The Age of Self Promotion

When a person’s image and/or reputation is inflated, sometimes people lament, “Big hat, no cattle.” A lot of people today, like the President of the United States, excel at promoting themselves more than anything else. Thanks to the public’s allegiance to valueless media, we’re making a mockery of merit.

A case study. My July morning routine entails working out, eating breakfast, making a green tea latte, and then settling in to the day’s Tour de France stage which I spend about thirty minutes fast forwarding through.

This year there are three cyclists from the U.S. in le Tour, meaning about 1.5% of the total peloton. One of the U.S. riders is barely surviving the mountain climbs, just making the maximum time cuts. But because we’re living in the Age of Self Promotion, that same rider is starring on the U.S. television coverage, dropping daily broh-heavy “behind the scenes” video segments that add nothing to the event. He seems likable enough because of a goofy personality. And maybe the fact that both of his parents were professional cyclists and he’s bounced back from a horrific accident a few years ago contribute to some of his faux-fame as well.

But even accounting for those extenuating circumstances, the fact that he’s in damn near last place would only matter if we were in an Age of Meritocracy, but we’re not. Increasingly, we’re surrounded by people with really, really big hats. Which makes it tough to see the front of the race.

I Double-Dog Dare You

I forced myself to watch this 55 minute-long Frontline documentary on the bike this morning. Pure unadulterated torture. Need a new word to describe it, “depressing” doesn’t nearly do it justice. And yet, it’s incredibly important that we seek to understand how we’ve arrived at this moment.

Postscript: A loyal reader returned serve thusly—Who is getting rich off your student debt? What might we call this evolving genre?

Epic Parenting Fail

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s in Kentucky, Ohio, and Southern California, I enjoyed amazing freedom. When I was six, seven, and eight, I spent my summers swimming at a local pool and playing golf at an adjoining nine hole par-3 course. With my clubs outstretched across my handlebars I biked a mile plus to the course. No helmet, major road crossing mid-way, no problem.

I’d be gone all morning often returning in the afternoon with my mom and sibs. Thus the skin cancer. While Wonderyears Wayne brandished his legend on the 10 meter platform, I decided between Twinkies and HoHos.*

From nine to twelve it was pickup football EVERYday after school. Despite being built like a 3-iron, I just wouldn’t go down. An 80 pound Marshawn Lynch. We’d play on our spacious, fenceless, suburban Ohio lawns, or on especially rainy or snow days, we’d jog along a wooded trail to the Talmadge High School field where the objective was to win while sliding as far as possible in the muddy grass. On Friday nights in the winter I’d take the same trail to the gym to watch high school basketball games.

Fast forward to today, where my wife and I and our friends grossly overplan every childhood activity**. If you had asked my mom where I was at any given non-school moment, odds are she wouldn’t have known. That’s why she was caught off guard when a construction worker chased me darn near into our house after friends and I raised hell on his site. And that’s why, one spring, she threatened to “never take me to the Emergency Room again” when I called to tell her I cut my foot wide open while playing around barefoot on a just melted tennis court. Today, she’d be tarred and feathered for her laissez-faire parenting.

But I lived. More than that, I flourished, because I was allowed to learn from bonehead decisions. Today, parents are squelching their kids with hyper-organized activities and constant monitoring. Recent research reveals that on average, even today’s college students text and/or talk to their parents twice a day. Co-dependence trumps independence.

Why the over-involvement and constant contact? My hypothesis is an irrational media-fueled fear of childhood abductions. My guess is there are the same or even fewer child abductions (per capita) today than in the 60’s and 70’s, but when they happen they get amplified in people’s minds as a result of cable news shows, People Magazine, and the 24/7 news cycle. By tuning into the media bullshit, we’ve helped create a false sense of unmitigated danger.

And so we end up with soccer leagues for three year olds and global position satellite devices for teens’ cars. And to what effect? Young people who aren’t passionate about much of anything because they’ve spent the bulk of their childhoods doing what their parent(s) have wanted them to.

Bethrothed and I talked this through on the way home from Seventeen’s last swim meet. It’s not a coincidence that she only swims in-season when adults expect her to. A friend of hers, an ace violinist, is sick and tired of playing the violin. Neither have ever been even close to the ER.

The GalPal and I have regrets, but also know there was a certain inevitability to our parenting approach given the “tipping point” created by our friends’ decision making. We tried to swim upstream one summer, honestly we did, deciding not to schedule any activities at all. Turned out few if any of our daughters’ friends were around thanks to a steady schedule of drama, sport, music, and dance camps.

If you’re twenty-five or thirty and just starting a family there is one escape. Buy a small farm. Raise animals and grow food. If your kids have to feed chickens, milk cows, and repair fences, they’ll spend far less time playing adult organized activities and facebooking (yes, that’s a new verb).

