People Are Suffering Around The World And I Do Not Really Care…Neither Do Most Of You

It was a lazy summer Wednesday afternoon so I decided to do something I do not often these days -catch a movie at the local theater.  Today when I now go to the movies, I want to see something “easy” and relatively mindless -meaning no complicated plot lines and low-context stories that require my complete attention and demand I stay awake. I prefer movies with simple story lines and very interesting characters -think Big Lebowski meets The Truman Show meets The Poseidon Adventure meets anything Steve Buscemi. My real life has enough drama and complicated story lines -no need to go to the movies for more of that. On this particular day I decided to take in “San Andreas” and appreciate the eye candy of watching my state shake to shit…in 3D.

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As I watched the movie something occurred to me that I often get in a lot of trouble for saying, hence the title of this blog. As I watched Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fight and struggle to save his family from death, I noticed he did something that most of would do if in that same situation -he watched people dying left and right, people he could have helped, in order to save, specifically, his wife and daughter. In other words, he would rather watch 100’s of people die in order to save 2, because those 2 are his own family.  Theoretically, if someone informed you that 10 strangers are going to die unless you agree to lose 1 very much loved one, most of us would probably choose to kill off 10 strangers in order to save our 1 beloved.

Why are we humans wired this way? Why would we, generally, and again, theoretically, work feverishly to protect our beloved selected few at the possible expense of losing many? Thank the universe most of us are never handed that choice and I am relatively certain how most of us would respond.

We could make the genetic slash DNA argument that we are all hardwired to protect our small tribe -be it children, parents, siblings- first and foremost.  Thus it is pure instinct and, bottom line, we are animals acting upon what our reptilian brains dictate.

Several years ago a student, Lou, introduced me to a concept he referred to as the “monkeysphere” -which I later found out to be more formally termed, “Dunbar’s Number.” If I were to risk huge oversimplification of this fascinating theory it would go something like this: All primates are only capable of caring and having social relationships with only a certain number of other primates depending on the size of their brain. Thus, from the size of an animal’s neocortex, the frontal lobe in particular, you could theoretically predict the group size for that animal.

If we were to buy into Robin Dunbar’s theory, the human being is capable of having approximately 150 casual friendships, 50 close friendships, 15 intimate relationships -for example, you could turn to these people in times of sorrow- and, finally, 5 ultra intimate relationships, meaning good friends and/or family members. These numbers are only averages and there is huge range among people, depending on personality type, etc.. In addition, social media is definitely playing a role in reshaping these numbers somewhat -though I think you get the idea here -as human beings we are only capable of only so much REAL empathy and social reciprocity towards others.

So I will take this understanding and stray from it just a bit yet still abide by its logic -our brains are simply not capable of truly caring for everyone on the planet experiencing suffering of some variety. I believe if we could do so we literally would go crazy. Yes, literally. Reality can be such a bitch that we must shut off part of our brain in order to not experience it in totality. So if I see a report of a tsunami in Japan, should I, or better yet even, CAN I, truly care?

Some recent brain science suggests that our brain functions quite differently when dealing with 3 distinctly different groups of people. First off, our brain handles interaction with real people with high personal relevance to us quite differently from, second, real people who have no personal relevance to us (think famous people) and, third, fictional characters -my hunch is this is part of our necessary survival process. So, let’s say one is watching a fictitious movie of a young child choking, a news report of a famous person’s young child choking, or one experiences their own young child choking (even if it were on film) our brain reactions would be highly different. Imagine if we witnessed hundreds of people dying in the aforementioned tsunami and we felt the same sense of care and empathy as if each of these people were in our ultra-intimate circle? Again, if we did, we would absolutely go out of our minds.

Now, here is what I am NOT suggesting. I am not suggesting that people cannot react to global tragedies and act with benevolence…of course they can and many do. Whether it is a tsunami in Japan, a hurricane in New Orleans, or an earthquake in Nepal we have seen people (think “Doctors Without Borders”) act lovingly and altruistically on such occasions. However, I would argue that these tragedies are simply the Disaster Du Jour, induced by a selective media that only plays the most viewable disasters for ratings, the ones that strike the most fear into our psyche, while making it feel hip to get on the bandwagon of support and fulfill our social need to belong.

Sound cynical?

Consider that if we felt real empathy for those suffering we would not have to wait for a Disaster Du Jour, that plays like great theater, in order to practice such empathy -there are plenty of more boring tragedies to go around that do get much media hype.

  • More than two-thirds (70%) of all people living with HIV, 24.7 million, live in sub-Saharan Africa—including 91% of the world’s HIV-positive children. In 2013, an estimated 1.5 million people in the region became newly infected.
  • Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year. Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year.
  • In 2014 alone, 5 million people were treated around the world for malnutrition and illness including:
    • 2,718,401 people in Nigeria
    • 104,117 people in Democratic Republic of Congo
    • 93,043 people in South Sudan

Shall I go on? Cause this is only the beginning.

Of course most of us fall for the proverbial hook, line and sinker for tragedies that news directors would like us to support (when I used to pastor I would plead with people not to let news directors dictate their prayer lists…that went over really well…now I write blogs…but I digress). I would argue that if we practiced REAL caring, TRUE empathy, and REAL concern we would not have to wait to do something until we watch Disaster Du Jour on TV and gasp in horror. Do we really care OR do we feel a sense of wanting in on the collective story in some way, shape or form, and, in a strange way, feel a bit better about ourselves in return? In the same way it so much more difficult to truly love one person than it is to “love” thousands, it is far easier to “care” about a tragedy in Nepal than to truly be a good and loving companion to your closest loved ones.

But Jimmy, just because I cannot truly love and be concerned for these people to the degree I would a close loved one, this does not mean I cannot care and empathize to a lesser degree and do what I can to help.”

Thank you omniscient arguer.

Perhaps we could have a semantics argument over the words care and empathize, yet I do contend we have been conditioned to view nearly all image-based news as a mild form of entertainment, even in spite of the fact it could provide us a twinge of what feels like concern and empathy.

