LOUD Twitter

Loud. It’s the way Twitter can feel some times when a particular topic or issue blows up to the point where it feels like everyone is shouting over one another.

Loud Twitter is a large, diverse and ever growing group of people who get all up in arms over every little thing. They take an issue and blow it so out of proportion that they become impossible to reason with. Today Loud Twitter gathered in the film Twitter sphere. The topic was whether it is good or bad for showrunners to live-tweet shows. While most debated whether they found the practice enriching or distracting, a vocal chorus of people made a strawman argument implying that anybody against the practice would be left behind the times. That’s because Loud Twitter interpreted it to be out of touch White male showrunners v. the many diverse showrunners who have adopted the practice of live-tweeting

I don’t see how they got that from THR’s interview with the showrunners or industry people’s opinions  on Twitter but somehow that’s where we’re at.

If you’ve read my blog or Twitter at all you’d know I am a staunch proponent of diversifying the industry and I have been consistently intersectional in my support of that goal. But when we argue over stuff as petty as livetweeting, it turns the whole diversity conversation into a caricature of itself. You tune people out, because not every issue requires being that loud and frankly in this case obnoxious.

Nobody wants to hire someone who is so loud and upset at every little thing. Many will avoid having to step on eggshells around someone like that. It is toxic to live in a constant state of negativity. So go hard at the issues which require it but be mindful that not every issue does. Be loud but remember sometimes there is no need to be. Being loud doesn’t make you right, it mostly makes you obnoxious. It’s something that I’ve learned as I’ve matured, and it’s something I have remained mindful of since cleaning my Twitter.

So go ahead and get mad that I wrote this. Or accept personal responsibility and understand that outside your echo chamber you may actively be avoided for the way you come across.

PS livetweeting sucks.

 

Breaking Bad v The Wire v The Sopranos

The Sopranos v Breaking Bad v The Wire

The heavy weight class of the great TV dramas. The Wire is often considered by many critics to be the greatest of all time. More recently its cult fans have named Breaking Bad the greatest. Somehow while it was among the most popular show of its generation, The Sopranos is less talked about today when considering “the greatest.” So I decided to form an opinion for myself and spent the last year watching the entire series run for Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Wire. So without further ado, my analysis…

Breaking Bad (my first rewatch of the bunch)

PROS

Style – By far the best cinematography of the bunch– even if it heavily copied TRAFFIC (2000). Its use of setting as character was wonderfully conveyed. The use of music to set themes was also very good. The way it employed flash forward as a foreshadowing technique was a very interesting stylistic narrative tool – think the pink bear; a meth lab explosion? Nope, a plane crash as consequence for White’s actions.

Plot – As far as its cumulative run is concerned, there is not an ounce of fat or filler in any season. Every episode builds without boring the audience. That is because it is a plot driven show and it works to propel things forward quickly (more on that later).

Characters – I should say character, because it goes without saying that Walter White is one of the greatest ever created. Everyone knows a Walter White, someone who is smarter than what they’re doing in life and is disrespected in spite of it. The entire show is his arc in breaking bad and for that alone it should be considered in assessing the greatest.

Inventiveness – It showed how you could make a TV episode look like a movie. If I were to pinpoint the moment when TV could stand up against film, it would be Breaking Bad.

CONS
Style – None. It is arguably the strongest aspect of the show.

Plot – A main issue with Breaking Bad is that it is a plot driven show. This means the plot events dictate the actions of the character and not the other way around. While that makes for lean story telling, it also makes for conventional story telling. Sure it’s fun to watch and exciting, but it doesn’t allow for much introspection or greater analysis of characters internal conflict.

Characters – While Walter White may be among the greatest characters of all time, he is the only character we get the internal conflict of. He propels the plot forward in many respects and a bunch of clever archetypes react around him. Hank is a hero/policeman archetype. Jessie is a bumbling sidekick archetype. The two wives, neurotic housewife archetype. The villains, Saul – archetypes as well. They are barely two dimensional characters. While we come to like them for their various quirks and personality, there is no introspection. They exist to react to Walter White and to propel plot forward, with some surface level examination of their feelings. Even Jessie, while he begins to have his own awakening toward the end is little more than a pawn in the game. This is Walter Whites show, everyone else is a piece on the chess board.

Inventiveness – It doesn’t really break new ground in the drama category. While it takes an unlikely antihero on a unique journey, the story is conventional. While stylistic, it doesn’t make up for the fact it’s a plot driven show without much introspection. So while it’s visceral and action packed, it is also been there before sort of fare.

