Or, "Nursing mothers may notice that their baby has turned into an alpaca."
By now you've probably seen the ad for Abilify, that new-ish pill that targets bipolar disorder. Just to jog your memory, it starts with—symbolism alert!—a melancholy-looking woman finding her way slowly through, and out of, the woods. Amid New Age-y music, the narration tells you that the drug, developed by Japan's Otsuka Pharmaceutical and marketed in the U.S. by Bristol-Myers Squibb, will help you lead a calmer, more level life.
And then...the disclaimers.
Now, it's true that disclaimers on TV drug ads historically tend to be chilling to the point of near-silliness. To some degree this is endemic to the medium. TV isn't like print, where major pharmaceuticals will launch a hot new drug with a glossy four-page magazine spread that encompasses hundreds if not thousands of words in addition to the (required) disclaimer page(s). On TV, drug makers have, at most, 60 seconds to complete their pitch. And because the law requires them to include the most dire and/or common adverse effects, they're placed in the Kafkaesque position of paying a lot of money to produce a commercial that sounds almost like a PSA for why you shouldn't even think of trying this drug. Often this condensed recitation of dire consequences ends up making such ads sound like something you'd expect from an SNL parody. (One also remembers humorist Dave Barry's famous riff on the subject, where he goes through this laundry list of progressively more outlandish adverse effects, ending with, "Pregnant women should not even be watching this commercial....")
In this case, however....
Well, not to vilify Abilify, but consider that the TV spot warns, in turn, of:
—Uncontrollable movements that may "become permanent"
—Inability to swallow
—Soaring blood sugar
—Sudden death by stroke...
And, mind you, the foregoing isn't even a complete listing of the risks. In fact, by my count, death is mentioned as a possible "adverse effect" at least three times. I'd say that's pretty adverse.
No thanks, Bristol-Myers. I'll stick with the mood swings, if it's all the same to you.
Of course, this raises legitimate questions about whether the rampant "disease-ification" of America, increasingly visible in the phalanx of mental-health ads aimed at consumers, is encouraging basically normal people to seek medical treatment they don't need, thereby exposing themselves unnecessarily to all sorts of serious side effects. (If you've been reading this blog for any period of time, you already know that that's one of my chief complaints against the self-help movement.) We'll be examining that topic more fully, soon.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Or, "Nursing mothers may notice that their baby has turned into an alpaca."
Monday, October 29, 2007
A new self-congratulatory promo from FOX News 29 (Philly) shows some guy walking briskly away from a FOX newsman, and the voiceover asks, in this really smarmy tone of voice, "If he didn't do anything wrong...why's he running away from [our reporter]?"
Gee, I dunno...maybe because he doesn't think he owes your obnoxious reporter an interview? Maybe because he resents the fact that today's reporters behave in ways that might get them arrested for stalking, were they in any other line of work? Meanwhile, what about the implications of the question posed in the voiceover itself: So if you refuse to submit to a reporter's interrogation, that automatically means you're guilty of something? Has FOX not heard of a little thing called the Fifth Amendment? The presumption of innocence? Yanno, I'd like to see how long today's high-profile investigative hotshots would put up with the same level of 24/7 scrutiny* that they routinely inflict on ordinary civilians. Better still, how 'bout we chase Brian Williams or Katie Couric around for a while; what say we find out who they're sleeping with, or what other skeletons are in their closets?
The utter arrogance of these media types. Or maybe they're not arrogant so much as calculating: Intellectually, perhaps, they'd recognize the truth of everything I'm writing here, but they're more interested in pandering to the audience—establishing themselves as the ever-vigilant guardians of their viewers' best interests. After all, who really cares what it says in an ancient document like the U.S. Constitution?
Until, that is, somebody says or does something that the media perceive as an infringement on their First Amendment rights. Then sit back and watch the sparks fly in NewsWorld!
By the way, the creature shown above is actually a jackal, not a fox. It seemed more appropriate.
And here's FOX pre-game baseball analyst Joe Girardi, last night, on why the Rockies—who came into the World Series having won 21 of 22 games—found themselves on the verge of losing to the Red Sox in four straight (a humiliation they would, in fact, suffer, before the night was out): "I see a different look in their eyes." Girardi added, "It's almost as if they're expecting something bad to happen." (Hmm. Think the Colorado players might need those new Gillette razors?)
Look, let me clarify something. I'm not saying that emotion plays no role in sports. Of course it does. Everything plays some role, including the temperature on the field. But unlike the temperature, emotion cannot be measured; and even if it could be, there's just no way to quantify in any meaningful sense what role it plays, or how to use it for maximum effect. (Question: How do we know for sure that a positive attitude isn't bad for you? I know what you're thinking...that sounds crazy...but humor me. How do we know? Self-esteem sounds like it would be good for you, too, and that certainly hasn't proved out in schools.) So: In assessing sports performance, why would we instinctively look first to an emotional/attitudinal explanation—something that can't be measured; something that even insiders call an "intangible"—when there are so many tangible explanations? Bat speed can be measured. Foot-speed can be measured. Strength can be measured. So can coordination and agility. (That is in fact the basis of the NFL Combines, which play a significant role in the order in which college athletes are drafted—and can even have a make-or-break effect on the careers of marginal NFL candidates who show poorly.)
Attitude could be helpful. Attitude could be harmful. The same attitude could be helpful in one case and harmful in another. We simply have no way of knowing.
Unless you're Joe Girardi, and you can tell by the look in their eyes....
* translation: harassment.
Friday, October 26, 2007
The event came and went without creating much of a stir, but Judy Mazel died on October 12. Though the name may not ring a bell, you may have some familiarity with her signature work: a little thing called The Beverly Hills Diet (1981). You had to have lived through the time period in order to appreciate the cultural phenomenon that was Beverly Hills. Kind of like South Beach, only crazier, and with a whole lot more celebrities (natch) involved. The diet plan itself started with 10 days of nothing but fruit, followed by rotating cycles in which dieters ate just one food group at a time; it was based loosely, Mazel said, on the eating patterns established by our cave-dwelling ancestors, who were generally slim (but who also didn't have a Cheesecake Factory within driving distance, and who had to outrun an angry bison now and then). More important, Mazel is credited/debited with helping launch the diet revolution,* and I really should've given her at least a passing mention in SHAM. Judy Mazel epitomized so much of what is true of (i.e. wrong with) the weight-loss movement and the SHAMscape as a whole. She had neither the credentials nor the professional standing to be pioneering a major health movement; the science behind her book was shaky at best; and she later came under fire for promoting the glitzy, Hollywood-inspired notion that "a girl can never be too slim"—an idea that still lives with us today, of course, and is visible in the desperation of millions of young girls who are perfectly healthy but who look in the mirror and don't like what they see anyway. (Mazel weighed in at a "svelte 108," she liked to say.) As one of her critics wryly noted, "The Beverly Hills Diet marks the first time that an eating disorder—anorexia nervosa—has been marketed as a cure for obesity."
