Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On Trigger Warnings and Toughening Up

When I first heard about trigger warnings, my reaction was not positive. To me, it seemed as though weak people were demanding to be catered to. People go through terrible things, but so many terrible things happen that the world can't be expected to grind to a halt for every traumatized soul. Trigger warnings struck me as the height of a coddling culture devoted to preventing discomfort. The world is a hard place, and people need to just fucking toughen up and deal with it.

I've been thinking this way for some time now, not really questioning my underlying visceral response. And then today an old remark happened to pop into my head; a simple question, asked years ago, that made me reconsider the whole idea of over sensitivity.

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In the first grade, I had just moved to a new neighborhood, and was very unhappy about it. On the first day of school, while the class waited outside for the teacher, who was late, some kids started to tease me. I don't know what they said, but I started crying.

Tears are to children what blood is to sharks, and there was a verbal pile on. I panicked and started screaming, "STOP IT,"  which to keep going with the shark analogy, was like when the leg gets bitten off and the blood gushes out, pulling in more sharks until there is a huge feeding frenzy.

With that, my fate was sealed. I was the kid who screamed, and my peers all wanted to try that out for themselves. I was famous for it; people who had never met me would say, "hey, are you that kid that screams?", even when I no longer did.

Of course, some children go through far, far worse, but it still sucked. I avoided people as much as possible, hiding out in the library. I rarely had friends, and some of the few I had eventually turned on me, teasing me to gain traction with the other kids. From my perspective, the truest movie ever made about childhood is Welcome to the Dollhouse, the only movie I ever saw where I wasn't annoyed that the movie's "loser" character had a better childhood than I had.

I worked very hard to not cry and scream. It was a lot of work, it took many years, but by high school I was doing pretty well. Emotions were the enemy and the source of all my troubles, and it felt like a victory every time I managed to feel less and react less.

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Decades later, I was talking to someone. I was talking about how fucking oversensitive people are, for example, people I dated. They would get upset about stupid little things. I could make some mild comment and they would just freak out. They needed to toughen up.

And the guy said, "you mean the way you had to toughen up when you were a kid?"

That was a "woah" moment. I was being asked, did I feel other people should tamp down on their emotions, curtail their feelings, so I could be insensitive? And the answer was no.

But it's easy to fall into old mental habits, which is why my first reaction to trigger warnings was still, toughen up, you big babies.

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When I was perhaps ten years old, or whatever age it is when parents finally feel they can let their kids wander about on their own (an age that seems to have shifted since I was young), my parents gave me the lordly sum of $5 to spend at the state fair while they went off and did their own thing. I imagined going on a lot of rides, but I was distracted by a ring toss game. I bought three rings for a quarter, and missed three times. The guy running the booth said, don't give up, I'll give you four rings for another quarter. Then 5 rings, then 8, then 12, until I had spent the entire $5. There would be no midway rides for me.

Ashamed and heartbroken, I told my parents what had happened. They could have let that stand as a valuable lesson in the dangers of life, in the need to watch out for people, in the irrevocable nature of our mistakes, but they didn't. Instead, my dad hunted down the guy who managed the arcade and complained. He said it was wrong to take advantage of the naivety of a young child, and the ring toss guy had to give me my money back.

So I didn't learn that people will screw you, life is unfair and you have to accept it. I learned that people don't have the right to screw you, and that if they try, you should make a stink about it.

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Toughening is a natural part of life. If you walk barefoot on gravel, your soles will toughen over time. If you don't like shoes, then that toughening is a good thing. It protects you from pain. It allows you to function. That's what toughening up is about; making adjustments that allow you to function.

For many of us, toughening up means growing a thicker skin. It means, in the words of Marge Simpson, that you, "Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you're almost walking on them."

There's a problem with that sort of toughening, beyond the discomfort of walking on your own feelings. If it is necessary to toughen up because the world sucks, then by toughening up, you are agreeing to the world sucking.

So you toughen up, and when people are mean to you, you laugh it off. If your boss mistreats you, you cioe. Everyone's got problems, there's nothing you can do except to grin and bear it.