I am often criticized when I say when we watch these natural disasters unfold we are being entertained…not in a humorous, “ha ha” kind of way, rather in a a theater of the macabre sense. We are watching others misfortune unfold half way around the globe and the tugs at our heartstrings are generated by those suffering who are well outside our monkeysphere slash Dunbar’s Number. Certainly none of us WANT others to suffer, yet we strangely do not mind being entertained by others misfortune, rationalized and condoned in the name of what feels like empathy. We gasp and shriek that this is horrible…yet we watch and watch and watch. Contemporary media has created a generation of eavesdroppers in the name of news.

If we want to practice true humanitarianism, perhaps we should not send a check to some organization in god-knows-where, China (Buttfuck, Egypt?). What if true humanitarianism was defined as being loving, kind, giving and compassionate to all those within your Dunbar number, to the people we can truly make a difference in their lives? Perhaps the world would be be a much more caring and empathic place.

I have heard the term, “Think locally, Act globally.” I would argue we must act locally first and foremost.

But perhaps I overthink.

Maybe I just should have watched JurassicWorld instead. I heard it’s pretty good.

 

Working Hard Or Hardly Working? Crowd Funding And Other Ethical Milieus

I am very fortunate to currently enjoy a “seasonal” profession, meaning my schedule goes something like this:  Bust-ass-for 4 1/2-months, retreat for 1, bust-ass-for-another 4 1/2-months, retreat for 2 months–not a bad gig schedule wise.  The retreat periods give me time to do things I normally cannot get to during my “bust- ass” periods.
Therefore, this week I was able to accomplish a task I have not completed in quite some time -go through various stacks of messy paperwork on my desk.  As I perused through a plethora of old statements, papers, bills, etc., I was surprised to find a bank statement from 2011 from my credit union with a balance of $13,000—from an unknown account I did not know about, or at the very least did not remember. I immediately called the credit union and they explained I opened this retirement account in 1993 with proceeds earned from my college job of soils and geological testing.
Surprise, surprise. Nice. A little karma and a poor memory can be a good thing.
And how did I earn that money? The story goes something like this: I would get up at 5am, drive to construction sites all over Southern California, place my nose in the dirt and my ass in the air while I checked the maximum density of the soil, all the while being careful not to get plowed over by tractors, for 8-12 hours a day, while attending graduate school at night, all the while rushing home, smelling like sweat and dirt, to play with my small children. It is safe to suggest I definitely earned that money.
Perhaps it’s just me but I can be old fashioned that way. How do I make money? I believe in making money the Smith Barney way, “I uuurn it.” (google that one children).
Both Rene’ and I share a very dedicated and stringent work ethic. I would dare say Rene’s work ethic trumps my own as I have never met a person who works as hard, diligently and with such excellence as she does. She does not have a lazy bone in her body.
Therefore, for those of us who do have a hard work ethic and pay our taxes (I started working when I was 18 and have never gone a day without a job since), you can imagine our attitudes toward those who do not share this work ethic and are constantly looking for freebies and handouts—not big fans. This understanding sets the backdrop, mental context and reveals my narrow mindedness for my blog topic of choice for this week: Crowd funding.
For those who are not aware of the relatively new phenomena of crowd funding, or crowd sourcing, it is a means to generate revenue through internet websites such as fundanything.com and indiegogo.com, based off the donations of viewers.  One can crowd source for just about anything, from helping fulfill the dreams of a sick child with cancer to funding films and various projects. A quick look at fundanything.com currently advertises requests of funds for a sick dog’s surgery, a legal defense against litigious patent trolls, and funding for a new cure for crying babies (you can’t make this stuff up).
When I first heard of such sites, my conservative work ethic suggested that something was awry. If you want money—for anything—go out and earn it, I silently thought.  I felt this was the internet’s version of electronic homeless panhandling. Yet, alas, as one who loves to bathe in the tub of cognitive dissonance and consider all sides, all the while quite aware of my mindset that thinks in analogical terms, I thought further about this very digital activity. In addition, and to add an emotional cog in the wheels of my now dissonant point of view, my son—whom I love dearly—now has a current campaign on indiegogo.com in attempts to fund a trip to Nepal to undergo research and complete a short documentary on Singing Bowls.
I have so many questions. And perhaps some of you have some answers.
Good idea? Bad idea? Ethical? Unethical? Does it promote a lazy mentality while supporting the idea of handouts and an entitled, “me first” mentality? Or does it allow the global community to come together and assist each other in meaningful and helpful ways while making our world a better place? Both?
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Of course no one is forcing anyone to give what one does not want to give as everything is, obviously, voluntary.  Yet what are the ethical implications of simply asking the question and requesting the funds? For example, I can ask you if I can borrow a $100 and you are free to say yes or no—no harm done—or is there? The act of me making the request has ethical and relational implications. I have placed you in an awkward position, potentially making you feel guilty, and forcing your hand to make a difficult decision since just asking the question changes the nature of the relationship itself. Then again, no one is forcing one to react this way either.
Such tension.
So my opinion on crowd sourcing? Like anything in life, one must take the good with the bad. Will it reinforce a lazier and entitled mentality? Potentially yes and it will for some. I heard of an acquaintance requesting funds for Yoga training. Really? Perhaps some of you may want to fund my LA Fitness gym membership and protein shakes. After all, your donation will make the world a more aesthetically pleasing place. However, will it also promote a means by which to communally support and help each other for the better? Yes, and it does. Donating to children with cancer and funding research for valuable cures can only benefit the planet.
Perhaps the new electronic work ethic is working very hard and creatively at asking people for money. Fundraising of all varieties has always been hard work and is a skill to master to be sure. However, the fact that all can now fund raise so quickly and easily through the internet while being available to all, may result in the first generation of people who view crowd sourcing as an honorable and noble profession. And why not? Just because I have a hard time wrapping my analogue mind around it does not necessarily make it a bad idea.
In the meantime, I personally will keep searching for long lost bank accounts that I have forgotten existed and were established the old fashioned way, “I uurned it.“
And if you disagree with my point of view? Help fund a boy with a camera on his forehead on a trip to Nepal for research. This hypocrite did. Sometimes my love trumps my logic.
 

