Musings: Comedy as a Teachable Tool

Musings: Comedy as a Teachable Tool

 

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Is there a line that is crossed when comedians act as “news sources”?  (Washington Post)

Comedy can be a teachable tool.

Bad and vile comedy can cross a line. Good comedy can teach us about something we haven’t thought of.

There are two news pieces that are good cases about how comedy can teach us in different ways.

The brilliant Daniel P. Finney of the Des Moines Register writes a thought-provoking piece about comedians dipping their feet into politics. You can offer a political opinion, but there are consequences when it crosses the line.

It is a stark reminder to me about the role of journalists. Unfortunately, there are a cadre of journalists who continue to blur the lines between “reporting” and “commentary”.

The takeaway quotes are below from Finney’s column:

“When you stake out the moral high ground and say you are the party of inclusion and diversity and the other party is not, you’d better make damn sure the people who are carrying your message are morally sound,” said Rachel Caufield, an associate professor of political science at Drake University who has taught a course on political satire. “Racial slurs and faked decapitated heads are not the way the left are going to reach the center.”

Whether we like it or not — and for the record, I don’t — comedians are now treated as thought leaders and news sources in this country.

And the fake decapitated heads and racial slurs do more than just besmirch the images of a couple of rogue comedians. They undermine the message of liberals and Democrats. 

Daniel P. Finney, “Comedy is killing the political left”, Des Moines Register, June 7, 2017 

The statement underlined is the various reasons I am a small minority of viewers who chose not to watch individuals like Jon Stewart, Colbert, Trevor Noah and others. They are comedians who are treated as “news sources” because viewers do not trust the mainstream media.

Is it wrong to assume that these are the same viewers who feel obligated to “support” the mainstream media that is being “attacked” by the current presidential administration?

Do these viewers support the media and at the same time loathe them enough to get their “news” from Samantha Bee and have her affirm their beliefs?

It is clear that viewers want “affirmation” for their beliefs, not information that they need. That comment comes from (surprise!) noted hot sports take aficionado Colin Cowherd., who has been saying this for a decade.

I need information to learn what is going on. I can form my own opinions privately, without the help of a comedian. Especially unfunny comedians like Maher who has become increasingly bitter and acrimonious because he isn’t the “go-to” guy that Colbert, and Stewart before him, was.


The recent arrest of Reality Winner, or whoever her real name is, for allegedly removing classified information from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet, is  starting to pick up some traction. Attorney Mark Zaid, who represents whistleblowers, said that Winner isn’t a whistleblower. She had grudge against the President and decided to use her grudge as retaliation.

I don’t know much about this story, so I’ll refrain from forming an opinion until I understand more about what took place.

Which leads to this question….

“Do government workers believe in the policies that their elected leaders come up with?”

Government employees are hired to carry out government policies. That should be a simple task, but it’s not. With any change in leadership, policies can fluctuate and change quickly. That puts government employees, regardless of  in a conundrum.

Yes Minister
“Yes Minister” is a great lesson in how government operates, for good and evil. I highly recommend this series. I prefer it over “House of Cards”. Don’t @ me. (Den of Geeks)

This question popped into my head while watching one of my favorite television shows, “Yes Minister”. “Yes Minister” (and its successor “Yes Prime Minister”) details the inner workings of the British government and the comedic attempts by Sir Humphrey Appleby and the Civil Service to thwart (Government) Minister Jim Hacker’s pursuit to enact policies for the public good.

In the episode, “The Whisky Priest”, Hacker is alerted about an illegal sale of arms to an Italian terrorist group. He plans to tell the Prime Minister, but Sir Humphrey attempts to discourage and obstruct Hacker from telling the Prime Minister.

In the pivotal scene in between Humphrey, Hacker, and Bernard Woolley, Humphrey’s dialogue about what his job is and what the role of government paints a picture of what government workers go through on a daily basis when elected officials try to create policies that goes one way or another and then expect government employees to believe in it and enforce those policies.

