Is your attitude a fantasy?

Some contrived bit of theater? “I’m this!” When you’re that? Dichotomies and schizophrenias. Jim said, “I’m doing well!” Julie didn’t believe him. Or did she? She loved life. Nate was great. “‘How much money did they have?’ “It’s not about money!” She thought.“It’s about love.” Nate hated that…everything. “Fuckin’ stupid fuckin’ people!” was an oft-heard refrain. But inside, let’s say it together, are you ready?… he cried. But he really did. So angry he cried. Or so sad he got mad. But which was right/Nate?
Who are you

All Hail the Essayist – Or Why News Skews and the Warlord [Name] Might Not be Such a Bad Guy

One thing I try to do (and often fail at) is get most of my information about important people, places, ideas and things from essayists; meaning, to me, writers who research more, take longer to consider, write in greater depth, and, generally, are less bent on convincing anyone of their particular opinion. That is not to say they are without opinion (and some great essays are very much drenched in opinion), but their opinions are, again, better researched, have more depth, and therefore generally more thoughtful. They also show an awareness and respect for opinions that don’t line up with theirs. I find that that sort of thoughtful approach generally leads to a better understanding of the depth and nuances of the subject about which they write.

Without even bothering to talk about the FOX News and MSNBC’s unashamedly biased silliness (a silliness that has it’s place, mind you, but it’s place is to entertain and not to inform), I think that, in general, news skews, and even when they are not trying to skew necessarily. It’s more a result of taking a tiny piece of a story – that which is news and so that which happened recently – and putting it out there all by itself. Even with the obligatory set-up and few paragraphs of background, the gist of the story then acts as a sort of soundbite that is ingested like a potato chip and often misconstrued as a balanced meal. Imagine a headline like “Warlord bombs tiny village – women and children among dead.” The first few paragraphs would be explanatory of exactly what happened – “Forces allied with the [Name], the [place] warlord, bombed a tiny village in [name], leaving [xx] people dead – among them [x] men and women, many of whom were elderly, and [x] children. The bombing took place during a battle the [other name] forces for…”

That is generally about as far as many of us will read, if in fact, we get beyond the headline at all. So we walk away with “Warlord is evil and [other name] forces are good.” Even if the reporting is accurate, and despite the fact that killing women and children (let alone any innocents) is certainly very, very wrong, and without my making up various scenarios where it might not be necessarily the wrongest wrong…coming to the conclusion that the  Warlord is evil might be quite far from the truth. But the news story did the best it could, and maybe buried down in the article, if it was long enough, we could find a bit more background to explain that.

Like the constant barrage of economic figures tossed our way – “the biggest drop in unemployment since 2008” – these sorts of news stories are but a tiny slice in time and provide absolutely no context. “But 2008 is only four years ago and our country is 235+ years old – our economy even older, how does the biggest drop in the last four mean anything whatsoever, beyond the fact that five years ago we had a bigger drop?” It’s like peeking through the blinds of a ballroom for three seconds and walking away thinking you have some idea of what took place that night at the ball.

To those who would argue, “I’m busy. I don’t have an hour to read an essay on that.” I would contend that if you skipped the news and saved that time up, you might find that you do have time enough to read the essay and gain a much better understanding of the subject. And you pick and choose. We are so inundated with news now that we sometimes feel like we need to know what’s going on everywhere. You can’t. So pick your battles. If you have strong opinions about something – focus there. If you’re of a serious political bent – know all sides of the argument inside and out. If you love American history or have family from from Eastern Europe and are concerned about what happens there – read essays on American History and/or Eastern Europe.

Obviously, I’m making this all sound rather easy and of course it’s not. A person needs to know where to find the essays, then get to know those who write on those subjects, then actually sit down and read them. And work went late, and the kids have homework and hockey, the lawn needs mowing, the in-laws are coming … so flipping on the television news, turning to your Google news (which is in a constant state of tailoring – deciding for you, thank you very much – the news stories you see) or glancing at the newspaper (if you are among the dwindling few who do), it seems is all we can pull off sometimes.

And yet, now, at a time when the complexity of our world seems to be expanding exponentially (or is that just a result of our internet-abled seeming awareness of absolutely everything?), our main source of information is the most simplistic imaginable – the 24-hour news station. The great dumbing down began in earnest in the last couple of decades and it’s taking hold. NBC News “In Depth”, I remember I timed some years back, was about four minutes long. In depth, indeed.