Good Morning! And In Case I Don’t See Ya, Good Afternoon, Good Evening, And Good Night! Oh…And I Don’t Know Shit!

One of my most emotional moments in cinematic history—the one that brings shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes—probably doesn’t even conjure up the slightest reaction in most people. I realize that poetry, songs, and movie scenes have far more to do with the season in life and the experiences that emotionally connect us with this poetry, songs, or scenes, over the quality of the art itself. For example, the song “I Wanna Kiss You All Over,” the piece of crap by Exile in 1978, is, objectively speaking, shit, on (then) vinyl. Yet whenever I hear this song it takes me back to one of my first kisses and I squeal with delight like a child whenever I hear it.

Such is the case with the movie The Truman Show—the story of a man, unknowingly living inside a large sound studio thinking that is his reality, only to eventually find out, through an arduous series of circumstances, he had been lied to his whole life and what he thought was real, never was—it was all in a phony and fake, albeit quite large and elaborate, movie set.

It is this moment, when Truman reaches out and touches the far outer wall after journeying across the “ocean” of the studio, when he has his epiphany of truth and looks of sadness, surprise, relief, happiness, and mystery all converge on his face at once.
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I then weep. I can’t help it.

Why?

Good question.

I am pretty consistent with my belief that whenever we have a strong emotional reaction to something it is time to look inward and ask why. Some inner force drives our guttural, emotional responses to things and, with a little honest, self-introspection we can usually identify the source.

I once heard a preacher man use Truman’s experience to exemplify how this world is a lie and we need to discover the truth of the wall; as if touching the wall is like finding Jesus. However, I can easily see how such an analogy could work the opposite way as well—as in Jesus has been duping your ass this whole time and now you found the truth as you waded through the Christian bullshit.

As I consider my emotional reaction, it had nothing to do with finding faith nor losing it. My reaction had far more to do with the victory found in constant seeking and self-discovery; perhaps touching on that universal archetype in all of us that scratches the itch of the constant craving of seeking, knowing, journeying to new levels of truth and knowledge. That humbling process that surrenders us to the mysteries of the universe, rendering us both significant and insignificant, as we simultaneously find and lose.

After Truman touches the wall and heaves a sigh, he begins punching at the wall, trying to tear it down as he is locked inside that reality: The quest of the human spirit.

This is when I weep the hardest.

That struggle in all of us to know the unknown, to break free from all that binds and restricts, to seek the truth. I realize my entire life is epitomized in that moment. I fight, I struggle, and I want to tear down all that keeps me from knowing and keeps me in a type of protected infancy. I yearn for constant discovery and growing clarity of life and the universe.

Truman then weeps realizing he had been living a lie. And the greatest lie we ever could believe? Thinking we know. Truth? We don’t know shit.

This was not the end of Truman’s journey; it was just the beginning. We can all start to really live life when we realize we don’t know shit.

I suppose if I was having an epiphany around the same time this movie came out it would be this: We really don’t know shit. That is a tough pill to swallow yet when you finally digest it, it is the most liberating position in life.

I frequently tell my classes that your education begins once you realize how much you DON’T know.

Was this scene great art? I don’t know enough about film making to tell you. What I do know is that it touched me as I was attempting to break down some walls of my own, on my own road of self-discovery and truth. And what have I found since I first viewed this movie?

I haven’t found shit…and I have never been happier.

Maybe Everyone DOES Wants to be Naked and Famous

I think our world is turning into one giant metaphorical and not-so-metaphorical, nudist camp. I was reminded of this once again when I saw the taped footage of actor Paul Walker’s recent fiery crash in a Santa Clarita parking lot, albeit obscured by a fence. There is not much we can hide these days -not even the hour of our death. Simply, we are naked to the world.

Naked technologyCurrently I am engaged in a reading discussion group analyzing the book The Shallows: What the Internet is doing our Brains by Nicholas Carr (next semester the selected book is One Nation Under Sex…though more on that in another blog). The book explains the various ways that technology rewires and changes the landscape of our brains and how this alters the way we process information and, as result, changes one’s self and culture.

I could go on and on about technology, namely mobile devices, and how they are changing the way we think, act, believe, and behave. Yet a new thought occurred to me the other day while conversing with a bright student regarding this topic when it hit me: The internet is making all of us metaphorically -and perhaps even literally- naked, stripped of our protective public clothing; displaying to the world some of our most secretive and hidden moments. And we seem to be doing it willingly with a smile on our face.

As we surrender any sense of privacy in our lives to the welcomed invasion of technology, we are wiping away the facades we have created to effectively manage the impressions we want to present to the world. Indeed I can work to control technology in such a way that I can limit that flow of revealing information, yet it is eventually a losing battle. A simple google search can yield all the information about a person you could ever want to know….and a lot of things we would prefer not to know. Or see.

With cameras on every street corner and in every hand, when anyone with a moderate or high profile attempts to conceal any behaviors it is a losing battle to be sure. Whether it is Brittany’s crotch or Anthony’s wiener, there is no such thing as a flawed or embarrassing moment gone unnoticed or a moment of lack of good judgment gone undetected. In a world of technology, we are its naked and vulnerable inhabitants. How are we to respond to such vulnerability in a culture of everyone knows all?

Society effectively has two choices. The first choice is to reduce the amount of poor choices we make in our life that could possibly get exploited and do our best to keep our legs clenched tight when getting out of a Ferrari with a short skirt. I have no trouble complying with the latter though have fallen victim many times to the former.

The second choice is a much more likely and palatable choice. We must become more accepting of flawed human beings making flawed choices –that is if you believe a man sending a picture of his penis to a potential lover to be “flawed” -some might call it just poor strategy –or good strategy, depending on the penis I suppose. I long for a day when society does not bat an eye when a prominent figure sends out a picture of his junk, likely in a drunken foray, because they realize they could be the next victim in this tell all, see all world. As my grandma once told me, “Let he who is without a picture of his naked penis cast the first stone.” Or maybe it was “don’t go into the neighbor’s yard.” I forget. It was a long time ago.