When we insist that asking for trigger warnings is a result of being weak and coddled, we are demanding that traumatized people (and very few of us aren't, to some degree, traumatized) be tough.

But perhaps the demand for trigger warnings is simply a different variety of toughness. Perhaps being tough is demanding that people show sensitivity to your needs. Perhaps you are tough if you refuse to let people make you swallow your feelings.

Some poeple argue that it's a cold, cruel world, and if we cater to college students now, they'll be in for a shock when they enter an adult life of asshole bosses and vindictive neighbors. What will these coddled kids do in the real world, when they can no longer run to daddy or teacher?

But maybe we have things backward. Perhaps this toughening up is why we are so quick to accept abuse. Perhaps demanding trigger warnings could lead to demanding fair treatment at work and home. Perhaps the assholes of the world rely on all these people who use their toughness to power through all the shit heaped upon them. Perhaps toughened people accept abuse that sheltered people would rebel against. Perhaps encouraging people to toughen up is making the world a safer for assholes.

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In the classic Shel Silverstein song, "A Boy Named Sue," famously recorded by Johnny Cash, a father names his son Sue before leaving his family. Sue faces a lot of ridicule and fights back, becoming tough and quick-witted. As an adult, he meets his father, and tries to kill him, at which point dad says the name was to make him tough and he was pleased to see it worked.

The moral Sue took away? Don't fucking give your son a girl's name. Being tough enough to almost kill your dad isn't worth all the pain it takes to get you there.

Toughening up didn't make me a better or happier person. What has made me a better, happier person has been years spent stripping those protective emotional layers away, allowing myself to soften just a little. Still, I always wipe my tears away when I cry at movie; letting people see you will always feel dangerous.

How would my life have been different if I'd been more coddled? If teachers hadn't watched me being tortured and thought, that's just kids being kids?  If school administrators had tried to stop the bullying instead of writing me off as that kid who screamed because he wanted attention? If a psychiatrist had, instead of putting me on Ritalin (which had no effect because I was sensitive, not fucking hyperactive), admitted that bullying cannot be remedied by medicating the victims of it.

We'll never know, but I'm in favor of coddling a generation and seeing how it turns out.

I'll never be so soft as to need trigger warnings, and I'll probably always feel a visceral dislike of them. Trigger warnings are stupid and the people who insist on them are big fucking babies. And I say to all you big fucking babies; be tough enough to refuse to toughen up. See if it makes a better world.




Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Tin GOP

The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz was once (as you know if you read the book) a real man. He lost his body parts one by one to a cursed axe, until he was all tin, and thus, no longer human.

I suspect the moment other people thought of him as a tin man was earlier than when he thought of himself that way. There was probably a time when he was still thinking of himself as a human with a lot of tin when everyone else was thinking of him as tin with a few flesh parts. It always takes some time to acknowledge a new reality.

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I've been fascinated by the panic of mainstream Republicans over the state of their party. Donald Trump, a racist loud-mouthed populist with no clear political philosophy beyond yellow at minorities, stands a good chance of being the Republican nominee for president of the United States. If he doesn't win, it will probably be Ted Cruz, a right-wing extremist hated by his colleagues whose only goal seems to be to cause the gears of government to grind to a halt.

Right wing pundits are wringing their hands and crying out, "THIS IS NOT OUR PARTY." They insist they are the party of small, sensible government and free-market ideals, not the party of racism and demagoguery and intolerance.

But of course, they are that party. Racism, intolerance, and rabid hatred of seemingly most of the country have been, for a long time, as much a part of the GOP as helping the rich at the expense of the poor.

Republicans once actually did believe in government as a tool to make things better. For all his flaws, it was Richard M. Nixon who started the EPA. But the party has moved much further to the right since then. The modern Republican party began with Reagan, an arch conservative who by today's standards is still too liberal for the GOP.

The GOP's cursed axe was the Tea Party. The Tea Party was fueled not by a consistent political philosophy (they would protest against government entitlements while demanding the government not cut any entitlements they enjoyed), but by rage at gun laws and the dewhitening of America, and a general sense that they were getting screwed by "them."