Focusing on essays rather than the general popular news outlets also allows you to miss out on all the news stories that we are bombarded with that really have no impact whatsoever on our lives – or most anyone else for that matter. “There’s Pink Slime in our Fast Food!” Wait a minute, fast food’s not healthy? “Snooki’s Pregnant!” Wait a minute, Snooki’s a girl?

And beyond that, grisly multiple murders are grisly and horrible, but if it happens a thousand miles away, beyond hearing about it, should I, or better yet, do I need to know more? Are the details relevant to me? Or are there better ways to spend my time than hearing about how “the gunman entered the building through a back door and went first up the stairs to the office of his former boss who was on the phone with his wife wearing a shirt with the company logo when the gunman opened fire and shot the 48-year-old father of two eleven times leaving behind a grisly scene of…”

There was a time when essayists were the bee’s knees for a larger share of the literate public, and the essay itself, considered one of the great forms of writing. And while among a small population, that may still be the case, essays have fallen out of favor for the general public. We modern folk like everything, information and learning included, to be quick, convenient and easy to chew – not unlike pink slime.

But there are always great essayists writing and we have oodles of them right now – and some of them decidedly hip! The late David Foster Wallace made much of his name with his book of essays, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” – which was great fun! I’m currently reading “Pulphead” by John Jeremiah Sullivan, and have gleaned a more intelligent and thoughtful understanding of Christian Rock (of which all I used to be able to say was – ha ha – it’s an oxymoron), reality tv, Michael Jackson and Constantine Rafinesque (Who? Exactly.). My Atlantic and Harper’s magazines arrive monthly and keep me in good essays throughout the years (the latter skewing pretty liberal; the former a bit more centrist).

So it’s not all smarty-pants whatsoever. Essays can be great fun!

But I still do contend that if you want to understand something in some depth, you need to approach and study it in some depth, and essays provide that opportunity while being entertaining in the hands of those who know what they’re doing. And they’re not as long as non-fiction books!

So all hail the essayists. Let’s make them rich and famous rather than Snooki and the mass murders, and make ourselves as informed as we are opinionated.

My Addiction to Fiction

I’ve always been somewhat embarrassed to say that I really don’t watch much television at all; not because it matters, really, other than the fact that both my brother and sister-in-law are executive producers in that industry. I guess I’ve just never wanted to come off like some holier-than-thou pinhead, but I really do prefer reading. Pinhead Alert!

It’s a weird sort-of guilt, but can certainly be chalked up to my regular Midwestern guy upbringing that basically states, “You’re not fancy. Don’t be a sissy. Shut up about yourself and fit in, lest your head be chopped off.”  Or something like that.

But a new article in the New York Times entitled “Your Brain on Fiction” might just be the proof I needed to prove I’m not holier-than-thou or thee or anyone else. It states basically that recent neuroscience shows that reading fiction engages the brain much more actively than watching television. I’ve always known that but haven’t been able to explain it beyond that which I’ve said a million times: “Any time we are subject to both sound and vision at the same time through the same medium, the brain has nothing to do but sit passively and take it in.”

Reading, on the other hand, forces you to fill in the blanks – to take the descriptions and build the image in your head; it’s much more active, and therefore, engaging and interesting, at least to the likes of me. The article shows that the areas of the brain the, say, recognize movement, smell or texture fire up when reading words that effectively communicate actions, scents or tactile feelings. And, more interestingly, that does not happen with television.

So I am no sissy. I just need more stimulation. Nothing wrong with that, at least with entertainment. It makes me wonder, though, if avid readers of fiction are more apt to be addicts. I’ll leave it up to the neuroscientists to figure that out.

Nina in the Bright Light of Day

See! This is what we're talking about! Jammies, that semi-retarded star, good stuff!

Oh, no, Nina, say it ain’t so! After climbing into bed last night with the relaxing nocturnal Nina from Sprout’s Goodnight Show, the soft purring nighttime assurances, the quiet smiles, the come-hither seduction exuding from her every evening pore, I woke this morning to a veritable horse’s head in my sodden bed. Nina! On the Sprout Morning Show!

Not unlike waking drunk next to a barely remembered one-night stand yanked from a bar stool at 2 AM and drug home in a fit of whatever happens happens, stinking of booze and soda pop, make-up smeared over the pillow and in some sort of creepy jackson pollockian face, there was Nina, filled with grating morning glee! Her voice an octave higher and 25 decibels louder. No! Get out of my house! Get out of our shared imaginary bed, you shape-shifter! You siren whose rocky shores come to light only as the sun rises, but, oh, oh, oh, much too late my trusting soul!

