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Posts Tagged ‘what’s so funny?’

Yesterday, in my casual scroll through my FB feed, I saw a post from a woman I know, and I clicked on it. This woman is someone who usually posts about race, about spirituality, about ways we should live better together as human, about how she feels when people show her how incapable they are of living well together as humans. She also posts a fair amount of live commentary on these topics. She posts funny things from time to time, but when I see her in my feed, I have come to expect a post that has some weight, that will hit on some points that will make me think or share some information I’ll find interesting.

The piece I clicked on yesterday, however, disturbed me. She had posted a link to a piece about the death of George Zimmerman (let’s be clear right now: Zimmerman is NOT dead). I hadn’t been listening to the news — where I assume I’d have heard that story if it was a real story — so I was surprised and clicked through to see what had happened to him. I didn’t read the piece. I didn’t need to. As soon as the link opened, the banner across the page read “Create a Prank!” So the “article” was supposed to be a joke, supposed to sucker us in and then say, “Gotcha!” when we reached the end.

Never mind whether it’s funny to make jokes about people’s deaths (I leave the Kathy Griffin argument on the side for now). This site disturbed me because it encourages people to make fake news … for fun. Now, the site covers its ass by proclaiming that I am 100% wrong. At the bottom of the page is this note: “We do NOT support FAKE NEWS!!! This is a Prank website that is intended for Fun. Bullying, Violent Threats or posts that Violate Public Order are NOT permitted on this Website.” Duly noted. Maybe that means no one can sue you. But you’ve set up a site that creates news-like content for people to post on social media. That would seem to be the textbook definition of fake news.

We are living in a moment when we are actively encouraged to distrust the press, when THOTUS and his masters and minions¹ tell us daily that the press is our enemy and cannot be trusted, when actual purveyors of fake news are given stronger platforms from which to spew their filth. And into this toxic soup someone thinks it’s a good idea to introduce a prank site that will make the fake facts that much easier to produce.

I’m sure many people will use this site to make silliness that will amuse their friends and make for a slew of great comments. Which will be harmless because folks’ friends will be able to tell right off that the “article” is fake, is meant to be funny.

But then there are folks who will use it to make headlines about George Zimmerman’s death, headlines that will catch our attention because they are about people or events that aren’t joking matters. And there are the folks who will use it to make headlines to further their conspiracy theories or insane claims about one political party or another, about one country or another, about one religious group or another.

And maybe that would be fine if people would be able to tell even without clicking the link that they’re being pranked. But the prank “article” is attributed to “Channel 45 News” and, as an FB share, looks the way most shared news links look. As long as the headline and accompanying photo aren’t too outlandish, the prank article will look pretty real. And given the numbers of people who just read headlines and keep scrolling, that could be a problem.

I’m actually not interested in being a killjoy, in keeping folks from having wacky fun with fake news. I just question if this is the time for such wacky fun. When THOTUS and his masters and minions are working hard to make us disbelieve everything we hear from major news outlets, is this really the right moment for adding straight up lies to anyone’s timeline? I vote no.

Public trust in the media has been severely damaged, and nonsense like this won’t help right that ship. I’m not a big flag-waver for the media in general — there are so many things that need fixing, so many ways the media needs to try harder and be better — but we need an independent press. Period. It’s one of the things we’ve always chosen to brag about in relationship to the state-controlled presses in other places. And yet here we are, with a government that is hell bent on driving our somewhat-independent press into the ground.

Do I think this prank site will ring the death knell of real news? No. Of course not. But it’s not helping. There are people in this country who can hear a “news” story about Hillary Clinton running a child slavery ring out of a pizza shop and show up strapped, ready to rescue the babies. I mean. When this is who we are, we shouldn’t be playing with fire.

__________

¹ THOTUS is still Titular Head of These United States, but I’ve added in his coterie of evil because it’s not enough to only point my finger at him.



I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week … except that I’m WAY behind! I’m determined to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.

 

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NPR’s podcast, Invisibilia, just ran a piece about Max Hawkins, “a kind of unassuming white guy.” Maybe you know Max because he arrived, uninvited, at your Passover seder, or the sushi-making party you threw last year. Because that’s his thing: using technology to find and show up at private events.

And—surprise!—strangers welcome him gladly! Relationships are formed, and good times are had by all!