Mazel died at just 63 of complications from peripheral artery disease, a condition in which—some doctors believe—poor diet is a contributing factor.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the fifth inning of last night's Sox-Rockies game, FOX baseball analyst Chris Myers felt obliged to give us the inside scoop on a closed-door meeting of Boston players that took place during last week's league championship playoffs against the Indians; this was right after the Sox went down three games to one in the series. The message that came out of that meeting, Myers reported, quoting Boston right fielder J.D. Drew, was: "Just win one at a time and we can win the World Series." And so it came to pass, Myers noted sagely, that the Sox "haven't lost a game since."
So that's the answer, huh? Just have a meeting and decide to win 'em one at a time.
I ask again: How do you "decide" to win? And then make it happen? How do you control the myriad variables that affect (and, I dare say, conspire to determine) the outcome of a given game? And why would a player who had "decided to win" then allow himself to strike out his first two times up before finally hitting the double that does, indeed, win the next game? And if he can simply cause himself to win...why would he ever allow himself to lose? And why do you need a meeting for it, anyway? If you can do these things pretty much at will, just make it part of your approach to daily life. No?
It astonishes me that no one in media questions the pat script. Even people like Bob Costas and Joe Buck (Buck strikes me as a pretty bright guy) say nothing. They all just go right along with the frothy, fatuous flow. They even build special in-game reports around it, as Chris Myers did last night.
Here's one case where I must fall back on a pet McCarverism: Amazing. Simply amazing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Very quietly, a bit more each day, my post on the Midwest Center for Stress & Anxiety ("Center of my concerns," April 3, 2007) is creeping up on the SHAMblog record for "most all-time comments." Already it holds the record for most comments by different people, and I figure that at its current rate, within another week it will own the overall record. That record is now 74, for a post on Rhonda Byrne ("Why is this woman smiling?", July 19, 2007) that branched off into an intriguing and quite heated discussion of rap music and the nature of discussion itself. I find it funny that angry "exiles" from the Center's own heavily policed discussion board have now, in effect, formed a sub-community on SHAMblog. I've voiced many criticisms of the blogosphere over the past two years, but this is one of its magical and wondrous aspects: You just never know when these things will take on a life of their own, uniting dozens or hundreds of people who otherwise never would have met, and who didn't realize there were others out there who "feel just like I do!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
P.S. FRIDAY, 3 p.m. Add this under "dumbness." Or maybe "disgusting." To those who wonder just how far the gurus of positive mental attitude really take it, I give you Joe "Mr. Fire" (!) Vitale, writing on the San Diego inferno and the reason why certain homes may have been spared. You know, people who put their faith in The Secret, or very much want to, will tell you, "Well, I mean, everybody realizes that you're not supposed to take the law of attraction literally literally—like, when it comes to hurricanes and such." Just read what Vitale has to say. Then talk to me. (And thank you, Connie, for bringing this to my attention.)
* The link will take you to the last in a series of posts on diet/weight loss, from early this year. They're all linked at the bottom of that post.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
This is really a p.s. to this morning's post about Sportsthink and the World Series. I'm giving it its own space because an email I received off-blog reminds me of the importance of reminding you (non-sports fans in particular) of why I harp on this stuff. Quite simply, much of institutional America sees life through a sports prism. Sports is already the dominant metaphor in the corporate boardroom. And more and more, sports-inspired themes openly and unapologetically underlie the operative script in politics and even U.S. diplomacy, where one might say sports encapsulates the American view—or maybe I should say, the American "game plan." Just realize what's actually happening here: When we invest ourselves in Sportsthink, we're allowing our approach to life to be informed (if not guided) by ideas and metaphors whose validity is highly suspect even in the realm in which they originated...which is to say, sports itself.
But no matter. Today it's all about empowerment; unbeatable confidence; a winning mindset; getting in the zone and staying there. The one who wins is the one who wants it the most. We find it in the most minute minutiae of daily living. Not long ago I blogged about Gillette's glossy new ad campaign for its razors, built around the PMAs of its three high-profile athlete-pitchmen. More recently I've seen spots for a deodorant that empowers women. (That's not just my inference. The woman in the ad explicitly says that she feels "empowered" after using this product under her arms.)
I'm tempted to say that you need to read my book (particularly Chapter 5, "Ya Gotta Want It!", and the conclusion, "A SHAM Society") to feel the full weight of arguments like the one I'm making here—to really understand just how pervasive Sportsthink is. You can also find a more succinct (and free) version of a related argument in this piece I did for National Review Online. I'll be even more succinct and direct here, however: Never mind what you heard the other day on Oprah. This whimsical notion that "feeling empowered" is the sine qua non of success—that attitude trumps all, on the athletic field and off—is one of the great unsung tragedies of modern life. It may, in fact, be the major social ill confronting post-millennial America. Not AIDS, not MRSA, not HPV. But rampant, malignant empowerment. It infects everything.
The overselling of PMA, as expressed in today's relentless crusade to uncouple the likes of confidence and self-esteem from the likes of talent and provable skill, is already crippling our national pursuit of genuine excellence, and may someday undo us altogether. And I don't think it's being melodramatic to say so. Look at it this way: We are in Iraq—a place we clearly should not have gone—at least in part because our president felt confident in our ability to "smoke 'em out!" We we were gonna show our enemies, by gosh, what it means to be an angry, driven Amurikin.* Today—some 4000 lost Amurikin lives later—we're finally realizing that maybe bravado alone doesn't cut it in such matters. Maybe you need something more. Hell, forget about not having an "exit strategy"; apparently we never had much of an enter strategy beyond "let's go kick some ass!"**
Confidence may start wars, but it it takes competence to win them.
And that, folks, is why I "waste all this time" on sports.
* I'm using the native Crawford, Texas pronunciation.
** And it doesn't really matter if you take the even more cynical view: that we went to Iraq for oil, Halliburton, etc. I still think that Bush wouldn't have gone in if he didn't believe that the war was easily winnable, and/or that any problems that came up could be easily resolved. After all, we're the U.S. of A.
What baseball fan didn't see it coming?
After steamrollering the Indians in the final three games of the league championships, the Red Sox came into the World Series against a Colorado club that hadn't played in eight days (after quickly sweeping its own championship series with the D-Backs). So when the Sox won in a rout last night, 13-1, Sportscasting Nation trotted out all the obligatory cliches. The BoSox were "hungry" and "in the zone"; they had "momentum" on their side. (How do broadcasters know this, pray tell? Did someone spy large quantities of momentum piled in the dugout, alongside the sunflower seeds and discarded tins of chaw? And by the way, where does one store one's momentum when it's not in use?) The Rockies were "flat," maybe even "a little intimidated"—except, that is, for rookie sensation Troy Tulowitzki, who, we were told, "walked with confidence" (despite having the most improbable baseball name since Van Lingle Mungo, immortalized in that wistful lyric* from jazz pianist/humorist Dave Frishberg). And the lads from Colorado had better be careful the rest of the way, too, because the Sox "know how to win."