Ugh! There she is feigning to duck from the fake raindrops and hamming and hugging her shoulders for the cold ear-muffed phony sun; soon she’ll be high-fiving Chica and spewing inanities like “You go, girl!”

In the evening, she’d have smiled at the drops of rain and simply and elegantly wrapped herself in a warm subdued shawl and assured us all that it would be all right as we drifted off to sleep together to the rhythm of the raindrops on the sturdy rooftop.

But alas, the veil has been lifted, the make-up scraped off, and this lady of the evening walks unsteadily in the bright light of day. The decent people turn their heads; others gawk. Who is she? Why is she here? For shame she is here! For shame!

Hey! I wonder what’s going on over at Nick, Jr.!

Roary’s Marsha: A Trojan by Any Other Name

Okay, so what on earth is happening to this country? We fought hard and valiantly to rid ourselves of the British menace, sure we had help from the Frenchies, but they were tougher then, less, you know, ‘fey’, and we even had the Boston Tea Party, not to be confused with this chubby, cheap, self-righteous Tea Party that has spread across this country like some sick unstoppable cold sore! Masterminded, mind you, by Rupert Murdoch, a freaking Englishman! But really! Now we have those untrustworthy Brits, known for what? Crap food! That’s right! They’ve always been known for crap food! These two very well-known British “chefs” (rich, that bit) – Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver (Jamie is a girl’s name, by the way) – telling us how to cook! What on God’s Great Green Earth is going on here?

Look out, Roary, she's right behind you!!

I can tell you. They’re a Trojan horse! That’s what they are! Add in Simon Cowell and that dude who was a judge on America’s Got Talent – Whoa! What? Who’s got talent? “America’s” got Talent! And who’s judging it? – not one (the pudding-faced dude with his own talk show), but two (the Yoko Ono of Black Sabbath herself, the minder of the muddling, mumbling Iron Man, Sharon Osborne)! Oh, no, that ain’t right.

And beyond all of this, mind you, we have another: Marsha from Roary the Racing Car! Roary the Racing Car is an American Original! (Produced in the UK.) And populated with good Americans who love America and race-cars! And they live in America! You can tell because everyone else seems to be American – Big Chris certainly is (look at his gut and he loves Elvis!), so’s that Rabbit, and that farmer dude who lives nearby, and of course, Roary! Roary is definitely American! Roary? That’s a truly American name (like Steve or Marsha! No! Not Marsha! Jan! Or Cindy!) – but that boss might be Italian! Well, he acts Italian! He’s got a gold tooth! What’s more Italian than that!? So what’s this Marsha doing there? Huh? She’s no American and she’s no race car mechanic! No, sir, she’s something else entirely. She’s English! British! And in cahoots with Gordon, Jamie, pudding-face and Yoko Osborne, that’s what she is!

Yeah! That fat dude with the gin blossom nose and spiked coffee is the real deal Americano!

And together they are wreaking havoc on America! Judging us! Telling us how to cook! Telling us how to run our restaurants! Telling us how to get chocolate milk out of our schools and save our kids from growing up diabetic fatties! What if we want fat kids? Oh, no, my friend. We didn’t steal this country from the Native Americans to give it up to those Brits without a fight! We know the Brits! I know the Brits. I’ve studied them. I’ve seen both Benny Hill and Monty Python (lots!) and have a pretty damn good idea how they work! Not to be trusted!

We’ve got to stand up to this! This is crazy! Pretty soon, they will be stealing our shows and bringing them over there – shows like The X-Factor! And The Office! American originals! America for Americans! Just say “no” to Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!

Thank you.

Comcast has always sucked, now they admit it

I had to pause the tv and go back to make sure I got this right, ready? An actual quote from an actual Comcast television commercial:

“If we don’t resolve the problem the first time, we’ll extend a courtesy service to our customers” (italics mine).

Um, no, that’s not called a “courtesy”, that’s called YOUR JOB! But thanks for having the cojones to admit how you actually see it.

reality and self awareness

A couple of experiences that allowed me to be fully aware of myself (but only for a second or two):

One: Guthrie Theater Acting Camp, circa 1978. First day with a bunch of strange, new, much cooler than me kids backstage. The camp “counselor”, also an actor in the Guthrie troupe, puts us all in a big circle and one by one we are to walk directly across the circle “normally”. As you can imagine, that’s impossible. The very fact that this group of young strangers are all watching you makes it absolutely impossible to walk “normally.” I believe I strutted, then sat down red-faced thinking what a lop I was. “Lop” being a strange little term that was popular among my small group of friends back then. It meant 1. uncoordinated; and 2. doofus. More or less.

