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Ode to January

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The time of year where everyone gets super-depressed because the holidays are over and now all we have to look forward to is a month of cold, dreary, boring winter, broken up only by a weekend of mattress sales disguised as honoring our civil rights pioneers. I bet if you took a poll, most people would list January as their least favorite month of the year (maybe tying with September for many students).

I disagree.

January is one of my favorite months of the year. It’s not because I love skiing or sledding or any of that. It’s not because I love freezing to death because the maintenance crew at my apartment complex hasn’t gotten on the ball to fix my heater yet. And it’s not because I hate the Christmas season and just want it to be over (which I don’t).

It’s because January represents all the best of what’s great about humanity.

Think about it. In ages past, at least in temperate climates, winter was a time of apprehension and fear. A family would hope and pray that the harvest earlier that year was bountiful enough to get them through the lean months. All people could do was huddle in their shelter for warmth until spring arrived, hoping that sickness or cold wouldn’t kill too many of them, waiting for the weather to grow warm enough to begin planting crops for the year ahead. The world had to shut down because it was too cold and snowy to do anything productive.

But now?

January isn’t the month anymore where everyone huddles in front of the fire, waiting for spring. January is the month where the house is cold and empty, because everyone is out in the world pursuing their schooling or work, and making their hopes and dreams into reality. Technology has advanced enough that we can actually afford to go out into the world and stay warm, and keep living our lives without worrying about running out of food, or catching pneumonia and dying.

January is the time when humanity starts working. People go to work, plan out their year, and start their business back up. People bid their families goodbye and go back into the world so they’ll have a family to come back home to. Content creators start making things again, after weeks of hiatus. TV shows start up again, websites start updating, news programs stop talking about holiday stuff and instead focus on what’s actually going on in the world. Performing groups stop preparing the hundred or so works (and innumerable variations on those works) focused on Christmas and instead can pick from everything else available in the world!

If anything, we’ve compressed all of what used to be winter activities into the last part of December, where everyone gets together to spend time with loved ones and remember the old year. But instead of staying indoors for three months, we almost immediately turn around and start living again.

January is the default. January is the time when we define what we are. January is where we set the theme for the year, that all other months are simply variations on.

February is January with a night of candy and chocolates thrown in somewhere.

March is January with a night of drinking (or leprechauns; whatever’s your poison).

April is January with lighter jackets and a week off (depending on what you do for a living).

May is January with greener grass.

June is when we take a break from January because we’ve been doing it for five months.

The environment and seasons may change during all these months, but the activity remains constant. January is where we begin everything, where we define ourselves.

January is humanity’s way of saying to the world, “You know your suggested start time of March or April? Yeah, you can take that suggestion and shove it! ‘Cause we’re good enough and advanced enough to take literally the coldest and harshest month of the year and make it one of activity, production, and progress! We don’t hide in caves or cottages anymore! We are masters of ourselves! We can accomplish great things! And we’re going to take this entire month and lay the foundation of the universe!”

So let’s love January. After all, without January, what would there be to celebrate during the rest of the year, other than crops and pneumonia?


Ten Years of Bloggin’

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Ten years ago today, I started a subsection on my Angelfire website dedicated to the Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers character Monterey Jack to just act as a sort of online journal. The first entry consisted of a picture of my head from my mission (seen above), a description of a random murder mystery thing happening that day, some rambling about starting a blog, and a quote from President Boyd K. Packer about music that I used to have on my AOL Instant Messenger bio.

Now, my face is a bit older and chubbier, my Angelfire site is basically gone, I haven’t been active in the Rescue Rangers community for several years (ever since it became obsessed with My Little Pony), Pres. Boyd K. Packer has passed away (this actually happened, like, last week; they haven’t even had the funeral yet), and I probably haven’t used AOL Instant Messenger for about ten years. But this blog has kept chugging along, though the entries have gotten far longer and more sparse since the beginning.

The last time this blog had an anniversary (five years ago), I mostly took suggestions from readers and did a completely random post. During the first five years most of my posts were fairly short and random: small thoughts, online quiz results, pictures I liked, and so on — basically, everything that people do on Facebook now (here’s a good example). In a post-Facebook world, however, those kinds of posts dried up and moved to social media, so instead of short pictures or fun little things, this blog evolved into giant essays, mostly regarding dating, religion, and/or philosophy derived from video games.

It’s kind of interesting, for me at least, to go back and look at some of those earlier entries. I haven’t felt like I’ve changed a whole lot over the years, but reading the stuff I was writing ten years ago definitely shows a younger viewpoint. Some of the problems I was having are still the same then as they are now (singlehood, in particular, has always been a staple topic of this blog), though my approach to them has definitely matured over time. Compare an early entry where I was mooning over Kim Isom like a lovestruck puppy (even though I still never contacted her literally until her wedding reception), to a recent entry where I finally decided to be proactive in my dating life. True, I’m still single, but I like to think that at least I have a more mature outlook about it now.

I think the biggest shift occurred around this entry (the post right after the five year anniversary, interestingly enough) which is when I finally graduated college. Nearly every entry after that is a big long analysis of something, whether it be gingers, Glenn Beck, reactions to terrible robberies, LDS culture and alienation (if you really want to know why I’m taking a break from the Church, that article is a good starting point), or even an in-depth analysis of why I make in-depth analyses. Not that nothing before that date was philosophical or rambly (or both), but I seem to have focused a lot more on that for the latter half of the life of my blog so far, which is also why I’ve made a lot fewer posts in the past five years than the previous five (44 posts after that one vs. 202 before, not counting the 64 posts that I copied from my childhood journal).

In any case, I’ll continue blogging on occasion into the future, mostly about topics that will probably not be of any interest to the vast majority of readers, but sometimes about raw emotional experiences that change people’s viewpoints about either me or the world. Pretty much just like how my life usually goes.

To close, here are some random stats (at least since I moved to WordPress in 2007):

  • 29% of my views have occurred on Saturdays
  • I’ve had over 80,000 views from nearly 16,000 unique visitors
  • The most views I ever got on a single day was March 20, 2013, when I got 1,062 views. This is especially baffling as I didn’t publish anything that month, and my most recent post at the time was a fluff piece about the TV show Arthur.
  • My top five commenters have been (in order): Johnathan Whiting, Kjersti Parkes, Marné Lierman, Haley Greer (now Smedley), and Nate Winder.
  • My most popular post: The Third Date Dump, with 12,033 views. I guess I coined a phrase? Or is it due to the link to an article on oprah.com that’s in it? Yeah, probably the second one. It’s still pretty impressive, especially since it was posted years after the runners-up:
    • My second most popular post: the results of my Myers-Briggs personality test, with 11,918 views, though more than 9,000 of those were in 2010, probably by people just looking for the test itself, or possibly just a picture of Michael Jordan or Frederic Chopin (since 2012 it’s averaged about 55 views a year).
    • My third most popular post: Mickey Mouse trying to commit suicide, with 4,922 views. I don’t quite know what to make of that.
    • My fourth most popular post: The meaning of Tarantella, with 3,127 views. Probably mostly from students studying the poem in classes.
    • Fifth and beyond are pretty close to call.

Happy tenth anniversary, blog.

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Generation Geocities

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So there have been a bunch of articles written recently about a certain age group that has been struggling to pin down its own identity. Caught inbetween the cynicism of Generation X and the hopeful optimism of the Millennials, this group hasn’t been able to embrace the ideals and concepts of either side. These are the people born between about 1978 and 1983 or so (or everyone who was college-age when 9/11 happened, basically). I like to define it in my personal life as everyone between my sister Annelise (who was born in 1976 and is most definitely a Gen Xer) and my good friend Sheldyn (who was born in 1985 and is quite Millennial). I have aspects of both of them, culturally speaking, but I can’t really say either of them are of “my generation”, even though fewer than ten years separate the two. And though you may not know either of the people I’m talking about, if you belong to this group  you can probably think of people you know that were born in those years and probably feel the same way about.

As a member of this group, I identify pretty well with most of the points listed in those articles linked to above. As a kid we had computers but not the Internet (unless Prodigy or AOL counts). As a teenager the Internet existed, but was still in its primitive stage (the whole thing looked like this, basically). And as a college student everything was a giant mishmash of technology as the world struggled to adapt to the innovative revolutionary advances that had just become available but hadn’t settled down in a streamlined format yet. Everyone in my freshman dorm had a computer, but almost nobody had a laptop, and those that did have one had ones where the battery life was 2 hours, tops, and there was still no wifi, so they had to cluster around the ethernet ports scattered about campus with their network cable like hobos huddling together for warmth. Culturally we weren’t as white-bread peppy as those after us, what with their “High School Musical”‘s and their “Katy Perry”‘s and so on, but we weren’t quite as angsty as the Nirvanas and Nine Inch Nails of the early-to-mid-90’s, either. These articles go pretty in-depth about where we “fit”, culturally and technologically speaking, so I won’t rehash it all here.

What I find most intriguing, though, is an unspoken thread woven throughout these articles. Every single one of them has been written by someone in that generation! Most people on either side of us lump us together with either the Gen Xers or the Millennials, even though some of those articles are a few years old. There has not been a cultural zeitgeist to unify us other than through negative space that nobody else can identify. All the other generations have been named fairly early on and by those outside it: the name Generation X was popularized by a writer of the baby boomer generation, and, oddly enough, both Millennial and Generation Y (the previous name for the Millennials that never quite stuck) were also coined by baby boomer writers. And good luck getting anyone not inside this group to care about it: I have talked to baby boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials, and none of them really care about or can even identify with our lack of definition. Gen Xers just see how tech-savvy we can be sometimes and lump us in with the Millennials, whereas Millennials see how familiar we are with a pay phone (or some other similar obsolete technology) and push us upstairs to a previous generation.

We have to define ourselves because nobody else will define us.

Even within the group, however, we’ve had a hard time pinning down what we are. Every one of those articles give completely different names to our group (Xennials, Generation Catalino, the Oregon Trail generation, “The Lucky Ones”, and so on), and almost all of them list entirely different cultural touchstones that define us, though they agree much more on what the previous era ended with and what the next era began with. There also seems to be a bit of a divide on whether or not we are a lucky/good/happy generation or an unlucky/terrible/cynical one. This, I think, relates to everyone else’s lack of concern about defining us. People are notoriously myopic about their own composition and identity. What’s important in one person’s upbringing may be a complete unknown in somebody else’s, and without someone on the outside saying, “This is an important cultural touchstone to this group,” it’s hard to come up with a consensus on what defines us. We’ve got “This is what we aren’t” down pretty well, but the “This is what we are” has yet to be pinned down, assuming that it can be.

But really, in the end, isn’t that our true defining characteristic? That we can’t be defined? We keep saying, “We’re a bit of this and a bit of that, but we’re not all this or that.” We’re tech-savvy, but not beholden to technology. We appreciate cynicism without embracing it. We’re optimistic, yet wary. We define ourselves by both our nostalgic past like Gen Xers, and our bright future plans, like the Millennials (as a side note: my personal belief as to why Millennials aren’t defined by their nostalgia is because the kid shows of the late 90’s and the pop culture of the early 00’s wasn’t worth being nostalgic about, as most of it was pretty terrible). So far, our search for a cultural identity is our cultural identity. All we know is that there’s something that separates us from those above and below, even if we don’t know what it is.

Our era was characterized by old meeting new. Everything was a giant hodgepodge. You could ride your bike wherever you wanted to around your neighborhood, but you still had to buckle your safety belt. Fax machines and pay phones coexisted with instant messaging and email. You could get on the Internet anywhere, as long as you had charged your laptop and could find an ethernet port to plug into. You couldn’t instantly share photos with all your friends, but you could share your terrible Geocities site filled with animated GIFs, blaring MIDI files, and goofy quotes. Heck, for the first few years of this very blog it was hosted on Angelfire, of all places. Angelfire!

