Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys . . . Until Now

John Weber:
Editors Screed

When I was a small-town teenager, sports heroes and movie stars were the role models of my generation. And while dreams of becoming the next Dr. J made me spend hours on the hardcourt, Hollywood’s Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood—the two major stars of the 80’s—contributed to my character in an entirely different way.

Reynolds, the number-one box office attraction from ’78 to ‘82, played a smarmy, grinning, Trans-Am driving cowboy who removed his hat often, but for “one reason only”. Eastwood, meanwhile, played both the mysterious “Man With No Name” and Dirty Harry—cowboys of a different sort—dispersing hardcore violence cum justice in a way that film critic Pauline Kael described as “right-wing fantasy”.

So there I was, a vacuous teenager, with Hollywood happily filling the void. Burt and Clint, Sex and Violence: the two defining forces of a “make-my-day”, “feels-good-do-it” generation.

But as Heath Leger’s Joker (a villain, not a role model, you understand) might ask, “Why so sad?” Well, it’s this. I’m feeling a little betrayed. Betrayed by a media machine that made me think that women were nothing more than sex objects and that Clint’s strong, silent type of violence served as a reasonable facsimile for depth. In short, they were wrong . . . as was I.

But these days, thankfully, there’s the emergence of a new kind of role model, the kind born of hard times and desperate measures. And if you believe author Malcolm Gladwell, it’s no accident.

In his fascinating book on sociological change, Gladwell describes The Tipping Point as “the level at which momentum for change becomes unstoppable.” And while Obama’s election is a great example of that crest-of-the-wave momentum, I believe the movement towards this particular tipping point began years earlier.

In other words, the same kind of social intuition that caused Clint to start making a new genre of movie (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino—movies with a new depth, a reap-what-you-sew morality), set the stage for Obama to become the right man in the right place at the right time. Or, as Gladwell might say, personify the last stage of a social epidemic that’s been spreading for years.

But don’t take my word for it. Put Obama’s incredible success to the Gladwell test, or what the author calls the Three Rules of Epidemics.

First, The Law of the Few states that, “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of three kinds of people—Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen—with a rare set of social skills.”

Connectors, for example, are people with a special gift for bringing the world together. Think Hollywood—in the form of Clint Eastwood and other morality-conscious directors—fits the bill? How about the incredibly popular Texas tele-pastor Joel Osteen and his positive message of victory through excellence?

Mavens, secondly, are “people who accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others.” Think Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe suffices? All Plouffe did was combine on-line technology with grass-roots activism, mobilizing 1.5 million donors and raising hundreds of millions of dollars to derail the Clinton juggernaut and set a new standard for political campaigning and communication.

Finally, Salesmen are “charismatic people with an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, making others want to agree with them. Have we ever wanted to agree with a politician more than Obama? A still-reeling Republican Party says “no”!

Gladwell’s second rule of epidemics is The Stickiness Factor, or “the content of a message that makes its impact memorable”. Not since Kennedy asked “what you can do for your country” have three words—“Yes, We Can!”—been so positively and inextricably linked to a politician.

And the final rule of epidemics? The Power of Context. As Gladwell says, epidemics are sensitive to the conditions of the times and places in which they occur. For example, in the same way in which efforts to combat vandalism on the New York subway led to a decline in more violent crimes, Obama’s call for sacrifice and individual responsibility could lead to economic turnaround, increased tolerance and a less partisan government.

Furthermore, while the President’s message might go unheeded in a strong economy or a period that was any other than post-Bush our post, pigs-at-the-trough context means today’s people are more likely to listen. Just what the doctor order for a tipping-point “epidemic”.

So, in the same way that Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood became the role models of my day—riding a social epidemic of recreational sex and unapologetic violence—Barack Obama is both the virus and the cure for what ails us today.

And what of George Bush, you may ask, the latter-day cowboy out of touch with today’s tipping point times?