The Republicans saw the Tea Party as a large voter block that they could use to gain and hold onto political power. They embraced the Tea Party, they supported Tea Party Candidates, the chose Sarah Freaking Palin as a vice presidential candidate, all to get those Tea Party voters to come out and help them crush the Democrats. They raised their voices, questioned Obama's citizenship, swift-boated John Kerry, and allowed stupidity and craziness to take a place of honor in the party.

And without them realizing it, everything they saw as classic conservatism was being chopped away.

Right now the leading GOP presidential candidates, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, are all Tea Partiers. The are all extremely right wing. And the percentage of Republicans who support them make up a strong majority of the party. Republicans fed the Tea Party like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors, and my, how it has grown.

Now that the last vestige of human flesh is gone, the heart is absent, and the GOP is 100% tin, conservative pundits are screaming that something has to be done before the Republican party is destroyed.

But there is no more Republican party now, there is only the Tea Party. Eventually, the few remaining Republicans will have to accept that.

Friday, December 19, 2014

the mind of a seat snatcher revealed, accidentally

I've always been both fascinated and disgusted by people who take up extra seats on a crowded subway. The people who feel their shopping bag needs a seat more than their fellow passengers. What kind of a person is that?

I mean, there are those weird people who put a bag on a seat and stand next to it, and while that's a waste of a seat, at least with them you can say that they just don't understand the appeal of sitting. They're happy to stand so it may just not occur to them that others like to sit.

But those people who sit next to their bag (or, as sometimes happens, between two bags) know the importance of sitting down, because they're doing it. They know that when you're on the train, it's better to sit. they just don't care that they're preventing someone else from sitting.

It drives me crazy. Inspired by "Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train," I've even considered creating a Tumblr called "Bags That Need a Seat More Than You Do," but that's a project for a later time.

Sometimes I just want to ask these people, what the fuck? What sort of entitled person thinks that their own comfort is all that matters?

One seat snatcher has answered that question in an article in Salon meant to be about racist white people that turned out instead to be about the writer's own narcissistic selfishness.,

The article, '“Listen when I talk to you!”: How white entitlement marred my trip to a Ferguson teach-in.', by Brittney Cooper, begins thusly:

On Friday, I was on the train to New York to do a teach-in on Ferguson at NYU. Beats headphones on, lost in thought, peering out the window, I suddenly saw a white hand shoving my work carry-on toward me. Startled, I looked up to see the hand belonged to a white guy, who was haphazardly handling my open bag, with my laptop perched just inside to make space for himself on the seat next to me.
So, a woman sits down on a train, puts her bag next to her, puts on headphones and stares out the window.

In an empty train, I will put a bag on the seat next to me, but if I do that, I constantly monitor the train to make sure it's not getting full. If the train starts to fill up, I put my bag on the floor, or my lap, because I don't want to be an asshole. If I'm wearing my bulky winter coat, I pull it close around me so it doesn't block the other seats. I have bad feet, I have bad knees; I know how important a seat is.

Cooper acknowledges that the train was full, and says she understands why someone would want to sit. But she objects to someone picking up her bag after failing to get her attention. She says he should have tried harder to get that attention, although if she thought moving her bag was a sign of white male privilege, it's hard to believe that a tap on the shoulder or a white hand waved between her eyes and the window would have not have set her off as well.

What she never acknowledges in the article is that she had no right to take up an extra seat. No, "yes, I was in the wrong to take an extra seat on a crowded train, but it is inexcusable to grab someone's bag." Because it really is an asshole move to grab someone's bag; in spite of my bad feet I would never do that.

Cooper seems very angry that a white man did this, but it's hard to believe she would have been that much happier if a black man had grabbed her bag, or a pregnant white lady, or an elderly Korean. And that could have happened; I think we all know that pushy intrusiveness is not limited to any one race.

That's the fascinating thing about assholes; they will unselfconsciously tell you what assholes they are because they feel completely justified in all their asshole behavior. I'm sure that white guy would be willing to sit down and write an article about how he had to grab some stranger's bag and move it with the some obliviousness to his breach of social norms. Rather than being an article about white entitlement, this is simply an article about two entitled assholes facing off.