That’s why I propose the name “Generation Geocities,” not just because Geocities was a thing when we were coming of age, but because Geocities represents what we really are: the prototype generation for the new social and cultural revolution. In Geocities you could see the beginnings of what the Web would become: people trying to share their lives and interests with their friends (and potentially complete strangers), yet it didn’t have nearly the power and panache of Facebook, or Instagram, or Pinterest, or whatever social media platform you prefer. It was untried and raw. Everybody’s website looked terrible, but at the same time everything seemed much more personal and sincere, since market research, SEO, and other business practices had yet to be invented or adapt to the new web-based way of thinking. That’s why that Space Jam website I linked to earlier looks like it was designed by a 12-year-old: the playing field was level. Nobody knew what was going on.

So in comes our generation, not steeped in the non-computer traditions of our forefathers, yet old enough to be innovators ourselves. And so we grabbed onto Geocities as ours. We latched onto AOL Instant Messenger as ours. Napster, dial-up, ska music (remember 1997, the summer of ska? That was ours.) — all things that we thought were great, yet lasted for only a brief instant. Somebody had to be the ones who defined themselves with this new technology that no longer exists. Everything that could have defined us was so quickly superseded by more streamlined and professional versions of itself that almost nobody outside of our demographic even remembers them anymore. Compare this to today, where Facebook has been virtually unchanged since at least 2007. Sure, the layout has changed several times, but at its core it’s still the same basic deal. Smartphones have been the same on a fundamental level since the first iPhone came out. I’d say that the last fundamental game-changing technology that has come out has been the smartphone, and most of the gadgets that have come out since then have been tied to it in some way. As a result, technology has been somewhat stagnant. Culture has been the same way: nostalgia is such a big thing for Gen Xers that the Millennials and the rising post-Millennial generation are basically just living through the exact same TV shows and movies as their parents. Movies are now multi-part epics that span several years. Things have staying power now. Everything has been polished and streamlined.

Geocities represented something new and untried; rough and full of promise, yet so quickly obsoleted by something better that it barely registers as a blip on the radar, and nobody that wasn’t involved with it even cares that it existed, except to note the newer thing that it led to.

That’s us.

And maybe the reason that nobody else cares about our identity is that we have none that nobody cared about but us. All we know is that we’re different.

We’re not quite breakfast. We’re not quite lunch. But we come with a slice of cantaloupe at the end. You don’t get everything you get with breakfast or lunch, but you get a good meal.


Test Post for music

I’m trying to find a good host for MP3s since my old one went belly-up. Let me know in the comments if this song plays for you:


Is there a Doctor in the house? (Attempt #6,924 to get into Doctor Who)

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(Note: this post will contain spoilers(!) for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode “The Day of the Doctor”.)

So over the years I’ve had quite a love/hate relationship with Doctor Who. I’ve tried to get into the show several times, but every time I try it’s never quite grabbed me like it seems to have grabbed about 80% of nerds (especially female nerds) I talk to nowadays. I’ve tried exploring exactly what about the show that drives me crazy, but I’ve never been able to correctly pinpoint it (and whenever I’ve tried, somebody on Facebook has always pointed out why my opinion is wrong and why I should feel bad for having it). I really, really, have wanted to like the show (for one thing, it would make my dating life easier), but sometimes you just don’t like something despite all indications that you should (coincidentally, something that’s also applicable to my dating life). But every so often, I watch another episode or special or what-have-you to see if this one is the one that makes me say, “Yeah, OK, I can overlook its flaws; it’s a good show.” It is in this spirit that I watched the much-anticipated 50th anniversary episode “The Day of the Doctor”. Has it changed my mind about the show?

Well, no. But I think it’s helped me figure out why.

Let me be fair: I absolutely loved about 60% of the special. All of the Doctors were great (John Hurt included) as well as, surprisingly, Billie Piper (which is no mean feat because I hated Rose. It’s clear now that that was more due to the character herself than the actress, as she did a fantastic job here as “the conscience”). The other characters ranged from adequate to embarrassing (but I’ll get to that in a minute). The special effects showing the actual Time War and the devastation being caused all across Gallifrey were (mostly) amazing as well. As for the writing, most everything concerning the main plot of the special (that being the fate of Gallifrey and what exactly he did to end the Time War) was great. The no-win scenario has been examined many times before in fiction in general and sci-fi in particular, and it’s even more compelling when 1)it’s on such a huge scale, and 2)technically we’ve already been dealing with the aftermath of what happened for eight years already. This has been such a central part of the Doctor’s character throughout the entire post-reboot story that the dilemma has a lot of weight to it and it has shaped who the Doctor has been, even if it’s been ever so subtle. Probably one of my favorite moments in the entire special is when Ten and Eleven are being their goofy selves and the War Doctor asks why they act like children when they should be acting grown-up. And they both just give him a somber look. No words are needed, because the answer is both obvious and heartbreaking. I’m glad they got a completely different actor to be that Doctor instead of just making it Paul McGann or something (though I like Paul McGann, don’t get me wrong) because of the symbolism. The War Doctor is really the protagonist of the story, and Ten, Eleven, and all of the other players are really just acting in a morality tale for him (up until the ending at least). Even a fair bit of the lighter stuff worked pretty well, like the bit where the three Doctors are trying to figure out how to open the door via the most ludicrously complicated method ever, only for the door not to be locked. And the ending was fan-freaking-tastic.

It’s when we get away from that central story and the themes surrounding it that the special starts to fall apart (for me at least). There were two major flaws here that perfectly illustrate why I haven’t been able to get into the franchise as a whole.

First of all, the monsters. I’ve never seen an episode where the monsters have been truly terrifying or, indeed, have been able to take them seriously (though “Blink” came the closest). Take the Zygons in this story. First of all, they look stupid. Second, their motivations aren’t all that clear other than “let’s take over Earth for some reason!” Third, their particular dilemma is resolved in a typical Doctor Who way that I hate: the Doctor(s) point their screwdriver(s) at something, causing the plot to be instantly resolved! And in this case, the resolution (causing everyone in the room to forget whether they’re Zygon or human) doesn’t even make sense, both in logistics (oh no! I can’t remember if I’m human or not! Oh wait; can I turn into a red tentacle monster? I can? I guess I’m a Zygon then!), and as a means to resolve the plot (well, since I can’t remember if I’m Zygon or human, I guess I’ve lost all my ambition to take over the world, plot over). I know that in this particular case the whole Zygon thing was meant mostly to set up some MacGuffins as well as draw some parallels to the main plot (which actually worried me: I was afraid that somehow the Doctor(s) would get the idea to mindwipe all the Daleks in the same way or something equally stupid).

The problem is that so often the focus of Doctor Who episodes is on the silly monster of the week and the weird dilemmas that they cause for our heroes (and very few of them are much better than the Zygon story here) that I can’t take them seriously, even if there’s good character stuff in between the lines. The Daleks especially suffer in this regard, and the only moments I was pulled out of the story happening on Gallifrey were when the Daleks themselves were onscreen, slowly milling about yelling “EXTERMINATE!” You know, you can give a squirrel a machine gun, have him go on a murder spree, and give him the dialogue of the Joker, but at the end of the day he’s still just a squirrel with a machine gun and on a certain level he’s going to be impossible to take seriously.

Let’s take a parallel example from Star Trek. In the first season of The Next Generation the creators of the show had built up the Ferengi to be the Big Bad Guys that our heroes had to contend with, much like the Klingons had been in the original series. But when the episode that first featured them aired, it became clear that these villains were not threatening at all, what with their resemblance to little goblins, and their flapping arms like the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, and their silly laser whips, and just their overall goofiness. So the creators, seeing that they weren’t working as villains, slowly morphed them into comic relief (for better and for worse), and instead introduced the Borg in the next season to be the real threat. I feel that Doctor Who‘s approach would have been to feature the Ferengi in thirty more stories and have everyone talk about how horrible they are (and maybe even show them killing some guys and whipping some children and drowning poodles or something), even though they still look like silly monkey goblins.

When Doctor Who gets away from the Monsters of the Week I think it usually does much better. For example, a recently-recovered second Doctor episode titled “The Enemy of the World” (which I haven’t actually seen, but I did watch a fairly thorough review/recap of it) features the TARDIS crew landing in the year 2018, where a dictator named Salamander (yeah, I know) who resembles the Doctor is in charge, and the main focus of the plot is whether they should support the rebels opposing Salamander or not. I thought the plot was engaging, and the clips that I saw looked pretty good (mostly thanks to Patrick Troughton’s fun take on both the Doctor and Salamander), to the point where I’d like to watch the episode itself if I can find it. There are no Daleks, cybermen, or any other alien threat; just people.

Speaking of people, this brings me to the other major flaw that keeps me from really getting into the show, and I freely admit that this one’s a little more subjective, but the way the show often handles historical figures irks me quite a bit. In this particular special the whole plot with Elizabeth I was one that I found insufferable (and not only because it tied into the dumb Zygon plot). Often it feels like the historical plots in Doctor Who play out like somebody’s weird fan fiction. “Hey, let’s have the Doctor go meet Queen Elizabeth I because he’s a time traveler and all that! Of course she falls in love with him because he’s just awesome! Also, there are aliens! Oh, and the Doctor also helps Vincent Van Gogh overcome some personal demons (and aliens!) and when he battles some ghosts (or, more accurately, ghost aliens) in Victorian England of course we have to have Charles Dickens help him because it’ll be cool!” I know this type of plot doesn’t happen all the time but it does pop up quite a bit (especially since one of the core tenets for the show at its inception was to teach kids about history) and it’s just silly. Quantum Leap had a rule that Sam Beckett would never leap into or interact with anyone famous (except for maybe a quick cameo), to avoid this kind of silliness (a rule which the network made the writing staff break in the last season to try to buoy up sagging ratings, which resulted in some pretty stupid episodes like Sam leaping into Elvis). Even Star Trek, with its myriad of time-travel stories, usually avoided the “cast meets historical figure and hilarity ensues” plots unless they were their own made-up historical figures like Zefram Cochrane (the sole exception I can think of is when they met Samuel Clemens, and that wasn’t a very good episode anyway). It also doesn’t help that usually these historical figures in Doctor Who are written with the same sensibilities as late 20th-century or early 21st-century British people.

There are a few other minor niggling things about the show that irk me (such as the “ooh, the Doctor’s in town; excuse me while I swoon and ask him to take me to the moon for lunch” opening we had here, which most recent companions have a variation on. Which is a shame because, aside from that scene, Clara seemed to be a solid character, even though I haven’t seen any other episodes with her), but those two are the big ones, I think, especially the first one. And it’s clearly a subjective thing: obviously most Whovians are able to take the Daleks and other, sillier aliens (such as the Slitheen, which probably turned me off to the show faster than any other single thing) more seriously than I can, or at the very least overlook these problems; but as much as I’ve tried, I can’t. It’s like the problems I have with anime: as much as I try to enjoy the great story and/or characters of many animes, I can’t get past the problems I have with the art style and limited animation.

It’s a good show. I just can’t get into it. Sorry, guys. Now please tell me why I’m wrong.


25 Things that Drive Me Crazy About Buzzfeed Lists

There have been a lot of lists popping up on Facebook lately: the top 25 things you’re sick of hearing when you’re single, or signs that you’re an introvert, or reasons that <insert washed-up teen star> shouldn’t have been allowed on <insert music awards show> while doing <insert made-up word that apparently all the darn kids these days are using>. But there’s something wrong with these lists…:

1. Animated GIFs

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Every one of these lists is full of animated GIFs, usually of celebrities making weird faces or being sassy. C’mon, internet. Haven’t we grown since 1996? Your point gets across just as well without a picture of Snooki gasping, especially if the “animation” is the camera moving slightly to the left, then resetting every three seconds.