Sir Humphrey: My job is to carry out government policy.

Hacker: Even if you think it’s wrong?

Sir Humphrey: Well, almost all government policy is wrong, but… frightfully well carried out.

“Yes Minister” unveils several questions about how, and who, actually runs the government.

Do the elected officials run the country or is it the bureaucrats who dictate the daily operations on Capitol Hill, state capitals, and in City Hall?  If citizens do not trust politicians, should we trust bureaucrats and government workers, who clearly has more knowledge about what goes on?

When you finish “The Whisky Priest”, I encourage you to watch several more episodes and ask yourself “Do we really know what is going on in our governments, and do we care to know?”

A Missing “Core”

A Missing “Core”

Two stories in the Des Moines Register recently caught my eye, and it tied into a piece 2014 piece I wrote.

The Brookings Institute published a report on metro areas that has seen economic recovery after the recession. Des Moines was one of the cities that enjoy “inclusive” economic growth that benefited a diverse range of the region’s population, however, Brookings also indicated that also the greater Des Moines economy is leaving some workers behind, namely poor workers.

The second story was a release of a study from The Directors Council, a local non-profit group, on the widening racial disparities in Polk County and Des Moines.

In October 2014, I wrote on how Des Moines is so progressive in many areas and yet ignoring the African-American community within the urban core. Surprisingly, some groups are finally getting around to addressing these issues. The urban core is poor and most of the citizens of this core are African-Americans.

There are a two questions that I have…

  1. I have never heard of this The Directors Council or the affiliations underneath TDC. I had lived in the Des Moines area for 13 years and not one person of color, or anyone else, has mentioned this group to me. For the record, I am African-American. I have been seeking organizations like these as a way to connect to possible mentors or to establish new networks.
  2. What was this group doing when Ako Abdul-Samad told the National Journal in 2014 about his frustration on how Des Moines has viewed and treated its predominantly black urban core?

There is a lack of African-Americans in (political) leadership, in arts and nonprofits, and in the Des Moines business community. The only time I hear of a prominent African-American in Des Moines, that person is in the business world.

I hear of their names, but I never see them in person.

They must be hard to track down. It’s better to not be seen than to have people recognize you, that is my guess. And no, attending the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s diversity receptions do not count as an official appearance.

When I look back at my experience living and working in Des Moines. I continue to question the willingness of Des Moines to address actual problems regarding the socioeconomic disparities within its city borders, without slapping paint on it and say “everything’s fine”.

The new wave of “gentrification” in the downtown area, unemployment rates for African-Americans, safety for those who live in poorer neighborhoods, and food scarcity with regards to affordability to buy fresh food over cheap junk food are vital topics for the urban core, beyond the common topics of race, unemployment, and economics.

I don’t have an answer to how all of this can be fixed. I’m no policy wonk. I do know that in order for Des Moines (not just city leaders, but business leaders especially) to be actively “inclusive”, they need to do a better job of addressing what it means to be “inclusive” and effectively supporting groups and individuals who are disadvantaged from a socioeconmic standpoint.

Beating The Dead Horse Over And Over

Beating The Dead Horse Over And Over

Unless you have been hibernating since fall, the only thing that America and the world can’t stop tweeting, Facebooking, or talking about is the guy who is in charge.

I’ll save you the agony of not mentioning the name. I don’t really care what you think, but there is something to what content marketer and author Christoph Trappe tweeted above.

You can keep telling the same story, but that story will stop resonating to people. You can spin it, recycle it, and add more to it. But at this point, it’s starting to fall on deaf ears.

What is striking is that once people have a narrative that everyone else has or are using, the less relevant it becomes.

When you keep beating the dead horse into the ground, there isn’t anything else to say or do.

Time to get a new narrative.

It becomes an echo chamber that no one wants to leave. We don’t want to give up the narrative.

Let me save you wasting your time with this:  you’re telling me something already know. Tell me a different story. I’m tired of hearing the same thing day in and day out. It has lost its relevance. I’ve moved on.