Most people in the comments section reacted as I have, taking her to task for her own bad behavior. But there is the occasional comment that says, "white people just don't get it." This is a pretty common statement when discussing racism, and a true one. White people don't know what it's like to live in a society where they are considered the other, the ones to be mistrusted and watched out for. We didn't grow up in a society where a "flesh-colored" band-aid is off-white, where the white guy is the television detective and the black guy is the street-wise junkie, where a preponderance of black faces in a neighborhood makes it "bad." We totally don't understand the black experience.

But what does that have to do with being a jerk? Does it mean black people get a pass for being assholes? Is that part of reparations?

An asshole is an asshole. It is condescending to say we are not going to hold Brittney Cooper to account because she's black and upset about Ferguson. It is patronizing to say, "well, she's black,
she has a right to be an ass," and unfair to all the polite people of all races who show consideration for their fellow humans.

When that guy grabbed her bag she had a choice. She could think about how her inconsiderate behavior created a situation, or she could decide that the real problem was racism. She chose the latter, and that tells me a lot about the sort of person who lets you stand so their bag can sit.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Trankey Do Transformation: How Hard Could It Be to Redub a Two-Minute Dance Video?

This is a long and detailed explanation of the process by which I re-dubbed and extended the Spirit Moves Trankey Do video. As with the video itself, it is possible that this is interesting to no one except me. The video can be viewed here.

Context: An Overview of Spirit Moves

In the 1930s, a German Immigrant dancer named Mura Dehn discovered the Savoy Ballroom, inspiring her to spend decades documenting Jazz Dance. The result is the five-hour documentary Spirit Moves.

If you watch the chunks of Spirit Moves on youtube, you'll notice that the music never quite matches the movement. Recording sound and video was not as simple as it is now, and it appears Dehn simply recorded the dance and dubbed the music in later.

One of the things Dehn captured was the Trankey Do (referred to as the "Trunky Doo" in a Spirit Moves title card, one of many alternate spellings; Wikipedia says it's Tranky Doo, for what that's worth.)

The Beginnings: Learning a Dance from Videos, and a Bright Idea

A few weeks ago, I decided I would teach myself the Trankey Do. There are a number of youtube videos where the steps are broken down and other videos that show it performed. The steps themselves are listed on Wikipedia and LindyWiki.

Everyone seems to do the routine a little differently, so I figured I'd go to the earliest recorded version in Spirit Moves, featuring Al Minns, Leon James, and Pepsi Bethel. (Pepsi is generally described as the routine's choreographer, although Frankie Manning's long-time girlfriend Judy Pritchett - who spells it Trankey Do - says it was Frankie's creation.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't dance along to the Pepsi video because the song dubbed in - The Dipsy Doodle - was one beat off. The first move, Fall off the log, traditionally starts on 8, but it was dubbed to start on 1. It felt wrong when I tried to dance along.

I decided to redub the sound to match the dance. I figured it would be easy.

A Simple Tweak: The Right Music on the Right Beat

Because of the Spirit Moves video, dancers nowadays usually do the routine to the Dipsy Doodle, but according to wikipedia and other sources it was originally danced to Erskine Hawkins' Tuxedo Junction. I figured as long as I was changing the soundtrack, I might as well be authentic.

Hawkin's version of Tuxedo Junction on youtube was too slow for the  video, so I edited them together with Vegas Pro 12, which allowed me to speed up the music. I got the speed so it matched the first few eights fairly perfectly and got the opening kick on the 8 where it belonged. I called it a success and uploaded it to youtube.

There was something strange though. While the first part of the video was close to other versions, I found that there were places where the dancers were not doing what was done in the instructional videos; for example, they were doing the knee slap on 7 instead of 8. I assumed that over the years the routine had been altered somewhat, but eventually I realized what the real issue was.