2. Uhhhhhh….

Actually, that’s it. The lists are inoffensive otherwise. It’s just those horrible GIFs that make all these lists look like they were put together by a fourteen-year-old girl on Geocities. I just had to get that off my chest.


Poison Ivy Mysteries: Low art?

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Recently a few reviewers posted some reviews of the most recent Poison Ivy Mysteries show (the second run of Justice at the Gold Dust). The reviews were all over the map, but one of the reviewers in particular was criticizing the show for being simply a bunch of stereotypes strung together; in her words, “[the script] seems to be constructed over a thin veneer of tired wild west tropes – the lusty barmaid, the crooked mayor, the ingénue, the tomboy, the leading man, and the town drunk are all present.” Annelise’s rebuttal to this sentiment – that the characters were flat and boring simply because they were easily recognized – states, in essence, that the types of murder mystery shows she writes can’t get too complicated or the audience will get lost. Annelise has also said elsewhere that PIM has actually attempted to do a show where the characters were a lot more complicated and three-dimensional, with the end result being that most members of the audience had no idea what was going on (I believe the show she was referring to was Club Mystique, our 1940’s detective show). I’m not going to rehash her arguments here, but one of her points was that murder mystery dinner theater shows put on by Poison Ivy Mysteries are meant for pure entertainment, and should not be compared to works that strive to do anything more. This has been true so far. But it got me thinking: could we?

Would it be possible to produce a fun, entertaining murder mystery that also speaks to the human condition, or whatever else this particular reviewer was looking for? Can we write a show that is also considered “art”?

What is art, anyway? The broad definition is basically any work expressing the imagination of the creator, which could be almost anything, ranging from the illegible crayon drawing a six-year-old made that he says is a car, to Cristo putting up fabric in Central Park just because it looks cool, to Stanley Kubrick telling a story about human evolution that takes as much effort on the part of the viewer to understand as it does the filmmaker, to a story about an overweight plumber rescuing a princess from a fire-breathing turtle king. However, I believe that when people ask the question “what is art?” they are more likely referring to what makes “high art” or “true art.” Or, in other words, what defines a work that people can say have had a significant influence? What rises above the 90% of everything else that is crap (it’s a law, look it up) to stand out as highlights of their respective mediums? What separates Citizen Kane from Transformers? The answer to this question is multi-layered and complicated (and changes radically depending on the medium being discussed), but for my purposes I will say that true art will make the audience think. And not simply think in terms of comprehension or analysis of plot elements (or following the bits and pieces of a murder mystery), but challenge an audience member’s conception of the world around them and make some sort of connection.

Take the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip I posted above. This strip was published in the Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, along with this comment by Bill Watterson: “I would suggest that it’s not the medium, but the quality of perception and expression, that determines the significance of art. But what would a cartoonist know?” The great irony in this statement coming from that source is that I think most people today would consider that Calvin and Hobbes demonstrates some of the very best qualities of newspaper comics, and even now, nearly twenty years after its last strip, is still hailed as a standout among its peers. It’s not just good, it’s art. Bill Watterson and a few others, such as Gary Larson and Charles Schultz, took a medium that most people considered to be nothing more than pure entertainment and elevated it as a form of expression.

What defines the quality of perception and expression of a theatrical piece? Some may say it’s novelty. Others may say it’s tackling important issues. But I believe it has to do with one important concept: how well can I connect to these characters? For Poison Ivy Mysteries in particular, it comes down to avoiding the Eight Deadly Words:

“I don’t care what happens to these people.”

We are lucky that, because of our chosen murder mystery format, most people want to pay close attention to the plot and characters simply because they actively want to solve the crime. Video games have been getting away with this for years because the level of audience participation means that less care can be given to fleshing out characters, plots, and settings than in a typical passive medium such as a movie, play, or TV show, while still leaving the participant satisfied at the end. Most people care what happens to our characters because they want to figure out the mystery at the end, not necessarily because they care about them as characters. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pull a Portal 2 and make a fun game with great audience participation that also happens to have engaging characters in it. (Portal and Portal 2, by the way, I would consider “high art,” though I know plenty of people who would dismiss them due to the medium.) I would say that the more we can get the audience to care about these people, the better the shows will be.

Poison Ivy Mysteries scripts have been fun, witty, well-plotted affairs with clever interactions and wordplay, with interesting mysteries to solve. They are good, if not excellent, shows. However, it is true that most of our shows have been pretty shallow in order to facilitate understanding for the audience. And I’m not going to pretend that Justice at the Gold Dust is an exception to that rule. It’s not. The characters and setting are old wild west tropes and little else. (Which is not a condemnation; Tropes Are Not Bad. A relevant quote from that page: “Indeed, a trope, however unrealistic, can be a convenient shorthand when played straight; setting up aversions or subversions for it can be more wordy than is needed to get on with story.”) It’s gotten to the point that internally we’ve begun referring to each show by a truncated name, based on what stereotypes it embodies, Friends-style. The Sci-Fi show. The Western. The Hollywood Show. The Medieval Show. The Wedding Show. I like all of these shows (some more than others), but I don’t know if anyone would consider them art. However, there is one show we’ve done, and two characters in particular in that show, that demonstrate that it is possible to do more complex characterization that challenges the audience to face some of their preconceptions and maybe even think a little, thus turning this show into my favorite out of all the Poison Ivy Mysteries shows so far (yes, even more than the sci-fi show).

Curse of the Scarab, on the surface, seems to be simply another show filled with stereotypes, this time from the 1920’s, and in particular the Egyptology craze that was going on at the time. The characters seem to be your basic stock characters: the eager cub reporter, the stuffy curator, the wealthy dowager, the “legitimate businessman” (aka mob boss), the adventurous tomb raider, and the somewhat nerdy researcher/assistant to the curator. The gimmick of the show, however, is that partly through the evening, an ancient Egyptian curse starts striking members of the group at random, causing strange and often debilitating effects upon them. Most of them are just plain silly and a lot of fun to see. The mob boss suddenly becomes scared of everything, the curator has to walk backwards, the dowager regains her youth, and (my personal favorite) the researcher suddenly has an unseen barbershop quartet repeating everything he says. These are all fun to watch, but by the end these characters are all pretty much the same going out as they were coming in. Not so for the final remaining two characters.

The adventurous tomb raider is a woman who has been trying to make it in a man’s profession in a man’s world (especially considering the time period in which this show is set). She’s also involved in a love triangle with the reporter and the researcher (she likes the researcher, the researcher ends up liking the reporter, and the reporter just wants the scoop!). However, her curse ends up turning her into a man (in a very fun song). This, of course, complicates the love triangle to no end (represented in another fun song), but more importantly, suddenly she/he has fulfilled one of his/her wishes: being treated like an equal by men. In fact, the curator, who up to this point had been belittling her to no end, suddenly has great respect for the man she has become. This is interesting for two main reasons: first, usually the gender-swap plot goes male-to-female, not the other way around, so it’s already got a bit of a twist to it. Second, while some of the typical gender-swap tropes are present (up to a point; it’s a family show!), such as complaining about how she’s now balding, her focus is more on “will being a man *actually* help me gain the respect I wanted from my peers? Or did I already have that respect from those that matter? Is there truly anything worth doing as a man that I can’t as a woman?” An intriguing question for the 1920’s, but even more relevant in modern times (especially since the character was written by a successful female businessperson).

It’s a question to think about.

How does her character arc end? More importantly, how will she change as a person through this experience? I can’t answer these questions without spoiling the ending of this particular show, but rest assured that even though her time as a man is temporary, she comes out a changed person.

The cub reporter, for much of the show, is still pretty one-note. She’s looking for the scoop, trying to write a great story that will land her a career as an actual successful journalist (currently she works for Vanity Fair), oblivious to the flirting that the researcher is throwing her way. However, her curse (which is the last one of the evening) is to be unable to think anything without saying it out loud. In other words, she begins repeating her inner monologue. And this inner monologue, while still concerned with landing that big story, also begins rambling about her mixed feelings toward the researcher, her doubts in her own talents as a reporter, and her fear of what the evening is turning into and the danger they’re all in. In other words, the opposite of everything the character had been portraying so far. And with these revelations, suddenly she becomes so much more interesting, not just as a piece in the mystery, but as a character. She’s not a stereotype anymore; she’s a person, and while her personal plotline never really gets resolved by the end and it’s not clear whether she’s been changed by the experience like the tomb raider was, the audience can feel like they’ve gotten to know a person and all that comes with her, instead of just writing her off as another stereotype.

Does this make Curse of the Scarab “art”? Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly takes some steps in the right direction. These two characters illustrate some pointers that I think will help PIM murder mystery characters become more than stereotypical tropes put together.

1) Introduce interesting issues that the characters need to grapple with. These needn’t (and probably shouldn’t) be the focus of the show, as that may quickly complicate the murder mystery part to the point of hopeless confusion (a la Club Mystique). The tomb raider’s core issue had nothing to do with the main plot of the Egyptian curse and the later murder (though the love triangle part may have been either a clue or a red herring; I won’t reveal which), so the audience members who didn’t really pick up on it didn’t have to in order to get the main point of the evening. But raising some of these issues on the side will make certain members of the audience sit up and take notice, and have something to think about on the ride home apart from “whodunnit?”

2) Make at least some of the characters dynamic. The tomb raider had quite a different outlook by the end of the show than she did at the beginning, even though she was still fundamentally the adventurous Indiana Jones-type. Static characters (i.e. those who are basically the same at the end of the show as they were at the beginning) are not bad, but making all the characters static is. And making one character fall in love with another character (with all the associated tropes) isn’t enough to make an interesting dynamic character. Some of the more fascinating onstage relationships to watch are how dynamic characters are changed by the static characters that come into their lives and mess it up. How Oscar is changed by Felix, or how Valjean is changed by the bishop, and in turn becomes the static character effecting changes in others. (Incidentally, Javert is my favorite character in Les Miserables (Russell Crowe notwithstanding), mostly because during the entire show he is a completely static character, but subtly Valjean has been turning him into a dynamic one by the end, and that entire character arc I find fascinating. But I digress.) Other than falling in love, most of the murder mystery characters stay the same throughout most of the shows that we’ve done. This is partly a writing problem, but also partly an acting one, as some of the changes to the characters as written in the script do nothing to change the actor’s performance of said character throughout the night. (Possibly this was better with the tomb raider character because she was played by two different people.) This brings me to my third point:

3) Subtext, subtext, subtext! This is not a writing problem, this is an acting and directing one. The cub reporter in Curse of the Scarab ends up speaking her subtext as regular dialogue, and therefore it fleshes her out as a character. However, it’s entirely possible to give a performance depth by adding subtext to it without the script spelling anything out. Take, for example, the two runs we have done of Death: The Final Frontier (aka the sci-fi show). (Spoiler alert, by the way!) There is a redshirt ensign who, on the surface, seems to be just this goofy guy who’s always trying to impress people but failing miserably; kind of a cross between Guy from Galaxy Quest and Roger Wilco from Space Quest. However, by the end it turns out that he committed the murder and also blew up a planet, simply because he is sick of not getting noticed, and indeed he seems satisfied at the end that, no matter what happens to him, nobody will forget his name. In other words, he turns out to be a John Hinckley-esque psychopath, willing to go to drastic measures just to get noticed. Underneath, he is not a pleasant character. He is not the cross between Guy and Roger Wilco that everyone thought he was the whole time (yet another good example of bucking the stereotype). I won’t name any names here, but both actors who have played this role so far did a great job of being the goofy, lovable ensign. But only one of them had imbued him with a sort of dark and sinister edge during the earlier parts of the show that made the reveal believable. In both runs the reveal made sense in terms of the plot and the facts about the character. But only during one run did the reveal remain true to how the character was portrayed. And that’s what strikes audiences on a deeper level.

