Good Humor on the Right

A couple of years ago, a family member sent me a video of a ‘millenial’ talking about how she graduated from Harvard earlier in the week, got a job, showed up late the first day due to partying, and was fired, and proceeded to tell the ‘white man’ boss that she was to be respected.  It was portrayed as a first hand account, and clearly supposed to be taken seriously, and when I responded with “um… this seems fake, she’s at least my age” (technically a millenial, but I’m in my thirties so the graduating from Harvard and going out partying the night before a job didn’t ring true in the slightest) “I think this is just to spark outrage,” the response I got was “no shit Sherlock, it’s called satire.  That’s why it’s funny.”

But here’s the thing, it wasn’t funny, and I don’t mean “I didn’t like the angle” so it wasn’t funny, it was just objectively poorly executed and not funny.  There is a real political satire/humor deficit between the two sides.  The left has so many funny people that the unfunny are washed out, and so it seems to further intensify the ‘quality’ of the humor, and refines the tastes of those in agreement, but the right really has so little.  Dennis Miller, I’m told is pretty funny, I’ve enjoyed the little that I’ve seen of his stuff, but I’m not aware of where to find more (contemporary) stuff from him.  So when you get someone who you agree with, and they’re making fun of the other guys, you tend to find that funny if you have nothing else.

So where am I going with this?  Steven Crowder.  Now, I’ve talked about how I think Milo Yiannopoulos is entertaining, and occasionally he’s funny, but Steven Crowder is the first person, that I’m aware of, who is definitely on the right (Joe Rogan is in a kind of nebulous non-affiliated place, that’s why I’m not including him) who is pretty consistently funny.

Crowder’s impression of Young Turks’ creator Cenk Uygur is hilarious, and let me just say, I mostly like what I see from Cenk, but Crowder’s impersonation is spot on, and he finds the naturally exaggerated parts and mimics them perfectly.  “OF COURSE!”

What’s really impressive about Crowder, in addition to his ability to be funny, is that he is coherent while being funny, and he’s researched.  The first time I watched a “Change My Mind” segment, I was amazed at how deep he’d dove into the subject matter ahead of time.

The “Change My Mind” segment is also a good example of something that he’s doing, that I’m not aware of anyone else, left or right doing, and that is consistently airing unedited these pieces.  That’s not to say that there is an inherent fairness, ultimately whether it’s him, or Sasha Baron Cohen, or The Daily Show, the ‘house’ has the advantage, by going in prepared, but by not editing them, he shows his own confidence in his points, and he does tend to come out looking pretty good.

Now, I disagree on at least 50% of everything I’ve ever heard him say, but I do think he’s a really interesting voice in our political satire/commentary culture, and importantly he’s funny.  So, here’s the thing, that is both a good thing for conservatives, because humor can definitely make your points stronger.  I want to see the smartest, and funniest people on both sides making their points.  I think we only improve by getting the best people, with the best minds on both sides.  I don’t want dumb, or unfunny right leaning people to represent the right, because both sides can motivate each other to be better, but only if they’re on equal footing.

But, the right actually having a legitimately funny (and intelligent) voice is also a bad thing, for all of the unfunny conservatives who’ve been getting the default laughter of people who just happen to agree with them.  He’s raised the bar, and hopefully we’ll see more come out, because disagreeing with someone doesn’t inherently upset me, but thinking they’re unfunny, when they clearly think they are funny, upsets me more.  We need good comedy, and I hope we continue to get it.

Let Me Tell You About My Best Friend

I want to talk a little bit about my relationship with my wife.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too mushy, I have a point to make.

A lot of people refer to their spouse as their best friend, and for many it seems an exaggeration, but for me, it is not.  If you take out the physical attraction to her (and the returned attraction from her) I’d still have someone who makes me laugh harder than any other person.  When she makes me laugh uncontrollably, she calls it ‘dragon tongue’ because the face I make resembles a fire-breathing dragon.  Well, I rarely hit ‘dragon tongue’ level with anyone else in my life, but Sarah makes me do often.