CONCLUSION
A super fun show to tear through with memorable archetypical characters and a great central protagonist in an otherwise conventional Shakespearean tragedy. It is a very good action movie, but it is not the greatest of all time.

The Wire (last rewatch)

PROS
Style – The least flashy. It’s unique in the sense that it lacks any visual or musical narrative. It is more or less treated like a true crime docudrama. It is filmed with pure realism in mind and it works great.

Plot – Takes a while to build up but boy does it pay off. No show has done it before or since. It takes risk by focusing on a different element of the cities institutions and wraps all these threads up brilliantly. Everything pays off.

Characters – Too many! Yet at the same time we felt like they were all acting out of self preservation, we understood them even if they were surface level plot pawns. The ultimate character is the city of Baltimore and that like other cities it is run by imperfect people who perpetuate a deeply imperfect system. That the city is the greatest character is a testament of how brilliant this show is.

Inventiveness – It must be considered among the greatest for what it tried to achieve, to make a show about the imperfect nature of our government and society using a city as opposed to a central character.

CONS
Style – I get why they employ the minimalism they do, it just feels stale after a while. It could’ve employed a little bit more visual narrative.

Plot – Sure it pays off big in Seasons 3 & 4, even if 5 fell off a bit. But the first season was little more than cops and robbers. The second was boring and such a left turn that it made me want to quit. So while it is praised for how it all threads together neatly, the lack of any introspection among its characters or any visual narrative made it a slog to get through. A show cannot be considered the greatest because of two seasons of work, no matter how ambitious.

Inventiveness – Hurt it in the long run. It did a great job in its payoff but taking that long to build up hurt its earlier seasons and therefore looses points in my eyes. It juggles too much.

CONCLUSION
A very ambitious show that made a profound and lasting statement about how and why our government and society is ineffective and all about self preservation. It hits home in ways many others have not. That it juggled so much and took so long to pay off, I cannot reward it the greatest of all time because of a few seasons of work.
The Sopranos (second series rewatched)

PROS
Style – While not as stylistically flashy as Breaking Bad, it did a great job of employing visual narratives. Various objects and foreshadowing without insulting the audience by overly emphasizing them. The series is full of clever framing and use of objects as narrative symbolism. Because it didn’t over explain them, it worked brilliantly. The finale? The reaction POV shot sequence culminating in cut to black — “you never hear it when it hits you” — absolutely brilliant. The use of music was always thematically solid too, on par with Breaking Bad.

Plot – While it can definitely feel like filler at times, the characters are so well constructed that it pans out. This is a character driven show, and one where all characters are given time to develop into nuanced and non-archetypical beings. The analysis of various complexes and feelings about this world made it so much more believable and made us relate to all involved. How harrowing when they’d be killed by this world or others in it. It examined so many moral quandaries and still felt fresh after six seasons. This is not a show to binge watch, it is a fine delicacy to enjoy slowly as not everything is overly explained or spelled out (like in Breaking Bad) – David Chase appreciated the intelligence of his audience. If you found it boring, perhaps your taste is more conventional.

Characters – Tony is such a compelling character, a mob boss with a deep complex; a man in therapy justifying his sociopathy. All those around him are equally trying to justify their actions – especially Carmela toward the end, who seems to have an epiphany in Paris only to realize she can never quit this life. Even the characters we didn’t delve into felt larger than life with great humor and supporting roles. All of the main cast’s actions were a result of their internal neurosis or feelings. What a fucked up bunch but boy did it make for amazing introspective television. When the action ramped up, we were so much more invested in it because we felt like we knew these people on a deeper level. We liked them in spite of their sociopathy.

Inventiveness – It reinvented the mob genre. Sure it had all the standard mob fare but it also went a step further in psychoanalyzing the criminal lifestyle in the way Mad Men (created by Sopranos alum Matthew Weiner) psychoanalyzed the American Dream through ad men. It took great dramatic risks like employing dream states to really hammer home the neurosis. It brilliantly built up to the most debated finale of all time through carefully constructed foreshadowing. It left so much to interpretation that rewatching still reveals more.

CONS
Style – I almost wished there was a bit more flashiness. I felt while the visual motifs were solid I would’ve liked more flare. Then again that may have detracted from its realism.

Plot – Drags at times. Sometimes in its quest to say something grand it does fail occasionally. There are definitely some stinkers. After the actress who plays Tony’s mom dies abruptly, the show had to quickly adapt loosing a valuable thread early. It more than made up for some slow pacing with great characters and it would always build into payoffs well. I’d rather a show drag sometimes if it’s trying to take risks than rush along without saying much at all.