Let’s take another example. Hope Hartman is playing Calamity Janet in the current show. At one point in the show, her beau, Jesse Joe James, ends up falling for another woman, leaving her as the scorned lover. The scene and song that ensue (where she tries coming on to him again and, when that fails, seduces the town drunk, mostly to get Jesse to notice her again, who is pointedly ignoring her the entire time) could easily be played just for comedy, with that “crazy tomboy singin’ a toe-tappin’ western tune to a goofy drunk guy”, were it not for the subtext that’s obviously going on. You can see in her performance that she has thought out her reasons for why her character acts the way she does. Once again, there is a dark edge to her that shows her vulnerability and desperation upon losing Jesse that, in the hands of a lesser actress, could simply come across as petulance. This brings her character to life and rounds her out a little bit, enough so that even in that negative review I quoted from earlier, Hope is commended for a strong performance.

Now, a lot of this is up to each individual actor’s abilities and talents. However, there is no talent that cannot be matched by adequate preparation (what I shall call the Batman rule). That is why I also say that the director can solve these problems. As long as the actor is willing to work as hard as they can to compensate for their weaknesses, and the director knows how to train and bring out those qualities (or maybe gets a good acting coach to teach them said techniques if there isn’t time), then the performances of even the most inexperienced actors can be improved dramatically. I was in Fiddler on the Roof at BYU-Idaho back in 2005, which had some top-notch actors and a very good director. I was given the role of the Russian constable, and I did my best to imbue him with subtext, turning him from a transparent bad guy who kicked all the Jews out to a man who did what he had to, regardless of his personal feelings. However, due to both a lack of acting talent/experience on my part and a lack of direction from the director (since he was busy directing all the people who had more than five lines), I don’t think I did as well in the role as I had the potential to. One of the other professors at the university basically said as much, adding that the blame for that was placed mostly on the director’s shoulders. Now, I’m not trying to absolve or condemn anyone with that anecdote, but I was simply pointing out that focus from a director who knows how to get what they want from an actor, coupled with an actor who is willing to put in the time and effort required, can turn any boring performance into something stand-out and memorable, and can change a stereotype into a person. (The problem also comes from actors who aren’t willing to put in the effort, but that’s a whole different topic.)

These ideas may help shows become more memorable and enjoyable, and lift them above Transformers-level entertainment. Now don’t get me wrong; if we’re satisfied with our current level of performance, then we don’t necessarily need to change anything at all just to try to make this more sophisticated. After all, Transformers made a lot of money, and did exactly what it set out to do: provide a few hours of entertainment and a bit of escapism. But we can do more to create characters that will connect with the audience and make them think. Some of our scripts already do this, even if it’s mostly in the subtext. And, with proper attention, time, and care, I believe this can be done without losing the entertaining and fun aspects of our shows. We don’t have to go dark to make good characters. Indeed, we can’t go too dark, since there already is murder involved. However, keeping things lighthearted doesn’t mean keeping them one-dimensional. Even if we are low art, just like newspaper comics, are we content with being Garfield, or do we want to become Calvin and Hobbes?

Will these things help Poison Ivy Mysteries become “art”? Probably not. Then again, perhaps it’s not the medium of murder mystery theater, but the quality of perception and expression of the shows and characters that determines their significance.

But what would a hack songwriter know?


Humor and Arthur: Things Looked Fuzzy Before I Got Glasses!

(note: the title of this post is from what an Arthur talking doll I had says when you squeeze him. He says some other things too, but that one’s by far the best.)

arthur laser vision

I’ve started watching old episodes of Arthur recently. I used to watch this show all the time, as recently as 2010 or so, but lately I hadn’t seen it for a while. So when I started watching the first season again I ended up rediscovering some things that I had loved but mostly forgotten about, and some things that probably had more of an impact on my own sense of humor than I realized at the time.

I discovered Arthur when I was fourteen years old and in ninth grade, and though I was still in junior high I had mostly moved on from kids’ programming (it was still two years before I could claim “nostalgia” as the reason I looked up old Disney Afternoon shows online). For about two and a half weeks I was at home and basically bedridden after having my gall bladder removed, not with laser surgery as they do nowadays, but with the old-fashioned “cut him open like a ripe melon” style of surgery. During that time is when I first watched Arthur, and since I was on a lot of painkillers at the time I still have some strange memories of the first season of that show. It was also around this time that my sense of humor started to mature from juvenile “knock-knock joke”-type stuff to more sophisticated comedy, and while Arthur certainly wasn’t my only influence in that regard (90’s-era The Simpsons was a big part of that too), and it may just had been coincidence due to the life stage I was in at the time, I think I owe a lot of my certain brand of humor to the style found in Arthur, especially in the early seasons.

You see, while I think Arthur is one of the funniest shows on TV, Arthur isn’t a comedy, or at least it’s not touted as such. It’s primarily a PBS kids’ show, where normal kids learn valuable life lessons about sharing and teamwork, etc. etc. It was one of the more subtle PBS shows in regards to its educational value (most other PBS shows were a little more upfront about exactly what they’re trying to teach), but it wouldn’t quite have fit on any network at the time either, not being a glorified toy commercial or hyper joke factory like most Saturday Morning fare (is the Saturday Morning cartoon block even a thing anymore? Has the whole paradigm of kids’ shows shifted to DVD’s and Netflix and whatever? Strangely, as a 30-year-old single childless man who doesn’t watch My Little Pony, it’s not something I’ve investigated in a while.). And since neither comedy, educational value, nor commercialism are explicitly its focus, the humor that does exist isn’t shoved in your face like a bad Spy Kids movie, but is simply allowed to exist on its own terms.

Most of the stories in early Arthur episodes are as slice-of-life as it’s possible to get. Arthur gets glasses. Arthur gets a puppy. Arthur’s family goes on vacation. Francine gets a lead in the school play, with predictable results (it goes to her head until she realizes that other people worked hard too, so they all work together at the end, etc. etc.). Nothing terribly groundbreaking. But the humor rarely, if ever, comes from the actual premise of any particular episode. The jokes are little side bits that appear and deliver, and almost immediately the episode moves on. There’s no laugh track, there’s no awkward pause or reaction a la The Office, and many jokes probably go over kids’ heads to the point where they may not even realize that a joke happened. One example of that occurs in an episode where Arthur’s family hosts a family reunion at their house. The focus of the episode is that Arthur’s mean cousin Mo will be there, and Arthur spends most of the time avoiding her, only to find at the end that she’s actually pretty cool, and Arthur’s the only reason she goes to these reunions, and they become friends, etc. etc. But every so often we get little glimpses of what some of the other relatives are like, and my own personal favorite is a certain uncle who’s trying to make it as a writer, but is clearly single, somewhat pretentious, and a total failure. He tries to impress everyone by summarizing an original story he’s writing, only to have Arthur’s great-grandmother point out that it’s just like The Fugitive, or Les Miserables, or The 39 Steps, to which the uncle stammers, “Well, yes, it’s like those, but, uh, completely different.” This would be a fun scene on its own, but what I think makes it great, and just up my alley, is that it’s not the focus of the scene (it’s just going on in the background as Arthur’s sneaking around trying to avoid his cousin). In this way the scene is allowed to be real. It’s not a standard comedy setup scene, it’s just something funny that happens in the background of life, and that makes it genuine. In a way, it’s the opposite of certain shows like Family Guy and South Park where the humor and events of the show are so completely divorced from reality that sincerity is lost, and the proscenium is revealed, so to speak. (The same uncle later on tries to get everyone in a game of charades to guess some obscure 14-century book about the bridges of Paris, and gets all huffy when nobody knows what it is. Another reason I love Arthur is because it has great adult characters; where in most kids’ shows the adults are either completely ineffectual, sadistically evil, simple authority figures, or generic stereotypes, the adults in Arthur all have their own personalities and quirks without pulling the focus off the core group of kids, and this uncle and the family’s reaction to him is a great example of that.)

On the other end of the spectrum, yet somewhat related, are when little reality-breaking surreal moments occur, but nobody pays them much mind. These are some of my favorite kind of jokes, not because they’re necessarily all that funny on their own, but many just come out of nowhere and quickly disappear again. Some gags like this include a toy that Arthur finds at a toy shop that’s based on a Transformer, except instead of turning into a robot it turns into a likeness of his principal. It doesn’t really make any sense no matter how you slice it, but it’s a tiny bit in an otherwise unrelated scene that adds to the quirkiness of the Arthur universe. Another such scene happens when Arthur is reading a story he’s writing to all his friends one by one, and they keep making him change it until it’s a confusing mess. When he reads it to the Brain they’re on the bank of a river or pond or something, and when Arthur asks the Brain what he thinks, he picks up a frog who croaks, “Rrrrrrotten,” and hops away. Nobody pays any attention to the fact that the Brain just had a frog answer the question; the scene just moves on with the Brain giving Arthur some more writing tips.

One of my all-time favorite gags like this comes in an episode where Arthur is teaching D.W. how to ride a bicycle and they’re working on various hand signals (holding your hand up means right turn, to the side means left turn, etc.). D.W. makes a silly face and waves her arms around, and asks Arthur what that hand signal means. But before Arthur can get too annoyed, suddenly a guy (who is apparently their next-door-neighbor Mr. Sipple, though I don’t recall seeing him in any other episode except maybe the one, years later, where he moves away and gets replaced with a family from Ecuador whose members become semi-reoccurring characters) wearing nothing but a towel appears out of nowhere and hands D.W. a cabbage, who explains that, where he comes from, when somebody makes that goofy face while sitting on a bike, it means, “bring me a cabbage, fast!” He then says, “I left the tub running! Bye!” and runs away, and the scene continues like nothing happened. Not only is it a wonderfully surreal moment, but it occurs in the middle of something as mundane as teaching a kid how to ride a bicycle, giving something utterly forgettable a delightful twist.

Probably the most memorable gag like this (although not the best, in my opinion, though it is pretty good) is an episode where Art Garfunkel (yes, really) is following the kids around the whole time inserting musical stings every so often, and nobody even really pays attention to him until the very end, when Arthur asks Buster where the singing guy came from and Buster has no idea. There’s even a bit where Garfunkel plays a happy, upbeat ditty about how sad Buster is until Buster gets mad that he’s not playing sad music, at which point Garfunkel plays something slower and sadder to oblige. All this in an otherwise rooted-in-reality episode about Buster coming home after a long trip around the world with his dad and having to readjust to being back home.

There are lots of other kinds of humor present in Arthur (such as the usually wonderful imagination spots), but those are my two favorite types: humor that exists on its own terms without having to draw attention to it, and humor that’s wonderfully surreal in the midst of the mundane. This, in turn, drives a lot of things I think are funny in the real world, too. For example, a shirt that I really want to get is this one: a T-shirt that simply says, in a boring font, “More information about licorice can be found on the internet.” Now, technically, it’s a quote from a random Mark Trail comic, but that’s not the point. I just love how nonchalant it is about advertising a piece of completely pointless and unnecessary advice that’s not sponsored by any licorice company or search engine. It’s a strange enough thing that you don’t have to know the reference in order to find the shirt funny (unlike a lot of nerdy humor shirts which I will not purchase), but at the same time it’s not screaming, “I’m a funny shirt! Laugh at me!” It just is what it is, and if you don’t find it funny, then who cares? At least you get good Internet searching advice in case you need to know more about licorice. The humor more comes from the fact that this factoid has now been immortalized on a T-shirt and somebody is out there displaying it like any other T-shirt. Also note: this shirt wouldn’t be funny if the wearer went around drawing attention to it. It would be annoying. But if you saw somebody wearing this at, say, the grocery store, just picking out lettuce or something as though their shirt was completely normal, even though it’s kind of surreal? That’s my kind of humor. And that’s something I could easily see happen in an episode of Arthur.