The piece is skewed to read as wacky, charming, renewing-your-faith-in-the-basic-goodness-of-your-fellow-citydwellers. All that. Definitely played for sweetness: young man realizes he lives in a bubble and uses tech to try new things and meet people he wouldn’t have otherwise met. You can listen to it on the NPR site. It’s a great story.

And it enrages me.

For real. On so many levels: as a woman, as a Black person, as a private citizen who doesn’t have a lot of love for colonizers and gate crashers. This story reeks of privilege, and NPR’s inability or unwillingness to call that out in a real way is frustrating in the extreme. There is a half-second nod to Hawkins’ privilege. But that’s it. The idea is almost acknowledged, and we’re told that Hawkins acknowledges it, too … and then we move right back to the smiley, feel-goodness of this zany tale.

But it’s not that simple. In 2017, in MAGA America, it cannot be that simple.

In the past, you could do an interview like this and never have to include even token acknowledgement of the power of whiteness. Why would you? It was expected that stories would be told from the point of view of white folk, quite often from the vantage point of white men. The white person’s point of view was, simply, the “norm,” and the rest of us were welcome to fit ourselves in around the margins if we could, but we were expected to accept our exclusion and erasure and keep quiet. Inclusion? Not possible.

Also impossible? The idea that anyone else’s feelings or interests or privacy need be respected. The white people are having fun, and that was the only point. Never mind if their “fun” disturbed or damaged someone else, one of those nameless “other” people who count so very much less.

This story is presented as funny and clever, something we should all try because surely all of us could benefit from stepping out of our comfort zones and meeting new people. Really? How well would that work for me as a woman alone to go present myself at the homes of strangers? How well would it work of for me as a Black person? How well would it work for a Black man?

Let’s pause for a moment to consider how unnecessary any of this is. In a city like San Francisco, there are plenty of public events that could have helped Max break free of his homogenous bubble. There are gallery openings, readings, performance art installations, open houses. He could volunteer with an organization working in a neighborhood he’s curious about but never visited. He could join his community board and meet some of the old-timey residents who have yet to be priced out by his gentrifying butt. Why am I supposed to think it’s okay for him to insert himself in other people’s lives because his own life feels boring or stuck in a rut?

As I said, the story does take a quick glance over the wall at privilege: “as a kind of unassuming white guy, [Max] actually didn’t [have to worry about people not responding positively.] (And Max acknowledges this privilege.)” Oh. Okay, then. Max acknowledges his privilege. Carry on.

This hat tip to white male privilege isn’t enough. No points for that little wink and nod. What privilege is it that Max is aware of? We have no idea because we’re just given that pat on the head, no actual information. No, sorry. NPR and Invisibilia, you have failed. You need to take that further. In the case of this profile of Max, a lot of my anger would have melted away if the reporter creating this story had stepped away from the cutesy narrative and said plainly:

Max was able to get away with his shenanigans because he is a young white man who is not aggressively muscular and looks goofily non-threatening. Given the realities of our current society’s entrenchment in rape culture, this kind of reliance on the kindness of strangers isn’t recommended for women. Given our adherence to the belief that all Black bodies are dangerous and criminal and in need of neutralization, showing up at strangers’ doors and demanding entrance to their parties is discouraged for Black folks … well, hell, for all people of color.

But my anger runs along another path as well. Yes, the white male privilege of Max being able to feel safe and comfortable putting himself in places he doesn’t belong would be enough to piss me right off. But there’s more. There’s the raging sense of entitlement that allows Max to decide he has the right to show up at strangers’ homes, at strangers’ private events. That entitlement allows him to made decisions about other people’s lives, allows him to decide that whatever he sees that he wants, he can have. And that is just the whitest thing in the world.

It’s easy for me to believe Max Hawkins is a nice guy. Look at his almost cartoonishly goofy face:

He really looks like a nice guy. That’s not the point, however. Nice people do shitty things all the time. Nice people take full, comfortable advantage of their privilege all the time. They may even, like Max, acknowledge that they have privilege. But when Invisiblia reports on all of that without acknowledging any of it, that’s the problem, that’s what sparks my rage.

Back in December, Storycorps raised hackles by framing an awful story as a heartwarming one, just in time for the holidays … and then refused to take full responsibility for their crap when listeners and readers called them out.

