Sunday, May 9, 2010

Polarized Promotion

I was watching "Talk Soup" yesterday. Don't judge me. I know it's a big waste of time and a fairly mindless pursuit, but it's still fun to watch. I don't need a lecture on wasting time. I'm a Facebook user, and worse, a dedicated player of Farmville. I know how to waste time and I'm aware that there are countless "better" things to do with my time. I personally think we all need some time each day when productivity and "misuse of a valuable resource like time" are not considerations. Okay, you may not "need" this, but I do. Or, at least I want it, so I'm going to continue.

On the program, Joel McHale was lampooning Ann Coulter for her belittling remarks regarding global warming. The clip that was shown had Coulter rolling her eyes and derisively making a statement to the effect, "We had snow in all 50 states this year. So much for this so-called global warming."

My initial reaction was to think Ann Coulter was ridiculously uninformed. Detractors of global warming often site snow and cold temperatures as "proof" that global warming is a myth. Global warming proponents counter that climate changes of any kind are indications that this phenomenon is real and increasing. They would say that the fact we had snow in all 50 states (and often times in great amounts) was evidence of unusual weather, which could and should be attributed to global warming.

Whatever your stance on global warming, what I didn't like about Coulter's remarks was the way it made her look deliberately closed-minded and ignorant. She dismissed a controversial topic in a disdainful, cocky manner which made me distrustful of any comment she might make on any topic. If she was willing to dismiss outright the opposing view of a topic that cannot be proved definitively one way or the other, then she is not a critical thinker. Those were my thoughts.

So, I decided to find out what Coulter actually thought on the subject. After all, what does weight does a 10-second video clip from Talk Soup have anyway? I visited Coulter's blog and found an entry on global warming posted in 2007. The entry was well thought out and had arguments worthy of consideration. I was surprised. I was not expecting that after my brief encounter with her soundbite on television.

What weight does a 10-second video clip from Talk Soup have? Well, actually, a lot. Because of it, I was willing to discount Coulter as a non-thinker. Is that what she wanted? I doubt it. But, she had made the comment live and in person that made her seem that way to me. Maybe she makes those kind of statements to please her target audience? Maybe her fans expect her to offer one-sided statements? Maybe those are what get attention? Her comment certainly got the attention of Talk Soup, and in turn, my attention too.

I'm not saying I agree with Coulter—on anything—but, I do think she can and does think through her positions.

Do people who can think, like Coulter, have to stoop to low levels just to get people's attention and market themselves? Is this "polarized promotion" the only thing that makes us sit up and listen in this crazy, noisy world? Coulter must feel she needs to make inflammatory comments in order to create some heat. Maybe she thinks that after getting a reaction, viewers will be spurred (either positively or negatively) to explore her writings and videos and discover what she really wants them to get—her real, full opinion on a topic.

Well, if polarized promotion was Coulter's tactic, then it worked in my case. Maybe I'm the one who needs to reconsider my considerate and moderate approach to sharing information.

Of course, the more likely scenario is that Coulter just expected her supporters to accept what she said with enthusiastic "Amens!" and her opponents to hate what she said and for both to simply go on their merry ways. I doubt her goal was to incite further consideration and exploration. I believe Coulter expects that her audience was likely to respond in one of these two ways. I believe she is correct in that understanding. And, to me, this is the most disheartening part of it all.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Revulsion Therapy

Some of my friends tried smoking when they were young. They don't smoke now because of the "revulsion therapy" practiced on them by their parents. Now, I don't think there is such a thing as revulsion therapy, but I don't know what else to call it.

For my non-smoking friends, the scenario went something like this: They were caught trying a cigarette. The "punishment" they received for this act was being required to smoke the entire pack of cigarettes right then and there. This, naturally, made them sick and thus, their "revulsion" from that experience made them not want to smoke again. I'm not sure of the success rate of this approach, but the anecdotal evidence says that it has worked for some people.

While I never tried smoking (never was interested), I did have two similar revulsion experiences. One of my earliest and vaguest memories is a train trip with my mother, brother and sister. We were all hungry and probably cranky and my mother says she failed to bring along anything to eat for any of us. A fellow  passenger kindly provided us children with a bag of those Brach's candy peanuts. You know the orange, puffy, marshmallow things? We evidently at too many on empty stomachs because they made us all sick. To this day none of us will touch the things. Even the smell is revolting.

