Archive for the pop culture Category

The Problem with Social Media Activism

Posted in current events, opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2013 by Kyle Fleming

I’d like to think that I’m the type of guy who walks the walk. If I say something should be done or approached a certain way, then I should be able to approach it the certain way. I don’t mind awareness campaigns, as long as you follow up your awareness with something tangible and substantial.

So when I see something on Facebook or Tumblr that is activist in nature, but doesn’t appear to have any substance, I immediately become suspicious. Over the weekend, it was something a Facebook friend had posted about the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. It was a huge post supposedly written by someone living in the Philippines, giving a detailed account of the first six days after the typhoon, and the awful, horrible conditions that people are living in in the aftermath.

But the very first line of the post infuriated me so much that I couldn’t read the rest of the post. The very first words of what will surely become Facebook spam are: “I don’t watch TV news, so I have only heard a little about the bad situation in the Philipeans. [sic]”

I went on brief but strongly worded rant about this on Twitter, but the basic point, which I will expand on in this post, is simple: In your effort to show that you are above corporate media, you have exposed your ignorance to the world, and it will definitely come back to bite you.

It’s amazing how many assumptions can be made about this person by one sentence alone. To paraphrase the sentence, it says, “I don’t watch TV news, so I didn’t know about the destruction in the Philippines.”

Now, I’m as against commercial media as anyone else. If your primary news source is only one cable news channel, you’re being subjected to a certain agenda, and news stories will have a certain slant, whether you realize it or not. Fox News has the conservative slant, MSNBC has the liberal slant. Even an institution as supposedly neutral as CNN occasionally slants stories in a certain direction to fit a narrative. Any time corporate interests are at stake, organizations will happily bend toward those interests in order to keep up the cash flow.

But in today’s information age, where literally anything you could ever want to know is a quick Google search away, saying “I don’t watch TV news” is no longer an excuse. You don’t watch cable news, but you’ve obviously heard about the typhoon that ripped through the Philippines. How did you hear about it?

The other day I was pointed to a story in the USA Today about how a Colorado judge has allowed a man accused of sexual assault to blame his identical twin brother for the attacks, as they share DNA, and really, who knows, right? How did I hear about this story? A friend of mine texted me. “You won’t believe what this judge in Colorado did,” she said. “Look it up.” A lot of breaking news stories I learn about come from Twitter, which often include links to several different news sites to verify the story’s authenticity.

There are endless news sources to refer to for more information about breaking news. The internet alone gives you access to blogs, newspaper websites (like the New York Times), corporate news websites (like CNN), and news-centric websites (like Slate or Salon), among others. Outside of the internet and television, there are newspapers! Your local area has a newspaper that costs less than a dollar to buy. There’s also the radio! I get most of my news from National Public Radio, which isn’t corporate-controlled, but rather listener-controlled, but even commercial radio has news breaks every hour that gives you information.

The question that keeps running through my mind is this: if this person is a Redditor (as they mention in the very next sentence), and presumably is getting their news from Reddit, why the hell didn’t they just open a new tab and look up more information about the typhoon and educate themselves?

And that’s my real problem with Social Media Activism: we take an ethos-centric Facebook or Tumblr post, and we instantly make a judgement based on virtually nothing at all, and then that becomes an opinion set in stone. And when competing evidence is shown to us that may suggest that our opinion about an issue is wrong — or even that the issue itself is very complicated when viewed in context — we hold firm to our beliefs and tear down the opposing viewpoint. It’s a legitimate psychological phenomenon, and absolutely explains the polarization of American politics today.

There was a post I saw on Tumblr a while ago that illustrates this confirmation bias beautifully. The initial post was a picture of a joke from a joke book. The joke was very simple:

What do you call the useless flap of skin at the end of the penis?
A man.

Tumblr feminists cackled gleefully at this joke, because apparently they’ve never heard a joke that was disparaging toward men before. Screw boys, am I right?

But then, brilliantly, someone made a comment on the post that was so brilliantly simple. All this user did was change two words in the joke, and reposted it:

What do you call the useless flap of skin at the end of the vagina?
A woman.

Suddenly the tables have turned, and Tumblr feminists would have none of it. “What sort of mysoginistic crap is this?” they cried. “It’s this sort of oppression against women that is the problem! I hope you’re happy!”

And that’s the point. Social Media Activism is all knee-jerk, college hyper-liberalism. There’s no thought. There’s no substance. There’s no critical thinking. Watch the video, share the post, get back to Reddit.