Well, consider it like this: he leaves us on the same dead horse he rode in on—a new Man With No Name, the role Clint abandoned (like the Gladwellian plague) nearly 30 years ago.

Coincidence? Uh-uh. Unforgiven? You bet’cha.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ice Cold Rivers Of Change Flood Streets Of Washington

Aetius Romulous:
Editors Screed

How different is the world today, a world now so distant from just a day before.

Yes, of course America has reached a historical milestone by electing its first non-white, non obscenely rich old white guy...I suppose one would have to be blind to miss that. If we did, CNN was there to remind us, thank god. And yes, it's a new age for American Political Bipartisanship, something the rest of the world knows as consensus building,or as it is also known in some places, working together. It's a big deal for Americans, the winner of the SuperBowl of American Idols, Entertainment Tonight for the main Stream Media. Brittany Spears in black face.

As the world followed the young and self confident President and First Lady though their ascension - the Ken and Barbie couple that never really sold well all these years now given shelf space as wide as Pennsylvania Avenue - pictures snapped from thousands of digital cameras and cell phones, media cameramen and satellite uplinks all focused closely on the World's most famous smile. Like wallpaper, the millions who crushed the American Capitol for a distant glimpse of Jumbotron history turned their faces towards the podium, stamped their feet and melted together to preserve their excitement in the teeth of inclement weather. The subject of their awe was nothing more than a dark shadow against white marble, a speck in the distance, an illusion. Buried beneath layers of clothing, scarves, mitts and hats of all description, the world was changing in the churning throngs, had changed by their very being there in the cold, did change by the millions who marched that day to Washington as a new generation, a new age of tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

George Bush the younger, Bill Clinton, George the Dad, and Jimmy Carter. My god how old they looked. My god how old they are. Bush Sr. with a cane and Darth Vader in a wheelchair, icons tumbling from luncheons and health update bulletins. Aretha Franklin, majestic and designer hat besotted, the voice of a generation straining against the cold and bitter winter winds of change. The Baby Boom generation is dying across a billion flat screen monitors, right before our eyes. And cheering them on, hastening their exit, handing them their hat and coat (don't let the door hit you on the way out) were all those "huddled masses", all breathing free of a generation that robbed and pillaged like 21st century Vandals, sacking Wall Street and burning their "citty on a hill" to the ground. The bulge in the snake had digested it's host, and barfed out a world destroyed for those who followed. And those who follow couldn't be more happy about it.

History was not made in Washington on January 20th, 2009. It was made around the world as the great, demographic tidal wave born at the end of World War II heaved the beginnings of its last breath, and the smaller, leaner, world connected generation behind it realized - perhaps for the first time - that it is their world now. Like a glacier tears away at the earth as it recedes, the Baby Boomers will claw away at their remaining time while the waters of change rise all around them. It ain't gonna be pretty folks. Now is the time for the next to seize the present, to utilize the strengths of the internet and a new global community to build and organize, to grow and assert. There is a vacuum developing between those that had it all, and those who must clean up the mess. A vortex of change into which the motivated, the dreamers, the talented risk takers of tomorrow must step.

The worlds Financial architecture must be rebuilt. Nationalism must be shelved on the back rows of history. War must be rethought and understood for what it is (Good for absolutely nothin'...say it again, ya'll). The Earth itself must be attended to and injustice, poverty, and inequality now must be examined by a globe of humans with the ability to work together like never before. The default position must now be consensus.

The internet remains an untapped wonder, and must be freed from all regulation and those who would harness its power only for cash. Print media is dying, it has yet to be replaced. TV has become the idiot box its promise always held out, and radio....what is radio anyway? Information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. By that standard alone, the coming generation will be the most powerful the earth has ever experienced.

No more "us or them". No more "I", but Wii. Text is the language of the future. A language that just won't work on a cell phone text screen or chat board simply won't get it done anymore. Text is international, brkng dwn wals arnd the wrld :). Barack Obama (we are confidentially told by Wolf Blitzer) is struggling to give up his Crackberry as he joins an analog White House in a digital world.