Characters – The strongest part of the show. There really is no con here and that is why it’s the greatest in my opinion, because no show has done more with its cast.

Inventiveness – It was a game changer. Nothing to add.

CONCLUSION
The greatest of all time for the sheer scope of it. It reinvented the genre and arguably kicked off the golden age of TV. Not only was Tony a great well-developed character, they all were. While it may have some more individual episode stinkers than Breaking Bad, it examines so much more, it says and does so much more. It is a brilliantly ambitious show and nothing in the gangster or action genre has come close.

MY LAST THOUGHTS

So I think while the other great dramas have a lot of things going for them, including some of the greatest achievements in individual categories, The Sopranos is the more balanced of the three. The Sopranos is firing on all cylinders where the others are excellent for how they do one or two things really, really well. The Sopranos is brilliant TV on a whole other level and I don’t care what critics say regarding The Wire or what fanboys say about Breaking Bad. It is my opinion and you are free to disagree. Overall – 1. Sopranos 2. Breaking Bad 3. The Wire

Your Protest Isn’t Working

Today David Brooks drew scorn for his post taking issue with Kaepernick and other athletes kneeling during the national anthem.

He concluded that kneeling during the national anthem is counterproductive to the goals of the protest. Instead of explaining and arguing for his conclusion, what followed was a convoluted rambling about the (White) American experience and civic duty so dripping with pretension you’d think you were reading a Tom Friedman column.

But I digress, I actually went into that article wanting to agree with the conclusion: that this protest is misguided and ineffectual. I happen to disagree with my fellow progressives on this one. Since David Brooks couldn’t argue his point, I will.

Progressives argue that the protest is Kaepernick and others first amendment right. Correct. On this I agree. They also argue that the protest has started an important conversation. On this I partly agree.

What conversation are we having on this issue? Are we discussing the act of the protest itself or the reasons for it? The former of course. In fact if you were to poll any reasonable number of Americans on why athletes are kneeling I’m sure many wouldn’t even know the answer. That’s because we’re not starting a conversation about racial injustice and police misconduct. We’ve started a conversation about whether this protest is patriotic, or whether it’s insulting, whether it even works as intended. We’re taking sides around the act itself, not the reason for the actions. That’s ineffectual protest!

Progressives will counter with, well when has a protest ever been convenient? It doesn’t need to be convenient. But it should actually lead to a discussion about the reasons for it. At least the Sit-In movement during the 60s made sense. The bus boycott made sense. This doesn’t make sense in the least.

A well conducted protest should lead to a spirited discussion, a movement for progress. This one hasn’t. There are so many other more effective ways to protest. How about Kaepernick marches with Black Lives Matter? How about Kaepernick follows through with his promise to donate to such organizations? How about Kaepernick mentors at risk youth through the thousands of such organizations that do so? Through these actions, Kaepernick could discuss the issues of racial injustice in a way that is far less polarizing and divisive than kneeling. He could protest in so many more effective ways.

So the protest is ineffective. It has forced people into debating the actions of Kaepernick as opposed to why he is kneeling. So many are disgusted by it that even if they were to agree with the reason for the protest, they’ve already been lost by the action itself. Kneeling on 9/11, a day we should be coming together and not discussing politics, is a repulsive action to so so many. Of those who got his message, they’re already in agreement on the issue of police brutality. It is merely reinforcing progressive beliefs in an echo chamber. But it’s not progressives who need to learn.

So congrats on your jersey sales Kaepernick, but I won’t commend you for this. It’s pretty much the Leftwing version of the Oregon militia protest of big government by camping in the woods. It’s so far removed from the thing you are actually protesting that the protest pretty much becomes ineffective. It winds up a discussion of the protest and the protestors as opposed to what they’re upset about. If that’s the case, your protest stinks. Kneeling stinks. Sorry that David Brooks couldn’t make the same simple argument.

White Diversity

The Night Of has taken social media and critical circles by storm. The powerful crime drama takes a hard look at social issues, including Islamaphobia and how Muslim Americans are treated by the media and our justice system.

I am going to proceed with the understanding that readers are familiar with the show, and have already seen most if not all of it. So spoilers ahead.

My main problem with this show is that it seems to highlight a familiar problem in Hollywood, diversity as shown and told by White creators. We’ve all seen the dismal numbers for writers/directors, how most are still white men even after the uproar of Oscars So White and an ongoing ACLU investigation. The Night Of despite a well-intentioned show concerned with diversity is no exception. It it is written by two White men. The executive producers too are nearly all White men.