Question: If you can conjure a winning effort pretty much at will, as the latter phrase clearly implies, then why did the Red Sox allow themselves to lose 66 games this year, and three out of the first four against the Indians? Oh, wait...I guess they must've left their momentum back at the hotel on those days.
Let me be clear: I have no problem with someone observing that the Rockies may have been a bit "rusty," because that, to me, has a physical explanation. Rusty = out of practice. And we should always look for the physical explanation first (i.e. before we veer off into the realm of things that can't even be measured, let alone proved). But flat? Even "emotionally unprepared," as one of the geniuses in Philly sportstalk-radio surmised this morning?
Oh, and once again: Somebody please-oh-please turn Tim McCarver's microphone off.
* Follow URL, scroll down to radio icon to play song. The audio is pretty bad, but the charm and wistfulness of Frishberg's take on the subject (odd/memorable baseball names) comes crackling through.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Am I the only one who's majorly irritated by CNN's habitual insistence on keeping that damned BREAKING NEWS banner up on-screen anytime there's some ongoing "situation"? It was right there above the crawl when I went to bed last night, and it's there again now as I tune in the network's coverage of the wildfires in Southern California. Presumably it remained there while I slept.
It'd be easy to dismiss this as a "harmless" promotional ploy, but I'm quite sure the tactic isn't so harmless. For one thing, touting the fact that there's BREAKING NEWS makes journalists more inclined to want to sound like they've actually got BREAKING NEWS, which reinforces an inclination that's already pandemic in today's 24/7 news culture: the desire to be "fast and first." In such an equation, being right often gets swept aside. Ironically enough, during the coverage of the current fires, I've already seen three or four cases where CNN's BREAKING NEWS consisted mainly of correcting something reporters said in a previous BREAKING NEWS bulletin…. Now how silly is that?
That same incentive also encourages stations to find filler for those considerable interludes between news that is, in fact, new. That filler usually takes the form of "expert analysis" or some other kind of "contextualizing." The experts are often way off base—what they're giving you, after all, is just one man or woman's opinion. (Remember those dire "expert" forecasts about Bird Flu? Mad Cow? Lyme Disease? Remember the grim predictions before the first Gulf War? All those planes we were going to lose? The almost-certainty of bio-contamination in the region? The possible demise of Israel itself? What a joke.) What's more, the contextualizing often leads news stations down the road toward political spin, which is typically (word to the wise) what you're gonna hear when the network offers up one of those reports that start, "You might be wondering: How could something like this have happened? Well, let's look at…."
I know this is going to sound bizarre to some of you (if not most of you), and one of these days I'll try to flesh out my reasons for saying it, but I've long believed that news should have no nationality, no politics, no built-in morality, no inherent humanistic undercurrent. Journalists should not be in the business of telling us how to feel, or assuming how we ought to feel, about anything. Thus the reporting should not imply that Event A is objectively good while Event B is objectively bad, almost* regardless of what Events A and B are. That includes the fires. Just cover 'em. Report what's happening. Leave it to viewers to think what they think and feel what they feel.
* I put in the almost just to cover myself in case people bring up things like, say, the Holocaust or 9/11. But in truth, I don't think such events should be exempt from my expectations of a collective news media that behaves as if it has no dog in any fight. There may well be an objective right and wrong—I personally believe there is—but I could be wrong, and that's a separate argument. The media should never takes sides, in anything.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I'd been planning to hold a quiet party with myself* at the precise moment SHAMblog finally reached the 100,000-hits plateau for the year, but then I got caught up in other matters (like sleep) and the "event" snuck by me at some point over this past weekend. This year's 100,000 unique visits surpasses the 75,000 for all of last year, with (obviously) more than two full months to go in 2007. And actually, those 100,000 hits were compiled just since mid-February, when I switched over to a more sophisticated tracking program.
All of which makes me feel pretty good...at least until I get to thinking about things like, say, my conversation with Skeptic's Michael Shermer a few weeks back. Shermer and I were comparing notes on sales figures for our respective books. Right now, total hardcover sales for SHAM loll at somewhere around 12,000 copies; that's "OK" for a nonfiction book—better than the average release from a non-celebrity author—but nothing to write home about (or retire on, which is the more pertinent concern in my case). I won't disclose Shermer's sales numbers, but suffice it to say that, while they're substantially healthier than mine, neither SHAM nor any of Shermer's books comes close to what even a middling self-help title can boast. And I don't think I need to mention what some of the top sellers are capable of—though I will mention it, just to make myself feel a little bit worse. Dr. Phil's Ultimate Weight Solution, f'rinstance, sold 2.5 million copies in its first month in hardcover, even though its core program quickly came under fire and the line of "health bars" McGraw spun off, Shape Up!, were eventually discredited and pulled from shelves, resulting last year in a $10.8 million class-action settlement. A decade or so ago, there was Marianne Williamson. The name probably doesn't ring a bell to most young people today, but as I point out in SHAM, her breakout book, A Return to Love: Reflections on a Course in Miracles, sat atop the vaunted New York Times best-seller list for almost a year. This, despite being as silly as a Dr. Seuss rhyme in spots, and recognizable as spiritual gibberish to anyone who thought for more than two seconds about what she was actually saying. Consider that this is the same Marianne Williamson whose "homeland security" program goes as follows: "Pray for angels to surround this country and every country, as a mystical shield of protection and blessing. See angels around ever airport and airplane, every nuclear facility, the
But see, in a way, the utter imbecility of a message like Williamson's was its great genius in a culture that prefers the simple, uplifting lie to the complex, prosaic truth. The success of Marianne Williamson (then) and Rhonda Byrne (now) shows us that many Americans would rather hope than think; they'd rather "live" an imaginary life of conjured superlatives than get the most out of their actual life of everyday ups and downs. I used to joke with my editor at Crown—the very bright and capable Jed Donahue—about the prospects for a more realistic self-help book whose title might be, Nah, You Probably Can't Do It...But What The Hell, Why Not Give It A Shot? Or, You'll Never Be All That Happy, So Just Try To Get The Most Out Of The Hum-Drum Life You Have Now! Though such absurdist book concepts were the kinds of jokes that tend to come up when people get slap-happy after hours of poring over edits, the funny part is, if indeed the average American needs a self-help book at all, such titles are something like what its message ought to be. Not some book that tells him how he can, in some inexplicable, telekinetic way, "project" his desires onto the physical world. (Or—looking at things from the Victimization side—not some book that tells him to blame everything that's ever gone wrong in his life on the fact that his Dad farted openly at dinner or his Mom dressed him in funny clothes.) Just a book that teaches people to cope with the ordinary ebb and flow that typifies adult life for the great mass of us.
