10 of Kathy Shaidle's Greatest Hits
Editor's Note: This is a collection of some of my favorite Kathy Shaidle articles. These are both some of her most popular and hardest hitting, challenging conventional wisdom and smashing pop culture idols. Please make a point to make Kathy's Five Feet of Fury blog one of your regular reads and also check out her new e-book Confessions of a Failed Slut. I devoured it in one sitting and will write more on it soon. Over the years Kathy has become one of the people I most look to for insights into understanding all sorts of subjects from outsider culture to humor to the evolutions in New Media to the mysteries of relationships and religion. These pieces are some of the best examples of why. For more, also check out "PJ Lifestyle’s Top 50 List Articles of 2013" which features a number of additional Shaidle gems, some of which will no doubt make it into volume 2, coming soon...
- Dave Swindle
1. February 1, 2012:
2. April 16, 2012:
3. September 20, 2012:
4. May 8, 2012:
5. April 12, 2012
6. April 30, 2012
7. April 16, 2013:
8. February 8, 2014:
9. July 12, 2013:
10. August 7, 2012:
1. February 1, 2012:
Five Reasons Star Wars Actually Sucks
So a human comic book with a stirring soundtrack, bad jokes and loud zapping noises is one of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time. Yoda wept. Related: Geek Rage: Star Wars Comments of the Day
In a previous column, I noted in passing that I fell asleep during Star Wars.
I have this dim (repressed?) memory of getting dragged to see it by a high school boyfriend. (So it must have been during a theatrical re-release -- I’m not that old.)
a) Harrison Ford = hot
b) remarking loudly that we shouldn’t be able to hear those rocket ships or whatever they were because, as everyone knows, space is a vacuum and you can’t hear explosions or anything else.
Then I gathered my jacket around my head until the house lights came up.
I figured I was free and clear. Little did I know that, well into the next century, Star Wars detritus would be washing up onto the shores of my life each and every damn day.
I’m talking about stuff like this:
And whateverthehell this is:
Seriously: isn't there some cancer you could be curing?
If you’re trying to make adults with refined tastes and a real religion hate your favorite movie even more, congratulations, Star Wars fans: mission accomplished.
Star Wars actually sucks. Here’s why.
1. THE MOVIES
First of all, I’m not going to employ those pretentious, post-market locutions like “Episode V” or whathaveyou. If you are a grown up, then there are “the three old Star Wars movies” and “the three new Star Wars movies.”
Now: let’s look at all the other people George Lucas got rich ripping off, the way Picasso did with the Africans.
First, Joseph Campbell. This toxic troublemaker earned his academic reputation for his theories on “the hero’s journey.”
That is: Campbell discovered that, in every culture, in all times, societies had myths.
Who went on journeys.
Damn, I wish I’d gone to college.
Campbell also coined the insidious Baby Boomer, New Age bumpersticker motto, “Follow Your Bliss.”
Now, most people know that the sign over Auschwitz read “Work Will Set You Free.”
Fewer people know that the sign over Buchenwald read “To Each His Own.”
What nobody knows yet but me is that when Concentration Camps 2.0 are erected, the signs over their gates will be “Follow Your Bliss.”
(Or, hey, maybe even "Welcome to Comic-Con"...)
Influence #2: Kurosawa. Star Wars is The Hidden Fortress in space. We nuked Japan and stole their movies! (They only deserved the first former.)
Influence #3: Flash Gordon, the boring-beyond-imagining 1930s film serial.
We’re meant to be impressed that Lucas was also inspired by John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). Except that almost every American film made after The Searchers (and not a few foreign ones) was also influenced by The Searchers.
So a human comic book with a stirring soundtrack, bad jokes, and loud zapping noises is one of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time.
2. THE DIRECTOR
George Lucas is a plastic toy manufacturer who makes mediocre movies on the side.
Compared to Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola, however, Lucas’s film oeuvre is nothing but juvenilia, from American Graffiti to Star Wars to... well, he’s never made anything else.
It’s like his career has the opposite of Progeria.
It’s not just that George Lucas has the kind of face you just want to punch, although that doesn't help.
(A note to those of you fond of tossing around the glib expression "George Lucas raped my childhood": unless it also contains the words "stepfather," "Catholic priest," or "Jerry Sandusky,"' you don't actually get to use the words "raped" and "my childhood" in a sentence, m'kay? Please get another First World problem.)
3. THE FANS
When I was still (barely) in contact with what’s left of my family, one of my in-law step-somethings was a fat, hairy loser in his mid-twenties who collected Harley Davidson stuff. One particularly painful Christmas, he was bellowing about all the great Harley junk he’d received, and about all the other Harley stuff he already had or still needed to buy.
My fork hit the plate.
“Has it ever occurred to you,” I asked, “that if you’d saved all the money you spent on this crap, you could OWN a Harley Davidson by now?”
It’s true. He didn’t have a bike of his own. Or a car. Or even a bus pass.
With a few dozen additional I.Q. points, that’s your average Star Wars fan.
If they took all the time and money they’ve wasted obsessing over somebody else’s (boring) vision, they could probably be astronauts or champion fencers or costume designers by now.
(And no, I don't mean “recreating someone else’s movie in my backyard,” either.)
He shared his brother’s passion for militaria, so since the 1960s, Andrew Mollo has worked as a historical consultant to the movies, with an expertise in military uniforms.
In other words: Andrew Mollo is a guy who has a lot in common with thousands of Star Wars fans, except his job does not require him to wear a name tag.
Successful, mature men do not play computer games, attend “cons,” and get excited about overrated science fiction movies from the 1970s.
Come on, all the conservative boys who've read this far:
Do you imagine Victor Davis Hanson is some kind of font of boring zombie lore?
Do you think Mark Steyn wastes his spare time playing World of Warcraft? (Trick question. Mark Steyn doesn't have any spare time.)
No, these men have careers and families, here on planet earth.
4. THE MERCHANDISE
As much as I hate science fiction in general, I have to give Star Trek credit: at least that franchise inspired a few non-loser, hard working, intelligent people to create real world goods:
On the other hand, since 1977, Star Wars has inspired the creation of Happy Meals and other disposable (if not exactly biodegradable) junk.
Good luck using your toy light saber as a defibrillator, guys.
The Space Shuttle may have been a stupid waste of money, but remember: they called it the Enterprise, not the Millennium Falcon.
5. IT’S EVERYWHERE
The Star Wars-related visual smog that pollutes the internet is bad enough.
What's worse is the linguistic variety.
We need a moratorium on "the Force is strong..." and "not the XYZs you're looking for."
Speaking of over-quoted movies -- but this time it's uniquely relevant -- you know the Spinal Tap drummer who "choked on someone else's vomit"?
Well, every time you write the phrase "the Empire strikes back" or "you're my only hope," you are vomiting someone else's vomit.
Look: two good things came out of Star Wars (three if you count Harrison Ford, above):
a) the "Holiday Special" (which isn’t so “special” anymore now that YouTube has made it less legendary), and
b) unarguably one of the five greatest book covers of the last decade.
I'd observe that Star Wars fanatics are "amusing themselves" (and boring us) "to death," but it's worse than that.
Over 30 years on, their "death," alas, is nowhere in sight.
2. April 16, 2012:
Four Ways My Moviegoing Habits Changed After I Grew Up
#3: Going alone lost its frisson when I no longer had a home that I was desperate to escape from.
I've been a movie buff all my life, but the way I consume movies (as the kids put it these days) has evolved.
Sure, the technology has changed. Good thing I didn't "follow my dream" and become a film projectionist, because I'd be on the unemployment line. And I finally dumped my last box of old VHS tapes on the sidewalk the last time I moved.
But I've changed, too.
I've written about these changes here before, like how fogeyish it made me feel when I realized I no longer automatically identified with the teenagers in movies.
Sometimes I miss the old me: the weird girl who scanned the new TV Guide with a red pen, hoping All About Eve was coming on, and who practically lived at our city's only "rep" cinema...
#4 -- The Last Picture Show
It's been a porn grindhouse and a church of sorts (see above), but when I lived a block away, it was the Broadway Cinema.