And it shows.

The show centers around the events that unfolded around Nasir Khan, and how he wound up in the wrong place, at the wrong time and is now charged with murder. Instead of Naz being our primary character, we are quickly introduced to his oddball lawyer, John Stone. It is he who overtakes Nasir as the main protagonist. While Nasir remains the one in a bind, the one we care about, the show focuses on this turmoil largely through the perspective of John Turturro’s character — not Riz Ahmed’s. It focuses on this small time lawyer who got the case of a lifetime, and will now try and save his co-star.

The character of John Stone feels a lot more well developed than Nasir Khan. That’s not too surprising considering the show was originally a vehicle for the late James Gandolfini. A pilot was even shot starring the actor portraying John Stone. He remains credited as executive producer. With that understanding, it’s fair to say this show was likely devised as a show about this lawyer and added in the Muslim arc to give the story a social conscious in post-9/11 New York City.

Instead of exploring the Muslim community, and Khan’s family, we are only given a superficial glance at it. Most of what we see in terms of Islamaphobia is reacted to by the White cast. While Nasir initially takes issue with the Black men and their racist joke in the pilot, White people step in the rest of the show. It is John Stone who speaks for the Khan family and Nasir, describing them as “American as baseball” when the prosecution says he could flee to Pakistan (a country Nasir never visited). It is the White female lawyer, who briefly hijacks the case from Stone who stands on the courthouse steps and doesn’t allow Mr. Khan to speak.

Just as soon as we seem to be getting into the Khan families internal struggle we cut away. Most of the time, we just see them silent, our White cast talking over them. When they are alone, we get a few plot-driven scenes, but none of true introspection. We never really see the Khan family digest what has happened in a way that feels truly revealing. They mostly just mope about throughout the episodes, letting the White cast interpret events for them.

I can’t help but imagine that if we had a muslim POV in the writers room, the Khan family and their diverse community would have had a more dynamic role. I am not faulting the White writers for this, it is a cultural blind spot. I am sure they wanted to portray this family struggling with their identity, but in their cultural blindspot they failed to let the story unfold in a way that truly explored the Muslim identity. That’s because it is an identity that they don’t really understand. They can’t understand it, no matter how well researched. So instead it was largely John Stone and others reacting for them. It was other characters taking us through a world that still treats Muslims and Middle Eastern Americans as second class citizens and perpetual suspects. The show is textbook “White Diversity,” a diverse show obviously and transparently written by White people.

I’ll still take White Diversity over no diversity on screen. However, sometimes it is not White people’s story to tell. This presumptive idea that diversity only happens before the camera is false (sorry Matt Damon). As writers we need to be mindful when another POV is necessary, and other times know when to back off in acknowledgement that another POV may be better. Otherwise, all we get are shows and films which lack a true cultural representation; we get a superficial analysis of a problem or theme which requires greater introspection. Sometimes, if not most times, that introspection is better provided by those who best understand the problems/themes at hand.

****

For those writers who want to write better depictions of people of color, please check out this post written by Asian American writer Mari Naomi.

Rich

In the past decade and a half since 9/11, New York has changed, and not necessarily for the better.

As we approach the fifteenth anniversary, my anger is rubbed raw. My emotions flow uncensored. I am vulnerable.

So allow me to breath, and now… release.

Fifteen years ago, when people leapt to their deaths from the Towers, do you think it mattered if they did so wearing Brooks Brothers. Did it matter when the planes hit the building what Class you were sitting in?

Of course it didn’t. Yet we live every single fucking day like it matters a whole deal. It doesn’t. It means jack shit.

That is what this city today has become. An endless competition of wealth; who has the biggest condo, who sold the biggest real estate pie, whose restaurant is the most exclusive.

For what? To brag about it? To put it on Facebook and Instagram? To pat yourself on the back because you had the experience? You act like that’s what you’ll be remembered for! It is fleeting!

A meal isn’t worth $65 if the company you eat it around is unbearable. A meal is worth far more than $65 when the company you keep makes up the ambiance, and not the imported napkins and model host too busy snorting cocaine up her deviated septum to care that your drink is empty.

What has become of this city? Perhaps much of this is due to the fact that so many engaging in this behavior weren’t even here on 9/12/01 to remember how we all came together. Nobody cared that Steve Buscemi was an actor on 9/12, on 9/12 he was a fireman again like all of his brothers. Nobody remembered those who died by the money they made in life, they remembered the life they gave.

Rich people today wall themselves off on Billionaires Row in second and third homes and have people deliver everything to their door. The poor door of course, because you’re not good enough to enter through the front. What in the fresh hell has this city become?