Life is full of the surreal mundane. And I like to make everyone’s day a little more surreal if I can, without drawing attention to it. I had a friend in college who told me how she really likes how I tell jokes. Normally my brand of humor is just to insert some sort of wry observation into an otherwise normal conversation, but then act as if what I said was perfectly normal. Some people say something they think is funny, but then they go around elbowing people and saying, “Eh? Eh? Get it? Get it?” or the equivalent. I just try to let the joke stand or fall on its own, and if you think it’s funny, great; if not, no biggie. A lot of the people that make me laugh deliver their humor in the same way.

I think that the things in life that make us laugh are much closer to the jokes you find in Arthur than in a lot of other comedies. People watch The Office and laugh because the situations are awkward, but you certainly wouldn’t want to actually work there (and personally, I can’t stand the brand of awkward humor in that show or others like it, but that’s just me). People watch Seinfeld and laugh at the crazy characters, but nobody would want to actually be friends with any of those people. (Invite them to parties, maybe, but not be friends with them.) That’s not to say that you’d want to be friends with everyone in Arthur (the Tibble twins come to mind, as does D.W. depending on the writer), but the characters are more based in reality than a lot of live-action comedies are (let alone other cartoons), so therefore the humor seems more genuine and sincere.

I guess that this could all be summed up thusly: The things I find funny (and that abound in many Arthur episodes) are strange, but low-key. Surreal, but rooted in the mundane. Because while some comedies stop for a laugh track, or a documentary-style interview, or have the perfect comedic setup or cutaway gag, life doesn’t. If you don’t have to point out your humor or have others point it out for you, you can start to find things to laugh about anywhere. And, for me, that’s what makes life grand.

themoreyouknow


Header Gallery

A fun new part of this new blog theme is the option to have rotating header images! Here are all the ones I’ve cooked up so far in one easy-to-view place. Can you recognize all of their origins?

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(Note: the 3D one probably won’t work if you look at it in the slideshow, since it’s automatically resized, so to see that one properly you’ll just have to get lucky and see it as an actual header. Keep refreshing!)



Red

There is a certain word going around nowadays. A word that I’d previously never heard in this context outside of obscure British slang (by obscure, I mean obscure in the States) but at some point within the past two or three years became a common term. A word that a lot of people throw around, perhaps without thinking exactly what it implies, or what the connotations associated with it may be. A word that, personally, rubs me quite the wrong way. And that word is:

Ginger.

Admit it, when you think of the word “ginger”, the image that most likely pops into your mind is similar to the one above. Nearly gone are the days when people use the term “redhead” or “carrot-top” (thankfully) or, heaven forbid, “people with red hair”. No, for whatever reason, the term du jour to refer to this particular segment of the population has become “ginger”. And let me tell you, it’s become a little bee in my bonnet. Every time I hear the phrase used to refer to a person with auburn-y hair, it gets my hackles up. But why should a simple descriptive term cause me any stress at all? The answer is simple: the problem with the word is that it’s got a certain connotation associated with it that has never been a positive one. It’s a slur, pure and simple. And I think that most people who use it fall into two categories: those that don’t think it’s a slur, and those who don’t think slurs are offensive. (I guess there’s a third group: those who really are deliberately trying to offend, but I’m not even going to make the effort to address them, for obvious reasons.)

To the first group, those who don’t think it’s a slur, I’m here to say: yes, it is. Every time I’ve heard it used it has been in a negatively discriminatory way, even if it’s been used in a joking way, like the Christmas card with a redhead kid on Santa’s lap that says, “Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones.” Ha ha ha bite me. The word conjures up the image of some poor schmuck who bursts into flame at the first ray of sun and is generally doomed to be either a goofball, a hick, a sassy firebrand who is never satisfied with anything, or extremely angry, but always, always somebody who stands out for all the wrong reasons. And the strange thing about what being a “ginger” means is that it runs the gamut of personality traits, even if they are all negative ones. This sets it apart from other similar stereotypes like blondes being dumb or Asians being good at math or black dudes being scary rappers or whatever in the sense that there’s not really anything else unifying the group other than hair color. When somebody tells a dumb blonde joke, the punchline is that the person does something stupid. When somebody tells a ginger joke, the punchline is that they’re a ginger! Like that is inherently hilarious! Ha ha! Redheaded kids get beaten more often! For some reason! Why? Who knows? They have red hair! Isn’t that funny?

I guess when somebody’s called a ginger, it also means they look funny. The odd thing is, that’s almost always a double-standard. Sure, there are a lot of frumpy redheaded girls out there, but when most guys think of a redheaded woman it’s usually someone who’s quite attractive; a Kirsten Dunst, or an Amy Adams, or a Julianne Moore, or maybe a Felicia Day for all the nerds. But when you ask girls to think of a redheaded guy, some may think of Conan O’Brien (whose attractiveness is debatable), or perhaps Ron Howard (whose unattractiveness is not debatable), but most nowadays think of, well…

At a recent FHE activity in my singles’ ward, the subject of “attractive redheaded men in the media” came up, and out of all the girls there only one could think of anyone at all (Conan), while a few liked Rupert Grint despite his looks and another few went for Neil Patrick Harris (but come on, he doesn’t really count; that hair is waay too light to be truly red). And even all those examples are more attractive due to their goofy charm than their actual physical attractiveness. None have been viewed generally on the same level as your Brad Pitts or Matthew McConaugheys.

But even taking the double standard into account there are certain redheaded girls who’d probably be more secure with themselves if they had been born a brunette or whatever. Like a girl in my singles’ ward whose looks I would describe as “nice”, but insists on the “ginger” moniker, to the point that she’s bringing up the fact that she’s a ginger in the most irrelevant of situations: “You like my sweater? It matches my hair, ’cause I’m a ginger” or “Yeah, I’m in college now, but I used to be in high school, where my nickname was ‘The Ginger'”, or “These are good cookies. Hey, that makes me think of gingersnaps! Like me! A ginger!” (ok, that last one was fudged a bit, but it wasn’t far from the truth.) The point is, it seemed to me like she was trying a little too hard, like she was pre-emptively bringing up the word to show that, “Hey, I’m just like you guys! I call redheads gingers too! I can make fun of myself too! I’m just like everyone else! Self-deprecation makes everything better!” Methinks she doth protest her gingerosity too much. But you see, that’s the point! That need wouldn’t exist if “ginger” were just a descriptive term. But it’s not. It’s a slur.

As for the second group of people, those who don’t think that slurs should be offensive, it’s a little trickier, as this problem goes far beyond the “ginger” label. There is a certain trope on TV Tropes called Acceptable Targets that describes this phenomenon pretty well. Basically, an acceptable target is a person or group of people that society thinks it’s still OK to make fun of and hold prejudices about. Obviously the particulars vary based on the society and time period involved, but basically it means that you can perpetuate whatever stereotypes you want about a certain group of people, usually in the name of comedy, and it’s considered OK to laugh at it, no matter how offensive it may have been otherwise. And while it can be argued that certain groups may have it coming to them or are deliberate lifestyle choices (such as becoming a lawyer, or watching Star Trek) that can be easily left behind, others are ethnically-based or otherwise based on some aspect that is difficult or impossible to change. This has especially become prevalent lately as a backlash to political correctness, and perpetuated by TV shows where nothing is sacred (your South Parks and your Family Guys, for example), to the point where, if somebody cracks a joke about an Acceptable Target, and you don’t laugh or you find it offensive, it’s you that has the problem and needs to lighten up, not the creator or the comedian.

This is where the self-deprecation comes in, as with the girl in my ward I described earlier. Lately it’s been applied more and more to members of the Church as well, such as Mormons who liked the Book of Mormon musical. Sure, there are bits that are funny (like the missionary who keeps confusing details of the Book of Mormon story with The Lord of the Rings), but there is so much offensive material that I believe it’s impossible for an active member of the Church to see it and not come away feeling at least a little offended. And while some may express that sentiment, there are plenty who laugh right along with it, because “Ha ha! See? Mormons are cool! We laugh at the same things as everyone else! We’re totally into the self-deprecation thing, because we’re just like you! There’s nothing wrong at all with associating the Church with baby rape jokes!” Not to mention the comedians that still make the polygamy jokes. “Oh that’s not us, that’s the Fundamentalist splinter groups! And it’s a good thing it’s not us, ’cause that means I can laugh at the joke too! Ha ha! What a bunch of weirdos!” And that’s sad.

The funny thing about the Acceptable Targets thing is that people don’t even think about it most of the time. Most people just accept the jokes without a second thought, unless that joke is either unacceptable by society’s standards (like making fun of veterans), or applies to them personally, or possibly a close friend, and even then there might be an excuse of, “No, it’s OK. My friend makes fun of himself more than I do,” to which I reply, see the example about the girl in my ward again. There’s probably a segment of people who read this post who, when going through the ginger parts, thought, “Oh, come on, Jeff. You just need to lighten up. Life’s too short to be offended by something as dumb as the word ‘ginger’.” who then felt a little more uncomfortable when I brought up the same idea with regards to Mormons (assuming said reader is a member of the Church). It’s never a big deal unless it applies to you. And then you can either let it pass without comment, indulge in some self-deprecation so people think you’re cool with it, or actually get up in arms about it and get the additional label of someone who just needs to “lighten up.” But whatever the reaction on your part, the term is still offensive, and it still hurts.

In conclusion, be careful of what you say and who you’re saying it about. Don’t call people with red hair “gingers”. No matter what you or anyone else says, ginger still means this:

And that’s sad.

To end this post on a completely unrelated note: here’s a comic that I found that describes about a third of the posts on this blog (but ironically not this one). I don’t know why it’s transparent, but I’m too lazy to fix it:


New Name for da blog!

After exactly one month of pondering and consideration (and pretty much no input from anyone else), I have decided on a new name for the blog! It won out over three other finalist names, which fit my vague criteria of “fitting this blog best”, those three names being:

  • What the foo?!?
  • Does Billy Like Green Eggs and Ham?
  • I am Abuk, Master of Locks

All of these have relatively obscure origin stories. “What the foo?!?” is, of course, Pimp Lando’s catchphrase, “Does Billy Like Green Eggs and Ham?” is a quote from Josh Reese that has been my Windows “Question” sound for many years now, and “I am Abuk, Master of Locks” is actually a quote from Betrayal at Krondor but made it into Pimp Lando 5 and has been a random catchphrase for me ever since. Both of these latter quotes, by the way, made it into a random song that I made using Fruity Loops a while back. However, all of these didn’t make the final cut for the reason that they’re a little too specific. “What the foo?!?” is a little too closely tied with Pimp Lando to work for this blog, the Billy one would have people who know us both wonder what Billy has to do with this blog (or, conversely, Dr. Seuss fans might accidentally come here looking for something totally unrelated to this blog), and the Abuk one, though it probably won’t attract a bunch of people looking for Betrayal at Krondor stuff (the character is a pretty obscure one in the game itself, being a random guy that teaches lockpicking and does some shady business deals), it might give some websurfers the idea that this blog is somehow about lockpicking, lock construction, locksmiths, etc. Or maybe people would think I’m named Abuk.

Nobody wants to be named Abuk.

In any case, in the end, “Boom Chicka Wiggy Wagga” wins out for a few reasons. It’s still an obscure reference (specifically, to a movie that Nate Winder and I made with 3D Movie Maker back in high school where some guys are rapping about who turned off their background music, which is where the post picture above comes from), but it’s generic enough so that people won’t get the wrong idea about what this blog is about. It’s just a fun, random phrase that could describe many things but actually describes nothing in particular. And this blog is a fun, random blog that describes many things about me but focuses on nothing in particular (despite similar themes cropping up in many posts). It works, and I’m sticking with it! Update your links!

I will hopefully post the actual “Boom Chicka Wiggy Wagga” movie online at some point, and edit this post to include it when I do.

EDIT: It’s uploaded! Enjoy the wackiness!


New Name for da blog?