Now it’s Invisibilia’s turn. There is no excuse for presenting a story like this without context, without explicit acknowledgement of the ways in which Max’s life-randomizing hijinks are also dangerous, intrusive, and dripping with privilege.

Is it fair for me to expect more from Invisibilia, from NPR? I say yes. The Washington Post’s new motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” tells me that the paper must be held to an even higher level of accountability for its journalism, for its honesty, for its calling out of wrongs and lies. Not that it shouldn’t be held to high standards simply because it’s a major national newspaper. But when you slap that kind of high and mighty line on yourself, you are asking to be put under a more exacting microscope. I mean, Fox News was terrible for years, but when they started describing themselves as “fair and balanced,” that was clearly a call for pointing out every instance of their utter lack of fairness or balance.

NPR presents itself as the news organization that goes beneath the surface, that takes more time with its stories, digs deep for the hidden bits that are crucial to understanding, to informed, critical thinking. That standard of reporting has to apply to all of the reporting. That standard of reporting has to be followed even when a reporter is faced with “a kind of unassuming white guy” who’s doing some madcap thing that seems the perfect idea for a fluff piece. You sell your wares based on the promise of critical analysis. Throwing the words, “And Max acknowledges this privilege” at me is laziness. It’s telling me, “Look, we know there’s more here, some deep mess that needs dissecting, but we’re not in the mood. We like this guy and don’t feel like examining the seamy underbelly of his privilege, don’t want to make him feel bad about this adorably crazy thing he’s done.”

That laziness is bad journalism. There are people who don’t understand what privilege is or how it works, who don’t know how to spot it, who can’t see that it’s lurking in harmless spaces like Max’s decision to amp up the interesting-quotient in his life. It’s up to quality, responsible journalism to point that out.

The decision to ignore the negative aspect of Max’s story is bad for Max, too. As I said, it’s easy to believe Max is a nice guy. He probably means well and didn’t set out to harm anyone. The I-can’t-fully-open-my-eyes, nerdboy look of him makes that easier to believe. He’s a nice guy. By not calling his attention to what he’s doing, by not picking apart his “awareness” of his privilege, he gets to continue running headlong down his slippery slope.

Max’s slope? Monetizing his behavior and taking it public. He is developing a “suite of randomization apps.” Of course he is. Because what he’s done is so fun and clever, and of course lots of other people should do the same.

He hopes to introduce [the apps] for public use in the coming months. He has also created a Facebook group that encourages people to attend strangers’ publicly listed events and offers tips and tricks for doing so.

(I’m not even going to list all the ways I’ve already imagined for this to go horribly wrong, all the folks with ill intent who could take full and painful advantage of Max’s apps. No, we’ll just pretend he’s done something fun and clever and of course lots of other people should do the same.)

When we don’t push people to think about the problematic things they’re doing, they will keep doing them. And, in some cases, they will expand them, and make money from them, and get other people to start doing them, too. Swell.

Being a nice guy shouldn’t give you a pass when you’re doing something wrong. By finding Max clever and off-beat, NPR lost sight of the work it’s supposed to be doing, the quality journalism we’ve been led to expect.

I expect my purveyors of quality news to be aware of the larger world, even in a puff piece about a bored hipster who’s created an app for that.



In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind. I committed to writing an essay a week … but fell behind behind pretty quickly. I’m determined to catch up, committed to 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride.

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Or, to be entirely accurate (and doubly literary), fear and loathing.

I am a big fan of the whole six degrees of separation idea. I’m always charting my connections to see how far afield I can go, what unexpected people I can get to. My aunt knew Barbara Jordan, so all kinds of connections there. My mom dated Freddy Cole, so a ton more there. A crazy teacher I once hired gave me a connection to Trotsky. You get the idea.

Generally speaking, I love this game. I love the Kevin Bacon version of this game. When Fox was first becoming a Lord of the Rings fangirl, I made her a Six Degrees of LOTR book, connecting all of the trilogy’s principal cast to Bacon. This was, of course, super easy to do. The man really does connect to everyone.

But the connections to be discovered aren’t always great. I just learned that I am only three short degrees from THOTUS¹.

To be honest, I already knew I could get to that sunken place in four degrees. Shortening that path to three … well, it hurts a bit, makes me wish that sometimes the world wouldn’t be so small.