I’ll leave you with this from Tully Corcoran from The Big Lead. The crux is that everyone is saying the same thing, but we’re not saying much either about what we already know.

Inside the echo chamber, that is. Outside of it, these words barely even register as interesting, much less persuasive.

The rub is not that (name redacted) voters haven’t realized (name redacted) is cynical and selfish. They know that. Every American has known that for 30 years. The rub is that the temperament of the president is not among their political priorities. Neither Gregg Popovich nor anybody else is going to convince them it should be by grumbling it into a set of microphones just so he doesn’t have to answer another stupid question about momentum, no matter how gold the halo the sports media paints over his silver head.

Popovich is shouting into an echo chamber, and he’s not even shouting anything interesting. The president is a jerk. We get it. Now what?  

We get it. Now what? The story is old.

You’re not going to change anyone’s mind about it.

Tell me something new, or stop telling the narrative. That ship sailed months ago.

And I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. You can keep that hot garbage in your pocket.

Fan(atical) Behavior

Fan(atical) Behavior

Fans, for the most part, are who they are: fanatics about their sporting teams, entertainers, and whatever they are in support of.

It also produces an unsavory group of “habitual line steppers” to quote the late comedian Charlie Murphy.

Monday night was no different. After a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones mentioned that he heard racial epithets and one fan hurled a bag of peanuts towards him.

The easy narrative, and the usual one, is to throw a blanket on the city of Boston, given the ugly past the city has dealt with in regards to racial issues.

It’s very easy for fans outside of cities like Boston and Philadelphia to wag a scornful finger at the behavior of those fans.

The problem is…there are fans in every city that are boorish, misogynistic, racist, and rotten. To point a finger at one group and talk about how bad they are shouldn’t dismiss the fact that your fan base, or yourself, is guilty of doing the same.

That last sentence was hammered home by ESPN’s Bomani Jones during his drive-time national radio show today. This isn’t a “Boston” problem. This is an “American” problem: fans who feel they can say and do whatever at games, simply because they paid to watch it.

What a stupid concept. Illogical, ignorant, and baseless.

And, don’t give me the “I pay their (players’) salaries, I can do what I want.”

You don’t pay their salaries. The owner pay their salaries. You (fans) pay for the ticket handlers at the gate, the hot dog vendor, and the maintenance crew who picks up behind us after games. When fans misbehaves, we are embarrassing those individuals, not just players and the teams.

No popcorn vendor wants to lose business or (their jobs) behind a fan acting like a drunken sloth who has no filter.

This may sound hollow and clichéd, but it bears repeating: fans, stop being assholes. If you want to boo, just boo. If your team stinks out loud, no one’s making you stay and watch it. Next time, someone will pull out their iPhones and the world will see just how bad you are.

For the love of decency, act like humans, not cavemen at events.

“I’ll Give You a ‘Trigger Warning’ About Uber…” and other observations

“I’ll Give You a ‘Trigger Warning’ About Uber…” and other observations

A few observations this week…

  • The NFL Draft is this week (Thursday night). I don’t know when it happened, but I stopped caring about the incessant draft over-analysis and speculation of who is going to where. I don’t know which player will be drafted and what draft order they will be selected in. I only care about one thing…will the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets find a way to screw it up again?

 

  • The biggest, and most important, news story in Iowa isn’t Chris Soules (not even close). It’s the Jane Meyer vs. University of Iowa civil suit case in Des Moines. Meyer is suing UI for discrimination. Meyer was a top assistant athletic director at Iowa. Meyer was reassigned in the athletic department. This took place after Meyer’s partner, Tracy Griesbaum, was fired as Iowa’s field hockey coach. You can follow the trial here from Des Moines Register’s reporter Grant Rodgers.