The second was later. I was eating some Chips-Ahoy-like chocolate chip cookies. I didn't eat too many, but I was getting the flu at the time of ingestion. The cookies came back up a few hours later and the whole combined experience has put me off those particular treats to this day.

I thought about this as I read stories this week regarding George Rekers, a Baptist Minister and anti-gay activist who was "caught" with a traveling companion he had hired to "carry his luggage". The only strange thing was that this companion was hired through a gay escort service. Rekers denies any wrong-doing and all suggestions of "inappropriate" relations between them, but he did make a statement that reminded me of my "revulsion therapy" experiences. Here's his quote:

"I have spent much time as a mental health professional and as a Christian minister helping and lovingly caring for people identifying themselves as “gay.” My hero is Jesus Christ who loves even the culturally despised people, including sexual sinners and prostitutes. Like Jesus Christ, I deliberately spend time with sinners with the loving goal to try to help them."

While this statement sounds noble, it just doesn't ring true for me. So George maintains that he is not nor has he ever been gay, but there's enough doubt about that to make questioning it reasonable. Why then, would he choose to "minister" in this particular way? It's like a reformed alcoholic going to bars regularly to try to help other alcoholics. You just don't do that. You don't meet at the one place where you both will be strongly tempted by the one thing you're trying to overcome. George, you don't hire a gay escort to travel to Europe with you just for the purpose of trying to make him not gay.

Maybe George is using revulsion therapy. If he has enough sex with a man, then that man will become sick of it and never want to do it again. If George can have massive amounts of sex with other men, then he can cure them of their homosexuality. It's quite a ministry.

Can you give an alcoholic so much alcohol that he'll want to quite? Not likely. In extreme cases, he may end up with alcohol poisoning and die, but it's unlikely that you serving him drink after drink will make him stop wanting them. Same with the gay sex thing. I'm guessing a gay man who has sex with another man will enjoy it in whatever quantity. I'm not sure it's possible to offer so much sex to him that the revulsion kicks in.

So, George, I guess you can keep trying your approach and keep us posted on how it's going. Or, I suppose you could also choose to drop the pretense and admit that you are actually gay.

Unfortunately, your actions will likely have a different outcome than you expect, but one that fits well with revulsion therapy. You increasing the number of "Christians" who claim one thing and do exactly the opposite in their lives will likely cause the revulsion effect to kick in and people will choose to avoid Christ at any cost. What a ministry.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Expectations and Disappointment

I've dealt with this before. I've processed this before. I've already had that "little talk" with myself in my head many times before. But, the disconnect between my expectations for the world around me and what actually happens in it is still something that is hard to accept. I should know it's coming. It's all happened before, but I still find myself surprised and disappointed.

Why can't the people around me see my point of view? The path I've laid out for them in my head is not only ideal for me, but it's ideal for them! Why would they choose something different? I've thought it through. I've considered all the angles. I've weighed the pros and cons. I'm good at that stuff. I even outlined all my findings for you and shared with you this masterful, fail-proof plan. It had it all: the risk vs. benefit analysis, the return on investment, the "what could happen if you didn't follow this course of action" summary. Why, then, would you choose to go a different direction? It makes no sense to me.

All right. I'm okay now. I'm still disappointed, but I'm okay now. Yes, I do remember the countless times when I thought I had all the answers, but found out later that I didn't. Yes, I remember the plans I made that seemed perfect at the time, but were quite flawed because by assumptions were incorrect. Yes, I know that only God has omniscience. Yes, I know that sometimes even though all the "facts" point toward following one course of action, but my gut says the opposite, that my gut could still be right. Yes, I know that many times I haven't got what I wanted and have been so happy about it later even though I felt devastated when the refusal was given. I know all this. I even know that remembering all this will likely not be my initial response the next time my plans appear to be thwarted.

Will you try to remember this too, the next time you give me your version of "not-to-be-ignored" advice? If remembering this isn't your initial response either, I'll understand. How could I not? But, I hope you get there eventually. I will for you.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Guy is Good. Yours is Evil Incarnate.

I know balance is boring. Nobody likes listening to a discussion in which both parties find common ground. We're trained throughout life to like drama. We want villains and heroes. We want good vs. evil. We want our bad guys and good guys polarized so we can clearly see who to root for. Television, movies, and books all give us the drama we so enjoy. But those are entertainment vehicles and more often than not meant as escape from the realities of life.