Am I suggesting that sending out lurid pictures is good idea or is a complete non-issue in sizing up one’s character? No and no. Probably rarely a good idea and may be a relevant issue in determining one’s character pending context of the photo. The issue is not about a revealing photo, rather the issue is lack of discretion and sound judgment by a political leader who is need of such attributes.

Hence we believe sending nude pics is the bastion of the perverted, exhibitionist few, think again. Recently in my Interpersonal Communication class the subject of “sexting” came up. Our textbook states: “One survey revealed that 10 percent of young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 have texted or emailed a nude or partially nude image of themselves to someone else, and 15 percent have received such pictures…of someone they know. Perhaps even more disturbing, 8 percent reported that they had received a nude or partially nude image of someone they knew from a third party.”

After some further discussion, our entire class concluded that those numbers are WAY off- in fact, not even close to the truth (the studies were 5 years old…a lifetime in a technological world). Their estimate was somewhere closer to 75 percent having sexted in one way, shape or form. And they should know…they are the age group in which sexting essentially originated. I guess we are living in both a figuratively naked -everyone can see our business- and literally naked technological world -we are willingly allowing people to see our naughty parts.

Perhaps the dramatic increase in our willingness to share our physical nakedness is only symptomatic of a society losing its desire for any privacy, at any level, whatsoever. We are all becoming metaphorically naked and vulnerable and seem quite comfortable with it. I know I am. Should I be?

I have very little to hide in my life (notice I did not say nothing?) which seems a good place to be in our naked world. I am not sure Paul Walker’s family is pleased his death has been captured on image, albeit an obscured one. Yet, for better or for worse, we can all rest assured that nothing anymore is sacred or private…and I am still trying to decide if I like this nudist camp we have created or not.

In the meantime, think twice before you send your next sext…your political future may be in jeopardy.

Tell Me Something Good (or bad), Tell Me That You Like It (or not)

Feedback, constructive criticism, critical evaluation –we can choose to call this activity any number of things, knowing one thing is certain: We all need its presence in our lives. Going through life without feedback is like trying to eat your dinner with no utensils –you may eventually get the job done yet not without a lot of unnecessary extra effort and a hell of a mess to clean up afterwards.

As a professor of Communication Studies, essentially I get paid to provide feedback and offer others critical analysis of their work–it’s my job. Over the years I have gained a reputation of being extremely straightforward in this regard. That is simply who I am, a very straightforward guy living a very straightforward life.  I attempt to instill in the minds of all my students that this straightforwardness is not driven by me wanting to be a dick or possessing some diabolical intent, rather it is driven by pure and positive motivation: I want my students to improve –and beating around the bush will simply not get the job done.

Of course I do utilize what I call the “critique sandwich” in my courses, as all critiques MUST begin and end with something positive and encouraging.

When I was recently requested by one of our college deans and head of research, Keith Wurtz, to be the faculty representative for his professional evaluation, I was eager to find out why.

When I asked him, he stated, much to my delight, “Because I know you will not hold anything back and you will be completely honest. I want to improve.”

Nice. That I will. And believe you me…it’s going to be a real challenge to find an area of weakness with that guy -he is good.

Wisdom seeks feedback. Excellence is always looking to improve. True professionals not only appreciate evaluations, they seek them out.

For many years I did not appreciate being evaluated and critiqued. In hindsight, I realize this was the result of my personal immaturity and insecurity. I am not a “woulda-shoulda-coulda” guy, yet I would be remiss not to observe that my growth as a professional and a person was at times stunted due to my resistance to feedback by people who knew better than I.

Pride. Thank the universe it tends to simmer with age. Today I love both good feedback and a big challenge.

Thus when my creative and very talented partner-in-life Rene’ asked me to pitch her screenplay, “Silence Broken,” to different production companies at the “Pitch SlamFest” in Century City last Saturday, I jumped at the chance -yet not without first asking her why she wanted me to do it.

“Cause Jimmy, you could sell snowballs to Eskimos. And you are cute.”

He smiled. Yet inwardly he knew she just didn’t want to do it. It is nerve wracking to say the least.

So off I went to pitch a total chick-flick-on-steroids (or would it be excessive estrogen?) screenplay full well knowing that part of this pitch included being personally evaluated on how well you pitched and where you could stand improvement.

I must say that being critiqued was my favorite part of the day.  The great thing about critiques is we have the freedom to do whatever we wish with them. Good and helpful feedback is the result of a myriad of factors; WHO is critiquing probably being the most influential factor of all. I wanted to hear what these typically younger females had to say as I am usually on the other end of the critiquing equation.

As I pitched a novel/screenplay written by a woman for women -a screenplay/novel that gay men have found way over the estrogen top- the question I would repeatedly be asked as they stared across at this macho shmuck was, “What motivated you to write this?” With a perplexed look on their face to be sure.

“I did not write it. I am pimping, err pitching it for my partner who wrote the novel and my son who wrote and butched up the screenplay,” I answered as they smiled. “I wouldn’t even go see it myself,” I joked.

My first pitch was rough. 50 years on the planet and I was doing something I had never done before, which I LOVE. The representative, Tracy, from Beachfront Pictures, was really sweet and very straightforward in her feedback.

“Don’t call it a chick flick as it demeans the value of the novel.”photo copy

“You must lead by stating it is a novel that is currently being shopped.”

“You have to address what is the driving appeal and storyline in the first act.”

Ok. So I did all that. I listened.

After a couple of pitches and some additional helpful feedback, I had it down. Thus when I got to my third pitch, Crystal from Electric City Entertainment responded with, “Oh my God…that was the perfect pitch!” And, of course, with the follow up question, “What made you write this novel?”

