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Monday, July 17, 2006

Fox News Channel - Sock Puppets with Teeth

One of my favorite comedy stations is Fox News. Between guffaws and chuckles I find my jaw dropping to the floor in awe. Kafka at his best can’t touch the twisted logic that guides these news bullies into countless hours of absurdity and unintentional hilarity.

I do have two problems with it. First off, they sell it to America as news – their version of the truth. And secondly, half of America isn’t in on the joke… they believe every big fat sloppy lie served up.

I realize that the likes of Al Franken, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart have already trod this path and mapped it out quite well. Stewart, in particular, manages to wring out the most from the stupefying rhetoric that falls from the lips of the Fox News pundits. And thanks to his efforts – at least half of America is ‘in’ on the joke that is Fox News.

That said, I’m very curious what our social/political world will look like 20 years from now (providing that global warming – which is a bunch of hoo-haw according to Fox News – doesn’t finish us off before then). It should prove very entertaining in a distorted, funhouse mirror sort of way. Research by Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris of East Carolina University found that nearly half - 48 percent - of college-aged people watch The Daily Show, while only 23 percent of show viewers followed "hard news" programs closely.

I wonder if Fox News is included in that ‘hard news’ bunch. I hope so. Given the history of T.V., it should make for a very Fellini-esque 2028 election year.

If the history of our media has taught us anything it is that once a concept is established and successful it will more than likely continue to proliferate until its original attributes are completely exploited and stretched to ridiculous lengths.

Look at America's love for reality T.V. It began innocently enough back in 1950’s with shows like What’s My Line?, and Kid’s Say the Darndest Things. This evolved into programs like Real People and That’s Incredible – vignettes featuring tiny slices of odd lives.

The invention of the home video camera led to America’s Funniest Home Videos (not in my book) and shows of that ilk. It was about this time that the practice of truth manipulation came into play. America was no longer content with just watching incidental accidents or life as it happened – they began to create it.

Enter the MTV Generation, (No, really? Is there such a thing?), which took it to the next level by cramming a group of mismatched socially maladjusted individuals into a really ‘cool’ apartment and then ‘standing back’ to watch the resulting emotional fireworks. This is the same network that then allowed Johnny Knoxville and his cohorts to bash each other in the athletic cup until they keeled over in ‘laughter’.

Seeing gold in them there hills, Network T.V. jumped onto the bandwagon, spinning off in all sorts of directions with a myriad of celebrity-minded (talk show circuit, product spokesperson, Playboy layout) contestants willing to do anything (eat bugs, live underground with potential psychopaths, play tasteless practical jokes on their unsuspecting parents, have their face and body carved up by plastic surgeons, etc.) all in the hopes of ‘winning’.

I haven’t kept track of who won. (Except for the Survivor contestant who was recently arrested for shooting a puppy ON PURPOSE with a bow and arrow) (All the major networks are planning spin-offs of this reality concept for next season - Kitten in a Blender, Gerbils Eat Their Young, America's Funniest Slaughterhouses, etc.).

But I do know who the big losers are: the viewing public.

These shows exist because they offer unscripted moments of the human condition in all its tawdry rawness (manipulated by crafty editing and producer ‘suggestions’ of course).

These shows exist because people watch them. Yes, we love it when contestants lie, lie, lie.

Lie like dogs. Lie like Kenneth L. Lay. Lie like Tom DeLay. Lie like O.J.

In Reality: These shows exist because they are cheap to make.

The same can be said of Fox News. Fox’s News shows exist because it is much more entertaining and less-expensive to just make up the news (lie) rather than report facts and do research to support those facts. Every Fox News story is the same news story. They serve up the same turd – which they call ‘truth’ - wrapped up in an American flag over and over again. And should some bit of actual truth leak in via a guest politico, that same turd – still wrapped in the flag – is wielded like a club by members of the Fox ‘News’ team to reprimand the offending guest and keep America safe.