The Broadway was the only rep in my scuzzy steel town, where interest in "weird" movies wasn't exactly high. In those days, long before Netflix and TCM and DVDs, we local "artsy" types were lucky enough to live within broadcast range of Canadian stations that showed classics and foreign films in heavy rotation, supplemented with exclusive interviews with directors, actors, and cinematographers, on shows like Saturday Night at the Movies -- or as it was initially and more lyrically known, Magic Shadows:
But the Broadway's biggest advantage was that it was close enough to my house to reach in five minutes, yet far enough away to serve as my second home.
On many nights, for many years, I decamped to the Broadway during that sundown stretch before my stepfather staggered home (and hopefully passed out) and my mother got back from her late shift at the hotel restaurant, around 11:30 p.m. The theater opened at 6:30; shows started around 7 and ended around 11.
It was as if the Broadway had manifested itself in the perfect spot, at the perfect time, just for me.
The Broadway was ahead of its time, especially in my working class hometown: besides popcorn, you could buy hot apple cider, coffee and tea (herbal or regular), along with homemade cookies and squares.
The place was of its time, too -- you could still smoke in movie theaters then. I'd set up base camp in the back row in the far right corner, arranging my army surplus bag, notepad and pen, copy of Absolute Beginners or the latest NME on the lumpy, squeaking seat next to mine. I lit up a cigarette, put my Chuck-covered feet up on the unoccupied seat in the next row, and waited.
And sure enough, I saw a lot of "weird" and not so weird stuff: the original Solaris, Wild Strawberries, Amarcord, Metropolis, Tatie Danielle.
Sometimes I went there with friends, to midnight screenings of Rocky Horror, armed with toast and other props. Quadrophenia was a VERY big deal. The Song Remains the Same -- another weekly staple -- not so much: that was for headbangers and stoners.
But mostly, I went there alone. I didn't like sharing the Broadway with other people.
For a long time I thought I wanted to be a movie director, but it turns out I'm a klutz with cameras. The only good series of still photographs I've ever made was for a college film project, meant to be a Ken Burns style (before that's what it was called) tribute to my Velveteen Rabbit of a movie theater. But I was too scared of the school's Steenbeck to finish my first (and last) movie.
A few years after I moved to Toronto, the Broadway closed down.
#3 -- Dim Lights, Big City
Toronto is a city of moviegoers. I've had friends who schedule their vacations around TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival. When TIFF built its new headquarters a few years ago, they cleverly stacked residential suites above their offices, successfully marketing the Festival Tower as "one part condo, one part film festival" -- complete with its own screening room (and concession stand.)
And instead of just one Broadway-type rep theater, Toronto had at least seven or eight when I moved here in the late 1980s. Some people eagerly await delivery of the Sunday New York Times crossword; here, we watched for the empty yellow newspaper racks to fill up again, when the monthly tabloid-style rep cinema schedule hit the streets. Maybe the latest hits at Cannes were coming to town. Maybe a rare showing of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was on the roster. Movie Christmas came every 30 days.
You stuck the schedule for your favorite rep theater on your fridge, with the movies you planned to see boldly circled. Such a display was a signifier of "cool."
The solitary habits I'd picked up back home stuck for a while. But going to the movies alone lost its frisson when I no longer had a home that I was desperate to escape from. Now I could retreat into the safe, quiet apartment of my own that I'd decorated in my imagination thousands of times.
With the emergence of the VCR, a veritable epidemic of video stores erupted across the city; along with the big chains, independent video stores like Suspect and Eyesore that specialized in foreign & cult films sprang up. My neighborhood video stores were stacked floor to ceiling with Spirit of the Beehive and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! I'd trundle from video store to beer store, then stock up on cigarettes and hunker down for the night (and sometimes, the day.)
Last year, now married and sober and smoke-free and more than gainfully employed, I tried to recapture that same "movie bunker" magic when my husband went out of town. I piled up a bunch of DVDs I'd never bothered watching, bought chips and dip and grabbed a bottled water and turned off all the lights, figuring I'd enjoy the feeling of having the couch and TV all to myself for the first time in years.
God, it was boring.
I wasn't exclusively a hermit back in the old days.
Those Woody Allen movies I'd grown up watching had promised me that when I moved to The Big City, I'd finally meet people as witty and sophisticated and intelligent as I thought I was -- and I did. Our gang went to all the "cool" opening nights -- a new Tim Burton film was a must-see the day it came out, along with anything starring Nicolas Cage, Winona Rider and Johnny Depp.
We also gathered mournfully at my place the day the news about Allen running off with his step-daughter broke. Somebody cried, but I can't remember whether or not it was me. I never went to another Allen film again, with my friends or anybody else. I didn't realize until later that that event marked the beginning of the end of my lifelong movie mania.
When Pulp Fiction arrived to great fanfare I was the last person I knew to go see it -- and I wasn't impressed. Tarantino was just "quoting" a bunch of movies I'd already seen.
Then Hollywood came down with sequel-itis, for which there seems to be no cure.
Almost all Toronto's rep cinemas are closed now. So are most of the beloved downtown venues like the Eglinton, the Uptown, even the one-time world record holder for "biggest multiplex." (Canadians were instrumental in inventing and developing the megaplex.)
All were torn down to make way for more condos, with higher profit margins per precious square meter.
(And in the case of art-house theaters wedded to old technology, the cost of printing and shipping 35mm films around the country is ten times the cost of a digital print.)
But would I set foot in any of these cinemas now, even if they were open?
I honestly don't remember the last time I saw a first run film in a theater. Between the awful selection of "new" movies (mostly remakes) and other people's cell phones, to the idiots who -- this happened when I went to the 2000 theatrical re-release -- bring screaming toddlers to The Exorcist, I don't see why I should bother.
How much longer will movie theaters of any kind survive?
#1 -- Taking out the Trash
“No one understands absurdity like John Waters. If being a conservative means renouncing John Waters, then I would proudly not be one.”
I didn't agree with Andrew Breitbart on everything. His hero worship of director John Waters (Polyester, Hairspray) is a good example. We both admired Waters' guerrilla film making ethos, humor and intelligence, but we parted ways when it came to actually watching a John Waters movie. At least in adulthood.
When pushed, Breitbart allowed that Waters had legitimized a new genre of "shock the bourgeoisie" schlock cinema and trash TV that coarsened the culture.
“If someone vomits watching one of my films,” Waters used to say, “it's like getting a standing ovation.” He’s the mischievous "Pope of Trash," dropping a turd in the vanilla ice cream of corporate, suburban pop culture.
But that's the trouble with taste: that turd inevitably overpowers the vanilla, not the other way around.
Indeed, Waters’ brand of "lowbrow," "cult" entertainment slowly metastasized into the new middlebrow mainstream.
Let’s face it: In the world of Jerry Springer, Fear Factor and Jersey Shore, the fatal "Filthiest Person Alive" contest in 1972's Pink Flamingos is no longer shocking.
A typical week on TLC -- with its churning combination of midgets, hoarders, wedding planners and the morbidly obese – looks like Waters is moonlighting there as a showrunner.
Meanwhile, as TV and movies got stranger, Waters’ work got more star-studded, sentimental and old fashioned (like Cry-Baby). Many of those early fans from the same multiple midnight screenings I went to snubbed "sell out" fare like Serial Mom, and still can't believe Hairspray is now a Tony-winning, family friendly Broadway smash. The very idea, well, offends them.
Maybe it's just me, but I sense that Waters has mellowed and matured. When you're young, sheltered and feeling invincible, sharing Waters' morbid fascination with "glamorous" criminals like the Manson girls is a quick, cheap thrill. To his credit, though, he's mostly outgrown his early "crime is beauty" affectation:
"I am guilty, too. Guilty of using the Manson murders in a jokey, smart-ass way in my earlier films without the slightest feeling for the victims' families or the lives of the brainwashed Manson killer kids who were also victims in this sad and terrible case."
And in Waters' defense, he laughs off descriptions of himself as "transgressive" ("That's a little high falutin.'")
He's also resisted being turned into an “official” gay icon, preferring the freedom that comes with not being labeled.
I respect and appreciate John Waters even more now than I did when my biggest weekly priority was scanning rep cinema schedules for a screening of Desperate Living. But today, my going to one would be out of the question. If I'm in the mood for a trashy B-style movie, I'll just watch the real thing, like the reform school musical Untamed Youth (1957).