So desperate are some of us for inspiration at any intellectual price that we'll create for ourselves customized versions of the loonier self-help regimens that make those regimens even less anchored in reality than they were to start with. I know someone who argues—seriously—that the "law of attraction really only applies to positive events." (This is a person who has read The Secret and is drawn to its basic liturgy, but doesn't like the idea of accepting full responsibility for one's failures in life.) In other words, this individual contends, if good things are happening to you, it's because you sent the right vibes out into the ethers...but if bad things are happening, well, that's a different story. "The universe never punishes," s/he counsels. "It only rewards." The universe, you see, is benevolent, just waiting to lavish upon you the riches that are being held in your name, like some cosmic unclaimed bank account....
* And no, not that kind of party.
** It used to be featured on her personal website, but I couldn't find it anymore when I checked again before this post. Who knows, maybe even she began to feel silly about it. On the other hand, if you go to the site and start browsing around, there's plenty of silly stuff still there.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
This appears in today's Los Angeles Daily News (which is, really, the perfect place for it, if not the Times. But the Times wouldn't run it). Though I've always felt that it sounds rather self-congratulatory to spend blog time urging people to read other things I write, I've been thinking a lot about the rash of shootings and other explosions of cultural violence—why they occur, what they say about us—and, well, read the News piece if you care to and see what you think. Remember, it's just one man's opinion, and you know what they say about opinions.
* Incidentally, I thought I'd written a much shorter "working version" of this for SHAMblog, but I just did a search of previous posts and nothing came up.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Was surprised late yesterday to find an email from John Carinci, author of The Power of Being Different, which we discussed this past Wednesday. He feels that I was unfair to him and his book. He writes*—and I've even cleaned up his grammar and typing, to be as fair as possible this time around—"Instead of reviewing the self-help book, The Power Of Being Different, the proper way, you get your kicks out of tearing something apart that you haven't read. You may not like the book, but at least read what you want to destroy first. No doubt you have uncovered some real scams in your travels. [NOTE from SS: Uh, yeah. I think it's safe to say that.] Maybe if you understood how much heart and soul goes into writing a work that takes 15 years to finish, or how much a writer pays to self publish and distribute that book himself, you would be slightly kinder. My book has touched many lives already and will touch many more. These people desperately need help and guidance, someone to help them sort it all out and understand life, its challenges, and how to rise above it all. In my more than 50 radio and TV interviews about this book I have touched many thousands of individuals.
"Inspiration is contagious. So is negativity.
"I appreciate what you do, but take a breath and try to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Yes, you can tear anything apart if you look hard enough at it. But I am very proud of what little I can accomplish with the positive messages of my book. I only wish I could touch many more lives, because I know that those individuals will in turn will touch many more lives.
"Never, ever did I set out to make money with the self-help book. [NOTE: Say what?] Rather, my goal has always been to give back to society, to the average person whose life seems to be spinning out of control.
"So, try to touch someone in the future with encouragement."
He then concludes with a quote from someone he identifies as "Carnage": "I look for the gold, not the dirt..." He means Carnegie.** OK, I know I said I cleaned up the typos, but in this case I couldn't resist. I mean...carnage?
In a later email, Carinci adds, "I know the book is Very Special. [NOTE: That's what you do to indicate that something is Really Special. You Capitalize the Initial Letters.] Rev. Bob Richards, Olympic Champion, Wheaties box, motivational speaker, writer (The Heart Of A Champion, etc.), told me, 'your book was one of the best motivational books I have ever read.' It was Bob who, while giving a motivational seminar 30 years ago, touched me profoundly and turned my life and attitude around. I was age 21. It moved me to write an article, years ago, explaining how I was able to change my life by changing the way I think. I'll attach a copy of the article [NOTE: he did] just so you can take a look inside my head for a moment. You'll see why I want to give back to society... Thanks for keeping an open mind."
Stay tuned. I may have more to say on this once I finish looking inside the man's head.
* As is always the case when I receive emails off-blog, I obtained John Carinci's permission to publish this. Actually, let me be more clear: I don't always seek Carinci's permission; it depends on who writes to me. :)
(If you're scratching your head right now, I admit, it's a lame joke.)
** And it may surprise you to know that it's Andrew, not Dale, this time around.
© Copyright by Steve Salerno at 9:03 AM
Thursday, October 18, 2007
First of all, I want to thank all of you who take the time to compose your thoughts and bring new viewpoints, or fresh slants on familiar viewpoints, to SHAMblog. It amazes me that we've now got a core audience of hundreds of regular daily visitors from all over the world who elect to spend part of their day with this blog (and who show a willingness to bear with me no matter what ridiculous thing I rant about. We've even crossed the 1000-visitor threshold at times). Some folks leave comments on-blog, and some folks are more comfortable emailing me directly with their thoughts. Some folks never comment at all, which is fine, of course. Regardless, I stand in awe of the fact that so many of you consider these topics worthy of your time. I thank you for that.
Now... In recent days—actually, over the past 24 hours—I've had to reject no fewer than three separate comments that, in my judgment, were pure ad hominem attacks. The three different people who wrote them really had nothing to say apart from flaming someone else; their focus was not the idea that another individual had brought to the blog, but the individual himself or herself. As I've said in separate, private discussion with several SHAMbloggers, I do think it's possible to have these debates, some of which touch on very sensitive and/or heartfelt topics, without getting excessively personal about it. If someone says something that you consider idiotic, by all means show us why it's idiotic. Puncture the reasoning, the relevance, the examples, whatever. But to simply spend three or four paragraphs calling somebody an idiot in nine different ways...that contributes nothing useful to the discussion. And it's not going to see the light of day on the blog, anyway. So unless you view it merely as a cathartic act, it's a waste of everyone's time.
I find it regrettable that the acerbic tenor of political rhetoric in this country has conditioned us to be so accepting of an ad hominem debating style; I know otherwise-intelligent people who think devising fiendish personal put-downs is the height of oratorical skill. And let's face it, I guess we have to blame the blogosphere, too, for reinforcing that conditioning. There are many blogs, forums and discussion boards that almost seem to pride themselves on being "not for the faint of heart"; the name-calling is intense, often profane. And we're not just talking about smaller, one-man/woman operations. I once posted on Mediabistro's discussion board (which I'd thought was supposed to be a forum for savvy observers of the news biz), and I was astonished at the feedback. Almost no one addressed the substance of what I said; instead they focused on me as the sayer. I began reading other comments on the board, and saw that this was far from atypical. It was like a competition to see who could out-smart-ass the other, to see who could be more smug. That was my first and last time on Mediabistro.
I don't want to have that here. Sure, these are judgment calls, and there are times when I tolerate a bit more personal venom in order to give someone room to make what I consider to be valid and important points. As a result, there have been comments that—if I had it to do over—I might not approve today. What can I say? This is a one-man operation. I do the best I can.
I've always taken pride in the level of give-and-take on SHAMblog. I feel that in 2007 in particular, we've made significant strides towards being one of the foremost online examples of high-level social comment. I'm hoping you'll all join me in keeping it that way.