The Daily Show does the same thing, but their turds are usually provided by Fox News. The Daily Show merely removes the flag, exposing them for what they are – big logs of bodily waste. And while the talking heads at Fox masquerade as news reporters dishing nothing but the truth – the real truth (is that an oxymoron?), The Daily Show clearly defines itself as a show of political satire.

Both are joking. Right? Right. Ohhhh…. Riiiiiight!

I wish that Fox News would let the other half of America in on the joke. But that would require Fox News to get the joke. Fox News does not get the joke. Fox News has no sense of humor (unless you think of Hannity and Colmes as a sort of modern day Punch and Judy show). They can’t afford one. They have Anne Coulter on the payroll (those identical little-black dresses don't come cheap). They have Bill O’Reilly (vibrators, loofah sponges, sex shows in Thailand, phone sex - I could go on and on, but, tastefully, I won't). They have the aforementioned Sean Hannity (hair gel, puppeteers, ghost writers, enough said). With all those egos vying for airtime… oxygen must be in short supply.

As for those of us in on the joke? We can all breathe easy. At least until 2028, by which time reality and the truth will have been skewed broader than Mary Worth’s face on a wad of silly putty.

Trust me...

It won’t be a pretty sight either.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Internet Equivalent of a Drive by Shooting

I’m puzzled by people on the internet. Not all, just those who cloak themselves in anonymity. It seems to me, if one has the balls to attack or even question someone else’s credibility (their reputation, their motives, their physical attributes, their personality, etc.), then that person should have the balls to publish a photo of themselves along with a complete profile, a link to a personal website (if they have one) and an e-mail address. To commit an opinion or comment out there on the web for others to read would seem to indicate, on the part of the writer, some personal drive, motive, or need to do so. Why then do they choose to not back up their writing with some personal information about themselves?

This type of anonymous posting is what I term the internet equivalent of a drive by shooting. The cowardice of those who practice this type of internet ‘trolling’ is as obvious as their motive – which is to provoke and inflict pain on their target. They accomplish this by distorting some aspect of your profile, the intent and meaning behind a post you made, or the personal information you provide about yourself. They do this under the guise of wanting to set you ‘straight’, to correct your behavior, to come to ‘the rescue’ of another poster, or to call your credibility into question. On occasion, there may be a good reason to do any of these things – for example when people are hurling unkind names at each other, but for the most part there is little basis for such posts. Yes, I know it’s ridiculous, but these attacks can cause the uninformed a great deal of anxiety – which, of course, is exactly the intent of the ‘troll’.

Now, as you attempt to defend yourself, these anonymous, nameless, faceless ‘trolls’ will try to trap you in all sorts of little word games – games where logic has no bearing and semantics are rendered meaningless. Don’t bother. It’s a waste of breath. Like quicksand, the more you struggle (try to explain/respond), the quicker you sink. Keep in mind - they have the power of anonymity on their side. They can say the most outrageous, baseless things and get away with it; for, cloaked in anonymity, how could there be any accountability?

Everything is fair game – especially the truth. And even if you should complain to the moderator of a forum or chat room and manage to get an offensive poster eighty-sixed, just like Hercules’ hydra (cut off its head and it grows another) – they repopulate themselves. ‘Trolls’ have the ability to reinvent themselves countless times. They frequently operate under several different handles at the same time. So, should you be in a forum - the seeming object of the scorn of many – there is a good chance that there is only one very sad, powerless little person manning all those handles from a single keyboard and the same ISP address. A good way to discern this? Check their posting history. If their attacks on you and others that day are the only posts listed – then it’s likely that the handle is merely a beard for another handle on the forum. Another good indicator? Is there a means of contacting them via e-mail? If they have nothing listed – then they’re probably hiding something – like their authenticity. Keep in mind that forums like Craiglist allow everyone to ‘anonymize’ their actual e-mail addresses, while still allowing others to contact them. This type of ‘anonymizing’ is perfectly acceptable given the current climate of SPAM that permeates the web. But given that safeguard, does one have any tangible excuse for not having a means of being contacted? Perhaps they simply don’t want to be bothered with e-mails filling up their in-basket – e-mails commenting on their behavior or making them accountable for something they wrote. Hmm, yes… that sounds very responsible of them. How convenient.

