Tag Archives: Media

The Unalienable Right to be Stupid

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – United States Declaration of Independence

….and to do stupid shit when young and not pay for it for the rest of their lives. – Me

This is a posting I’ve had kicking in my head for a few weeks. I first thought of it in the wake of the Kristen Stewart furore. Now that there’s a new uproar, over semi-naked pictures of Prince Harry of Britain from Las Vegas, it seems like it’s time to vent my spleen.

In my day job, I do work around publicity and press. And I can say based on my years of experience that it’s a hard, mean, brutal and unforgiving world and has only gotten more so year by year. The combined impact of the Internet, social media, mobile computing has been a profound erosion of privacy and explosion of publicity.

I’m also a man of a certain age, which means I (somehow) managed to survive my teens and early twenties. And that means I remember (at least some) of what it’s like to be that age.

When I take those two points and bring them together, I have conclude that there is something profoundly wrong and damaging in how we’re subjecting teens and twenty-somethings to a 24x7x365 social media-driven gossip culture that rests on schadenfreude, tearing people down, and violates that most important and inalienable right young adults have (or should have): the right to be stupid and not pay for it for the rest of their lives.

Let me pause here and be clear that there ARE some stupid acts that should have life-long consequences. Bringing another human being into the world in an unthinking and irresponsible way, killing someone because you’re driving in a preventable, impaired state: all of these can and should have profound, life-long consequences because they cause profound, life-changing effects and often great pain to others. But, the covert optimist in me still believes that the majority of teens and young adults do mean well and don’t do things like this.

But certainly, these years are hard, confusing years for everyone. I’ve described hitting adolescence as you being given the keys overnight to a fully functional Ferrari without ever really getting driving lessons. Nearly overnight, your body goes from a child’s body to a near-adult’s body, with all the capabilities, hormones, emotions and feelings that entails. You get that all at once with no ease-in time, no training. And anyway there is no training that can prepare you since we’re talking about what you feel. The grown-ups can describe sex all they want but nothing can prepare you for the feeling of that first orgasm (and the near obsessive need to have more once you have it). Talk is cheap and sometimes downright useless.

Add to this it’s a time of increasing independence (by desire and cultural design) and you’ve got a period of life where there’s going to be a lot of swerving, bad turns, inelegant starts and stops. And yes, accidents, both fender benders and serious crack-ups.

It’s a time that is so hard to begin with that putting actions during that time into the public gossip machine is beyond cruel. And as a society, it’s unwise. If we don’t want a society of passive cowards we have to honor the need for experimentation and yes, failure, by giving people space to fail and to recover. Creating a society that harshly enshrines a culture of one wrong move and you’re done is a sure way to make everyone conform, follow the path of least risk and resistance and take no chances.

And anyway, it’s not fair to judge what people do in this time. It’s arguable if it’s ever fair to judge but certainly it’s not at this age. How many times do I remember the rational part of my brain futilely trying to call me back from the edge of a bad decision, only to be muffled and drown in a rising flood of seminal fluid and sex hormones? At that age you can know what the right thing is and still be unable to do it. You are like the person in the back seat screaming while the crazy driver goes barreling down the highway laughing at the death that you’re sure is coming for you soon: helpless, terrified and doomed.

The funny thing is, relative to my peers, I was good, smart, responsible, and considerate. And yet, even I did some stupid, stupid shit. For me, my stupid shit tended to center around sex (not surprisingly) and was key in my figuring out that I was a failure with monogamy. There was the time I cheated on my girlfriend within days of her going home from college and ended up cheating with three different people in two months (and likely would have with more given the opportunity). I actually ended up in Seattle as a direct result of that period but I sure wouldn’t want any part of that story to be plastered on Google news. Hell, I’m not even sure how I feel about mentioning it here, but it’s been over 20 years and maybe that summer of spectacular failure can give me some credibility on this topic.

Maybe I feel strongly about this because both these cases relate to love and sex and I had such challenges myself. Regardless of why, though, I do know that this isn’t the right way to support teens and young adults while they figure out what they’re going to do with that Ferrari they’ve just been given the keys to. We all respond to shame and judgment with avoidance: we cover up, we lie, we do all we can to ensure we don’t bring that opprobrium from others onto ourselves. And if I’ve learned one thing about relationships as I’ve gotten older, and about publicity and PR from my work, it’s that the lying and the cover-up is always worse than the act itself. We should be making it easier not harder for people to be open and honest about love and sex. And yes, that means trying to make it safe to fuck up and do stupid shit, admit it, and move forward.