I then came clean and told her I am not a novelist rather a Communication Studies professor commissioned to try and sell this screenplay -we laughed. It appeared she genuinely liked me and the story (I can read bullshit, and trust me, there was plenty of it that day) and provided the feedback that very small production companies -like their own- find period pieces with “low context” plots (meaning there is a lot of splaining to do in many acts) too expensive not to mention that a good “B” level, 18 year-old main protagonist, that has to carry the movie, nearly impossible to find. Bullshit? Probably. If so, she was very good at it.

So after 7 or 8 pitches with several companies taking down my contact information, Rene’ and I got into Jimmy’s mid-life mobile and headed back to Awesometown with very realistic expectations knowing this was not about actually selling something, just the experience of pitching.

As we drove and lamented how tired we both were and could not wait for a nice nap, we both realized, at a level never before experienced, the value of truly and genuinely listening to what credible and credentialed sources have to say about us and our work.

I suppose when you finally know who you are it is not all that threatening.

Some things really do get better with age. And I prefer to eat at the banquet of life with a knife and fork.

“Heckler”: This Could Get Interesting

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_I am far from a film critic. In fact, the only two areas I feel completely qualified to critique are speaking and parenting; I am not perfect in either I just know the subject matter really well. In regards to film I know what I like and I know what I don’t like—yet I am absolutely unqualified to adequately explain why, as I have no training or knowledge of the filmmaking process. I know I tend to like character driven movies (The Big Lebowski, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Next, The Truman Show) over plot driven movies (The Matrix….yuck), as I would rather watch interesting people doing nothing particularly interesting over watching uninteresting people doing something interesting; which probably explains why I could watch Steve Buscemi eat cereal for 90 minutes.

But that’s just me. Interesting and strange people strangely interest me. (Why do I feel a Doors song coming on?)

Thus when I was inspired today to write my thoughts on the documentary, “Heckler” which can be found on Netflix, I feared being a bit presumptuous.  Again, I am not a film critic and have no foundation to critique an art form about which I know so little.  Yet, frequently, perhaps as the result of my position, I am asked my opinion of certain films, books, or, in this case, a documentary. And, I rationalize, documentaries are an entirely different type of film making rendering them much more critique-able. So, in the spirit of sharing with each other something interesting, here ya go.  I think you might find this one doc interesting as well.

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Ironically, “Heckler,” produced and directed by Jaime Kennedy (Malibu’s Most Wanted) is a doc about both the hecklers of stand up comedians and, secondly, the nature of critics in general. Essentially, the first half of the documentary is about the evil and subversive nature of hecklers and how all comedians disdain their very existence. We watch poor stand up comedians complain about their strenuous and back-breaking vocations for about an hour as they explain their loathing of hecklers.  The second half of the documentary is about critics in general and how our society has evolved into a culture of opinionated and entitled audiences. Consumers of media today (which would include all of us) are evolving into a collection of vocal and mean-spirited critics who are wholly unqualified to be so.

As someone once told me long ago as I was in the middle of a lovely critical rant, “they never built a monument for a critic.” I get it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this documentary if, for nothing else, the raw footage of hecklers in audiences and the live verbal -and frequently physical encounters- during live shows. It reminds viewers how the live stand-up comedy scene has changed into an often cruel and biting environment. As a budding sociologist, it also lends insight into group behaviors, ethics and social expectations. In addition, if you like interesting people like Joe Rogan, Nick Swardson, Craig Ferguson, Jon Lovitz, and Dave Attell among many others, they all share some interesting opinions, even if they all sound a tad whiny -interesting whiny however.

In regards to the second half of the film, I must say that I agree with the premise, as too many unqualified, untrained people have a medium now to voice their criticism over something (you’re reading one right now).  In addition, the documentary poignantly addresses that people not only now have the means to share their opinions, but also how cruel and hateful their ignorant opinions can be.

It was that great critic Socrates who first pointed out that the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing. The problem with the critics is they think they know something. And then talk as if they do.

The tension I found in the documentary is some of the great hypocrisy of these entertainers. When you have Bill Maher complaining that all performers are by nature sensitive people and today the critics are so mean and insensitive…really? Bill Maher? Is he not one of the meanest and most insensitive comics of all? I do find him smart and entertaining though he is doing NOTHING to promote a culture of civil and kind dialogue.

In my experience with stand up comedy, it seems that often the comic is the instigator of the heckling environment. It was not that long ago that I was standing outside a comedy show and a woman who was in the audience was outside crying because the comic picked on her so badly.

“What the hell did I ever do to him?” she sobbed.

Civility must always be a two way street.

Kennedy, the film’s producer, reads some of the awful -and quite funny- reviews for his “Malibu’s Most Wanted” movie and interviews people after his live shows that did not think he was funny. These people, who you would guess could barely write their own name, have the balls to look him in the eye and explain (even occasionally using verbs and some words with more than one syllable) why he is not funny and should not be in show business.

That Socrates guy may have been on to something when he philosophized that the only true evil is ignorance. Maybe by “evil” Socrates really meant chutzpah.

So if you want to see a bunch of interesting people talk about some interesting stuff with some very interesting footage, pull up a strange and interesting chair and enjoy “Hecklers.” Then tell me what you think.

This could get interesting.

 

 

9 Months and 50 Blogs Later: A State of The Blog Address

blogging-insideThe term “blogging” still feels very linguistically-challenged to me; a term accidentally generated from the contraction of the words “web log” back in the late 1990’s. It’s a weird word that just as easily could have come from the contraction of the words “bloat” and “soggy.” It sounds more like a medical condition than a web term, as in, “I think I contracted blogs last night.”

Somewhat surprisingly, I will still occasionally get the question, “So what is a blog?” I generally respond with something to the effect of just someone’s ideas, organized and placed on the internet for the world to see. WordPress, a website dedicated to assisting people with creating blogs and hosting websites such as this one, has over 60 million bloggers alone. Speaking of conditions, blogging is spreading like the plague.