But I can’t write a chōka for THOTUS. I mean, I can, but I refuse to.

_____

Love Lost

Did I really write
a poem about old lovers?
Why yes, yes I did.
I guess it’s true: anything
can turn into art.
Of course: love is poetic,
so that makes some sense.
Poems pick at the emotion —
feelings, not the men
not the flawed and fallible
simple, human men.
I’m sure it’s better this way.
The men that I’ve loved
and the others, the lovers
they can all be spared
my ink, my rancor, my scorn —
I’ll turn aside. Write elsewhere.

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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Yes, all of that. For all the reasons.

First, let me say that, the moment you fix your mouth to tell me that “even Hitler” wouldn’t do some particularly heinous thing … you’ve gone down the wrong path. The very moment it occurs to you to make such a comparison, STOP. Stop, take a deep breath, try to count at least to five. Let a new thought flow into your brain, anything but a favorable reference to Hitler, a reference to the genocide he orchestrated in a way that makes it sound like the Mall of America. Maybe count all the way to ten … and remember that you, in fact, know absolutely not one whit about history, that you half-recall some names, no dates, a few terms of art. Realize that all of this means you should shut the fuck up — all the way up — that you should change course and never, ever attempt to make even the most basic of analogies ever again.

That’s first.

Second, how clear is it today and to how many people, that THOTUS¹ has no respect for anything that is in any way related to the job he has lied and cheated his way into? You tried to pretend it didn’t bother you when Kellyann curled up on the Oval Office couch with her got-damn shoes on to play with her phone before taking a pic of all those school choice advocates who’d come to see her boss. You looked down at your hands and acted as if you couldn’t see when Ivanka sat in on diplomatic meetings, when she officially took on an advisory role. You were suddenly interested in your shoes and their need for a shine when Jared was put in charge of brokering Middle East peace and a thousand other important issues for which he isn’t the least bit qualified.

But now Hitler’s been put on the table, and surely you finally have to admit that you see it. If THOTUS cared at all about the job he has shoehorned himself into, he would make some kind of effort to surround himself with staff who have the first clue about government, about the world, about history, about any damn thing that has to do with leading this country.

But THOTUS doesn’t care. At all. He has never cared. He has only ever been interested in winning, in showing the naysayers that he could walk in and take whatever the fuck he wanted. That was always the goal. What happens to the rest of us now that his aides are sitting around picking their noses and playing with their hair is not his concern.

And so, three. What now? What’s your path forward in spite of, in response to, in solidarity against? Have you found the form that resistance takes for you?

_____

Jib for the Jobber

I have only this —
anger, an uncontrolled rage,
only this belief
that we will have to survive,
have to save ourselves
step out of the inferno.
I have always rage,
questions, my fierce, ugly hope —
bulked up and ready,
pushing me forward in spite
and in spite of. Yes.
This isn’t my song,
but I have learned all the words.
I can sing all day,
long into the night. Watch me
outlast you, my voice still strong.

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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Are you watching? How could you not be watching? Don’t you call it up on your phone while you’re at work? Prop up your phone next to your computer monitor so you can work and glance over every once in a minute? I think everyone’s watching. Aren’t you watching?

Of course, I’m talking about the live feed of April the giraffe. April, who is going to have a baby ANY DAY NOW!! April, who has had three other babies before this one, without the benefit of a live feed. April, who has consumed an inordinate amount of my conscious time for the last couple of days.

April. Why am I glued to her YouTube channel?

But really, how can I not be? She’s beautiful. Her pregnant belly is beautiful. Little I’m-the-daddy Oliverr in the background is adorable.

Seriously, though. For her eyelashes alone I would be glued to this live feed.

Sigh.

April.

Back to work.

__________

And I Fell

It all started here
this moment. One open moment.
Started with silence
and then the call of my name,
the sound of laughter.
Your voice — a new, vast landscape —
all the mystery
of new, of magic, of you
I’ll remember. Beginning.

Oh, that one was hard … and I like it less than the last two. My head was definitely not in it. Far too much time spent watching April and Oscar. But I made it. Another chōka gets checked off the to-do list. Done and done. On to the next!



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So, we have:

Woman without her man is nothing.

And also:

Come and eat grandma!

And slowly, even the most stubborn souls begin to see the value of punctuation.