This sort of activism, however, is fleeting. There will come a time, once you’re away from the safety of the college campus, where you’re going to casually mention that you don’t pay attention to commercial media, so you don’t know very much about this particular major news story, and someone is going to reply with, “What are you, stupid?”

And suddenly you’re That Guy, the ignorant one in the office, who can’t be bothered to know about the world around him. And that’s a lonely road to walk.

Book Review: “God, No!” by Penn Jillette

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , on September 2, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales
by Penn Jillette
Published by Simon & Schuster
Kindle version: $11.99 USD

I bought this book because I’m a huge fan of Penn Jillette. Since I’ve known about him and his comedy/magic show Penn and Teller, I’ve been a huge fan. I’ve read every op-ed article he’s written thus far, I’ve tried to catch as many episodes of his Showtime series as I could without a subscription to Showtime. It probably shouldn’t be repeated, but I will anyway: I’m a huge fan of Penn Jillette.

So when I heard that Penn Jillette had written a new book, I bought it. Not immediately when it came out, because I was still waffling on whether to shell out $20 for a hardcover copy. Eventually I settled on the Kindle version, because it was cheaper, and I could read it from my BlackBerry, giving me something to do on the toilet other than play an endless amount of games of Solitare or Texas Hold’em.

I bought the book Monday evening, and read it all night. I read it for most of the day on Tuesday, too, and finally finished it Wednesday morning. I couldn’t put it down. I was sucked into the anecdotes from the moment I started.

Granted, the book is not for everyone. Even as I read the book, I found myself not exactly agreeing with some of the claims that he was making (specifically his definition of what an “atheist” is, but that’s another discussion entirely). The book is simultaneously sweet and vulgar, with anecdotes ranging from touching tributes to his mother, father, and sister (who are all deceased), to his adventures riding the “Vomit Comet,” to a couple of questionable bets he made in the past, including one involving spending an evening in a gay bar in the 1980s.

Personally, one of my favorite anecdotes is entitled “King of the Ex-Jews,” about a young man who made the conversion from Hasidic Jew to atheist, and asked Penn to take him out for his first non-Kosher meal: a bacon cheeseburger. The story is hilarious and touching, and even though it comes toward the beginning, it’s a story that suck in my mind throughout the rest of the book.

I wish I could tell you more, I really do. But it’s one of those books where the more you tell, the higher chance there is that the book will be a let-down for others. But I’ll tell you what: it’s been a long time since I’ve read a whole book in under 48 hours. Even the final Harry Potter book, which I bought at midnight, took me five whole days to read from cover to cover.

The book is definitely R-rated for strong language and sexual content. But if you can get past all of that, it’s a book definitely worth the read.

Why Minutiae Might Not Matter

Posted in current events, opinion, politics, pop culture with tags , , , , , on August 31, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

Everyone knows that words matter. All it takes is a simple turn of phrase or a well-placed capitalization to make a point. In reading Penn Jillette’s new book, God, No! and Other Signs You May Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales (book review coming Friday), Penn makes his atheism apparent not only by stating it several times throughout the book (and constantly name-dropping Hitchens and Dawkins), but also by refusing to capitalize the words “god,” “lord,” and “savior” when referring to Christianity.

It’s undeniable fact that words can be used for good or evil. It’s also an undeniable fact that, for the most part, people are reading into an agenda or argument that really isn’t there.

I was referred to an article on the Huffington Post where Sean Hannity ridicules President Obama’s intelligence because he mispronounced a word three times in a recent speech, pronouncing “corpsman” as “corpseman.”

I’m a firm believer of “things happen.” Sometimes you know how words are said but not how they’re spelled. I’ll freely admit that I had never seen the word “indictment” until I reached college, and felt like an idiot when I asked the person next to me what an “in-dickt-ment” was. I had used the word several times in conversation, and have heard it whenever the news was on in the background, but I had never seen the word. Obama probably had a similar situation. I’m not saying he did, I’m not saying he didn’t, but at this point, anything is possible.

I found another instance of this sort of nitpicking while browsing through the Fox Nation Twitter feed. It brought me to a tweet with proof that Obama can’t write. The link leads to an article from the American Thinker, which accessed a letter from 1990 that Obama wrote for the Harvard Law Record. Jack Cashill, author of the article, says that the letter is “classic Obama: patronizing, dishonest, syntactically muddled, and grammatically challenged.”