This is an example as to why “Reality” TV is really the worst name for whatever that is. Anytime a camera (or the eyes of my fellow campers) is trained on you, reality slips right out the back door. Nothing that happens when the subjects know the camera is on can be remotely described as “reality”. It immediately becomes performance, whether we like it or not.

The other time, and this is rather embarrassing, I was standing mostly naked but for a shirt with the full length mirror to my right. I’m not one to stare at myself in the mirror and if you know me by sight, you know why. Pretty much average looking all around. But this one day, I’m standing there and happen to glance over to my own face at the exact same moment I pulled my belt up and it whips me right in my most personal privates, snap! and I saw my own face respond to the searing pain. Interesting, that. Painful, but interesting. I had no idea my face could ever contort in that manner.


I’m surprised I’m writing about this, because this is my day job, but Comcast gave us the absolute worst brand introduction/education effort E.V.E.R. with XFINITY, whatever the hell that means. I’ve seen tv, billboards and print ads and I still have no idea how or why they are related to Comcast. Is Comcast going away? Is XFINITY a different service? Same great service, brand new ALLCAPSNAME? I just got another mailing from Comcast that said “Get even more from your XFINITY service.” I was thinking, “Do I have XFINITY service?” They have registered the trademark for XFINITY, by the way; but why?

generations and freedoms

“Every generation brings more freedoms.
Every freedom brings generations of problems.
That’s what makes life interesting.”

A truer truth has never been uttered. Okay, maybe it has, but this is pretty damn true. And where does it all end? Certainly we temper ourselves over time; the orgies of the sixties didn’t take long to look rather self-indulgent, so let’s follow that sex bit a bit.

As a kid growing up in the 1970s a naked woman was something to be mostly wondered about and occasionally glimpsed in National Geographic magazine or, in utterly sublime moments, a father’s Playboy. But it really was a glimpse, personally cut short by our sense of propriety (20 percent) and fear of being caught (80 percent). But it was the limited exposure that gave it its magic. Had I been put in a room with a twelve foot high stack of Playboys, Penthouses and Oui magazines back when I was 10 or 12 without a chance of being caught, I’m not sure how I would have handled it, but I do know that whatever magic I glimpsed in the former scenario, this full-on, uncensored immersion in it all would have been certainly unsettling and quite frankly, magic-killing.

That’s what it must be like for kids today growing up in the age of the Internet. They’re always just a couple of clicks away from the most unseemly copulation by a still shocking number of people who are willing to film themselves having sex, thinking about sex, fondling themselves or simply looking naked and stupid. It’s one thing to have a population of exhibitionists* among us and quite another to give them this border crossing, ever-present, technicolor stage to exhibit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of relatively open sexuality.** To this day I’m shocked at how much our particular country is willing to put up with a constant fire hose of violence, murder, shots, cuts, rapes, beheadings, molestations and so on on television, but if a woman’s breast slips from her blouse, we cry bloody murder. It seems most European countries have a much better balance on that particular front.

Hopefully this new-found instant access to smut won’t have a huge affect on young people and it appears that it hasn’t, at least to date. These strange and explicit freedoms seem to have been mostly welcomed with a big yawn. The kids aren’t all crazed sexophiles. Instead, teenage pregnancy has gone down. I suppose they are like I was and not particularly impressed by sex en mass, but instead recognize that there is sex and sexuality and then there’s this parody of it all we find on the web (in magazines, television and other media).

One need only replace sex with chocolate (some would gladly, by the way) and you get the idea.

* I dub thee the copulation population…just have to.

**To wit, this relatively innocent and earnest college paper written as a mythology of Prince.

On the relative merits of the various hosts of the Sprout Sunnyside Up Show

The hosts

Much has been written in high brow academic journals (as well as less seemly and “popular” publications) on the relative merits of Kelly, Sean, Dennisha and Liz, AKA the hosts of the Sunnyside Up Show on Sprout, a PBS station aimed solely at the eight and under set (and some of their parents). The set itself is a barn or some sort of shed outside of anywhere recognizable. There is, of course, Chica, the mostly mute, ever-present and obviously perched somewhere on the downside of the asberger’s spectrum sidekick, who admittedly matches Ed McMahon for useful interjections and intellectual banter. The hosts are a ragtag gang of podunk hillbillies intricately designed to appeal to the more conservative parents hearkening back to a simpler world they never knew but fully intend to eventually impose upon those with I.Q.’s in the three-digit range – also known to them as “the elite” and “the enemy.” Within their goofball banter – and even Chica’s grating chirps – are coded messages directed at, but mostly lost on, these conservative adults. The messages matter less than the empty, drooling grins the show and select hosts inspire, however.