Woman: without her, man is nothing.

Come and eat, grandma!

Oh, what a different a few dots and squiggles can make.

These are famous ones, of course. I was trying to remember a really wonderful one that wound up in print a while ago, and finally found it:

And this is all silly and a good reminder that commas are life savers (I know Ray’s family and dog are grateful for them!) … but there was a story the other day that also proved that a well-placed comma can mean the difference between winning and losing a legal battle.

I’ll admit that I’m a latecomer to the Oxford comma. I was forced to use it in grade school. But I was forced to do a lot of things with my writing in grade school, and many of them I heartily disagreed with and despised. Once I had a little more freedom to write how I wanted, I began to jettison those things I didn’t care for, and the Oxford comma fell by the wayside with the other castoffs. People have argued with me about it quite a bit over the years — which maybe says something about the folks I hang with¹ — but I have remained stubbornly against. I taught English for many years, and I taught the Oxford comma … but also made it clear that a) I didn’t use it myself and b) no one’s grade would be damaged by the decision not to use it.

But then I got my current job. I got this job, and one of the first things I had to do was edit the big, serious report we were producing. And before the editing began, I was asked to put together a style guide so that all of the people who were adding writing could try to have the same set of rules in mind as they worked and so that changes I made to text would all follow clear guidelines.

Making that style guide was, I have to admit, fun for me (which most definitely says something about the kind of person I am!). I saw the guide as my chance to lay down the law, list out my writing pet peeves, make our sleek and shiny report conform to my writing style. (Oh yes, a little power is truly a dangerous thing!)

Pretty quickly in my style-guiding I ran smack into the Oxford comma. And somehow, for reasons I couldn’t explain and can’t explain now, that comma suddenly made sense. Made perfect, why-didn’t-I-ever-see-this-before sense. And I’ve been using it ever since. (Somewhere, my 6th grade teacher is pointing, laughing, and saying, “I told you so!”)



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

__________

¹ This wacky-grammarians-on-my-friend-list business did not extend to the guy who came to a party I threw years ago … who smugly diagrammed the sentences of the people who spoke to him. You may think this is a clever party trick. Trust me when I tell you that it really isn’t.

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Yes, you read that right.

I am a single woman. I live alone. And, while I love to cook, sometimes it’s just too much. With just me in the house, some nights the production of dinner-making is taking up time that could be spent … well … on just about anything else. So, that’s what I’m saying. I get her, Olivia Pope. Popcorn and wine is not a lie.

More often, for me, it’s popcorn and herbal tea. Sometimes popcorn and ginger ale. But you get the idea.

I’ve gone through many popper styles — electric, air, microwave. But the best is made on the stove.

I used to have this old-school beauty:

This is the Wabash Valley Farms™ Original Whirley Pop™ Stovetop Popcorn Popper (they clearly needed to use the word “pop” at least one more time). I loved it. And I used it so much, I wore it out. Now I just use an old stock pot. It’s not as fun as turning the crank, but it definitely gets the job done.

It gets the job done because it’s popcorn, and it’s really not that serious … except that, maybe it is. If you fire up the Google, you will, in fact, get 47,900,000 hits for “how to make popcorn.” Really. Nearly 48 million hits. But sadly, only 3,400,000 returns for “how to make caramel popcorn.” Why so few? How are we living, people? Surely, caramel corn should play a larger role in our lives. And the results tumble down from there. Only 1,880,000 for kettle corn.

So yes, all of this is quite silly. But it’s also reminding me of popcorn balls (7,040,000 hits!), specifically, the popcorn balls my grandmother used to make. She didn’t make them often, so they were an extra especial treat. And they seemed like magic. No one else ever had them, and I never actually saw how she made them, so they just seemed to become … there’d be a big bowl of popcorn, and then <snap of fingers> there’d be popcorn balls! She was a kitchen magician.

And now I have my pick of recipes, and I might have to give them a try.

Um …

But not tonight. If I can’t work up the gumption to boil some pasta and throw on some bottled sauce, am I really going to take on the decadent extravagance of popcorn balls?! I think not.

I am more likely to go on the hunt for the Brooklyn Popcorn truck!



original-slicer-girlgriot

It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge — posting a little bit of something every day in March!

Go check out the hundreds of slicers over at Two Writing Teachers!

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