anymore, although that sentiment probably persists among a pathetically ignorant few. There are probably more reasons than I can count, but one factor rarely mentioned is the false notion that most blacks are poor. Because African-Americans account for a disproportionate number of those in poverty, the assumption is it means a majority of blacks are destitute. Maybe it sounds pedantic to say so, but there's a difference between overrepresentation in an economic category and dominating said category. Not only are most poor people in this country not black or Latino, most blacks and Latinos aren't poor, if you go strictly by the numbers. Most, in fact, lie in that strikingly familiar category with which most of us are acquainted, neither rich nor poor.

I feel these illusions contribute to apathy. We're used to seeing minorities suffer. They're all poor, anyway. White people don't necessarily hate them; they either can't relate or they think there's nothing to be done. Just like we're desensitized to African famine and feel there's no way we can really alter the course, we're desensitized to those poor minorities. We can muster sympathy, but not action. This pessimism is not only defeatist, it's inaccurate. There's no way to precisely calculate how much this perception hampers hurricane relief, but I wouldn't be surprised if it factors in somehow.

Dumbest Things Said:

"If you don't need gas, don't buy it."
I already mentioned I don't think it's fair to blame the shortcomings of this recovery effort entirely on the President, but what the hell? George, the only reason I ever buy gas is because I need it. I don't buy it for fun. I'm not a gasoline "enthusiast" or "collector." He could have said "People should consider delaying their travel plans" or "Try to conserve gasoline any way you can." But "if you don't need gas, don't buy it"? Thanks, but I never have.

"New Orleans is like a disaster area."
A number of news commentators broke out with this remark. It's not actually "like" a disaster area; it is one. In the same vein, I heard a radio announcer say one reason Palestinians might struggle to adjust economically to the Israeli pullout of Gaza is because they "are like people who have been at war for forty years." Sorry, but they aren't "like" people who have been at war for forty years; they really have been at war for forty years!

"We can help other countries right away; why can't we help people in this country?"
This is not dumb, because it was often said by people feeling the pain and frustration of slow-to- arrive aid, but it's not accurate. When the Tsunami hit, there was a delay in relief efforts as well, in part because the disaster occurred on December 24th and much of the world wasn't paying attention to the news due to the Christmas holiday.

"We help other countries when they need us, but they're not helping us now."
This is also wrong. I heard several radio commentators make such a point. Actually, Mexico has pledged relief assistance, Venezuala donated one million dollars, and Singapore diverted military helicopters on maneuvers in Texas to assist at the disaster sites. Other nations, such as Australia and Britain, have also contributed and even in Cuba there was a moment of silence for the victims. Lots of American citizens have stepped forward as well, offering money, time, or both (except Kenny Rogers).

Note: You may ask if I mean the Kenny Rogers who sings abysmal songs and hasn't shaved in 40 years or the baseball pitcher who recently assaulted a cameraman. The answer: Yes!

Sources: The World (radio program produced by the BBC and PRI)

DM (Additional contributions and research provided by TD--thank you!)