Sadly it extends beyond NY as well, to LA and other wealthy cities where the sum of your worth is determined by the material value you bring. Will you liven that Instagram or Variety article mention? Whether you get replied to or associated with is directly proportional to this material value.

Just remember that money doesn’t buy happiness. It doesn’t buy friends. It doesn’t buy freedom from problems like addiction or heartache. It buys you a BMW and a nice house — both of which you can’t take with you when you die. Both of which nobody will be thinking about when they lay you to rest.

 

Trickle Down Tech

Peter Thiel wants to make a self-sustaining island full of technological wonders that will solve all of mans problems, so jack into your cybernetic framework, because it’s 2045 and it’s time to party!

Oh wait, I’m not invited. Oh gee, I guess you’re not too.

How did this all happen? I thought that once the so-called Singularity arrived, we’d all be so much better off. I thought that all of this technological largess would trickle down like  Bush’s economic policy to lift us all out of our mundane misfortune.

Oh right, I guess that economic policy was a lie to the Middle Class too. Hmmm.

Welcome to Trickle Down Tech; where a bunch of overly optimistic guys from Silicon Valley invade your privacy, automate your jobs and promise to cure your cancer if you just sign right here ____

Okay, perhaps I am being somewhat unfair in my assessment. Lets rewind…

As I write this on Labor Day weekend, 2016, wealthy investors are tripping over themselves to fund the next great technological disruption. The next app that will disrupt an industry, leading unionized workers to sign right here ___ to loose everything laborers before them fought to secure. All this so a bunch of tech titans can please shareholders and investors while lining their own pockets. All in the name of progress! Wait a while, and these amazing apps and disruptions will make your life better. Keep waiting for it to trickle down. Yes I know you’re out of work, keep waiting for that trickle.

Ah, the only trickle you’re going to get is the excess moisture dripping from the wet bag you’ll be left holding by this faulty promise.

Silicon Valley loves to present itself as the bastion of progress. Lets take a look at Singularity U as an example. It is a partnership between venture capital titans and inventors like Peter Diamandis, Peter Thiel, Ray Kurzweil, Google, Nasa (to name a few) where super wealthy people can pay thousands and thousands of dollars for seminars on the next great disruption! It’s called a university, but in reality it is a VC pitchfest, where people can learn to aid the disruptors or become the disruptors themselves.

The godfather of the Singularity movement, Ray Kurzweil is notoriously optimistic regarding future tech, assuring us that we’ll figure all these things out once we get there. He swears to us that there is no problem that technology cannot fix. While I happen to think Kurzweil is far more well-intentioned than the Libertarian Bond villain that is Peter Thiel, he is naive in his assessment.

This is the problem. Even if people are well intentioned, when you push full ahead on disruption without considering the immediate impacts and solutions for those impacts, you’re assuring failure not just for those people, but for yourself.

While these silicon cowboys may have all the money and resources on their private islands, when unemployment reaches 90% because Singularity Hub adherents celebrate the automation of those meaningless jobs, people will revolt. They’ll find a way to build gunships and blow it up for making their lives miserable. Then, the “Luddites” will win because everyone will hate technology just like they’re already starting to hate Capitalism.

While Singularitarians like to promote a Star Trek vision of our future, most people won’t have the luxury of affording the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. The fact remains that people depend on those “meaningless jobs” to feed their families and provide for basic necessities. How dare some smug, overpaid plaid-clad writer living in a $5000/month Palo Alto studio write that someone else’s labor is meaningless. To who? You? Fuck you.

Ah but universal basic income! That’s what these people proffer as a solution, despite numerous economists noting that the only thing this will achieve is hyper inflation. This will only further disenfranchise the unemployed and wealth divide. It almost would seem many of these futurists are ignorant of the market economy. They’re not. They know that things cost money, and if we disenfranchise enough people these precious resources will be kept for the few. The rest of us will rejoin the Middle Ages in a bartering economy — Need some eggs? I have a chicken!

The futurist in me doesn’t want to believe that all promoting this grand vision for the future are like this. I genuinely believe that many want to make the world a better place through technology. I want this too. That is why we need to pause and consider the impact of disrupting things so quickly. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Until we slow down and consider how our new technologies impact others adversely, we must not proceed. We must consider solutions to potential problems before we create them. We must do this to assure responsible technological progress.