Sweet Kelly

Kelly is the obvious leader. She’s the perfect specimen drawn up in any of a number of jokes about traveler’s hooking up with the shockingly hot farmer’s daughter. Everything about her exudes the sweetness, spunk and treachery needed to capture that essence.

They even went so far as to parade this wayward teen onto the screen knocked up like volleyball at a pig roast, adding to her vixen/victim, innocent prepubescence/sexual predator vibe that so thrills the men she was designed to appeal to. The overall effect preceded and quite possibly set in motion the otherwise inexplicable hormonal response to one Sarah Palin, the Great Wet Dream of

Kelly Knocked Up

any number of conservative males. It has been posited that Kelly isn’t actually human, but instead some sort of perfect mix of artificial intelligence and fleshy goodness, but I don’t agree. The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank, issued a press release recently to coincide with an award they gave Kelly for being a Great Patriot. “Kelly exudes everything conservative, God-fearing Americans love about this great nation of God-fearing Americans [sic].” She’s real all right and Ms. Palin owes her a debt of gratitude.

Denissha with Chica

Dennisha is the Trojan Horse of the shows producers. By including an African-American woman, any suppositions that something wasn’t right – or maybe way too right (and white) – about the show were quickly quelled. Dennisha is also beautiful and so captures the simplistic, redneck essence that she slid past the liberals only to be the true essence of double-speak, reading children’s birthday cards, while slipping in messages of prayer over medicine, small government, and more money for the richest Americans. What has remained unknown up to now is that Dennisha is actually the love child of former Bush Administration stalwart Condoleezza Rice and a one-night stand after a night of disco clubbing. Her father has never been identified, owing to the impossibly below board nature of the encounter, and the possibility that the father is famous. A few names have been put forth: David Bowie, Clarence Thomas and P.J. O’Rourke.

Sean’s presence on the show is less easily explained. Obviously gay and no-doubt a grade school dropout, Sean: PrisonerSean, well, isn’t acting. It was documented in an exceedingly well-researched  article in Rolling Stone in 2009 that Sean is kept more or less prisoner on the set where he is led from his room to the stage, where he’s been told and so believes to a Truman Show depth that this is “where life is.” Sean was born into a deeply religious and conservative southern family (his father was a Republican fundraiser in Alabama) and raised with the belt and the bible. His parents began to see the devil in Sean when he began to have his own ideas and opinions (and realizations – one of which was that he was a young gay man) and so quickly lobotomized him, which is to what he owes his special grin. That he is gay has never been admitted by his handlers or the producers of the show, as they are known to believe that if you admit that people are gay, you might “go gay” yourself, a common misperception in conservative circles, which is why there are so many tight-lipped, well-coiffed effeminate “dads” with sparkling shoes (and terrifically unfulfilled wives) in the pews of mega-churches across this great land of ours.

Liz as we know her now

Liz is the latest Sunnyside Up Show host to join the cast and so less good academic research has been conducted on her. She brings much of the same farmer’s daughter sensuality that Kelly has; the same doofus, happy demeanor of Sean and Dennisha’s uncanny ability to couch messages about Tea Party ideas and gun shop locations within children’s songs, but there’s also something else.

Liz: Not your usual host

Liz, I put forth, is acting as a double-agent, who used all of her god-given attributes to convince the producers to put her on the show (see photo, which shows Liz coming on to one of the producers prior to being asked to join the cast). Cryptographers have shown through a series of really undeniable coded strings that Liz is actually speaking a totally different language that although they’ve recognized, they’ve been up to now unable to crack.

The Sunnyside Up Show and the four hosts have been dissected ad nauseum. There have been papers and articles and books, videos, movies, reality shows and documentaries. None, I believe, have so captured the truth and essence of this American original, this political juggernaut, this morning madness than the preceding paragraphs. I’ve spent years on their trail. I love them and hate them.

Nina – goodnight show

Speaking of love, now it’s on to Nina and the Goodnight Show. Methinks she’s possibly a central American guerilla working to supplant democracy with communism, or she’s an angel from heaven, with a Star that just better back off!