And besides, midnight’s way past my bedtime.
Have your movie-watching habits changed over time? Have you lost your taste for slasher films, or gained a new appreciation for black & white classics? Have your say in the comments.
3. September 20, 2012:
The Poor Get Poorer: Three Character Traits That Undermine Prosperity
Gluttonous, slothful, irresponsible and entitled: Today's "poor" are the "rich" Jesus warned us about.
“Times have changed and now the poor get fat.”
- Elton John, “The Bitch Is Back”
PJ Media’s John Hawkins recently posted a thoughtful piece called “Golden Chains: 5 Ways America’s Wealth Undermines Our Character.”
Hawkins said things that many patriotic conservatives and libertarians might not like to hear:
America is running on fumes. We can sometimes be like the kid who gets the run of his family’s big house while mom and dad are away and forgets how that fridge got so full (and that someone had to invent the fridge in the first place).
Throughout the West, many of us (right and left) are wasteful, indulgent, and entitled, with no sense of history and no thought for the future.
All very true.
However, it’s equally true that our “character undermines our wealth.”
That is – to turn Hawkins’ telescope the other way around – the way many Westerners live keeps them “poor.”
You might have noticed that today's “poor” aren’t exactly the humble, wholesome, good-hearted types Charles Dickens championed, either.
(Back when “living” conditions in Victorian London were unspeakably appalling, Jack the Ripper was practically doing those women a favor...)
Instead, today's poor are often petulant, entitled, irresponsible, and ungrateful, caught up in a culture of crime and cheap thrills.
Jesus ordered us to love the poor because He understood how hard it was to do, even 2000 years ago.
But in 2012, I’d take that further: our “poor” have become the “rich” Jesus warned us about.
I know because that’s where I come from.
I grew up below the so-called "poverty line," a fact which always amused my (single) mother and me- every year when the new “poverty line” stat was announced on the news.
The figure was always about the same as her annual salary. Yet somehow we had nice clothes and furniture and enough to eat.
Well, my mother might have been a high school dropout, but she was a workhorse who went to a hotel job she hated every morning at 5 a.m. and wasn’t a boozer or a crackhead who spent her off hours in nightclubs picking up and bringing home strange dudes.
In other words, my mother didn’t have a lot going for her but she made the very most of what she had, in a determined and almost ostentatious manner. I noticed.
I had a few friends who were the “product of broken homes.” From what I can make out, I’m the only one who’s amounted to anything.
Because, I believe, I was the only one whose mother worked (for a pittance admittedly) while the rest were on welfare.
Which brings us to...
2. Sense of Entitlement
In today's (North) America, there is little financial incentive to better oneself anyway, thanks to "entitlements" that are (involuntarily) paid for by harder-working, more responsible citizens.
Behold: according to the graph above, a "a one-parent family of three making $14,500 a year (minimum wage) has more disposable income than a family making $60,000 a year."
Part of the reason America is so divided is that even when we use simple, commonplace words, those words have very different meanings, depending upon who is using them.
When rich people talk about "taxes," they're adding up all the money they've honestly earned and are now forced to pay to the state.
But when "poor" people talk about "taxes," they're making a list of all the new crap they're going to buy when they get their refund check.
According to one source, "30 percent of tax units" -- that is, households and individuals -- "actually made money off the income tax system for the 2009 tax year."
3. Poor Impulse Control
Americans have been subject to floods, hurricane, and earthquakes since the pilgrims landed. Their ability to recover from natural disasters is the stuff of legend.
Shortly before Katrina struck, I knew that situation would be different.
I suspected, correctly, that the populace in one particular locale on Katrina's path would be profoundly devastated and, worse, unable to rise to the occasion in the same fashion as their fellow Americans.
Because New Orleans is located below sea level -- and its official motto is "Let the Good Times Roll."
Individuals who voluntary reside in a flood zone and whose only "industry" is partying are ill-prepared for disaster.
And -- humiliated when their ineptitude and learned helplessness is exposed to the world -- they will lash out at both those who fail to help them, and those who try.
(Semi-universally: In metropolitan locales around the continent, the day the welfare checks come in is referred to by local recipients as "Mardi Gras"...)
Poor people typically spend what money they have on lots of cheap, disposable junk on a whim, instead of saving up for one good thing.
They'll tell you they "have to" give their kids powdered milk, but that's only because they've already spent all their (I mean, taxpayers') money on booze, drugs, cigarettes, lottery tickets, manicures, hair weaves, bingo cards, and tacky club clothes.
We hear that poor people are caught up in the trap of money-sucking "payday loans" and other dubious rackets because they don't have bank accounts.
But: why DON’T you have a bank account?
Like I said: I grew up below the poverty line but have had the same account with the same bank since I was 8 years old, because my mother (who, once again, was NOT a genius) took me downtown and signed me up for one.
4. May 8, 2012:
Three Rules for Handling the Online Trolls, Bullies, and Crackpots
The internet is swamped with angry, stupid weirdos. Learn to neutralize them and get your life back.
"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning."
It's arguably the most famous opening line in 20th century fiction. The predicament in which Franz Kafka's "Joseph K." finds himself is even more chillingly relevant today than it was in 1920.
Not only was Kafka lucky enough to have died before the Holocaust he'd intuited was on the horizon, but he missed far, far lesser scourges, like internet trolls and slanderers.
If Kafka were alive and writing on the web today, he'd have dozens of online stalkers, making fun of him for living with his parents and having really big ears.
He might even be subject to "lawfare" for his "controversial" blogging.
A while back I wrote about the particular abuse women in general -- and conservative women in particular -- attract on the web. The good news is that there are ways to dial down this annoying din, and these methods work for everybody.
#3 - Are You Being Served?
Law suits. They're what we got when we stupidly made dueling illegal.
(At least with dueling, when the shootout was over, the world was down one useless idiot...)
Along with a bunch of other Canadian bloggers -- including my husband -- I'm being sued for writing about our "Human Rights" Commissions.
(The video above has more.)
Encouraged by other great folks like Michelle Malkin, my blog readers have paid all our legal bills.
In the meantime, Arnie and I got married. We've been invited to Israel and Washington, D.C., and other places simply because we're now "famous" bloggers. We've made friends we'd never have met otherwise.
Our employment has been utterly unaffected. In fact, we're both busier than ever.
Because the second worse thing you can do if you get sued is let it take over and ruin your life.
If you're online, no matter how careful you are, you too could be targeted.
I still wish I'd gotten libel insurance when it was offered to me over twenty years ago. If you blog or write anything, get libel insurance. Now. It's the cost of doing business, just like your internet connection, dedicated server, and so forth.
So what's THE worst thing you can do?
As someone whom the process server now greets on a first name basis, here's my advice:
Don't take anybody's advice.
Unless they're a libel lawyer.
Not any other kind of lawyer, either.
And not your Uncle Fred, whose watched The People vs. Larry Flynt a bunch of times. (Believe me: all these well-meaning folks will come out of the woodwork, and you'll be so freaked out you'll be tempted to hear them out.)
Don't issue any apologies or scrub a post until you talk to a libel lawyer first.
Nothing brings on sheer, bone chilling, blood curdling panic like getting served -- I cried for two days -- but do NOT react out of fear.
Yes, lawyers are expensive. But "playing lawyer" yourself is ten times more costly.
Americans are lucky: you have organizations like the Legal Project (who are graciously helping my husband) and the Thomas More Law Center and, yeah, the ACLU.
If you forget everything else you read here, remember this:
Do-it-yourself law works as well as do-it-yourself dentistry.
#2 - No Comment(s)
See how tricky it is to win an argument with a troll...?
My blog doesn't allow comments. That's partly because I started blogging in 2000, before comments even existed.
Instapundit still doesn't allow them, either. So I'm in good company.
But most other sites have them. And sometimes, people say nasty things about me on those other sites.
I only find out about this when a strange domain name shows up in my logs, or -- I hate this -- a "friend" emails to tell me about it.
The vast majority of the time, I refrain from going over to "investigate," i.e., "post just one little snarky response to that snarky guy's comment."