Failure to listen to the cab drivers in the streets after Uber decimated their industry will doom us to a warring world of have and have-nots. Don’t we want things to be better than that? Do you really want to go back to the turn of the century rich-poor divide? The tenement housing and mass unemployment? I highly doubt anyone would want that for humanity, even if they could insulate themselves on a private island. If you do want that, enjoy the party, just don’t get too close to the other sharks.

So before we plow ahead with great disruptions,  we must assure their success by making sure they do not disenfranchise people. We must make sure that these new inventions like computer health technologies, and 3d-printed resources are available to all of humanity, not just the rich. Trickle down tech, just like trickle down economics doesn’t work. It is up to those among the have’s to help the have-nots. Failure to do so will assure that the Luddites, that starving masse of rioting unemployed, win.

 

 

 

 

Why do we Want Someone We Can’t Have?

Why are we so often attracted to people we know we can’t have? I have yet to read a satisfying answer to this age old question.

Maybe it’s because getting the girl/guy is ingrained in Hollywood happy endings. It’s popular fantasy to imagine yourself the exception to the rule. We love to see ourselves as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, where a down on her luck prostitute could get the rich and successful man. Or consider the countless examples of an average looking, average guy who gets the hot girl (consider every Adam Sandler film ever made).

This fantasy narrative distorts our expectations. It is pure fiction but it is so largely apart of our cultural fabric that it feels like a natural process. Men actually think they can talk to a girl with headphones on because of this. So much of the creepy behavior you see is a result of this entitlement to attention, because hey it worked for Adam Sandler in that movie once! Just keep being persistent bro, and she’ll fall for you.

Of course logically we know this is pure fantasy. It’s never going to happen and yet we hold onto that small hope that it may. That small hope is based on nothing more than desire. We recognize the impossibility while also entertaining the thought thus fueling the fantasy even though few of us (apart from headphones bro) would ever act on it.

We are supremely illogical creatures. Perhaps this is the ultimate answer to this ages old question, that there is no logic behind it. All else is a google results list of endless pop-psychology.

You Probably Won’t Make It

A few years ago, music industry blogger and critic, Bob Lefsetz asked “why does everyone think they can write?” He then went on to conclude “just because you know how to type and speak, please don’t believe you can do the same.”

Lefsetz’s piece still strikes a nerve with me today because he said what few are willing to: you probably won’t make it. It is a harsh truth for most, even for myself. While some of us may indeed still defy the odds, most of us won’t.

Unlike many other creative mediums, the accessibility of writing software and tools makes anyone think they can do it. The reality is that few can actually do it well — or at least well enough to be paid to do so. Instead of tempering the expectations of young aspiring writers, an entire cottage industry has popped up to say “you’ll make it — here’s how!”*

* for a small fee of course.

Snake oil salesmen preying on the hopes and aspirations of writers is nothing new. Much has been said about it. Their services have no demonstrable track record of success. If they were such brilliant writers and had it all figured out, wouldn’t they be working in the industry themselves?

Screenwriter John Gary coined the term “hope machine” to refer to this cottage industry of script gurus, consultants and virtual pitch-fests. He went on to say the only reason these snake oil salesmen exist is to feed the hopes of young writers who would rather laugh in the face of Lefsetz’s conclusion: you probably won’t make it.

Everyone thinks they will defy the odds. While I think  the “hope machine” term partly explains why this is, I think “participation trophy culture” is also to blame.

Millennials (myself included) have been made to feel like special little snow flakes from the moment they could walk and talk. A new emphasis on self-esteem building in the 90s resulted in everyone winning trophies, getting “A-for-effort” stickers and  being made to feel a winner — even the losers. In fact, my 3rd grade soccer team won a fourth place plaque.

When adulthood hits, these Millennials aren’t winning awards any more. The bare minimum effort no longer nets you a place in the win column. Instead of working harder, many shout “it’s just not fair.” They’re already convinced of their own brilliance and ability. So it is the system’s fault, not theirs.

Participation trophy culture has given way to a generation of entitlement. Everyone was made to feel as if their point of  view counted.  So it is natural to imagine that if everyone’s POV counts, then they should be able to write that POV and be paid for it.  The overemphasis on individualism  has led to an absolutism of personal opinion: that you can never be wrong. It is the feeling that your opinion is just as important as an expert on the matter, or someone who’s put countless amount of hours into a craft.

Those who think this way cannot even consider that a) their POV is not equally regarded and b) they can be wrong.

 

Just this past week on the Scriptnotes podcast, John August was interviewing a literary agent from UTA. The agent noted “everyone is a Nicholl semifinalist…it only matters to us if you win.” The Nicholl, the Motion Picture Academy’s writing fellowship is perhaps the most prestigious accolade you could be given as an aspiring screenwriter. While there are thousands of Nicholl semi-finalists, there are very few finalists and even fewer winners. So what this agent is saying is that he is not interested in reading work from people who won a bronze medal.