I guess a lot of people like to infect their thoughts to the world.blogging1-300x255

The reason I started blogging was the encouragement of those around me who wanted to read some of my thoughts in a more formal and extended manner. I do not do this, nor ever plan to do this, for money, notoriety or personal gain (though I suppose I would not be opposed to the idea if presented…we all have to pay the mortgage); rather I do this because I really enjoy it. I love to read and write and if people can learn/enjoy/critique my ideas, and I from you—all the better. This is a true labor of love…and now that I am nearing my 50th blog entry after about 9 months of blogging, I have made some definite observations—thus, my state of the blog address.

To begin, as most of you know, I am the type of person who loves to float ideas, critique, and evaluate…everything. I really want to thank all of you for reading my blog and particularly those who respond to it with counter or correlating ideas to make conversations like this possible. We all are pressed for time so I know carving out a few minutes to read is never easy. So THANK YOU! Now onward we go with my 6 observations…

Most people are very reluctant to respond directly to this website. I cannot tell you how many times someone has texted me, run into me, even called me to say something about a blog entry. I strongly encourage them to respond on the site so others can read their thoughts though it reluctant-worker-13159705rarely happens. Lazy? No, or else they would not exert the energy to text, call, or “face to face” me. I am still trying to figure out why this is. We have all heard of stage fright, perhaps this is “blog fright.” And speaking of making comments…

Many of the comments on a particular blog are far more eloquent, thoughtful and poignant than the blog entry itself!  For those of you who take the time to really present your arguments, I am floored by the collection of wisdom of many of jimmysintension blog readers. I would argue that Dominick’s comments on my latest blog concerning Miley Cyrus’ ass shaking are far more interesting than anything I wrote. The point? Thank you for your comments and I encourage you all to read them if you have the chance. Now speaking of comments I may respond to or not….

I will never argue religious doctrine or dogma on this blog. If you reply to a blog article citing the koran, bible, Baghavad Gita, Ghandi or Tom Cruise for support, have at it my peeps though know you will likely not hear back from me. Why? Once you enter a book of faith into an argument you have effectively ended any further dialogue. If this were an Islamic blog the Koran would be great to quote. If this were a Christian blog with all Christian readers, the bible would be great to quote. But it is not. We have a VERY diverse readership with different faiths and non-faiths. Good arguments apply to everyone in the room with the logic we all share, not just a select few.  There is a big difference between promoting a faith and selling it on its own merits versus using it as a source to back up a secular argument. My bible citing readers…what if one kept using the koran to back up their arguments? You could not argue because you do believe in it.

dogmaI am huge fan of faith, I really am.  I encourage that type of important dialogue in your houses of faith, not here, or any medium that has a commitment to philosophical diversity and pluralism. To be frank, when one wants to use religious doctrine to back up a point of view, most of just gasp, roll our eyes and shut our mouths. Why? Because we know there is now no common ground on which to proceed. Any non-adherent to that faith system is effectively ousted out of the argument.

The following is a comment from a reader of my blog, Jessica, who disagreed with someone’s theological comment and I encouraged her to respond to the person on the blog itself:

“I honestly would, if it wasn’t a conversation I have in circles with my parents daily… It’s one of those things that the threshold is too high so it’s unreachable.”

I gotcha Jessica. And it is evident someone has had my critical thinking course! Some people like to take their unleashed dogmas on too many damned walks.

For better or worse, sensational and pop culture topics tend to generate the highest “ratings.” WordPress, my web host, keeps site statistics and tracks views. On any given day the blog has about 75 hits, some days far more (the top was 339) and some a bit less. Overall, as of this writing, the site has had 13,087 views.  If I blog on something pop culturish, like a Miley Cyrus or a Seth pop-cultureMacfarlane, the numbers are far higher than if I blog about the justice system or the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Of course this does not surprise me and will not likely effect what I blog about as I only argue about what interests me anyway.

I have learned the great importance of repetition in life. If you want to be good at something, or at the very least, better at something, you must do it often and over and over and over again. This is true in nearly any endeavor in life whether athletics, academics or writing. It takes time to discover your voice and is only found through repetition. Some of you have commented to me (again, usually via any medium except this blog) that they have discovered a nice rhythm to my writing. This rhythm can only be discovered through time and repetition. The legendary coach John Wooden claimed: The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated. Repetition is the key to learning.

As a result of this blog, I intend to begin a Jimmy’s Intension podcast soon. That way, you logopodcastcan download me and listen to my bullshit on the way to work! Like the intention of this blog, I intend to cross-fit all of this into my teaching…thus said podcast may be a bit more “lecturey”—yet, again, the rhythm, voice and style of the podcast will change in time with repetition. I would imagine the first few will suck; I can guarantee it. It would be so great if all of us could begin any new endeavor in the second year and skip the first…it would be nice. I intend to be able to take live callers and recording times will be posted on this blog. I am hoping many of you engage and do not suffer from “pod fright.”

There it is. My current State of the Blog. I hope you get infected.

 

 

One Guess Who’s Twerking All The Way To The Bank…

I try SO HARD to avoid blogging about superficial, media-induced, means-nothing-bullshit, yet Miley Cyrus getting down and dirty at the 2013 MTV VMA has all the elements for a good old fashioned opinion –nudity, sexuality, good girl gone bad…all this short of her 21st birthday. Sorry everyone, though I am taking the bait on this sensationalized and very unnewsworthy event -as it is not often you can opine about Hannah Montana twerking.

The opinions I have read, namely through Facebook, range from the conservative one side (“that was a disgusting and awful display of sexuality that was entirely inappropriate”) to the other, for lack of a better term, liberal, side of the spectrum which likes to point out the double standard we have in society regarding demonizing a female’s display of sexuality (slut) while championing a male’s equally sexual behavior (playa).  Ah, such tension…I love it.

Please read this blog entry in entirety before you think you may agree or disagree with me. I do play both sides of the fence and attempt to find the merits and weaknesses of both points of view. In fact, I feel somewhat schizophrenic in this regard.