My gut ALWAYS tells me:
"Don't go over there. You'll be sorry."
On the rare occasions I stupidly disobey my gut, I inevitably look up and it's five hours later and I'm still calling "RandFan3000" some variation of the word "moron."
All I end up with is a sour taste in my mouth -- a bitter blend of guilt, resentment, and regret.
On the other hand, when I don't respond to online insults and provocations, I inevitably feel happier, get more real work done, and sleep better at night.
I know it's hard to ignore this stuff, believe me. I'm temperamentally hardwired to want to get the last word.
Yet every year that I'm online, I find I develop another level of immunity to unsolicited "advice," poorly punctuated rape threats, comments on my multiple physical shortcomings, and the other slings and arrows of the outrageous internet.
As I told a friend who recently decided to blog under her real name (and is getting the kind of negative attention we female bloggers tend to attract):
Welcome these insults, because paradoxically, the more you get insulted, the less the insults will bother you.
The worst thing you can do (besides responding directly) is to quit blogging because of online threats and abuse.
As my blog approaches its 12th anniversary, I've lost count of the number of jerks who practically made a career out of attacking me, and who are no longer online.
Being the last one standing is really the best "reply" you can ever give.
#1 - Get Control of Yourself.
All those insults may not bother you, but what if a potential friend or employer googles your name and gets all these results calling you a "racist homophobic scumbag"?
(Welcome to my world -- and Rick Santorum's.)
To see yourself as others see you online, you have to turn your computer into a total stranger's, temporarily:
- Go to Google.com
- Make sure you are signed out of Google.
- Clear your browser history
- Refresh the page
- Optional: Use a service like HideMyIP to "move" your computer to a whole other state
- Type in your FIRSTNAME and LASTNAME -- without quotation marks
The results resemble what a total stranger will see when they google you.
If you cringe, here's the good news: with effort and patience, you can regain some control of Google search engine results pages (or SERPs).
Ninety percent of searchers don't look past Google's page one SERPs, which means you need to own the top ten results.
Obviously, Google loves Google, so complete your profiles on Google+, Google Places, and whatever else they come up with next week.
Buy your FIRSTNAMELASTNAME.com for a minimum three-year term, spring for auto-renewal, then use it, either as your blog or your resume/portfolio.
Big time sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, Wikipedia, FourSquare, and LinkedIn have high Google page ranks -- that's eight of ten sites right there! -- so get FIRSTNAME + LASTNAME accounts/profiles with each one.
(Anyone can become a Wikipedia editor, by the way, so do so and monitor your entry. Either keep it pristine or do what one of my "controversial" blogger friends did: purposely sabotage the thing. So along with other people's "K. is a member of the Nazi Party," readers encounter her own equally absurd edits ["K. bites the heads off whippets."] Visitors conclude the entire thing is crap and ignore it.)
Lesser-known but still high-ranking sites let you create profiles there, too.
By owning and maintaining all these online properties, you can eventually shove the nasty third-party gossip and slander down to page two and beyond, where few searchers venture anyhow.
5. April 12, 2012:
Why Skipping College Was One of the Smartest Decisions of My Life
And here are some Worthless tips for choosing your major.
That's my answer when someone asks me where I went to college. Thirty years after I made that fateful decision, the words still stick in my throat sometimes.
Why didn't I -- a naturally bright, unnaturally well-read kid in my high school's "advanced" stream -- go to university (as we call "college" up here in Canada) and get a BA?
For one thing, it was the Reagan era. Every night on the news (not to mention talk shows and comedy programs), we were assured that Ronald Reagan was about to start World War 3. Roll your eyes if you like, but plenty of people older and supposedly smarter than I purported to believe that.
Next: Never mind that wailing Zuni doll from Trilogy of Terror, or any of the other scary stuff readers share at Kindertrauma.com. What horrified me on TV when I was a kid? The Paper Chase (1973). The middlebrow saga of a guy's struggle to get through law school -- hell, his struggle to get from one end of his vast Ivy League campus to the next without being late for his next class and getting insulted by John Houseman at his withering best (or is that worst?) -- genuinely terrified me.
Probably because -- reason #3 -- no one in my family had gone to college. In fact, I was the first one to finish high school. Filling out applications, applying for grants, moving into a dorm -- you might as well have been talking about a voyage to the moon.
OK, so those reasons sound pretty stupid. But not going to university was one of the smartest decisions of my life.
Instead, I graduated from a two-year media program at a community college, armed with an award-winning writing and production portfolio. In an era of double-digit unemployment and interest rates, I got my first "real" job at a Toronto communications firm pretty easily, and paid off my relatively puny student loans in short order (unlike some of my friends, who got BAs -- then declared bankruptcy). I'd say 90% of the jobs I've ever held have been in my field.
When it comes to college, Aaron Clarey and I agree about a lot. He blogs as "Captain Capitalism" and just wrote the book Worthless: The Young Person's Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major.
Today, we have more and more people chasing more and more worthless degrees. For those of us without either children or degrees ourselves, the spectacle resembles nothing short of a zombie movie, set during Tulipmania.
Reading Worthless was spooky at times. Like me, Clarey's been saying for years that BAs are today what high school diplomas used to be: that is, so commonplace that not having one makes no difference if you're a genius, an energetic entrepreneur, or both.
Like me, he believes too many people are being pushed into getting a degree (i.e., brainwashed in junk science and political correctness at their own expense) when they should be learning a trade or just plain left alone.
And like me, Clarey thinks lots of would-be students should use the money they're wasting on tuition as start-up capital instead.
Some will object that his tips on choosing your college major -- should you insist on going to university despite everything -- are simply common sense. Yet we all know supposedly "smart" young people from middle and upper class backgrounds (and who should therefore "know better") who nevertheless voluntarily wasted tens of thousands of dollars to go to J-school or get a bachelor's degree in women's studies and who are now back living with their parents.
(Note: Once I moved out at age 21, I never moved "back home," even after coming down with an incurable disease. In my day, all of two decades ago, living with mom and dad after age 25 at most simply wasn't done.)
Anyway, here are some of Clarey's tips on choosing your college major....
Speaking of those kids "everybody knows," above, haven't you noticed how many of them tell you (or that reporter from Forbes or Time) that they're "shocked" and "surprised" that they can't get jobs, in spite of having a brand new college degree?
They've been told all their lives that getting a degree meant they'd be guaranteed a job after graduation. Their guidance counselors had the charts and graphs to prove it!
Then I'm the one who is "shocked" and "surprised" after I hear this stuff. First of all, jokes about "philosophy majors driving taxi cabs" or "flipping burgers" were stale when I first started hearing them back in the 1970s.
Secondly: if your guidance counselor is so smart, how come he's just a guidance counselor...?
As Clarey explains in Worthless: yes, in general, people with degrees earn more than people who just have a high school diploma -- BUT only those who have degrees in fields of study that are in high demand in the real-life workforce.
Why oh why, progressives wail, do professional athletes earn millions more than teachers? Simple, Clarey answers: supply and demand.
There is a flood of teachers in the labor market and maybe 300 or so outstanding baseball players.
Clarey gets his students to list all the things they want or plan to buy in the near future. Predictably, they write down things like cars, gas, phones, and computers.
Then he asks them what they're majoring in. Also predictably, they respond: Sociology. Women's Studies. Political Science. Psychology. Education.
Nobody was willing to study the fields that ultimately produced these items. (...) Everyone wanted gas, but not one petroleum engineer was in the group.
Also ironic was how there were so many sociology majors, but not one person listed "social work" in their wish list. There was always the token women's studies major, but I have yet to see a student ask Santa for a lecture on women's studies.
Clarey's other advice?
The highest paying professions fall into the "STEM" category: science, technology, engineering, and math.
He insists, contra Barbie, that math isn't that hard, and also unpacks the STEM rule by explaining why not all engineering degrees are created equal, either.
It likely goes without saying that Clarey thinks English degrees are useless, but he thinks the same thing about bachelors in "business administration" and "finance," too.
(Do NOT get him started on law school and MBAs.)
Clarey also reveals the nefarious business model that teachers' unions and universities are using to profit off you and/or your child's worthless degree, to the tune of billions of dollars. (Hint: it involves their clever use of the word "median income" when describing your post-grad job prospects, when you should be looking at "mean income" instead.)