Sure these semi-finalists may be decent writers, but they’re not there yet. In my experience as a script reader, even the scripts we get from writers with representation tend to be pretty mediocre (passes, in industry parlance). Those without representation? Provided they don’t go right into the unsolicited materials shredder, 90+% of the time their samples are too awful to read beyond ten pages.

Just as many athletes can be talented, only a select few will ever make it to the pros. You can be good, but not good enough. In fact, this is where most people actually wind up.

So you’re probably not going to make it. I am probably not going to make it. The best we can do is continue working on our craft in the hopes we may. It’s important we temper our expectations and understand that even if we put in “10,000 hours,” we still may not be good enough. And for those who are beyond help, it’s time we tell them to move on to something else instead of taking their money and promising them “you can do it!”

There is nothing more unhelpful than to give someone the false hope that they’re good enough when they so obviously are not. We all have limitations. We all have a ceiling as far as progress goes. It is time that we acknowledge that and stop feeding the bloated egos of those who can’t put in the work, along with the snake oil salesmen that cater to them.

 

 

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You Do Not Have The Answer

For almost 50 years, people have debated the meaning of the third act in 2001: A Space Odyssey. For thousands of years, people have debated the meaning and origin of the universe. Neither has yielded many concrete results.

Perhaps this is the point. Not every question can yield a definitive answer, and this provokes a profound sense of anxiety.

After defeating HAL: 9000 on the edge of Jupiter’s orbit, Dave is sent on a journey through deep space. The monolith, the giant black tower which appears at the dawn of man seems to have some kind of power over him; or so many theories suggest. In this period of millennia, Dave is given a mass of knowledge that dates back to the Big Bang itself.

It is not merely a fantastic journey through a likely LSD inspired Stargate sequence. It is a deeply anxious mind trying to fathom our cosmic insignificance. It is so much information, so much science we cannot explain, so many trillions of galaxies and exponential numbers of stars that our brain cannot properly compute it all. It just comes out in brilliant colors moving a trillion meters per second. Dave’s face contorts and twists, and so do ours at the thought of what is happening. Then the Big Bang, the most anxiety producing of all — darkness, then light. We are all matter from anti matter. We are something out of nothing. We are particles of something which partical physics has yet to understand.

Is this making you anxious yet? It should be. The entire Stargate sequence is an elaborate mind fuck meant to imagine answers to questions we haven’t been able to shake for Millennia. How small do you feel after watching it?

So perhaps we’re all the product of star children because maybe for some that innocent thought of God is easier to fathom. The thought of an old man, viewed from his younger self through a bend in space and time, is easier to imagine. A man who sleeps in a white room with white curtains, tired eyes beneath a monolith of suggestion. Aliens, or God? This is the simplistic view. Perhaps this seems less fantastical than the science we do not understand.

The universe is frighteningly powerful. I write this on a space rock dodging cosmic hazards, spinning on its own axis at 720mph as it revolves around a ticking time bomb: our sun. This galaxy and the entire universe beyond it is held together by a physics we have barely begun to understand. It is so delicately held together by some cosmic string, that only the slightest of mishaps could send us all tumbling into mass extinction.

Are you anxious yet?

Perhaps the greatest con of this third act is that much like advanced science and the universe itself, there are no correct answers. The entire purpose of this act is to produce a mass anxiety out of not knowing. But hey, look at the star child floating to earth. I wonder if he’s Christian. Perhaps there’s an afterlife after all?

Facebook is a Platform for Low Information Garbage, Racism & Hate: Why I Left.

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Facebook doesn’t want to be the platform for intelligent discourse, and that’s exactly why I left it.

I first started using the platform in college, when Facebook was only availble to those with a college email. After it was rolled out to the general population, I never added a lot of people I knew I wouldn’t talk to. I kept my friends list manageable, mostly family and friends I would see often.

Then after a few years, approaching its initial public offering, Facebook began to distort the social experience. It rolled out a feature called news feed. Instead of receiving posts from your friends in chronological order, you saw what an algorithm determined was news.

At first this wasn’t too bad because most of what was considered news were topics, people and posts you probably liked seeing. It was often populated by those you interacted with often and topics/pages you “liked” on their website. It was a healthy mix between people and pages, with minimal sponsored posts. Plus you could still switch to a chronological time line that didn’t limit how far back you could scroll.