So what can be done about these ‘trolls’? Nothing. It is free speech. They have a right to be as boorish and obnoxious as they like and say or accuse you of whatever their ugly little minds can conjure. Do you have to take it? Sadly – sort of. You can complain – to them (they will just call you a crybaby or worse) or to the moderator of the forum/chat room (but don’t hold your breath to get a response – moderators frequently chalk-up such behavior as something you have to put up with – like bullies on the playground). Your best course of action? Don’t play their game. Tell them to leave you alone – point out their rude behavior and their cowardice (nameless, faceless them) – and then cease responding to their posts. Do not engage them in anyway, no matter how outrageous their behavior becomes – the ‘troll’ will eventually tire out and either go back under their bridge and go to sleep or move on to another ‘victim’.

Oh, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? If you complain? They will accuse you of ‘playing the victim’. And, while you are the target of their boorishness, only you can decide if you want to be their victim. My suggestion? Don’t. Being someone’s victim implies that they have power over you (which is exactly why the ‘troll’ uses this tactic – they will also accuse you of being paranoid, too) - don’t let them. Don’t be anyone’s victim. In our society it’s a role that too many people readily accept and all too frequently it is only because they are too weak or lazy to stand up for themselves. Develop some character – stand up for yourself, but do so without escalating the rhetoric or engaging the ‘troll’.

Odd, isn’t it… that it’s come to this – that discourse and simple conversation can now be used as means of abuse. And it is abuse, no matter how harmless the ‘troll’ will claim their banter to be. Words hurt and bullying – even among consenting adults - is abusive. But what else can we expect from a society that views such banter from the likes of Bill O’Rielly and the entire Fox News team, or ill-informed, celebrity hate-mongers like Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter or Dr. Laura as entertainment and free-speech? Sure, the ‘troll’ is not a celebrity (in fact he conceals his identity), but it’s just as insidious and ugly as the garbage spouted by those cretins of the airwaves (Cretins of the Airwaves - a topic best reserved for another post).

I doubt the ‘trolls’ would agree with my assessment. They don’t see themselves that way. But then, given the anonymous nature of ‘trolls’? – If you did hold up a mirror in front of them?

There wouldn’t be anything of substance to be reflected anyway.

You see, it’s all smoke and mirrors, here, at Wonderland Burlesque.

Until next time.... - mhk

Friday, July 07, 2006

Confidence equals arrogance? Since when?

All my life I have battled with the notion that to feel good about yourself, your accomplishments and your life might easily be construed as being pompous, egotistical and arrogant. It's not that I hid my talents and opinions under a bushel barrel, but I have always had difficulty taking a compliment. The same is true of criticism - which, if it is genuine and given without an ulterior motive, is, in fact, a very great compliment - for someone to have taken the time to give you advice that is intended to truly nurture you - to help you grow - well, that is just as wonderful as being told you're the best thing sliced bread.

Unfortunately, all too often criticism comes tinged with a hue that has nothing to do with wanting to be helpful at all.

Usually it has a lot more to do with the other person than it does your performance, behavior, or opinion. The same can be true of compliments, as well.

Today someone leveled the criticism that I am "too full of myself". Now there was a time when I would have jumped and said... yes, true - what do I have to be proud of? - I should be ashamed!

But... to be proud and confident of who you are and what you believe - WHEN did that become a bad thing?

I've always admired confident people. They seem to cut right through all the tedious things in life that waste time and deter productivity. I always thought it was something given them by their parents, their genes, or something they earned from others. I always thought they were just lucky. But now I know that is not true. Confidence is something you learn about yourself - not through the eyes and words of others - but by learning about yourself - by defining who you are.