It’s tough when I’m trying hard to launch Chocolate Diamond Media, and editing books as a second job, and working my regular job, and we’re raising a 2 year old (who is great, but has so much energy) to find time for each other.  There are days where we spend hours together, only to realize we miss each other, because there wasn’t twenty full minutes of just us talking, uninterrupted.

It can be a struggle to find any kind of real connection time, anything that stimulates our brains in more than an “aww, isn’t he cute” kind of way.  So, we went looking for something, some dedicated ‘us time,’ to feel like adults again.  Then, on a road-trip back from Massachusetts to North Carolina, Sarah found the joys of podcasts, and said “we should do a podcast together!”  The podcasts she enjoyed, and the ones I listen too, are vastly different, but she finally got what I’d been talking about for a couple years.

We started brainstorming for a podcast concept that worked for both of us.  We didn’t want one where we felt the need to talk about relationships, or babies, or any of that, we wanted one that engaged us more intellectually and less emotionally, to give us a different direction from the rest of our life together.

After much discussion, and a bit debate about what ‘list’ of movies to watch, we decided upon, and launched “Mike and Sarah’s Best Picture Podcast.”  We’ve done 21 episodes so far, and it’s really difficult for us to find the time to record, and we haven’t been able to maintain the release schedule of one episode per week, but we’re doing our best.  What we have found though, is that it’s really fun, and that it brings us something that was definitely missing the last year or so.  The podcast wasn’t just an excuse for us to watch a different movie every week and talk about it, but in the better situations (the most recent episode about 1948’s Gentleman’s Agreement for example) it served as a spring board for a larger conversation, and exchange of ideas.

Throughout the process, as has always been the case with Sarah, I’ve been surprised.  I’ve been a major movie buff my whole life, and took “Language of Film” kinds of classes, and so I knew I was going in well prepared, but I’ve been stunned at how well versed she’s been in all of it.  I stupidly thought this would be me giving her a film education, but it hasn’t (and I’m glad for that).

The point that I wanted to make in writing this, is that finding something fun and different and new for us has been the thing that keeps our relationship feeling vibrant and not like work.  We’ve always made a concerted effort to do things together, whether it was planning trips, or our wedding (I participated more than most grooms).  We know that a little effort to stay connected will beat the effort it will take to reconnect.

Sorry if this was too mushy, but I hope I got my point across.

Crumpled Papers in the Trash

As a writer, there are times when you have the time to write but not the mentality to, and vice versa.  So many times when I’m too busy but have a million ideas, but today is not one of those days.  Today is a day when I can write, I’m sitting here staring at my screen, and I have nothing to say.

Today is frustrating.

I have written the first sentence of fifteen different ideas, I’ve tried editing some previously started projects, I’ve even written out several comments on social media, only to scrap everything I’ve done.  Today, so far, has been a zero sum day.  Even this piece? I’ll probably realize this is too ‘navel-gazy’ and throw this out too.  We’ll see.

One thing that I’ve realized, while there is something mildly more environmentally friendly about writing electronically, when shit-canning an idea, it can be significantly less satisfying.  I don’t have a piece of paper to crumple into a ball, and then throw into a trash bin, pretending for a second to be a basketball player.

I get to delete out my work.  If it’s just a couple of words, I just press the Backspace button repeatedly until the cursor is the only black mark blinking across a sea of white.  If it’s a couple of sentences, I may just hold that same button, and watch as it starts off deleting letters, and quickly snowballs until it’s consuming entire words simultaneously.  Or if I have managed to get some block of text, I may use the mouse and highlight it all, only to delete it in one quick click. If I return to a project later, and decide it’s nonsense, I can just delete the file, which is slightly more satisfying, because at least I’m asked “Are you sure you want to Delete this?”

I am sure.  It’s not good.  Delete.