He also explains why grade inflation has rendered the Dean's List a joke, why "critical thinking" is the exact opposite of what you'd expect, and why internships are (mostly) stupid. He also explodes other myths ("you need a bachelor's degree just to get in the door").
The story of how he went from being an over-educated security guard to making $350/hour doing something you'd never guess is an inspiration.
One quibble, though: I share Clarey's disdain for English degrees, but he needs to hire a proofreader for his next manuscript. A second pair of eyes would have improved the authority of Worthless tenfold. (For example, "behooves" doesn't mean what he thinks it means.)
That said, Aaron Clarey's Worthless is a breezy read that even the most impatient young person could digest in one sitting, or in small doses. (I suggest leaving it in the bathroom.)
I'm not sure this book can possibly counterbalance years of outdated cultural and familial assumptions about going to college -- just look at the grief Rick Santorum received for daring to raise the subject -- but it's part of a growing push back against these myths that's been a long time coming. In that respect, Worthless is worthwhile indeed.
6. April 30, 2012
Talent Isn’t Everything: Five Secrets to Freelance Success
So you think you want to be a freelancer? A pro shares some tips for success.
I've been a professional writer since I sold my first piece to Seventeen at age 21, on my first try.
(Take that, Sylvia Plath: she racked up about fifty rejection letters from the same magazine before breaking in.)
Since then, I've veered between being an on-site staff writer and a full-time freelancer, doing one or the other for about three or four years before getting bored/wanting more money/getting sick of winter commuting/spotting an ad for the full-time "dream job" I just HAD to have (for a while).
Right now, I've been freelancing full-time since 2008. Along with the politics and culture pieces I do for PJ Media and other online magazines, I write web copy for clients ranging from funeral homes to roofing contractors; edit and ghostwrite books, newsletters, and op-eds; and manage a few social media accounts as well.
Over the years, countless people have told me they want to be freelance writers, too. So here are some tips and home truths about the freelance writing (or freelance anything) life.
#5 - Talent isn't everything
Maybe you've won some writing awards. Maybe you've read a magazine article or an employee newsletter and thought: "Heck, I could do better than that."
Maybe you're right.
That's not enough.
It's likely that the magazine editor assigned that article to a merely competent writer -- who also filed the story early, met the requested word count, and made all the changes the editor demanded without complaint.
People like to work with... people they like to work with.
Now, coming from me, that's pretty rich.
One of the reasons I'm a freelance writer is that, frankly, I don't "play well with others." I am too introverted, tactless, demanding, opinionated, and "masculine" to fit in with today's feminized workplace -- a pink and purple extravaganza of giggling, weekly birthday parties, crying-in-the-bathroom, "diversity training," "team building," and boring baby pictures/anecdotes -- everything, it seems, except actual work.
And today, "fitting in" with the company "culture" (of bridal showers and non-stop conversations about food and "stupid husbands") is prioritized over competence and intelligence.
Yet somehow, even a curmudgeon like me can manage to remain polite, helpful, and engaged for the length of that email or phone call with a client.
So just imagine how impressed they'll be with a genuinely nice person like you!
You may be the finest prose stylist in the English language, and a veritable font of creative ideas. You may be an expert in your field, or a clever, well-read generalist.
However, if -- just as an example -- you bitch (aloud) when a client decides they want to change back to the version they just changed yesterday (and the day before that), your clients and editors will tire of your diva-dom (yes, to them, you're the diva...) and replace you with a mediocre yet reliable writer instead.
Temperament matters as much as talent, if not more so.
# 4 - The one thing no one else will tell you
Now I'm about to tell you something that you won't read in any other "how to be a freelancer" article, ever.
It's mean and nasty -- and it's true. It may be the best piece of all-around work-related advice you'll ever get:
Don't be "the one with all the problems."
Clients will pretend to be understanding when your grandmother is dying or your kids are sick and/or running around screaming in the background or the power went out across your city for 12 hours.
But they really don't care.
They have deadlines and budgets and bosses and customers and clients (and problems) of their own.
When my father died, my old boss in book publishing asked me sheepishly, mid-hug, how long I'd be out of town for the funeral. After all, we did have a sixty page Christmas catalog to get out....
When my mother died, I went back to her apartment after making the funeral arrangements, got out my notes, dialed the phone, and interviewed a big-time author for a major daily paper, as I'd been assigned to do the week before.
Never miss a deadline. I know I have once or twice but I must've repressed the memory.
Your "brilliant" article or web copy or brochure text is completely and utterly useless until it arrives in your editor's or designer's or client's inbox.
Until then, it may as well not exist. Freelancing is binary: all or nothing.
Even on his deathbed, Christopher Hitchens met deadlines.
Yes, he probably had an assistant (or two), not to mention a wife and a coterie of understanding friends and editors.
He also had cancer.
So you'll need a better excuse than that.
(P.S.: Own two newish computers that worked fine the last time you used them.
(I don't mean "have access to one at your mom's house or at the library," either. Your mom's house and/or the library could burn down tomorrow or be inaccessible by road during a blizzard.
("My computer just crashed" is also not your client's fault, and you will be seen as -- say it with me now -- "the one with all the problems.")
# 3 - Know your rates
It's always better to quote a high rate and risk losing a potential client than low ball the quote, get the job -- then find yourself trapped in project-creep hell with a persnickety client, and ending up making the equivalent of less than minimum wage when the project is (finally) over.
The cheaper the client, the more demanding they are.
My $75/hour clients tend to approve the very first version of everything I send them, thank me profusely, pay me immediately, and hire me again.
Clients I've taken on for far less (because I've felt desperate -- or sorry for them) ALWAYS want more changes, more words, more pages, more of my time on the phone, more everything.
Eventually, I (politely) fire clients like that. Inevitably, they are replaced almost immediately by more professional ones with larger budgets (and brains).
Now let's get pragmatic:
The best "how much should I charge" web-based resources for writers, editors, consultants -- pretty much anybody who works with words, which these days is... pretty much anybody -- are here, here, here, here, and here.
The best all-around resource for starting out cold as a freelance corporate/commercial writer (as opposed to a magazine freelancer, which is a mug's game that's practically extinct anyhow) is Peter Bowerman's Well-Fed Writer series.
(I know: the artwork on his website is corny. However, this is one time not to trust your instincts on that front, because Bowerman's advice is solid and his newsletter is amazing.)
Even if you aren't a writer, Bowerman's stuff provides valuable insights into how businesses are really run, and how hiring and budgeting decisions are made. The success stories sent in by newbie and veteran freelancers are packed with "takeaways" about marketing yourself, too.
# 2 - Don't obsess about trivia
Have you ever worked at a company so caught up in rewriting its mission statement or redesigning its logo that its core business suffered?
Don't be that person.
You already know that wasting all day texting and tweeting your friends is a time suck. And when you're a freelancer, time is money. If you don't work, you don't eat.
When I was starting out, would-be freelancers got caught up learning the official proofreading symbols or concocting the perfect query letter.
Today, they spend too much time trying to get their official website/portfolio "perfect" or stressing out about business cards.
All these distractions give you the dangerous illusion that you're working.
And you're not.
Work normal business hours.
You may well be a night owl who loves the idea of writing at 2am, but if you do that, you'd better be ready and able to answer the phone and your emails between 8am and 6pm, too.
Nobody wants to work with a quirky flake (see above).
The other advantage to keeping normal hours is that you then have "permission" to do all that other important-but-distracting-and-unpaid stuff -- like exercising or folding laundry -- early in the morning or in the evenings.
(P.S.: Your ROI on writing book reviews is likely a negative number. Do them for fun once in a while, but consider them trivia, too. If you're writing for a living, you have to invest your time, talent, and energy in the most efficient, profitable way. Book reviews are the literary equivalent of skateboarding and gaming: a lucky few can make a living of sorts, but otherwise, it's a hobby.)
# 1 - Going from good to great (or at least, better)
It's almost impossible to proofread your own work, but you also want to submit the best copy or article (or report to your boss) that you can.
Here's how I get around that:
If I have an assignment due Tuesday morning, I take one last look at it Monday night, then sleep on it.