Then advertisers began to make up a larger portion of the social networks revenue. They became crucial to their profitability. Facebook repeatedly landed in hot water for privacy practices, notably data mining and the ownership of user IP, like photos.

It was around this time Facebook started to take over control. No longer was the platform content in allowing users to determine what they wanted to see. Facebook determined what Facebook wanted you to see. It even ran a social experiment showing more sad/happy posts to gauge user reaction.

Facebooks news feed functions as a tool for data analytics. 2/3rds of my news feed quickly turned to Facebook games, public pages for brands/sports teams etc, media pages, sponsored posts and maybe only 15% would actually be people I wanted to hear from.

Concurrently, Facebook launched an update to its smart phone app that limited the chronological time line and saturated that time line with sponsored posts.

Unlike Twitter where the user can create lists to track interests and those they most want to hear from, Facebook finally removed the option for users to control anything. Twitter cares about the experience its users have. Facebook does not. Whereas Twitter allows multiple apps, giving users even more options to filter content, Facebook only has its one app. Facebook wants to be in full control.

After news feed went to shit, many friends started leaving the site. I stayed, perhaps only because it was one of the few ways I could see all of my families posts, photos etc.

Then finally those posts were less and less too. I began having to manually go to people’s pages to see what they were up to. Within the past year, news feed is largely not even text. Over 90% of what you see on Facebook are inaccurate memes, stupid viral content and tabloid headlines. Whether or not a friend posted it, that’s what you would see. Also, if I liked a story on a public page, my news feed time line would quickly be consumed by all that pages posts.

Facebook does not care that it is the low information social platform. It relishes in that because the sheep who fall for bull shit memes are exactly the kinds of people Facebooks advertising partners want to buy their junk. Uninformed, easily manipulated morons — it is easy to part a fool from his/her money.

Yet in spite of all this, what ultimately put me over the edge was a new tweak to their news feed: the garbage political posts and proliferation of racism that went unpoliced.

I have recently tested a theory that Facebook shows you content you will disagree with in order to bait you into argument. Instead of seeing things you generally agree with, like in the early news feed days, Facebook wanted to find a way to keep you on the site longer. If you see a post you agree with, at most you’ll give it a like. Maybe you’ll add a comment or two. Then that’s it. Whereas if you find a post that offends you or is just totally factually inaccurate — you’re more likely to debate with the poster. The more you debate, the more you’re opening the app to check replies.

Think about why this makes sense. The more you open the app the more advertisers can learn about you, advertise to you etc.

So Facebook finds out what you are passionate about and shows you content in that subject that you are likely to disagree with. Maybe a sports team you despise, a friend supports. A political candidate or positions you disagree with in the strongest terms.

Facebook wants people arguing because it is good for their bottom line. The more outrageous the garbage content, the more divisiveness.

Recently I reported a page posting bigoted content called “Fuck Islam.” Facebook wrote back to me saying it didn’t violate their community standards. Of course it didn’t, that’s because Facebook has no moral or philosophical standards! Only greed.

At first the refusal to ban this page shocked and appalled me. However as this kind of virulent racism and bigotry became more common on their platform, I realized Facebook was fast becoming a home to the fringe political right wing – the low information voter. The fool and his money. The reactionary sheep advertisers are so desperate to court.

As higher educated people and younger people of progressive leanings fled the platform, older socially conservative people filled the gap. Facebook quickly became like an early 90s chain mail of made up stories and factually inaccurate memes meant to reinforce toxic political beliefs.

So finally I had enough. I couldn’t take the exposure to what had become a toxic right wing environment. I could no longer stand a news feed full of racist memes, promoted pages endorsing awful views and just plain dumb crap that as an educated and well read person I’d have no interest in.

So I deleted the app, blocked the site from my MacBook and hope to never look back.

I’m sure I’ll miss friends events. I won’t get to see many of my families photos. I think that’s a small price to pay for removing awful content from my life.

Maybe one day I’ll go back to Facebook if it decides to give users more control over their experience. Perhaps one day I’ll go back if it decides to be a more inclusive place and bans pages and content that are broadly offensive to most reasonable people.

But I doubt that day will ever come. Facebook does not care about inclusiveness or what you want. It just cares about what it wants, and what it wants is to make money. It is a company which has lost all moral compass as it makes money in perhaps the most repugnant of ways; privacy invasion, manipulating people’s emotions and fostering an environment which promotes divisiveness.

Today I realize I don’t have to help them make money. I hope that if your experience is anything like mine, you shouldn’t need to help them in that endeavor either.