 

 

  • The topic of free speech on college campuses is one that is messy, but it needs to be had, regardless if many go out of their way to censor it. The same goes for sensitive and uncomfortable topics. Dayna Troisi on Bright (through Medium) pens a piece about how using “trigger warnings” to give students advance warnings about distressing topics are meaningless. (Side note: as much as many try to block out the discussion of topics and individuals who do not reflect your views, you need to hear them. You don’t have to agree with them. That’s not the point. The point is individuals have viewpoints that are favorable or unfavorable).

 

Unpopular opinion: the “shutting down” of people on social media. That term is stupid. If you oppose a view, you oppose a view. It would be beneficial for sites like Twitter and Mashable to stop using “shutting down”, and for people to stop trying to act like they’re doing a public good in attacking back.

 

  • Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to reconsider public transportation, taxis, or someone you know to give you a ride. At the rate that Uber is going, I doubt if Lyft and other entities can withstand such backlash. (Yes I linked a Mashable story. I’m guilty of using clickbait).

 

Judging others is easy. It puts them in a category that makes us comfortable, it gives us excuses to either do or not do something with or to a person, it helps us convince ourselves we “understand” people better this way. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking of truth. It asks you to listen, learn and think, rather than making an instant judgment.

The Longer I Look Online, The Worst I Feel

The Longer I Look Online, The Worst I Feel

I have been listening to “The Hidden Brain”, a podcast produced by NPR (National Public Radio). There are many thoughts and ideas I can take from these podcasts, but this week’s podcast was a startling, yet unsurprising, revelation.

The episode (#68), “Schadenfacebook”looks into how people react and feel when they use Facebook.

Does Facebook make us happier or sadder about our own lives, based on the Facebook posts of others? 

For the last two years, I have spent an inordinate time online. When you are homebound by a chronic illness/disease, and when you leave a city that you have spent the first part of your adulthood in, you pine for the established connections, the activities you were involved in, and an identity.

Most of my week are spent in dialysis (3 days/week multiply by 6 hours each visit = 18 hours a week). When I arrive home after treatment, I am physically and mentally drained. I am at home most of time, trying to recharge.

Before I was sick, if I got 6 hours of sleep in my bed, it was a miracle. I was doing something, or finding something to do: looking for work, volunteering, connecting with friends and acquaintances. I hated going home at the end of the day. It was a lonely feeling because I was returning to the reality of my “real” life as a struggling young professional without a compass to follow. My “online” and “social” life was my lifeline to be distracted from lamenting my own life and struggles.

As I spend time alone recuperating from dialysis, I check into Facebook to see what I missed. I’ll post something quirky, or informative (like the podcast in question), but I spend most of the time reading and seeing how the “grass is greener on the other side.”

facebook-thumbs-up

I have fallen into the all-too-common trap of comparing my life to those who appear to be living better lives online.

One acquaintance and his girlfriend spending a weekend in Europe, a party being planned at the local art center where I used to volunteer at. One friend on a business trip. Another one moving into a new house. Several are trying out the new restaurant on Ingersoll Avenue, Des Moines popular thoroughfare west of downtown.

When I read and see my friends’ posts, I don’t think about how I have survived major life challenges over the last ten years (unemployment, kidney failure, depression). I only think about the the activities and life events that I haven’t, or may never, achieve because everyone else is living or enjoying those moments.

The fear of missing out, or FOMO, as it is called today.

Trapped behind a keyboard, worrying about how life is passing us by through images and words.

The fear I am experiencing is that the people I knew in Des Moines have moved on. They have moved on with their own lives, which is what we should do, but they have moved on from me. I’m not there. What ever accomplishments or projects I have done is forgotten. If I’m not there, would anyone notice? Would they miss me?

Man walking alone

Studies show that the more we spend on Facebook, the less positive we feel about ourselves and our lives, the more depressed we are, and in turn, we post more on Facebook to receive validation from others.

I have stayed away from Facebook on occasion for various reasons (tragedies, politics, needing a mental break). However, I have realized that I go to Facebook to “feel good” because on most days, I’m not feeling so good about my status.