After a long day of toiling over electronic writing, there is no trash bin filled with my failures, no proof that I found many ways not to make a lightbulb.  There are only my personal memories, which often are fleeting.  Don’t feel particularly useful, and particularly non-motivating.

Then there is a spark. Not an idea necessarily, but with a little bit of oxygen it could turn into one.  What about writing about the inability to write, no one’s ever done that.  And in an attempt to kick-start some better idea, I start writing that down, hoping it will open up the flood gates, hoping that by the time I’ve exhausted the idea, that maybe I’ll have a legitimately good one, or at least the motivation to revisit my ‘in-progress’ works.

But it fails.

The Thing About Indoctrination…

I’ve been thinking a lot about indoctrination lately.  There is often a push to keep certain religious teachings out of school, because people don’t want their kids learning about the Quran (it’s most often the Quran that’s being complained about) while those same people complain that the reason we have problems is that we “took God out of the schools.” It’s shit that I see online a ton.  It doesn’t make much sense to me, it feels disingenuous, like “Hey, we don’t want the kids being indoctrinated with your fake God, but by our real God instead.”

The other big ‘indoctrination’ thing that people keep talking about is the ‘fact’ that kids don’t say the pledge of allegiance any more in school.  Now, I have seen this a ton online, but have tried to research it, and come up with no evidence that it’s actually true.  I mean, I went to Catholic school for the last 8 years of grade school, so things are a bit different, but I haven’t heard anything about “you know I asked my kid about the pledge, and they don’t say it.”  My own kid is too young to be saying it either way.  But this got me to thinking about the pledge of allegiance, and how it’s kind of an intense piece of patriotic indoctrination.  We are (or should be if you believe the people saying it’s not done anymore) having our kids “pledge allegiance to the flag,” I will be honest and say I get the flag as a symbol, but have never gotten the level of obsession people give the symbol; “and to the United States of America,” in theory, assuming the country does the right thing, this isn’t problematic, if you believe that the country does the right thing, and that if it doesn’t you believe that children (or adults who’ve been told it since they were children) will be able to disconnect that ‘pledge of their allegiance’; “and to the Republic, for which it stands,” alright, now that I can agree with; “One nation under God,” you can tell that’s been added after because it just doesn’t fit the rest of it; “Indivisible,” I’m assuming we’re talking about the country and not God on this one, and so I have no objection to it; “with Liberty and Justice for all,” now only a real asshole could disagree with that part.

So on the whole I think the pledge is fine on it’s face, but it is weird to be pushing it into kids heads when they’re so impressionable.  Why not just say “it’s an imperfect system, but hopefully if we keep working together, we can keep improving it,” which inspires conversation and dialogue as to how that can happen, and explain the process of democracy.  A rote pledge isn’t helpful, it’s too religious.  It requires no thought, and when I think of rote things you’re “supposed” to say or think, I tend to think there is someone who doesn’t want you to really think about it.

Like I said, I went to Catholic school, and was raised Catholic, and there was something that I learned fairly early on, and that was that questions, even earnest ones, tend to be the enemy of organized religion.  Then as I grew up, I started realizing it wasn’t just religion, it was any organization, with power, didn’t want me or anyone else to think or to question.

I have not considered myself a Catholic in a long time, but on occasion when getting into a conversation with non-Catholic Christians, I’ve caught myself saying “us Catholics” or “as a Catholic,” because it’s ingrained in me in a way that despite not believing it has (at least in part) become part of my identity.  That’s fucked up.

There’s a degree to which it’s impossible to not leave some imprint on kids, I know that.  I have a 2 year-old who loves superheroes and Star Wars, and so I cannot think that he just came to that conclusion on his own, but as he grows, I have to try to let him explore outside of it because I want him to be a fully realized human with his own thoughts, and feelings, and not just a little echo-clone for myself.