Getting Ambitious: Completing the Routine

The Spirit Moves video does not show the complete Trankey Do, fading out around the Paddles. I found a couple more old Trankey Do videos on youtube. One has only the first third of the routine, but the other, which was danced over the end credits of some old TV show, has Al Minns and Leon James doing the whole thing very fast. The quality is terrible and a big chunk shows Al and Leon in the distance behind the band, but the part missing from the Spirit Moves video is clearly filmed in spite of the credit text. I took that video and slowed it down to match the music. Then I synced it up so the Droop Boogies matched between the two videos and I dissolved there from one to the other.

When I danced along, I realized there was a bit missing from the end - there were only two shouts, instead of four, so I repeated the first shout a couple of times to fill out that section. Then I put it up on youtube, and since you can't replace youtube videos with new versions, I put a link in the first video pointing to this "better" one.

The Realization: This Isn't Right. At All.

I could now dance along to an authentic old school video of the entire Trankey Do routine. But as I did, I found there were some places where the second half seemed out of sync. I edited it again. I felt like there might be a difference between the Spirit Moves and TV Credits versions regarding where the Boogie Drops fell, and put them a couple of beats apart. I uploaded that version, then realized that if I compared the TV credits version with what I'd done, Al and Leon were on different beats entirely. I needed to start again.

At this point I decided to make a basic assumption; regardless of how the routine might have changed over the years, Al Minns and Leon James would be doing the same routine on TV that they did for Mura Dehn. Therefore, both routines should have the Eagle Slide happen on the same count in the same place in the music, and my goal was to make that happen in my video.

But while Al and Leon kicked on 8 on TV, Pepsi was kicking on 2, even though he synced up beautifully in the beginning of the video. So I began to look very carefully at where things went off.

First, there's a cutaway during the second of the Apple Jacks, and I realized that when the video goes back to a long shot, things are no longer in sync. I cut the video there and slid it forward a few tenths of a second until it matched, then stretched the cutaway, which doesn't really sync up well anyway, so it looked fairly seamless.

But that wasn't enough. It seemed as though the dancers were no longer dancing at the same speed. Did the cutaway represent a transition between two different takes?

I tried changing the speed of the dancers, and it got better, but it was still off.

The Realization: I Have Embarked on a Fool's Errand

Then I began to think about the music, and I realized I had been making the foolish assumption that Erskine and the dancers were both keeping the beat with machine-like accuracy.

Was this likely? What were the dancers listening to anyway? A 78 record? A friend with a harmonica?

I got a metronome and checked its beat against Hawkins' song, and sure enough, there is no steady beat that will consistently match that song. It speeds up and slows down, varying by as much as 10 bpm. I found the same thing when comparing the soundless Spirit Moves video against that metronome.

I started watching the Spirit Moves without sound, just counting the steps, and going by the number of steps while ignoring the music, the Eagle Slide appeared to happen on 8. But it wasn't working with the music. For some reason, the dancers rush right before that Eagle Slide, as though that guy with a harmonica sped up or skipped a note and the dancers just kept with him.

At this point I decided to do something extreme. If I counted the dance (as I was editing, I was counting everything outloud), the Crazy Legs after the jump starts on 1. There was no way to make that happen with minor speed shifts. I made a cut in the middle of the jump and slid the whole thing over around half a second, leaving a moment of blank video in its place. Now everything was where it should be - more or less.

I needed to get the TV credits part in better shape. At least here I had the original music as a guide to when they did what step, but once again, beats weren't accurate, and I had to fiddle with some chunks to get things synced up. Not perfectly synced , but enough so that I could dance along without getting totally thrown off.

While I had previously been uploading a new version to youtube every time I completed one, this time I decided to spend some time dancing along with this one to make sure that I finally had what I wanted. This was good, because I kept thinking of further tweaks.

First off, I realized I shouldn't leave Pepsi hanging in the air for 4 beats. I put the jump back together and took a clip of the landing and stretched it out so that Pepsi is simply crouched and waiting for a while. Later I decided it would be better to slow down the section before the jump a little so I didn't have to pad the pause as long, although this created an obvious slow motion quality to the jump.

