Saturday, November 27, 2010

Was It Worth the Hype?

When it started, we thought we could help by providing some common sense and facts. We couldn't.

After it caught on and flooded the internet, we thought our friends would at least pay more than lip service to respect and listen to us. Most did, but many didn't.

Now that the initial shock is over, a lot of people are asking, "That's it? What was that all about?" We tried to tell you. The whole TSA Pat Down Conflagration is not worth getting your panties in a bunch.

This was hardest on my lovely TSA bride. This girl is no wilting flower, and she can take a joke. Heck, if you visit her blog, you see that she can dish the satire as well as anyone.

But after the "scope or grope" jokes wore thin, and the exchanges turned mean-spirited, we both got a little angry. One alleged friend exploded his Facebook feed with every scandalous allegation of TSA wrong-doing he could find - repeatedly suggesting that the new screening procedures amounted to government mandated child molestation. When asked to tone it down and look at the facts behind the stream of half-baked conspiracy, he claimed that HE was the one being demonized! He never said that Kate was part of the problem... just anyone working for TSA who followed their new, evil procedures. How dare we question the facts HE was finding, and try to tell him to accept the skewed TSA propaganda!

The good news is that reactions to the media were not all this extreme. We live in a complex world, and people do tend to be nuanced in their behavior, even if it seems they are behaving as a herd. And I'm happy to concede that this is not a simple issue. In fact, that's my main argument in favor of taking a step back and trying a bit harder to avoid oversimplifying it.

You can't blame any one group or organization for the situation we're in - except maybe for the actual terrorists. Since they recruit from all over, you can't profile on race - and even if you did, how would you profile terrorists? Even if you were to only target Muslims, as some have been demanding, how would you identify them visually? Never mind that racial profiling simply won't make you safe.

Unfortunately, you can't just swear off flying - our so-called free market doesn't have any reasonable choices (of trains, buses, or cars) available to allow that. The trains don't go all the way, the buses are crowded with people you don't want to travel with, and the cars don't drive themselves (at least not yet).

What DO I suggest? Before you fly - before you buy your ticket - visit and look at what the actual regulations are. Look at the list of prohibited items, and DON'T BRING THEM. You don't need knives, shampoo, chainsaws, or gallon jugs of cologne in the cabin of an aircraft, so put those things in your checked bags. Trying to save money on luggage charges? Mail those things to yourself in advance, or break down and buy them at WalMart when you arrive at your destination.

These are not "intrusive government mandates" - these are common sense tips that would be true regardless of security procedure.

And what about the "naughty pictures" and the sexual harassment allegations? Those things are ALREADY against the rules. TSA officers ought to know better, and if you see any of that going on, or if it happens to you, report it.

My challenge for you: look behind the stories that you see. Follow up for yourself on the "Don't Touch My Junk" guy (John Tyner) in San Diego, and answer this question: did anyone involved, whether Tyner or the TSA, *actually* get into trouble? Was anyone convicted of a crime or served a reprimand of any kind? What about all of the child molestation allegations? Did anyone get charged with anything? If no, then is there anything happening that you should be upset about, and if yes, then isn't justice being served?

You're right to be on your toes. Stay vigilant. Watch your children closely, especially in any public place. And when there is any kind of authority figure involved, remember to be respectful, listen to and follow reasonable directions, and most importantly - STAY CALM.

Because when you let the hype send you in looking for a fight, you're more likely to cause one.

Meanwhile, how did the big travel week turn out? There was supposed to be a big "Opt Out Day" protest; my lovely bride was braced for a lot of smug jerks to come through and drop their trousers, trying to get on TV. Instead, the passengers were better prepared, more polite, and easier to deal with than usual. Many came through and thanked the TSA officers for the job they do. Some asked, "Is that the pat down I've been hearing about on TV? What's the big deal?"

For all of the muckraking, shouting, and yellow journalism, the public actually came through. And there is a lesson there, too, I think.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bleep Your Tad Says

I did a "good dad thing" the other day, and let my 8-year-old daughter put eyeliner and lip gloss on my face while I pretended to sleep. She thought it was a hoot, and then I "woke up" and chased her and her brothers around the house planting big, watermelon-scented Dad lips on their cheeks and foreheads.

Therapy is expensive, and this is my way of making sure it will be fun.

After the running around and laughing was over, and I had washed my face, the little girl asked me if I had ever worn makeup before, and I told her about being in theater in high school. I don't know how much got across from 38-year-old mouth to 8-year-old ear, but I told her a little about the science behind makeup; how the bright lights of the stage wash out your features, and how the makeup emphasizes them so the audience can see your face.

It wasn't a long conversation, or a deep one, but it got me thinking about how much I hated wearing makeup on the stage, and how ironic it is that so many people use it in everyday life to "enhance" their image. There is a puzzling dance around the issue of what is real and what is fake when you use something artificial to emphasize only your best features; is it honest to cover up your faults that way, or is it necessary to counteract the effects of too much scrutiny?