Yes, I have met people who indeed, have crossed the line into arrogance - we all have. They're boorish and talk only of themselves and never ask questions of others.

But trust me, it is quite possible to be confident and still be humble.

I'm a very humble person. I feel that all the gifts/talents/blessings that I have were given by the grace of a higher power. Yes, I took responsibility for them, chose to develop them and along the way met a lot of people who helped me do exactly that. Every book I have ever read, every play I have seen, every song I have ever heard - all have contributed greatly to the person I am becoming.

You see, for a long time I did not believe 100% in my gifts - not completely, not truly. I've always held back just a little - because it hurts to be wrong - especially about abilities. "It hurts to be found out public like a frog."

There was a time when I lived my life like a sparkler - shooting off in a million different directions all at once. I wanted to share everything about me. I wanted to prove my gifts. I wanted to be noticed, to be seen. But for the past ten years or so, something has changed. Now I like to keep my gifts very private. I hold them close and share them with very few people - because the longer I spend time on this earth and expose myself to other people, the more I tend to find that people, given the chance, are just too wrapped up in their own muck to really listen to anything you have to offer. They become mean-spirited, spiteful - without provocation. So I no longer share as much of myself as I once did.

The whole process of putting something out there and then getting smacked back down because people are jealous, or angry, or frustrated, or feel the need to cut someone else down in order to make themselves feel better about who they are - or because the just genuinely don't like it - it's become to risky, too predictable. In a way - by putting yourself out there, you are in fact, being self-abusive - especially if you're aware of the risks involved. Anytime total strangers are allowed to take pot shots at you... you open yourself to all sorts of nastiness that has very little to do with whatever it is you had to offer.

Which I guess is the point of this entry... when people say nasty, baseless things - it really says much more about them than it does their target.

I am fortunate... and grateful for everything - the good, the bad, the success, the failures - that I have experienced so far in my life. It's made me a better person - someone who is confident (most of the time) - someone who acknowledges and is grateful for his gifts and talents and continues to develop them - and most importantly... someone who has defined who he is - and who he is not - and is not afraid of defending it.

When I think of all the years I spent wanting to be ANYBODY else but me... well, trust me, that is no longer true. I really am very happy with who I am becoming. (No, I'm not finished yet. None of us ever really are... )

So - the next time someone accuses you of being too full of yourself... take a moment and think about it - is that REALLY such a bad thing? Also consider the source - and if you find that it is someone who doesn't have a clue about who you are - if they present themselves as some anonymous chatroom handle with no picture, no website, no e-mail address (in short - offering nothing of themselves) - don't give them the power to make you question who you are - you KNOW who you are (if you've been doing your homework).

And that, my friend is a very valuable thing to know.

Keep peddling, Skippy. We're getting nearer the top of that hill.

- mhk

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Forums for ummmm..... all of us?

I've just recently discovered a M4M Forum on Craigslist dot org. It's my first time (just like this blog). Occasionally I spend time there and walk away puzzled, perplexed, confused and just a bit wiser - if not world-weary.

I am frequently amazed by people (aren't we all?); their gullibility, lack of logic, quickness to judge, need to meddle, desire to be involved, to rescue others, to insert their opinion, and above all else... their need to be right.

I'm guilty, too. We all are. Anyone who claims they are above all of this, well, trust me - they are probably more guilty than anyone else.

Sometimes I try to correct something I hear or read or offer my opinion... not as a means of proving some kind of superiority, but simply because someone has done or said something that catches my interest. It may be simply a matter of a difference of opinion, but it's frequently misinterpreted as a personal attack. Of course, that's when things DO get personal. But more on that later.

Now I will try to reason with that person... explaining my position, clarifying my motives - all the while being very respectful and polite. But they don't listen. They're to busy judging. They don't care what my motives may be or whether there is any validity to my opinion... it only matters to them that I see that THEY are right. I try not to get defensive. The word to stress there is 'try'.