© Copyright by Steve Salerno at 9:30 AM
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Hear ye, hear ye: Comes, now, the most inspiring self-help book of the century! I know that because I hold in my hands a press release from authorhouse.com, and the release uses those very words to describe The Power of Being Different by insurance broker John Paul Carinci. Actually, the release uses lots of words to describe Carinci's book, some of them in novel ways and combinations; we'll get to that in a moment.
Carinci comes to the inspirational movement in the usual way—fresh from a career of writing "Sopranos style Mafia fiction," as the release puts it, including the "page turner book of the decade," Better Off Dead: In Paradise; that was a sequel to his earlier crime thriller, just plain old Better Off Dead. (Imagine: Here we have a guy who produced both the page turner of the decade and the most inspirational self-help book of the century, all in the span of a few short years; Faulkner, wherever you are, eat your heart out. I guess the only thing left for Carinci to write is "the greatest story ever told," though that particular title is already taken.) On Carinci's personal site we also learn that his screenplay, A Second Chance, which he adapted from his book of the same name, "may be" in production soon. No doubt he's working out the deal points with Spielberg.
Anyway, the author's current book focuses on some of the most famous figures in American invention: Edison, Gillette, Graham Bell, etc. Carinci "spent 15 years researching the habits and thought processes of highly successful people, past and present," and though many of these innovators were regarded as mavericks and/or flakes, Carinci discovered what they have in common: "positive self-suggestion and positive visualization." So it would appear that this book of the century presents us with more of the same, warmed-over PMA. One even suspects that Carinci is hoping to go viral by evoking a Secret-style mystique, playing off Rhonda Byrne's tantalizing conceit of the "wisdom that has been known" by our great thinkers and philosophers since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, blah blah blah...
But what catches my eye is this notion of finding the commonalities in being "different." I'm not ruling out the idea on its face. In fact, it's intriguing to think that our high achievers were different from the rest of us, but shared several key traits with each other. If that's the case, it would seem that this book's title should be—different. No? Because this isn't really about the power of being different, then. That's not where the emphasis should be. It's about the sameness of people who are high achievers (assuming Carinci has drawn the proper conclusions from his 15-year study), most of whom appear to be a breed apart from the rest of us, and even each other, on the surface. If that makes any sense? (But maybe I'm overthinking it. People have been accusing me of that, in different contexts, since I was 8 or 9.)
Still, I wish, oh how I wish, these folks who try to elbow their way into professional writing would at least make sure they've got more of the basics covered. You know, little things like syntax, grammar, usage. Carinci, for example, writes in his press release,* "The author teaches the reader to excel by uses these positive principles." It makes me wonder: Isn't anybody uses proofreaders anymore? And there's this: "Foreign rights for this inspiring and uplifting self-help book has just been sold to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia." They has? Congratulations! Further, on his site, Carinci tells us that the foreign presses intend to "publish the book into their languages." Into? How 'bout just in? Frankly, there are lines in Carinci's press release that sound as if they were translated from some other language.
Finally, in Carinci's bio, it says this: "As a writer, some of John's works include...."** All I can say is, if some of John's works are a writer, they're not doing a very good job of it.
* Most of today's vanity publishers and "author's services" companies expect the writer to provide his own copy, though they provide the distribution network. But even if somebody wrote Carinci's copy for him—which I doubt, since it sounds so similar to what he writes on his own site—I still hold him responsible for the content. And I'm fairly sure he at least saw the release before it went out. I got to see all of my publicity materials before they went out, and I was working with Crown, an imprint of one of the largest (and busiest) publishers in the world.
** If that sentence "reads OK" to you—as it probably will to many—you need to dust off your old grammar primer and turn to the section on "dangling modifiers."
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
One of the post-game interviews after tonight's installment of the American League Championship Series found FOX's Ken Rosenthal huddling with Cleveland Indians hitting star Casey Blake. Blake's fifth-inning homer off Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield ignited a seven-run Indians rally that swept the team to victory over the Red Sox, bringing Cleveland to within one win of a trip to the World Series.
Rosenthal began his interview of Blake thusly: "You struck out your first time up. What was the difference in your thought process the second time?"
Blake kind of shrugged and replied: "It's a knuckleball; sometimes you hit it, sometimes you don't."
Bravo, Casey Blake! One more small blow for common sense in the unending battle against Sportsthink and other aspects of the overintellectualization of sports.
Sometimes you hit it, sometimes you don't.
Sometimes you catch the pass, sometimes you drop it.
Sometimes you sink that last-second basket, sometimes the ball goes in-and-out.
Sometimes the putt drops in, sometimes it misses the cup.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Usually there's nothing more to say than that.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Well, Mike Flynt, the 59-year-old footballer whose exploits generated a surprising amount of controversy on this blog a while back, has now taken the field for Sul Ross State—in a game that went triple-overtime, no less. Flynt played in nine series, reports AP, thus at least seemingly refuting those who dismissed the whole thing as a silly and potentially dangerous publicity stunt.
What struck me funny watching the YouTube clip was that Flynt may be the first college linebacker who's older than his uni number—he wears 49.
In another update of an earlier SHAMblog item, a Massachusetts appeals court has indeed granted breastfeeding med student Sophie Currier extra time to take her certification exam. Judge Gary Katzmann decreed that the accommodation was justified and proper in order to put Currier on an "equal footing" with men as well as childless or non-breastfeeding women. The Philadelphia-based medical board plans an appeal of its own.
* Before you climb all over me for my tackiness, I should point out that "milking the system" was in fact the title chosen by columnist/laywer Christine Flowers and/or her editors in Flowers' own coverage of the Currier affair.
© Copyright by Steve Salerno at 8:52 AM
Friday, October 12, 2007
Last week as I jog-limped my way* through a new development near my house, a smiling boy of 5 or 6 walked to the end of his driveway with an arm extended. He held out for my inspection a burnished piece of rock that he described as a "fozzil"; he told me he'd dug it up during a recent camp-out in his backyard. Such was his enthusiasm for his find that I decided to jog in place and listen to him for a few moments, putting aside the adult concerns with which I normally torment myself during runs.
But I soon grew edgy again, anyway. There I was, a tall, sweaty, bestubbled stranger in sunglasses (no less), stooped over this little guy in knee pants. I felt that all around me, people were peering through their miniblinds with one hand on the telephone (and maybe the other on a .357 magnum). So when I saw his front door crack open, and I heard a woman's voice admonish him to "Get in the house, Josh!", I jogged on; he shouted the rest of his story to my back.
Such is life in latter-day America. Our nightly news and talk shows toggle from Amish school killer Charles Roberts and his KY Jelly, to Rep. Mark Foley and his underwear-themed chats, to updates on the surreally weird John Mark Karr (pictured)—you remember him, don't you?—whose claim to fame, as it turned out, was that he's among the 299.99 million Americans who did not kill JonBenet Ramsey. Before long, the next candidate for Pedophile of the Week will take center stage. Meanwhile, amid this presidential season, campaigning politicians at all levels call press conferences to announce major initiatives that will "protect America's children from the predator next door!" Now I grant you, among a society's foremost concerns is the safety of its children—particularly very young children, like Josh. They're defenseless against evildoers. But somewhere along the line we must balance that legitimate concern against—well—reality. And the reality is that we are needlessly terrifying ourselves, traumatizing our children, and unfairly stigmatizing men as a class.