To my conservative friends and readers I will offer 3 general reasons why you need to chill out on this. First, the aforementioned double-standard argument is a valid one. Now, you would likely retort, “I don’t like it when males behave publicly like that either.” To which I respond, in love, bullshit. I believe you when you say you do not like it…I really do. Yet the guttural, deeper, and more visceral response is clearly reserved for the female demonstrators of sexuality. You may not like it when Kanye mimics a grind for his audience, yet you are repulsed and write letters when a Miley Cyrus does it. This is gender prejudice, plain and simple.

Secondly, what is wrong with sexy? Particularly when sexy comes on MTV?….M FREAKING TV people -the station that has been pushing the envelope for decades. Should we really be shocked? This was not the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon or network television where such displays of sexuality would be inappropriate (think Janet Jackson’s nipple).  This is the MTV Video Music Awards where, in 2003, an older woman (a 43 year-old Madonna) makes out with a much younger woman (a 22 year-old Britney Spears). Can you say taboo? I knew you could. Do 14 year-old girls watch MTV? Yes, they do watch, yet that is on the parent’s for allowing it, not the entertainer’s for providing what they do best. And believe me, with what kid’s see and hear today, as they say, that ain’t nothing.

Lastly, and if you read a previous blog I wrote on porn, I will once again share a similar sentiment. Sex is something (most) everyone of sexual age engages in, all the time, particularly if you count when you are alone. We are sexual beings. Sex is a part of life. We would not be reading and engaging in these words right now if your sperm and eggs donors were not terribly turned on and wanted sex. If sex is good, sexuality should be discussed and there is NOTHING wrong with sexy. I understand some people believe sex is a private matter -I don’t. Leaving issues in the dark can have nasty consequences. We are all the result of a good old-fashioned orgasm.  This is not crass…it is FACT -with this understanding, a young girl coming of age and exploring her sexiness and sexuality in performance, is exciting and titillating. And you blowhard, self-righteous zealots who want to claim a motive for her behavior…just shut up. When you armchair judgmental psychologists get in her head let me know. Don’t like it? Don’t watch it.

Now, to my liberal and feminist friends, a few things for you all. Which way is it going to be? Do you want women to be seen as exclusively sexual beings and objectified…or not? If you want to champion Miley’s performance for any variety of reasons, you must realize the fallout from this is it does nothing to move forward a social egalitarian agenda. Does having the power and the right to do something make it a wise and profitable thing to do? Hell no. Stop supporting that performance on the grounds of a feminist worldview. If anything this sets the movement back in terms of “desexualizing” women, not forward.

Secondly, I have yet to see the male equivalent of what Miley Cyrus did. If you want to compare apples to apples to make the double-standard argument, you would need someone like a 19 year-old Justin Bieber to come out in a clear speedo and shake his package while simulating sex. I believe he if did do this (please don’t Justin, please) the reaction would be equally, perhaps moreso, deemed in a disturbing and negative light.

Finally, I realize I have more progressive views on sexuality than most and, to be frank, if one of my adult daughters were to pursue performing in such a way, I would have no problem with it provided she were in no way mislead or diabolically coerced. That being said, I realize I am the very rare father in this regard; still I would not be terribly pleased with this prior to her 21st birthday. How many of you who defend Miley’s performance would be as supportive if this were your own 20 YEAR OLD daughter? Or future daughter? Is this the path you would want them to take before they are allowed to legally drink alcohol? That’s what I thought….not many of you.

In the end, this is all so much ado about absolutely nothing and I fell for this bullshit hook, line and sinker. However, such sensationalized stories that mean nothing in and of themselves can lead us into deeper discussions of the underlying social and psychological issues involved. Or not. Feel free to disagree as such discussion only gives Hannah Montana all the more reason to twerk all the way to the bank.

The Land with two Brains

As I was perusing through my last few blogs, I noticed that the last 5 or so were categorized under “personal.”  I definitely like blogging about different subject matters and my life and relationships are certainly part of that, yet it is about time to get back to something a bit more academic and exercise that other half of the brain –the half that is not quite so touchy feely and does not care much for singing bowls or drum circles.

This upcoming Friday, Crafton Hills College will be hosting the Southern California Speech Educators Forum. As the Director of this forum, I, among other duties, will be discussing with Speech Geeks like myself, issues in the field of teaching Communication Studies in the college context.

Thus, I come to you, my blog readers, and to the educators this Friday with an issue that is so vastly important, pervasive and transformative in our culture right now that most of us are utterly blind to it as that which encompasses becomes our norm and thus becomes invisible.

So, if you are not into technology and the brain, go to the “personal” tab above and read all about my emotional and psychological shortcomings as I whine like a little bitch. For today, I am an academic; whiny-bitchthough still a little bitch to be sure. I have blogged about this before though then the focus was comparing digital natives (my kids) with digital immigrants (me); I believe this distinction is not so great as I once believed.

We are all currently in the process of getting our brains completely rewired through technologies not thought possible just a couple of decades ago.  The hyperlink world is creating hyperlink brains.  Our brains are turning more “status update” than detailed diary, more snapchat than manifesto, more Wikipedia and less encyclopedia.

Gary Small UCLA professor of psychiatry tells us that “…the current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains (the daily use of computers, smartphones, search engines and other such tools) stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains and weakening old ones.

technology-addictI am not a brain scientist and at the risk of monumental oversimplification, I have read enough literature to know that those parts of the brain we do not use shrink and get adopted by other parts of the brain we are using. For example, if one were suddenly struck with blindness the part of the brain responsible for vision would lend a hand to the auditory function of the brain. If we lose one of our senses, our brain becomes more acute in the other unaffected senses as a form of brain compensation.

In a famous study of London taxicab drivers detailed brain autopsies as well as brain scans reveal that the part of the brain responsible for memorizing streets and having a sense of direction, the posterior hippocampus, was significantly larger than the general population and, depending on how many years on the job, the more experienced drivers had a larger posterior hippocampus. Interestingly, neural-plasticitythe anterior hippocampus was smaller –meaning the part of the brain overused was yoked- though it was at the expense of another unused part.