Obama is indeed the right man, in the right place, at the right time. To him will fall the task of shepherding America from its craggy hillock down into the valley of the shadow of everybody else. It will be the toughest job in history, saving new Rome from the fate of the old. Providing a soft landing for a people now unshod of any manifest destiny, overnight and on a cold, winter January. A new Caesar, a Barbarian one of different birth and heritage, has come from the darkness of obscurity, without noble birth or heritage, to seize the reins of empire and rein in its profligate ways before history deals it a mortal blow. Embracing change, consensus, and co operative leadership, Obama has the opportunity to herald the age of the next, and carry the standard for a generation that can simply backspace the old text.

Failing that, he risks becoming nothing more than a dark shadow on a pedestal deep in a Washington hallway, a historical curiosity, a shiny marker on the sunny, breezy, corpse littered slopes of decline and fall.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Don't Be An Ass....

Brianna Popsickle:
Letters From A Suburban Prison

Don’t be an Ass….

Greg Bebrendt and Liz Tucillo’s book, He’s Just Not That Into You, has created a lot of buzz, as has the movie, set to open next week. Bebrendt and Tucillo attempt to bridge the gap in communication between men and women. They set out to teach women to interpret the actions of the men in their lives. They claim that despite women coming up with every excuse in the book for a guy’s behaviour, he does what he does, not because he’s stressed, afraid of a relationship, or misunderstood, but because he’s ‘just not that into her’.

Although the book may be helpful in interpreting men’s actions and words, it still doesn’t answer the most important question. Why? Why do men say what they say, do what they do, often oblivious to the affect their words and actions have on the women around them.

For instance, a guy asks a girl for her phone number. She gives it to him but he never calls. Is she expecting too much? Is she wrong in assuming he wants her number in order to call her? Maybe he has a collection of numbers and is merely adding to it. When you order a pizza over the phone, they ask for your number. Do they always call you?

Bebrendt and Tuccillo believe he’s just not that into her, and they’re right. However, I think, his behavior is also an indication of something else, something bigger, much bigger. Which brings me to suggest there be another attempt at bridging the gap. Another book, only this time, a book for men. It should be titled Don’t Be An Ass.

It’s too bad this book couldn’t have come first. It could have saved women a lot of confusion and heartache. Don’t Be An Ass, would be a guide for men on what to do and not do, what to say and not say, in order to attract (and keep) the women they are ‘into’. It will be written in words even they can understand.

For example:

Your girlfriend is out of town, you’re at a party and this hot blonde is all over you. What your girlfriend doesn’t know won’t hurt her right? I mean, it’s not like you’re married.

STOP! Don’t be an Ass. They always find out, and it always hurts. Before you know it, you’ll be the guy in Carrie Underwood’s song, ‘Before He Cheats’. You know, the one where she digs her key into the side of his 4-wheel drive, and takes a baseball bat to his headlights? How about you guys stop and think before you cheat?

It’s late, things are winding down at the bar, your buddies have all hooked up and you’re left with no one. Then you see her across the room, and surprisingly the girl you avoided like the plague at midnight, is looking a lot better to you at 2:30 a.m. You’re not coming away from the night with nothing, you’ve got to get her number at least.

STOP! Don’t be an Ass. You really don’t want her number, you’re not going to use the number, walk away. Why put her through the whole wondering why you didn’t call paranoia. Don’t be an Ass, just walk away.

Your girlfriend has been busting her butt at the gym for weeks to squeeze into her little black dress for the party. The big day comes and she barely squeezes into it. Her butt hasn’t gone anywhere. She asks you “Do I look fat in this dress?”

STOP, for the love of God, don’t be an Ass. It is not the time or the place to offer
helpful suggestions on increasing her workouts or cutting back on her food. Now
is the time, and you won’t hear this often, to LIE. Tell her she looks amazing and
both of you will enjoy your evening out.