Let’s teach kids how to think, and not what to think, and I’m sorry, but teaching kids rote is teaching them WHAT to think, whether it’s the Pledge of Allegiance, or the fact that when I go into a Catholic Mass I can do all the prayers on autopilot (except for the new ones to trick all the Christmas/Easter Catholics, you know like Christ would do) it’s harmful.

The way to do that is to say “I like living in the US because…” and try to be fact based, and fair, or “I believe Jesus is the Savior because…” and try to do the same.  If the ideas hold up, they shouldn’t need to be force fed, and I think we’ll get a better version of patriotism, or religion if people come to them by natural conclusion, based on merit.

Can We Just Think About Our Outrage?

This isn’t going to be the normal “why is everyone so upset about everything” post; instead it’s why are our arguments and discussions not adjusting as facts are presented, kind of post.

When I used to work in retail, I once used the phrase “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” with a co-worker.  Now, I was living in Colorado at the time, and that co-worker had no idea what I meant (so maybe it’s a regional idiom) and he looked as if I’d just said something majorly scandalous.  He warned me that I shouldn’t say that in front of customers, or I might get fired (a concerned warning not a threat).  I explained that much of a horse’s health is represented in his or her teeth, and that if someone gives you a free horse, you shouldn’t look to check how long the horse will live, or how useful it would be.  He shrugged, unconvinced.  Instead of hearing the facts of the case, he just felt his immediate visceral response and stuck with it.  He didn’t push it further but it still drove me nuts.

The thing that is currently burning through social media and mainstream media that seems to be separating us into two factions is the NFL kneeling protests.  Now, I’m not here to tell you which side is right, what’s been driving me crazy is the ignoring of facts when making this argument.  We keep hearing on social media and in other forms about how disrespectful it is to our veterans.

When I hear, or read that, it drives me up a wall. If you want to disagree with the protesting, that’s fine, disagree.  But this issue of disrespecting our veterans should be over, because Colin Kaepernick initially was sitting out the National Anthem, and then asked military friends of his what he could do to differentiate his protest from apathy or disrespect for them.  He was told to kneel.  So perhaps you don’t like it, and that’s fine, but he’s not being careless, or deliberately disrespectful, so that argument doesn’t hold up.

What sparked me writing about this today, was the story about the man who knelt at the White House during the National Anthem.  I saw the article on Facebook, and in the comments section, largely saw many veterans checking in to mention their support for the kneeling.  Now, I saw maybe 50 comments from veterans, and I’m sure I could find just as many that don’t think it’s appropriate, or who disagree with it, so I’m not trying to say that ‘veterans support this,’ as much as I’m trying to say ‘why are we using veterans, as excuse for this’ or in general why do we use them to excuse for so much?

I assume that veterans are like any other group of people in that some are one side of any particular issue, and others on the other side.  I mean look at the fact that not all Jewish people side with Israel; you cannot assign beliefs to a demographic.

I remember about ten years or so, hearing someone say “my father didn’t fight for this country, and risk his life, so that gays could get married.”  My response, although I wish I had done it more immediately, was to tell my father (later that day without the original party present) “Dad, I’m mad at you for not joining the military, because now I cannot tell people you didn’t fight for this country so that people could put pineapples on their pizza.”

Now, this type of ‘my feelings are more important that facts’ mentality isn’t limited to the conservative side of politics.  A couple of years ago, I read an editorial on Upworthy (back when mostly they were still just sharing uplifting/heartwarming stories) about the “R” word.  Now, I understand that using that word derogatorily is upsetting, and I have made a strong effort to strike it from my vocabulary.  What I detested about the article, was that this guy who wrote it, was pissed off that ‘mental retardation’ had been a medical classification, and how insensitive that was.   You want to change the medical classification?  Ok, I’m fine with that.  You want to get retroactively offended by clinical terminology that has taken on derogatory connotations?  Come on.  Let me use a different medical term to give an example of how ridiculous this is.  Let’s say, we start using the term AIDS-y as a derogatory statement “oh that guy’s awfully AIDS-y” or “oh she looked pretty AIDS-y” and it’s becomes politically incorrect to use that term, that’s fine.  If we then tried to change the name AIDS because of that connotation, ok.  If you then want to be upset that it was once called AIDS, then you just don’t get it.  By the way, you can fill in “Cancer-y” or whatever you like in the place of AIDS, the point remains the same.