So here’s the thing. This blog has been called ¿Le gusta leer? since its inception over six years ago. However, I think it needs a name change. Not because the non-sequitur is absurd (it’s not even really a complete non-sequitur, since it’s Spanish for “Do you like to read?” and has an obscure origin story), but because I want an English name, you know, in case people are looking in search engines or whatever. If you see a site called “¿Le gusta leer?” are you going to assume it’s some guy blogging in English about being single, music, and alphabet monsters? I sure wouldn’t. Maybe a blog about estar sólo, la música, y los monstruos del alfabeto. So I turn to you, faithful readers, for some ideas for a new blog name. What do you think would fit this blog the best, even if it is a non-sequitur (which it may end up being, although there’s gotta be at least some sort of origin story for it)? I may not use any suggestions offered, but then, I might! It’s your chance to be a part of history! A very small part of history, but still!

Names that I will not consider:

  • Jeff’s Blog Where He Whines About Being Single
  • Anything with the word “jerk” in it (I’m looking at you, Johnathan!)
  • Firebert

Also note: the blog name may change, but the “staring down Josh Reese” picture will definitely remain.


Wordle Cloud

(click on that image to get a slightly bigger and hopefully more legible version)

Wordle.net is a website that takes an amount of text and shows you the most commonly used words in a fun collage. The bigger the word in the collage, the more times it was used in the text (after filtering out super-common words like the, a, of, etc.). So I thought I’d put in my blog and see what’s most often on my mind. After a few false starts (apparently just putting in the blog URL nets you the most five or six recent posts; basically whatever shows up on your RSS feed), I ended up copying the text of all the entries, of which there are currently 281 (282 when I post this) into Word, then pasting that into Wordle, and the result is what you see above. I was hoping that it would provide some sort of insight or subconscious message I was putting into things, but I can’t readily see anything groundbreaking. Most of the bigger words are just common English parts of speech. I think I can conclude at least the following, though:

  1. I do a lot of comparisons; specifically, similes (using “like”).
  2. I apparently write about people and time a lot.
  3. I use the word “just” as filler more than perhaps I need to.
  4. Um, that’s probably about all I can see, unless you, faithful blogketeer, can see something else.

I think the most amusing words are the ones that are somewhat smaller, but still made the collage because they are at least somewhat common. Words I expected like “married,” “girls,” and “family,” as well as words that made me scratch my head a bit, like “Marco” and “Ben”: things (Travels and my brother, respectively) that I wrote about on occasion but didn’t think were common enough subjects to make it into the collage. Not really a lot of insight here, but at least it was fun to look at.

I also found out, in the process, that if I were to print out my blog in a single-spaced 10pt Arial font from the beginning to the previous post, it would be 214 pages (not counting pictures, titles, or dates). That’s, uh, quite a bit of writing. The last year and a half alone (the front page as of this writing, from Fifths to the Disclaimer and Star Trek post) totaled about 32 pages. For someone who loathed writing stuff for school, I sure do write a lot.


Disclaimer and Self Analysis (and, yes, Star Trek)

Some of the responses I’ve received to my most recent post, both in person and in the comments, have prompted me to repeat something that I already touch on in my “About” page. That is to say, this blog is not nearly a complete picture of who I am or what my motivations are. It is, laconically, a place where I post whatever I feel like. And it’s a personality trait of mine that when I feel angsty, I grow verbose, but usually when I feel fine I have no need to record it. When I feel good about life, I’m usually busy being actively engaged in things that I don’t think about posting a giant blog post about why life is grand. So please don’t think I’m suicidal or somewhat mentally unstable because I take a long time and use a Shakespearean allegory to say, in essence, that talking to women (in a romantic sense, anyway) is often scary (which I don’t think is an uncommon opinion). If I seem depressed, keep in mind that it’s usually not long-term and always situational, not clinical. Oftentimes months go by without me posting anything of consequence, and usually during those times I’m fine. I don’t need to go see another therapist.

However, I do believe, as usual, that there’s a deeper issue at work here. Just saying, “I write more when I’m angsty,” is true, but there’s a reason behind it. You see, when I was a kid I didn’t have any friends. Not really. I can think of one person that I can truly call a friend who I met in elementary school, and even he ended up getting leukemia and missing a lot of school. (He’s OK now, and is married with children, by the way, though I haven’t had contact with him in years other than being Facebook friends.) It was probably not until eighth grade and several school-changes later that I finally became, while not popular, at least a normal person who had some friends and fit in somewhere. This change, however, didn’t come about arbitrarily, or because somehow I moved to a school where all the jerks had been purged. It changed because I did a lot of self-analysis. I grew up in a time when there was a lot of “Be Yourself!” and “Don’t Give in to Peer Pressure!” buzzwords being thrown around. Being oneself, however, especially as a young kid who hasn’t necessarily been taught by his parents how to behave himself (probably not from a lack of trying, though, especially from my poor mom), means being someone really different and weird. It didn’t help that I had skipped kindergarten and consequently was not only always the youngest and smallest person in the class, but also a target of jealousy and resentment, even from some teachers. But it was easy to play the blame game and put all of my trials squarely on the shoulders of the mean kids (which was pretty much every kid, even if some of them were at least passive about it). I didn’t give in to peer pressure to do what other kids did, and consequently became that weird kid who picked his nose and corrected the teacher on occasion, who couldn’t sit still and finished his math quizzes five minutes before everyone else so just wandered around the room because he couldn’t stand the ticking clock, who then got kicked down the hill at recess because his favorite activity was to hide in his sweatshirt in the fetal position. “Be Yourself,” indeed. If I were another kid, I’d probably have made fun of myself, too.

It was that last thought that actually began my transformation in the middle of the eighth grade. After being transferred to my sixth school since starting first grade, I finally realized that I was the problem. That may seem silly now, but up until that point I was just acting like the world couldn’t understand me and it wasn’t my fault for being “me”. But I finally got sick of it all and began analyzing my own behavior from an objective standpoint. Nearly everything I did or was about to do, I stood back and asked myself, “If I saw someone else doing this, what would I think of that person?” And if the answer was something negative, I would refrain from doing said activity. This took an enormous amount of effort and mental energy, and of course I wasn’t perfect at it, but it truly did make a difference. Instead of just “being me” and getting mad at the world for not being able to deal with it, I started slowly changing what “being me” meant, and as a result, people were better able to deal with me on a personal level and I became at least somewhat normal and gained friends, some of which I stay in contact with today.

So what does that have to do with this blog? Well, as a side effect of this eighth-grade experience, I learned the important value of self-examination. From that point on I usually tried to keep an objective eye on some of my stranger behaviors and eccentricities, to avoid falling back into the old trap of “It’s not me that has the problem, it’s the world!” that gave me so much heartache growing up. And almost all of the more angsty posts on this blog are a continuation of this very same principle. A lot of my “wah wah I’m still single waaaahh” posts aren’t just venting or complaining, but genuine efforts to understand exactly the problems that I need to personally overcome in order to enter into a successful relationship. Keep in mind that my main audience for this blog is myself and this may make more sense.

Perhaps an example is in order. Let’s take the most recent post. I’d been feeling more and more down and lonely recently, but without any real specifics as to why, as I hadn’t sat down and hammered out the causes to why I’m feeling this way. Then I see that Star Trek review and note some similarities between the philosophies pointed out in that video and these struggles I’d been having. So, to properly focus and delineate exactly what these parallels are, I write that blog post. Yes, at that point I’m still feeling extremely depressed directly afterwards and not ready to change anything, but that’s OK. After some time passes, I reread the post in a more neutral frame of mind. Now I can clearly identify the root causes of the recent depression (I’ve been isolated, I haven’t figured out how to talk to girls without being a jerk, etc.) and I now have a baseline for self-improvement. So I take some steps to begin to remedy the problem (I start going to more ward activities, even if I still don’t really enjoy them, etc.), and while significant improvement may not happen overnight, at least the process can begin.

When I began this blog I described it as a journal I was keeping because I had trouble keeping a pen-and-paper journal. But for me, what I’m doing has never been as important as why I do it. Therefore this blog (or at least the lengthier posts) has been more self-analytical than descriptive. Heck, that’s always been my focus when keeping a journal (for example, this was written in a pen-and-paper journal when I was ten years old, showing that even before eighth grade I always had a bent toward self-examination). Without anyone else willing (or able) to give outside commentary on who I am, this is the best chance I have for self-improvement. This is why I don’t need to see a therapist: this is my therapy! (Plus, the few times I have seen a therapist they almost immediately pegged me in some category or another that I don’t think really fit the bill, then assigned me to write down and fulfill all these goals that I had no motivation or intention to keep, like they believe that the only way to live a happy life is to religiously follow Stephen Covey or something.) This is also one reason why I often have a negative view of myself: improvement isn’t possible if you view yourself through rose-colored glasses. I’m not depressed because I don’t think I’m worth anything, I’m down on myself  because I want to become a better person! These analytical posts also help me identify those cases where the problem really isn’t me, but I still need to do something about it (like, say, move out of Provo) to improve my life.

So why make this blog public? Why risk exposing some of my inner thoughts and feelings out to the world at large, where anybody can come across it and see inside to the various issues I privately struggle with? This is something I’ve often wondered myself and gone back and forth on an answer. But I think one important reason is that self-examination is, by nature, somewhat myopic. I can’t get a clear picture of myself from inside myself. So I put my thoughts out here in the hopes that others will help me see answers that I can’t find on my own. (And granted, all those things are good reasons to go see a therapist, but I’m still not willing to follow Mr. Covey. I’m just not wired that way.) I read and appreciate every single comment I get, even if I don’t respond to them all. And maybe, by seeing what makes me tick, some of you may recognize common elements in your own life, and even if neither of us do anything about it, at least we can empathize together.

In conclusion, please don’t worry about my mental health. For the most part, I am doing fine, and for those times when I’m not, I’m usually not just wallowing in it, but trying to identify root causes and solutions. (I don’t always act on those solutions very well, but that’s a whole different blog post.)

And now for an added bonus: Star Trek VI is one of my favorite Star Trek films. The Cold War allegories are all well and good, but I think a big part of why I really enjoy it (and Star Trek II), and why many people hold the original series over NextGen is the relationships between the main characters themselves and how that defines them, especially the Big Three (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy). All of these three would be very different people without the others. Without Spock and McCoy, Kirk would mostly be a self-obsessed captain without anyone to lean on. Without Kirk and McCoy to humanize him, Spock would just be another cold Vulcan like those that populate Star Trek: Enterprise. And without Kirk and Spock, McCoy would probably just be passed out in an alley somewhere. Even the rest of the main crew draws their strength from their relationships with these three. Sulu, in particular, would be completely unbelievable in this film if Kirk weren’t the type of man to inspire such great devotion that he (Sulu) is willing to disobey orders to serve a greater good.

Contrast this with the TNG crew. TNG is filled with interesting characters, but none of them are defined by their relationships to each other. Picard would be Picard no matter who his crew is. Riker would be Riker no matter who he served under. The only lasting relationships between the characters is this sort of vague “we’re all good friends” thing, with an occasional romantic overtone shoehorned in by the final season. Don’t get me wrong: most of the TNG characters are great, but they would be the same in a vacuum. Kirk would not be Kirk, or at least recognizable as the Kirk we know, without Spock and Bones. That makes their interactions so much more strong and compelling than anything the TNG crew does for each other.

Consider this: in Star Trek VI (and, for that matter, Star Trek III), most of the crew disobeys orders and even logical sense in order to save one or two of their crew (in III it’s Spock, in VI it’s Kirk and McCoy). The gratitude and heartfelt appreciation the rescuees have for the rescuers is genuine, palpable, and touching. A good example is in VI when Sulu greets Kirk with his bridge crew behind him after the Enterprise and the Excelsior have destroyed General Chang’s bird-of-prey. The looks on their faces say it all: Sulu is glad and proud that he had the courage to put his friends in front of the state, and Kirk is touched, knowing that as long as he has good friends like these, he will be able to make a difference in the universe for the better.