A shocking fact: Believe it or not, some male strangers actually aren't pedophiles! In fact, the odds that a child of JonBenet age will randomly encounter a sexual predator in the course of her normal outside activities are remarkably low.
In one recent year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were about 88,000 documented cases of sexual abuse among juveniles nationwide. However, just one in seven involved a child under 6. That reduces the number of JonBenet-like cases to roughly 12,500. Still a worrisome number, right? But get this: Strangers were the molesters in just 3 percent of those cases (and in just 5 percent of all cases involving children up to age 12). That leaves us with a total of about 375 molestations of children age 6 and under. And in almost half of those, the molesters were other juveniles!
Bottom line, roughly 200 kids were victims of molestation by adult strangers. There are about 24 million children under age 6 in the U.S. That means that on average, all things being equal,** the odds that any given child will be molested by some random adult this year are roughly 24 million divided by 200—or 1 in 120,000. If my math is correct, that translates to a .000008 chance of being molested. (I say "if my math is correct" because my computer's calculator won't even process a percentage that small.)
Not quite the impression you got from Nancy Grace, huh?
By comparison, in 2005, some 43,000 people died on American roads. Though statistical analogies between different realms are always suspect, it hardly seems unreasonable to propose that most kids are at least as likely to die in their mother's car on the way to the park as to be assaulted by some sinister male stranger once they get there.
Sure, parental vigilance could be partly responsible for the low numbers. But 3 percent? And remember, I'm not advocating less vigilance, per se. I'm advocating less paranoia. In the end, the jarring but factually supported truth is this: If your child is not molested in your own home—by you, your significant other, or someone else you invited in—chances are your child will never be molested anywhere. As the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute puts it in a position paper, "Right now, 90 percent of our efforts go toward protecting our children from strangers, when what we need to do is to focus 90 percent of our efforts toward protecting children from the abusers who are not strangers." Political correctness requires that these topics be treated delicately so as not to infringe on the "sexual rights" of young women, but I'll say it plainly here: Single moms, the people you really want to worry about are the guys you bring home to bed.
Overall, what we're looking at is one of the eternal realities of the news business (i.e. that "news" usually = "bad news") compounded by one of the core realities of the global-media age (i.e. that every bit of "breaking news!" achieves ubiquity within hours, if not minutes). Thus, we're constantly bombarded with negative imagery. And imagery distorts truth. (To show how perception trumps reality: In a 2000 ABC News poll, just 5 percent of respondents rated crime in their own neighborhoods as "very bad," yet 80 percent of those same respondents thought crime in America as a whole was "bad" or "very bad." The catch-22 should be evident: If crime were really that pervasive, it would have to be happening in a lot more than 5 percent of people's "own neighborhoods." Tellingly, when asked where they got their impressions from, 82 percent of respondents said "TV news.")
The incidence of child abduction and molestation is probably*** no worse than it was pre-CNN, despite what activists and the irredeemably fatalistic Ms. Grace would have you believe. But because the news business is no longer the independent enterprise it was in days gone by (today it's just another profit center in the media mix), and because ratings confirm the cultural appetite for these stories, news outlets will try to get such stories on-air and keep them there for as long as possible. And people will keep watching. So the cycle repeats and the perceptions get reinforced. Mothers clutch their kids a little tighter to them when you pass by them in the supermarket aisles, and kids like Josh can't share an innocent moment with a passing grandpa jogger.
To those of us who truly enjoy children—for all the right reasons—it's a damn shame.
* Alas, I'm nursing an assortment of injuries post-baseball this year.
** which they're not, always. Children raised in certain infelicitous settings have a much higher probability of being molested. But "much higher" is still a relative description. In absolute terms, the odds remain quite low. Needless to say, this means that children raised in what we call "good" settings have a molestation-probability far lower than 1 in 120,000.
*** In my opinion, as well as that of other knowledgeable insiders, then-and-now stats can't really be trusted/compared because of wholesale changes in tracking methodologies, statistical analysis, today's much more ambitious data-collection outreach, etc. It's simply apples and oranges.
P.S. QUESTION: Is it just me? Or is everybody else suddenly inundated with emails from people like "Mr. Tony Brown of Nigeria," who want to share their vast wealth with us if we'll just show our good faith by giving them all the info they need to steal our identities and raid our bank accounts? This scam was really hot a few years ago—it's even spoofed in a current commercial for some financial-services company—but I can't believe it's come back with such a vengeance. People still fall for this stuff? Oh wait, I forgot...people also buy The Secret.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Nice plug for SHAM again today from skeptic-in-chief Michael Shermer, this time writing about The Secret for Forbes; Shermer is making me into something of a "usual suspect" in his observations on self-help. As almost always seems to be the case with such references, the casual reader would have to stick with the column about 90 percent of the way through in order to reach the first mention of me or my book—and that can be frustrating (to me), given the short attention spans of so many of today's readers. But it's also validating in a way, because it means that observers tend to use my work as the coup-de-grace in their own denunciations of the SHAMscape.
Though Shermer unaccountably comes a bit late to the party where The Secret is concerned (and I think some of his sales figures are outdated; either that or everyone else's numbers have been greatly exaggerated), you should check it out. The priceless Yogi Berra quote in his lede—which I'd heard a long time ago but forgotten about—is worth the price of admission all by itself. And, like many Berra-isms, it's surprisingly pertinent, if you think about it.
UPDATE, THURSDAY MORNING, Oct. 11: Heard from Michael Shermer last night, who gave me a good-natured but much-deserved slap on the wrist for that offhand line about his being "late to the party." He writes:
"Thanks for the plug thanking me for the plug... But I'm not at all late to the Secret game, as I did a column on it in Scientific American in the June '07 issue, out in May, written in February (three month lead time)...." He then graciously segued into some good wishes for SHAM.
As Shermer suggests, it can be very difficult to seem "on top of things" when you're writing for magazines, where the lag between the germ of an idea and its appearance in print easily can exceed six months. So, as we say on the ball diamond, my bad. By the way, speaking of being late to the party, this is the perfect place for a sheepish admission of my own: A SHAM fan from Down Under tipped me to idea behind The Secret a long time ago, when Byrne's Boondoggle was still in larval stage—which is to say, well before it had gone viral and I first posted on the topic in January 2006 (at which time I finally predicted it would be a smash success). I shrugged off that first tip, however, thinking the idea so silly that it couldn't possibly gain that much momentum through word of mouth. Right.
As I wrote back to Shermer last night, clearly there's no such thing as too silly anymore....