The next thing they do is accuse me of not following the rules. Folks, and trust me on this, if someone ever tries to pull this on you please keep in mind... THERE ARE NO RULES. The internet nun is not going to come sweeping into your home via your computer monitor and smack your hands with a ruler. You will never have to sit in the corner. No one will be contacting your mother and, despite the claims of some, there IS no permanent record that your behavior will be noted on... although several clever posters may be able to cut and paste something you said five weeks ago in the room on a totally different topic and use it as proof that your are (gasp)(no, really - gasp here, please) a hypocrite! (We all are - just roll with it).

If I have the time, I will continue to try and reason with the person. Their response? It frequently results in name-calling. They become more agitated, less logical and their attacks? - much, much more personal in nature.

At one time or another I have been identified as any number of things - mostly attributes that, to the clueless, may seem at odds with one another. Can I really be someone who doesn't think people should pay for sex, but CAN see the legitimacy of bath houses? (The answer is - yes. They are, in fact, two very different things.) And can I love my gay-self and yet be critical of certain gay behaviors that I personally find indefensible? (The answer is yes).

Granted - it is JUST my personal opinion, but - and I always make a point of spelling this out for them- they have the right to feel and believe however and whatever they like. (Not that this little nod to free speech satisfies them. Again, your acknowledgment of their position holds no value for them - it's much more important that they simply be declared - once and for all - right!) (Or, as they more often term it, 'the winner'!)

Well, needless to say... suddenly my eating habits become fair game(huh?). We play semantics. And then someone who was very nice to me three days ago, and has not been a part of the thread at all will suddenly pipe in and call me an *sshole. Then I'm fat (I'm not), I'm ugly (just a little bit), old (only in gay-years), I can't get laid (not true), I must hate poz people (I don't - at all), I'm trying to control the room (is that even possible?), I must have no understanding of what it's like to be __________ (fill in the blank) (it's a coin toss here - I have been oh-so many things in this lifetime - but not everything.) I am, however, generally empathetic.

The thing is... I love the human condition. It fascinates me. And at times - and this is my biggest sin - I figure if someone wants to yap nonsense at me while chasing their own tail, well, who am I to say no? I even help them if I can - poke them just right and they will almost spin right off the screen. You see... I love to see just how silly people can get - how out of touch with whatever it is that set them off to begin with. This kind of blindness seems to know no bounds of decency - nothing is off limits - everything is fair game. So, I figure, if that's how they want to play... I'll play too.

Frequently these people have no where else appropriate to go with their anger. So they vent it in forums like M4M at Craigslist at people like me. I only mind a little (I am not fat, really).

Don't get me wrong... there are some really wonderful people in that room... wise beyond their years; talented writers, sexually inventive souls, compassionate hearts and even some just regular joes. I enjoy their 'company'. But - there are an equal number of clueless souls and mean 'ole trolls that just do not have:

  1. any common sense,
  2. any ability to manipulate the English language into anything but finger-pointing, whiny pointlessness or (worse) name-calling and/or slogan-ism,
  3. the ability to understand reason or be reasoned with,
  4. the ability to think outside the box (I hate that phrase - let's just call it - being creative),
  5. the ability to stay on course with an argument without resorting to personal attacks or -
  6. (AND THIS above all else) a shred of a sense of humor about themselves, life or the whims of others.
OMG - can we talk about over-sensitivity? Can we talk about taking ourselves just a LITTLE too seriously? (Really - get a grip guys. We're not birthing babies here!) Can we talk about the kettle being beige?

Well, we could - or I could - talk about those things - but this sort of thing is best served in-house, up close and personal. So venture on into one of the forums on Craigslist... You will start to see where Tennessee Williams got all those characters from, or why shows like Fawlty Towers make us anxious AND laugh at the same time.

Don't take my word for it... Experience it first hand. It's like falling into Wonderland, only Alice is now a hung-over burlesque queen with a bitter attitude and a need for fresh blood.

Ahh... sweet internet - will your wonders never cease?

I hope not.

- mhk