Common sense would lead me to think that the article is poorly worded and rambling, with many spelling and grammatical errors, indicating that Obama wrote this letter in a drunken rage, and probably used the word “poopyheads” a few times in reference to critics of whatever he was writing about. But it’s much worse than that. To quote the article:

In the very first sentence Obama leads with his signature failing, one on full display in his earlier published work: his inability to make subject and predicate agree.

“Since the merits of the Law Review’s selection policy has been the subject of commentary for the last three issues,” wrote Obama, “I’d like to take the time to clarify exactly how our selection process works.”

If Obama were as smart as a fifth-grader, he would know, of course, that “merits … have.” Were there such a thing as a literary Darwin Award, Obama could have won it on this on one sentence alone.

Really? A common grammatical error? That’s proof that Obama can’t write? Funny story–I can use the same tactic against you in the very same article:

Although his description of the Law Review’s selection process defies easy comprehension, apparently, after the best candidates are chosen, there remains “a pool of qualified candidates whose grades or writing competition scores do not significantly differ.” These sound like the kids at Lake Woebegone, all above average. (Emphasis added)

Clearly, if Cashill had done ANY kind of research, he would know that Garrison Keillor’s fictional Minnesota town is spelled Lake Wobegon. Clearly, anything Cashill wrote in this article can’t be trusted and should wholly be ignored if he can’t even spell a well-known fictional town correctly.

The point is, sometimes the little things matter, but for the most part, they don’t. Gaffes happen, and they shouldn’t be constantly thrust in the spotlight, because all it does is clutter the airwaves for more important issues.

It’s like the old saying goes, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words can prove that you’re an incompetent loser.” Or something like that.

Gotta Say It: Lady Gaga at the VMAs

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

First off, don’t judge. I tuned into the VMAs to watch Adele, and never changed it, then never changed it for the replay. I also didn’t want to tweet a bunch about the VMAs, but I sent 17 tweets. I feel bad, I really do. But I stand by the Justin Bieber one. Those glasses looked stupid.

Second off, I don’t want to write about Lady Gaga. I really don’t. I was a fan, but now I believe her eccentricism has gotten in the way of her creativity, and she’s become a joke. I honestly believe that. She can make all the messages about loving others and being yourself that she wants. Those are great messages to hear. But when your messages are overshadowed by the collective groan of, “Aw geez, what’s she gonna wear/say/do THIS time?” you’re doing something wrong.

That being said, kudos to Lady Gaga for jumping that over-the-top outfit ship.

See, Gaga has been known for her crazy outfits. Every awards show begins with, “What will Lady Gaga wear?” She’s shown up in bubble dresses, meat skirts, a giant egg. Everything about the show–awards speculation, moving tributes of music stars that are no longer with us–is eclipsed by the news of Gaga’s outfit or antics.

Then, for some reason, everyone started hopping on the Eccentric Train. Bright colors, weird fabric bunching, reflecting crap, stupid stuff on top of the head, all of that was suddenly in vogue. More and more new artists are coming up dressing as crazy–sometimes even crazier–than Lady Gaga.

Then we get to this year’s VMAs. Nicki Minaj showed up as a stuffed-hippo-ice-cream-disco-ball. Katy Perry wore pale pink with circles and triangles, and ended the night with a cube on her head.

And Lady Gaga showed up as a dude.

I’ve always said that one day Lady Gaga would show up to an awards show dressed in a black cocktail dress with her hair pulled back into a bun. Apparently, “black cocktail dress” to Lady Gaga means “a dude.”

In a way, I’m proud of Gaga jumping that ship. She’s built a career on individuality, and just when everyone is hopping on her bandwagon, she jumps off and starts something new. To me, being her alter-ego, Joe Calderone, was out there, but some say it’s a logical step. Everyone wants to be her, so she’ll be something new.

Lady Gaga, while I don’t exactly understand why you do what you do, you do some great things. Keep being an innovator, keep doing your thing, because you’re sending out a powerful message for those who choose to listen to it.

But seriously, that awkward moment when you almost kissed Britney Spears? Enough of that. That’s just creepy.

The F***ing Problem with Children’s Literature

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , on June 28, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

Earlier this month, a new children’s book by Adam Mansbach was published called “Go the F*** to Sleep.” The book is crass, angry, and hilarious, beautifully illustrating the struggles of putting a child to bed. And when it’s read by Samuel L. Jackson, the hilarity grows ten-fold. The book switches from peaceful depictions of the world settling down for the night to an exasperated parent wondering why his child won’t just, as the title suggests, go to sleep.