Your friends set you up on a blind date it goes O.K. but you know it’s not going anywhere. The next day you see she’s changed her face book profile to ‘in a relationship’ and she’s left ten messages on your cell. It’s apparent she’s the stalker/nut bar type but you can’t help but think of the ‘fringe’ benefits.

STOP, don’t be an Ass, walk away. Don’t lead this psycho on. Better to end it before it begins. You’re familiar with the whole Fatal Attraction thing right? You don’t want any dead bunnies.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Women everywhere want to scream “Don’t be an Ass! They’re tired of men saying this and doing that, and to add
insult to injury they have to hear ‘he’s just not that into you’.

Here’s your opportunity girls, let’s hear it! What advice do you have for these guys?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm Not Lou Dobbs

John Weber:
Editors Screed

I’m not Lou Dobbs and I’m not Joe the Plumber, so when it comes to political knowledge I’m somewhere in between: smart enough to cover my butt-crack but too busy to follow things full time.

Still, I can tell which way the wind’s blowing and the difference between something real and media-manufactured (I think) and here’s what I think of Barack Obama, the training-wheels senator bold enough to sail either the Amistad or the floundering U.S. through Katrina-like waters: he’s just what we need. Not “we” the U.S., you understand, or even “we” its allies; but for the first time, “WE” as in THE WORLD.

And demonstrably, I’m not alone in this, as millions of pilgrims made their way to Washington while a billion more tuned in worldwide. Thank God, we’re all saying, for this genuine black man. Thank God for his intellect, his candor, his fitness, his smile. Thank God for his ability to visibly think before speaking and his understanding that speaking—with minorities and power brokers, enemies and allies alike—is the key to solving the myriad illnesses—greed, distrust, inequity, violence—that so ail the world.

Thank God for his youth, thank God for his quiet strength, thank God he’s not George Bush, or any other politician that’s made the term such a dirty, distrustful word for so long.
But will it all be enough, I ask? Can Obama’s twin philosophies of partnership and sacrifice reverse the ill-will (hell, hatred) fostered by years of Republican-fueled, Cheney-driven, America-first foreign policy? Will there be time for his ‘Yes, We Can’ mantra to take hold, to become more than just a five-second sound-bite in a four year minefield certain with media muck-raking, Democratic in-fighting, Republican antagonism, foreign conflict and world-wide economic turmoil?

We’ll see, I think, we’ll see. But for the first time in a long time—like many—I’m hopeful.
Hopeful that Obama will make decisions based on what’s good for the world as opposed to what’s good for the super-rich—the powerful A-list Americans and friends that created this mess in the first place. Hopeful that Obama will re-interpret MAD Magazine’s little ditty—“Diplomacy is to do and say, the nastiest thing in the nicest way”—and win people over with tough, transparent, responsible decisions, rather than the back-room deal-making we’ve long come to dread. Hopeful that the joy I watched during the pre-inauguration ceremonies—a group of spirited, teen black boys singing and dancing in a way that most of us only wish we could—will somehow take hold of our Caucasian, constipated culture so that white men really can jump (and sing and smile and dance) with the same unencumbered, genuine, money-be-damned spirit.
But like I said, I’m not Lou Dobbs. I’m not a political insider. I don’t know the intricacies of the Supreme Court or Senate, blue states from red, that make Obama’s present hold on the world something more than a na├»ve, starry-eyed fairytale. I’m just a guy caught up in the spirit of things. A little afraid but spurred on by his daughter’s smiling/fearless thumbs up; buoyed like Beyonce with Obama-bred confidence to “want to be smarter and do better for this man”, to join in with those rollicking black kids, bursting with pride and potential, beaming as they . . . I . . . WE continue to sing:

“You broke it down.
No limits anymore.
Yes, We Can!”