Of course there are legitimate things to worry about, for older children especially, alcohol and drug abuse, driving under the influence, and teen pregnancy. Minimize those risks by having dinner together, checking in regularly, knowing your children’s friends, and listening. Eliminate them by scheduling all of your children’s time, putting a video cam in their bedrooms, and monitoring their every move.

In the end, the choice isn’t entirely yours, in large part, it’s the families in your hood.

* in hindsight I should have said, “Hey girls, someday I’m gonna crush the Platform Primadonna at Ironman Canada.”

** kid you not, there are about eight parent committees to choose among if you want to help plan the class of 2013’s post graduation Senior Night

Rush Limbaugh’s Appeal

Of my own free will, I listened to the first 45 minutes of Rush Limbaugh’s talk show Monday. As expected, he was angry at those who suggest his ilk are partially responsible for creating an environment in which extremists feel freer to act on their extremist beliefs.

I find small doses of Rush interesting from a communication perspective. How does he attract such an incredibly large audience? Most liberals, who can’t get past his content, are loathe to admit that he’s a talented and skilled communicator.

Are his ideas more insightful than other radio hosts with smaller audiences? Do people tune in each day because he’s an original and brilliant thinker whose insights challenge, surprise, and enlighten? Of course not, of course not.

My Limbaugh-listening friends would answer this way, “Wrong again Ron, it is his content. Rush skillfully fills a huge void created by the left-wing mainstream media. He taps into what me and a lot of other people believe about small government, the excesses of multiculturalism, and free market capitalism.”

My liberal friends might offer up hypotheses that denigrate his listeners. “Rush doesn’t believe half the stuff he says. He’s grown fabulously wealthy by figuring out how to tap into people’s fears, and worst, most basal instincts. The lowest common denominator in action.”

I believe Rush succeeds in attracting such a large audience for three reasons.

1) Rush does believe what he says. He truly is as conservative as an analysis of his thousands of transcripts would suggest. If his passion for his beliefs was manufactured, it would have subsided a long time ago.

2) Rush has created separation from the competition by being more more consistently ostentatious than the typical conservative talk host at your local radio station. Your local personality might be irritating, Rush is incendiary. Most ideologues are content to ruin the occasional dinner party, Rush isn’t afraid of a national furor.

3) Most people are overwhelmed by the complexity of contemporary life and appreciate Rush’s simplified, nostalgic vision of life where moderates and moderation is excoriated. Rush provides answers. People find comfort in his absolutist, broadest possible brush, black and white world inhabited by good and bad guys, patriots and dissenters, nationalists and internationalists, capitalists and socialists, one enlightened and one evil political party.

My vision for this blog as a place for “people who find meaning in essential questions, ambiguity, conceptual thinking, and nuanced discussions” is at complete odds with Rush’s modus operandi. Were Rush to read my “what this blog is about” statement, he’d laugh heartily, and say, “Good luck with that.”

But I don’t need luck. All I need is some counter-cultural readers who want to help create an alternative.


Patraeus

Full title “Patreaus Gives FL Lunatic More Attention Than He Ever Envisioned”. Patreaus is an extremely impressive individual and we’re all indebted to his unparalled service. However, last week he made a big mistake when he brought global attention to a FL pastor of a 50 person church (of which apparently 12-15 show up most Sundays).

Patreaus has no regrets. Here he is in a recent Christian Science Monitor article. “I’m not commenting on an issue of free speech. I’m providing an assessment of the likely impact of an action by a fellow American citizen on the safety of our troopers and civilians. I think I’ve got an obligation to those I’m privileged to lead to provide such an assessment.”

“It’s perfectly fine for a four-star general whose mission depends on developing goodwill to say that the action of this small group of extremists in Florida is going to undermine what we’re trying to do,” says Christopher Swift, a fellow at the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia School of Law. That doesn’t mean, he adds, “that they are going to shut down these folks. He’s concerned about an 18-year-old private running into an 18-year-old Afghan. How is that Afghan going to give the American soldier the benefit of the doubt when he has pictures of Koran-burning on his mobile phone? Petraeus is right to call that out.”

I strongly disagree. Patreaus and Swift have forgotten what everyone learns on playgrounds when first starting school. . . the simple effectiveness of ignoring and isolating oneself from problematic people, or in the case of the FL “pastor,” the seemingly unstable.

Here’s what I suspect Patreaus would say to me. “Assume the burning goes ahead in the church’s parking lot. At minimum, the local paper covers it, which would most likely provide all the necessary kindle for a much larger media firestorm anyways.”

We are a rubber-necking, tabloid loving, reality television watching people, so maybe Patreaus is right about that, but the FL “pastor” is absolutely loving his fifteen hours of fame. The way he’s playing it, his fifteen hours is about to turn into fifteen days.

Patreaus has exacerbated a problem that all of us, bloggers included, should have ignored. Odds are had we turned our back to the burning and not written or spoken about it, it wouldn’t have ended up on any Afghans’ mobile phones.