Monday, October 08, 2007
My web analytics tell me that posts on Sportsthink and related phenomena generate the fewest hits of any of the diverse topics we cover on SHAMblog. So I'll beg the indulgence of those of you who feel you've already read quite enough about such things, and I'll try not to belabor the point. Too much.
It's just that, coming off a weekend of serious sports overload—between the MLB playoffs and ample helpings of football at all levels—a guy's* gotta wonder: Don't we ever get sick of hearing about heart, and desire, and momentum shifts, and gut checks, and mental toughness, and emotional turning points...and can-do spirit, and never-say-die, and taking the fans out of the game, and on and on and on...
That was my weekend, folks. That's all I heard, repeated ad nauseam. And I had to laugh: Given the particular emphasis the various broadcasters gave to whether the fans were "in" (or had been "taken out of") the games, you'd have thought the fans had more to do with the outcome than the athletes themselves!
A quick reality check: If there's one Sportsthink term that encapsulates the entire vocabulary, that term is killer mentality. And if there's one sport where you'd expect a killer mentality to rule, that sport would be boxing. But guess what: Even boxing isn't about killer mentality, no matter what you may hear from commentators, or what impression you get from all those cloying, formulaic Rocky movies. (Hey, I loved the original Rocky...but after Sly remade it for the third time with the same basic plot line, I wanted to join the infamous Roberto Duran in screaming No mas!)
Boxing fans who truly believe that the guy with the biggest stones just walks into the ring and pummels his quavering opponent into submission simply don't understand their sport. It is true that some very successful pugilists were renowned for their "heart"; it also helped that they had fast hands and/or great footwork and/or a devastating knockout punch and/or a granite chin.** Iron Mike Tyson is often considered the poster boy for winning-by-intimidation; that view overlooks the fact that the young Tyson was a surreal and terrifying combination of Ali-fast fists, fabulous counterpunching skills, and a hook that would put a Cape buffalo down for the count. With either hand.
There's a reason why boxing is called "the sweet science." It involves an awful lot of skill and physical poetry, if you will (the latter often missed by casual observers, notably women—though conspicuously not missed by literati Joyce Carol Oates, who has written memorably about the sport and "what it takes"). Boxing also involves the ability to contain one's "will to win" and to harness one's raw desire. Absent the skills to support it, a killer mentality can be the kiss of death in the ring. Afflicted boxers tend to walk into a hail of punches round after round, and are efficiently converted into a bloody mess by opponents with far superior tactical skills. (See under Butterbean, pictured, or Jerry Quarry.)
The concept of the killer mentality probably has little bearing on the lives most of us live daily. But it's closely related to the concept of the indomitable, "can-do" spirit—which, we're told in The Secret and elsewhere, has everything to do with how most of us should live our lives. We're told that by simply throwing ourselves and our personal goals into the breech, we can prevail through sheer will alone. We're told, in effect, that being a risk-taker is a plus in life: that the willingness to work without a net will, in and of itself, cause us to prevail over others who lack similar fortitude. Ask yourself, though: Does that even apply in the realm from which the italicized metaphor is drawn? Does it make sense for an untrained, unskilled aerialist to work "without a net"?
That's not "mental toughness," folks. It's suicide.
* A gal's gotta wonder, too.
** Joe Louis, the man often named as the "greatest heavyweight boxer ever" (at least before Ali came along) was sometimes criticized for having a so-called glass jaw. But his skills in every other area were so superlative that few opponents ever got to Louis' jaw.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
I was actually starting to wonder where Tony Robbins' "special Columbus Day sale!" was...and he didn't let me down. The offer arrived in my inbox overnight:
And—a Sunday afternoon update—I just noticed that also in my inbox is this message from Tony, in which he's trying to capitalize on the arrival of autumn:
Coming soon, no doubt, is a promotion in which Tony vows that "once you master this program, there's snow stopping you!" Yuk, yuk.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
This morning I decided I deserved a McDonald's steak-bagel breakfast. OK, whether I deserved one is debatable—but I decided to have one anyway.
Inside, I saw on the wall menu that it costs $3.69, so I peeled four crisp singles out of my wallet and announced my intentions to the 17-ish counter-girl: "I'd like a steak-bagel breakfast."
"Anything else, sir?"
"No, that'll do it."
"And what would you like for your drink?"
She did her obligatory tapping into the register, while I prepared to surrender my four bucks.
"That'll be $4.13," she said, smiling brightly.
"That's too much," I replied.
She looked stunned. "It's $3.69 plus tax, sir," she said. "Which comes to $4.13."
"Not in this state," I said. "The sales tax is 6 percent, right?"
"So, that'd be 25 cents, tops. Actually, more like 23. Definitely less than four bucks in any case."
"I don't know about all that, sir. I only know what my register tells me." (We'll come back to that in a moment.)
"Well, I don't know about your register, but I do know that if you're charging me almost 50 cents tax on a $3.69 item, it's way too much, percentage-wise."
By this point the manager had become aware of the ongoing dialogue and interceded. "What is the man ordering?" the middle-aged woman asked her young employee.
"A steak bagel. He says it costs too much."
"No," I corrected, "I didn't say it 'costs too much.' I said that if the basic item costs $3.69 and you're charging me $4.13 with tax, you're charging too much tax."
The two of them did some little exercise in the computerized register, and then the manager, noticing the line that had begun to form behind me, said to me, "That'll be $3.89." Which, I knew, still wasn't quite right. (At my table later, I calculated the precise amount to be $3.91.) But at least we were on the proper side of four dollars. As I took my tray and walked away with my meal, the counter-girl was looking at me as if I'd embarrassed her horribly.
Personally, I think she embarrassed herself. (And just so you know, I hate to see people needlessly embarrassed, and I have a particular soft spot for kids in that area. I know what it's like to feel awkward and stupid. Been there, done that. But how's it my fault that the girl has no concept of what 6 percent of $3.69 could possibly be?) As I document in my book, it's no secret that the U.S. has fallen woefully behind other industrialized nations in math and science. We're shockingly low on the list, overall. (We even trail Latvia, for God's sake. Now that's embarrassing.) And in SHAM, I lay a good part of the blame on self-esteem-based education, which—in seeking first and foremost to protect the student's feelings—has conditioned kids to think they're giving a GREAT EFFORT! (as teachers will write on substandard papers), even if they add 2 + 2 and get 9. A more pertinent factor here, perhaps, is the school system's landmark decision, a generation ago, to allow kids to use calculators in class*. This is also what allows them to reach college age (and beyond) without being able to perform some of the most basic numerical operations in their heads.
Recently in Vegas I had drinks with a small group of people in one of those restaurants that "suggests a 15% tip for your convenience." The tab came to $102; the suggested tip was $21. When I mentioned the discrepancy to the waiter, the young man said something along the lines of, "You're always free to leave less than 15 percent, sir, if you were unhappy with the service." And I told him, "You're missing my point. The service was fine. But your suggested tip here is actually 20 percent, not 15." Now, you'd think that in this case especially—where the number we're working from (100) is, in fact, the very base-number from which all percentages derive—it would be a snap to prove one's case. You'd think that the waiter would readily concede that 15 percent of 100/102 would, in fact, be $15 and some change. Not $20 or anything close. But no. This fellow stood his ground, acting as if I were a Vegas magician using some strange mathematical sleight-of-hand to deny him his due. I honestly don't think he ever got it. I handed him six twenties, told him to keep the change, and he still looked miffed.**
No doubt he too—like my server at McDonald's—was a product of calculator education. They only know what their register tells them....