This is what I’m asking of people.  If you have an immediate reaction, or a visceral reaction, that is natural, but if you are explained the context, and facts please take those into consideration.  It doesn’t have to change where you land, but it should at least change how you get there.

Mutually Assured Destruction: Free Speech

I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘mutually assured destruction,’ it’s the concept that what had kept each country from using nuclear weapons, for fear of nuclear retaliation, and ultimately the destruction of both (or likely all) societies.  It’s a pretty reasonable concept, right?

I think, there used to be something similar in the area of ‘freedom of speech.’  We’ve all heard “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight for your right to say it.”  The idea was that if someone starts limiting your speech, there will be the ability to limit mine.  Again, a pretty reasonable concept.

Well, in the era of ‘outrage’ we’ve begun the process of mutually assuring the destruction of free speech.  Last week (or was it two weeks ago?  It’s all going so fast) the NFL announce the NFL players who didn’t stand for the National Anthem, could remain in the locker room, or would face fines.  It was the NFL’s response to a lot of pressure from sponsors (apparently the DoD being a major one) and many fans.  I hated that they were doing it, but they’re a business, and it’s their right if it affects them financially.

Then, earlier this week, Roseanne Barr tweeted some racist tweets, and was fired almost immediately.  Now, I know who she is, but I wasn’t allowed to watch that show as a kid, so she doesn’t hold any of the cultural importance for me that she does for many others.  I kind of thought about two things immediately, how much it sucks for her cast/crew to lose their jobs, but also she didn’t call for violence, and while her tweets were pretty awful, did they amount to immediate firing?  I didn’t really think so.

Then yesterday, I started seeing that Samantha Bee (who I do like) called Ivanka Trump (who I don’t like) a cunt.  Now, this word in general doesn’t offend me, (maybe because I don’t have one) but in the context, it was offensive.  Of course many people started comparing Roseanne’s comment (comparing a black woman to an ape) to this comment, the right saying if Roseanne was fired, so should Samantha Bee, and the left saying they’re hardly the same thing.

Here’s the thing, as far as I know, TBS isn’t owned by the same company as ABC, and that’s the only defense I can come up with for firing one and not the other.  Is referring to a woman dismissively as arguably the most crass term for her genitals not as bad as referring to a black person as looking like an ape?  I think we never win when we get into the which is worse sexism or racism debate, but I think trying to hold the same standard for the two is reasonable.

There are things that I would argue could change that, for example, if Samantha Bee referred to everyone as a cunt, the way Jim Jefferies for example does, I think it would be different.  Jim Jefferies uses that word for men, women, children, and inanimate objects.  Not to mention there is a cultural difference between the way Americans use the word and the rest of the English speaking world.  But Samantha Bee, hasn’t used the word a significant amount, to describe many people (in public at least) so to me, it’s on par with Roseanne’s comments.

Now, do I think that Samantha Bee should be fired?  No.  But I think if Roseanne’s going to get fired for it, then Samantha Bee should, and if Samantha Bee isn’t then Roseanne shouldn’t.

My major worry is this, if conservatives continue to feel repercussions for legally protected speech (non libelous, non violence inciting), then either the left will become major hypocrites, or in order to keep things ‘even’ we’ll end up with no freedom of speech.

I know there are a lot of people who make the argument that it’s ridiculous, but Peter Rabbit the film, had a scene in which a human with a nut allergy is attempting to kill him, and he launches a peanut into his mouth, and parents of nut-allergy kids went ballistic.  There isn’t much that isn’t offensive to someone, and so lets not go down that road.

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments below.