Anyway, I was still thinking about the theater later when Flamingo and I sat down to watch some TV. We watch a lot of shows together, but rarely on the actual broadcast television - we prefer to catch up later on DVD or streaming Netflix (how's that for product placement?). This night was different because of Twitter.

I can't explain why, but I use Twitter quite a lot. (If you're reading this on my Blogger site, you can see my feed up to the left.) Even though I tweet and follow lots of friends, political figures, and sci-fi-related actors and actresses, I really can't tell you what value it brings to my life or what I have to offer in return. It has just become Part of My World. (Please, Disney, don't sue me.)

A lot of the stuff I follow on Twitter makes me laugh. Case in point: Wil Wheaton, whom you might remember from Star Trek: Next Generation, Stand By Me, or more recently, Big Bang Theory, where he plays an Evil version of himself. He was on Big Bang Theory that night, and had been twittering all day about it in a fit of shameless self-promotion - which we forgave because we actually wanted to see the show, and because we needed the reminders. We are out of the habit of being tied to the network's schedule.

We enjoyed the show, and later @wilw's meta-tweets (where the real Wil Wheaton actually tweeted here and here what the Evil Wil Wheaton tweeted in the show).

As fate would have it, the show that follow Big Bang Theory happens to come from Twitter, too. I have followed Shit My Dad Says for a while, now, and I knew they were making a TV series out of it, but I didn't see how they could do it justice. For one thing, it's NBC, so instead of the actual name of the Twitter feed, they have to print "$#!# My Dad Says" and call it "Bleep My Dad Says" - all of which is incredibly lame and violates the fundamental beauty of having a title based on profanity in the first place. (If you haven't already read my piece in defense of profanity, I have it right here.)

I won't lie: I hated the show. As much as I enjoy William Shatner (where do you think the nickname "Flamingo" comes from?), and as much as I appreciate Josh Halpern's story as a Geek WIN, the episode we watched embodied everything that is sad, old, and irrelevant about network television. Here they had an opportunity to tap into a built-in audience that has been steadily abandoning their medium, and they've blown it by serving up the kind of warm BLEEP that drove us away in the first place.

What would I have done differently?

Well, for one thing, I would have built the series around the central character of that twenty-something guy forced to move back in with his dad, and made it into a one-camera exploration of his life. Show the guy struggling with his problems and using Twitter as an outlet. Show the family reacting and trying to understand what the buzz is all about. Show the ways this unexpected fame changes his world.

There is a lot of risk in making a half-hour comedy like that, but it has been done well before. This show could have been Arrested Development - instead, it was Silver Spoons. I can't explain Twitter, but I can tell you that it has become popular because we-the-people are intensely interested in ourselves. Shitmydadsays became viral and popular because we are intensely amused by profanity and self-effacement. If you're going to take on the risk of buying a show built on the word "Shit", you should be willing to take on the risk of letting it be good by building on those things that made it strong in the first place.

But I realize it's hard to do that. When you're sitting in the makeup chair, you don't know what your face is going to look like to those in the audience. How much "realism" can you get away with? What should you emphasize, what should you hide? On television, all of that is decided for us, taking the point and the relevance away from us. On the internet, we decide what we want to show and what we want to see - not to mention when we want to see it.

And that is the difference between Bleep and Shit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Party of NOvember

So, the Republicans made historic gains (as was more or less predicted four and two years ago, respectively) and the pendulum swings back to the so-called "right"... like clockwork. And yet, there is still hope in the world. What makes me say that? A few encouraging signs:

Michigan elected a centrist coalition builder to their governor's mansion.

Crazy did NOT win in Nevada or Delaware. (UPDATE: What the Tea Party Cost by David Frum)

The GOP (mostly) didn't gloat.

There are certainly a lot of things we're all going to differ over, but I'm looking forward to having a Speaker of the House who uses Twitter effectively.

And while the Republicans have vowed to waste everyone's time trying to repeal the Health Care Reform bill, I think the fact that so few of the Tea Party candidates got in (and those who did, like Rand Paul, seem to already be co-opted by the Establishment) that there won't be as much danger of that actually happening. In fact, the impression I have from the news I have not been able to avoid is that the nation didn't get yanked as far to the so-called "right" as we were led to believe it would be. It might just be the case that enough of these new Republican representatives will turn out to be ... drum roll... pragmatic moderates who want to get things done! Maybe even some of these things:

I'd like to see Energy dealt with; take the big Government subsidies away from oil exploration and put it toward developing solar panels that don't use rare-earth elements.

I'd love to see Immigration Reform - only this time, it will let good folks who are already integral members of our community "get legal".

I'd love to see our Defense dollars go toward actual training and equipment for our troops and not toward sweetheart deals that pay too much for not enough support.

And since it wouldn't be right to let this go unsaid: which do you think is money spent more wisely? A failed campaign for Governor of California, or the entire budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. (I can tell you which one will last longer.)

Maybe we'll even start to figure out that money isn't the solution to every problem; work, thought, and practical effort are.