* And regardless of the justifications given at the time, I don't think that decision, either, was entirely unrelated to self-esteem-based goals. Schools wanted to level the playing field: to give kids with less brainpower and/or interest a means of competing "fairly" with their more skilled peers.
** There may be an additional point to be made here about narcissists, who get angry at being criticized—even when they're dead wrong. Certainly America of recent vintage has been very effective at raising a generation of self-centered, narcissistic young adults.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
My last day in Vegas, I'm driving across Sahara Boulevard, a main east-west thoroughfare, when I come upon one of those scholastic car washes. In the back of a large parking lot, dutifully washing cars, is the core group of teens: a mixed bag of perhaps 20 nondescript boys and girls, dressed mostly in nondescript car-washing attire (that is, not as in the photo at left, which is stock footage, used here for illustrative purposes only). Written on the rear window of an adjacent van, in shaving cream or what-have-you, are the words [something-or-another]* HIGH SCHOOL ROCKS!!
And out on the streetcorner—it's hard to resist the symbolism—are two girls holding signs aloft.** I emphasize: girls. I figure they're 16 at most. To say they're scantily clad hardly does justice to the scene. Both of them are "dressed" in teensy-weensy, skin-tight, you-needn't-remove-any-clothing-to-do-a-gyno-exam denim shorts; we're talking several generations past Daisy Dukes on the sexual seismograph. Their midriffs are bare. One of them wears a tee-shirt that's every bit as tight as the shorts. It is soaked through....
I've thought a lot about how this situation came to pass. I've concluded that, since the girls clearly were doing this with full knowledge of the several adults I saw "supervising" the event, there were only two possibilities. Either (a) they showed up that way on their own and were chosen, on the basis of their whorish appearance, for streetcorner duty. (And where were mom and dad that morning?) Or (b), some adult presence actually hand-picked the hottest girls and told them to show up that way. Originally I thought (b) was worse, but the more I think about it, the more I think (a) and (b) are equally worse, if you will.
Ask yourself, as I did, what is the message here? What's the message to the "ordinary" girls, the worker bees who were deemed a bit too chubby or gangly to merit promotion to the streetcorner? What's the message to the young boys observing all this? Before you answer, consider that the event I stumbled upon takes place as schools and various other elements throughout American society devote endless time, thought and counseling efforts to helping young girls take pride in themselves as people—i.e., something beyond sex toys put here for the amusement of pubescent young boys. We hear stories of the many girls who are legitimately in crisis, unsure of their identities, unconvinced of what they have to offer the world besides T&A. Then consider the Vegas car wash. And I don't think you have to wrack your brain too hard to recall similar car washes, as well as other school-sponsored events, in your own frame of reference.
I'll tell you exactly what the message is: "Yeah, we talk a good game about how beauty's only skin deep, and you're not just a body, and nothing is as important as your reputation, and blah, blah, blah... But when you come right down to it—and especially when there's some money to be made—well, just use what the good Lord gave ya, honey!" Indeed, the subtle but unmistakable connotative link between sex and money should not be overlooked in this equation.
(And it's never quid pro quo: I've yet to see a fund-raiser that featured Chippendales-esque guys out front. Have you? It isn't done. This phenomenon is very specifically and exclusively a "girl thing.")
Bottom line, in the interest of raising a few bucks (most likely for sports programs that cater to boys), this school literally flushed its values down the drain. It revealed its self-esteem programs as disingenuous, if not laughable. (I'm making the assumption that this school has self-esteem programs. However, almost every school at every level does, these days. Even in a place like Las Vegas.)
I find this mind-boggling.
INCIDENTALLY... I can already hear the "gotcha!" comments from people who think this post is somehow incompatible with my previous musings on romance and PDA. If you really don't get the distinction between the two, then you just "don't get it," period. At least to my mind. But as always, I welcome dissenting opinion.
* I'm not protecting anyone, believe me. I'd gleefully identify (and embarrass) the school if I could've read the name in time. But I had to be somewhere, and I was already behind schedule, so I couldn't double back.
** For those who simply must know, one sign said FUND RAISER, and the other, CAR WASH!
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I'd be remiss in not mentioning the firestorm that erupted on this blog late last week over a cynical post I wrote this past April about the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety. It started when someone belatedly stumbled upon SHAMblog and posted a link to the relevant item on the Center's chat boards; all hell (or at least purgatory) broke loose, with various Center members being banned from the Center's boards, various people claiming (or denying) responsibility for posting the "objectionable" material, etc. Anyway, an interesting and provocative discussion ensued, and I regret that my Vegas trip prevented me from participating more fully. By the way, it's always a red flag when an online "community" connected to a self-improvement program stifles dissent. That should go without saying.
I invite our visitor-refugees from the Center to stick around for the rest of the ride; you may find some of this stuff illuminating and useful.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I also wanted to mention something I noticed on my flight back from Vegas (very) late last night. A few rows ahead of me in the plane were two young couples, one couple on either side of the aisle; both had empty seats in their respective rows. Though the young men and women in each couple sat in adjacent seats when they first boarded, no sooner had the doors shut and the plane pushed back from the gate than they spread out in their rows: one on the aisle and one at the window, an empty seat between the young men and women in each case. And that's the way they stayed for the duration of the flight. When the parties in either couple fell asleep, they did so independently, resting their heads on pillows—instead of, say, each other's shoulders. I did not see either couple kiss (or even really touch, for that matter) at any time during the course of the 4.5-hour flight. Anyone who didn't see these people walk on the plane together might well have assumed that they were strangers. One couple was actually married; I saw the wedding rings as we deplaned in Philly (and the rings matched, so one presumes that they were married to each other).
When I was a young man—even a not-so-young one—it would've been unthinkable for me to sit next to my beloved with that level of passivity and indifference for the duration of a cross-country flight. I simply could not have done it; the physical ache for connection of some sort would've consumed me. These young "lovers," all just into their twenties, hardly looked at each other. Yes, I suppose all relationships change with time. But how could the honeymoon have ended so quickly here? More likely there was never a honeymoon to begin with.
Maybe I'm overreacting and/or it's just my Pisces romanticism talking. Or maybe there's more to the story than I know; maybe each couple had had a bad fight right before boarding. I don't think so, however, because I sensed no hostility. They were just...oblivious. Like so many of the young couples one sees today, who connect in bed and nowhere else.
Anyway, I found the scene very sad. Sensible and ergonomically sound, perhaps. But sad.
© Copyright by Steve Salerno at 9:02 AM