Obviously, this isn’t a book to read to your children. If anything, this is less of a “children’s book” than it is a book for adult to read, relate to, and laugh about. Because if you’re a parent, chances are you’ve had these exact same struggles with putting your child to bed, and if the narrative is to be believed, each parent has thought about saying those exact words to their children. Even Samuel L. Jackson admits it in the opening of the audiobook:

“I did say go the f___ to sleep to her a lot. And I think at some point, she would look at me when I would come in the room, and she would look at me and say, ‘Go the f___ to sleep, Daddy?’ And I would say, ‘Yeah, go the f___ to sleep.'”

Yet some people are missing the joke. Karen Spears Zacharias, in an op-ed column for CNN, chastises the violent language present in the book, saying that it could be really damaging and demeaning to children, causing them great psychological harm.

In all honesty, I get it when people miss the joke. There have been numerous times where I’ve said something in jest, only to have to explain the joke later so that I don’t appear like a total jerk. Perfect example: while on a trip to Norway, I commented, “Of all the ferries to take in this country, why do we have to take the fjord one?” which was a play on the name of the ferry company, Fjord1. I then had to explain the pun to nearly half of the group I was with, because they didn’t like how I was complaining about the accommodations.

Regardless, I understand when people miss the joke. What I don’t understand is this quote from the article: “Imagine if this were written about Jews, blacks, Muslims or Latinos.” The quote comes from Dr. David Arredondo, an expert on child development from San Francisco, and in all honestly, he couldn’t have found a slipperier slope than if he had been driving a truck with bald tires and no brakes down the side of a frozen Niagara Falls.

What if the book were written about Jews, blacks, Muslims, or Latinos? I imagine the book would read something like this: Jews, go the f___ to sleep. Black people, go the f___ to sleep. Muslims, go the f___ to sleep. Latinos, go the f___ to sleep.

The point of the book isn’t to be demeaning or demoralizing to kids. It’s a book for the parents. It’s even expressly stated in the blurb on the back of the book: Go the F*** to Sleep is a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world… beautiful, subversive, and pants-wettingly funny–a book for parents new, old, and expectant. You probably should not read it to your children. (Emphasis added)

The reaction to this book would make one think that this is the first children’s book for adults that’s out there. It’s not. The Amazon page for Go the F*** to Sleep leads to several others of its ilk, such as All My Friends are Dead, about “downside of being everything from a clown to a cassette tape to a zombie”; and the Baby Be of Use series, which includes Baby Fix My Car, Baby Do My Banking, and, my personal favorite title, Baby Get Me Some Lovin’.

The point is, this is not a children’s book. This is a parent’s book, a little comic relief from the otherwise stressful job of caring for another being that is totally dependent on you for everything. Normally, I would ask why this book is such a big deal, but then I remember that we live in a culture where if you aren’t offended, you just didn’t understand it, like some sort of subversive hipster culture.

Zacharias uses her outrage at Go the F*** to Sleep to comment on swearing in the household and the decline in children being read to at night, which, while valid points, are so far from the initial point of the outrage that I wonder how she got there.

I hope for her children’s sake, Zacharias didn’t read this book to her children. Because if she did, her children are totally f___ed.

A Lesson in Tact

Posted in current events, pop culture with tags , , , on June 21, 2011 by Kyle Fleming


In the early morning hours of June 20, 2011, news broke that “Jackass” star Ryan Dunn had died in a horrifying car accident, losing control of his Porsche at 110 miles per hour, flying 40 feet through the trees before crashing and bursting into flames. They were only able to identify him by his tattoos. He was 34.

There was an outpouring of mourning and support from fans to Dunn’s friends and family almost immediately after the news broke. A few hours after the initial reports, Roger Ebert tweeted the above tweet about the incident, which lead to a near instantaneous reaction from the Twittersphere. Many claimed the tweet was insensitive and ill-timed, a claim that I agree with, to an extent.

In the case of a death of anyone, people who are mourning are often looking for answers and support. I know from the moment I heard the news, I went into “Celebrity Death Obsession Mode,” reading articles and reactions anywhere I could find them. I’m sure the people closest to him were doing the exact same thing. So when something like what Ebert tweeted shows up, friends and family aren’t going to take too kindly to it, a reaction that was personified by Bam Margera, Dunn’s closest friend. In a two-part tweet, Bam said:

I just lost my best friend, I have been crying hysterically for a full day and piece of sh__ roger ebert has the gall to put in his 2 cents [a]bout a jackass drunk driving and his is one, f__k you! Millions of people are crying right now, shut your fat f__king mouth!