Now take a parallel scene in Star Trek: Insurrection. Picard is ready to beam down to the planet, disobeying orders in order to save a bunch of Ba’ku natives that the Son’a want to move (for legitimate reasons, I might add, though I’m not going to go into that discussion here). Suddenly the rest of the bridge crew show up, and they’re all like, “We’re going to help you!” Picard’s all like “No, you’re not!” and they’re all “Yes we are!” and Picard’s like, “Fine, whatever: Riker and Geordi go do this and this and everyone else come with me and blah blah blah” and everyone goes and, uh follows their orders to disobey orders. The scene falls flat because Picard, while a good leader and a good captain, has always seemed so independent. He doesn’t need his crew to suddenly back his disobedience 100% without question, especially for a cause as dubious as the one they’re defending in the film. Indeed, Picard probably could’ve beamed down with five random ensigns who were sworn to blindly follow him for some reason, and gotten the exact same results. None of the crew seem especially invested in this except for “well, we’re all friends, and I guess good friends help each other out!” It’s the difference between truly devoted, genuine friends, and the kids from Barney and Friends. Sure, they’re all friends on that show, but there’s no substance to it! When Spock died, it hurt, and the scene became one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. When Data died, everyone was all, “Whatever,” and I doubt most casual fans even know he died, let alone how or why.

This is why the original series is so much more fondly remembered than even TNG, which kind of petered out in its film entries. TOS was defined not only by its plots and science fiction, but by its crew and their relationships. TNG was defined by its good plots and interesting characters, but not by their relationships. (As a side note, my favorite Trek series, DS9, was also defined largely by its relationships between characters, though the show itself wasn’t as accessible as TNG or TOS and never quite broke into the mainstream consciousness.) Even in the 2009 Star Trek film (the film that some Trekkies refer to as the New Coke Star Trek), the main part of the plot that doesn’t have to do with insane Romulans is the relationship between Kirk and Spock, and how old Spock knows that the two will never achieve nearly the same level of greatness without each other as they would together. The writers of that film knew that the real heart of the series was found right there, and even if you stripped away almost all of the other trappings of the Star Trek franchise, that core would still resonate.

There you go, Johnathan. Can I keep your money now?


Follow-up to the previous rally post

For those who may be wondering what the “hidden agenda” behind the Rally to Restore Sanity was, Jon Stewart himself outlines it, and surprisingly, it has no liberal bias, nor does it make a political stance to activate our youth into tearing apart the foundations of democracy, or whatever else news outlets had made it out to be.

If that doesn’t work:

http://www.comedycentral.com/videos/index.jhtml?videoId=363864&title=jon-stewart-moment-of-sincerity

I hope that’s a message we all can rally around. (Although, I’m not familiar with many Mormons who would be Jay-Z fans, but I’m sure there are some out there.)

And, for more awesomeness, the top 100 best protest signs from the rally. (Careful: may contain profanity and/or silliness.)


Rally to Restore Sanity, and why it’s needed

Over this past weekend, I had an interesting political discussion on Facebook about Jon Stewart’s upcoming “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Glenn Beck, and I wanted to preserve it for posterity’s sake. I have changed some of the names to protect the innocent (and the guilty) and to edit a few superfluous comments out. I just thought that the argument presented by the opposition represents exactly why politics right now is so divided that a call to take it down a notch is sorely needed. So, in order to have a change of pace from my usual “check out my new music” and “wah wah I’m still single waaaah!” blog posts, I present some political discussion for you!

My First Status Update (referring to this video): I think the moment I lost all respect for Glenn Beck was the moment when he basically stated that everyone who liked Jon Stewart and his upcoming rally were victims of some sort of Manchurian Candidate plot.

The first few responses were short comments like most people get on their status updates, things like “ha ha ha” and “Come on, everyone likes Angela Lansbury!” Then the first comment appeared from who I will call the Glenn Beck fanatic:

  • Glenn Beck Fanatic: I’m pretty sure he never said that. Good luck finding the clip. [referring to the unedited Glenn Beck clip]
  • Me: While the Manchurian Candidate thing may have been an exaggeration on Colbert’s part, the fact of the matter is that Glenn does believe that the rally’s some sort of secretive plot to “activate the youth” who watch the show into voting in all the left-wing liberals who will push the evil socialist agenda, instead of what it really is: a plea to both sides of the extremely polarized political landscape to listen to each other.

That may have been a little more charged than I probably should have put it, but the response I got maaaay have been an overreaction:

  • GBF: I don’t think he has any strong feelings on the rally itself. I agree that he believes that the show is used to “activate the youth” but I don’t think it’s all that secretive. It seems to be working on you. Mock Christians, mock Conservatives. It’s the liberals who are cool. We’ll see what the rally turns out to be, but I have a hard time believing that it’s a plea to both sides to listen to each other when he’s made it very clear that he has nothing but contempt for the right.Honestly, I couldn’t care less what John Stewart does. I don’t understand why you care so much what Glenn Beck does. If you actually watched or listen to his shows, I think you’ll find very little to disagree with him on. Restore Honor, restore the Constitution, return to God and faith. Such hate! Perhaps you should get first hand information instead of just believing everything John Stewart tells you.

It took me a little while to figure out how to respond to this inanity. My first instinct was to respond saying, “Oh, yeah? Sounds like Glenn Beck has been brainwashing you to hate all liberals!” Of course, despite being basically the same argument, with the same amount of factual evidence, in reverse, it probably wouldn’t have helped matters and would’ve been an oversimplification. So instead, after much thought, I responded with this long post:

  • Me: Thanks for the Ad Hominem attack, it really helps the discussion.

    All right, prepare for a long one. I understand that both Stewart and Colbert have a liberal bias. It’s one reason I had to stop watching both shows shortly before the ’08 election: they were so obviously pro-Obama that it was driving me crazy. And there are some issues that I disagree with them on, such as abortion and gay marriage. And the fact of the matter is that it isn’t personally Glenn Beck so much that I have issues with. Sometimes I like Glenn, especially when he was on CNN. I’ve just lost respect for him, in the same way I lost respect for John McCain (who I voted for). McCain had to compromise a lot of his values and “maverick” tendencies to win the Republican nomination in 2008, and it alienated his moderate base and destroyed his credibility. Since joining Fox News Glenn has had the same issue: in order to keep his job, he’s had to toe the line of the station: push the conservative agenda. Sometimes you can see that he isn’t entirely happy with it, especially when he gets people with *really* right-wing opinions on his show and he doesn’t quite know how to respond (*cough* Stu *cough*). I appreciate what he’s trying to do; I just think he’s constrained by his network and has to keep his message in line with theirs. And in many cases, he uses straw man arguments and sweeping generalizations to boil a complex issue down to a rallying cry. Ergo, he has lost my respect. (And this isn’t just a Glenn Beck thing; Gretchen Carlson, according to her credentials, is an extremely savvy intelligent person who was valedictorian in her class, yet says some boneheaded and/or simplistic things on the air at times because there’s an agenda she’s got to push.)

    Now you may say that Jon Stewart and especially Colbert do the same thing, and to an extent, that’s true. First of all, they’re comedians. Their main goal is to make a living making people laugh, and at first glance it may seems that they accomplish this by skewering the right all the time, especially Colbert’s pundit character. However, Jon especially has grown a bit disenchanted with the Obama administration, as have many of his former supporters. Nowadays I think The Daily Show consists more of taking Congress and the White House to task for being do-nothings due to partisanship than they do taking jabs at Republicans alone or Fox News. He even recently had Jimmy Carter on the show and drew some interesting parallels between him and Obama: both are charismatic, intellectual, well-meaning, good-natured people who were elected mostly because people wanted change from a previous corrupt administration (or one that was perceived to be corrupt anyway; I’m not going to argue that topic here) and who turned out to be ineffectual in carrying out their promises. He’s not a socialist who wants to send your grandparents to death panels, but rather a charismatic man who hasn’t lived up to his ideals. I think that is a reasonable assessment of the situation that doesn’t resort to name-calling, slogan chanting, or extremism. Jon may not embrace the right, but he certainly doesn’t think that liberals are all cool. That’s something even Bill O’Reilly has talked about.

    Which brings us to the purpose behind the rally. Ignoring Colbert for the moment, Jon’s rally is a call to restore reason, a call which, if you’ll pardon the wordplay, is a reasonable one. For example, Congress recently defeated a bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, a bill which even 64% of Republicans said they support. It should have been a shoo-in, so why didn’t it pass? Because there were ridiculous back-and-forth bickering about amendments to the bill supporting military spending that reached a point to where neither party could agree to pass it as it stood. It is that kind of thing that Jon is trying to fix: not the evil left-wing or sinister right-wing agendas, but the fact that the political landscape is so divided right now that a bill that more than two-thirds of the Congress supports cannot get passed!

    Colbert’s schtick is that he distorts the truth, but it’s a reactionary distortion. Most of the time when he really “nails” people, it’s not because he disagrees with their policies, but because he likes to point out logical fallacies in their arguments. Hence his “March to Keep Fear Alive” is not so much a personal attack on Beck’s rally as it is a general statement on the “Us Vs. Them” mindset. There are some parallels to Beck’s rally that Colbert plays up for humorous effect, but the main purpose is to point out the fallacy that the political world is made of black and white issues.

    Also, it really gets my goat when people say that they trust Glenn mostly because he’s a member of the Church, like somehow Church membership makes one impervious to error (and the associated implications that those who aren’t members of the Church somehow don’t know what they’re talking about, and that members who disagree with Beck must therefore have weaker testimonies). That has nothing to do with Jon Stewart; it’s just a pet peeve of mine. If you like Glenn for other reasons, that’s fine, but don’t bring this point up.

I don’t feel that I need to elaborate on that. I still stand by everything I said. The response was this:

  • GBF:I don’t believe there were any ad hominem attacks in my comment.I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, Jeff. I’m sure we still disagree on a lot but I admit I was assuming some of your biases based on the arguments I’ve had with others….I apologize for that. I hope you’ll return the favor since I never mentioned or even alluded to Glenn Beck being a Mormon.

To which I responded:

  • Me: I think that implying that I’m filled with hate and follow Jon blindly would be a personal attack, but that’s neither here nor there. I brought up the Mormon thing mostly because most people I talk to cite that as their first reason they listen to Glenn, and I just wanted to forestall it here. Like I said, if you like Glenn for other reasons, more power to you. And I apologize for implying that you were part of that group.

It was clear that she had no idea how to respond to any of my points and so tried to back out gracefully. I give her points for that; however, leaving with two parting jabs about the Mormon thing (which I responded to) and the ad hominem denial (which is demonstrably false) showed that she wasn’t quite as conciliatory as perhaps she wanted to appear. Oh well, people are people. As a side note, another person who had no connection to the first had this to say, complete with my responses:

  • Person #2: That Glenn Beck clip he showed was so heavily edited that there’s no telling what the actual context was or what he really said. That seems to be typical of Colbert who does this stuff just for comedy and to mock the right. It seems to me that his whole rally to keep fear alive is the same way, just a mocking jab at Glenn’s rally. I didn’t sense any plea for people to listen to each other. It’s just a way to be absurd while trying to project the fear-monger label onto people he doesn’t like.
  • Me: Well, Colbert is someone you’ve got to watch with a somewhat cynical eye, for he doesn’t mean a lot of what he says as his pundit character and I think his particular rally is more for laughs than for any effective political strategy (and also to be a counterpoint to Jon’s rally to stir up attention). My status update? Meant in the same way. But it’s not the parody rally I’m concerned with; it’s Jon’s rally that I defend. I don’t truly believe that Glenn Beck said Jon Stewart is brainwashing people, but merely that he is trying to stir up people to action that have had no real voice in politics (which he *is*) and that that is somehow a bad thing (which it isn’t). This is also why I’ve tried to find the original Glenn Beck clip online but haven’t been successful; if someone can find it, please let me know!