I have some friends who are on Facebook, but they do not post, comment, or take pictures everyday, or every week. In fact, some do not post for several weeks at a time.

Reframing how I view and use Facebook is something I need to consider . I need to learn that I do not need to post and publicize things on Facebook and Twitter. Do I need people to know what I think, what I do, and am I making people feel “bad” about themselves with the pictures and the posts I put up on sites like Facebook?

Life is not always pastels, bright colors, or syntax errors. Then again, that’s what we go to Facebook for…to feel better about ourselves.

 

A Name Change (I’m finally figuring out how not to confuse people with different titles and webpages)

A Name Change (I’m finally figuring out how not to confuse people with different titles and webpages)
IMG_1960
“A pleasant good day to you where ever you may be. We have an announcement to make. Please look to the left of my picture to read it.”

I created this blog in the summer of 2009. I sat on it for a few months before I muster enough nerves to write. I didn’t realize that I had a talent for writing until later in life (late 20’s). Honestly, I wished I knew that when I was younger. It would have helped me communicate better since I am a stutterer. If I couldn’t get the words to come out of my  mouth smoothly, I would struggle and get frustrated.

I took a chance and signed up for a blog contest through Juice during its early stages, and ended up being a community blogger. I learned pretty fast that content and the ability to write was paramount to be relevant.

My goals were not lofty. If one person read anything I wrote, it was a small victory. I didn’t need anyone to agree with what I wrote. I wanted people to read what is being written, think about it, and then ask themselves “how do this apply to me and my surroundings?”

The one problem about starting a stand alone blog, for me, wasn’t the content or what I was going to write.

The problem was coming up with a title.

My original title was going to be “Civility Is Not Dead”. I strongly felt at that time, and to this very day, that civility has been dumped for irrational juvenile behavior when it comes to talking about topics, serious or insignificant.

However, as I was building this blog site, I had a change of heart. My blog was not going to be about civility all of the time. I had other ideas and observations that I needed to flesh out. Hence, “The Convoluted Mind of a Single Man” was a better title as I was taking all information that I have read, listened, and stored in my complex mind. At first, it was a bit odd for someone to find this website due to a title which was different than a website address.

Since September 21, 2009, I’ve written over 400 posts. There were more misses than successes, but many folks would say otherwise. I’m very hard on myself because I take writing a blog seriously. I am offering information and offering observations through the prism of my eyes. Tossing “hot takes” and writing things to get attention bothers me. So is lazy writing.

It is with that that I’m going to do something that I struggled with for eight years…

…retiring the title of “The Convoluted Mind of a Single Man”. I’m very sure that anyone who interacts with me knows that I am a complex single man living in the Midwest.

It’s time to use the title that I wanted to use in 2009, but was afraid of the pushback and the misinterpretation of what this blog would entail. When I view civility, I don’t view it as a sanctimonious high horse to admonish bad behavior. Hell, I’ve had my share of behaving badly. I wanted to point out the absurdity and foibles of how we view things on this planet. Most of it is in sarcastic and witty tone.

I felt it was a catchy enough title to get readers to stop and read what a schmuck like me is typing about.

“Civility Is Not Dead….Yet” will continue to be a cornucopia of observations of topics that I find to be interesting and worth exploring.

No, this is not a “come to Jesus” moment with respects to the current state of affairs. The current state of affairs have been a constant mess since the beginning of time.  Secondly, I have no interest in espousing our crazy unsynced social political economic infrastructure. I’ve written about that in the past. It’s just adding to the “noise” cycle.

I have other things to think and ponder, like what is it like to live with a stutter and two chronic illnesses. Unpopular opinions, pointing out absurdities in daily life, and highlighting the contradictions that makes us act and do weird things will always get my attention.

Going forward, “Civility Is Not Dead…Yet” is what we will go by. I will intermittently post, as I am battling my chronic illness.

As I said in my first blog, “I’m a wordy guy.  I promise not to bore you.”