The jump into the Crazy Legs was still an issue, because I couldn't jump that slow. Studying the video some more, I concluded that it would make sense if he jumped so that he landed on 5 (without the padding he would land on 3 in my edit), then jumped into the squat on 7. I moved thing around until he was making a very slow jump turn on 3 and 4. It was still unrealistic, and it seemed more likely he would start the jump after the 3.  I stretched the first three beats so that instead of putting his foot down on 2 before the jump it doesn't come down until 3. That seemed to make sense, looked more-or-less right, and I could dance along.


And That's It ... I Hope

At this point the Spirit Moves video was as close as I thought I could get it. Oh, I could get it closer if I were to break the video into tiny pieces and stretch and contract each of them to perfectly match the music, and every time I see something that's a little off I'm tempted to move it into place, but I've already sunk hours and hours into this "simple" project and I just can't take much more. It also occurred to me that it might have made more sense - since my focus was on the dance - to edit the music to fit the dance rather than vice versa, but I'll leave that experiment to someone else.

Was it worth it? Perhaps. Breaking the dance down so finely, and doing the steps on the right beat and on the wrong beat (I still think the knee slaps on 7 works really well) means I have an unusually strong sense of how Trankey Do is constructed. But if I knew it was going to take the five or six hours I spent on video editing rather than expected half hour, this video would not exist.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

explaining the explicable: why white people shouldn't wear blackface

On facebook, a friend posted an amusing flowchart called Should I Wear Blackface on Halloween? This flowchart is a response to yet another year of pictures of people wearing blackface at parties.


Another friend, one who is smart and generally well informed, wrote to say, what’s the big deal with blackface? Suprisingly, he was not familiar with the history of minstrel shows, and seemingly unfamiliar with the controversy in general. And while yet another facebook friend’s reply was basically to say, “don’t do it, just don’t, because you shouldn’t,” that didn’t seem to completely satisfy him.

For a lot of people, the rule that white people shouldn’t wear blackface is self-evident, but actually, very little in life is self-evident. Self-evident is when an alien came from a distant galaxy and you told him something people do and he says, oh, that makes total sense. And I don’t think an alien would instantly grasp the blackface issue, because it’s contextual and historical.

So I wanted to try and answer the question. In fact, I’m going to give three answers: the answer that’s generally given, a consideration of what blackface implies, and finally a personal, why-I-wouldn’t-do-it-answer. I was originally just going to post an answer in the facebook thread, but then another friend posted his contention that it’s okay to use makeup to match skin tone for the sake of veracity, and since my middle answer is concerned with that, I figured I’d put this on my blog and tag them both.

My Three Answers to Why Shouldn't White People Wear Blackface

Most of the objection to blackface are contextual, of course. It started out in the minstrel shows, and in early Hollywood, blacks (and Asians, and Native Americans) were generally played (and defamed) by whites. Even some black stars were required to darken themselves, like Lena Horne, whose fair skin was considered too confusing for white audiences who wanted their blacks black and their whites white.

But I feel there’s a further issue with blackface. Consider, for a moment, the reverse; black people in whiteface. It’s not especially common, and I have a theory as to why. It’s because black people aren’t defining characters entirely according to their skin tone. If a black person dresses as Superman, are they going to put on white make-up, thus making an explicit statement that Superman is a white guy and black people can’t be Super Men? I doubt it. I think most black people who think nothing of dressing as a leprechaun or a Viking or a Pilgrim without whitening their skin. Darkening your skin to reflect a character’s skin is, ultimately, a way of saying that race is a defining characteristic of who we are. Even that it's the defining characteristic.

So the question becomes, is it really necessary to have dark skin to make the costume right? If I want to be, say, Martin Luther King, should I wear blackface?

Well, no, both because that would be the ultimate slap in the face for African Americans and because even with blackface, no one would know who I was. White guy in a suit or black guy in a suit, I’m still going to have to explain my costume to everyone, which to my mind makes it a kind of crappy costume. On the other hand, if I go as Flava Flav, do I need dark skin? If I wear a giant freaking clock around my neck, is anyone not going to know who I am if I’ve got white skin?