I still haven’t found it.

EDIT: Yes, I have! Thanks, Rachel!

  • Person #2:I don’t have cable TV, or satellite, or anything of that sort, so I don’t see Glenn’s show on Fox. The few clips I see from time to time don’t really impress me. He has the show on Fox because it allows him to reach a wider audience, but I’m not sure a visual medium is really his thing. (I mean, who wants to see a dough boy like him in HD anyway, right?) 😉 Radio is what he’s really good at, and I have listened to his radio show for about 7 years now, and greatly enjoy it.

    I do like that he’s Mormon, but that’s not the reason I listen to him. If that were the sole criteria for liking someone then I should love Harry Reid too, and yeah… that’s not gonna happen. 😉 My dad also won’t listen to Glenn because he still swears a bit too much, and he calls Glenn “that foul-mouthed Mormon.” (My whole family is also Mormon, btw.) I do like that Glenn’s membership in the Church helps give him a perspective similar to my own, though.

    The reasons I listen to Glenn are that he’s honest, and genuine, and is really trying to help bring people together while informing them about the history of this country, and the dangers that it faces today. I actually even like Glenn better than Rush, because Glenn’s not so political. Rush talks politics all day, but Glenn tends to focus more on values and digs deep into things that aren’t even on Rush’s radar. Is Glenn perfect? No. But I really believe he’s trying to be, and I respect him for that.

  • Me: I will admit up front that I haven’t listened to much of Glenn’s radio show. Usually my radio dial is set to KSL (the main Utah news station), and so I occasionally get bits and pieces of Sean Hannity’s show (who, for me, falls under the same category of Rush at times, i.e. he may have some good points but they’re lost amidst rhetoric and he wins arguments by talking loudly over anyone who disagrees), but I have seen Glenn’s show, both on CNN and on Fox News. And when he was on CNN I found him a more sympathetic character. Which just says to me that since he moved to Fox News he’s had to change his message and methods to fit with the network’s agenda. That, to me, does not suggest integrity nor honesty, even if his aims are noble. At least with Colbert you *know* it’s an act; with Beck, you can never be sure. Plus there are tons of logical fallacies in his arguments, especially his demonizing of “progressives” which doesn’t even make sense, considering that being a progressive during the 1930’s where he pulls a lot of his examples meant a completely different thing than it does now. Also, if it weren’t for progressives, a lot of public works projects (like highways, libraries, and public education) would have evolved differently (presenting: the Doritos public library! $2 to get in!). The history he teaches is history with a conservative bias, just as he accuses the history books of having a liberal bias.

    I could bring up some other examples, but I digress. Most of that is just policy disagreements, not actual problems. I do appreciate that he believes in standing up for what he believes is right; what I don’t agree with is the simplification and polarization of the political landscape that he contributes to. And when he, a figure on a news channel and not a comedy channel, attacks a man for putting together a rally to “restore rationality” to politics, I lose respect for him.

I bring this exchange up mainly because person #2 here, while still being on the side of GBF, was more willing to discuss his viewpoint in a reasonable manner without resorting to hate speech. If you want to have a rational discussion, this is the way to go about it.

There were a few more comments after that, from Ben and Annelise:

  • Ben: Don’t you understand, Jeff?!? If only you’d LISTEN to Glen Beck, stop believing everything Jon Stewart tells you, and start believing everything Glen Beck tells you… wait, now I’m confused… who is brainwashing who? And who sounds brainwashed?
  • Annelise: There is an article in Forbes Magazine a couple of months ago about Glenn Beck as a business man. I liked it alot…it actually made me like him a bit more because the whole point of the article was to point out that Glenn Beck is also an entertainer and in it for the money. So…read it. He admits that some of the stuff he says is for the shock and entertainment value. http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0426/entertainment-fox-news-simon-schuster-glenn-beck-inc.html
  • Me: I’ve actually read articles similar to that one (and now I’ve read that one too), but I’m afraid that it doesn’t gain him any respect from me. If Glenn had a show on Comedy Central (or whatever the “right-wing version” would be) then I’d be more apt to treat him as an entertainer. But he’s on Fox News, whose tagline is “Fair and Balanced”. And, as has been evidenced on this very page, many people take him at his word, even believing him to be an honest and sincere man when he’s really in it for the money. In many ways, it makes him the anti-Jon Stewart: while appearing as a force for political change and a right-wing leader, he really, according to his own words, “..could give a flying crap about the political process.” While Jon, appearing as a comedian and never claiming to be more than such, obviously deeply cares about the political process and what it’s doing to the country.
  • Annelise: Yeah… I was going to say that my only beef with him on THAT point is that he hasn’t come out and said…HEY!!! I’m an entertainer…at least not to the masses…how many people actually read Forbes (well…quite a few I would guess…but you know what I mean.)

She then went on to quote the article stating how much money Glenn makes and how little he actually cares about politics and how much he cares about creating controversy and making money. So basically, proving my point.

Anyway, after this I posted another status update: Note to self: Don’t criticize Glenn Beck unless you have too much time on your hands.

This prompted some responses, in most of which I’ll preserve the (shortened) name of the commenter, except in certain cases (while editing comments superfluous to the discussion):

  • GBF: That was your choice to keep going.
  • Me: It sure was.
  • Katie H. S.: I actually really appreciate your brilliance from earlier today. You are one smart guy, Jeff. And while I disagree with you here and there on it all (I’m about as far-left as you can get), I thought your arguments were beautifully articulated and would like to send you as my congressman. But as for “[GBF]” — DISLIKE.

    Glenn Beck makes me ashamed to be Mormon.

  • GBF: …There were so many problems with Jeff’s argument that I gave up. We’re not going to agree. But that’s okay, part of the Gospel is loving everyone in spite of our differences. Even if that person is Glenn Beck.

This is probably the last thing I’ll hear from our Glenn Beck Fanatic. She had so many problems with my argument that she had to give up? I would think that a lot of problems in an argument would make it easier to argue against. You know, your shot is less likely to miss and all that. Sure, maybe you can’t address everything, but at least you could address something.

Anyway, the discussion continued:

  • Katie H. S.: Thanks for preaching. Do you feel better now?
  • Me: Thanks, Katie! I consider that extremely high praise, coming from you. I’m probably about as moderate as you can get (in fact, the pundit that I think I agree with more often than not is KSL’s Doug Wright) but these days “moderate” is almost a swear word. I don’t have answers, but I know enough to recognize that nobody has all the answers.
  • James S.: Jeff I love what you’re saying. I think that a very large majority of people feel the same way but don’t say anything for fear of the, as evidenced here, righteous indignation of those on the far ends of both sides. So thank you for your adept assessment of the current situation. I was inspired. Keep up the good work.
  • Katie H. S.: ‎”Righteous Indignation?” That’s awfully kind of you — most Mormon men just call me a bitch 🙂
  • James S.: Give me some credit, I’m sure I haven’t heard close to what you could be indignated (not sure if that’s a word) about. I was more referring to the other person’s comments. Personally my beliefs are probably a lot closer to your side of the road.
  • Steph B. F.: I just read the WHOLE commentary et al on your last post, and I agree with Katie, Jeff you are one smart guy. You were, in every way, what you said you were: a moderate. There needs to be more moderates in the world. Isn’t that a golden rule as well? “Moderation in all things”?

    I loved the way you researched all angles and represented all sides. I don’t know much about Glenn Beck except that his “fans” seem to be super right-wing and very vocal (even mean?) about it. And you are correct, Jon Stewart is a comedian, though not an uneducated one. 🙂 I am in the same boat as you, Jeff, I am an independant and committed to what is fair to all and ethical. I can’t go with one party or the other for fear I will be crushed by their agendas.

    Katie– keep on keepin’ on. I get frustrated with the “vote/be Republican or go to hell” political atmosphere in Utah, too. It makes me almost desperate to get out of the state. Good luck with your endeavors. You’re not a bitch (unless I am, too…..probably I am :D), you’re a strong, intelligent woman.

    [GBF]– I don’t know you, but you seem to have conviction. That’s good. I’m impressed that you seem to be so well-versed on Glenn Beck. I’m not sure I could stomach him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Patriot and I love my country and the Constitution, but maybe some of us see all of that in a different light than you do. Thanks for giving us a chance! 🙂

  • Steph B. F.: Sorry to take up so much space Jeff! Thanks for the excellent food for thought!
  • Ben: Wait, are we supposed to love everyone, or just the Mormons? Now I’m confused. Because I love Jon Stewart. But he isn’t Mormon… and it seems some people come across as a little hypocritical when they rant about how awful Jon Stewart is and then tell me to love everyone… Can someone please bring logical and order back?Restore rationality, if you will?If only someone would hold a rally.
  • Me: Thanks to everyone for your responses! And to Steph: don’t worry about being long; after my diatribe previously I don’t think you have anything to apologize for. Also, I’m glad that I have so many bitches on my side! Or strong, intelligent women, you know, whatever.
  • Annelise: Go bitches!

That’s the end of the discussion as of right now; though more people may add to it in the future, I think this is good enough to preserve the general tenor of what happened.

The point of preserving this, besides as a good summation of some of my political stances, was to show that we truly do need a voice for moderates, but since moderates don’t normally scream loudly the media ignores them. I truly have high hopes for this rally and I hope it becomes more than a footnote in history, but even if it doesn’t I still have high hopes for this country. At least it may motivate people to get more informed and from more than one source, as fear only holds sway over the ignorant. Also, I’m sorry, but Glenn Beck makes me angry, especially in light of things like the article Annelise posted.

Also, but damn, a lot of people said “bitch.” I mean, what the hell?

  • Annelise Parkes Murphy There is an article in Forbes Magazine a couple of months ago about Glenn Beck as a business man. I liked it alot…it actually made me like him a bit more because the whole point of the article was to point out that Glenn Beck is also an entertainer and in it for the money. So…read it. He admits that some of the stuff he says is for the shock and entertainment value. http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0426/entertainment-fox-news-simon-schuster-glenn-beck-inc.html

    18 minutes ago ·
  • Jeffery Parkes

    I’ve actually read articles similar to that one (and now I’ve read that one too), but I’m afraid that it doesn’t gain him any respect from me. If Glenn had a show on Comedy Central (or whatever the “right-wing version” would be) then I’d be more apt to treat him as an entertainer. But he’s on Fox News, whose tagline is “Fair and Balanced”. And, as has been evidenced on this very page, many people take him at his word, even believing him to be an honest and sincere man when he’s really in it for the money. In many ways, it makes him the anti-Jon Stewart: while appearing as a force for political change and a right-wing leader, he really, according to his own words, “..could give a flying crap about the political process.” While Jon, appearing as a comedian and never claiming to be more than such, obviously deeply cares about the political process and what it’s doing to the country.See More
    3 minutes ago ·
  • Annelise Parkes Murphy Yeah… I was going to say that my only beef with him on THAT point is that he hasn’t come out and said…HEY!!! I’m an entertainer…at least not to the masses…how many people actually read Forbes (well…quite a few I would guess…but you know what I mean.)

Five years!

This Friday, my blog turns five years old! That’s, like, an eternity of Internet time! To celebrate the occasion, I’m going to take user suggestions! What topic, oh denizens of the online world, should I blog about? Current politics? The indie music scene? BYU football? The lifespan of the average African wildebeest? How cute your toddler’s pictures are? (Note: I won’t actually blog about any of the above. I can’t do your work for you!) The possibilities are endless! Post ideas in the comments!


The Worf Effect

And now for something completely different: Worf getting beat up. A lot.


Unnecessary notification

I don’t know exactly why, but I found this one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while when I logged on to Facebook today:

no classmates

Thanks, random Facebook application, for demonstrating your complete inability to do anything useful and then telling me about it!