On Tuesday morning, I open the Word doc and immediately change the size and type of the font.
If I wrote the article in Verdana, I change it to a serif font like Times, then bump it up two sizes.
I may even switch the text to blue, green, or red.
This tricks my brain into reading the piece as if for the first time. Inevitably, I notice a typo, factual error, overused word, or awkward sentence.
I may also incorporate any overnight brainstorms.
Plus I may realize, to my embarrassment, that I forgot to include the joke or factoid that sold the editor on my idea in the first place, or that I didn't use the client's SEO keywords often enough.
After I make these corrections, I change the fonts back to normal and send it to my client or editor.
Doing this has improved the quality of my writing exponentially. It certainly gives everything I write a more professional polish.
I could tell you more -- lots more -- but then, while I wouldn't have to kill you, I would have to charge you.
7. April 16, 2013:
Jobs Are for Suckers: How to Be the Boss of You
Don't do 20th century stuff to get a 21st century life.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, cynical, or both:
I don't shock easily.
Zombie cannibal killers? What, again?
Another new "ism" added to the "hate speech" list? So last Tuesday.
So when I made my daily visit to the blog SmallDeadAnimals.com, I figured I was staring at a typo:
[I]t costs $84k a year to go to Columbia Journalism School...
"Surely that should read '$8,400 a year,'" I thought.
"Or maybe that $84,000 is the entire cost of a three-year degree.
"Ha! Pretty funny that there's a typo in an article about journalism school..."
Except there wasn't.
That's the correct figure.
I thought back to my early twenties, when I was starting out as a writer.
Multiply $84,000 times three and you get just over a quarter of a million dollars.
Given the 17% interest rates of the 1980s, I could have stuck that amount in a 5-year term deposit and lived off the interest, by which time I'd have been well established in my career anyhow, thanks to diligent freelancing and whatnot.
What are kids these days thinking?
Look: if you absolutely positively need a degree -- to do all those doctorin' jobs and lawyerin' jobs -- I get it.
(Well, not the "lawyerin' jobs" so much. We've had too many lawyers for a very long time.)
But as I've been saying long before the phrase "college bubble" was coined:
If you're a budding entrepreneur, college is a waste of time and money, because unless you want a "straight" job, you don't need a B.A.
And I question that "need." It's just lazy H.R. nonsense.
As it occurs to society at large that most bachelor's degrees are useless, very slowly this asinine requirement will be phased out.
My parents probably never made a quarter of a million bucks across their entire lifetimes, but if your folks have that kind of cash stashed, talk them into giving it to you as business capital instead.
Not in a lump sum, because you might just party it away. (OK, maybe that woulda been just me...)
But think of some way to get it and then do something with it besides making some commie professor rich, just so you can become a wage slave -- or, God help me, a professor yourself.
Paul Rose was a Canadian professor (although I think he'd prefer the adjective "Quebecois".) But he wasn't always...
Rose was boss of the FLQ terrorist cell that kidnapped and strangled Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte in 1970s’ October Crisis. He spent barely 10 years in jail for that despicable crime. (...)
The Chenier Cell never even confessed who actually garroted Laporte with his own crucifix chain.
Isn't that delightful?
Why do you want to spend time with people like this, and the rest of academia who, by the thousands, hire and support them?
Read this story then try to convince me that the entire North American educational system is a charade.
Stay as far away from it as possible.
"But if I don't get a degree, I can't get a job," you say.
That's the idea.
No one can get a job anyhow.
What if the "high unemployment rate" is a good sign, an indication that more and more people are dropping out of the traditional job market and starting their own businesses and/or working off the books?
Why do 20th century stuff to try to make a 21st century living?
I will live to see the New York Times, about half the current Fortune 500 companies, and at least one of the big Ivy League colleges shut their doors permanently.
While we're all waiting for that, here's how to stay informed and motivated as I make my way through what I'll call "the present future":
- Half-insane Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist still makes more sense than most supposedly healthy individuals
- Read Roger Corman's How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime
- Subscribe to Seth Godin's daily email newsletter and Susannah Breslin's RSS feed
- See how you can apply the lessons at The Well-Fed Writer to your career, whatever it may be
All those people are a lot smarter and more successful than I am.
8. February 8, 2014:
Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: Six Gen-Xers I Can Actually Stand
They're the closest thing I have to a "group identity," but I can still only count six great Generation-X-ers...
When my (millennial) editor suggested I write about my favorite (fellow) Generation X-ers, it took me four days to think of one name.
Then the rest of the week to come up with the rest.
For someone who is as cohort-sensitive as I am, who rages constantly about “kids these days,” and who feels most comfortable socializing almost exclusively with other X-ers, I found this assignment surprisingly daunting.
I used a HighLowBrow post about Gen-Xers to try to kickstart my brain.
That site calls us “Recons” and counts those born between 1964-1973 as members of that generation.
The article features a labor-of-love list of famous Recons/X-ers that was invaluable in helping me put together this column.
Predictably, I take issue with their chosen start date, however.
It’s a weird definition of “Generation X” that excludes the guy who popularized the phrase (Douglas Coupland, 1961) or the fellow who wrote our “national anthem” (Gordon Gano, 1963):
1. Music: Courtney Love
My loathing of the O.J. Simpson jury is boundless.
Thanks to the only twelve people in America who apparently couldn’t even spell “DNA,” a wealthy celebrity got away with murder.
Coulter’s thesis is that after the ridiculous O.J. Simpson “not guilty” verdict — and particularly, the racially divided reaction to it — sane Americans finally gave themselves permission to say farewell to white guilt and all its attendant evasions, hypocrisy, awkward social etiquette, and toxic lawmaking.
Having said all that, I confess that I’m not entirely immune from the naked tribalism that fuelled that jury’s rationale.
Only a handful of individuals make my “Do No Wrong” list:
Folks like Pete Townshend, Sarah Palin, and Zombie Frank Sinatra, who could team up on a five-state ax-murdering spree and I’d be insisting that, well, they probably had a good reason.
Hole frontwoman, sometime actress, and Kurt Cobain widow Courtney Love (1964) also makes my very short list.
I wish I cared that she used drugs when she was pregnant, but her daughter seems to have turned out all right. I wish I cared about whatever flaky thing she probably tweeted while I was writing this, or what religion she's into this week.
But surveying that HighLowBrow list for Gen-X musicians I cared about – or, frankly, I’d even heard of (hip hop and rap have bored me since Malcolm McLaren’s premature attempt to popularize those genres and cultures back in 1980; I can’t tell Kanye from Jay-Z) -- I came up short.
Yes, Cobain and company’s “Unplugged” sessions are immortal.
But if you believe he “really wrote” the songs on Hole’s (also immortal) breakthrough album, you’re delusional.
Not even a man as un-masculine as Cobain could’ve written “Jennifer’s Body” or “Doll Parts.” Those are girl songs.
I still listen to Live Through This about once a week.
Recently, I gave Nobody's Daughter another shot and now have it in regular rotation.
The album’s obvious references to stuff she and I both grew up listening to – I detect hints of America’s “Ventura Highway” and "Sister Golden Hair” -- make it the perfect “meta” Gen-X record, actually.
2. Comedy: Adam Carolla
I love that he didn't go to college, that he has a breathtaking work ethic, that he knows how to build and fix stuff, and that he has little time for received liberal wisdom and "goodthink."
I don't admire everything about him, of course.
Sometimes Carolla lapses into lazy thinking on topics like gun control, or when he rants too long about hacky topics like airports, hotels, and limo drivers.
But he's my favorite (Gen-X) comedian. (Alas, Nick DiPaolo falls outside the cohort.)
It's revealing to contrast Carolla's popularity with that of his rough contemporaries Louis CK and Marc Maron.
The latter two are far more beloved amongst millennial comedy buffs -- damn, this was long overdue -- whereas I can't stand Maron's petulant bitter neurosis or CK's -- for lack of a better word -- wimpiness, not to mention either one's default liberalism and prejudice against "flyover country."
Both flirt with "edginess" but pull back just before they offend their earnest, politically correct fans.
Listen to Louis CK's act carefully. Sure, he jokes about race and rape, but gets away with it because he reaches "acceptable" conclusions.