Would I look more like Flava with darkened skin? First, no, because we look nothing alike, and second, who cares, because I’m not an actor playing him in a movie. It’s a freaking Halloween costume. It’s supposed to be fun and clever and entertain other people; it’s not supposed to allow me to walk into his house and have his wife say, “Honey, so glad you’re home.”

And yes, it does seem like a double standard that no one would make a big deal out of if someone wore whiteface. But the reason no one would make a big deal out of it is white people don’t care. There’s no history of us being denigrated by whiteface. We would all just go, hey, cool makeup.

I wrote a while back about the oddity of murder jokes being far more acceptable in modern society than rape jokes. I don’t make rape jokes, and I don’t wear blackface, because right now, these are both open wounds in our society, and why would I want to pick at an open wound? Blackface pisses off a lot of black people. I’m not black, so I’m not going to say, dude, get over it, grow a sense of humor.

I’m not saying you should never offend people. Lenny Bruce used offending people to great effect. I’m saying offending people shouldn’t be done cavalierly. If you’re a satirist who has a statement to make involving blackface, I could see that. If you’re a drunk guy at a costume party dressed like Little Black Sambo, you’re just an asshole.


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Boehner Vows to Continue Mouthing Hollow Statements for Duration of Shutdown

In a press conference, Speaker John A. Boehner vowed to continue a series of vague, hallow sound bites until the budget crisis gripping the nation is resolved.

“The American people don’t want their government shut down, and neither do I. All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion. We ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country. “Our goal here was to bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare.”

“I could do this all day,” Boehner added.


While the speaker is convinced that a steady stream of vague platitudes will lead to a budget settlement on Republican terms, a confident President Obama, noting that a majority of the American public blames Republicans for the shutdown, has doubled down on his rhetoric, saying yesterday that he would make the GOP “drop to its knees and squeal like a pig.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

what articles about what the Miley Cyrus VMA performance says about our culture say about our culture

Miley Cyrus was on the 2013 VMAs, and stuck her tongue out, and wore very few clothes, and did something called "twerking" that is apparently a dance move that is so much a part of black culture that Miley's doing it, and having black background dancers, makes her a racist. And her desperate need for attention makes her a slut, and maybe crazy, and saying that is slut shaming, and part of the way society oppresses women's expression of their sexuality. And everyone - everyone - is horrified by Cyrus's performance, so horrified for so many different reasons that they have to watch it over and over again and write articles about it that link to the video of her dancing so other people can see it and be horrified and write their own articles about how terrible Cyrus is and how she made a horrible mistake by doing something that has upped her fame level by about 1000% (at last when I hear the names Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift I'll be able to remember which one is which).

Is the Miley Cyrus performance the most egregious overuse of sex in a song in the history of mankind? Is it the most horrific example of naked racism? Is it something shocking that we will never forget?

I'm going to say no.

So why is this getting so much attention? Well, first off, it was on the VMAs, which apparently a lot of people watch (honestly, my only objection to the Cyrus performance is it made me pay attention to the VMAs for once). It was a little (purposefully) over the top, and people started talking about it.

And then bloggers and columnists all over the world said, oh my god if I wrote something about this that puts a spin on it then I'll get a billion blog hits. And when they got their billion hits, more people wrote about it.

And that's it. The truth is, the Miley Cyrus performance is not especially important, except for being a textbook example of how the blogosphere, and modern journalism, which now takes its cue from the blogosphere, operates. Writers are sharks, and when first blood is spilled, there is a feeding frenzy.

It is understandable. Even though I am not linking to the video, because if you haven't seen it already it's probably a conscious decision, just the fact that this article contains the phrases "miley cyrus" and "VMAs" means it will probably get more hits than anything I've written since I wrote an article about Kate Beckinsale's breasts. That still won't be a lot of hits - maybe a few hundred over the next year - but for serious bloggers, a popular article about the thing everyone is talking about can get them as much attention - almost - as Miley.

Miley Cyrus tried to get attention, and succeeded, and while her performance is being lambasted everywhere, a whole slew of singers are already trying to figure out how they can get this much attention. And when they figure it out, expect much joyous wailing and gnashing of teeth.