So, give Kristen Stewart a break. Cut Prince Harry some slack. Let them flail and struggle and figure it all out and exercise their inalienable right to be stupid and not pay for it for the rest of their lives. Because it’s not just about them: it’s about everyone that age. You can be sure teens and twenty-somethings are watching and learning from this all.

In the end, my old rule of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” pertains here. Just because you can read about this, share it, tweet about it, take pictures, text, etc. about something stupid doesn’t mean you should. And besides, do you want to be under this spotlight? I didn’t think so. I sure don’t.

This just in: Evolve or die!

As I’ve noted before, I work in communications.

And working in communications for me means (among other things) that I work with press. I’m not a reporter myself, though I do non-fiction and article writing among other things.

One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is the slow but significant impact that the Internet is having on press and journalism. Most folks outside this space aren’t seeing it or are even aware of it, but the world of press and journalism is not what it was ten years ago. At it’s simplest, much of the press that was there ten or twenty years ago is now gone. The Internet is slowly killing the business model that sustained journalism in the west through most of the twentieth century.

But, as I noted, this is happening slowly and quietly. You may not be aware, dear reader, of the layoffs, newsroom shutterings, changed priorities and pressures on those left behind.

Which is what makes today’s article on MSNBC by Michael Ventre about the demise of of that staple of accessible, friendly journalism: the film critic.

The situation, it’s causes and the likely effects of it are all familiar to those of us who have been tracking this for a while. Internet and online media combine with a culture of increasing democratization and short attention span to drive the paid experts who craft thoughtful work out of business. This leaves a gap to be filled with spotty quality blogs and Flash-animated short clips amongst other things that may satisfy the immediate need but lack the thought and depth that the old craftsmen and women brought to the trade.

Really, the only thing different here is that while most people don’t care about the impact this has on foreign events reporting, they do notice when that guy that wrote the funny movie reviews in the paper is gone.

I can say for myself I certainly see what’s happening and I agree with the views that we’re definitely losing something here. But, I also have to say that while change is always painful it’s also fruitful. The loss that we’re observing as the world convulses right now need not be permanent, especially if we note the risks and take steps to remedy them. And this change opens up all sorts of new opportunities that would not otherwise be there.

Of course, too, as someone that deals with press regularly, I do think that there’s an angle to this all that the press is understandably not covering. After all, since they’re writing about their own demise, they have no interest in calling out their own role in the current situation. That angle is the fact that for every good reporter who’s now out of work and whose fine work we’re losing there’s a hundred sloppy hacks also out of work.

Most coverage of this problem completely fails to look at the business reality that underpins this. Readers being happy to go to amateur, free sources like blogs means that those readers generally aren’t perceiving a loss in value compared to those professional sources. Of course, the press rail at those readers, saying that it’s due to them being stupid and failing to understand how much better the professional press are. And there is something to be said for the view that that some amateur work is to professional work as fast food is to fine cuisine. But it’s naive to think that’s the sole reason for this situation. There’s another part to this and that comes from the perceived arrogance of the press to their readers (helpfully on display in explaining the current situation no less), the way that press is out of touch with their customers (yes, they do have customers), and the fact that those customers don’t find the press’ product compelling when compared to other, free options.

I personally hope that good, thoughtful writers and journalists give this some real hard thought and work to build up a good business model or models so they can support their continued, ongoing, thoughtful work.

But, for the thousands of hacks who treat their readers like idiots, get their facts wrong and skew their story without acknowledging their bias who are hitting the real world at last: I don’t have a lot of sympathy.

In the end, it means the revolution in journalism won’t be televised. It’ll be blogged and posted on YouTube instead.

You’re Only as Credible as your Sources

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m no fan of extremists of any stripe. But, much as I think people some extremists have (or now in his case, had) too much influence, I’m still devoted more to truth and accuracy. And, too, I’m a long-time critic of the press because of their large but unacknowledged bias and because their accuracy is just awful (trust me, I work with them, I know).

So, all of that makes what we find on this posting all the more compelling. Basically, an MSNBC producer is using the information from whitehouse.org (a satire site) as a factual reference.

Nice. Way to go folks.

What next, using the Onion as your source?