However, our news media helps bring this theme of good vs. evil, tragedy vs. triumph into our "real" lives. They report on the dramatic, the traumatic, the sensational. Nobody wants to hear the good things (or even the moderately questionable things) that people do on a daily basis. That isn't news. Reporters want to find the dirt and the scandal. They want to expose corruption and be heralded as righteous truth bearers. They report danger and catastrophe and the conflict that is happening all over the world. With grim expressions and clicks of the tongue and shaking heads they are "sadly" burdened with the duty of sharing horrible information with the masses. It's interesting that even with all their "we're sorry to tell you this" posturing, they all seem to jump at the chance to be the first to tell us. They claw and scratch at each other for the opportunity to be the first ones to tell us how reluctant they are to be the bearers of bad news.

So, I guess it's natural for us to accept the drama-mongering into other areas of our lives. Politics for instance, is a popular place for this game to be played. My candidate is a saint whose sole intention is to better the world around him. If he is criticized it is evidence that he is doing something brave and noble because brave and noble people always have detractors. Evil always hates good and tries to tear it down. My guy is good. His goals are lofty. His critics simply don't understand him or hate him because he's good.

Your guy is either the devil incarnate or he is so stupid that he is simply a dupe and puppet for Satan himself. Everything your guy does is bad. His expression in a photo, even without accompanying text or caption, is obvious proof of his evil disposition. Everything that comes from his mouth is either a lie or is meant to deceive by covering his actual nefarious motives. Even the mention of his name causes people to shudder. I don't need to stop and consider what he is saying or doing. I know, just because you said his name, that anything associated with him and his kind is worthless. No, not worthless, but actually designed to bring down civilization as we know it and end all that is moral and decent in the universe. That is your guy's goal. That is his agenda. How do I know? Because he's on the opposite side from my guy, that's how!

I guess I understand the use of hyperbole when making a case, but I don't understand people who completely vilify those on the other side of the fence from them. This irresponsible approach to candidate and party support is far too common. I know friends and acquaintances on both sides who froth at the mouth at the mention of the other side's views or leaders. Yes, I know that there are many who take a balanced view. There are many who say things like, "I don't really like most of what you stand for, but I can see your goal even if I'd get there a different way." But, we don't often hear from these people. Nobody wants to report on their views. It's boring.

Do we really think that our guy is the only one who has the good of the country in mind? Do we really think that those with ideas that differ from ours are actually out to sabotage our society? Or, if he's not actively out to undermine all that is good, do we really think the other guy is just so stupid that he can't see how he is being manipulated by the evil people around him?

Polarization is fun. It's entertaining. It's the bread and butter for soap operas. But, we laugh at those and ridicule them. Why, then, do we bring their ideals into our realities? Why do we gobble up the empty "news" calories of modern day junk food journalists without question? Are WE really that naive?

Sorry for being boring, but I'd like to hear from both sides in a rational conversation and then decide what I think from that. Is that even possible?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blogging - Who Cares?

For a long time I've seen blogging as an exercise in narcissism. Maybe it is. After all, who is really interested in reading random thoughts from strangers (or friends even) about the happenings in their lives? I guess I never wanted to waste time reading the mundane, although I do exactly that all the time. LOL! Of course many blogs are well-written, insightful commentaries on culture and the state of our society. Although I'd like to think that my writing would fit into that lofty category, I have more realistic views. This probably won't be one of those most admirable blogs.

So why write then? I guess I write this in hopes of spurring thought in....well....anyone, and perhaps reading some others' thoughts posted back to me. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a lost soul adrift in a sea of human angst and anxiety looking for a guiding light. I think I have a pretty well-defined self view and world view, but I do enjoy hearing what others have to say. I welcome most discussions. Agreement and disagreement are of less importance than a willingness to actually have an open conversation with the goal of understanding another's point of view.

I chose the moniker, "The Mirthful Misfit" because it is an apt description of where I am in life. I'm happy that I don't fit many molds, that I am not readily identified with any specific group. I think when you adopt a label you are burdened with a lot of extra baggage in the form of people's expectations about what you should and shouldn't be. I think there are labels I would use for myself, but I know I can't (or won't) accept all the perceptions and misconceptions that go with those labels. So, I choose to remain "in between," a "misfit" who attempts to find reason and reasonable people in unreason-infested waters.

Nothing may come of this venture other than a few ramblings from my unconventional mind. That's okay. If nothing else, even without input from others, I guess I can enjoy this as an exercise in narcissism. I like to hear myself talk, so why not?