Adam Carolla? Not so much:
Finally, contrast the way Louis CK spends his riches with Carolla's buying style.
After making a million bucks off his downloadable comedy special, Louis CK guiltily gave a bunch of the cash to various non-controversial charities.
Being a real man and all, Carolla just gets another sports car.
Anyhow, I can't wait to watch his new reality show, in which he'll confront lazy contractors who've messed up people's homes.
I'm pretty sure neither Mark Maron or Louis CK knows one end of a hammer from another.
Just another reason to love Adam Carolla.
NEXT: Generation X TV and film...
3 and 4: Broadcasting: Glenn Beck and Greg Gutfeld, both born in 1964.
All the millions of words written about Beck somehow don't seem like enough. Curiosity about, and hostility towards, Glenn Beck remains insatiable. We'll be inundated with bashing bios and long-form think pieces about him for decades and cover stories on glossy magazines just before they print their last issue.
Beck's career was declared "over" after he left Fox News, yet his net worth has increased exponentially since.
Beck even received an "innovation" award from the TriBeCa Film Festival this year (!).
Greg Gutfeld shares Beck's (and my) "question authority" sensibility. If he were a lefty, Gutfeld would be making ten times more money, and hailed as a genius by the same people who rag on him now.
He doesn't share Beck's extreme tolerance for risk or apparent ADD, both of which sometimes prompt Beck to make stupid decisions and mount (then discard) wacky personal hobbyhorses with abandon.
However, if they stay grounded, both men will outlast their critics, whom they are smarter and more talented than. (They work harder, too.)
Speaking of working hard but staying grounded:
While I admire much of what Andrew Breitbart (1969) accomplished (or tried to), he also worked himself into an early grave and left behind a wife and kids.
That's not cool.
*Language warning on this page's first 2 videos.*
5. Movies: Judd Apatow
Ten or twenty years from now, how many people will still be watching films by the Gen-X moviemakers I keep hearing I'm supposed to admire?
Does anyone want to see Happiness ever again? Don't you wish instead that you could selectively lobotomize your memories of that thing?
Dazed and Confused? Nice soundtrack, epic costume sourcing; otherwise I have zero recall of anything that happened in the film. Empty calories.
Quentin Tarantino is most frequently described as "daring" and "original" -- the exact two things he is not. His "meta" references to other movies are ham-fisted and self-indulgent; he makes Brian De Palma look like Ozu. Tarantino isn't "daring," either. What could possibly be less brave than targeting -- wait for it -- Nazis and slave owners? What century is it, again?
The characters in Slacker are gross.
So are the pathetic losers in Clerks, who I wish had died in a stick-up.
Of people in my cohort, I have to pick Judd Apatow (1967).
Yes, his output is wildly uneven.
But Apatow also put out Freaks and Geeks, along with two funny, well-observed mega-blockbusters about a) a 40-year-old man who waits until his wedding night to have sex, and b) a woman who chooses not to abort her one-night-stand baby, and the dad who doesn't want to do the right thing but does it anyway.
And Apatow made those two movies in (and about) the 21st century.
Knocked Up has likely prevented more abortions than all the earnest, ill-advised stunts pulled by pro-lifers since Roe v. Wade.
It's easy to mock Apatow's Afterschool Special for Stoners formula -- come for the fart jokes, stay for the mental and moral hygiene -- but when it works, it's superb.
Unlike all the filmmakers I dissed above, Apatow dares to put a little (corny) humanity and decency on display on screen -- which makes you think maybe you can display yours in real life, and still be funny and smart and have cool friends.
I've said it before, but come on: How stunning is this?
6. Television: Mike Judge
This was a tough one.
My first instinct was to choose South Park creators Trey Parker (1969) and Matt Stone (1971).
That show has endured far longer than I'd ever thought it would. Yet, ironically, will its very timely "meta" humor stand up decades from now?
(You'll notice that Monty Python's Flying Circus, which aired when both those guys were infants, rarely name-checked the current prime minister or events in the news. And episodes are mostly still watchable, assuming the troupe's sense of humor syncs with yours.)
Parker and Stone's output isn't all good.
The Book of Mormon (ugh) cancels out Team America: World Police (yay.) Orgazmo, BASEketball, and That's My Bush also fall on the "no" side, while the South Park feature film was better than it had any right to be.
I admire them greatly for trying to portray Mohammed in South Park, but they've also had ample opportunity to do so in other venues, and obviously decided to pick on the Latter Day Saints instead.
In some ways, Mike Judge's (1962) portfolio is just as shaky.
I hate Beavis & Butthead, and was prepared to loathe King of the Hill until I realized it wasn't designed to bash red staters.
I fell in love with the show, and with Hank, who is a great role model for men.
With Office Space and Idiocracy on his side of the ledger, even though I know they're movies, I have to pick Judge for the "Television" category.
(I hope his The Goode Family gets another chance.)
PS: Stick up for Seth MacFarlane if you like. Family Guy is unwatchable trash.
Anyway, here's an interview Mike Judge did with... Alex Jones (1974). Really.
9. July 12, 2013:
Raining on the Nelson Mandela Parade
You're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, so I figured I'd get a head start.
One of the landmark events of my Gen X youth was the 11-hour, internationally televised "Free Nelson Mandela" concert in 1988.
Because, come on: how could you not be anti-apartheid?
It was a no-brainer, risk-free cause, the type you could support without having to think about it too much or inviting unpopularity or controversy, right?
Lots of big-name musicians who now boast of being on that concert roster were hesitant to sign on the dotted line unless other bands came on board first.
In fact, most of the backstage machinations and politicking are unedifying tales of cowardice and egomania.
During that concert and the massive publicity surrounding it, Nelson Mandela was presented to millions of young people around the world as a wrongly imprisoned, peace-loving freedom fighter, detained for decades by the evil, crazy, stupid white South Africans, who kept the rest of the country's majority black population enslaved to various degrees, too.
(Speaking of enslavement, did you know that the term "concentration camp" originated, not in Nazi Germany, but in South Africa, to describe the disease-ridden camps in which South Africans were held by the British during the Second Boer War [1899-1902]?)
Idealistic kids eagerly embraced Mandela as the Gandhi they never had, a Martin Luther King of their very own.
Of course, the real Nelson Mandela was, like those two men, flawed. Arguably more so.
At least Gandhi and King had preached and practiced non-violence.
During my youth, Mandela's criminal past was, if you'll pardon the expression, whitewashed.
In those pre-internet times, it was obviously harder to quickly access "counter-cultural" facts about anyone or anything.
When it comes to learning about Nelson Mandela's past these days, however, we might as well still be living in that far-away, unplugged era.
Today, googling "Nelson Mandela terrorist" brings up either mocking, preemptive apologias for Mandela's criminal activities -- whatever would we do without Nicholas Kristof? -- plus a few shaky looking anti-Mandela websites that probably haven't been updated since the Tripod era.
(You know you're in a bad internet neighborhood when you see the words "Illuminati" and "Zionist.")
However, few would characterize PBS as a "white supremacist" organization (although you're free to insert your own Juan Williams jokes in the comments).
And sure enough, at their pages devoted to a sprawling Frontline documentary about Mandela, there it is at the top of the page:
During the 1950s Mandela was banned, arrested and imprisoned for challenging apartheid. He was one of the accused in the massive Treason Trial at the end of the decade and, following the 1960 banning of the ANC, he went underground, adopting a number of disguises--sometimes a laborer, other times a chauffeur. The press dubbed him "the Black Pimpernel" because of his ability to evade police.
During this time, he and other ANC leaders formed its armed wing--Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).
Mandela was secretly appointed its commander in chief.
That "armed wing" carried out terror attacks at shopping centers, movie theaters and other civilian targets, not just "establishment" ones like courts and banks.
These attacks blew many innocent whites and blacks to bits.
(Note: some of these crime scene photos are disturbing.)
And when Mandela was arrested, the authorities claimed to have uncovered "210,000 hand grenades, 48,000 anti-personnel mines, 1,500 time devices, 144 tons of ammonium nitrate, 21.6 tons of aluminium powder and 1 ton of black powder."
Governments around the world, such as the ones in the U.S. and Great Britain, placed the ANC on their terror lists, along with the PLO, the IRA and the FLQ.