Kind of like my bulky biceps grow at the expense of my little tiny schoolboy calves. Yeah, just like that.

Nicholas Carr suggests “with the exception of alphabet and number systems, the Internet may well be the single most powerful mind altering technology that has ever come into general use, At the very least, it’s the most powerful that has come along since the book.”

So, what does this mean? It means all of our brains are changing in some very humungous ways that researchers are still trying to figure out. This is an extremely important period of history in our biological neural evolution.

We are certainly seeing a lot of evidence that our collective brains are becoming much more acute in the area of multi-tasking and much less acute in focusing while finishing what we start.  We are losing many abilities related to memory as we no longer need to memorize numbers, addresses, or, for that matter, nearly all information as we simply pull it up on Google.focus-and-concentration

The GPS is completely retarding our collective senses of direction; yet, ask me to find 10 addresses and I can provide them all in under 30 seconds.

I am neither a technological dystopian (our brains and the world are going to hell) nor utopian (technology will save us) and I am quite open to nearly all googleglasspossibilities.  I do believe “Google Glasses” (you must check that link out people, seriously, check it right now and come back) and the concept of singularity -where biological brain and technology become as one- are very real possibilities and, most likely, probabilities.

So blog readers, how do we Speech educators teach effectively to multi-tasking, hyperlinked, multi-tabbed brains?

So blog readers AND Speech educators, do we realize this is taking place? Do we want it to take place? Are we losing control of our own brains?

I don’t have any answers though I know for certain we need to be asking the questions.  If not, we lemmings may just follow that technological pied piper over the cliff. Or not.

Just stuff worth thinking about….told you I would still whine like a little bitch. Sorry Jesus.

 

Sure we saw your boobs and for this I am grateful….though do we really have to sing about it?

Academy Awards tourism destinationsFirst, let me get something straight. I do not care for the Academy Awards or, for that matter, the entire Hollywood movie industry in general. Probably the best I can say about movie entertainment is that it is damn good for the economy while keeping a lot of people employed…and living in LA, well, that is nice.

I do go to the movies every now and then, though I am fairly certain my life would not be any different qualitatively if the industry disappeared tomorrow.  I have nothing particularly against Hollywood yet nothing for it either; as they say, I have no dog in this fight.  So much so I did not even know the academy award show was taking place this past Sunday. It is only because I went to the gym Sunday evening and found myself on my familiar elliptical and, son of a vondruke, there they were on the 8 inch pain-in-the-ass in-your-face screen in front of me. Noticing that Seth Macfarlane was hosting, I could not help but unplug my Ipod and listen seth-macfarlaneto the opening monologue.

I watched as Macfarlane broke out into a song entitled, “We Saw Your Boobs.”  For those living under a cultural rock, which is my preferred locale much of the time, he sang a song about actresses who have bared their breasts in movies -in a very 40’s esque bow tie and top hat kind of way. It was very funny and, of course as one would expect with Macfarlane hosting, very edgy. Mixing classy standards with contemporary raunch. Typical Seth.

I watched this bit, then a few jokes about Daniel Day Lewis’ method Charlize-Theron-Shameacting, George Clooney’s young girlfriends, then off I went. I had some weights that really needed to be lifted and some love handles that really needed some sculpting. The important stuff.

That was my entire affiliation with the Academy Awards in 2013. I do not even know who won what. Now….

Something has been on my mind ever since viewing these few minutes. I read this particular facebook status update yesterday and was reminded of my angst:

“Seth MacFarlane was funny. Admit it ya self righteous phonies.”

Of course her “friends” then chimed in with full agreement bemoaning the conservative and serious folk who found such humor either unfunny or inappropriate. I have had a couple of similar such conversations with some who, again, either believe you find the material funny, or else you’re a big fat stuffed shirt who takes life too seriously; a self-righteous phony. Yet, I myself, I am in tension over this. Even though it was funny as hell, was it appropriate for this particular context?

Could it be, that it I, Jimmy, am a big fat self righteous phony? (And why I am I ok with the self-righteous phony part, yet not the big and fat part?)

I love Seth Macfarlane. I love raunchy adult humor. I think Family Guy does not go far enough. For me it is never “too soon” for a good joke.  YET, as we discuss in all my courses, it is all about the context. One could argue the context of the academy awards is fine place for such humor, however, one could equally argue, although funny, it is not the right context nor does it uphold the purpose and objectives of the event or the art it represents.

Have we as an American society conceded that it is always humor “game on,” of all varieties, all the time, in any place, in any context?  Can we now yell “shit” in church or “fuck” in the Vatican?  Is their no longer protocol for the place? The context?

I am not suggesting the Academy Awards is a bastion of high-brow dignity and an institution that is above making fun of itself or enjoying good humor because I really do not know what it is supposed to be.  I am an outsider.

It just seems to me like it is a classy affair and, insofar as cultural powerbroking goes, a celebration of an important industry.  If Hollywood wants to celebrate itself by singing a song about certain actresses who have shown their boobs on camera, so be it–at least they know how they want to celebrate and self-identify their awards show; even if it’s with a bit less class and dignity than some have come to expect.

Of course the awards have always been only deceptively dignified. When the infamous “streaker” ran across Academy_Awards_1974_Streaker_and_David_Niven-500x370stage naked in 1974, it was the very classy David Niven who, in very gentlemanly fashion, commented on the streaker’s “shortcomings.”  It was the classy and the dignified poking fun at the, probably planned, profane.

It seems now the classy has morphed into the profane and must profanely poke fun at itself. The host is now the streaker and we are all a bit less discerning in the contexts we find ourselves in. It’s “humor without boundaries” game on, always, all the time.

I guess I might just be a big fat self-righteous phony cause I kinda liked it when context meant something, when you couldn’t yell shit in church and had to relegate bad language to classrooms, bars and blogs–when a lighthearted song about actresses showing some titty on screen was either locker room talk, fair for an adult animated sitcom, or a purely comedic context.

But I can be weird that way….after all, I am Jimmy 5-0.