The pure sadness and anger that is evident in Bam’s tweets show just how much friends and family were hurting, and with the news so fresh to everyone, trying to impose moral lessons is completely inappropriate. Allow the grieving process to begin first, and then feel free to play Aesop.

Ebert has since defended his tweet, saying that he didn’t mean to call Dunn a “jackass,” but instead was using “Twitter shorthand” to “[refer] to his association with ‘Jackass.'” But all he was doing with his explanation is exacerbate the problem. By saying “this is why I did this” and not apologizing and admitting that, perhaps, he was a bit rash in the tweet, he is only adding fuel to the flames.

The people don’t want an explanation. They want solace.

All day yesterday, I was wondering why the tweet bothered me, and someone pointed it out in the comments of the Ebert post from today:

You’re full of it Roger. If you had been referring to the show Jackass you would have capitalized the J. You spoke from a place of cynicism and hate in a time when a lot of people were looking for answers and support.

That’s exactly it. If the tweet had read, “Friends don’t let Jackasses drink and drive,” the reference to the franchise would have been more obvious.

I believe Roger Ebert is a smart man. He’s a writer, a person who knows how to use words to their maximum impact, and a simple capitalization error–whether it’s really an error or not–caused an enormous uproar. It would be akin to, if someone broke into Ebert’s house and murdered him, someone tweeting, “Two thumbs down for Roger Ebert’s home security system.” It’s tasteless.

If the original tweet had included a positive, specific reference to Ryan Dunn, such as, “Friends don’t let Jackasses drink and drive. Rest in peace, Ryan Dunn,” it would have lessened the blow while still getting the point across. But in the immediate aftermath of such devastating news, maybe it’s not the time to be making a point.

Despite all of this, Ryan Dunn was one of my favorite Jackasses. His humor and love for life will live on with everyone he has encountered, and as far as celebrity deaths go, bursting into flame in his Porsche could not have been a better fit.

The world will miss you, Dunn. “Jackass” will never be the same.

Anti-Smoking Advocates are Buttheads

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Lately there seems to be an increase in anti-smoking advertising on Iowa television channels. In South Dakota, there is a huge campaign to institute a smoking ban similar to the ones already in place in Minnesota and Iowa.

I have no problem with these ads or these campaigns. What I have a problem with is the manner in which they’re getting their message out.

The Truth Campaign generally has some excellent advertising. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious, but they get their message across in a tasteful way. Truth is behind the latest clever campaign, the Shards O’ Glass company.

However, in Iowa, there is a campaign called Just Eliminate Lies (JEL) that eschews tasteful and reasonable in their advertising. The commercial that bothers me every time I see it has a man who is supposed to be a Big Tobacco executive. One commercial has the exec saying that he wants to make billions off of people trying to look cool. In another commercial, the exec dismisses the ill effects of chewing tobacco by saying, “So what if it causes mouth cancer and you have to have part of your jaw surgically removed? Are you a man? Or are you a coward?”

This commercial bothers me, only because it demonizes tobacco executives. It seems to be a common trend in these anti-smoking campaigns. Rather than trying to inform the people about the ill effects, and offering some sort of reasonable way to quit, they resort to scare tactics and portraying smokers and anyone associated with them as evil, disgusting, or otherwise terrible people.

In all honesty, I’m wondering why these groups even exist. By the time I was in ninth grade, I knew so much about the ill effects of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs that I could have made anti-smoking commericals myself. But if these tactics were so effective, why do people still smoke? Why are there still smokers in the world if everyone knows it’s so bad for you?

Surprise, surprise, it’s personal preference.

I have many friends who get reminded by other people that smoking is bad for their health. And all they can say back is, “I know,” and take another drag.

People who smoke are going to smoke. Short of getting rid of every pack of cigarettes in the world, no amount of campaigning is going to get everyone to stop smoking. Even though, in ninth grade, I knew all about how bad smoking was for my health, it still didn’t stop me from buying a pack and trying them out when I turned 18.

Singling out and demonizing smokers is an in effective way to make a point. If you truly cared about the well-being and health of people who smoke, you wouldn’t attack them and ridicule them, destroying their sense of self and making them feel worse.

Make your point, just eliminate any sort of hostility and animosity toward smokers that are so obvious in these advertisings.