So when the Left adopted the destruction of apartheid as its new fashionable cause in the late 1980s, the organizer of that "Free Nelson Mandela" concert, Tony Hollingsworth, knew he needed to "personalize" the cause, and give that particular person a big makeover, pronto.
Hollingsworth now admits that the all-star extravaganza "had everything to do with ridding Mandela of his terrorist tag and ensuring his release. (...) Mandela and the movement should be seen as something positive, confident, something you would like to be in your living room with.”
Mandela danced out of prison less than two years after the concert.
Oh, and not long after that, he was filmed singing an ANC song about killing white people:
Not everybody was willing to go along with what they perceived as the Left's whitewashing of history, even for a cause as appealing as the abolition of apartheid.
Take Canadian MP Rob Anders.
He was the only member of Parliament who voted against a 2001 motion to make Nelson Mandela an hono(u)rary Canadian citizen, and earned highly vocal, passionate and enduring scorn for doing so.
"I think it's horrible, absolutely horrible to call Nelson Mandela. ... I will not repeat the term used," sputtered then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the hopelessly corrupt leader of the hopelessly corrupt Liberal Party.
The "term" Anders used was "a terrorist and a Communist."
Now, the long, storied anti-apartheid battle in South Africa itself was populated with white communists and black communists and black anti-communists and factions of factions within factions.
Mandela matter-of-factly admits to reading Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro -- and Menachem Begin.
This is apartheid South Africa we're talking about, not the Thirteen Colonies or the British Raj.
However, I think I understand the impulse that drove Anders to, shall we say, put on that political suicide vest.
(Which failed to go off, by the way. For what it's worth, his constituents keep on re-electing him.)
The manufacturing of heroes is a strange and often ugly business.
So is the promotion of "good causes."
What happens when the whitewash washes away, revealing things we'd hoped would stay hidden forever?
These revelations breed cynicism, disillusionment and resentment among those who'd joined the cause in good faith, and now feel conned and used.
Are we grown up enough to "do the right thing," even when the cause is more complicated than we'd wish, and its "heroes" more human?
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
10. August 7, 2012:
If I Were Queen: My First 3 Acts Upon Becoming Your Beloved Empress For Life
There's a saying in recovery: "Don't let the junky drive the bus." Here's what happens if you throw me the keys.
A hundred years ago, lunatic asylums were packed with inmates convinced they were world historical figures.
What happened when these men encountered each other in the hallways, I wonder?
Were there death matches between (literally) dueling Napoleons?
Did rival Jesuses (Jesuii?) challenge each other to miracle-working showdowns in the sunroom?
The closest one can get to experiencing such a circumstance first hand today is to go to an AA meeting, or five.
At some point (if you’re doing it right) a troubling thought enters your still-twisted brain:
“Hey, hang on a minute. Did these idiots get the memo? I’m the greatest person on earth! Don’t they know who I am?! Who let all these other Anastasias in here?”
Eventually, someone quips, “A alcoholic thinks they’re the piece of crap around which the entire world revolves” and everyone laughs knowingly.
Except you, at least the first time you hear that – you’re too busy trying to control your embarrassed flush.
Dammit, have these people been bugging my apartment?
Fantasizing about being all-powerful emperor of the solar system can’t be restricted to drunks, though.
Isn’t it a bit like musing about what you’d do with your Power Ball winnings?
As the only child of two only children, perhaps I’ve given such fantasies more thought than the sober and the sane amongst us.
And these fantasies reveal the embarrassing truth that I’m a libertarian for myself -- and a conservative for everyone else.
OK: maybe "fascist" is more accurate.
My split personality really comes out when I watch Parking Wars.
Half of me sides with the park-ers, who are, in their own pathetic way, giving the finger to The Man.
"Who owns these roads anyhow? Aren’t there some rapists the law could be chasing? We’re forced to pay your salary, Mr. Uniformed Drone" -- and so forth.
Then the parking enforcement guy shows up, and I switch sides.
"I hate people who are always trying to get away with stuff. What if we all broke the rules? Throw the book – or at least, the ticket – at ‘em!"
So you can see why putting me in charge of anything, let alone the world, would be a mistake.
I’m afraid that, armed with that much power, my inner dictator would win the day.
I know this because my first duty upon taking the throne would be to...
3. Nuke Afghanistan
No later than 2pm ET on September 11, 2001, President Bush should have deployed tactical nuclear weapons to Tora Bora.
Imagine it: Thousands of American (and Canadian) lives spared and many more disabilities avoided. Trillions of dollars saved. An unequivocal message sent.
Yes, it’s almost eleven years too late to “send this message.” Don’t argue with me: I’m in charge, remember?
America nuked Japan, twice, and frankly they don’t seem that busted up about it.
In fact, Japan (and Germany, which we firebombed into submission) have since been awfully quiet, if not downright productive, making their cute little cars and gadgets.
Of course, that was because we crushed both countries first, did the whole “de-Nazification” deal, then instituted the Marshall Plan and its equivalents.
In Afghanistan, we bypassed the whole “unconditional surrender and humiliation” part and went straight to the free presents. Dumb.
True, Japan and Germany both had high cultures they could recreate following the war.
(I’ll leave it to others to ponder why the two most “civilized” nations of their era turned into the two most barbarous.)
Alas, Afghanistan has no such culture. The sexual abuse of boys and girls is downright celebrated. Other than those neat “war rugs,” one of which I own, they produce nothing of particular artistic merit.
They not only don’t have their own Sistine Chapel, they don’t even have a Stonehenge.
So I doubt they’d have the ability to put out even the cheesiest equivalent of a Godzilla picture, post-nuke.
However, they don’t waste much time worrying about us, so I’m not inclined to worry about them.
There are other places on my gotta-go list, but I acknowledge that we can destroy UN headquarters more responsibly using conventional weapons.
In fact, we could hold a lottery. The winner gets the honor of pushing the implosion button at Turtle Bay.
2. Gut Entitlements
Don’t believe the myth that Social Security was invented to care for the elderly.
The retirement age was set at 65 because in those days the average man lived to be... 58.
It was designed never to pay out.
To use a gambling metaphor: The house was always supposed to win.
Therefore, we can restore Social Security to the Democrats' original intentions by raising the retirement age to 80.
This will be enacted overnight, because I hate Baby Boomers.
And frankly, the “Greatest Generation” who raised them have a lot to answer for, too.
Foreign aid will be abolished (including aid to Israel).
So will affirmative action.
I'm getting rid of the Olympics. Sorry.
Muslim immigration to the West ceases immediately.
Universities will return to teaching whatever subjects they were teaching one hundred years ago. Not the same course content, obviously, but the same disciplines. In other words, no more women’s studies.
Welfare will also be abolished, effective immediately. (I grew up with these people, so believe me: if you give them six months' notice, they will wait five months and three weeks to even start thinking about other arrangements. Poor people are poor for a reason.)
And two words: Flat tax.
1. Extreme Makeover
Every female over age 12 will be required to report for an annual bra fitting, since 80% of you are wearing the wrong size and this annoys me no end. You’ll get a free new bra in your correct size, so shut up.
Full-length mirrors will be mandatory on or next to the front door of every residence.
Beauty pageants for children will be outlawed. In fact, I’m taking my cues on everything else that needs to be outlawed from the TLC broadcast schedule. (I’m looking at you, Sister Wives...)
Prohibition is back, but for tattoos, not booze. If you insist on getting one illegally and contract a horrible disease, you will be denied medical treatment.
Use of the following expressions in a public place will be punishable by a $500 fine, which will be adjustable for inflation:
- Misuse of the word “literally”
- “At the end of the day”
- “Follow the money”
- Quotations from any Godfather or Star Wars film
At every venue at which the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar is being performed, a billboard will be erected directly across the street that reads: MARY MAGDALENE WAS NOT A PROSTITUTE.
I’m also instituting a variation on Godwin’s Law, to wit: comparisons of anyone to Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Rosa Parks are also subject to a fine (amount to be determined).
As you can see, I’m not promising to be a benevolent dictator. I’m all “tough” without the “fair.”
Oh, and I hope you like "Hair of the Dog," cuz its the official international anthem.
Get used to it: